South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from April 9 to April 15, 2022

04/11/2022: Meta accuses the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry of using a “hybrid network“.

The Meta (Facebook) firm’s quarterly report accused the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry of “cyber espionage” and “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” against journalists, members of civil society and the political opposition. It thus reports phishing techniques and the hacking of websites and private accounts in order to obtain personal information or to promote particular stories on behalf of the targeted persons. Meta said it removed this “hybrid network“. Spoofing and hacking of websites allegedly took place in Azerbaijan and Armenia.

04/11/2022: The Armenian-Azerbaijani rapprochement again arouses the Armenian opposition and the “authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh” – the Russian co-chairman of the Minsk group becomes “special representative for the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan”.

Following the trilateral meeting of the leaders of the two countries with the President of the European Council on April 6, the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, Djeyhun Bayramov and Ararat Mirzoyan, spoke by telephone on April 11 to discuss the preparatory work for a future peace treaty and the establishment of a joint border delimitation commission, as well as to address certain humanitarian problems.

These gestures of rapprochement aroused the indignation of the Armenian opposition the following day, April 12: the opposition blocs “Hayastan” and “Pativ Unem” announced their boycott of the sessions of Parliament for a week and left the hemicycle. Seyran Ohanian, leader of “Hayastan” declared on this occasion: “The provisions stipulated in the Constitution of Armenia, our territorial integrity, our sovereignty, are not marketable, we find unacceptable any option of resolution of the conflict of Upper -Karabakh which would make Artsakh part of Azerbaijan“. They also said they were going to the border regions with Azerbaijan as well as Nagorno-Karabakh, where they were prevented from entering by the forces of the Russian peacekeeping contingent, which was deemed “contrary to the ‘November 9 Trilateral Agreement which envisages the unhindered connection of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia through the Lachin Corridor” according to the Armenian Foreign Ministry.

The following day, April 13, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan gave a speech in parliament where he again reiterated official statements that the basic principles of Azerbaijan’s proposals for the peace agreement “were not unacceptable“. and recalling that Armenia had already recognized the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan as well as the inviolability of its borders in 1992 when ratifying the agreement on the formation of the CIS. He notably declared: “Today, the international community tells us to lower the bar on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh” and he explained the evolution of his position: “If before we posed the status of Karabakh as a basis, and on this basis, security guarantees and rights, now we lay security guarantees and rights as the basis for this status. In other words, we declare that status in this situation is not a goal, but a means to ensure the safety and rights of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh”.

On April 14, the “Parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh” met in an extraordinary session and adopted a resolution stating: “No government has the right to lower the bar of negotiations for an acceptable status for Artsakh and the internationally recognized right to self-determination under the pretext of peace” and demanding that the Armenian authorities “abandon their current disastrous position”. The following day, the “President of the Republic of Artsakh”, Arayik Haroutounian, visited his “Ministry of Defence” on the same day, where he announced that “all defence programs [should] one day be combined with the functions of the Russian peacekeeping force stationed in Artsakh“. He met the next day with his two predecessors Arkadi Ghoukasian and Bako Sahakianpour to discuss “the impact of the military-political situation in the region on the future of Artsakh and the possible actions of the authorities“.

Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department, said he was ready on April 14 to “engage with Armenia and Azerbaijan once again, bilaterally or with like-minded partners, including through the OSCE Mechanism” while Nikol Pashinian met with the French co-chair of the Minsk Group, Brice Roquefeuil, who had spoken with the MFA, Ararat Mirzoyan on April 11.

On the same day, Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, announced that the Russian co-chairman of the Minsk Group, Igor Khova, would continue his work as the new “special representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan”, recalling that on February 24, France and the United States broke off all contact with Russia as part of the Minsk Group. On April 15, a telephone discussion took place between the Armenian and Russian Foreign Ministers in order to prepare Nikol Pashinian’s visit to Moscow on April 19-20 and, according to the Russian side, to discuss “the prospects of concluding a peace between Yerevan and Baku with the support of Russia“.

04/11-14/2022: The dispute between Ukraine and Georgia over the visit to Bucha seems to be resolved: the Mikheil Saakashvili case resurfaces.

The chairman of Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, on April 11 announced several conditions for an official visit to Ukraine to the sites of alleged Russian war crimes in Bucha and Irpin. Namely the resolution of the problems of the recall of the Ukrainian ambassador stationed in Georgia, the allegations of aid to Russian smuggling to circumvent the sanctions and finally the one obviously designated as “ the main one ” and which underlies the crisis between the two country: the presence at the highest level of the Ukrainian government of leaders of the Georgian political opposition described by him as “radical“.

He thus pointed to the retention in his official duties as chairman of the executive committee of the Ukrainian National Council for Reform of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, currently imprisoned in Georgia. He also criticized the presence of former Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili as adviser to the Prosecutor General in Ukraine or that of former Deputy Interior Minister Giorgi Lortkipandze as deputy head of Ukrainian counter-intelligence. He also claimed that Davit Arakhamia, parliamentary leader of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s “Servant of the People” party and head of the Ukrainian delegation for the peace negotiations acted as an intermediary between the three people and senior Ukrainian officials.

On April 13, the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, said he was finally ready to travel to Ukraine Bucha and Irpin to his Ukrainian counterpart Ruslan Stefanchuk, saying that he had had a meeting with him about ” the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine and the European future of [their] country” and that he was convinced that “there [was] room to resolve all misunderstandings“.

Indeed, following Ukrainian accusations against Georgia on April 4 of hosting a “channel for smuggling goods” to Russia, the executive secretary of the ruling “Georgian Dream” party, Mamuka Mdinaradze, on April 6 accused Ukraine of waging a “hybrid war” against Georgia. And on April 8, Shalva Papuashvili refused the invitation of his Ukrainian counterpart, Ruslan Stefanchuk, to visit Ukraine in these terms: “this support [of the people and the Georgian government for Ukraine] and the partnership of our countries do not really deserve an attempt by senior Ukrainian officials to separate the Georgian people and their government, the request to open a second frontline in Georgia, unfounded diplomatic steps, baseless allegations or accusations of profiteering from the misfortune of the Ukrainians, as stated in my colleague’s previous speech“. The President of the Ukrainian Rada then expressed his disappointment on April 10, saying that the use of the term “inappropriate” by his counterpart regarding this invitation left him “perplexed“.

On April 14, the ruling “Georgian Dream” party and the opposition parties finally agreed on a joint trip to Ukraine with the exception of the “United National Movement” party or the “Droa” party whose President Elene Koshtaria said “going to Bucha with the Georgian Dream, with people who, after this disaster, set conditions for Ukraine, who blocked the plane for volunteers, who qualified trade with Russia of opportunity, to me that means being the latest scam“. This delegation left on April 15.

04/10/2022: The opposition wins the first round of the “presidential elections” in South Ossetia to the chagrin of Anatoli Bibilov.

In an election race deemed “illegitimate” by the United States and the European Union, incumbent “president” Anatoly Bibilov, who campaigned widely on plans to join the Russian Federation and support for war in Ukraine, was credited with 34.95% of the vote (9,706 votes) against his rival from the “Nykhas” party, Alan Gagloev, who obtained 38.55% of the votes (10,707 votes).

As part of Anatoli Bibilov’s campaign, Russian officials travelled to the secessionist republic on April 8, where they notably went to a meeting at the Tskhinvali theatre with former “presidents” and members of the “group of initiative” created to organize a referendum on joining the Russian Federation. Were noticed the Russian senator Alexander Karelin, the head of North Ossetia, Sergei Menyailo, the head of Kabardino-Balkaria, Kazbek Kokov, the governor of Stavropol Vladimir Vladimirov, the speaker of the Parliament of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Alexander Ivanov and member of the Russian Federal Assembly, Taimuraz Mamsurov. Anatoli Bibilov said on this occasion: “We need to get 2,000 signatures, but we will collect a lot more. We have to show the world that the people of South Ossetia are in favour of joining Russia.” The second round of elections should take place on April 28 in accordance with the decision taken by the electoral administration.

04/12/2022: 106th meeting of the Mechanism for Prevention and Response to Incidents (MPRI) in Ergneti in South Ossetia.

The EU Monitoring Mission, represented by Marek Szczygiel, and the OSCE, represented by Viorel Mosanu, facilitated the 106th MPRI meeting in Ergneti near the occupation line of South Ossetia on 12 April in the presence of the representative of South Ossetia Igor Kochiev. The issues of arbitrary detention, “bordering”, the closure of crossing points and the situation in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi area were again discussed. The Odzisi crossing point which connects the Georgian-majority district of Akhagori to the rest of Georgia has been particularly debated. The South Ossetian side was asked to attach particular importance to the population’s access to cemeteries and religious sites during the Orthodox Easter holidays. Detainee Valeri Kaniashvili is expected to be released within the next few days. For its part, the South Ossetian side insisted on the cases of “violations of the state border” by Georgian citizens as well as on the Chorchana-Tsnelisi police station for which it reiterated the request for dismantling.

04/15/2022: Publication of the EU accession questionnaire by the Georgian state.

On 15th April, following demands from opposition parties and CSOs who appealed to the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood, Oliver Varelhy, the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ilia Darchiashvili, appointed on 4th April, announced the decision of the Georgian government to make public the questionnaire for accession to the European Union which was given to it on April 11 in Luxembourg.

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