Ilya Shablinsky on the important events of last week: Pashinyan’s peace proposals, an explosion in Belgorod and Kozlovsky’s cultural demarche
Photo by Sergei Chugunov

24 April2023

By Ilya Shablinsky, legal expert and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group


The Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, speaking in Parliament on 18 April, advocated the signing of a peace agreement with Azerbaijan and the adoption of the Alma-Ata Declaration of 1991 as a basis for further negotiations (this document records the agreement by all parties – the former Soviet republics – to the borders that existed under the Soviet Union). In this context, Pashinyan proposed to recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan within the borders of the former Azerbaijani Soviet Republic and not to make any more territorial claims against it.

Pashinyan also expressed confidence that Azerbaijan would also recognize the territorial integrity of Armenia within the borders of the former Armenian Soviet Republic.  He also complained about the so-called Madrid principles, once formulated by the representatives of the states which were mediators in the negotiations between Yerevan and Baku (the OSCE Minsk Group). They require that the status of Nagorno-Karabakh be agreed with Baku. And thus there are insurmountable obstacles for the self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In addition, Pashinyan referred to the possibility of normalizing relations with Turkey, which could be of great economic importance for Armenia.

This was a very important statement. Translated from political and diplomatic to human language, it means Pashinyan would allow Nagorno-Karabakh to be part of Azerbaijan, provided the rights of its residents are respected. This statement also means that Armenia is ready to stop fighting for the formal independence of Artsakh.

Of course, this provoked indignation among many Armenian politicians (whether sincere or for show is another matter), and deep disappointment among the republic’s population.

Pashinyan, of course, was accused of betrayal and probably will continue to be accused of such. There have already been several statements by leaders of various opposition groups and analysts arguing that this step by the Prime Minister is nothing other than the ‘surrender’ of Artsakh.

Partly, it is in fact a concession to Azerbaijan. Although Pashinyan counts on international observers and Western states to effectively bring Nagorno-Karabakh under Baku’s control, the Armenian leader is in a difficult position.  He has already said something else about peacekeepers from the CSTO, a rather meaningless organization. He is trying to manoeuvre, although there is almost no space. Almost immediately after his speech, Ilham Aliyev made a speech on Azerbaijani television. He was deliberately tough, even rude, and he berated all former and current leaders of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. He actually delivered an ultimatum: either the residents of this republic accept Azerbaijani citizenship, or they will have to leave Artsakh. He then said roughly what Pashinyan had said – if Armenia recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan (including the incorporation of Nagorno-Karabakh into it), then the latter will also recognize the territorial integrity of Armenia.

Pashinyan’s TV speech will be quoted in Armenia and he will be reminded of it. The parliamentary opposition – and the opposition outside the Armenian parliament – will be outraged. But there is one important aspect in all this. Armenia cannot and does not want to fight anymore. It simply no longer has the strength. The Azerbaijani army is significantly larger and better equipped than the Armenian armed forces. The recent war has shown this. Azerbaijan received powerful support from Turkey. Armenia was counting on Putin’s Russia. And in vain.

Although, we must admit that any Russian leadership would have tried to maintain a certain balance in relations with the two Transcaucasian states.

One way or another, then, there has been a shift in the course of the crisis related to the situation over Nagorno-Karabakh. It is dramatic both for the people of Artsakh and for the Armenian people. But it seems that the major international players are not against this development. U.S. State Department representative Erika Olson recently visited Armenia and familiarized herself with the situation. Perhaps representatives from the U.S. and the Minsk Group will monitor the rights of the people of Artsakh as the region gradually passes under Baku’s administrative control, but no more than that.

The opposition in Yerevan will of course attack Pashinyan, but is hardly likely to offer any other solution. The Lachin corridor linking Armenia with Artsakh is blocked, and the Azerbaijani army is ready to invade Armenia itself. Yerevan has practically no choice.

In Russia, Aleksndr Uss, governor of Krasnoyarsk region, one of the largest regions, has resigned. He is a regional political veteran, having long been speaker of the region’s Legislative Assembly, competed for governor with Khloponin in 2001, and finally became governor in 2018. It seems that one of the most influential people in Putin’s entourage, Yury Kovalchuk, wanted his resignation in order to get the appointment of his own man. The name of the former governor of Krasnoyarsk region recently appeared in federal news bulletins when his son Artem Uss was detained in Milan at the request of America’s FBI. He was accused of financial fraud aimed at circumventing anti-Russian sanctions, as well as money laundering. Artem Uss escaped from house arrest and made it safely to Russia, for which his father Aleksandr Uss even thanked President Putin. That is, he hinted at help from the security services. However, it is not clear what Putin’s attitude to the incident was. The former governor also had some problems in relations with the Norilsk giant, although this hardly played a major role in his decision to resign.  As a result, Mikhail Kotiukov, who had been earlier associated with Kovalchuk’s group, has been appointed acting governor.

Meanwhile, in Italy, as a result of Artem Uss’ departure back to Russia, his villa in the town of Basiglio near Milan was seized. A not insignificant villa.

Unexpectedly, Lomonosovsky district court in Leningrad region refused to extend the custody of Dmitry Skurikhin, a businessman from the village of Russko-Vysotskoye accused of ‘repeatedly’ ‘discrediting the Russian army.’ His ‘crime’ consisted of the fact that in 2022 he wrote anti-war slogans (‘Peace to Ukraine. Freedom to Russia’) on the sign of his village store, after which he held a solitary protest with a poster ‘Ukraine, forgive us.’ He even knelt down with this poster in front of his fellow villagers (who, by the way, reacted calmly to what he was doing). The court released Skurikhin from detention and placed him under house arrest. There are grounds to be cautiously happy for the brave man, although it is too early to say his criminal case is over – the same court is yet to try him.

Some cultural news. The Maly Drama Theatre – the Theatre of Europe in St. Petersburg – has postponed for one month performances of Intrigue and Love starring with Danila Kozlovsky. Earlier this theatre had also postponed for a month performances of Hamlet – also with Danila Kozlovsky in the title role. What is the issue here? It turns out that the Moscow prosecutor’s office is conducting a check on the actor Danila Kozlovsky for signs of ‘discrediting’ the Russian army in one of his online posts. For now, we are talking about a possible administrative offence (Article 20.3.3, Part 1, of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences).

At the beginning of April, an activist by the name of Borodin wrote a denunciation of Kozlovsky for an anti-war post the actor published on Instagram in February 2022, as well as for an interview with Irina Shikhman. Perhaps it does no harm to remember Kozlovsky’s post now. Here’s an excerpt from it: ‘What’s happening now is a catastrophe. In every sense. Human, humanitarian, political, economic. In every way possible… It’s terrible. It hurts. It’s unbearably sad. And shameful. Including for myself. For my silence and indifference all these years. Surely you can’t bring peace through violence? Violence begets violence. Surely you can’t solve such problems by ‘military operations’ against a brotherly people in the 21st century, at a time when we are all shaken and weakened by Covid and by other conflicts. After all, why were so many people so wrong in their predictions? Only because it was completely impossible to imagine. That the names of Kharkov, Kyiv and other beautiful cities would be included in news broadcasts about a war and our Ukrainian friends, completely at a loss, in telephone conversations would ask “why?” – and we would mumble something unintelligible in response…’

Erich Maria Remarque once said that in the darkest times the best people shine brightest. To this we can add that in such times vile people also fully reveal themselves – but that is obvious and common knowledge. Now in Russia it is again a time of denunciations and whistle-blowing. And looking at the enthusiasts who engage in these things you wonder, taking into account the experience of the 1980s, how will these scoundrels look people in the eye when the miasma lifts and the state, as has happened before, changes its face and style, and says we must talk about mistakes that were made … But the fact is, those who engage in denouncing others usually live for the present day. And today belongs to them. And the projected time of truth and repentance – it’s not known when it will arrive …

In February 2022 Danila Kozlovsky found apt and precise words. I think at that time he surprised many people. And I think that, no less than his roles, his words at that time and the stance he took will be remembered. It can be difficult for well-known people, whose every word is greedily caught by a large audience, to express an opinion that they know will upset their fans. After all, they always want to get along with their fans. But the moment comes when they have to take a stand. And Kozlovsky took his.

Meanwhile, the Aleksandrinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg has cancelled the performance of Cyrano de Bergerac in April and May.  The fact is that the city police received a denunciation against the theatre’s chief director, Nikolai Roshchin. According to the person who wrote the denunciation, the production contained  signs of ‘discrediting’ the Russian armed forces. It is hard to say what this person had in mind. The police conducted a check (it is unclear in what form), and, so it seems, no signs of ‘discrediting’ were found. But the performance, nevertheless, has been cancelled for now. 

And one more thing. A concert by the rock-group Naiv has also been cancelled in St. Petersburg. Its soloist Aleksandr Ivanov spoke out in support of the family of Masha Moskaleva at one of his previous concerts.

Late on 20 April, a powerful explosion occurred in the centre of Belgorod on one of the city’s busy highways. The blast wave blew out the windows of nearby houses and threw a parked car onto the roof of a shop. A large crater was created at the crossroads.  At first, local residents and bloggers assumed the shelling came from Ukraine (and the most patriotic began expressing outrage that Kyiv, Chernihiv, and other enemy cities still had electricity and people could walk the streets). But then the Defence Ministry and the region’s governor announced there had been an ‘abnormal descent’ of a bomb from a Russian Su-34 military plane, a supersonic fighter-bomber, flying over the city. This news probably calmed the Z-patriot bloggers down a bit.

Fortunately there were no casualties.

Russian frontline cities are increasingly feeling the proximity of war. Accidental or not, over the past year 30 residents of Belgorod region have become victims of the war, according to the region’s governor. This is horrible and absurd. But if we are talking about casualties among civilians in Ukrainian cities, we have to count in numbers with five zeros.

Of course, those who support the war and the Russian dictator are outraged. Probably so are some of the residents of Belgorod region. From where, and why, are combat drones and now bombs flying at them? A familiar story. Residents of German cities, beginning from around 1942, realized with horror and indignation that they were victims of indiscriminate bombing by Allied aircraft and, of course, blamed it not on the Fuhrer, but on the insidious Anglo-Saxons who, out of the blue, were attacking peaceful German cities. Of course, they had heard about the raids on England, but then they knew from German newspapers that there the targets had been exclusively military in nature.  And, in any case, Germany had been attacked and was forced to defend itself. The Fuhrer had explained everything clearly.

But the residents of Belgorod have been bombed by their own planes. Well, it happens.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

Leave a Reply