South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – From January 8 to January 14, 2022

01/10/2022: CSTO Collective Security Council meeting on the crisis in Kazakhstan under the leadership of Armenia and statement by the Kazakh President on a gradual withdrawal of peacekeeping forces

The special session of the CSTO Security Council brought together by videoconference Russian President Vladimir Putin, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokaiev, President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, Akylbek Zhaparov, and CSTO General Secretary Stanislav Zas, under the chairmanship of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on January 10, after which the latter declared that there was ” no t any decrease in tensions” in this country and that new threats were emerging. Inaugurated by a minute of silence in honor of the victims of the events in Kazakhstan, this Security Council expressed concern about the provision of information concerning the involvement of international terrorist organizations, allegations developed by Vladimir Putin speaking of “aggression of international terrorism“, while Nikol Pashinian drew a parallel with accusations of Syrian mercenary interventions alongside Azerbaijan during the last Karabakh war. The Kazakh president, who again insisted on the coup attempts of which he would have been the subject and of the unrest fomented for several years, what he described as “the most serious crisis of the 30 years of the history of independence“, thanked the Armenian leader for his efficiency in approving the necessary documents, the Russian president for the speed in organizing the dispatch of peacekeeping forces and the other members for their political brotherhood and military.
The next day, January 11, the Kazakh President announced the gradual withdrawal of CSTO troops from January 13 over a period of “about ten days“, during a speech introducing the new government led by Alikhan Smaïlov. in Parliament by videoconference and broadcast live. He also promised to carry out reforms, curb inflation, raise salaries and create a “Special Fund for the People of Kazakhstan”. He thus sharply criticized the bureaucratic apparatus and the financial oligarchy of the country close to former President Nursultan Nazarbayev by declaring “the Development Bank of Kazakhstan has become a personal bank for the elite […] they benefit from privileged conditions to access highest offices.
A special meeting of CSTO Defense Ministers was held on January 13 by videoconference, following which CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas said that “the peacekeeping operation is is gradually coming to an end” while Andrei Serdyukov, the head of the peacekeeping forces said that “the peacekeeping operation of assistance to the Kazakh people has been successfully completed”. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the same day that peacekeepers “have begun transferring the protection of facilities from Kazakhstan to the responsibility of the country’s law enforcement agencies.” The 100 troops deployed by Armenia returned on January 14.

01/10/2022: Arrests of political opponents in Abkhazia

On January 10, five political opponents (Ramaz Jopua, Chicha Inapshba, Beslan Tsvizhba, Beslan Michelia and Aslan Tania) were arrested in Abkhazia for “participation in mass riots” and “use of violence against government officials” during the demonstrations on December 21, despite the planned dialogue between the current government of Aslan Bzhania and the opposition led by Adgur Ardzimba, following the attempted siege of the presidential palace during this major movement which had forced the president to come and meet the main representatives of the opposition gathered under the banner of the “People’s Patriotic Union of Abkhazia”, ​​before they publish a long list of demands, including the launching of the procedure in Parliament impeachment of the president. Such arrests had not taken place during the attempts to besiege the presidential palace in May 2014 and January 2019. It should be noted that the current president Aslan Bzhania himself came to power on January 9, 2020 following the storming government buildings. The next presidential elections will normally take place in April 2022.
On January 12, a meeting initiated by the “Public Chamber of Abkhazia” and aimed at finding solutions to overcome the political crisis brought together representatives of the public movement of veterans of the Patriotic war “Amtsakhara” led by Zaur Adleyba and supporting the current president and the veterans’ opposition organization “Aruaa” led by Akhra Bzhania. The parties agreed on the establishment of a roadmap to overcome the political crisis. Akhra Bzhania acknowledged the need to stop radical methods of political struggle in order to “rebuild a social contract” while stressing the important role of an amnesty for participants in rallies in the de facto republic.

01/10-13/2022: The American-Russian meetings on European security unfold irreconcilable arguments in the virtual absence of the main parties concerned.

The talks between Russia, represented by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, and the United States, represented by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, held from January 9 to 10 in Geneva, gave rise to more eight hours of exchanges devoted to security in Europe during which the American side firmly reaffirmed its “open door” policy towards European candidates for NATO membership while the Russian side described “mandatory” that Moscow obtain guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia will permanently not join NATO. “A country cannot forcibly change a state’s borders or dictate the terms of another country’s foreign policies, or prohibit another country from choosing its allies. These are the basic principles of the international system to which Russia has repeatedly subscribed” the US representative said. Josep Borell, Vice-President of the European Commission and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy argued that Russia violated three fundamental principles: the right of each state to freely choose its alliances, the non-recourse to strength and respect for the territorial integrity of all States. Kelly Degnan, US Ambassador to Georgia said on January 11 “we cannot and will not sacrifice European security, sovereignty or freedom“, and she reiterated that “Russia has no right of veto over Georgia’s sovereign decisions” and that “the United States will not negotiate on Georgia without Georgia“, and she reaffirmed the loyalty of the United States to the Bucharest Declaration of 2008.

This meeting was followed by the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels on January 12 and the OSCE Permanent Council on January 13, during which the respective positions were maintained. NATO Secretary General Jens Soltenberg said that Russian forces had to leave the territories of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova due to the fact that “his troops were not invited to the territories of these countries” while the US Ambassador to the OSCE stated that “Russia’s undesirable presence on the territory of Georgia and Moldova continues to contradict fundamental principles“. Alexander Grushko, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and NATO negotiator, called NATO’s eastward expansion “absolutely unacceptable” while stressing that “freedom of choice” should not contravening the security interests of other countries, and defending Russia’s peacekeeping record in the region. He also highlighted the offensive nature of NATO contrasting with its defensive arguments. NATO nevertheless said it was ready to make concrete proposals in terms of increasing the transparency of military exercises, arms control, disarmament, non-proliferation, and improving communication channels. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke on January 13 recalling the OSCE agreements that “no one will strengthen his security to the detriment of the security of other states” and highlighting the “unacceptable” presence of “missile systems with reduced flight time to central Russian facilities“.

During the January 14 telephone discussion between US Under Secretary of State for Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried and Georgian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani, the interlocutors agreed on the “unacceptability” of “Russia’s attempts to divide Europe and legitimize its spheres of influence“. The Georgian side accused Moscow of a “deliberate attempt to destroy the European security architecture” and said that “Georgia’s integration process into NATO is irreversible” while reaffirming its solidarity with Ukraine.

01/11/2022: Participation of Azerbaijan in the meeting of the Organization of Turkish States (OET) on the situation in Kazakhstan

An extraordinary meeting by videoconference of foreign ministers of the participating States (Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan) and observers (Hungary, Turkmenistan) of the Organization of Turkish States met at the proposal of Turkey, on 11 January, in order to take a position on the Kazakh situation. The joint statement expresses its condolences to those who lost their lives during the incidents, reaffirms its support and solidarity with the “brother people”, expresses its support for the reform process initiated by the Kazakh President while condemning the acts of violence and of vandalism, supports the government’s fight against terrorism and reiterates the availability of the organization to “provide the necessary support to the government and people of Kazakhstan to overcome the current crisis“, thus confirming the January 9 speeches of the Turkish ministers of Defense, Hulusi Akar, and of Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu, who notably stated: “The problems of other member countries, namely the Turkish world, are our problems. The whole world saw it in the Karabakh victory.” Jeyhun Bayramov, Azerbaijani Minister of Foreign Affairs recalled, on this occasion, the ethnic, religious and historical brotherhood of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to support the territorial integrity of Kazakhstan and to support “the normalization of the situation and the restoration of rule of law “. In particular, he highlighted the role of the OET, saying “We believe in the wisdom and ability of the people and government of Kazakhstan. We believe that the situation will be overcome and that common sense will prevail without jeopardizing the remarkable achievements Kazakhstan has made since regaining its independence”, a thinly concealed allusion against the Russian intervention in the country.

01/11/2021: Resumption of Armenian-Azerbaijani skirmishes at various border points on the anniversary date of the trilateral meeting of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan: 4 dead and 2 injured.

Following Azerbaijani denunciations of Armenian fire in the direction of Kelbajar on January 8, an Azerbaijani soldier died following Armenian fire near Kelbajar on January 11. Sporadic firefights continued in the area until the next day, resulting in the death of three Armenian soldiers and two injuries.The de facto Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh accused Azerbaijani forces of opening fire near a kindergarten and a fire station in Martouni province on the same day, which was immediately denied by the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan. The day before, the Azerbaijani armed forces had already been accused of having opened fire on people working in an orchard near Askeran or in a pasture near Qirmizi Bazar, in the Khojavend district of the same province of Martouni.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar expressed his support for Azerbaijan and expressed his condolences during a telephone conversation with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Colonel-General Zakir Hasanov. The European Union, through Toivo Klaar, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, called for the de-escalation of tensions while urging the parties to use the hotline established between Ministers of defense of both countries and set up under the auspices of the EU last November. Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, expressed concern about the situation during her weekly briefing on January 13, while urging the parties to solve their problems through political and diplomatic means, stressing the urgency of the border demarcation process and calling on both sides to call on Russian peacekeeping forces in the event of a breach of the ceasefire. The OSCE, of which Poland currently holds the presidency, urged both parties to refrain from any use of force and to engage in constructive dialogue while announcing support for the co-chairmen of the Minsk group.

Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, declared himself, on January 14, during a press conference, in favor of a rapid start of the works of demarcation and border delimitation agreed during the trilateral meetings of Sochi of the month of November, pointing to differences between the two parties concerning the conditions necessary for the creation of the commission, which was the subject of a telephone discussion with his Armenian counterpart the day before during which the Armenian party would have made a new proposal that Russia would have undertaken to transmit to Azerbaijan. On the other hand, Nikol Pashinyan, the Armenian leader, on the same day signed a decree on the formation of a working and supervising group for the implementation of the program for the restoration of the railway line between Yerashk and the Azerbaijani border, and on the Meghri section, naming its leader, the former Armenian ambassador to Iran, Artaches Toumanian.

01/12/2022: South Ossetian deputies want to launch a procedure for the impeachment of the de facto president of South Ossetia: political crisis around border issues

On January 12, 14 South Ossetian deputies sent a letter to the Speaker of Parliament, Alan Tadtaev, informing him of their intention to launch a procedure for the impeachment of de facto President Anatoli Bibilov for his inaction since the Parliament resolution of May 7 2019 approving the final report of a parliamentary commission created on June 20, 2018 regarding the delimitation and demarcation of the “State border”. Several citizens complained that they were excluded from the territory of South Ossetia in the settlement area of ​​Tsnelis in the district of Znaur and in the settlement area of ​​Sinagur in the district of Dzau, which would disrupt their economic activities and put their lives in danger. This final report had thus judged that this “boundary” had been poorly delimited by failing to take into account Decree No. 2 of April 20, 1922 relating to the formation of the autonomous oblast of South Ossetia and drew attention to the exploitation of this portion of territory by Georgia, in particular the construction of roads and defensive military structures.
The deputies thus accuse the Head of State of having violated Article 3 of the Constitution stipulating that the territory of the Republic is inviolable and inalienable and that the State borders cannot be modified without the consent of the people. The letter was heavily criticized by the presidential administration, who called it a “farce” and a “criminal statement” that they blamed on provocations from the pre-election period and who said: ” by accusing the head of state Anatoly Bibilov of near high treason, these deputies have taken on a heavy responsibility and committed a crime”. President Anatoly Bibilov considers, in fact, as he expressed during a session in Parliament last December 30, that Decree No. 2 has no legal value, having been adopted before the formation of the Soviet Union, that Ossetia has an independence recognized by Russia within the 1990 borders, and that this decree does not work in favor of Ossetia since the Georgian village of Chorchana appears there in Ossetia while the Ossetian villages of Gujabar, Artseu and Orchosan are included in Georgia.

01/14/2022: Meeting of special representatives of Turkey and Armenia for the normalization of relations between the two states.

The special representatives of Turkey and Armenia, respectively Serdar Kilic, former Turkish ambassador to the United States, and Ruben Rubinyan, deputy speaker of the Parliament, met in Moscow on January 14, as part of the process of normalization relations between the two countries. In particular, the parties agreed to continue their negotiations “without preconditions“, according to similar press releases issued by the foreign ministries of the two countries. The Russian Foreign Minister, the US State Department’s Office for European and Eurasian Affairs, and the European External Action Service have welcomed this process, with Europe highlighting in particular the “4.5 million euros in funding for projects aimed at preparing the ground for the normalization of relations” and offering to “give further support to possible next steps towards the normalization of relations“.

01/14/2022: Visit of the President of Azerbaijan to Ukraine and signing of a joint declaration on strengthening the strategic partnership.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev paid a working visit to Ukraine on January 14, during which he met with Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky, with whom he signed a joint statement strengthening the strategic partnership. The Ukrainian president thus declared that the joint statement signed between the two member states of GUAM “embodies the will to support each other for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our states within our internationally recognized borders, the joint fight against hybrid threats, the desire to securing peace in the Black Sea, Caspian Sea region and beyond. It also plans to further strengthen cooperation in the field of defence”. Another intergovernmental agreement on food security, as well as several memorandums of understanding on emergency cooperation in bilateral trade, on cooperation in the agricultural field, on energy cooperation, and on legal cooperation in the field of state land management and land cadastre were signed.

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