“What's been happening on the border the last two years ... 5,000 Russian soldiers are supposedly there [in Armenia] to guarantee the border, [but] the Russians have used this centuries-old conflict and played Azerbaijan's game with Turkish complicity and came back to weaken Armenia which was once a country it was close to," Macron charged in an interview with France 2 television broadcast late on Wednesday.
Macron said that Moscow “wants to create disorder in the Caucasus to destabilize all of us." And he again blamed Azerbaijan for the September 13-14 clashes along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border which killed at least 280 soldiers from both sides.
Armenia appealed to Russia for military assistance immediately after outbreak of the hostilities. Moscow avoided military intervention. It also stopped short of publicly siding with Yerevan, drawing criticism from Armenian officials.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday rejected Macron’s accusations directed at Moscow as “egregious” and “absurd.”
“Unlike France, which even during periods of escalation between Baku and Yerevan confined itself to standard calls for peace, Russia contributed to the settlement of the conflict in practical terms,” said Maria Zakharova, the ministry spokeswoman.
She argued that it was Moscow that stopped the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijani war through a ceasefire and brokered follow-up agreements on Armenian-Azerbaijani transport links and border demarcation.
“Paris's attempts to drive a wedge into Russia's relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia, which are close to us and with which Russia is bound by long-term and multifaceted ties, are doomed to failure,” added Zakharova.
Macron’s claims are in tune with what an Armenian newspaper belonging to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s family wrote last week. It alleged that Moscow is trying to annex Armenia or make it part of Russia’s “union state” with Belarus by encouraging Azerbaijani military aggression against its regional ally.
“Russia wants from Armenia almost what it wants from Ukraine,” the Haykakan Zhamanak daily said in an article by an anonymous author identified as “Reliable Source.”
Armenian opposition leaders speculated that Pashinian, who had edited the paper for many years, himself wrote the piece to prepare the ground for making sweeping concessions to Baku and ending Armenia’s alliance with Russia. They said that a pro-Western foreign policy U-turn would be extremely dangerous because only Russia can offer Armenia as well as Karabakh tangible security guarantees.
The Kremlin dismissed the Haykakan Zhamanak allegations as “obvious nonsense.”
Russia, France as well as the United States have for decades jointly tried to broker a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. This mediation format effectively collapsed following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In recent months and especially since the September border clashes, the U.S. and the European Union have taken center stage in international efforts to facilitate an Armenian-Azerbaijani settlement. Russia has accused the Western powers of using the Karabakh conflict in the geopolitical standoff over Ukraine.
Moscow signaled this week its intention to wrest back the initiative in the negotiating process. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to host fresh talks on Friday between his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts.
Lavrov met separately with Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on Wednesday. Mirzoyan told him that Armenia still wants to “feel Russia’s support” for its sovereignty and territorial integrity.