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Last resort: Ruben Vardanyan desperate to use Khankendi airport as a narco route

Azerbaijan Materials 6 January 2023 14:03 (UTC +04:00)
Last resort: Ruben Vardanyan desperate to use Khankendi airport as a narco route
Maryana Akhmedova
Maryana Akhmedova
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BAKU, Azerbaijan, January 6. Iran and Armenia have earned themselves a bad reputation for being a part of one of the hubs in global drug trafficking. Karabakh, being under Armenian occupation for about 30 years, acted as a transit point, through which, the two allies were smuggling all kinds of drugs.

After Azerbaijan liberated its lands from the thirty-year Armenian occupation in the second Karabakh war in 2020, the drug flow was disrupted... except for one road. The Lachin-Khankendi road. Meanwhile, Azerbaijanis started staging peaceful protests on the road since December 2022, demanding to stop illegal mining in Karabakh. Feeling the pressure, the so-called "prime minister of Karabakh" Ruben Vardanyan, started looking for a way out - both regarding the illegal mining (which he is involved in) and the drug money.

Yesterday, Vardanyan, a fugitive Russian billionaire of Armenian origin, who illegally seized the power in Karabakh, has made a statement on the need to open the airport in the city of Khankendi, calling it “the only way for the residents of Karabakh to survive winter”.

Vardanyan has been making unreasonable allegations against Azerbaijan in connection with blocking the Lachin-Khankendi road – the only way for residents of Karabakh to get to Armenia. Since the peaceful protest of Azerbaijani NGOs on the Lachin-Khankendi road near the city of Shusha started, the road has remained open for humanitarian purposes. Dozens of supply cars of Russian peacekeepers, or vehicles of the International Committee of the Red Cross have been crossing the road daily.

Although, desperate Vardanyan, trying to deceive everyone, hiding behind Karabakh residents, remains persistent. Having lost the last land route along the Lachin-Khankendi road, he pushes the idea of opening an air corridor. Fabricating rumors about the “humanitarian crisis” and “starving Armenians”, he is just using the residents of Karabakh in pursuit of his own interests.

Vardanyan has already gained a reputation in Russia. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has published an extensive investigation into his illegal operations. Apparently, he has been laundering money of Russian oligarchs to the West. According to OCCRP, from 2006-2013, more than $4.5 billion passed through various accounts. During this time, about $9 billion was laundered and withdrawn from Russia.

In September 2022, Vardanyan announced renunciation of his Russian citizenship and moved to Karabakh, where in early November, he proclaimed himself "the prime minister" of the unrecognized republic.

Now, he is using Karabakh for illegally extracting and exporting Azerbaijani gold. But, is this the only reason?

Back in November 2022, news reports said 14 Iranian citizens entered the territory of Azerbaijan’s Karabakh, where Russian peacekeepers are temporarily deployed. According to the sources, 12 out of 14 people who arrived in Khankendi on November 24 are from the city of Izeh in southwestern Iran. The commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces, Major General Andrei Volkov, said that these people are working at a construction site, and the matter is currently under investigation.

This investigation still hasn't been wrapped up. Meanwhile, new reports appeared on another group of 13 Iranians - just six days after the arrival of the first group.

So, what was the real reason for these Iranians to cross the border of Azerbaijan?

It should be noted that Iran continues to remain part of the drug trafficking route that runs from Afghanistan to Europe. The Secretary General of the Iranian Anti-Drug Headquarters has even admitted that most of the world's drugs pass through Iran. According to his statement, citing an official UN report, 90 percent of the world's opium is found and seized in Iran. Another 50 percent of morphine and 27 percent of heroin also account for Iran.

This is where Karabakh fits in.

It has been kind of a ‘hub’ for Iran’s drug smuggling business. During the 30-year-long occupation of Azerbaijani lands, Armenia acted as a backup for Iran’s illicit actions.

According to information obtained by Trend, drug labs have been set up in Karabakh, and apparently, Vardanyan is the one managing this business.

Right now, due to Azerbaijan's victory in the second Karabakh war in 2020 and the recent peaceful protest on the Lachin-Khankendi road, the ongoing drug business through Karabakh has received a couple of noticeable blows, forcing both Iran and the separatists to desperately look for a way out.

What Vardanyan doesn't seem to realize is that Azerbaijan, in any case, would fight any illicit business on its lands. This means that all the dreams of opening an airport in Khankendi to use it for drug trafficking should be forgotten about.

As for the Armenians in Karabakh, they should ask themselves - who really cares about their future? Is it the billionaire drug lord who deals drugs left and right, covering it up with "humanitarian" shield? Really?

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