Ruben Vardanyan: Former Karabakh separatist leader's imprisonment explained
    From terrorism financing to illegal connections/VIDEO

    MULTIMEDIA  07 March 2024 - 12:39

    Investigations Team of Caliber.Az

    Following the effective counter-terrorism operations in the Karabakh region, Azerbaijani special forces apprehended several individuals associated with the defunct separatist administration in the area. Their escape efforts following the defeat in a swift anti-terrorism campaign by the Azerbaijan Armed Forces culminated in their arrest.

    Among those detained was Ruben Vardanyan, an Armenian-Russian magnate who had played a significant role in financing and advocating separatism. He was apprehended by Azerbaijani border service personnel on September 27, 2023, marking the first arrest of a member of the criminal junta.

    After the 44-day Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in 2020, Vardanyan, originally from Yerevan, was present in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, openly discussing his financial backing for the separatist administration on Azerbaijani soil. In September 2022, he unlawfully moved to Karabakh after relinquishing his Russian citizenship.

    While Vardanyan's name is frequently associated with Karabakh, his narrative transcends the role of a mere separatist leader, delving into darker and more sinister undertones.

    On June 17, 2023, Ruben Vardanyan's profile was featured in the Ukrainian database "Myrotvorets," which identifies individuals implicated in Russian aggression. Vardanyan is categorized as a "person subject to immediate arrest and extradition to law enforcement agencies of Ukraine or NATO member states."

    He was blacklisted due to his involvement in senior positions within a prominent Russian company linked to providing logistical support for actions aimed at undermining or threatening Ukraine's territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence.

    Prior to this, Vardanyan was included in the Ukrainian government's list of sanctioned individuals for his role as a board member of the Russian air cargo firm Volga-Dnepr, known for its significant involvement in Russian military airlift operations.

    Throughout the period spanning from 2005 to 2022, Ruben Vardanyan cultivated deep-rooted and extensive ties with the Kremlin. He occupied positions within the "expert council" under both the President and the Government of the Russian Federation, roles typically reserved for individuals within the Kremlin's inner circle.

    Vardanyan also spearheaded the investment bank Troika Dialog, which merged with Sberbank of the Russian Federation in 2011, further solidifying his connections within Russia's financial sector.

    In March 2019, 22 members of the European Parliament called for an investigation into Vardanyan's activities. Despite being one of the wealthiest figures in Russia, his wealth accumulation in Moscow occurred through entities currently subjected to Western sanctions.

    In 2022, a group of 46 members of the US Congress advocated for the imposition of personal sanctions on Vardanyan. Strikingly, no action was taken on this front. Two years later, Vardanyan assumed the position of "state minister" within the so-called government of Karabakh, situated in an Azerbaijani territory under the control of Armenian separatists. Despite his evident criminal ties and leadership of an unrecognized separatist entity, Western media even conducted interviews with him.

    Vardanyan's arrival in Karabakh was not spontaneous but rather orchestrated with specific intentions, as per available information. Allegedly dispatched by one of the Kremlin's factions, his mission aligned with the prevailing strategy at the time: to perpetuate ambiguity regarding the eventual restoration of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, thus prolonging the peace process.

    Vardanyan's separatist rhetoric, notably voiced upon his arrival in Khankendi, warrants attention. Statements such as "the people of Karabakh do not see their future as part of Azerbaijan" underscore his alignment with separatist sentiments. Such actions raise pertinent questions about Western leaders' response to separatist advocacy within their own countries - a response that is likely to be unequivocal.

    Amid ongoing efforts by the EU and the United States to broker a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Vardanyan persisted in activities that undermined these endeavours. He encouraged Armenians in Karabakh to take up arms, further escalating tensions in the region.

    During a rally on May 9, 2023, in the city of Khankendi, Vardanyan reiterated his support for the presence of Russian military forces in Karabakh, a stance characterized by the Wall Street Journal as a means of preserving Russia’s influence in the South Caucasus. Such actions by Vardanyan are seen as counterproductive to the efforts aimed at achieving a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

    The separatist minister's tenure was short-lived as he was relieved of his duties following a series of exposés in prominent American publications highlighting his Kremlin connections. These revelations underscored his role in fomenting instability in the Southern Caucasus. As The European Conservative aptly pointed out, “Whether true or not that Vardanyan is profiteering from human desperation, he is certainly jeopardizing prospects for peace.”

    The European MPs cited findings from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which revealed Vardanyan's involvement in laundering billions of euros for Moscow's close associates. He earned the moniker "Kremlin's wallet," with his native Armenia serving as a pivotal hub for many of his questionable financial dealings.

    According to The Washington Times, Vardanyan also maintains connections with Tehran, which reportedly supports Moscow's military actions in Ukraine. His ties to Iran are believed to be facilitated through the Russian Gorchakov Foundation, an organization that arranges events in various countries, including Armenia, featuring speakers endorsed by the Iranian government.

    In 2022, despite publicly renouncing his Russian citizenship to evade sanctions, Vardanyan's connections to Russia persisted. Unlike many individuals who forfeited their assets, businesses, and banking privileges upon renouncing Russian citizenship, Vardanyan remarkably retained ownership of his assets and businesses while effectively shielding his wealth from sanctions.

    British MP Bob Blackman publicly remarked on the curious circumstances surrounding Ruben Vardanyan's transition into a ministerial role in Karabakh. Blackman highlighted Vardanyan's status as a Russian oligarch of Armenian descent and underscored his sanctioning in connection with Russia's activities in Ukraine.

    “Ruben Vardanyan, a Russian oligarch of Armenian origin, has been parachuted into Karabakh, apparently by Russia, and given a ministerial role. We need to understand that this is someone who is sanctioned as part of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, and it is believed that Russia is thereby trying to reinforce its capability in terms of its war effort. His companies have been well-used and well-involved in the whole process of expanding the military presence in Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh,” Blackman said.

    Subsequently, the motive behind Vardanyan's appointment surfaced as a calculated strategy to infiltrate Armenian politics, with ambitions of vying for the premiership. This manoeuvre sought to empower the Kremlin to influence Armenia's policies by installing a leader aligned with its interests.

    Vardanyan's exit from the separatist enclave became imperative due to heightened scrutiny from Western media.

    On September 19, 2023, Azerbaijan launched a series of counter-terrorism actions aimed at neutralizing Armenian military forces and infrastructure in the Karabakh region, prompted by escalating Armenian attacks on Azerbaijani positions and a tragic mine incident that claimed the lives of six Azerbaijani individuals. During the military campaign, safeguarding civilian safety was a top priority for Azerbaijani forces, resulting in no civilian casualties and minimal damage to vital infrastructure. Efforts were made to facilitate the safe evacuation of civilians and provide humanitarian aid.

    By September 20, 2023, Azerbaijani forces had successfully disabled Armenian artillery systems, radio-electronic warfare capabilities, military equipment, ammunition depots, strongholds, and shelters in the Karabakh region. 

    The counter-terrorism measures concluded after Armenian military formations agreed to full disarmament, surrendering arms and withdrawing from their positions. They were also required to leave Azerbaijani territory, and illegal Armenian armed groups were to be disbanded.

    On September 27, 2023, after the counter-terrorism measures, a noteworthy incident unfolded. Ruben Vardanyan, who had illegally entered the country and assumed the role of the so-called "state minister”, was apprehended by the servicemen of the Azerbaijani State Border Service at the Lachin checkpoint as he attempted to flee from Azerbaijan to Armenia.

    The investigation into the criminal case against Ruben Vardanyan continues under the jurisdiction of the Azerbaijani State Security Service.

    To summarize, Vardanyan faces charges under Articles 214-1 (financing of terrorism), 279.3 (participation in the creation and activities of armed formations or groups not provided for by law), and 318.1 (illegal crossing of the state border of the Republic of Azerbaijan) of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code.

    The former separatist leader stands accused of several grave charges, including illegally crossing the state border of Azerbaijan as a foreign citizen. It is alleged that he entered the territory of the temporary deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Azerbaijan's Karabakh economic region with the intention of committing terrorist acts in September 2022.

    In conclusion, Ruben Vardanyan finds himself facing serious charges under the Azerbaijani Criminal Code, including financing terrorism, participating in the creation of illegal armed groups, and illegally crossing the state border of Azerbaijan. These allegations paint a grave picture of Vardanyan's involvement in orchestrating and supporting activities aimed at destabilizing the region. His future destiny ultimately be determined by the Azerbaijani judiciary.

    The Western public should be thoroughly informed about these facets of Vardanyan's background before rushing to hasty, and sometimes incorrect, judgments.


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