Igor Popov, the Russian co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, has specifically denied Pashinian’s claims that the three mediating powers pressured the Armenian side to give seven districts around Karabakh back to Azerbaijan and offered it nothing in return.
Pashinian repeatedly criticized their peace proposals during and after the recent war with Azerbaijan. He dismissed critics’ arguments that he could have prevented the disastrous war by accepting the proposals based on the so-called Madrid Principles of a Karabakh settlement, which were first put forward by the U.S., Russian and French mediators in 2007.
In a January 4 article, Pashinian claimed that the most recent version of the peace plan drafted by Russia and backed by the two other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group amounted to a proposed “surrender of lands” to Azerbaijan “in return for nothing.” He said it left open the key question of Karabakh’s status.
Popov bluntly denied that in written comments posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website on Wednesday. He argued that under the Minsk Group plan Karabakh’s population would be able to determine the disputed territory’s internationally recognized status in a future legally binding referendum.
Popov also stressed that the plan tied Armenian withdrawal from two of the seven districts, Lachin and Kelbajar, to the determination of Karabakh’s status.
“Therefore, the claims that Russia proposed [the Armenians] to return the seven districts ‘for nothing,’ forget about the status and calm down do not correspond to reality,” he said.
“Neither the Armenian nor the Azerbaijani side rejected these proposals, even though a full agreement [between the two sides] was never reached. But the bottom line is that negotiations were held on a regular basis up until 2018 when Yerevan came up with new approaches,” Popov added in another jibe at Armenia’s current leadership.
Pashinian and his office declined on Thursday to comment on Popov’s extraordinary remarks.
Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian acknowledged in that regard that Moscow has never neglected the issue of Karabakh’s status. “I definitely agree with Mr. Popov in that Artsakh’s status has been and remains the most important aspect of the conflict’s resolution,” he told reporters.
Asked about the clear contradiction between Pashinian’s and Popov’s statements, Ayvazian said: “I don’t comment on the prime minister’s statements and other comments which are often taken out of context.”
Meanwhile, Armenian opposition figures -- and former President Serzh Sarkisian’s political allies in particular -- seized upon Popov's statement to again denounce Pashinian's policies on the Karabakh conflict.
Armen Ashotian, the deputy chairman of Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), said Popov branded the Armenian prime minister a liar. In Ashotian’s words, the Russian mediator also effectively accused Pashinian of torpedoing the Karabakh peace process and paving the way for the autumn war won by Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani army recaptured four of the seven districts which had been occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces in the early 1990s. Baku agreed to stop its military operations on November 10 in return for an Armenian pledge to withdraw from the three other districts.
The Armenian opposition blames Pashinian for the defeat and demands his resignation. The latter rejects these demands.