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Wednesday February 1 2023

Lost among his whopping lies, notorious Karabakh chieftain got grilled on BBC’s HARDtalk

23 January 2023 17:22 (UTC+04:00)
Lost among his whopping lies, notorious Karabakh chieftain got grilled on BBC’s HARDtalk
 Fuad Muxtar-Aqbabali
Fuad Muxtar-Aqbabali
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Be that as it may, I am more than sure that when Russian oligarch of Armenian origin Ruben Vardanyan was invited to the BBC’s HARDtalk chat show, he was more than confident about his ability to peddle his falsehoods and transparent deception, accusing Azerbaijan of “violating the rights of 120,000 Armenians”.

However, the truth that transpired after a nearly 25-minute grilling by Stephen Sackur, was that the morale-sapping blow that Vardanyan sustained would be sufficient to consider the Kremlin project was watered down following previous disastrous projects spearheaded by people, like Volskiy and others.

Well, alas, both in a real-life situation and on TV, he got stuck between a rock and a hard place, dodging most of the questions Stephen Sackur sought to get answers. Finally, Ruben Vardanyan proved his powerlessness and impotence to move ahead with his unfounded accusations.

Notorious for his “dodgy business dealings” in Russia prior to being parachuted to Karabakh and being a major actor in the Kremlin Karabakh project, and who enjoys the attention of various Russian media outlets, on BBC’s HARDtalk, he proved his futility and ability to only own billions through money laundering.

Though his deliberate and gross lies hit the headlines of pro-Kremlin media, Vardanyan was unlucky on BBC’s HARDtalk. Stephen Sackur literally pinned the Russian oligarch to the wall with his sharp questions and said that Vardanyan had two options: either to abandon Karabakh or obtain Azerbaijani citizenship along with the Armenian community he leads.

Stephen Sackur did not shy away from speaking about Vardanyan’s dubious past and the establishment of a money-laundering scheme, calling Vardanyan "part of Putin's oligarchy".

Throughout the interview, Sackur reminded Vardanyan of his past in Russia, where he made billions through corruption schemes and connections with Putin. He was incontrovertibly unready for such a scenario: he looked tightly stretched and trepidatious; moreover, he unsuccessfully tried several times to direct the conversation to the “humanitarian catastrophe reigning in Karabakh”.

However, the host reminded him continuously that the actions of the oligarch are also the cause of the misfortunes taking place in the region, because his arrival in Khankandi, who is closely associated with the Russian elite and Vladimir Putin, brought nothing but a worsening situation for the ethnic Armenians in the area.

The host also stopped Vardanyan's frequent use of the term "Artsakh" and reminded him that they were talking about the territories of Azerbaijan, internationally known as "Karabakh".

On why the Russian peacekeepers are not unblocking the road, Vardanyan in a futile attempt tried to dodge the question, ascribing it to the small number of peacekeepers and that they are armed with light weapons and do not have the right to shoot at all. However, Stephen Sackur reminded the embattled oligarch that the real reason is that Putin is busy with the war in Ukraine and Russia's military resources are dwindling.

“That puts you in a very vulnerable position, doesn't it? Because you should not expect support from Putin,” the host said ironically.

“The only way to save you is Putin’s intervention, right?” - the host turned to Vardanyan.

The Armenian billionaire again hastened to get away from the topic. During the interview, he generally tried not to make any statements about Russia, and stubbornly avoided questions about Russian aggression against Ukraine.

When Stephen Sackur questioned him about the contradictions between the Armenian government and Ruben Vardanyan, adding that Yerevan often criticizes Russia and its peacekeepers, while Vardanyan himself tries to justify Russia, the "minister of state" again tried to redirect the conversation to "the plight of the Karabakh Armenians", but failed again.

The presenter recalled that "toxic relations" reign between Vardanyan and the Armenian government, connected precisely with disagreements over the fate of the Karabakh Armenians. He noted that Yerevan recognizes Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan and speaks only of the "rights" of the Armenian community, while Vardanyan still claims "sovereignty and independence".

Recalling investigations by OCCRP and the Russian opposition activist Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation a few years ago, Stephen Sackur touched upon Vardanyan's shady past and the creation of a money-laundering scheme, calling him "part of Putin's oligarchy," adding that he accumulated his billions owing to his links to Putin with whom he has been in good terms.

Later, the BBC host told Vardanyan that after the 2020 war, the Karabakh Armenians have only two options: “Either your community must enter into a dialogue with Azerbaijan and reach a political understanding, or leave Karabakh. What do you think should happen?"

The approach of the host coincided with official Baku’s stance as the Azerbaijani leadership has repeatedly stated that the Armenian community of Karabakh should either accept Azerbaijani citizenship and thus automatically gain rights and security, or leave the region. After Vardanyan spoke about the “right to self-determination” of the Karabakh Armenians, the presenter said that in the long term, there is no alternative for them to integrate with Azerbaijan.

“The only way to save you is Putin’s intervention, right?” the host turned to Vardanyan.

"I don't understand what you mean," he replied angrily.

Last but not the least, Sackur told the oligarch that many Karabakh Armenians considered him the cause of their troubles and want him to abandon the region though he ridiculed the call and linked it to his respect for the diversity of opinions.

The oligarch’s reluctance to comment on the Russian war in Ukraine once again confirmed that he is the project of the pro-Kremlin groups in the region and part of the Sargsyan-Kocharyan clan with inseparable ties to Russia.

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