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“Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin and Aliyev did not discuss the situation around Ruben Vardanyan during the open part of the CIS summit. The key phrase here is “the open part,” that is, publicly. It is no coincidence that the Russian president’s press secretary mentioned this topic despite it not being discussed at the meeting. Peskov made it clear that Vardanyan’s fate is at least a reason for a serious conversation with his Azerbaijani counterpart. Especially given the fact that Baku is holding dozens of Artsakh leaders under arrest.

According to information from various sources, Moscow allegedly guaranteed their security, while Russian peacekeepers even tried to protect them. But Azerbaijani military forces did not allow them to be taken away from the peacekeeper base at Stepanakert airport. They demanded to extradite everyone and threatened to shoot down the aircraft if they tried to leave by helicopter. After the car with the deputy commander of the peacekeeping group was shot at, these threats were taken seriously.

The detention of the republic’s authorities raises questions, but Armenian military leaders are one thing, and Ruben Vardanyan, who moved to Karabakh after the hostilities were over, is completely different.

Previously, a convenient explanation was offered to the public: no passport — no problem. Of course, it is a poor man’s version, just like the idea that Vardanyan, who renounced his Russian citizenship, wanted to dodge sanctions. But when someone tries to avoid economic restrictions, they usually end up on the beach in front of their mansion, not in Karabakh at war with bullets whizzing overhead.

For a man of this scale and wealth, moving to an enemy-surrounded enclave is rather an act of self-sacrifice. In a certain sense, this is a truly Christian action when a person risks himself to save others. In our times, this is an extremely rare occurrence. One of Vardanyan’s humanitarian projects, Aurora, actually awards people who risk their own lives to save others.

Vardanyan is not only a businessman, but also a well-known patron of the arts and a philanthropist. He has funded many educational and humanitarian projects around the globe. He was on boards of trustees at Skolkovo, RANEPA, the Pushkin Museum, Pletnev Orchestra and the GES-2 art space. Many of Vardanyan’s humanitarian projects are connected with Russia in one way or another, so allegations around surrendering his passport are just an attempt to create some negative context where none exists. A passport, just like citizenship, is not synonymous with patriotism, but merely a bureaucratic procedure. I’d like to believe that Vardanyan’s services to Russia — not in terms of business, but in terms of humanitarian aid — are worth devoting a few moments of Putin’s time with Aliyev regarding his fate. Even if not publicly, but in a private meeting.”

Igor Dimitriev, political consultant, orientalist, historian