South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from July 23 to July 29, 2022

07/25-28/2022: Russian and US talks with Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders amid renewed tensions in Karabakh.

Anthony Blinken, the United States Secretary of State spoke by telephone on July 25 with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Nikol Pashinyan and Ilham Aliyev. He thus welcomed the continuation of the bilateral dialogue and in particular the recent meeting of foreign ministers in Tbilisi while reaffirming his support “for productive discussions negotiated by the EU“. He also urged the President of Azerbaijan to release all remaining Armenian detainees and offered his country’s assistance in opening transport links and communications between the two countries.

The Deputy Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department, Ivan Nechaev, reacted on July 27 by saying, in response to journalists: “Russia is in favour of the transformation of the South Caucasus into an area of ​​peace and prosperity. In our work towards this region, we promote an exclusively constructive agenda and will not compete with anyone. We have constructive goals. With regard to the normalization of relations between Baku and Yerevan, as we have repeatedly noted, corresponding efforts should be made on the basis of the tripartite statements of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia of November 9, 2020, January 11, 2021 and November 26, 2021. We do not oppose the involvement of non-regional actors, provided that they act in accordance with the aforementioned agreements and contribute to their implementation. The most important thing is to prevent duplication [of effort] and backroom games aimed at weakening someone or hindering someone. Unfortunately, we have had to deal with such practice from the aforementioned actors on several occasions.” On July 28, it was the “special representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry for the normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia”, Igor Khovaev who travelled to Yerevan to meet with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan.

An Azerbaijani soldier reportedly disappeared on July 23 near the border with Armenia. On 26 July the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence denounced 9 violations of the ceasefire by Armenia, 2 concerning firing towards the settlement of Minkend in the district of Lachin and 7 concerning firing from the from “members of illegal Armenian armed groups” towards the districts of Tartar, Agdam, Khojavend and Khojali. These claims have been denied by both the Armenian and Russian Defence Ministries. On July 28, it was the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence which denied Armenian accusations of breaking a ceasefire concerning shootings in the direction of the villages of Taghavard and Karmir Shuka and Tonashen.

07/25/2022: A Georgian woman detained in Abkhazia for “espionage”.

The Abkhaz “State Security Service” announced on July 25 that it had “initiated criminal proceedings on charges related to Article 274 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Abkhazia (espionage)” against the citizen Georgian Kristine Takalandze detained since July 20. The following day, the Georgian State Security Service confirmed with a press release stating, “Representatives of the occupation regime in occupied Abkhazia have illegally detained Georgian citizen Kristine Takalandze. The State Security Service immediately activated the hotline and informed the EU monitoring mission as well as the co-chairs of the Geneva discussions of this illegal detention. Active work is underway to secure the release of the Georgian citizen from unlawful imprisonment through all available mechanisms. The illegal detentions carried out by the occupation regime complicate the daily lives of local people and seriously affect the security environment.” On July 29, she was remanded in custody until September 20.

27-28/07/2022: Visit of the “President” of Abkhazia to Russia.

Aslan Bzhania, the Abkhaz “president”, travelled to Moscow on July 27 to meet with Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev. The next day he also met with Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration Dmitry Kozak, Head of the Department for Interregional and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries of the Russian Presidential Administration Igor Maslov, Russian Minister of Economic Development Maxim Reshetnikov and his deputy Dmitry Volvach, to address air traffic cooperation issues and address Abkhazia’s socio-economic development program for 2022-2025.

07/27/2022: Statement by Bidzina Ivanishvili on the situation in Georgia and response by the US Ambassador.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire founder of the ruling “Georgian Dream” party and former prime minister, issued a statement on July 27, in reaction to the current situation in Georgia and the controversies that have surrounded her person for several weeks, in which can read: “I did not want my person to have any influence on political processes, and this has been and continues to be the reason for my complete removal from public space. […] The situation of Georgia and its government is complicated by the fact that certain forces have actively attempted to drag Georgia into war, and this desire and this objective are unfortunately still relevant today. Despite the greatest difficulties, the leading team worked correctly, took a correct position […] Today, when the immediate threat of war has been neutralized, I believe that the ruling team has the possibility to largely shift its attention to another most important priority and to ensure that Georgia’s relations with its strategic partners, the United States of America and the European Union, are not damaged. […] In conclusion, since there have been public questions about a meeting between me and the American ambassador after the start of the war in Ukraine, I would like to explain to society that such a meeting did indeed take place in the ambassador’s request on March 21 and it lasted about three hours. […]”.

Kelly Degnan, the US Ambassador to Georgia, confirmed the meeting on July 28, while specifying that no discussion concerning Georgia’s involvement in the war in Ukraine had taken place, stating: “ Let me be absolutely clear, so no one has to ask again: there was never any talk of involving Georgia in Russia’s war against Ukraine, nor of “blackmail” or actions aimed at blocking the transfer of Mr. Ivanishvili’s money. […] There have been many vague insinuations about US sanctions and pressure. That is not how financial sanctions work. Those who are sanctioned by the United States know this because the information is published publicly.[…] Frankly, it is a little confusing to see how much time and energy is spent by some discussing sanctions, or the someone else’s money, rather than working on the clear roadmap to EU membership. […] We, too, wonder about the reasons for this distraction from Georgia’s top priority to obtain EU candidate status and the insistence on repeating what has already been repeatedly identified as disinformation.[…] Since it seems that some still haven’t heard, let me repeat that we don’t use our programs to sanction or punish people and we didn’t sanction Judge Chkhikvadze. We do not interfere in court decisions in Georgia and we do not meet in secret. […] The Embassy is focused on continuing the strong cooperation that has defined the strategic partnership between the United States and Georgia over the past three decades. It is a successful and productive partnership of which we are proud and which has benefited thousands of Georgians. […] We are working to end the war in Ukraine as quickly as possible and are doing everything we can to prevent this tragic conflict from spreading to Georgia or any other country.

On the same day, the U.S. Department of State released 2022 Investment Climate Statements and said the National Bank of Georgia and Georgian financial institutions were acting “fully compliant” with state-imposed financial sanctions by United States and others to Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine.

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