Artsakh’s President Made a Huge Mistake By Dismissing Vardanyan at Aliyev’s Orders

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Artsakh’s President Arayik Harutyunyan made a huge mistake last Thursday when he succumbed to the pressure of Pres. Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, dismissing State Minister Ruben Vardanyan, a billionaire businessman who had made his fortune in Moscow. Last September, Vardanyan renounced his Russian citizenship and settled in Artsakh, saying he wants to be with his people at their greatest hour of need. Shortly after his move, Pres. Harutyunyan appointed him as State Minister of Artsakh.

The President of Artsakh should not have fired Vardanyan or should have at least waited for a while so it did not look like he was carrying out Aliyev’s orders so promptly. Unfortunately, Vardanyan was dismissed right after the International Court of Justice increased the pressure on Azerbaijan by ruling against it.

Shamefully, Gurgen Arsenyan, a Member of Parliament from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s ruling party, made the following treacherous statement in Parliament in February: “there is no need to risk three million Armenians for the sake of Artsakh.” It is never a good idea when you and your enemy are on the same side!

Recently, several Azeri journalists and even Pres. Aliyav denigrated Vardanyan by calling him “a Russian oligarch, criminal, and money launderer.”

In Oct. 2022, Aliyev personally complained to Pres. Vladimir Putin of Russia about Vardanyan. Putin told Aliyev that he knew nothing about Vardanyan’s presence and activities in Artsakh.

On Nov. 17, 2022, during a meeting with Dirk Schuebel, Special Envoy of the European Union for the Eastern Partnership, Aliyev said that he refuses to negotiate with Vardanyan, whom he called “Moscow’s emissary” in Karabakh. Aliyev continued: “We are ready to talk…with Armenians who live in Karabakh, not with those who have been sent from Moscow hiding in their pockets billions of dollars money stolen from Russian people, like the man called Vardanyan who was transferred from Moscow there with a very clear agenda.”

On February 18, 2023, during a panel discussion in Munich, Germany, with Prime Minister Pashinyan, Aliyev said that he is ready to start practical communication with representatives of the Armenian community in the Karabakh region: “But, we can do it only when Russian citizen criminal oligarch, a person who was involved in money laundering in Europe, Vardanyan, is out of our territory.” Aliyev added: Vardanyan “was exported from Russia to have the leading position in Karabakh. Maybe exported is not the right word. I would probably prefer the word smuggled.”

It is not up to Aliyev to decide who should represent Artsakh in negotiations. That’s the decision of Artsakh’s government. It would have been wiser for the President of Artsakh not to dismiss Vardanyan at all, just to show Aliyev who calls the shots in Artsakh.

I suggest that Vardanyan file lawsuits for libel in the European Court of Human Rights against all those who told lies about him, forcing the scandalous Azeri journalists and Pres. Aliyev himself to pay a hefty penalty and publicly apologize to Vardanyan.

Finally, it is not a good idea to succumb to pressures from your enemies which only encourage them to demand further concessions from you. The list of their demands is endless.

Here are some current and potential Azeri demands from Artsakh and Armenia:

— Azerbaijan to place its checkpoints on the Lachin Corridor;

— The future ‘Zangezur Corridor’, linking Azerbaijan with Nakhichevan, to enjoy a status similar to the Lachin Corridor;

— Seeking further concessions, even after the Lachin Corridor is opened, Azerbaijan will probably block it again;

— After the fake Azeri environmentalists demanded to inspect the mines in Artsakh, its leaders unwisely shut down the mines, thus encouraging the Azeris to demand more concessions, instead of telling them: “that’s none of your business,” which led to the next Azeri demand that Armenians stop extracting metals from Artsakh mines;

— Seeking further Armenian concessions, Azeri forces will probably occupy more territories of the Republic of Armenia.

Similarly, Turkey will seek concessions demanding that Armenia:

— Delete from its Declaration of Independence the reference to the Armenian Genocide in “Ottoman Turkey and Western Armenia.” If not, Turkey would threaten to shut down the border with Armenia after opening it;

— Stop campaigning for the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide;

— Accept the existing borders with Turkey, giving up any future claims for the territories of Western Armenia;

— Ban the burning of the Turkish flag on April 24;

— Give up any demands for restitution from Turkey for the Genocide losses.

The leaders of Armenia and Artsakh should understand that appeasing a bully leads to more bullying, not to peace.

Regrettably, despite sacrificing Vardanyan at Aliyev’s request, expecting that Azerbaijan would then unblock the Lachin Corridor in return, the Corridor is still blocked as of Feb. 27. Even after a closed door meeting on Feb. 25 between the representatives of Artsakh and Azerbaijan, the Corridor remains closed.

Vardanyan announced that despite his dismissal, he will continue to live in Artsakh. It is unknown what role is he able or willing to play without an official position.

Only one mystery remains. What did Pres. Harutyunyan and State Minister Vardanyan do in Moscow earlier in February when both of them traveled separately to Moscow and returned to Artsakh within a few days? Why did they go to Moscow? Who did they meet with? What did they talk about? Neither one has said a word about that visit. Knowing the answers to these questions may shed additional light on Vardanyan’s dismissal.

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One response to “Artsakh’s President Made a Huge Mistake By Dismissing Vardanyan at Aliyev’s Orders”

  1. Enis Pınar Avatar
    Enis Pınar

    A few reported facts regarding Ruben Karlenovich Vardanyan from Wikipedia:

    In 1991, Vardanyan and a partner founded Troika Laundromat, a multinational investment banking and asset management firm headquartered in Moscow, Russia.

    Also known as ŪkioLeaks, Troika Laundromat was a collection of 70 offshore shell companies whose controllers used them to move billions of dollars of private wealth from Russia to the west. About $4.6 billion was paid into the Troika network, and a similar sum was paid out of it. It was operated by staff at an independent arm of the Russian investment bank Troika Dialog, which has now been merged with one of Russia’s two big state-owned banks. The network was like a washing machine: money arrived from many sources. Most transfers were at Lithuania’s Ukio Bank, closed by the authorities in February 2013.

    On 4 March 2019, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a global network of investigative journalists with staff on six continents specializing in organized crime and corruption, published an investigation on the Troika Laundromat, reporting on its network of 76 offshore companies, facilitating around $4.6 billion. Later Vardanyan commented on the investigation, stating that the company “always strived to perform only under the strict principles of legitimacy and transparency”. Austrian prosecution service found no grounds to open an official investigation on the offshore network of Troika Dialog.

    In 2020, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, a Russian NGO led by Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, published an investigation which concerned Santerna Holdings Limited, a company also owned by Vardanyan. Citing Santerna’s publicly available annual reports, the investigation found that, in 2016, Santerna invested almost $33.45 million in Luchano, a spa business owned by Gulsina Minnikhanova, the wife of the President of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov. The annual reports showed that Santerna’s auditors applied a $26.8 million impairment charge shortly after the investment, reducing Santerna’s stake in Luchano to $6.6 million. In 2018, Santerna made another investment of $10 million in Luchano. Months later, the same auditors applied another impairment charge, further bringing down the value of Santerna’s investment, to $5 million. Based on this financial activity, whereby Santerna willingly overpaid twice, the Anti-Corruption Foundation asserted that Vardanyan’s company made two disguised gifts, or bribes, to the wife of the President of Tatarstan. In the aftermath of both investments, investigative journalists found millions of dollars of luxury real estate owned by Minnikhanov’s family. Vardanyan denied these accusations.

    Following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Vardanyan was placed on the Ukrainian government’s list of sanctioned people for his role as a board member of the Russian air cargo company Volga Dnepr, which plays a major role in Russian military air transport.

    Leave it to irredentist Harut Sassounian, still dreaming of establishing a “Western Armenia” on Turkish land in Eastern Anatolia, to prefer a shady Russian oligarch of Armenian ancestry over Armenia’s anti-corruption Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, because Pashinyan appears to be genuinely seeking peace and better relations between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Türkiye.

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