In November 17 televised remarks, Putin said that the Armenian side would have suffered fewer territorial losses and, in particular, retained control of the strategic Karabakh town of Shushi (Shusha) had Pashinian agreed to Azerbaijan’s terms of a ceasefire on October 20.
Shushi was captured by Azerbaijani forces two or three days before the subsequent truce agreement halted the war on November 10. Azerbaijan agreed to stop its military operations in return for an Armenian pledge to withdraw from three districts around Karabakh.
Baku regained control over four other districts, which had been occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces in the early 1990s, during the latest war. Its troops also captured Karabakh’s southern Hadrut district.
Speaking to the Rossiya-24 TV channel, Putin said: “On October 19–20, I had a series of telephone conversations with [Azerbaijani] President Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinian. At that time, the armed forces of Azerbaijan regained control over an insignificant part of Nagorno-Karabakh, namely, its southern section.
“On the whole, I managed to convince President Aliyev that it was possible to end hostilities, but the return of [Azerbaijani] refugees, including to Shusha, was a mandatory condition on his part. Unexpectedly for me, the position of our Armenian partners was that they perceived this as something unacceptable.”
“At that point, the prime minister told me that his country could not agree to this, and that it will keep fighting,” added Putin.
Pashinian essentially confirmed this on Sunday evening. In a lengthy Facebook post, he insisted that Yerevan’s acceptance of the earlier deal negotiated by Putin and the resulting return of refugees to Shushi would have also restored Azerbaijani control of the town overlooking the Karabakh capital Stepanakert.
“The problem was that in that case more than 90 percent of Shushi’s population would be Azerbaijanis who would control the road to Stepanakert … Thus the agreement did not materialize,” he wrote.
Pashinian claimed that Putin found his arguments “logical.” Putin’s November 17 comments suggest the opposite.
“Prime Minister Pashinian told me openly that he viewed [the return of Azerbaijanis to Shushi] as a threat to the interests of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh,” the Russian president told Rossiya-24. “I do not quite understand the essence of this hypothetical threat. I mean, it was about the return of civilians to their homes, while the Armenian side was to have retained control over this section of Nagorno-Karabakh, including Shusha.”
Pashinian sought to justify his rejection of the October 20 ceasefire terms as he continued to defend his handling of the six-week war strongly condemned by the Armenian opposition and a growing number of other domestic critics. They hold him responsible for Azerbaijan’s military victory and demand the Armenian government’s resignation and the conduct of snap parliamentary elections.
The critics have seized upon Putin’s revelation and portrayed it as further proof of Pashinian’s incompetence and disastrous decision-making. They say that the prime minister would have not only kept more territory under Armenian control but also saved the lives of hundreds and possibly thousands of Armenian soldiers had he agreed to the proposed ceasefire on October 20.