Ruben Vardanyan, the former State Minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (also known as the Republic of Artsakh) was detained at a border checkpoint while trying to leave for the town of Goris in Armenia’s Syunik province earlier today, according to a report by Russian state-owned news agency TASS citing to a source in his entourage.
Vardanyan's wife Veronika Zonabend confirmed that he was detained by Azerbaijani authorities to the RBC news publication.
“This morning my husband, Ruben Vardanian, a philanthropist, businessman and former state minister of the Republic of Artsakh, was arrested and captured by Azerbaijani authorities at the border while trying to leave Artsakh with thousands of other Armenians fleeing the Azerbaijani occupation,” Zonabend said.
Update: Azerbaijan's State Border Service has confirmed the detention of Ruben Vardanyan. According to a statement released by the agency, Vardanyan was taken to Baku and handed over to “the relevant state to the relevant state authorities to make an appropriate decision.“
“On September 27, Ruben Karlenovich Vardanyan, born in 1968, who illegally entered the country and worked as the so-called 'State Minister of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic' as a result of the vigilance of the military personnel of the State Border Service, was detained at the exit point of the 'Lachin' state border while moving from the Republic of Azerbaijan in the direction of Armenia,“ the statement read.
The Border Service also published a photo of Vardanyan in handcuffs, which are blurred out in the published image.
Karabah ex-state minister Ruben Vardanyan in handcuffs after being detained by Azerbaijan's State Border Service
Meanwhile, over 42,000 refugees — a third of the separatist ethnic Armenian enclave's population — have already left Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia since Azerbaijan's lightning offensive, according to a statement by the Government of Armenia made earlier today.
Last September, Vardanyan said he was renouncing Russian citizenship and moving to Nagorno-Karabakh.
“I made a decision, realizing the risks I was taking, to renounce my Russian citizenship and move to Artsakh as an Armenian citizen. This decision was very difficult for me, but it is the right thing to do,” he said.
On November 4, 2022, he was appointed State Minister of the Republic of Artsakh — a position equivalent to that of prime minister in the unrecognized Karabakh Armenian administration.
He was dismissed from his post on February 23, 2023, under pressure from Azerbaijan: Vardanyan's resignation was one of Azerbaijan's key demands to unblock the Lachin Corridor — the only road leading from the region to Armenia.
According to Forbes, Vardanyan's fortune was last estimated at $1 billion. Last year, he was ranked 116th on the list of Russia's richest people.
Ruben Vardanyan is an investor, venture philanthropist and entrepreneur, the co-founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, one of the founders and first president (2006-2011) of the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management, the co-founder of UWC Dilijan College in Armenia, and the main partner of the investment company Troika Dialog (1992-2012).
In 2019, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reported that Vardanyan’s Troika Dialog was involved in laundering and withdrawing about $9 billion from Russia — including money transferred to President Vladimir Putin's friend Sergei Roldugin, family members of former Samara Region Governor Vladimir Artyakov, and friends of Vardanyan himself.
Vardanyan rejected the accusations, publishing an open letter on the website of IDeA (Initiatives for Development of Armenia):
“Everything is mixed up in the published materials: information taken out of context, interpretations and fiction — apples and oranges. [...] Our lawyers are now studying all possible legal actions to protect our reputation. At the same time, we somehow forget the times in which we lived: Troika was founded in the early 1990s, when the investment banking industry did not exist, and the entire country was in a startup situation. Back then, we refused to live by the ‘laws of the jungle’ and did our best to create a civilized environment in Russia with clear rules of the game. It is wrong to assess Troika's activities outside of the historical, economic and business context, measuring them by the standards of today.”