The Hypocrisy of evading sanctions under the guise of "patriotism"  (ANALYSIS)

By Yegana Hajiyeva

Ruben Vardanyan, a Russian billionaire of Armenian descent, moved to the territories of Azerbaijan where Russian peacekeepers are temporarily stationed. To achieve his goals, Vardanyan decided to renounce his Russian citizenship and created a Foundation. 

The arrival of Ruben Vardanyan, who had triple citizenship (Russia, Armenia, Malta) in Karabakh has less to do with the reasons he officially announced. His activities in the past years show that he acquired wealth from illegal transactions, including money laundering, illegal arms trade and drug trafficking. 

Vardanyan’s current steps can be considered the continuation of his machinations adapted to the new era. The report released by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in March 2019 also touched upon the activities of oligarchs of Armenian origin in Russia and mentioned the existing joint network between them and their colleagues in Armenia. The report also pointed to the involvement of this network in money laundering in Russia. These oligarchs organized the withdrawal of 9 billion US dollars from the country through their own investment bank. The network, called “Troika Laundromat” in the report, is accused of laundering the dirty money of corrupt Russian oligarchs and politicians and hiding their assets abroad. The report also presented Ruben Vardanyan, a 53-year-old billionaire oligarch and former owner of the Troika Dialog investment company, as one of the key figures of this network. The network’s close links with Russia’s ruling elite were pointed out as well.

The fact is that Vardanyan, who is involved in money laundering, drug trafficking and illegal arms trade, carried out part of his activities in the de-occupied Azerbaijani territories. He was one of the masterminds behind looting and transporting the natural resources of Karabakh. Vardanyan did not carry out his illegal activities in Karabakh alone. He jointly acted with Armenian billionaire of Lebanon descent Noubar Afeyan, who holds Canadian and US citizenship. The “duo”, known as illegal arms dealers in the Middle East, also took an active part in the illegal settlement of the formerly occupied territories of Azerbaijan. They masterminded the settlement of Armenian families from Syria and Lebanon in Karabakh. Vardanyan implemented the so-called “Building an eco-village” project in Karabakh.

The institutions Vardanyan created under the name of “humanitarian foundations” allocated funds for the construction of Armenian villages, churches, and schools in Karabakh, Lebanon and Syria. The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, co-founded by Ruben Vardanyan and Noubar Afeyan, benefited from the financial assistance of international donor organizations to finance the settlement of Lebanese Armenians to Karabakh. Although the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is officially presented as a humanitarian organization, it took an active part in promoting Armenian lies and achieving the recognition of the so-called “Armenian genocide”. The organization is also known as a propagandist of anti-Turkish sanctions.

The reality is that Vardanyan disguised his illegal businesses under the name of patronage. The article, entitled “Troika Laundromat accusations cast millionaire Vardanyan in new light”, published by RFE/RL with reference to the OCCPR report, noted that the Russian billionaire abused charitableness.

“He legalized and embezzled millions of funds under the name of helping schools and cultural institutions,” the article reads. ( 

Vardanyan also benefited from the “Karabakh project” to carry out his illegal business.

Russian oligarchs are experiencing serious problems amid the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war. According to Forbes, the EU-approved sixth package of sanctions target more than 80 Russian oligarchs. ( ). This is the number of oligarchs sanctioned in just one package. Other packages further increase the number of sanctioned oligarchs. Since the beginning of the war, more than 10 Russian oligarchs have mysteriously died. In short, the ongoing war in Ukraine has become a kind of disaster for Russian oligarchs. According to reports, Ruben was warned by his acquaintances in Kyiv over the risk of falling under Western sanctions.

Vardanyan's move to Karabakh and renunciation of Russian citizenship is an attempt to avoid such sanctions. It is reported that he will not only protect his life and property in Karabakh, but he also came to the region to save the money of the network of oligarchs he cooperated with in Russia. In Karabakh, he plans to carry out his illegal transactions again under the name of charity.

Ruben Vardanyan also had an illegal business network in Malta. His business there still exists and his opportunities are wider. In 2021, The Shift, the well-known online news platform, published an article about “the latest list of persons who obtained citizenship in Malta”. According to the news platform, those persons are famous businessmen whose names are mentioned in corruption and illegal transaction cases. Vardanyan’s name stands first on the list.  

Yegana Hajiyeva is political scientist, chairperson of the Institute of Young Democrats


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