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South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from February 26 to March 4, 2022

02/25/2022: Signature of a decree of recognition of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass by the de facto president of Abkhazia and unconditional support for the Russian “military intervention” in Ukraine.

On February 25, Aslan Bzhania, the President of the de facto Abkhaz Republic signed a decree recognizing the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass following which he declared that “the aggression of Ukraine has taken place and continues to take place with the direct encouragement of the so-called Western collective. It was exactly the same almost thirty years ago, when Georgia tried to get rid of the Abkhaz people once and for all by the same methods […] we saw the Ukrainian authorities repeating exactly the same mistakes as Georgia concerning Abkhazia and South Ossetia. […] The security of the Russian Federation is our security. […] I am absolutely sure that the entire Abkhaz society supports this decision”. This signing took place following the Security Council of Abkhazia in Sukhumi, after which Aslan Bzhania met the minister-counsellor and charge d’affaires of the Russian Federation in Abkhazia, Maxime Litvinov, and reiterated to him his “support to the decisions taken by the leadership of the Russian Federation [concerning Ukraine]”. He would have received from him a file containing testimonies collected on “the sufferings endured by the inhabitants of Donbass since 2014”. The next day, February 26, the president de facto of Abkhazia met with his defence minister, Vladimir Anua, to discuss the situation in Ukraine. The latter stated that “the situation in the border territories with Georgia [was] fully under control [and that] the armed forces of the Republic of Abkhazia [had] been put on alert in the framework of exercises planned military”. Aslan Bzhania insisted on the need to “be ready to respond to any provocation”.

On March 1, Aslan Bzhania’s foreign affairs adviser, Maxime Gvindzhia, said that “what we are seeing now is the beginning of the climax. […] Obviously, the situation could not continue like this. This situation is a consequence of the short-sighted policy of the West. […] and the start of a military operation in Ukraine, I’m sure, was not an easy [decision] for the Russian president. It is now apparent that there was simply no other way out. […] The recent behavior of Georgia gives hope that a political elite has finally appeared there, in which there are more pragmatists than ideologues” while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the same day that the letter addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, concerning Abkhazia’s request for observer status at the United Nations, had reached the headquarters of the organization, explaining in a press release that “the Republic of Abkhazia will continue the path of overcoming its international isolation. The objective difficulties caused by the hostile actions of Georgia and its Western partners will not affect our determination”. On March 2, the same ministry said, “We support the Russian President’s drive to protect the civilian population, find and punish criminals, demilitarize and denazify Ukraine. The actions of the Russian armed forces within the framework of the special operation are exclusively targeted actions aimed at striking only military infrastructure”. The Ministry of Emergency Situations also announced on the same day the reception of 17 refugees from Donbass, bringing their number to 115 in the de facto republic. The Ministry of Defence, for its part, announced an “extraordinary command and staff mobilization training exercise involving the management and command of the reserve formations of the Ministry’s “EastOperational Directorate and corresponding military commissariats” and that “training will take place in all districts of Abkhazia with all reserve formations […] to determine the state of mobilization and combat readiness in the light of current events in Ukraine and in the world“. On March 3, the Public Chamber of Abkhazia issued a statement supporting Aslan Bzhania’s decision to recognize the self-declared republics of Donbass.

02/26/2022: Telephone conversation of the Azerbaijani President with his Russian, Turkish and Ukrainian counterparts.

Ilham Aliyev, the Azerbaijani President, spoke on February 26 with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin on “the escalation of events in Ukraine and the problems relating to Russian-Azerbaijani relations“, with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayip Erdogan, on “bilateral relations and regional agendas” on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Khojaly massacre, and with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, who thanked him for “his efforts to reach a ceasefire” and for supplying SOCAR stations with free fuel for ambulances and for state emergency services, as well as sending an air shipment of medicine.

02/28/2022: The “National Security Service of the Republic of Artsakh” takes new security measures in the village of Khramort.

The “National Security Service of the Republic of Artsakh” decided on February 26 to take additional security measures in the village of Khramort and other localities of the province of Askeran following the use of “ tools of psychological attack of Azerbaijan”. Indeed, several local officials have denounced calls made to the population in the Armenian language using loudspeakers to ask the population to leave the territory. On March 3, the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry denounced Armenian fire on its positions in the Tovuz district the day before, allegations denied by the Armenian Defense Ministry.

02/28/2022: Armenian participation in the 49th ordinary session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan travelled to Geneva on February 26 for the 49th regular session of the Human Rights Council where he delivered a speech very critical of the Azerbaijani armed forces in Karabakh stating that “Impunity leads to new violations. In addition to Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan continues its policy of human rights violations now in the border areas of the Republic of Armenia […] Azerbaijan continues to detain 38 Armenian prisoners of war, including civilians, while the fate of hundreds of missing persons and dozens of cases of enforced disappearances remains unclear. […] The plight of those to whom the United Nations does not have access must not be forgotten”. On March 1, he also met ICRC President Peter Maurer to insist on the need to release the 38 prisoners of war still held in Azerbaijan, as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to whom he insisted on “the importance of unhindered involvement of international organizations for the complete settlement of humanitarian problems in Nagorno-Karabakh, including the implementation of humanitarian missions by the United Nations High Commissioner united“.

02/28/2022: Announced reinforcement of the South Ossetian border by the “State Security Committee of the Republic of South Ossetia” / KGB.

On February 28, the State Security Committee of the Republic of South Ossetia (KGB) announced a “strengthening of the protection regime of the South Ossetia-Georgia border” while denouncing a “rise in nationalist sentiments and neo-Nazis in Georgia“. adding that “two thousand aggressive Georgian volunteers among radical supporters of Mr. Saakashvili have expressed a desire to join ‘the struggle against the occupation of Ukraine’. This fact once again indicates that the Tbilisi regime, instead of acknowledging its responsibility for the crimes against humanity committed from 1920 to 2008, supports the supporters of the Ukrainian Bandera, nourishing its own revengeful aims. At the same time, support for neo-Nazism is being implemented in Georgia with the tacit connivance of special services and law enforcement agencies, which, through their inertia, create serious preconditions for an escalation of tension in relations between South Ossetia and Georgia“.

On March 2, a demonstration of support was held in Tskhinvali for Vladimir Putin’s policies, during which president de facto Anatoly Bibilov said: “For 8 years, Russia has been speaking to the entire international community atrocities, murders and destruction experienced by the Donbass. […] Victory will be ours, because the truth and the hundreds of dead who await us to rise up against Nazism are behind us.

03/01/2022: Recall of the Ukrainian ambassador following the refusal of Georgia to join the sanctions against Russia.

On March 1, Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine announced the recall of his ambassador to Georgia, Igor Dolgov, “as part of [the decision of the Georgian authorities to] prevent volunteers who want to help us and for their immoral position regarding sanctions“, a decision which was criticized by the chairman of the ruling “Georgian Dream” party, Irakli Kobakhidze, calling it “absolutely unacceptable and unjustifiable“, declaring that it was a ” coordinated attempt to drag Georgia directly into the armed conflict” and asking “why Kyiv has not recalled its ambassadors from Moldova, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Israel”.

Indeed, the Georgian Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, reiterated on February 26 his decision not to join the sanctions against Russia despite his denunciation of the Russian invasion in Ukraine: “We observe the ongoing war in Ukraine with great worry. […] What is happening in Ukraine is absolutely unacceptable, invading the country and carrying out military operations there is, of course, unacceptable and contrary to the principles and rules of international law,” he declared while announcing aid of “100 tons of humanitarian cargo” passing through Poland. He renewed his criticism of the opposition saying “our so-called fringe and destructive opposition has tried to manipulate the noble sentiments of our fellow citizens, to exploit them and to mislead them […] Their aim is to repeat the tragedy of 2008. […] We have a great responsibility and, of course, we must be guided only by the interests of our country and our people […] Before and after the August 2008 war, the government of Saakashvili was constantly looking for ways to resume trade with Russia and open the Russian market. To whom did Mr. Saakashvili sell almost all of our strategic facilities shortly after the war? […] Why impose sanctions on our own people? […] The period of the “Georgian Dream” government is the only exception when the country did not experience war, lasting peace and stability were achieved thanks to the policy initiated by the founder of the party [Bidzina Ivanishvili] in power, whose ultimate goal is the reunification of our country“. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Chmyhal called on the Georgian government the same evening to allow a group of Georgian volunteers to join the fight in Ukraine: “Brave Georgian brothers are waiting at the airport to fly to Ukraine. I hope that I. Garibashvili will show his courage and give permission to fly. Ukraine is waiting! Europe is waiting! Stop Russia! Freedom-loving people of Georgia, help your Prime Minister make the right decision!” 60 Georgians were waiting at Tbilisi International Airport for a private plane that was not allowed to land.

The thousands of demonstrators who have gathered outside Parliament every day since the start of the invasion of Ukraine began the same day to demand the resignation of the government.

03/01/2022: French President Emmanuel Macron’s telephone conversation with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts.

Emmanuel Macron, the French President spoke with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts on March 1, with the first in view of the Armenia-France Cooperation Forum which should be held in Paris on March 9, and with the second concerning “the means of increasing political, economic and humanitarian support for Ukraine” as well as on the “imbalances created by the Ukrainian crisis on the energy markets“.
Armenia is the only Council of Europe country to have joined the Russian delegation in voting against the decision to suspend Russia from the organisation, a decision adopted on February 25 by the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Europe and which led to the loss of Russia’s seat in this same committee and in PACE. Likewise, she abstained on March 2 during the vote on the UN resolution urging Russia to immediately cease the use of force against Ukraine, adopted by 141 of the 193 member states. Hundreds of Azerbaijani demonstrators gathered outside the Ukrainian embassy on February 27 to protest against the Russian invasion, as well as a group of activists outside the Russian embassy on March 4 without police intervention, while that humanitarian aid is also provided by several Azerbaijani companies.

03/01/2022: Statement by the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the arrangements made by Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

On March 1, David Zalkaliani, the Georgian foreign minister, said in a television interview that the Georgian authorities posed no threat to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saying: “There is no threat to anyone on our side and I want them to be fully aware of that. I want to tell our compatriots beyond the occupation line that Georgia has made a legally binding non-use of force pledge. We will not use force for [the restoration] of our territorial integrity. […] Our constructive participation in the Geneva talks will continue so as not to give them the slightest possibility of provoking Georgia. […] Our peace policy is consistent. We are completing our work on our vacancy strategy”.

03/03/2022: Official submission of Georgia’s application for membership of the European Union

On 3 March Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze signed an application to join the European Union, following Ukraine, which was originally scheduled for 2024. Georgia is now waiting of his official candidate status. This decision comes after President Salomé Zurabishvili’s exchanges with French President Emmanuel Macron on February 28 and with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, as well as the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on March 1, following to which she said that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine opened “a new window, where Europeans are ready to look differently at the future of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova“.
Irakli Kobakhidze affirmed during his speech that “[this step] turns a new page in our history and continues the effort of our ancestors which aims at the adhesion of Georgia to a common European family […] Our country has always belonged European culture and civilized space throughout its long history and continues to make a valuable contribution to its protection and development. […] History has made the European choice of the Georgian people its strategic objective”. Quoting French philosopher Paul Valéry when explaining that his country meets the three key criteria “the influence of Greco-Roman culture, Christian beliefs and democratic tradition“, he stressed that “democracy, the rule of law, human rights and good governance have already become the essence of our daily existence”. He also highlighted the visa-free travel regime established with the EU or progress in the “legislative, economic and political” areas, explaining that “the modernization of the country in line with European standards in a whole series of sectors has become irreversible. He concluded his speech with these words “May God be our protector!”.

03/03/2022: Election of Vahagn Kastourian as President of the Republic of Armenia.

On March 3, the Armenian National Assembly elected Vahagn Kachaturian as President of the Republic by 71 votes in favour from the parliamentarians of the ruling party “Civil Contract” while the opposition parties “Hayastan” and “I have the honour”, respectively 29 and 6 parliamentarians, did not take part in the vote. His inauguration is scheduled for March 13. This election follows the resignation of former President Armen Sarkissian on January 23.

03/04/2022: Alleged discovery of a mass grave from the first Karabakh war in Edilli in the Khojavend region a few days after the commemorations of the Khojaly and Sumgait massacre.

A mass grave containing around 20 bodies of Azerbaijani victims of the first Karabakh war was unearthed on March 4 near the village of Edilli in the Khojavend region, according to several Azerbaijani media. This discovery comes a few days after the national march to commemorate the Khojaly massacre in Baku on February 26, the anniversary of the 30th anniversary of the Khojaly massacre perpetrated by the Armenian armed forces against Azerbaijani civilians during the first Karabakh war on February 26 1992, and also shortly after the Armenian commemorations of the Sumgait pogrom which took place from February 26 to 29, 1988.

03/04/2022: 105th meeting of the Incident Response and Prevention Mechanism (MRPI) in Ergneti.

The 105th meeting of the Incident Response and Prevention Mechanism was held on March 4 in the village of Ergneti near the demarcation line between Georgia and the de facto Republic of South Ossetia, in the presence of the mission observers from the EU, represented by its Ambassador Marek Szczygiel, and from the OSCE, represented by the Special Representative of the President-in-Office, Viorel Mosanu. These two parties have requested that the population affected by the conflict be able to access religious sites and cemeteries during the upcoming Easter holidays. The meeting focused on cases of arbitrary detention, issues of “bordering” and the situation in the Tsnelisi region. The release of several prisoners remains the priority of the Georgian government, as expressed by Irakli Antadze, head of the state security services, while the opposing concern expressed by Igor Kochiev, representative of the South Ossetian authorities, remains the Georgian police checkpoint in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi region. The latter thus undertook to open the Odzisi-Mosabruni crossing point with the Akhalgori district with a Georgian ethnic majority in the event of the abolition of this police station. Representatives of South Ossetia confirmed that they were “not interested in creating additional tension“. The next meeting will take place on April 12.

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