Ruben Vardanyan, who was appointed Nagorno-Karabakh’s state minister, an equivalent of prime minister, earlier this month, welcomed Aliyev’s “desire to start a direct dialogue” with Nagorno-Karabakh, but called for “a more constructive tone” regarding his persona.
In his public remarks on Thursday the Azerbaijani leader ruled out the possibility of negotiations with Armenia regarding Karabakh and also rejected talks with Vardanyan as with a man representing the region.
“I think it is important that Armenia clearly states what it really wants. If they want to talk about the rights and security of Armenians in Karabakh, then it won’t work. We are ready to talk about this with Armenians living in Karabakh, with people who live in Karabakh and want to live there, but not with people like Vardanyan, who has been sent from Moscow with a clear agenda,” Aliyev said at a meeting with a European Union delegation.
In a Facebook post later that day Vardanyan suggested that Aliyev provide explanations on what “clear agenda” he had.
“I have repeatedly stressed that I renounced my Russian citizenship in order to avoid accusations that I was pursuing someone else’s interests in Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh], except for the interests of the people of Artsakh. I believe that I fully meet the criteria for a negotiator put forward by Mr. Aliyev, i.e. ‘lives in Karabakh and wants to live there’,” he wrote.
Vardanyan stressed that the leaders of the two sides should “assume full responsibility and, no matter how difficult it may be, sit down at the negotiating table and stop the bloodshed.”
He also stressed that France should be among the international mediators along with Russia and the United States.
Vardanyan, 54, was born in Yerevan, Armenia, but made a career in business in Russia. He is the former chief executive officer and shareholder of the Troika Dialog investment bank that was bought by Russia’s Sberbank in 2011.
Last year, Forbes estimated Vardanyan’s assets at $1 billion.
Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, a former autonomous region inside Soviet Azerbaijan, declared their secession amid a disintegrating Soviet Union in 1991, triggering a three-year war in which Baku lost control of the territory of the region as well as several districts of Azerbaijan proper around it.
The war in the early 1990s in which some 30,000 people were killed on both sides was followed by decades of internationally mediated talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan around the future of the region, during which Baku refused to recognize what it viewed as a separatist Armenian regime in Stepanakert.
Azerbaijan regained all of the seven districts around Nagorno-Karabakh as well as two districts of the region proper as a result of a 2020 war in which nearly 7,000 people were killed on both sides before it was brought to a close through Moscow’s mediation.
Russia currently deploys about 2,000 peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh and along a five-kilometer-wide corridor linking the region with Armenia.