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South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – From January 29 to February 4, 2022

01/30/2022: Talks between the EU and Azerbaijan on an extension of gas exports

On January 30, Josep Borell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy confirmed that he was in talks with Azerbaijan for the increase of the gas supply in the event of a stoppage of the Russian supply in the context of the Ukrainian crisis by stating: “We are ready in case diplomacy fails and we are examining all options. […] This includes improving our resilience, including working with partners like the United States, Qatar, and Azerbaijan on gas supplies in case Russia decides to reduce or stop deliveries“. Elin Suleymanov, the Azerbaijani ambassador to the UK, also told British media: “If there is an urgent need as we have seen in Turkey, certain volumes would of course be made available […] But the Azerbaijani volumes are not equal to the Russian volumes, that’s obvious”. He also highlighted the expansion capabilities of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) saying: “Azerbaijan could also bring in gas from Turkmenistan as both countries are preparing to develop the “Dostlug” field in the Caspian Sea. “.

Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for Energy, traveled to Azerbaijan on February 3 to attend the 8th Ministerial Meeting of the SGC Advisory Council in Baku the following day, which saw the first participation of Moldova, which expressed its wish to develop its gas supply through the SGC, like Romania or Hungary. Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in January that Russia was already limiting gas deliveries citing a 25% drop year-on-year in the last three months of 2021, his agency estimating that Russia is withholding at least a third of the gas it could export to the EU.

As a reminder, the 878km TAP trans-Adriatic gas pipeline starting from Azerbaijan and ending in Italy while passing through Greece and Albania was commissioned at the end of 2020 and has a capacity of 10 billion cubic meters per year and it exports already 8.1 billion including 1.2 billion for Bulgaria and Greece, while having a capacity to expand to 20 billion cubic meters per year. Its contribution could therefore not equal the 158.5 billion cubic meters exported in 2020 by Russia to Europe, i.e. 40% of European supply. Azerbaijan has agreed to export 4 million cubic meters per day to Turkey for the month of February, an agreement facilitated by that signed between Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran on November 28. The SGC, which became operational on December 31, 2020, includes Shah Deniz 2, extension of the South Caucasus Gas Pipeline, the Trans Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP) and the Trans Adriatic Gas Pipeline (TAP).

02/01/2022: The Georgian Parliament adopts a resolution in favour of Ukraine without mentioning Russia to the chagrin of the opposition parties.

The Georgian Parliament adopted the resolution in support of Ukraine on February 1 with 74 votes from deputies in favour and 33 abstentions. This resolution was the subject of heated debates with the opposition wishing that Russia be expressly mentioned in this text, which ultimately did not take place, the deputies of the “United National Movement” even unfurling a banner with the image of former President Mikheil Saakashvili imprisoned at the time of the national anthem and the two parties accusing each other of engaging in “clowneries” during the parliamentary committee preceding the plenary session. The UNM, which holds 30 seats in Parliament, had announced the day before the end of its parliamentary boycott, which has been applied intermittently since the October 2020 legislative elections, and fixed as “one of the main axes” of its working for the release of their founder, through the voice of its leader Kathia Dekanoidze, an approach hailed by President Salomé Zourabishvili. The suspicion of conciliation or even collusion with the Russian side expressed by the opposition against the ruling party was reinforced this week by the banning of the Russian opponent and former Duma deputy, Dmitri Gudkov, to enter Georgian territory who was forced to return to Ukraine, suffering the same fate as Alexei Navalny’s ally, Lioubov Sobol last August when she came from Armenia. Deputy Nikoloz Samkharadze, chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, provided an explanation for this refusal on February 4, claiming that Alexei Navalni, of whom he is a supporter, had described as “rodents” the Georgians whom he had called to expel. en masse from Russian territory in 2008, during the Russo-Georgian conflict, and that Dmitry Gudkov himself was part of the Duma at the time of Russian recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, what the principal concerned denied by recalling that he had only become a deputy in 2011.

The text refers to the “deep concern of the Georgian parliament in the face of a possible military escalation in Ukraine“, reaffirms the right to NATO membership, and condemns “any intention that may be directed against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a sovereign state, which creates a new threat not only for Ukraine, but also for the region, peace and security”. The president of the ruling party “Georgian Dream” sharply criticized the members of the UNM, accusing them of “clearly wanting war“, recalling that following the measures taken by the latter in 2008 “20% of the territories of [our] country was ceded to Russia”. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba nonetheless hailed the resolution as a “resolute and focused reaction” and said “Georgia probably feels better than anyone what is at stake in Ukraine.” Several delegations from opposition parties (MNU, Lelo and Droa) immediately went to visit Ukraine on February 2 and 3.

02/01/2022: Visit of a NATO delegation and arms contracts in Georgia.

On February 1, a NATO delegation led by Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff of the Joint Force Training Center, Jozsef Szpisjak, visited Georgia in preparation for the 3rd NATO-Georgia exercise to be held from March 22 to 24 (the latest being March 2019). He held a working meeting there with the deputy commanders of the Georgian Defense Forces, Zaza Chkhaidze and Irakli Shichinadze, as well as visited the Vaziani training center. The day before, the Georgian government said it was preparing to buy additional Javelin FGM-148 anti-tank missiles from the United States worth more than $26 million, a sum covered by an amount allocated by the United States themselves, a request having already been made last August for 82 missiles of this type and 46 associated command launch units for training and technical assistance. In addition, Georgia would have the intention of creating a new military aircraft GE-31 Bora (former SU-25 without Russian components) likely to attract Azerbaijani funding but also Israeli and Ukrainian ones.

02/01/2022: UK-Azerbaijan rapprochement marred by corruption scandals

On February 1, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and British Minister of State for Europe Chris Heaton-Harris spoke on the phone to welcome the 30th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations and they discussed together their co-operation, regional security issues and the Azerbaijani Chairmanship of the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation. The day before, the British Foreign Ministry had described the Khojaly massacre as a “tragic page in the history of Azerbaijan” while recalling that the British government at the time had already strongly condemned the event, in response to a written question from the leader of the Great Britain – Azerbaijan Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group and Member of the House of Commons, Bob Blackman. On the same day, James Sharp, the British Ambassador to Azerbaijan, handed over to the Azerbaijani government a list of companies interested in the reconstruction of Karabakh, particularly in the sectors of green energy and the construction of solar power plants. However, several corruption cases have surfaced this week over relations between the two countries, starting with a UK court’s decision to confiscate £5.6million from several millionaire family members of Azerbaijani MP Djevanchir Feyziyev , also a member of the parliamentary committee for international relations and inter-parliamentary relations, for the benefit of the National Crime Agency (NCA), following money laundering operations through fraudulent money transfers via banks in Latvia and in Estonia, the use of false documents and contracts and the creation of front companies, with a view to obtaining the status of investor necessary for the acquisition of rights of residence in the country and the possibility of investing in real estate. In addition, recently leaked documents unveiled the plan of two Azerbaijani state companies (Bos Shelf and Star Gulf FZCO) to embezzle $1.7 billion from Shah Deniz 2 supplying the Southern Gas Corridor, a project which British Petroleum allegedly been informed without taking the necessary measures.

02/02/2022: Vahagn Kachaturian officially candidate of the “Civil Contract” party for the presidency of Armenia.

The candidacy of Minister of High-Tech Industry Vahagn Kachaturian for the presidency of the republic was officially announced on February 3 by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan at the start of the regular government session, following a vote of 65 deputies in Parliament, which took place on February 2 and which brought together more than a quarter of the votes of the deputies necessary for this appointment. He will thus represent the party in power “Civil Contract” to replace Armen Sarkissian who resigned on January 23. His resignation having entered into force on January 31, the Parliament has 35 days from this date to elect a new president. Vahagn Kachaturian was close to first President Levon Ter Petrossian, and he served as mayor of Yerevan between 1992 and 1996. He joined Nikol Pashinyan when he came to power in 2018. His request to terminate his membership in the “National Congress Armenian” made on February 3 was accepted by his former affiliation party.

02/02-03/2022: 8th meeting of the Hungary-Azerbaijan Joint Commission and Austria-Armenia Business Forum.

The 8th meeting of the Hungary-Azerbaijan joint commission took place on February 3, in which the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Szijarto, took part, who renewed his support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, emphasizing “Our position has not changed despite international pressure” and stating that Hungarian companies were ready to participate in the reconstruction work in Karabakh in the field of energy, transport and agriculture. On the same day, he gave a press conference with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, who said that “demining is the biggest problem in the process of restoring the liberated Azerbaijani territories […] the Hungarian side pays particular attention to this issue”. Peter Szijarto expressed the wish to create an infrastructure allowing Hungary to join the Southern Gas Corridor.

At the same time, on February 2, the Austrian Federal Minister for European and International Affairs, Alexander Schallenberg arrived in Yerevan, accompanied by a large delegation of Austrian businessmen, in view of the Armenian-Austrian Business Forum which took place the next day. He met his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan with whom he inaugurated the opening of the office of the Austrian Development Agency and visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial. As the two countries celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations this year, he spoke at a joint press conference “on behalf of Austria of the European Union and the OSCE” to welcome the fact that “steps are being taken in the right direction‘” and to declare that “we are ready to help but you must be ready to accept our help”. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said on this occasion that no decision had been taken regarding Turkey’s invitation to participate in the Antalya Diplomatic Forum. The next day, the Armenian Foreign Ministry announced that the next meeting of Turkish and Armenian special representatives within the framework of the normalization of relations between the two countries would take place on February 24 in Vienna. On the same day, the 8th regular session of the Armenian-Austrian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation was chaired by Deputy Minister of Economy of Armenia Rafael Gorgian and Director General of the Austrian Federal Ministry digital, trade relations, innovation and international politics, Florian Frauscher. The Armenian-Austrian Business Forum held on the same day brought together more than 100 representatives of the business communities of the two countries. Alexander Schallenberg also met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Speaker of the National Assembly Alen Simonian.

02/02/2022: Meeting of Armenian and Russian Deputy Prime Ministers in Yerevan on regional communications issues against the backdrop of serious verbal attacks by the Azerbaijani President.

On February 2, Alexei Overchuk, Russian Deputy Prime Minister, arrived in Armenia, accompanied by the General Director of Russian Railways, Oleg Belozerov, to meet his counterpart, Mher Grigorian, in the presence of the Russian Ambassador Sergei Kopirkin in order to jointly study the prospects for restoring transport communications in the South Caucasus. The planned operator of the infrastructure of the Yerashk-Julfa-Ordubad-Meghri-Horadiz railway line is indeed the South Caucasus Railway Company, a subsidiary of Russian Railways. Nikol Pashinian, Armenia’s prime minister, said at a government meeting on February 3, “we are about to register the first concrete results of the trilateral working group on unblocking communications“.
This meeting took place the day after the meeting between the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andrei Rudenko, and the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar, and the submission to the “National Assembly of ‘Artsakh’ de facto of a “draft law on the occupied territories” aimed at banning the activities of foreign organizations wishing to operate without the authorization of the “government of Artsakh”, a text which should be discussed in first reading on February 16 next for final approval on February 20.

On December 31, Ilham Aliev, the Azerbaijani president, said in an interview with the Azertac news agency “The war is over. Yes we say there must be peace. But we must never forget Armenian savagery and Armenian fascism” as the commemoration of the Khojaly massacre by Armenian forces on February 26, 1992 looms. Armenian rights defender Arman Tatoyan said in response on February 2 that these speeches “will be sent to international bodies” as well as he published a report in the wake “on the policy of hatred and hostility towards Armenians as a cause of human rights violations on ethnic grounds“. Separately, on February 4, the Armenian Foreign Ministry responded to statements the day before by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Djeihun Bayramov, made during his joint press conference with the Hungarian MFA, Peter Szijarto, accusing the Armenia to set unacceptable preconditions and that “Armenia has no moral, legal or political right to set conditions on the demarcation process“. The ministry’s press secretary, Vahan Hounanian, said that “it follows from the declaration signed by the leaders of the three countries that the activities of the delimitation and demarcation commission must be preceded by the conclusion of agreements on measures to increase the level of stability and security at the border”. A videoconference took place between the leaders of the two countries in the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, on February 4.

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