South Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from June 11 to June 17, 2022

06/11/2022: Alan Gagloev opens several crossing points with Georgia for the Lomisoba religious holiday

At the “Security Council of South Ossetia” on June 11, the new “president” of the Tskhinvali entity, Alan Gagloev, decided on the opening of several crossing points on the administrative boundary line with the rest of Georgia from June 13 to 17 on the occasion of the religious festival of Lomisoba. These are the crossing points of Odsizi, Karzmani and Sinaguri.

On June 13, he also signed a decree concerning the change of secretary of this same “Security Council” by appointing Anatoly Gavrilovich Pliyev to replace Valery Pavlovich Valiev. Anatoly Pliyev was at the centre of a scandal when he held the same position under the “presidency” of Leonid Tibilov, following his participation in a confidential meeting with the Georgian Patriarch Ilya II, considered in Abkhazia as “the ideologue of the Georgian fascism“. A potential “Prime Minister” is tipped in the person of Konstantin Dzhussoev, head of the Megapolis-T company. The new “Minister of the Interior” is the former head of the security department, Valery Gazzaev, and the “Minister of Justice”, Oleg Gagloev, a former “chief of staff of the government” sacked by Anatoly Bibilov in 2020. Lawyer Alan Dzhioev was appointed “Head of the Presidential Administration”.

06/13/2022: Imprisoned Muslim Unity Movement member begins hunger strike.

Hazi Humbatov, a member of the Muslim Unity Movement (MUM), imprisoned after a conviction on May 28 for “large-scale drug trafficking“, decided to begin a hunger strike on June 13, in support for Taleh Bagirzade, the leader of the movement, who has also been on hunger strike since June 3, and whose battle horse is blasphemy and torture in the police.

06/13-17/2022: Statements by the Prime Minister of Armenia and the President of Azerbaijan on the resolution of the Karabakh conflict

On June 13, Nikol Pashinyan, the Prime Minister of Armenia, visiting Qatar, made several statements during an Al Jazeera television broadcast, including: “the Boundary Commission [had] nothing to do with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict because […] we have different dimensions of communication with Azerbaijan, including the demarcation. It is also very important to mention the issue of border security, which also falls within the mandate of this commission, because we must maintain stability and security along the border. The second dimension is the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There is another dimension which concerns the opening of regional, transport and economic communications. But, of course, the most pressing issue between Armenia and Azerbaijan and for regional peace is the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.” Regarding the war in Ukraine, he expressed his concern saying, “Of course, we are very concerned about the situation around Ukraine, but I think all countries in the world are concerned, because what do we see now ? We are witnessing the collapse of the international order, and no one knows what the next international order will look like, and of course we support the solution of all problems through dialogue and peaceful means. […] Of course, the situation is not pleasant for us in terms of economy. […] After the events in Ukraine, many people and companies left Russia for Armenia because we have a neutral economic zone and Armenia and Russia are members of the Eurasian Economic Union. In this situation, we hope, I think, that we can manage this economic situation. But, of course, not only the economic situation in Russia directly affected the economy of Armenia, but also the global economic tension related, for example, to food supply, inflation and many other factors. But at the moment Armenia’s economic indicators are quite positive.” Regarding the process of normalization of relations with Turkey, he said: “I cannot say that we have not yet registered results, because after the start of the dialogue, we started direct flights between Armenia and Turkey, but that’s something we had before. I hope we can establish diplomatic relations, open the border between Armenia and Turkey, which has been closed for 30 years.” He reaffirmed the unacceptability of the “Zangezour Corridor” saying, “You know, the wording, the narrative of the so-called corridor is unacceptable to us, it’s a red line for us, because in our area, according to the trilateral declaration that I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, we have only one corridor, it is the Lachin corridor which connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. But we have another provision in our trilateral declaration, which concerns the opening of communications. I mean railways, roads, and we are ready, in fact we are already discussing the issue of opening regional communications based on the principle of mutual respect for sovereignty and inviolability of borders.” As for the subject of Iran, he expressed his wish that “by cooperating with Iran [Armenia could] also expand [its] bilateral relations with Qatar” while informing: “we are currently working on development of communications between Iran and Armenia, and we are currently building a very strategic highway called North-South, which connects our border with Georgia to the border with Iran. We hope that as a result of this program, our economic relations with Iran will grow.

On the occasion of the annual report on the execution of the state budget 2021, the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinian, gave a long speech to the National Assembly on June 15, in which he addressed the latest developments in the conflict resolution process with Azerbaijan. After highlighting the increase in the budget of “Artsakh” (174 billion drams including 128 paid by the Republic of Armenia) constituting a record since the 90s, he denounced the remarks of the “radical opposition” in recalling: “Throughout the history of the negotiation process, Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sarkissian, as well as their political satellite Dashnaktsutyun recognized Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan, or were not guided by the principle” Artsakh will never be part of Azerbaijan” […] On November 25, 1998, the then Armenian government, headed by Robert Kocharyan, agreed to accept as a basis for negotiation the so-called “common state” proposal presented by the co-chairs, which quoted: “I quote: ‘Together with Azerbaijan, it forms a common state within its internationally recognized borders. The second quote from the ‘Common State’ package – “The citizens of Upper -Karabakh as an identity card will have an Azerbaijani passport with a special note on Nagorno-Karabakh” – end of quote. […] The ‘common state’ negotiation package was followed by the so-called ‘territorial exchange’ package, which I have also spoken of several times. But today I want to emphasize that with this package of negotiations, the then Armenian leadership recognized Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan. Why? Because the meaning of the mentioned package was that Armenia ceded Meghri region to Azerbaijan and got Nagorno-Karabakh instead. In other words, if Armenia were to cede part of its sovereign territory to Azerbaijan to obtain Karabakh, it means that it recognizes Karabakh as the territory of Azerbaijan. […] In other words, discussing the two well-known negotiation concepts mentioned above, we see that the Robert Kocharyan-Serzh Sargsyan-Dashnaktsutyun trio, during their reign, in one case agreed that Artsakh could to be part of Azerbaijan, and in the second case accepted that Artsakh was part of Azerbaijan. These realities were further reinforced during the discussion of the Madrid Principles. Let me remind you that these principles were officially presented to Armenia and Azerbaijan by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in Madrid in 2007, and the Armenian side agreed to accept them as the basis negotiations. When this happened, Robert Kocharyan was leading the country, Serzh Sargsyan was the Prime Minister, and the ARF was part of the government and was a member and supporter of the ruling team. […] I would like to address the fact that today many criticize us for the fact that we do not consider the principle of recognition of the mutual territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and Armenia to be unacceptable. But our critics have forgotten that Armenia recognized the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, as I have said many times, in the 1992 Agreement on the Establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was ratified by the Supreme Council of Armenia in 1992. At that time, by the way, Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan were deputies of the Supreme Council of Armenia”.

He reaffirmed: “I stated this during the parliamentary debates in April, saying that if in the past the Armenian concept of the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was based on the status of Karabakh, deriving guarantees and security rights, we now base guarantees and security rights on the resulting status. In other words, we register that the status quo is not an end in itself, but a means to ensure the security, rights and freedoms of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians. This is a speech that is understood by the international community, makes our goals more understandable, the essence of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. But there is also a solid track record: any status that genuinely guarantees the security, rights and freedoms of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians should be seen as a solution for us. This is actually today’s main message. […] I repeat, no one can guarantee that the peace agenda will succeed. It is a path for us, inside and out, with insults, accusations, threats, dangers, losses. : But I can guarantee one thing with certainty: the reverse path leads not only to the destruction of Nagorno-Karabakh, but also to Armenia”.

Anti-government protests that have been going on for several weeks in Armenia retreated this week, dismantling a tent camp in Place de France in central Yerevan on June 15. The organizers of the protests, however, warned that the protests would continue and that it was a “change in tactics“. Opposition leaders have announced that they are working on impeachment proceedings against the Prime Minister, which would require the support of MPs from the ruling Civil Contract party, which in turn is seeking the removal of 14 opposition MPs who boycotted parliamentary sessions, a move that would need the approval of the Constitutional Court.

For his part, Ilham Aliev, the Azerbaijani President, delivered a speech on June 16 at the opening ceremony of the 9th World Forum in Baku. He said he was “satisfied that the Armenian government has adopted these five principles. [proposed by the Azerbaijani side]” while saying they “need concrete measures”. On the issue of opening a channel of communication between Azerbaijan and its exclave of Nakhchivan, he said: “More than a year and a half has passed since the signing of the act of surrender by the Armenia, but unfortunately the issue has not yet been resolved. This is unacceptable. First, it constitutes a violation by Armenia of the terms of the Tripartite Declaration and creates an imbalance. Because, under the same agreement, Azerbaijan assumed the obligation to freely withdraw from Armenia in the part of Karabakh, where the Armenian population of Azerbaijan lives. So, for a year and a half they have been using the Lachin route, but the Azerbaijanis cannot use the Zangezur corridor. It’s unfair and we won’t tolerate it.” He said, regarding the rights of Armenians living in Karabakh: “We wholeheartedly support this. The rights and security of all Azerbaijani people are guaranteed by the country’s constitution. Azerbaijan is a multinational country and Armenians are not the largest ethnic minority. Representatives of all peoples of Azerbaijan are equal, including Armenians living in the country. Yes, the rights and safety issues will be ensured from our side. Unfortunately, we still hear reflections from the Armenian government on the status of “Nagorno-Karabakh”. It is useless and dangerous for Armenia. Nagorno-Karabakh does not exist. There is no such administrative unit in our territory, and therefore any mention of ‘status’ will lead to a new clash.” On the issue of territorial integrity, he said: “If Armenia questions the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, then Azerbaijan will have no choice but to question the territorial integrity of Armenia. And we have the right to demand it from the point of view of history […] If Armenia is trying to demand the status of Karabakh Armenians, why wouldn’t Azerbaijan demand the status of Azerbaijanis from west of Zangezour? The population of this region is entirely made up of Azerbaijanis. This approach will lead to a dead end. I believe that the Armenian government will not forget the lessons of the second Karabakh war and renounce the territorial claims”. Regarding the Minsk Group, he reaffirmed his position by saying: “The OSCE Minsk Group, with a mandate to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, has not achieved any results in implementing implementation of this mission in 28 years of activity. And now, after Azerbaijan itself has restored its territorial integrity, the need for its activities has disappeared […] We have already received messages that the institution of the Minsk Group will no longer work”.

Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Mikhail Bocharnikov said on June 13 that the “normalization process [was] rather in its infancy.” According to him, “in what is now called a peace treaty, the first step has been taken – the will of both parties to move forward has been recorded. Baku put on the table the basic principles for the establishment of interstate relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Armenian side, in turn, put forward its proposals. Well, the Russian side is preparing to provide all possible assistance to this negotiation process.” He nevertheless criticized the EU’s attitude in these terms: “on the part of the EU, there is a desire to seize the initiative of Russia and take credit for progress in all these areas . I would also like to note that the latest EU statements completely suppress the existence of the above statements, let alone Russia’s role in this process.” Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, who had a telephone conversation with his Azerbaijani counterpart Djeyhun Bayramov on June 17 to discuss the issue of the implementation of the declaration on Allied Interaction, is expected to come to working visit to Baku on 23 and 24 June.

06/14/2022: Travel of the “South Ossetian President” to Moscow for consultations concerning the referendum of reunification with Russia.

Alan Gagloev, held consultations in Moscow on June 14 on the reunification referendum with Russia, leading a delegation that had left the day before and included the Speaker of Parliament, Alan Tadtaev, the President of the Supreme Court, Olesya Kochieva, Acting President of the Central Election Commission, Emilia Gagieva, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmitry Medoev and State Counsellor to President Konstantin Kochiev. The Russian delegation included Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Dimitry Kozak, Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Konstantin Kosachev, Head of the Russian Presidential Administration’s Directorate for Interregional and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries Igor Maslov, Deputy Secretary of the Security Council Rashid Nurgaliyev, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko, Russian Ambassador to South Ossetia Marat Kulakhmetov, and Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration Directorate for Cooperation border Sergey Bovenko.

Alan Gagloev also met on the same day with Russian Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov who said: “Cooperation between our countries is already underway in various fields, from medicine and education to trade and security. The objectives remain the same. We focus on the treaty of alliance and integration. […] Work on the socio-economic development of the Republic of South Ossetia continues. At the same time, the tasks become more difficult. Now that we have already achieved results in the social field, it is necessary to strengthen the economic agenda. It is important to create the conditions to attract investment so that businesses open up and the number of jobs increases”. The interlocutors were able to take stock of their cooperation, highlighting the increase in the salaries of civil servants, the restoration of social and engineering infrastructure or the opening of an emergency power line in 2021.

The following day, he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with whom he discussed “key issues of the bilateral agenda and foreign policy coordination, including the expansion of the Republic’s international relations as well as “the situation of the Geneva International Discussions“. Sergey Lavrov thus thanked the South Ossetian “president” for the humanitarian aid sent to the Donbass, stating “their population today is experiencing the same problems and undergoing the same threats as the Republic of South Ossetia at the time. . They protect, just like you, their history, their culture, their values, their identity. I believe that the coordination of actions in the field of humanitarian support to the two young republics will also be one of the axes of our joint efforts”. He made a point of emphasizing “the maturity of South Ossetian society, the successes of democratic construction, as witnessed by many international observers” while criticizing “the West [which] is trying to reverse the trends that are developing in the world, to establish its unipolar hegemony“.

6/14/2022: Opposition Abkhaz Veterans’ Party calls for “‘wide-ranging political reform

During its 10th Congress held on June 14 in Sokhoumi, the “Aruaa” Veterans’ Party led by Timour Gulia, re-elected on the same day, called through a resolution for “wide-ranging political reform to replace the system of super-presidential power obsolete by a form of parliamentary or mixed parliamentary-presidential power with the redistribution of the powers concerned between the branches of government, the strengthening of the party system and the acquisition of real independence by the judicial power” and proposed a national referendum on this issue. It also reads: “We suggest that the President of the Republic of Abkhazia initiate a reform of the Armed Forces in order to improve their efficiency, technological and technical equipment, as well as the level of material support to military personnel and guarantees social for their families. […] We call on the head of state with a request to give an objective assessment of the work of the prime minister and the entire economic bloc of the government, who developed various corruption schemes and lobbied for the interests of their businesses“.

06/15-16/2022: Visit of US Under Secretary of State Karen Donfried to Azerbaijan.

Karen Donfried, the US Under Secretary of State for European and Asian Affairs, came to Baku on June 15-16 to meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to discuss the bilateral relations agenda. “covering energy cooperation, security in the region, the post-conflict period, and the normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia“, an opportunity for the Azerbaijani Head of State to recall “the importance of the issues described in US President Joseph Biden’s Letters on Azerbaijan Independence Day and Baku Energy Week“. Karen Donfried presented the content of her meetings as relating to issues of regional security and cooperation, the war in Ukraine, and the role and importance of Azerbaijan in these processes. She also held a meeting with representatives of the LGBTQI+ community in Baku, as well as another with representatives of civil society including Anar Mammadli, head of the Centre for Election Monitoring and Democracy Education, Mehriban Rahimli, advisor to the German Marshall Fund, and lawyer Shahla Gumbatova.

06/16/2022: The “President of Abkhazia” comes out clearly in favor of a rapprochement with Russia before the “Parliament”.

Aslan Bzhania delivered a lengthy speech in Parliament on June 16 in which he addressed, among other things, the current international situation which he said “dictates the need for activation, coordinated with the Russian Federation – our strategic ally – to work towards of foreign policy“. He thus stated that he attached fundamental importance to “the further development and strengthening of the Abkhazian-Russian alliance, the establishment of new international contacts and the expansion of existing contacts, the conduct of a foreign policy coordination, the creation of a common defence and security space, the formation of a common social and economic space, the creation of conditions for the full participation of the Republic of Abkhazia in the processes of integration into the post-Soviet space, implemented on the initiative and with the assistance of the Russian Federation“. He asserted that “Abkhazia [was] recognized by a number of UN member states [and the country was] reliably protected against external military threats” and reiterated his support for “the “special military operation conducted by the Russian Federation” in Ukraine.

He also presented several important goals such as “to establish new ties and contacts in various regions of the world, as well as to strengthen the interaction with the states that have recognized the independence of the Abkhaz state” by mentioning the cooperation with the “Syrian Arab Republic”, Nicaragua, South Ossetia, or the “Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic”. He mentioned the development of Georgia’s military cooperation with NATO to justify its own alliance with Russia “the main deterrent for a potential aggressor and a guarantor of the defence security of Abkhazia” which arises through “joint combat training, participation of servicemen of the Armed Forces of Abkhazia in military exercises and other events conducted by Russian colleagues“.

On June 12, the “Abkhaz Ambassador” to Syria, Bagrat Khutaba, met with the Ambassador of the State of Palestine to Syria, Samir al-Rifai to discuss prospects for establishing diplomatic relations while on June 14 , Inal Arzinba, the Abkhaz “Foreign Minister” sent a letter to his Cuban, Venezuelan and Argentinian counterparts for the 94th anniversary of the birth of Che Guevara.

In response to Georgian Defence Minister Juansher Burchuladze’s remarks to Parliament on June 9 regarding additional arms orders from the United States, saying: “We have sought the supply of the second batch of javelins together with our main strategic partner, the United States, which was met last year. A request for a third supply of javelins has also been sent. In addition to this system, plans are underway to acquire sophisticated single and multiple anti-tank grenade launchers. Specific manufacturers have been chosen and the purchase will take place soon. Unmanned reconnaissance and combat aircraft, both operational and tactical, are another high-priority topic,” Abkhaz “Foreign Minister” Inal Arzinba expressed the next day his “deep concern over the modernization process. development of Georgia’s military-industrial complex and increasing the country’s military potential, which poses an additional threat to the national security of the Republic of Abkhazia” and what is perceived as “an existential threat“. He had thus warned that “the Republic of Abkhazia, in response, [would continue] to strengthen its military-technical cooperation with the Russian Federation within the framework of the bilateral agreements signed” while calling on the co-presidents of the Geneva International Discussions to “pay the utmost attention to Georgia’s actions that undermine the foundations of security in the South Caucasus and create additional obstacles to the peaceful and stable development of the region“.

On June 10, the “Deputy Prime Minister of Economy” of Abkhazia Kristina Ozgan, was also visiting at the head of a delegation in Crimea in order to inaugurate a factory for the production of fishmeal and fish oil “set up with the participation of Abkhazian investors“, before going to the 25th International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg from June 15 to 18, where a South Ossetian delegation led by “Acting Prime Minister” Gennady Bekoev was also present. present. On June 13, the “Ministry of Emergencies” announced the departure to the “Luhansk People’s Republic” of 15 rescuers and 10 tons of humanitarian cargo, the third convoy this year.

17/06/2022: The European Commission recommends confirming Georgia’s prospect of becoming a member of the EU while delivering the necessary conditions before being able to claim candidate status.

The European Commission recommended on June 17 to the Council to confirm the prospect of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, all three members of the “Associated Trio” to become members of the EU. This opinion, based on political and economic criteria and on the capacities of the three countries to assume the obligations linked to their membership, judged that Georgia had a “base in place to achieve the stability of the institutions guaranteeing democracy, the State of law, human rights and respect and protection of minorities” while moderating “even though recent developments have undermined the country’s progress“. This opinion thus underlined that “further reforms are necessary to improve the functioning of its market economy“. It is now up to the Member States to decide unanimously on the next steps. These opinions should in particular be discussed at the next European Council on 23 and 24 June.

The main recommendations are as follows: “address the problem of political polarization […] in the spirit of the April 19 agreement […] guarantee the full functioning of all state institutions, strengthening their independent and effective accountability and democratic oversight functions […] further improve the electoral framework […] adopt and implement a transparent and effective post-2021 judicial reform strategy and action plan based on of a broad, inclusive and multi-stakeholder consultation process […] strengthen the independence of its Anti-Corruption Agency […] implement the “de-oligarchisation” commitment […] strengthen the fight against organized crime [ …] make increased efforts to ensure a free, professional, pluralistic and independent media environment […] act quickly to strengthen the protection of the human rights of vulnerable groups […] consolidate the efforts to strengthen gender equality and combat violence against women […] ensure the involvement of civil society in decision-making processes at all levels […] ensure that an independent person is privileged in the process of appointing a new public defender“.

Chairman of the ruling “Georgian Dream” party, Irakli Kobakhidze, if he said he was “happy that today this perspective has been officially recognized by the European Commission and has offered us this guide to obtaining candidate status” blamed the country’s lack of democratic performance on its geography hoping that geography “will no longer be a reason why Georgia is denied candidate status or membership status” while confessing his disappointment and stating : “We understand that the sacrifices and bloodshed 14 years ago and even 30 years ago and 300,000 displaced people, unfortunately, have already lost their relevance for our European partners.

On June 14, Georgian President Salomé Zurabishvili called on Georgians to gather on June 16 in Europe Square to publicly demonstrate their European aspirations while attacking both the ruling party and the opposition during a long speech referring to “a wasted job of Georgia in Brussels“. She alluded to the latest European Parliament resolution calling for sanctions against former President Bidzina Ivanishvili in these terms: “Such a text, with its factual inaccuracies and unsubstantiated allegations, indicates only one thing: that no adequate work has been done with the parties in the European Parliament who participated in the drafting of this resolution. […] the government has not done the job it should of itself or the party, sometimes choosing silence and sometimes insulting answers to serious questions […] Society must not be misled , this resolution is nothing more than an expression of irritation at this stage, it is the result of the constant work of a radical opposition and of the silence and inaction of the government. It does not represent a decision or a will on the part of the EU to take such measures. Nor is it true that so-called “indirect” sanctions have already been imposed. This ambiguity only serves to cover up the misdeeds of those who were responsible for this work and who did not do their best to avoid this injustice for the country and the former leader of his government. The response to these wrongdoings with conspiracy theories, with anti-European statements, is only an attempt to cover up its own negligence. And by “own negligence” I mean that of the ruling party.

She also indulged in a list of decisions that contributed to Georgia’s decline from the other two contenders when according to her “on July 19 of last year, the Associated Trio’s Batumi Declaration, signed at our initiative, [had] been a very important step. [and that] It was clear then that Georgia was in the lead.” She thus listed the cancellation of the “Charles Michel document”, the refusal of a loan of 75 million euros and new rules on the election of the Attorney General, the surveillance tapes broadcast in September, the appointment of members of the High Council of Justice, modification of the rules for the election and extension of the mandate of the President of the CEC, the appointment of four judges to the Supreme Court in an accelerated manner, the abolition of the State Inspection Service in an accelerated pace, the arrest of Nika Gvaramia as well as changes to the surveillance law. She also denounced Georgia’s “completely inappropriate attitude towards our friend Ukraine and its government“.

Georgia submitted its membership application on March 3 at the same time as the Republic of Moldova. These two countries had received the first part of the questionnaire on the political and economic criteria on April 11 and the part on the EU acquis on April 19. Georgia returned them on May 2 and May 10 respectively.

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