South Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from February 19 to February 25, 2022

02/21/2022: Visit of the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus to Azerbaijan.

Toivo Klaar, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, traveled to Azerbaijan on 21 February to meet its President Ilham Aliyev, following his visits last week to Armenia and Georgia and then that reciprocal Armenian-Azerbaijani accusations of breaking the ceasefire had multiplied since February 18. Both the presence of EU Commissioners at the Consultative Council of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) and the granting of a credit line of 2 billion euros announced by the European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, Oliver Varheli. His meeting with the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister, Djeyhun Bayramov, gave rise to discussions concerning the implementation of the trilateral agreements and the Azerbaijani side particularly insisted on its requests to Armenia concerning the fate of 4,000 people who disappeared during the first Karabakh war, as it praised the EU’s efforts to participate in the region’s demining and reconstruction work.

02/21/2022: Azerbaijani authorities confirm charges against former Armenian presidents for inciting inter-ethnic hatred.

On February 21, the Azerbaijani authorities, in the person of Emil Taghiev, head of the special investigation department of the military prosecutor’s office of Azerbaijan, confirmed that they had issued arrest warrants against the former presidents of Armenia, Robert Kocharian (1998-2008) and Serge Sarkissian (2008-2018) for their role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between 1988 and 1991 and their alleged incitement to inter-ethnic hatred. The “national security service” of Nagorno-Karabakh indicated the same day that it was able to ensure the security of state officials as well as every citizen and visitor to the region. Armenia’s Attorney General’s Office considers these actions baseless and illegal and, according to its adviser, Gor Abrahamian, would use cooperation platforms with Interpol and other relevant departments of the CIS to ensure that these requests are not taken into account.

02/21–22/2022: Demonstrations in Yerevan against the visit of two Azerbaijani parliamentarians to meetings of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.

On February 21 and 22, protest demonstrations took place in Yerevan against the presence of two Azerbaijani parliamentarians, Tahir Mirkishili and Soltan Mammadov, within the framework of meetings of the bureau and committees of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly. These were organized by the Youth Union of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsoutioun) in the city center and by former participants of the 44-day war on the road leading to the airport.

02/22/2022: Signing of the Declaration on “Allied Interaction” between Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev in Moscow.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s trip to Moscow from February 21 to 23, at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin and on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries (February 23, 1992), resulted in the joint signing of the 43 paragraphs of the Declaration of “Allied Interaction” on 22 February. During the conversation which preceded this signature and which lasted more than four hours, the Russian President justified the recognition of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass on the pretext of a “coup d’etat” and an “illegal seizure of power” in Ukraine bringing to power a government about which he declared “we do not see this level and this quality of relations with Ukraine [in comparison with other ex-Soviet republics]” while welcoming the recent intervention in Kazakhstan constituting, according to him, “a second very good example [after that of the ongoing settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict] of Russia’s support for the sovereignty of [its] neighbours“, and by denouncing the fact that “the territory of this country is used by third countries to create threats against the Russian Federation“. Ilham Aliyev, for his part, overlooked the evocation of the Ukrainian situation, emphasizing the level of economic and commercial cooperation between the two countries, putting forward the figure of 3 billion dollars in turnover and an increase by 16% in 2021, as well as the level of Russian language learning in Azerbaijan highlighting the figure of 340 Russian language schools and 15,000 students in university departments.

This document is in line with the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Security of July 3, 1997, the Declaration of Friendship and Strategic Partnership of July 3, 2008 and the Joint Agreement of September 1, 2018. This document reaffirms the cooperation of the two countries in the area of ​​peace-building while attaching importance to the continued “strengthening of the central role of the United Nations and of the United Nations Security Council, the OSCE, and the CIS”. The two parties undertake to “refrain from any action that undermines their strategic partnership and their allied relations by setting up a permanent consultation mechanism through the MAEs of the two countries“. Likewise, the parties undertake to deepen “the interaction between the armed forces [of the two countries], in particular by organizing joint operational and combat training activities, as well as by developing other areas of cooperation military bilaterals“, to interact “on issues of supply of modern arms and military equipment” and they are considering “the possibility of mutually providing military assistance on the basis of the Charter of the United Nations“. The two countries also refrain from “any action, including those carried out through the intermediary of third States, directed against each other” or from “carrying out any economic activity which causes direct or indirect prejudice to the interests of the other party“, and they agree on the status of the Caspian Sea on August 12, 2018. They also undertake to “deepen their cooperation in the fuel and energy sector” or “in the field of the peaceful use of atomic energy“. In addition, they declare their readiness to “promote the activities of credit and banking organizations, the development of cooperation between financial institutions, the creation of joint ventures, including financial and industrial groups”.

Ilham Aliyev said on February 23, in response to Russian media, that “it’s probably no secret that a de facto, trilateral cooperation format [between Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia] is already in forming. It is not yet formalized, there have not yet been meetings of foreign ministers, let alone of presidents, but it is in the process of being constituted. It is formed on the basis of common interests, pragmatism and similarities”.

02/22/2022: The “President of Nagorno-Karabakh” welcomes Russian recognition of the independence of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass.

The de facto president of Nagorno-Karabakh, Arayik Haroutiounian, published a message on February 22 via facebook welcoming Moscow’s recognition of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk as a sovereign and independent state, stressing that “the right of every people self-determination and the construction of one’s own state is a fundamental principle of international law“. He thus declared that the establishment of an independent state was an obligation in the face of “existential dangers” and that it was “the most effective and civilized way to avoid bloodsheds and a humanitarian disaster“. He finally wrote “Congratulations to the people of Donbass on this historic event! We hope that steadfast peace and stability will be restored to this once prosperous region.”

02/22/2022: Georgian denunciation of Russian recognition of the independence of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass.

Russian recognition of the independence of the two self-proclaimed Donbass republics by Vladimir Putin on the night of February 21-22, followed by statements by the former Russian President and Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, that his recognition of the independence republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008 had “taught a lesson to NATO, to the United States and to all those who had aggressive intentions against of Russian citizens” that they had “learned badly” and that they had “continued to cynically and openly approach the borders of Russia by widening the circle of potential members of the alliance“, gave rise to unanimous condemnation from the Georgian authorities, starting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Zalkaliani, who called it “another flagrant violation of the fundamental principles of international law” and a “repetition of the scenario of the Russian military intervention in the Georgian region of Tskhinvali in 2008 and its subsequent recognition of the independence of this region and that of Abkhazia and their occupation“, or of President Salome Zurabishvili, the day before also denouncing the “repetition of the scenario that led to the occupation of 20% of [Georgian] territory” and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on the same day and in similar terms.

02/22/2022: Support of the de facto Abkhazian and South Ossetian republics for Russian recognition of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass.

Aslan Bzhania,
de facto president of the Republic of Abkhazia, on February 22 welcomed the Russian recognition of the independence of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass by calling it a “fair decision based on an adequate assessment of geopolitical realities in coherence with the challenges and modern threats”. He said he was confident in this contribution to “strengthening the security architecture in the region in the long term“. “We believe that this decision […] contributes to a more just and balanced world order in which the rights of small peoples are reliably protected and in which the international community hears and respects their voice” he declared. Its Minister of Foreign Affairs said he was ready to have consultations with the representatives of the two republics with a view to developing their relations.

Anatoli Bibilov, de facto president of the Republic of South Ossetia who recognized these independences in 2014, welcomed an “expected and fair decision“, “guarantee of putting an end to the fratricidal madness” and ” hope for a better future for tens of millions of people“, while declaring “the Kiev regime has put an end to the territorial integrity of Ukraine by unleashing cruel terror against the people of Donbass. Russia showed incredible patience and restraint, giving the Kyiv authorities a chance, hoping that caution would prevail and a path to national reconciliation based on the Minsk agreements would be chosen. These expectations have been discredited by the actions of Ukrainian leaders. Instead of dialogue, the Donbass has been confronted with several new acts of inhumanity close to genocide”.

02/23/2022: Azerbaijani reaction to the comments of the Russian MFA on the Treaty of Turkmentchai (1828).

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Djeyhun Bayramov reacted on February 23 to the statements of his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on the occasion of the 194th anniversary of the Treaty of Turkmentchai between Iran and Russia and fixing the border between the two empires, according to which “the khanates of Yerevan and Nakhichevan (eastern Armenia) were transferred to the Russian Empire“, in these terms “it is surprising and regrettable that the official page [facebook] of the MFA of the Russian Federation publishes distorted information about the 1828 Treaty of Turkmentchai on the very day of the signing of the Declaration on Allied Interaction […]. It should be pointed out that the phrase “Eastern Armenia” was never mentioned in any way in the text”. This controversial mention was removed the next day.

02/24/2022: Second meeting in Vienna of the special representatives of Armenia and Turkey for the normalization of relations between the two countries.

The special representatives of Armenia and Turkey for the normalization of relations between the two countries, Ruben Runinian and Serdar Kilic, met on February 24 in Vienna. The identical press releases from the two foreign ministries reaffirm the will to “continue the process without preconditions”.

02/24/2022: The President of the de facto Republic of South Ossetia convenes an emergency meeting of the Security Council.

Following the “special operation” conducted by Russia on Ukrainian territory, Anatoli Bibilov, de facto president of the “Republic of South Ossetia”, convened an emergency meeting of the Security Council on February 24 during which he said “following the recognition of the independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic by the Russian Federation, some forces became more active and it was impossible for Russia not to react […] In this regard, Vladimir Putin noted that there are countries that can be drawn into these processes, some external forces. We must understand that Georgia also belongs to these external forces”. He thus requested the setting up of an operational headquarters under his direction and the placing of the armed forces of the region on alert and on standby in the barracks, the mobilization of counter-intelligence activities by the state security, and enhanced border surveillance.

02/24-25/2022: Armenian participation in the meetings of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council in Nursultan.

Nikol Pashinian, the Armenian Prime Minister, traveled to Kazakhstan, to Nursultan, on February 24 and 25 in order to participate in several meetings within the framework of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council, during which he was able to address several issues relating to the development of mechanisms integration in the fields of industry, customs procedures, information systems, e-commerce or transport. On February 25, he met, together with his counterparts, the Kazakh President Kassim Jomart Tokaev and he declared on this occasion that “it is obvious that we are in a sensitive period, going through sensitive geopolitical tectonic processes […] sanctions will have a clear impact on the economic climate in the Eurasian region […] we need to discuss what kind of operational decisions we should take to minimize these negative consequences and, if possible, circumvent them by taking appropriate measures”.

02/25/2022: Georgia does not wish to join the sanctions against Russia.

While thousands of demonstrators took to the streets from February 24 to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili announced on February 25 that Georgia would not join the economic and financial sanctions against Russia. “It will only harm our country and our people. As a leader of the people of our country and as head of government, responsible for domestic and foreign policy, I will be guided only by national interests” he said. He added that the United National Movement was seeking to “create provocations and repeat the calamity which they could not avoid with the war of August 2008“, following the remarks made by Mikheil Saakashvili the day before in court: “Putin has started a war against Ukraine, this war aims to abolish the Ukrainian state […] which will be followed by the annexation of Georgia without resistance and the restoration of the Russian Empire. […] That’s the biggest threat” […] At least now the last person there [thinking otherwise] should have been convinced that whatever I might have done in 2008, even if I hadn’t moved a finger, informed the world, fired bullets, the aggressor needed no excuses to invade”. Popular demonstrations of support for Ukraine continued on February 25, rallying anti-government anger also fueled by the refusal of the ruling Georgian Dream party to participate in an extraordinary parliamentary session requested by the opposition to discuss the Ukrainian situation.

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