South Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from July 9 to July 15, 2022

07/10-15/2022: Abkhaz “President” visits the Republic of Tatarstan and the Republic of Bashkortostan

The Abkhaz “president”, Aslan Bzhania, left on July 10 in Russia and more precisely in the Republic of Tatarstan until July 12 before going to the Republic of Bashkortostan until July 15, accompanied by the “president of the People’s Assembly”, Lasha Ashuba, “Minister of Tourism”, Teimuraz Khishba, “Head of Ochamchira District Administration”, Beslan Bigvava, “First Deputy Head of Gagra District Administration”, Adamur Tsishba and “Advisor to the President”, Grigory Pilia.

He thus met the President of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov in Kazan who congratulated his “counterpart” for the economic development of Abkhazia in the fields of “food and wine industry, agriculture, production of building materials and the mining industry. Tourism and the spa sector...” while recalling the 1994 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Tatarstan and Abkhazia. He also expressed his interest in the “deliveries of KAMAZ trucks, automobile tires, engineering and petrochemical products, medical and pharmaceutical products to Abkhazia” and in the potentialities of aid “in the field of development territorial development and the creation of modern urban infrastructures“. Aslan Bzhania said to him, “We have two seaports, there are transit opportunities. We are ready to cooperate in this direction” before visiting the Tatarstan Investment Development Agency, Kazan Technopolis “Khimgrad” and Technology Park “Innopolis”.

He then traveled to Ufa where he met with the leader of Bashkortostan, Radiy Khabirov, with whom he discussed “issues relating to the strengthening of international cooperation and the implementation of joint projects […] ] in the field of agriculture and tourism”. On the occasion of his stay, he told the media: “After a significant number of states have announced a sanctions regime against Russia, we of course believe that our territory can be used when it comes to to implement a parallel import programme, transit possibilities can be used. It’s a topic of discussion. We have two seaports, we have access to other states. […] On the contrary, the difficulties that have arisen will bring us closer together, and they will help in certain areas. […] An investor has already been identified for the launch of Sukhumi airport, work is underway to develop a gas network in Abkhazia, it’s all about Russian capital, Russian investment. We have to launch the airport in 2024. […] In addition, the operation of the checkpoint between Abkhazia and Russia will also be simplified” and he recalled the interstate treaty of alliance and strategic partnership signed in November 2014 between Russia and Abkhazia stating that “the movement of people, goods and goods across the border should be free, without restrictions“. He said: “It’s very important because we’re actually talking about 11 million crossings per year and 99% of these crossings are made by citizens of the Russian Federation. The vast majority of residents of Abkhazia also have Russian citizenship.” On July 15, he visited the UEC-Ufa Engine Industrial Association public joint-stock company dealing with “production of components for helicopter engines“.

The “Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy” of Abkhazia, Kristina Ozgan, left for a new visit to Russia on July 13 to meet the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Alexander Novak, with whom she discussed “the issue of energy supply to the Republic of Abkhazia and the issue of pricing oil products imported from the Russian Federation“. She also met with Russian Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov, Deputy Economic Development Minister Dmitry Volvach, and representatives of the Ministry of Transport and the Federal Air Transport Agency to discuss “the creation of a common legal space, interstate support programs, restoration of air traffic and joint investment projects” in order to increase tourist attractiveness. Indeed, according to the Abkhaz “Ministry of Economy”, “the creation of new transport corridors and the development of the tourist sector will be accompanied by the renewal of technical communications, the development of hotel and catering networks“. The following day, she met with the Director General and Chairman of the Board of Russian Railways, Oleg Beloziorov, to discuss ways to “ensure the stability of freight and passenger traffic between Russia and Abkhazia. “. Thus Russian Railways pledged to provide “full assistance to ensure the delivery of priority goods to Abkhazia“. Then she met Russian First Deputy Energy Minister Pavel Sorokin and Deputy Energy Minister Yevgeni Grabchak to discuss “the implementation of the energy meter installation program electricity” and “the procedure for pricing oil products in Russia and Abkhazia“.

07/12/2022: Meeting of the Prime Minister of Armenia with the Director General of the Russian State Corporation for Nuclear Energy, the new Ambassador of Syria to Armenia, and the Russian Minister of Transport.

Nikol Pashinian, the Armenian Prime Minister, met on July 12 in Yerevan with the director general of ROSATOM, the Russian state company for nuclear energy, Alexei Likhachev, in order to discuss the continuation of the exploitation of the second power unit of the Armenian nuclear power plant Metsamor as well as “the possibilities of building a new nuclear power plant in Armenia, the development of nuclear energy, as well as cooperation in the field of renewable energies“. It should be recalled that a memorandum of understanding on nuclear cooperation, “opening the way to increased cooperation on civil nuclear issues” was signed during the latter’s visit to the United States on May 2 to relaunch the Strategic Dialogue between the two countries. He also met with the new Syrian Ambassador to Armenia, Nora Arisian, and he referred to “the humanitarian mission sent by Armenia to Syria in 2019, which carried out humanitarian demining activities, mine awareness campaign among the population, the provision of medical services” and the two interlocutors also “underlined the role of the Syrian-Armenian community in strengthening Armenian-Syrian ties“. On July 15, he received a delegation led by the Russian Minister of Transport, Vitali Savelev, to discuss cooperation in the fields of transport and logistics, aeronautical and automotive communications, and public transport infrastructure.

07/13-15/2022: Visit of the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus to Armenia and Azerbaijan

Toivo Klaar, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus arrived in Armenia on July 13 where he met with Armenia’s Security Council Secretary Armen Grigorian to discuss “the Brussels process for Armenian-Azerbaijani relations” before meeting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, with whom he “reviewed the ongoing processes in the South Caucasus region, the situation around Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as measures to ensure peace and stability“. The results of the tripartite meetings held in Sochi with the mediation of the President of the Russian Federation as well as in Brussels with the mediation of the President of the European Council were discussed. The following day, he met with Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian to discuss progress related to the unblocking of communications and the work of the border commissions.

The week was marked by new Azerbaijani accusations of breaking the ceasefire by the Armenian side dated July 9 concerning shootings in the Kelbajar region in the direction of the settlement of Yukhari Ayrim on the evening of July 8, accusation denied by the Armenian side, which were reiterated on July 12 concerning shooting towards the settlement of Damirchidam in the same region on July 11, and on July 14 concerning shooting towards the settlement of Yukhari Ayrim on July 13, which were again denied. The Armenian side also accused Azerbaijan of breaking the ceasefire in the western part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border near Nakhchivan on July 12.

Armenian MFA, Ararat Mirzoyan, published on July 9 an interview given by him to the Greek newspaper “I Kathimerini” in which he declared on June 27: “Nagorno-Karabakh does exist with its Armenian population, which continues to live on his ancestral land and whose security is now ensured by Russian blue helmets […] The conflict does not cease to exist simply because one of the parties declares that it does not exist. This is self-delusion. Moreover, the official statements of our many partners and international organizations, including the mediating countries, also clearly show that the NK conflict still needs a final settlement through negotiations under the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship mandate; a settlement, which should provide guarantees of security and protection of all the rights of the Armenians of Artsakh and, consequently, the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh which results from it. […] currently, when the world focuses its attention on Ukraine, Azerbaijan may be tempted at any time to launch a full-scale provocation. […] Armenia is ready for the establishment of diplomatic relations with Turkey and the opening of the border between our countries which Turkey closed unilaterally in 1993. […] Armenia fully supports the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the Hellenic Republic. Armenia considers unacceptable all actions and measures that may flagrantly violate the norms of international law, the law of the sea, as well as the Charter of the United Nations. As for the Cyprus question, as in the question of Nagorno-Karabakh, in this case too, any attempt to present the consequences of the use of force as a solution is unacceptable to us. Armenia and Cyprus have always supported each other on bilateral and multilateral platforms.”

On July 12, Ruben Rubinian, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and Special Representative on the Normalization of Armenian-Turkish Relations, said of the agreements reached during his last meeting in Vienna with Representative Serdar Kilic “These are, of course, positive agreements, but one of the most important things in such complex processes is to quickly implement the first agreements. If they are implemented quickly, this greatly contributes to building trust, if they are not implemented, on the contrary, it greatly undermines this trust. And I hope that these agreements will be implemented very soon. […] The fact that this is not happening tomorrow and the fact that Armenia is ready for it means that the implementation depends on the political will of Turkey at this stage, because Armenia obviously has this political will” . Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova spoke on this subject on July 14 in these terms: “One should not be in the grip of the Western idea that history has no only started this morning. […] I would like to remind you that Russia has always supported the process of normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey which was launched in Moscow with our mediation on January 14, 2022. […] Let me remind you of a once again that Russia’s contribution to the normalization of relations between the two countries has not started this year“.

On July 15, Toivo Klaar met Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku, as well as Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov.

On July 15, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev chaired a review meeting of the first six months of the year during which he highlighted the “successful presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement“, marked by the creation and meeting of the parliamentary network, and extended unanimously until 2023, the “active cooperation” with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as well as with the European Union for which he declared: “As you know, we are working on a new agreement. Most of the agreement has been agreed and issues that have not been agreed are being discussed. I hope all questions will be resolved in the near future. […] In the near future, an important document will be signed between the European Union and Azerbaijan – a document on energy security, which will raise our cooperation to a higher level”. He also highlighted the cooperation with the Organization of Turkish States. He welcomed the receipt of the two letters from US President Joe Biden.

On the subject of the peace process with Armenia, he made a point of highlighting the aspects considered by him to be positive: “Although a year and eight months have passed since the patriotic war, unfortunately, Armenia still does not fulfil its obligations. If we are talking about positive points, I can simply say that the first meeting of the delimitation working groups took place. We see this as a positive step. This is an event that took place on the initiative of our country. Because it was Azerbaijan that was trying to take action regarding border demarcation as soon as possible. […] Another positive situation is that Armenia has accepted the five basic principles that will form the basis of the peace treaty initiated by Azerbaijan, and the Armenian leadership has officially accepted these five principles. […] but there are no concrete measures yet. The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia will meet tomorrow. This will be the first meeting between ministers and we hope that the meeting will have results. […] I think a good result of this meeting could be that the Armenian side forms its own working group. Because the Azerbaijani side has already formed its own working group for the preparation of the peace agreement.

Before highlighting the points considered by him negative: “Unfortunately, there are more negative points. One of them is Armenia’s refusal to resolve the issues identified in the declaration signed on November 10, 2020. The November 10 declaration is in fact an act of Armenia’s surrender, and as a defeated party in the war, Armenia assumed obligations. These obligations are clearly spelled out. One of them is the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from Karabakh. To date, this issue has not been resolved. […] The Russian blue helmets – the Russian side also signed the declaration of November 10 -, as they say, do not oblige them to do so. Of course, this is an intolerable situation. […] The second negative point is that in the statement of November 10, contact should have been established between the major part of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, and Armenia submitted to it and assumed this obligation. But so far, we have not had this possibility. The Lachin road is open, and in the November 10 statement, we pledged that the Lachin road will work and Azerbaijan will guarantee the safety of this road. We took it as a commitment and we follow it. But we do not have the possibility to go to Nakhchivan from the main part of Azerbaijan. […] To date, there is no technical and economic justification for the railway to be constructed in the Mehri section of the Zangezur corridor. No project can be implemented without a feasibility study, and it takes several months to prepare a feasibility study for the construction of a railway. So this work has not started yet. The route of the highway was not given to us. […] One of the other points is that recently the leader of Armenia has started talking about a certain status again. However, when the war ended, when Armenia signed the act of surrender, there was a verbal agreement between our leaders – Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia – that the issue of status was not addressed. Armenia followed him for some time. But lately it has become common. Sometimes their prime minister and sometimes their foreign minister talk about the status of Karabakh. […] Therefore, I think talking about status is a very dangerous issue for Armenia. Because we can also talk about status, We can apply for Zangezur status. Zangezur was taken from us in November 1920. We don’t talk, but we can talk, let’s see what the outcome will be. […] There are still attempts to revive the dead Minsk group. Now the Minsk group has effectively left the stage. We, the country participating in this process, say that there is no need for the Minsk group, there is no need for a group that has produced no results for 28 years. That’s what we say. To say the least, a cold war is going on between the co-chairs of the Minsk Group”.

07/13/2022: Azerbaijani veterans of the Karabakh war gather in front of the parliament.

A group of “44 Day War” veterans gathered outside Parliament on July 13 to demand a meeting with MPs “to secure their rights and implement government decisions regarding participants in the war “. Some members were reportedly received by members of the presidential administration on the same day, while the beginning of the week was marked by the death of a veteran from his injuries after an attempted self-immolation on July 10 and another suicide attempt by another veteran on July 13. At least 36 veterans have died of suicide since the end of the 2020 war. On the same day, the Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan said he was initiating criminal charges for “incitement to suicide” in relation to the death of a soldier.

07/13/2022: the Abkhaz “Minister of Foreign Affairs” officially decides to move the Geneva International Discussions.

Inal Arzinba, the Abkhaz “Minister of Foreign Affairs” officially declared “The Republic of Abkhazia has recognized the sovereignty of the DPR and the LPR and fully supports the special military operation of Russia in Ukraine. […] The Geneva discussions on stability and security in Transcaucasia are suspended. They were suspended, neither at our initiative, nor at the initiative of Russia, but at the initiative of Western countries and Georgia. We propose to change the Geneva platform to another, to a less biased place and city, where there will be equal opportunities and working conditions for all parties to the negotiation process, including the Republic of Abkhazia” during his meeting with the new Ambassador of the Russian Federation, Mikhail Shurgalin.

07/14/2022: European Commission proposes agreement with Azerbaijan to increase natural gas imports

On July 14, the European Commission offered EU countries an agreement with Azerbaijan to increase natural gas imports and support the expansion of a gas pipeline for this purpose. The draft memorandum of understanding dated July 11, which the Commission declined to comment on, states: “The parties aspire to support bilateral trade in natural gas, including through export to the European Union, via the Southern Gas Corridor , of at least 20 billion cubic meters of gas per year by 2027, consistent with commercial viability and market demand”. Investments should be able to transport low-carbon gases in the future, and future gas contracts should align with EU climate change objectives, i.e. a drop in use of gas after 2030. In addition, the two parties should intensify their actions to reduce methane emissions and study the possibilities of electrical interconnections and concerning the future trade of hydrogen.

The European Commission announced on July 15 the visit to Azerbaijan of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson on July 18, saying: “In the midst of the continued militarization of its energy supplies from Russia, the diversification of our energy imports is an absolute priority for the EU. The Southern Gas Corridor has a central role to play in the supply of natural gas to the EU, especially for South Eastern Europe. The EU and Azerbaijan are also working together to build a long-term partnership on clean energy and energy efficiency, as both sides pursue their green transition and the goals of the Paris Agreement. The EU and Azerbaijan are negotiating a new comprehensive agreement, which will strengthen cooperation in a wide range of areas, including economic diversification, investment, trade and the optimal use of the potential of civil society”.

07/15/2022: The Georgian President agrees to convene the special parliamentary session requested by the opposition.

On July 15, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili agreed to convene a special parliamentary session requested by part of the opposition on July 13 through a joint statement deeming such a provision necessary to examine legislative changes relating to the implementation of the 12 recommendations issued by the European Commission. She justified her decision in these terms: “I believe that the session is completely justified. A pause now cannot be justified. Committees and commissions are also justified and I call on everyone – the opposition and the government, the majority – to participate fully in everything”. On July 13, Michael Rupp, representative of the European Commission, told the European Parliament that the Commission would extend until autumn 2023 the deadline it had first granted until December 2022 for the implementation of the reforms demanded explaining : “After careful consideration, we have decided not to rush Georgia’s political elite in their efforts to depolarize the country so that they can sit at the same table and work hard on reforms.” This decision was welcomed by the president of the “Georgian Dream” Irakli Kobakhidze.

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