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

12/10/2021- The President of the Eurasian Economic Council suggests an invitation for Azerbaijan to join the Eurasian Economic Union .

On December 10, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the former President of the Kazakh Republic and Honorary President of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council considered it possible to invite Azerbaijan to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and to grant it a status of observer. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said during her weekly briefing on December 15 that “the initiative of N. Nazarbayev, who is in fact the ideologue of Eurasian integration, deserves attention” while Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk said on December 16, during a conference at Baku University, that “the observer status will allow Azerbaijan to obtain more advantages from the cooperation ”while inviting him to join the financial institutions of the EAEU countries. The Armenian Foreign Ministry nevertheless recalled through its spokesperson, Vahan Hunanyan, on December 17 that the granting of this status is subject to a consensus decision under article 109 of the treaty binding the member countries.

11-17/12/2021- The situation on the ground in Karabakh: new Armenian soldier’s remains found, arrest of soldiers released for “violation of the rules of duty“, customs of Gori-Kapan, creation of special police forces in the Armenian exclave and the situation of the Tagavard community

New Armenian soldier’s remains found on December 11 in Karabakh brings to 1704 the number of bodies evacuated including those from the area controlled by Azerbaijani forces since November 2020. The same day, the arrest “for violation of the rules of duty” of six Armenian soldiers released by Azerbaijan on December 4 was confirmed by the Armenian investigative committee. The State Customs Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan announced on December 12, through its chairman, Safar Mehdiyev, that it had collected AZN 2 million (approximately 1.04 million) from custom posts of the Goris-Kapan road for two months of operation. On December 13, many amendments were considered by the Nagorno-Karabakh National Assembly committee for defense, security and law enforcement and aimed at creating special police forces with expanded functions and tasks. to the “defense of the country“, to the protection of special installations and to the securing of the transport of special goods. The Nagorno-Karabakh Ombudsman’s Office this week called on international organizations and government bodies to respond to requests from the community of Tavagard near Martouni, divided into two parts since the end of the war, to allow them access at the cemetery now under Azerbaijani control. The inhabitants had already in September asked for the presence of Russian peacekeepers in the village and the possibility of arming the men to defend the population.

12/12/2021- A new Georgian citizen detained in South Ossetia.

On December 12, the Georgian state security services denounced the capture of a new Georgian citizen near the village of Zemo Nikozi in South Ossetia and accordingly alerted the telephone hotline of the monitoring mission of the European Union. The number of people imprisoned is seven (three have been released out of the ten captured since August 2021).

12/13/2021- The de facto president of Abkhazia sets March 12 for parliamentary elections in the secessionist region.

On December 13, Aslan Bzhania, incumbent president of the Abkhaz secessionist region, announced the date of March 12 for the elections of the 35 deputies of the National Assembly. These are elected for a five-year term by majority vote in single-member constituencies. On December 15, the Attorney General, Agdur Agrba, submitted a request to Parliament concerning the waiving of the parliamentary immunity of MPs Garry Kokaya and Almashkan Ardzimba, within the framework of the investigations into acts of “hooliganism committed with the use of firearms” on September 30 and October 1, a request rejected on December 17 by 17 votes out of 20 parliamentarians present.
On December 16, Aslan Bzhania issued a decree dismissing his Ambassador to Russia, Igor Akhba, appointed Foreign Ministry Special Representative for Eurasian Integration.

12/13/2021- Turkish Foreign Minister announces upcoming appointment of special representatives for normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations.

On December 13, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that Turkey and Armenia had pledged to appoint special representatives to normalize relations and open charter flights between Yerevan and Istanbul, announce confirmed by Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vahan Hunanyan. This decision, for which US President Joe Biden has insisted a lot with his Turkish counterpart since October, and which is nevertheless debated in the Armenian Parliament, marks an important step in the rapprochement between the two countries, whose ties were severed in 1993 following the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, and whose attempts at normalization in 2009 had failed. Likewise, Turkish airspace reopened to Armenian flights in 1995, has been closed again since August 2020. Vahan Hunanyan recalled that Armenia “has always been and remains ready for the normalization process with Turkey without preconditions“.
On December 15, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced her country’s readiness to mediate between Ankara and Yerevan, and the move was welcomed by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. On the same day, Turkey announced that the appointed special representative would be
the former Turkish ambassador to the United States, Serdar Kiliç, while Armenia hinted the day before that its representative would be the parliament speaker Ruben Rubinyan.

12/14/2021- Charles Michel meets with Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders on the sidelines of the 6th EU Summit for the Eastern Partnership, and first face-to-face exchange since the end of the second Karabakh war

On December 14, following two bilateral talks between Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev first, and the Armenian Prime Minister then, a meeting was held in Brussels bringing together all three which lasted almost five hours during which the attachment of the two parties to the trilateral agreements signed under the aegis of Russia was reaffirmed.
The establishment of a direct line of communication between the two defense ministries, facilitated by Charles Michel and functioning as an incident prevention mechanism, was confirmed. The European Council also proposed the establishment of a platform for economic cooperation and confidence building between the two countries. Congratulating the two parties for the recent exchange between Armenian prisoners and mine cards, Charles Michel nevertheless urged Azerbaijan to release the last Armenian captives not considered legally by Azerbaijan as “
prisoners of war” but as “Terrorists” or “saboteurs” and offered humanitarian demining assistance in the region. He also stressed the need for the removal of military forces from the border area while announcing the establishment of an expert mission and the provision of technical assistance for the delimitation and demarcation of the border.

An agreement was confirmed, already discussed during the meeting in Sochi with Russia, on the development of railway lines between the two countries, in particular on the construction of the Yerashk-Joulfa-Ordoubad-Meghri-Horadiz line which could be extended later in Turkey to Kars via Gyumri. This line would work “with appropriate arrangements for borders and customs controls and based on the principles of reciprocity” according to the declaration made by Charles Michel. The Azerbaijani side clarified its point of view on this issue. Indeed, on the same day, Ilham Aliev met Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, a meeting during which the partners underlined the Azerbaijani contribution to the mission in Afghanistan and to securing the Kabul airport that Ilham Aliev argued, as well as its gas supply to four NATO countries, to reiterate its demands for the development of the “Zanguezour corridor” without an Armenian customs post, a condition without which he announced to plan for his part the establishment of customs posts in the Lachin corridor (connecting the Armenian enclave of Karabakh to Armenia). He also recalled the interest for Armenia in the construction of a highway from Azerbaijan to its exclave of Nakhichevan because it would allow Armenia to connect with Iran via this region and with Russia via Azerbaijani territory. In response, Nikol Pashinyan accused him of leading the negotiations to open communications to a dead end. According to Armenian Economy Minister Vahan Kerobyan, the total cost of such a project would approach $ 1.2 billion, including $ 1 billion for the construction from the Armenian border to Horadiz.

The meeting was followed by a one-on-one meeting between Ilham Aliev and Nikol Pashinyan, the first since the Second Karabakh War. On December 16, late in the evening, French President Emmanuel Macron also met the two leaders in Brussels on the sidelines of this summit.

12/14/2021- The new law “On the Media” passes first reading in the Azerbaijani Parliament.

Following the creation of the media development agency (MEDIA) created by Ilham Aliev last January, a new law entitled “On the Media” has just passed first reading in the Azerbaijani Parliament on December 14, which aims for further restrictions such as the creation of a register of journalists meeting specific criteria, the obligation to live in Azerbaijan or to publish at least 20 news per day, the prohibition of propagating “superstitions” or “tainting the reputation of a company”. This bill has not been sent to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission for comment, contrary to Azerbaijan’s commitments. In Reporters Without Borders’s world press freedom rankings, Azerbaijan is 167th out of 180.

12/15/2021– Saleh Rustamov’s hunger strike in Azerbaijan

Saleh Rustamov, a political opponent who was the subject of harshly suppressed demonstrations of support on December 1 and December 11 in Baku, announced on December 15 that he would accept supportive treatment as part of his
hunger strike started on November 6. Rapporteurs from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the US State Department have already called on the Azerbaijani authorities to release him on December 10 and 12 respectively.

15/12/2021- 6th Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels

On December 15, the 6th Eastern Partnership Summit of the European Union (launched on April 7, 2009) was held in Brussels bringing together Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in the absence of the Belarus, which declined the invitation due to the economic sanctions imposed by the EU this year.

The joint declaration expresses the recognition of the initiative of the “Associated Trio” of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, created on May 17 to promote the cooperation of these three countries with a view to their accession to the EU. Reinforced sectoral cooperation is thus envisaged, in particular in the field of green energies, digital technology, connectivity, energy security, justice and internal affairs, strategic communication and health care. The document nevertheless recalls that European aid will be proportional to the efforts undertaken in terms of structural reforms: rule of law, justice reform and the fight against corruption.
A new online platform (Trade Helpdesk), complementing the “Access to markets” database, has been set up to support trade and investment between the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries. An investment of € 34 million is planned to promote internet access in rural Georgian areas and for 500,000 people who are deprived of it. The European Investment Bank (EIB), which has already invested € 11 billion since the creation of the partnership, has undertaken, through the voice of its president Werner Hoyer, to invest € 171 million in Georgia and Ukraine. and in Moldova. A new program has been adopted to the tune of € 2.3 billion which must be supported by the regional economic and investment plan and which has a potential for extension up to € 17 billion of public investment and private. Projects are also envisaged to connect the countries of the partnership to a single payment system in the euro area and to reduce roaming tariffs in these countries.
The members of the “Associated Trio” reiterated their “
determination supported by the firm will of their peoples to work for the accession of the European Union” and praised the efforts of the EU in terms of conflict resolution while pointing out Russia’s attempts at annexation and illegal occupation of Georgia’s territories, its aggression in eastern Ukraine and temporary occupation of Crimea as well as the unresolved conflict in Transnistria. Following the summit, Belarus wished to thank Azerbaijan for its support in not supporting paragraph 11 of the declaration regarding the internal political situation in Belarus. Azerbaijan also expressed reserves regarding the technical appendix regarding EU support to organizations operating in conflict affected areas considering that this could not be done without the consent of the state in which the territory is located.

12/15/2021- Expulsion of two Russian diplomats following the conviction of a Russian citizen for the murder of a Georgian in Berlin.

On December 15, Germany expelled two Russian diplomats and summoned the Russian ambassador, following the life sentence of Russian citizen linked to Department V (Vympel group) of the FSB, Vadim Krasikov, for the murder of a citizen Georgian belonging to the Kiste ethnic group (concentrated in the Pankisi gorges), Zelimkhan Kangoshvili, in Berlin’s Tiergarten in August 2019. It has indeed been established that this assassination had been committed on the orders of the Russian security agency FSB in retaliation against the command by this Georgian citizen of Chechen troops during the second Chechen war (1999 – 2009) and which Russia accuses of “terrorism” for its alleged participation in the Moscow metro attacks in 2010. In December 2019, the Germany had already expelled two Russian diplomats in connection with the affair, which in turn resulted in the expulsion of two German diplomats from Russia. Georgia’s foreign ministry, while cooperating with Germany, has not announced its intention to expel Russian diplomats to its own country.

12/16/2021- The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rules against Georgia in a case of attack against LGBT protesters.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Georgia in an attack by mobs of LGBT demonstrators in Tbilisi on May 17, 2013, on the “International Day against Homophobia”, ruling that the authorities had failed to protect the pacifist demonstrators. It therefore ordered the Georgian State to pay the applicants, 35 Georgian nationals and two NGOs, the sum of € 193,500. These events took place shortly after the Georgian Dream Party took power and when Irakli Garibashvili, the current Prime Minister, known for his anti-gay remarks, was Minister of the Interior. 28 people were injured following violence by a crowd of several thousand people led by Orthodox priests.

17/12/2021- First hearings of the trial of two Armenian soldiers in Azerbaijan

On December 17, pre-trial hearings were held in Sabunchi, Azerbaijan, for two Armenian soldiers detained in Azerbaijan considered “prisoners of war” by the Armenian side but “terrorists” by the Azerbaijani authorities.

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