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South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – From January 22 to January 28, 2022

01/23/2022: Resignation of Armenian President Armen Sarkissian. 

The President of the Republic of Armenia tendered his resignation on January 23 through a statement on the Presidency’s website explaining that “the President does not have the necessary tools to influence important foreign and domestic policy processes in difficult times for the people and the country“. Elected on March 2, 2018 before the “Velvet Revolution” that brought Nikol Pashinyan to power as Prime Minister, his essentially symbolic power nevertheless allowed him to intervene in the draft constitutional amendments desired by Nikol Pashinyan, which he is abstained in June 2020, thus allowing the dissolution of the Constitutional Court and the renewal of its judges. Following the Armenian defeat in the Karabakh war, he called for the resignation of Nikol Pashinian and the formation of a government of “national accord” while refusing to sign his rival’s dismissal order for the leader of the General Staff of the armies while the senior officers demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister himself. This resignation comes as agreements with Azerbaijan become clearer regarding the development of disputed transport routes in the country and a process of normalization of relations with Turkey begins. Rumors have thus spread about the signing of potential new documents with Azerbaijan or about his nationality acquired in the tax haven of Saint Kitts and Nevis, whose waiver procedure initiated in 2013 was not came to an end in 2017 while the Constitution specifies that a candidate must have held only Armenian nationality in the 6 years preceding his taking office. The vacancy of his post should, according to the Constitution, give rise to early elections within 35 days, before which the President of the National Assembly, Alen Simonian must assume these responsibilities on an interim basis. Arayik Haroutiounian is believed to be the candidate of the ruling “Civil Contract” party in these elections.

01/24-28/2022: Reciprocal accusations of violation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire.

Following the denunciations of the de facto authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh concerning sporadic Azerbaijani fire on military and civilian structures near the village of Karmir Shuka, the Azerbaijani authorities, in turn, denounced, on January 28, Armenian bombardments in the district of Tovuz from the city of Chinarli towards the village of Kokhanebi which allegedly took place the day before.

01/24/2022: Telephone discussion between the Georgian and Ukrainian MFAs: the two countries stand together amid American proposal to Russia and despite the words of German Vice-Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach.

Georgian and Ukrainian foreign ministers Davit Zalkaliani and Dmitro Kuleba spoke by phone on January 24 before issuing a joint press release in which the Georgian side expressed its “strong support for the country facing a difficult situation“. The exchanges resulted in a positive assessment of the support of international partners and a review of ongoing developments and processes on the Ukrainian border. Tbilisi has no plans to evacuate family members and members of their embassy. They also discussed the developments of the “Associated Trio” and GUAM’s economic projects.
As a reminder, comments made by German Navy Chief Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach on January 21 at an event organized by the IDSA think tank in New Dheli, according to which: “Ukraine, of course, cannot meet the requirements [for NATO membership] because it is occupied at least in the Donbas region by the Russian army or by what they call militias”; “Take other countries like Georgia. Georgia wishes to become a member. Do they meet the requirements? Yes. Does it make sense to have them as a member? No” ; “What he [Putin] really wants is respect” and “the Crimean peninsula is gone: it’s never coming back, that’s a fact” had led to his resignation the following day following a diplomatic crisis between Ukraine and Germany.
Jeans Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO on January 26 reaffirmed the organization’s “open door” policy towards Ukraine and Georgia in a speech announcing the sending of several written proposals from Washington and NATO in Moscow: re-establishment of respective Russian and NATO offices in Brussels and Moscow; establishment of a civilian emergency helpline, full use of communication channels to promote transparency and reduce risk. He also called again for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, while expressing his readiness to reinforce the fundamental security principles formulated and subscribed to in the Helsinki Accords. He also proposed the modernization of the Vienna Document on military transparency, the reduction of space and cybernetic threats, the prevention of risks in the air and at sea, the respect of commitments on chemical and biological weapons and the control of nuclear armaments. and short- and intermediate-range land-based missiles.

01/24/2022: Statements by Nikol Pashinyan in favor of border demarcation and the signing of a peace treaty with Azerbaijan. 

Two days after the January 22 telephone discussion between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, at the latter’s initiative, during which was reaffirmed the relevance of continuing work under the aegis of the three co-presidents of the Minsk group and during which the two interlocutors discussed the issues of cooperation between the two countries within the framework of the CSTO or the progress of negotiations with the United States on the subject of the Ukrainian crisis, Nikol Pashinyan gave a press conference on facebook on January 24. In particular, he called the Azerbaijani rhetoric and threats of Ilham Aliyev, the Azerbaijani President, a “mirror reflection of Armenian statements after 1994” and he called for distinguishing “between the emotional and rational aspects” of his speech. On this occasion, he underlined the priorities of his government: demarcation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, signing of a peace treaty, normalization of relations with Turkey, and resolution of the internal political crisis. He recalled the recent statements by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that the problems of border delimitation and demarcation are not related to the settlement of the Karabakh problem and also, with regard to rapprochement with Turkey, that Armenia had no territorial claims vis-à-vis its Turkish neighbour. He also announced the possible participation of the Armenian side in the Antalya Diplomatic Forum to which it is invited. Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister reiterated, on January 27, his January 20 invitation of the Prime Minister but also of the Special Representative for the Normalization of Relations, Ruben Rubinian, and of the Foreign Minister, Ararat Mirzoyan, to this event which will take place from March 11 to 13. Nikol Pashinian also assured that “the CSTO will not crush the protests in Armenia” and announced a minimal cost for the construction of the railway “Yerashk – Julfa – Meghri – Horadiz”.

01/24/2022: The remains of an Armenian soldier returned by the Azerbaijani side. 

On January 24, Azerbaijan returned the remains of an Armenian soldier found in Vorotan to Armenia, bringing the total number of bodies found in the conflict zone to 1,708, according to the emergency service of Nagorno-Karabakh. On January 13, a body was found in Matagis by Karabakh rescuers while another was found on January 19 near Jabrail. According to the Armenian authorities, 220 people are still missing.

01/25/2022: Critical speech by the American Ambassador on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Georgia and the United States.

Kelly Degnan delivered a January 25 speech on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Georgia during which she discussed the bilateral strategic partnership, security cooperation and relations historical but also the “underdeveloped” institutions of Georgia. In particular, she noted that Georgia’s political, legal and governance institutions “do not meet its democratic ideals” and are “hampered by a highly partisan and polarized political environment“. She said on this occasion that “impartial democratic institutions are the best defence against autocratic tendencies and those who will do almost anything to retain power“. His speech was particularly aggressive towards Russian strategies in the region: “The Kremlin seems determined to use its full range of powers to foment confusion and deepen divisions with the aim of undermining sovereignty, unity and stability. of Georgia [….] It is the only country massing troops on the border of its neighbours. It was Russia that crushed the first republic of Georgia in 1921, that desecrated the Georgian churches and tried unsuccessfully to stifle the Georgian language”.

01/26/2022: Georgian parliamentary disagreements on the joint draft resolution in favour of Ukraine. 

Multiparty negotiations to draft a joint resolution in favour of Ukraine broke down on January 26 due to the ruling party’s refusal to name Russia specifically in the text. On January 24, Georgian opposition parlementarians (MNU, Lelo and Strategy Aghmachenebeli parties) called on the ruling Georgian Dream party for parliamentary talks to draft a multi-party resolution supporting Ukraine as well as that they had urged Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to convene an extended session of the National Security Council with the participation of the opposition to consider the risks of continued Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders. The day before, several dozen Georgian citizens had also gathered in front of the Ukrainian embassy to show their support for Kiev. The Droa (“It’s time”) party launched an alternative online petition in support of Ukraine on January 28.

01/28/2022: Petition by Abkhazian NGOs against the law on “NGOs foreign agents”.

On January 28, more than 350 Abkhaz activists and citizens signed a petition against the Moscow-backed NGO Foreign Agents Law as part of a 2020 agreement on a joint socio-economic agenda, which they addressed to de facto President Aslan Bzhania, Prime Minister Alexander Ankvab, and Speaker of Parliament Valery Kvarchia. They denounce it as “a repressive tool” reviving the “ideological patterns of the totalitarian past of the Soviet era” which “will inevitably lead to the liquidation of the non-governmental sector“. They also insist on the danger of reinforcing “the false Georgian thesis of the occupation” that “Abkhazian NGOs are fighting using influential international platforms“.

01/28/2022: Georgian denunciation of acts of illegal border demarcation in South Ossetia.

The Georgian state security services denounced on January 28 illegal acts of border demarcation by the de facto South Ossetian authorities in the villages of Mezhvriskhevi and Dhzariasheni. These services denounced “illegal destructive activities” which they communicated to the EU observation mission and the co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions.

01/28/2022: Demonstrations in Yerevan demanding the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh. 

On January 28, Armenian migrants from Karabakh staged a protest in Yerevan urging the Armenian authorities to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state and grant them refugee status. As a reminder, there are currently 40,000 migrants in this situation, including 25,000 in Armenia following the 44-day war for which the government renewed the support program for them on January 27.

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