Moscow on September 25 accused Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of “unacceptable outbursts” and “insinuations” and of making a “big mistake” in taking “steps to give Armenia's development a new, Western direction".
The Kremlin has grown increasingly angry at Pashinyan’s remarks in the wake of last week’s one-day offensive by Azerbaijan in which—as Russian peacekeeping troops stood aside—Baku seized effective control of the parts of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave that remained under ethnic-Armenian control. Armenia has long been seen as outgunned by Azerbaijan and as reliant on traditional strategic partner Russia for its security. But neither Russia nor Armenia lifted a finger as Azerbaijani troops marched in, triggering what could be an ongoing exodus to Armenia of up to 120,000 ethnic-Armenians from Karabakh.
Even prior to the invasion, Pashinyan had made it clear that Armenia would need to at the very least switch to a multi-vector foreign policy, with a diminished role for Russia in the small country’s affairs and stronger roles for Western countries. Just prior to Azerbaijan’s military move, US troops took part in military drills with Armenian armed forces.
Pashinyan said in a televised address on September 24 that Yerevan's involvement in “the external security systems”—a reference to Armenia’s membership of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) that also groups former Soviet states Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan—is “not effective” for Armenia's national interests.
"Multiple cases of terror against the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh, illegal blocking of the Lachin Corridor [that links the enclave to Armenia], and Azerbaijan's September 19 attack against Nagorno-Karabakh have raised serious questions about the goals and motives of the Russian Federation’s peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh," Pashinyan added.
He warned that Baku and Russian peacekeepers would be entirely responsible if “ethnic cleansing” came in the wake of Azerbaijan's final victory over the separatist forces in Karabakh.
Stating that Pashinyan’s remarks “can spark nothing but rejection”, Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the Armenian leader’s words were “an attempt to evade responsibility for failures in domestic and foreign policies”.
"The leadership in Yerevan is making a big mistake by deliberately trying to destroy Armenia's multifaceted and centuries-old ties with Russia, and by holding the country hostage to the geopolitical games of the West," the ministry added.
The statement also addressed allegations that ongoing protests in the Armenian capital demanding Pashinyan's resignation are linked to Moscow, saying they “have nothing to do with the reality”.
Following Azerbaijan’s march into what was left of ethnic Armenian-controlled Karabakh, Pashinyan on September 19 was targeted by Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council and former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who wrote on his Telegram channel that the Armenian PM “decided to blame Russia for his defeat” and “flirt with Nato”. “Guess what fate awaits him,” added Medvedev.
Also on September 25, the US State Department weighed into the row, with spokesman Matthew Miller telling reporters: "I do think that Russia has shown that it is not a security partner that can be relied on."
Russia's Ambassador to Washington DC Anatoly Antonov responded on Telegram, saying: "We urge Washington to refrain from extremely dangerous words and actions that lead to an artificial increase in anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia."
The situation facing Armenia became even more delicate on September 25 when Azerbaijan and close ally Turkey turned up the heat on Yerevan in hinting that they may be set to push hard for Armenia to agree to a land bridge across its territory that would link their two countries.
Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow at think tank Carnegie Europe, who specialises in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, wrote on his X platform microblog that Azerbaijan and Turkey could present an ultimatum to Armenia over the corridor—referred to by Baku as the Zangezur Corridor—and could conceivably gain Russia's agreement for it so long as Russian troops are deployed along it.
The land link would run parallel to the Iranian-Armenian border. Tehran appears opposed to it. Iran is wary of any developments near the border that could interfere with its trade routes via Armenia and is clearly also greatly concerned that such a corridor would extend Turkey’s geopolitical heft across both the South Caucasus and Central Asia, which borders Azerbaijan.