Source: President of Russia – The Kremlin – English
Question: Mr President, a week has passed since the signing of a most important statement by Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia. How do you assess the implementation now? What is successful? What might still be a problem? Most importantly, do you think this agreement will make it possible to sever the tight knot and resolve this very long-term and sensitive issue where each side has its own truth, as you put it yourself?
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: The most important achievement was stopping the bloodshed. I have already said that according to official figures alone, over 4,000 people have died. I think that in reality the figures are higher. Tens of thousands are wounded and mutilated. Look, this is not a movie. This is a tragedy that has befallen real people, real families. Therefore, stopping the bloodshed is the main result.
However, to understand what is happening we will still have to go back into history, literally in a few words. I have to recall that it all started in the already remote year of 1988, when ethnic clashes took place in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgayit. Armenian civilians fell victim to these events, and later it spread to Nagorno-Karabakh.
And since the Soviet Union’s leaders did not react duly to these events… let me say it again: these are sensitive issues, and I do not want to side with anyone or decide who was right or wrong. It is no longer possible to determine this now, but it was necessary to put things in order and protect civilians, and this was not done. At that point, the Armenians themselves took up arms, and this protracted conflict, a conflict building for many years, broke out. Eventually, it led to a declaration of independence, sovereignty and self-reliance by Karabakh in 1991. The Bishkek agreements were signed in 1994 and this Bishkek memorandum stopped the hostilities at that time.
What happened as a result? Karabakh declared independence, as I have said, and another seven adjacent regions came under the control of the Armenians, that is, Armenia.
This is basically what we inherited from the past and this is the problem we had to resolve.
I believe the fact that hostilities have stopped and, importantly, the parties agreed to unblock the roads and to restore economic ties is critically important and creates a good basis for normalising relations for the long term.
Remark: No one recognised Karabakh’s status back then, either.
Vladimir Putin: That is true: no one recognised it then or later. By the way, Armenia itself did not recognise it.
Question: Does the problem of Karabakh’s status still exist at all?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, there is this problem, since Karabakh’s final status has not been settled. We have agreed to maintain the status quo. What happens next will be decided eventually by the future leaders and the future participants in this process. I think if proper conditions are created for normal life and relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, between people in everyday life, especially in the conflict zone, are restored, it will create an environment for determining Karabakh’s status.
With regard to recognising or not recognising Karabakh as an independent state, there may be different approaches, but this undoubtedly was a significant factor, including in the course of the bloody conflict that I hope has ended. Because the very fact of the non-recognition of Karabakh, including by Armenia, has left a deep imprint on the course of events and the way it is perceived.
To put it bluntly, after the former Georgian leaders’ undoubtedly criminal moves, I mean the attacks against our peacekeepers in South Ossetia, Russia recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We recognised the expression of the will of the people living in Crimea to reunite with Russia as just, and we met the people halfway, we did so openly. Some people may like it, others may not like it, but we did it in the interests of the people who live there and in the interests of Russia, and we are not ashamed to speak about it openly.
This did not happen with Karabakh, and this, of course, has significantly influenced the developments there.
To be continued.