They singled out Pashinian’s failure to secure the release of Armenian soldiers and civilians held by Azerbaijan two months after a ceasefire deal brokered by Putin stopped the war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pashinian, Putin and Aliyev met in Moscow to discuss the deal’s implementation. In a joint statement issued after the meeting, they said their governments will set up a joint “working group” that will deal with practical modalities of restoring transport links between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The statement made no mention of the unconditional exchange of all prisoners also envisaged by the Russian-brokered deal. Pashinian confirmed that he and Aliyev did not reach any agreements on the issue.
“The enemy’s agenda is being fully realized while the Armenian side’s is not,” said Edmon Marukian, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK). “Why? Because the symbol of our defeat [Pashinian] continues to hold talks.”
“Pashinian was taken to Moscow for doing only one thing: to sign up to the unblocking of transport routes and arteries vital for Azerbaijan,” agreed Naira Zohrabian of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).
Both Marukian and Zohrabian stressed that in the run-up to the Moscow summit Pashinian said that the release of the Armenian prisoners of war is essential for opening the Armenian-Azerbaijani border for commercial traffic.
A senior member of the ruling My Step bloc, Ruben Rubinian, insisted that the joint statement issued by Aliyev, Putin and Pashinian is “beneficial for us” even though it makes no references to the POWs. He argued that the planned opening of the border will allow Armenia to have rail links with Iran and Russia.
“The Russian president backed in principle the Armenian side’s position [on the POWs,]” Rubinian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Pashinian thanked Putin for that support when they met separately in the Kremlin following Monday’s trilateral meeting. “This is the most sensitive and painful issue for us,” he said.
Putin stated, for his part, that the summit was “useful” despite Aliyev’s and Pashinian’s failure to agree on the release of the Armenian captives. “I hope that there will be an agreement on all problems, including the issues of humanitarian character,” he told the Armenian premier.
According to Yerevan-based human rights lawyers, more than 100 Armenian POWs and civilians remain in Azerbaijani captivity. They include 62 soldiers who were taken prisoner in early December when Azerbaijani forces seized the last two Armenian-controlled villages in Karabakh’s Hadrut district occupied by them during the six-week war.
In a letter to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres publicized last week, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov branded those soldiers as “saboteurs” and indicated the Azerbaijani authorities’ intention to prosecute them on relevant charges.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry condemned Baku’s plans as a gross violation of international law and the Karabakh truce agreement. It accused the Azerbaijani side of “using Armenian prisoners of war as hostages to advance its political agenda.”