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Kremlin pledges support for arrested billionaire Vardanyan if he holds Russian passport — Putin revoked his citizenship in December 2022

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Responding to questions from reporters on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he “had no information” regarding the detention of Ruben Vardanyan, the former State Minister of the unrecognized breakaway Republic of Artsakh. However, he emphasized that if Vardanyan is indeed a Russian citizen, his rights would be safeguarded by the Russian government.

“In any case, he is also a Russian citizen, he holds Russian citizenship, so we must determine whether there was indeed a detention. This is standard procedure, and naturally, we will ensure the protection of his rights,” Peskov stated, as reported by business publication RBC.

When questioned about Vardanyan's public announcement on September 1, 2022, in which he declared his intention to renounce Russian citizenship, become an Armenian citizen and move to Nagorno-Karabakh (referred to as Artsakh by ethnic Armenians), Peskov expressed uncertainty and declined to comment.

“I am not certain, and I cannot definitively comment on it. If he indeed renounced his Russian citizenship, that would be a different matter. Once again, I don’t want to be mistaken,” said Putin's spokesperson.

In late December 2022, President Vladimir Putin granted Vardanyan's request to revoke his Russian citizenship through a presidential decree.

Ruben Vardanyan co-founded and served as the main partner of the investment company Troika Dialog from 1992 to 2012. In 2021, Forbes estimated his net worth at $1 billion.

In March 2019, MEPs called for sanctions against Vardanyan, the former owner of Lithuanian bank Ukio Bankas Vladimir Romanov, and other individuals mentioned in an investigation into a scheme to launder funds through an offshore network. 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 was arrested by Azerbaijan’s State Border Service earlier today as he attempted to cross the border into Armenia. 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 ended on September 20, according to a statement by the Government of Armenia made earlier today.

On November 4, 2022, Vardanyan was appointed State Minister of the Republic of Artsakh — a position equivalent to that of prime minister in the unrecognized Karabakh Armenian administration.In February 2023, Vardanyan stepped down from his post. The day before his dismissal, Vardanyan's advisor, Mesrop Arakelyan, asserted that the politician had no intention of resigning.

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