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South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from April 30 to May 6, 2022

04/29-05/05/2022: Multiplication of Armenian-Georgian meetings.

Georgian Foreign Minister Ilya Darchiashvili, who travelled to Baku on April 27-28, visited Yerevan on April 29-30 where he met with Armenian President Vahagn Khachaturian, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and National Assembly Speaker Alen Simonian to discuss different areas of their bilateral cooperation and in the area of ​​peace and security in the South Caucasus. In particular, it was agreed to work on new mechanisms to further promote tourist flows between the two countries and an emphasis was placed on the establishment of the Persian Gulf-Black Sea corridor.

On May 2, Armenian Justice Minister Karen Andreasian visited Tbilisi to meet Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and his Georgian counterpart Rati Bagradze with whom they opened the Legal Forum between the two countries, platform for cooperation on access to notarial services, e-government services and penitential and probation reforms.

On May 4 and 5, the Armenian Defence Minister, Suren Papikian, also travelled to Tbilisi to meet the Georgian Prime Minister and his counterpart Juansher Burchuladze with whom they discussed bilateral defence cooperation, as well as the impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine on the security architecture in the South Caucasus, a subject on which a cooperation plan 2022 has been signed. The Georgian side expressed its readiness to facilitate dialogue in the South Caucasus with its peaceful neighbourhood initiative. On May 4, Armenian Security Council Secretary Armen Grigorian also travelled to Tbilisi to meet with Georgian Prime Minister and Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri.

04/29/2022: Abkhazia denounces “hybrid information warfare” by Georgia.

At a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Inal Arzinba on April 29 denounced “a hybrid information war” being waged by the Georgia while announcing the ongoing development of a “special software” intended to analyse publications on Abkhazia in foreign media and which should, according to him, make it possible to select “the right tools to respond to certain situations, mainly related misinformation and outright provocations“.

Maria Zakharova, meanwhile, said, “We treat Georgia as a sovereign state, which has also gone through a very difficult and complicated path” while emphasizing that her desire to pursue “true sovereignty“, whether or not Russia is agree with Georgian views, was nevertheless a welcome development. She accused “the West” of bringing a “destructive ideology” into this country. She highlighted the increase in economic ties and people-to-people contacts despite the severance of diplomatic relations. Regarding the suspension of the Geneva International Discussions, she said that “under the banners of tolerance, the pursuit of peace in its diversity, freedom of expression and pluralism, the West [has] fallen into this absolutely pathetic ideology of rejecting anything that does not correspond to one’s own view of the world“. Regarding the invasion in Ukraine, she argued that it was not “turbulence” but “the beginning of global tectonic changes“.

05/01/2022: 10,000 demonstrators in the streets of Yerevan to demand the resignation of Nikol Pashinian.

From May 1, about 10,000 demonstrators gathered in the streets of the Armenian capital, in particular on Place of France, to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian by responding to the call of the two opposition blocs ” Armenian Alliance” and “I have the honour”. The demonstrators denounce a policy of ceding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan and are mobilizing in a logic of civil disobedience while considering a general strike recreating the conditions under which the current Prime Minister himself came to power. They were joined the same evening by the two former Armenian presidents, Serge Sarkissian and Robert Kotcharian. By May 2, about 200 people had been arrested. On 4 May, opposition parliamentarians returned to their posts, while Parliament was placed under heavy police protection, to demand the Prime Minister’s resignation and read a collective text of various accusations relating to the failure of negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh, the military defeat and the issue of prisoners of war still detained in Azerbaijan, before leaving the Chamber again. This text was also read in front of the demonstrators by the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Ishkhan Saghatelian on the same day.

On May 5, Dmitry Peskov, the Russian President’s spokesman, described these events as “entirely and completely Armenia’s internal affair” while declaring: “Armenia is our ally, it is our partner in several integration formats which are very important for us, Armenia is our great friend. Therefore, we are of course interested in seeing this period end as soon as possible in Armenia, so that a period of stability begins again, which will allow us to gradually move towards the implementation of the trilateral agreements on Karabakh“.

05/01/2022: Ukraine accuses the three South Caucasian countries of helping Russia evade sanctions.

Ukraine’s Defence Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate on May 1 denounced assistance from the three South Caucasian countries provided to Russia to evade sanctions, stating: “Moscow is also in talks with Georgia, the Armenia and Azerbaijan to re-export Russian products to international markets. It is planned to supply Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani products and export them to third countries. More than 200 companies are already established in these countries” mainly drawing attention to the Armenian position by informing: “Armenia creates favourable conditions for Russian companies to do business, especially in the IT field. Since the beginning of the large-scale Russian aggression against Ukraine, about 85,000 Russian citizens and 113 IT companies have arrived in Armenia. Russian citizens have established about 1,000 private companies and more than 250 LLCs in Armenia, which will pay taxes to the budgets of Armenia and Russia.” On May 4, this body also denounced the establishment of a channel for the smuggling of counterfeit goods through Georgia, stating that “representatives of the Georgian special services [had] been instructed by political leaders not to interfere with the smugglers’ activities”.

Georgian Finance Minister Lasha Khutsishvili on May 2 denied the allegations, calling them “completely incomprehensible“. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili refuted the allegations which he called “absurd” and “slanderous” and reaffirmed that “Georgia will never allow the transit of sanctioned goods“. Georgian Economy Minister Levan Davitashvili said on May 4: “Georgia clearly adheres to the agreements we have with our [international] partners. Georgia had the clearest positions in all international formats. Georgia is the staunchest supporter of the territorial integrity of Ukraine”. Irakli Kobakhidze, leader of the “Georgian Dream” party also said: “Ukraine still maintains trade relations with Russia around gas supply. It is a country at war. In such a situation, we understand better why we maintain our trade relations with Russia. Where Ukraine has these relations, it makes sense that we also have our positions.”

Georgia’s State Security Service responded on May 5 asking Ukraine to provide evidence of these charges “in order to ensure a legal response” to what falls under “the category of extremely serious crimes” in specifying that “the sharing of this information is provided for by several bilateral agreements” and specifying that “in other circumstances, the published statement will be considered to be deliberate disinformation, represents an extremely hostile and provocative step and is intended to stir up internal disturbances in Georgia which, with or without significance, only serve the interests of the hostile forces”.

It should be noted that calls are increasing for the transfer of the imprisoned former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, close to Ukrainian power circles, since the publication of the assessment of his state of health by a group of medical experts on April 27 gathered by the public defender’s office and reporting protein deficiencies and anorexia. The latter was unable to attend his trial on May 2 at the Tbilisi Municipal Court. Rallies took place in Batumi, Tbilisi, and outside Rustavi prison. U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan also urged the government to heed the recommendations of the public defender’s office.

On April 29, Ilham Aliev, the Azerbaijani President, declared once again to recognize the territorial integrity of Ukraine while noting that the sanctions against Russia do not affect trade between Russia and Azerbaijan.

05/02/2022: Meeting between Azerbaijani and Armenian representatives in Brussels.

On May 2, Hikmat Hadjiyev, head of the Azerbaijani presidential administration’s foreign affairs department, and Armen Grigorian, secretary of the Armenian Security Council, met in Brussels together with Toivo Klaar, EU special representative for the South Caucasus. This is the second meeting in this format since March 30.

The same day, Ilham Aliev, the Azerbaijani President received Brice Roquefeuil, the French co-president of the Minsk group. The latter, who met with Foreign Minister Djeyhun Bayramov the next day, said that “France, as President of the European Union, fully supports the agenda for peace in the South Caucasus, as well as the initiatives of the European Union in various areas of relations with Azerbaijan“. The two interlocutors reportedly “welcomed the successful development of relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union” while recalling “the Azerbaijani President’s participation in the European Union’s Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels last December“. Ilham Aliyev said on April 29 in a conference and in response to a question about the prospects for EU entry: “The members of the Eastern Partnership project are trying to do this, but in the case of Azerbaijan , that’s a very unlikely scenario.”

Between April 30 and May 2, the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry denounced Armenian bombardments in the settlement of Zeylik in the Kelbajar region and in the settlement of Yukhari Shorja in the Bazarkechar region, information denied by the Armenian side which, meanwhile, denounced “the desecration” of the Church of the Holy Resurrection in Hadrut on April 30 and reaffirmed the “urgent need to ensure the visit of a UNESCO assessment mission to Nagorno-Karabakh“. On May 5, an Armenian civilian car was reportedly pushed off the road by an Azerbaijani military convoy between Heyvali and Agdara.

05/02/2022: Visit of the Armenian Foreign Minister to the United States to relaunch the Strategic Dialogue

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan paid a visit to the United States from May 2, during which he met with the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Samantha Power, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. In particular, it was a question of relaunching the strategic dialogue between the two countries. A Memorandum of Understanding on Nuclear Cooperation, “paving the way for increased cooperation on civilian nuclear matters” was signed. Armenia’s progress “in implementing democratic reforms, the rule of law and the fight against corruption” was also discussed. The Armenian side also presented “tangible opportunities to expand Armenian-American cooperation in the fields of high and information technologies, energy, finance, banking, civil aviation, economic environment and others“.

05/02/2022: Georgia publishes the second part of its questionnaire for accession to the European Union.

Georgia, which had formalized its application for EU membership on March 3, after Ukraine and just before Moldova, the third member of the “Associated Trio”, on May 2 submitted the first part of the questionnaire to allow the European Commission to give an opinion on its candidacy. She had published on April 29 the second part (33 chapters and 2300 questions) which must be submitted before May 13.

30 Georgian civil society organizations asked the government on May 2 to make the answers to the first part of the questionnaire public, after having obtained access to the content of this first part on April 15 following the Commissioner’s intervention European Union for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Oliver Varhelyi.

05/03/2022: 3rd meeting of the special representatives of Armenia and Turkey

The special representatives of Turkey and Armenia, Serdar Kiliç and Ruben Rubinian, met in Vienna on May 3 for the third time. On this occasion, they reaffirmed their objective of “achieving full normalization between their respective countries” and reiterated “their agreement to continue the process without preconditions“.

Turkey’s civil aviation authorities reportedly denied Armenian low-cost airline “FlyOne Armenia” an overflight permit for flights to European countries via its airspace on May 5, which would currently result in the cancellation of these company flights from Turkey to Lyon and Paris until June 10.

05/03-06/2022: Visit of the South Ossetian “Minister of Defence” to the Donbass in support of the South Ossetian volunteer fighters.

On May 3, Vladimir Pukhaev, the South Ossetian “Minister of Defence”, arrived in the Donbass in order to have the status of the South Ossetian volunteer fighters participating in the war in Ukraine recognized. He reportedly said: “It must be ensured that the commanders of the Ossetian volunteer detachment are in direct contact with the command of the 4th Russian military base, where servicemen from South Ossetia serve, in order to help them, if necessary to face the enemy” explaining that “they face a huge problem as they are sometimes perceived as gangs and their help is not welcome on the front line“. He also reportedly said, “We often don’t know the fate of our guys, where they are, where the wounded are sent, where to look for the dead. A single information centre will be created in Donetsk for this purpose, it will receive all data on Ossetian military personnel and volunteers, their whereabouts, which will allow the Ministry of Defence of South Ossetia to quickly receive relevant information and, if necessary, transfer it to relatives“.

A minute of silence was observed in honour of the South Ossetian fighters on the occasion of a meeting of the “initiative group supporting the holding of a referendum on joining Russia”, in Tskhinvali at which attended President Anatoly Bibilov, currently campaigning for the second round of presidential elections, who said on this occasion: “We will do everything so that, whoever the next president of South Ossetia is, the voice and the opinion of the Ossetian people be heard […] At the extended meeting of the initiative group, it was declared that the desire of the divided people must be fulfilled so that historical justice can finally be restored after a hundred years, the north and the South Ossetia developing as part of a single state, Russia. Without it, the abyss will widen between two parts of the people, and after another hundred years, we will no longer be able to consider ourselves as one ethnic group. We see today an example of such a division of a people: the once united peoples now living in two countries, Ukraine and Russia, are embroiled in the confrontation. This is a huge tragedy! We must exclude even the theoretical possibility of such a development for the Ossetian people.

05/04/2022: 25th Council of Europe report on the conflict in Georgia.

The Council of Europe published on 4 May its 25th report on the conflict in Georgia for the period from October 2021 to March 2022 which indicates continuing concerns about the human rights situation in the occupied regions, including the rights to life, freedom of movement, property and education in the mother tongue. The document points out that the Georgian government offered assistance to people living in the South Ossetia region without any offers being accepted by the Kremlin-backed authorities. He also noted the lack of progress on the issue of the return of displaced persons.

While noting that meetings of the Gali incident prevention and response mechanisms remained suspended throughout the investigation period, the report establishes that illegal “demarcation” activities continued along the line of demarcation of Abkhazia at a “sustained pace“, with “the extension of fences, the installation of new surveillance equipment and increased surveillance around crossing points” and that “illegal detentions” have persisted (44 between last October and January). The decrease in teaching hours in the Georgian language was also highlighted.

05/05/2022: Fixing additional customs checkpoints between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

On May 5, the Azerbaijani Cabinet of Ministers issued amendments to the “number of checkpoints and the list of territories where the state border of the Republic of Azerbaijan passes”. Four checkpoints have been added: Eyvazli checkpoint in Qubadli district, Ghazanchi checkpoint in Zengilan district, Fizouli international airport checkpoint, and control of Zagatala international airport.

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