South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from 2 April to 8 April, 2022

04/02/2022: Visit of the “President of the Republic of South Ossetia” to Donetsk and Mariupol.

South Ossetian “President” Anatoly Bibilov traveled to Donetsk on April 2 where he met with “Head of the Donetsk People’s Republic” Denis Pushilin before travelling to Mariupol together with Dmitry Sablin, Russian deputy since 2003 and member of the “United Russia” ruling party, also co-leader of the “Fighting Brotherhood” veterans’ organization and the “Anti-Maidan” nationalist movement, to visit Hospital No. 2 of the 17th district, where he reportedly handed over medical supplies, as well as in the Nikolske/Volodarske district, where he visited a refugee accommodation centre.

For all of us, as well as for all peoples living in the Russian Federation, Russia is the historical homeland. And this historic homeland connects South Ossetia, the Donetsk People’s Republic, and the Lugansk People’s Republic, and unites the whole Russian world. And in this regard, our aspirations are absolutely united, our attitude towards Russia is unshakable. Ukraine has not decided anything on its own ground for a long time. Therefore, we are all now Russia, we are all Donbass. I am absolutely sure that the Donetsk People’s Republic will be liberated. The special military operation is aimed precisely at this, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin’s message is absolutely correct. He always said that if the people decided their future, then no shells, no artillery could interfere with this aspiration. I am absolutely sure that the people of Donbass will win. I am absolutely sure that Russia will win. And I am absolutely sure that the Donetsk People’s Republic, despite all the gravity that exists today, will flourish and develop,” he said.

04/02/2022: First Abkhaz Investment Forum in Sochi.

On April 2, Sochi hosted the first Abkhaz Investment Forum attended by Abkhaz “Foreign Minister” Inal Ardzinba, President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Abkhazia Tamila Mertskhulava, Editor-in-Chief from Russia Today, Margarita Simonian, the head of the “AR Group” of real estate development, Haik Zebelian, the president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Sochi, Taras Yarosh as well as several entrepreneurs from Abkhazia and Russia.

04/04/2022: The “Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports of Artsakh” denies the Azerbaijani origin of the remains discovered in Karabakh on the basis of craniological arguments.

On April 04, the “Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports of Artsakh” asserted that the human remains discovered by the Azerbaijani side in Karabakh did not belong to Azerbaijanis on the basis of the following argument: “The human skulls shown in the [Azerbaijani] video have a brachycephalic (round head) structure of the anthropological Armenoid type typical of Armenians, while the population of Azerbaijan has a dolichocephalic (long head) structure of the caspian anthropological type. All the presented bones have a smooth surface, which in the archaeological sense means that they are not 30 years old, but centuries old, while the nomadic ancestors of the Azerbaijani population only invaded these parts of Artsakh than in the 18th and 19th centuries“.

04/04/2022: Ukraine accuses Georgia of hosting a “channel for smuggling goods” to Russia.

The intelligence directorate of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence denounced on April 4 the establishment by “Russian agents” of “smuggling networks that pass through Georgia in particular” in order to “bypass the sanctions“. The statement assures that “at the same time, the representatives of the Georgian special services have been instructed by political leaders not to interfere with the activities of the smugglers” and informs of “another channel for the supply of military goods to the Russia” with “East Asia”.

Ned Price, the spokesman for the US State Department, meanwhile, said the same day that he was “not in a position to substantiate or speak to the allegation [that Ukraine has mentioned]” and that “[countries that seek to evade sanctions] will face consequences if they attempt to evade sanctions or take actions that would otherwise contribute to Moscow’s war effort.

The Georgian State Security Service on April 5 asked Ukraine to “immediately provide evidence of this information to ensure a legal response” assuring that the Georgian government would be “intransigent with regard to any possible crime of this type“. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dimitri Kuleba said in response the same day: “We are waiting for official evidence and convincing arguments from Georgia that they are not doing this. Then we will decide what action to take if that evidence and argument is not compelling enough.

04/04/2022: Creation of an “initiative group” in South Ossetia to organize a referendum on joining the Russian Federation.

On April 4, South Ossetia’s “Res State News Agency” reported on the establishment of an “initiative group” to organize a referendum on joining the Russian Federation, ensuring that all the deputies had voted unanimously in favour of the said referendum. The next day, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko reportedly said, “Let’s first wait for the results of the elections to be held in South Ossetia on April 10, there will be presidential elections there. Then we’ll talk about everything else: the referendum, the reaction of the international community, including the United States. We probably shouldn’t discuss this in advance.”

The filing of the application for registration with the “Central Electoral Commission” was confirmed on 6 April. The question proposed for submission to a referendum is: “Do you support the unification of the Republic of South Ossetia and Russia?” “. The initiative group would include the “President of the Republic”, Anatoli Bibilov, as well as his 3 predecessors, Ludwig Chibirov, Eduard Kokoity and Leonid Tibilov. He would be represented by Parliament Speaker Alan Tadtaev, Parliament First Deputy Speaker Piotr Gassiev and President’s Assistant Atsamaz Kasaev. It would consist of 26 people in total. This registration decision should, according to the constitutional law, take place within 15 days.

04/04/2022: Conviction of 20 far-right activists in Georgia for the July 5 attack on journalists.

The Tbilisi City Court on April 4 sentenced 20 far-right activists from the Alt Info movement who pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting protesters and 53 media workers during the July 5 LGBTI Pride March. 19 of them received sentences of 1 to 5 years in prison. During the first hearing, 7 organizers of these counter-demonstrations were sentenced to several months in prison.

04/04/2022: Statement by the Public Defender on the worsening of human rights situation in Georgia and damning report by the European Parliamentary Research Service.

On April 4, Nino Lomjaria, the Public Defender of Georgia, delivered her report on the human rights situation in Georgia in 2021. On this occasion, she pointed out several dysfunctions starting with the abolition of the service of the State Inspector, legislative changes reducing the degree of independence of judges and interference and threats against her.

She also returned to the “cartographers’ case”, i.e. the arrest of two experts in July 2020 as part of their participation in the process of demarcation and delimitation of the borders between Azerbaijan and Georgia, and who have been accused of wanting to transfer a portion of sovereign territory to their South Caucasian neighbour. In this regard, she denounced “serious legal shortcomings” and “obvious political connotations“.

She also highlighted the trend of restriction of freedom of expression in the country and a “threatening and hostile environment in which journalists, civil society activists and human rights defenders operate“. She notably denounced a “disproportionate violence” used in the context of the dispersal of demonstrators, particularly on July 5 during the LGBTI Pride March which she described as “one of the saddest days in recent history of the country, where the State responsible for protecting human rights and security has not fulfilled its function”.

Nino Lomjaria also referred to cases of secret surveillance of “civil sector representatives, journalists, politicians, clergy and diplomats“, the “informal management in penitential establishments, which aims to silence inmates, to prevent them from talking about the problems and to maintain an illusory order in the establishments” or the problematic situation in the orphanages and psychiatric institutions by stating: “Last year, systematic violations of children’s rights, insults, inhuman treatment and demeaning of minors over the years, as well as signs of alleged child sex crimes have come to light at Ninotsminda boarding school“. Finally, she lamented that “the downward trends in cases of femicide and attempted femicide are still not observed.

Furthermore, on April 5, the European Parliament received the evaluation prepared by the Evaluation Unit of the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) which states that “Georgia has seriously regressed with regard to fundamental democratic principles and the main political commitments made under the Association Agreement“.

04/06/2022: Detention of a Georgian citizen in South Ossetia.

The Georgian State Security Service denounced on April 6 the detention of Georgian citizen Giorgi Kujoshvili from the village of Akhalubani in the municipality of Mtskheta on the border line with South Ossetia, in the village of Adzvi officially dependent on the municipality of Gori. The hotline administered by the European Union monitoring mission has been activated.

04/06/2022: Meetings between the President of the European Council and the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders in Brussels.

Following bilateral meetings on April 6 in the afternoon, a 4-hour trilateral meeting took place in Brussels in the evening between the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinian, and the President of the Council European, Charles Michel, who described the meeting as “excellent and very productive” and who noted “a lot of progress” made. He thus mentioned the joint decision to “launch a concrete process of peace talks, in order to prepare a possible peace treaty” and the establishment of a “working group, a joint commission, in order to approach boundary issues, which are sensitive“. According to Charles Michel, “the process [towards a peace treaty] has begun“. “It’s extremely clear,” he said, adding “it started tonight” during an exchange with the media.

Charles Michel’s statement issued by the European Council states that “it was agreed to instruct the Foreign Ministers to work towards the preparation of a future peace treaty, which would deal with all necessary issues” and that “in accordance at the Sochi Declaration of November 26, 2021, it was also agreed to convene a Joint Border Commission by the end of April”. This commission would aim to “demarcate the bilateral border between Armenia and Azerbaijan” and “ensure a stable security situation along and near the border“. He also stressed the need for “appropriate distance of forces” and “restoration of communication/connectivity infrastructure between Armenia and Azerbaijan in particular and in the South Caucasus more broadly“. The final document would not, to Azerbaijan’s great satisfaction, mention the territorial and administrative entity “Nagorno-Karabakh” nor that of the “Minsk group”.

Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov said: “It’s positive. It is clear that this process is a very, very long process, but the progress towards the conclusion of such a document is a very positive fact and we welcome it”.

The Azerbaijani Defence Ministry had accused the Armenian side on April 4 of ceasefire violations and firing towards the settlement of Agdam in the Tovuz region, as well as on April 7 of firing in the same direction on the evening of April 6, allegations denied by the Armenian Ministry of Defence on the same days.

On April 5, the Chairman of the Standing Committee on External Relations of the Armenian Parliament, Eduard Aghajanyan said that “the context that [preceded] this meeting, to put it mildly, [was] not the best context” and that “experience [showed] that Baku [was] not really interested in establishing peace“. In addition, several Armenian opposition movements, including “I have the honor” by Arthur Vanetsian and Serzh Sarksian and “Hayastan” by Robert Kocharian, had organized a large rally which reportedly brought together nearly 11,200 people in the Square of Freedom in Yerevan while calling “not to sign any agreement with Azerbaijan which could interfere with the full realization of the right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination“, to “exclude any status of Artsakh within of Azerbaijan as well as any situation in which Artsakh [would lose] its land connection with Armenia and [would find] itself in an enclave situation” and “not to enter into any agreement involving the establishment of relations with Turkey, which could challenge the fact of the Armenian Genocide“.

04/07/2022: Armenia and Azerbaijan do not take part in the UN General Assembly vote on the suspension of Russia from the Human Rights Council.

The United Nations General Assembly suspended Russia’s participation in the Human Rights Council on April 7, at the initiative of the United States, with 93 votes in favour, 24 against and 58 abstentions. Armenia, which has been a member of the Eurasian Economic Union since 2014, did not take part in the vote, unlike other members Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan who voted against. Azerbaijan did not take part in the vote either. Georgia came out in favour of this decision.

04/08/2022: The list of “hostile countries” published by Belarus does not include Georgia.

Following the publication of a list of “hostile countries” by Russia on March 3, Belarus, in response to the sanctions which also weigh on it, has just published its own list on which Georgia does not appear. It should be noted that on July 14, a cooperation agreement between the security services of the two States also entered into force.

04/08/2022: Statement by the Russian MFA following the refusal of France and the United States to communicate with the Russian side on the format of the Minsk Group regarding the resolution of the Karabakh conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said following his meeting with his Armenian counterpart, Ararat Mirzoyan, on April 8 that the “
French and American partners of this group [Minsk group], in a Russophobic frenzy, in a bid to nullify anything and everything related to the Russian Federation, said they would not communicate [with Russia] in this format” and therefore he did not know what the fate would be concerning the future of the “troika” of co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk group on the settlement of Karabakh conflict.

He further said: “Western attempts to withdraw Russia from the OSCE Minsk Group are irresponsible. The United States and France are ready to sacrifice the interests of the settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh and Transcaucasia […] These countries force everyone to stop cooperating on all fronts just to prove their ability to dictate their unilateral will [ …] I consider such an approach as absolutely irresponsible, it will not push us out, this choice is not ours. […] We confirmed today that the decision of the leaders of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, that the delimitation commission will be bilateral with the consultative participation of the Russian side, remains in force”.

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