Citing sources in the Russian Defense Ministry, media in Armenia and Russia suggested on April 25 that Colonel-General Alexander Lentsov, an advisor to Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, is a new replacement for Major-General Andrey Volkov, who had reportedly left his post in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto Foreign Minister Sergey Ghazarian did not deny the reports when he talked to Armenia’s public television on Tuesday evening.
The reported change is taking place amid increased tensions along the only road linking Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, known as the Lachin corridor, after Azerbaijan set up a checkpoint at its entrance on the border with Armenia.
The move tightened the already existing effective Azerbaijani blockade of the region where Russia deployed its peacekeepers after brokering a ceasefire to stop a deadly six-week Armenian-Azerbaijani war in November 2020.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s official would not speculate on whether the replacement of Volkov, who was appointed to the position just over a year ago, was due to the situation in the Lachin corridor, but instead laid out Stepanakert’s expectations from the Russian side.
“I still don’t know whether the new appointment is official or not, but the Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh - ed.] side expects active steps from the Russian side,” Ghazarian said.
He said that Stepanakert first of all wanted to find out what were the “red lines” of the Russian side in its relations with Baku.
So far, the Russian peacekeeping force has not given any official explanations as to why it did not prevent Azerbaijan from deploying military vehicles and construction machinery to close the Hakari river bridge, which is considered to be a zone of Russian peacekeepers’ control under the terms of the 2020 ceasefire.
“We see that the Azerbaijani side is pushing the so-called red lines [in its relations] with the Russian peacekeepers. At the same time, representatives of various circles on the Russian side say that their attention is focused on another direction [Ukraine], and the Azerbaijani side is taking advantage of it. Now we want to understand if there is any boundary to, let’s say, the Russian side’s patience in this regard,” Nagorno-Karabakh’s diplomat said.
Ghazarian stressed that ethnic Armenians who fled Nagorno-Karabakh during the 44-day war in 2020 returned to the region after seeing the deployment of Russian peacekeepers there. “But now they have found themselves in the status of a hostage,” he said.
If appointed, Colonel-General Lentsov, who served as deputy commander-in-chief of Russia’s Ground Forces until 2020 and has an experience of participating in Russia’s military operation in Syria, will become the fourth commander of the Russian peacekeeping force in Nagorno-Karabakh appointed in the last two and a half years.
Samvel Babayan, a former Karabakh army commander, confirmed to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that Lentsov was already in the region. He said the 66-year-old general was expected to start negotiations over the Azerbaijani checkpoint in the Lachin corridor later on Wednesday.