South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from June 25 to July 1, 2022

06/27/2022: Statement by the Abkhaz authorities regarding the suspension of the Geneva International Discussions.

On the occasion of a public discussion on the theme “Security of Abkhazia in the context of events in Georgia and Ukraine”, Abkhaz “Deputy Foreign Minister” Irakli Tuzhba informed that the Discussions Geneva International had been “suspended at this stage at the initiative of the co-chairs” of the UN, EU and OSCE, and that during their visit to Abkhazia at the end of May “[they had] no managed to get a straight answer, but [that] you could read between the lines that everyone acted with an eye on the situation in Ukraine“. He said: “All international formats of negotiations with the participation of Russia and Western countries are now interrupted. It turns out that only the Geneva discussions remain for the moment. Our position is to try to keep this format alive, even if it takes some time, but it is necessary to maintain communication with the adversary in order to avoid further escalation of tension in the region.” He also positioned himself vis-à-vis the proposal of Sergei Lavrov, the Russian MFA, dated June 20, to move the discussions to a “more neutral place acceptable to all participants” than Switzerland by advancing: “We are prepared to consider this possibility. For us, it’s not the place that counts, but the presence of the format itself, where important problems can be solved” before recalling “we are formally at war with Georgia, there is no military treaty between us. We are closely monitoring the intensive militarization of Georgia. […] There are about 15 military enterprises in Georgia which, together with Israel, Turkey and a number of European countries, have established the production of small arms, combat drones and other military equipment there. Thus, Georgia became the most advanced country in the South Caucasus from the military-industrial point of view. We believe that all of these efforts are aimed at resolving their land claims by force.

06/27-28/2022: Armenian and Azerbaijani statement on the Karabakh conflict resolution process.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan made statements on June 27 during an online conference answering questions from NGOs and the media, accusing the Azerbaijani side of trying to “legitimize another war” and explaining that “Azerbaijan [was trying] to solve the problem in a way that would leave Armenia in the blockade” and that Baku was trying to politicize a technical issue on the issue of the development of transport routes while recalling : “No one can be more interested in the issue of [unblocking] routes than we are․ Because we are faced with the task of sending as much international transit as possible along these routes, which will bring revenue to Armenia.” He addressed the issue of the upcoming abandonment of Lachin/Berdzor after the completion of the construction of a “more reliable” alternative route to the Lachin Corridor, which connects Armenia to Karabakh, echoing the words of the ” President of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Arayik Haroutiounian, on June 30, in front of parliament. He also referred to statements coming from Turkey having a negative impact on the negotiations such as the one using the expression “Zangezur corridor” as well as he criticized the Azerbaijani side for having cancelled a meeting of the secretary of the Council of security of Armenia, Armen Grigorian, and the assistant to the president of Azerbaijan, Hikmet Hadjiyev, scheduled for the same day.

In response, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said the next day that the remarks called into question “the will of this country to establish a lasting peace in the region“. Recalling that “Azerbaijan [had] been a supporter and initiator of the normalization of relations between the two countries since the liberation of its territories, despite Armenia’s aggressive policy and the ‘destroy everything’ approach used by Armenia for decades” and that “it was the President of Azerbaijan who [had] offered to sign a peace agreement on the basis of strict observance of the principles of international law in the post-conflict stage. [And that] the Azerbaijani side [had] even presented to the other side the basic principles on which the agreement should be based“, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry argued that: “for many years it is the Azerbaijani side which [had] declared that the establishment of normal relations in the region and the opening of all communications would be beneficial for Armenia” adding: “the fact that the Armenian side finally realized this and the Prime Minister’s statement that “open communications is good for Armenia” are attracting attention as a new approach to Armenian leadership. It seems that it takes some time for Armenia to accept the truth. We hope that it won’t take long for Armenia to realize the effectiveness of the Zangezur Corridor, which has already become a reality.” He also denounced the “flagrant violation” of the trilateral declarations by Armenia, saying that it: “sends sabotage groups to the territories of Azerbaijan, does not withdraw illegal armed groups from the territories of Azerbaijan and delays the opening of communications for a long time“. Finally, regarding the cancellation of the scheduled meeting, he replied: “If we start listing the meetings that have been proposed so far with the participation of international mediators in the post-conflict phase and which have been violated by the Armenia under various pretexts, as well as postponed by provocations 1-2 hours before, then the list will be very long. If Armenia really wants peace, it must show its political will and take concrete steps towards peace, rather than spending time reviving a format whose effectiveness has always been weak and whose members now openly recognize its impossibility“.

06/28-30/2022: Participation of the Prime Minister of Georgia in the NATO Summit in Madrid.

Irakli Garibashvili, the Georgian Prime Minister, travelled to Madrid between June 28 and 30, accompanied by Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili and Defence Minister Juansher Burchuladze, to attend the NATO summit which discussed the war in Ukraine, the challenges posed by the rise of China, and the definition of the strategic orientation of the organization for the next decade. On June 29, he thus met the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, and the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Swedish Prime Minister, Magdalena Andersson, as well as a delegation of senators and members of the United States Congress. Boris Johnson announced on June 29 aid to Georgia of 5 million pounds (6 million dollars) for the fight against Russian cyber threats.

At the same time, a delegation from the Defence and Security Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO/PA) headed by Ethan Corbin visited Tbilisi to discuss Georgia’s integration into the organization. Its members met with Speaker of Parliament Shalva Papuashvili, Chairman of the Parliamentary Defence and Security Committee of Georgia Irakli Beraia and Director of the Information Analysis Department of the Security Service of Georgia Giorgi Sabedashvili.

NATO’s Strategy Document 2022, which Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called “the Alliance’s model in a more dangerous and competitive world“, pledged to further develop its partnership with Georgia and reaffirmed its 2008 Bucharest Summit decision that the country would eventually become a member of the Alliance and said: “We will continue to develop our partnerships with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine to advance our common interest in Euro-Atlantic peace, stability and security” while emphasizing: “the security of the countries which aspire to become members of the Alliance is closely linked to ours. We strongly support their independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.” This document points to Russia as “the most significant and direct threat to the security of the Allies as well as to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area” while noting that “the Western Balkans and the Black Sea region are of strategic importance to the Alliance” and announcing intensified efforts to “enhance their capabilities to address the distinct threats and challenges they face“.

On June 30, the Georgian Foreign Ministry hailed NATO’s decisions, saying it welcomed “the adoption of a ‘Document of Measures Tailored to Georgia‘”. According to him: “The aforementioned new tool, together with the essential NATO-Georgia package, will create even more opportunities to bring Georgia’s defence and security sector closer to NATO standards and to strengthen its defence capabilities” and he describes as “encouraging” the continuation of the “open door” policy and considers that the new NATO strategic concept “adequately reflects the evolution of the geopolitical environment and the long-term response of the Alliance to Emerging Threats”. Likewise, he congratulates the invitation of Sweden and Finland considering that “their membership will further expand the security space in Europe and strengthen the alliance“.

US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan responded on June 30, for the second time this month, to allegations that the United States was dragging Georgia into Russia’s war against Ukraine in calling these arguments “straight out of an FSB disinformation book“.

06/29/2022: Azerbaijani President at the 6th Caspian Summit in Ashgabat.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev attended the 6th Caspian Summit in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on June 29, for which the Russian President’s senior aide, Yuri Ushakov, announced on June 27 that Russia hoped that “the Ashgabat talks [would] lead to the fact that the strategic nature of multilateral cooperation in the Caspian Sea [would] be confirmed, and above all, the commitment to the principles of interaction, which were enshrined in the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, [would] also be confirmed” while insisting on “the exclusive competence of the coastal countries to solve all the problems related to life in the Caspian Sea, and above all, the non-presence of extra-regional armed forces in the Caspian Sea” considering that the Convention ratified by all countries except Iran “enters into force as soon as possible” and says it is ready to host a Caspian Economic Forum in October 2022. Ilham Aliev thus met Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkmen President Serdar Berdymoukhamedov.

On this occasion, Ilham Aliyev said: “Azerbaijan attaches great importance to the interaction between our Caspian Sea countries. The Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea signed in Aktau in 2018 is of historic significance. The document culminates many years of work and determines the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Its rapid entry into force will create a solid legal basis for the adoption of even more effective measures aimed at strengthening the overall interaction and cooperation between our States. The legal framework for cooperation between the Caspian littoral states is being strengthened. […] Legally binding agreements on the delimitation of the bottom of the Caspian Sea have also been concluded in bilateral and trilateral formats. […] Azerbaijan today is one of the main transport and logistics centres of Eurasia. Our country plays an important role in the development of East-West and North-South international transport corridors. We strive to make efficient use of the Trans-Caspian international transport route. […] We observe an annual increase in the transport of goods through the territory of Azerbaijan along the East-West and North-South routes. The volumes of goods in transit passing through the new international trade seaport of Alat are increasing. The construction and commissioning of this port has become another important contribution of Azerbaijan to the development of transport and logistics infrastructure in the Caspian Sea. This year, Azerbaijan also plans to hold the 8th meeting of the North-South International Transport Corridor Coordination Council. After the victory in the Patriotic War and the resolution of the conflict with Armenia, Azerbaijan began to carry out large-scale works on the reconstruction and restoration of Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur, including the development of transport links international. The Zangazur Corridor is already becoming a reality. […] The Sixth Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea will be held in Baku at the end of this year. Today, during a meeting in restricted format, my colleagues and I exchanged on an issue of particular concern, namely the Caspian Sea which is becoming shallow. We have been observing this for many years and unfortunately the dynamics of the process are alarming.

07/01/2022: Resignation of the Georgian ambassador to France

Georgian Ambassador to France Tea Katukia, a Franco-Georgian national and former editor-in-chief of Diplomatie magazine, appointed in 2019 on the recommendation of President Salomé Zurabishvili, resigned from her post on July 1 citing “constants pressure” of her ministry, amid growing tensions between the President and the Georgian government. She specified that she had witnessed from day one “a number of serious violations and structural dysfunctions at the Embassy which considerably harm the interests and image of Georgia in France“, complaining of “abuse, constant slander, pressure, harassment and threats, which have their origins in the clannish and patronage practices deeply rooted in the system that contradict the values ​​and aspirations [she has] towards Georgia”. She thus underlined “today, the European future of our nation and its democratic development depend solely on the political choice of the Georgian government […] In this crucial context, significant staffing and structural problems, of which I myself have witnessed and which the Georgian diplomatic service is facing, prevent the country from conducting an effective foreign policy in response to the challenges we face“.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the accusations against him “slanderous” while stating: “The ambassador resigned after [our] preliminary consultation with her, during which it was explained to Ms. Tea Katukia that the agency was not satisfied with her performance during her term as ambassador in France […] Unfortunately, she did not ensure the proper exercise of the rights and duties assigned to her and the protection of Georgian interests in this European most important country” explaining that the stage where Georgia was “[required] the appointment of a highly qualified and experienced diplomat to this leadership position within the embassy.

07/01/2022: Russian-Abkhazian Economic Commission in Sokhumi.

Following the meeting between Russian Deputy Minister of Economic Development Dmitry Volvash and Abkhaz “Prime Minister” Alexander Ankvab on June 29, a Russian-Abkhaz Economic Commission was held on July 1 in Sokhoumi to conclude an agreement on the 2022-2025 plan for the economic development of Abkhazia. Discussions focused in particular on limiting the rise in the price of petroleum products and Russian investment in tourist infrastructure and in particular the resumption of traffic to Sokhoumi airport. In addition, on June 30, an agreement was signed extending the Russian-Abkhaz agreement on the co-financing of civil servants salaries until 2025.

On June 24, the “People’s Congress Committee on Economic Policy, Reforms and Information Technology”, had, following several weeks of protests against rising oil prices, passed a resolution “on measures to ensure effective state policy in the field of price regulation of petroleum products” recommending the “Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Abkhazia” to “take urgent measures” in this matter, to ” cancel Decree No. 18 of the Council of Ministers of March 1, 2022 “on the approval of the procedure for applying wholesale and retail prices for certain types of petroleum products“, to establish “maximum commercial margins due to the ineffectiveness of the method of regulation” and to “draft a new decree taking into account all the comments of the Committee and submit it to the People’s Congress within two weeks”.

07/01/2022: the International Criminal Court orders the arrest of 3 South Ossetian officials.

Following the filing of the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant against 3 South Ossetian officials on March 10 for their criminal responsibility for war crimes committed between August 7 and 28, 2008, the Court placed on July 1 these 3 people who are also Russian citizens on the wanted list.

07/01/2022: 4th meeting of the special representatives of Armenia and Turkey in Vienna.

On July 1, the 4th meeting between the representatives of Armenia and Turkey, Ruben Rubinian and Serdar Kilic, took place, during which the parties discussed the possibility of crossing the Armenian-Turkish land border as soon as possible. as well as the resumption of direct air freight between the two countries. The parties also reconfirmed their willingness to continue the process without preconditions.

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