Russian-Armenian billionaire Ruben Vardanyan has been arrested while attempting to leave the breakaway enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, after Azerbaijan gained control of the region. Vardanyan, who had ties to Russian oligarchs and politicians, had moved to Karabakh last year. He was arrested by Azerbaijani security services as he tried to leave the region alongside thousands of refugees. Following a short but decisive battle that ended a decades-long conflict, Azerbaijan seized the breakaway Armenian enclave, prompting an exodus of its ethnic Armenian residents.
During the 10-month Azerbaijani blockade of the only road linking Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, Vardanyan remained inside the enclave. Since the surrender of Karabakh last week, Baku has sought to absorb the region and has offered Azerbaijani citizenship to its residents. Over 50,000 people have fled to Armenia in the past four days, but fears exist that border guards are targeting and detaining members of Karabakh’s elite. Azerbaijan’s president has referred to the Karabakh elite as a “criminal junta” and vowed to bring those who committed war crimes to justice.
Vardanyan’s move to Nagorno-Karabakh was reportedly part of his plan to increase his influence in Armenian politics. However, suspicions arose in Azerbaijan that he was a secret emissary for Russia. It is believed that his failed attempt to seize power in a coup led to his dismissal as state minister by Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto president. Vardanyan remained trapped in the enclave as supplies of food and medicine dwindled. Azerbaijan’s border service announced that Vardanyan was detained at the border and has been handed over to the relevant state authorities in Baku.