YEREVAN — The Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh have failed their mission, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told POLITICO in an interview.

“As a result of the events in Ukraine, the capabilities of Russia have changed,” Pashinyan said, acknowledging that Moscow was seeking to avoid alienating Azerbaijan and its close ally Turkey.

“Our strategy should be to try in this situation to maximally decrease our dependency on others,” he added. “We want to have an independent country, a sovereign country, but we have to have ways to avoid ending up in the center of clashes between West and East, North and South … There cannot be a case when Armenia becomes a ‘proxy.’ This is not permissible.”

He said that Armenia can no longer rely on Moscow as a guarantor of its security, even as fears grow of a return to open conflict with Azerbaijan.

Calling on the big protector — Russia in Armenia’s case — each time conflict flared was simply unsustainable, Pashinyan said.

“The model by which we have problems with our neighbors and we have to invite others to protect us — it doesn’t matter who these others are — is a very vulnerable model.”

“The security situation has changed acutely with violations along the line of contact and invasion into the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Pashinyan said, accusing Azerbaijan of creating a humanitarian crisis by closing the Lachin Corridor — the only highway linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, which Russia’s troops were tasked with guarding under the terms of the 2020 ceasefire. “All of this … was supposed to be in the sphere of responsibility of Russian peacekeepers and as far as these issues exist, the Russian peacekeepers have failed in their mission,” he said.

Still, he added a caveat: “I can’t say though that if the Russian peacekeepers hadn’t been in Nagorno-Karabakh, the situation would now be better.”

The prime minister reiterated his support for talks, brokered by the U.S., EU and Russia, in an effort to deliver a peace agreement after decades of conflict with Azerbaijan.

“If we want to have lasting, eternal statehood, first of all we have to take very serious steps and invest very serious efforts to settle our relations with our neighbors,” the PM said.

At the same time as acknowledging the need to break reliance on the old ally in Russia, Pashinyan admitted there was a long way to go before Western countries could be seen as offering the full support Armenia needs.

“Our partners, the EU and the United States are also supporting us when it comes to democratic reforms agenda,” he said, before adding: “I cannot say that the support and the help that we are receiving is sufficient to serve our objectives and our agendas.”

Pashinyan said it was now up to the international community to ensure ethnic cleansing does not take place in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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