South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – From December 4 to December 10, 2021

12/02/2021 – The European Union approves 13 million euros in aid to strengthen the Georgia’s military and defense capabilities

On December 2, the Council of the EU adopted an aid measure amounting to 12.75 million euros for the strengthening of military and defense capabilities in Georgia, through the “Peace European Facility”(PEF), a financial instrument adopted last March for the military missions and operations of the Common Foreign Security Policy (CFSP). The aid includes medical and engineering equipment as well as means of civilian mobility. By way of comparison, Moldova and Ukraine will benefit respectively from 7 and 31 million euros (against 24 for Mali).
On the same day, at the meeting of OSCE foreign ministers, Russian Minister Sergei Lavrov called for the signing of a “legally binding” agreement to prevent any NATO enlargement to include Eastern European countries, in particular Georgia and Ukraine, by denouncing the decision of the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008 and by recalling its consequences during the presidency of Mikheïl Saakashvili. Javier Colomina, Deputy Assistant Secretary General of NATO and Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia recently reaffirmed support for Georgia’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and declined the former Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen’s proposals, not to apply Article 5 of the NATO Treaty with regard to Georgia, i.e., taking the example of the former East Germany, not to extend Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the integration agreement.

The policies of the Georgian government and of the leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, have been the subject of much criticism from the American Ambassador, Kelly Degnan, regarding the planned backtracking concerning the lowering of the 2% electoral threshold provided for in the April 19 agreement negotiated by the EU, or the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court made before the implementation of the judicial reform provided for by the same agreement, which also made the subject of criticism from the European External Action Service (EEAS). In particular, she said that “the one-party rule presents the risk of majority tyranny“.
On December 7, the State Inspector’s Service responsible for monitoring the protection of personal data denounced an offense committed by the Ministry of Justice and the prison services in connection with the detention of former President Mikheil Saakashvili and imposed a fine for violating data processing principles.

12/03/2021 – Georgian citizen freed from South Ossetia for two captured at weekend

The Georgian citizen captured last week in South Ossetia and imprisoned for “illegal border crossing” was released on December 3, following the request for intervention made to the EU Surveillance Mission and the informations transmission to the co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions, the 55th cycle of which took place on December 7 and 8. On the same day, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe declared that it was still waiting for Russia to compensate the victims of the mass deportations of 2006 to the tune of 10 million euros as decided by the ECHR in January 2019. On December 10, two other Georgian citizens were arrested in the village of Tsinagara near the Ossetian border.

12/03/2021 – Abkhazia: Violence in Sokhoumi and “game of musical chairs” at the ministries

The night of December 2-3 was the scene of violent brawls in Sokhoumi, the capital of the Abkhaz region, following searches of the homes of two women accused of creating anonymous social media accounts defaming the authorities. Relatives and neighbors are brawled with the police before the arrival at the scene of the deputy minister of tourism, Dato Kajaia, who allegedly fired shots leaving one injured, accompanied by the deputy head of the administration of the de facto President Aslan Bjania, Zurab Kajaia. Several opponents of the Aidgilara group are said to have gathered armed in front of the president’s home to demand his resignation. Dato Kajaia would have been dismissed from his post while Zurab Kajaia would have resigned on his own.
Dimitri Dbar, Minister of the Interior sacked on December 2, following pressure from the opposition due to the fight in which he had participated in Sokhoumi on September 30, was replaced by Valter Butba, who held various positions of fight against corruption in the Russian Ministry of the Interior from 2001 and carried out this type of mission in the Abkhaz ministry from 2016, after having been for two years Deputy Minister of the Interior between 2014 and 2016 under the presidency by Raul Khajimba.

12/04/2021 – Cancellation of the meeting of Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers and release of Armenian prisoners against mine cards.

The planned meeting between Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers, Jeyhun Bayramov and Ararat Mirzoyan, on December 3, on the sidelines of the OSCE MFA meeting in Stockolm, was canceled a few hours before it was held, due to the refusal the Azerbaijani side citing as the main reason the visit of Armenian parliamentarians to Nagorno-Karabakh which it considers a “provocation”, to the great regret of the co-chairs of the Minsk group (Andrew Schoffer, Igor Khovaev and Brice Rocquefeuil). A joint official statement by the MFAs of the three member countries of the Minsk group supporting the resumption of negotiations was published on December 7. 10 Armenian prisoners of war, captured during the clashes of November 16, were nevertheless handed over to the Armenian side on December 4, in exchange for maps of the Karabakh mines, in particular Aghdam, Fizouli and Jabraïl, thanks to Russian mediation, approach welcomed by Karen Donfried, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. This is the second such exchange after the June 12 exchange facilitated by the Georgian side. As a reminder, a soldier and a civilian were handed over by the Azerbaijani side on November 26.

While disagreements persist over the interpretation of agreements relating to the development of regional transport routes, particularly concerning the “Zanguezour corridor” demanded by President Ilham Aliev, and the Armenian side wishes to separate these issues in the negotiations. to those relating to the border demarcation, the clashes around the demarcation line persist: an Armenian civilian residing in the Martouni district, near the demarcation line was reportedly killed by the Azerbaijani soldiers on December 3, the day after shooting which were reportedly carried out in the same area by the Azerbaijani side, and the death of an Armenian soldier was reported on 5 December while that of an Azerbaijani soldier was reported on 8 December. Exchanges of fire were also said to have taken place on December 9 in the Gegharkunik region. Meanwhile, two Azerbaijani citizens are believed to have died following a mine explosion near Shusha on the same day. Skirmishes resumed on December 10, leaving one Armenian dead and eight injured.

On December 7 and 8, several protests by relatives of Armenian prisoners of war took place in Gyumri and Yerevan after Alen Simonian, Speaker of the Armenian Parliament, declared that he regarded the released soldiers as “deserters” and “that they no longer existed for him ”. Five of the returning prisoners have reportedly been charged with “violation of the rules of duty”.

12/05/2021 – The last round of local elections in Armenia marks the victory of Nikol Pashinyan’s ruling “Civil Contract” party.

The last round of the Armenian local elections was held on December 5 with a turnout of 42%, following the first two rounds which took place on October 17 and November 14. The ruling party “Civil Contract” won 24 of the 36 municipalities, in a context of municipal merger reducing their number from 500 to 79, which explains, for example, a participation rate of 0% in two villages in the province of Gegharkunik, in protest against their integration into the municipality of Sevan. Several large cities have nevertheless been lost by the party of President Nikol Pashinyan, such as Vanadzor, Abovyan or Sevan. The US Embassy has recognized the competitive nature of the elections while pointing to some pressure on opposition candidates. Tensions in the village of Aintap were reported with the election day imprisonment of two opposition candidates. A fight also reportedly broke out on December 7 in the office of the vice-president of the National Assembly between pro-government members and members of the Hayastan party.

06/12/2021: Visit of the Abkhaz Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Chinese Ambassador to Syria

On December 6, Bagrat Khutab, the de facto Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Abkhaz Republic, met with Feng Biao, the Chinese Ambassador to Syria, in Damascus. The Georgian Foreign Ministry is to meet with Chinese Ambassador to Georgia Li Yan to seek clarification on the meeting. The People’s Republic of China has never officially recognized the Republic of Abkhazia, unlike Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Syria and Nauru.

07/12/2021: Arrests of demonstrators close relatives to those convicted in the “Terter case” in Baku, hunger strike by Saleh Rustamov and decision of the ECHR concerning the Election Monitoring Center.

On December 7, the protest action by relatives of those convicted in the very controversial “Terter case” for “espionage for the benefit of the Armenian secret services” in 2017, planned to take place near the presidential administration, and aimed at requesting a review charges against the prisoners, was stopped by the rapid reaction forces of the Interior Ministry. On June 28, several members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe opened an investigation into allegations of state torture in this case. 8 suspects are said to have died during their detention.
For his part, Saleh Rustamov, a political opponent who went on a hunger strike on November 6, is the subject of concerns on the part of his lawyer, doctors at the prison hospital and human rights activists. Eli Karimli, leader of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan (FPA) is also calling for his release. The ECHR has approached the authorities to consider adopting interim measures. On December 2, it also ordered the Azerbaijani state to pay approximately 6,000€ in compensation to two applicants for the illegality of the delay in registering the Election Monitoring Center between 2006 and 2008 and its subsequent liquidation.

12/07/2021: Provisional measures of the International Court of Justice in The Hague concerning Azerbaijan

On December 7, the International Court of Justice in The Hague took several protective measures against Azerbaijan following the request filed by Armenia on September 16 for violations of the international convention against all forms of racial discrimination. Azerbaijan is thus obliged to protect those arrested in connection with the 2020 conflict from any abuse, prevent incitement to hatred and racial discrimination against all persons of Armenian national or ethnic origin, prevent and punish all acts of degradation of Armenian cultural heritage, including churches and places of worship. The ICJ thus did not order the release of prisoners of war from Azerbaijan and did not ban the use of landmines by Armenia, and it urged both sides to “refrain from any act which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to settle it ”.

12/07-08/2021: 55th round of the Geneva International Discussions

The 55th round of the Geneva International Discussions took place on December 7 and 8, during which Russia reiterated the need for the signing of a “legally binding” non-use of force agreement by Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, an agreement made, according to her, increasingly relevant given the reinforced NATO presence in the Black Sea and on Georgian territory. It also continues to demand a demarcation of state borders between Georgia and its secessionist republics. The United States, for its part, reiterated its support for Georgia’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and called for strict compliance with the 2008 ceasefire agreement, i.e. the withdrawal of troops to pre-conflict positions, and the freedom of intervention of humanitarian organizations.
No progress could be made on the question of the return of Georgian displaced persons and refugees to their homes of origin, due to the withdrawal from the discussions, which has become traditional, of the Russian, Abkhaz and South Ossetian participants, the two parties accusing each other of politicizing the debate. Russia continues to call for the participation of the Abkhaz and Ossetian authorities in the consideration of the resolution submitted to the UN by Georgia on these issues.
Despite everything, all parties underlined the proper functioning of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (MPRI) of Ergneti, on the South Ossetian border, and the Abkhaz side said it was ready to respond favorably to the Georgian request to relaunch that of Gali, interrupted in 2018.

The South Ossetian side raised concerns about the Georgian installation of the Chorchana-Tsnelisi observation post and the Georgian side called for the release of Abkhazia from Irakli Bebua as to shed light on the murders of three other Georgian citizens. On December 8, the remains of 8 Georgian victims of the 1992-93 conflict in Abkhazia were returned to the Georgian side. 2,300 people are still missing, including the victims of the 2008 conflict.

The next round will take place on March 29 and 30, 2022.

12/09/2021: Gas agreement signed between Russia and Abkhazia and controversy over Besleti hydropower plant

On December 9, the Abkhaz and Russian authorities signed an agreement on access to gas in the break-away region of Georgia. Gasification of the region is made all the more necessary as Abkhazia is extremely dependent on electricity for heating in winter and the waters of the Enguri dam are declining. In addition, very widespread cryptocurrency mining activities are particularly energy intensive. It should be noted that the privatization of the Besleti hydroelectric power station, the ownership of which was acquired last year by the leader of the Aidgilara opposition group, Kan Kvarchia, was declared illegal by the Abkhaz courts on December 1, because of its belonging to the historical heritage. The opposition leader denounces a political manoeuvre.

10/12/2021: First meeting in Moscow in 3 + 2 format on the resolution of the Karabakh conflict

The first cooperation meeting in the 3 + 3 format at the initiative of Turkey took place in Georgia’s absence on December 10 in Moscow, and brought together the deputy foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Russia and the Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran. This negotiation platform gives priority to practical questions of trade, economy, transport, culture and humanitarian aid and, while operating on the consensus mode, should not replace other platforms for international negotiations.

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South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – From December 11 to December 17, 2021