South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from June 4 to June 10, 2022

06/03/2022: 10th meeting of the tripartite working group in Moscow in the presence of the Azerbaijani and Armenian Deputy Prime Ministers and meeting of Toivo Klaar with the Armenian leaders.

The three Deputy Prime Ministers of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia, Shahin Mustafayev, Mher Grigorian and Alexei Overchuk, met in Moscow on June 3 for the 10th meeting of the tripartite working group on unblocking communication and transport links in the framework of the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Various problems were discussed, such as issues relating to border and customs controls, the safe passage of citizens, vehicles and goods on roads and railways or “the passage of the motorway, which would provide a connection of transport between the western regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan through the territory of the Republic of Armenia”.

On the same day, Toivo Klaar, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus met with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, Security Council Secretary Armen Grigorian, and Deputy President of the National Assembly and special envoy for the normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations, Ruben Rubinyan. He called the progress of the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations the next day “encouraging” and said: “May this follow-up then happen in Brussels, may this follow-up happen at the bilateral border between Armenia and Azerbaijan or that this follow-up happens in the form of the trilateral working group of deputy prime ministers, all good and important. […] There is some positive momentum, and I think it’s important to build on that. […] We don’t have intellectual property, the EU doesn’t claim to have intellectual property on what whether it be. What interests us is to see progress, to support progress. […] In the end, the question is that it must be a global settlement. We all know how the conflict started, and the conflict must end completely. […] I think that at the end of the day, the Karabakh Armenians are of course a part that must be part of the solution, no matter what. It is very clear that there are many people living in Karabakh who have a fundamental interest in how the outcome, a comprehensive settlement, is shaped. Personally, I do not see how such a settlement can be reached without a process in which the opinions and points of view of these people are taken into account. […] In some parts the boundary demarcation will be easy, there is no question about where the line goes, in some parts there will be more questions to discuss. That is exactly what this meeting of the boundary commissions and subsequent meetings of the boundary commissions must accomplish. […] The European Union is not engaged in any kind of competition here. We are only interested in trying to move a process forward. […] We are completely transparent, we have been completely transparent in everything we do. Again, we in no way see this as a competition or an attempt to impose ourselves. Our only interest is to try to help resolve this conflict, and to try to offer our good offices.

Despite these remarks made by the representative of the European Union, aimed at dispelling the idea of ​​competition between Russians and Westerners, Rashid Nurgaliev, deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, declared in an interview published on June 6 “This conflict has been brewing for a long time, since Soviet times. And that suited Washington very well as a pretext to create tension. The West was not going to solve the problems of this region. He was interested in the latent conflicts that erupted from time to time and harmed the stable life of neighbouring states. Nobody, except Russia, had made efforts for the peaceful settlement of this problem.” While on the same day, the head of the Foreign Relations Department of the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan, Hikmet Hajiyev, met with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to discuss, according to the White House, “their joint commitment to assist the Ukrainian people in response to Russia’s unprovoked aggression“, the “implications of the conflict in Ukraine for the entire region“, meeting which resulted in American congratulations of Azerbaijan for “its commitment long-standing support for European energy security“. Jake Sullivan thus expressed his support for the talks organized by the President of the European Council Charles Michel while expressing his will to support the progress by various means, as did the American ambassador in Azerbaijan, Earle Litzenberger the June 9.

On June 8, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry denounced the visit of the Attorney General of Armenia, Artur Davtian, to Stepanakert to meet with the “President of Nagorno-Karabakh”, Arayik Haroutiounian, and the “Prosecutor of the Republic of Artsakh Gurgen Nersisian, speaking of an “irresponsible and provocative move“.

06/07/2022: 107th meeting of the Incident Response and Prevention Mechanism (MPRI) in Ergneti.

The 107th meeting of the Mechanism for Response and Prevention of Incidents (MPRI) took place on June 7 in Ergneti in the presence of representatives of the OSCE and the EU monitoring mission who discussed “the negative impact that the prolonged closure of crossing points“, “the high number of cases of detention“, “the issue of Chorchana-Tsnelisi” and the cases of “bordering“. The participants in this meeting welcomed the plan to maintain an increased dialogue during the period of agricultural work while welcoming the meeting at the end of April on irrigation issues and for which the hotline of the EU monitoring mission is provision. The Georgian side highlighted the cases of restrictions on freedom of movement and the illegal border demarcation process, while the South Ossetian side addressed the issue of the Georgian police station in Chorchana-Tsnelisi.

08/06/2022: Presentation of the human rights report of the Abkhaz Ombudsman to the “Parliament” of Abkhazia.

Asida Shakryl, the “ombudsman” of Abkhazia presented her report on the state of human rights in the “republic” to the “Parliament” on June 8. His speech reflected clear criticism of the lack of “anti-COVID measures commensurate with the nature of the threat“. She also addressed recommendations she made “also requiring urgent consideration” on several topics: “the need to prevent and respond to torture and degrading treatment; the need to revise the total ban on abortion; the need to pass the “Protection from Domestic Violence” law; the inadmissibility of including a new sanction in the Criminal Code of the Republic of Abkhazia in the form of the death penalty; the need to guarantee people’s rights in places of detention; the inadmissibility of the illegal use of firearms by law enforcement officers; problems related to the legal status of the population in the eastern regions of Abkhazia; […] the need to organize specialized juvenile justice; the absence of an education law; […] the difficulties related to the restoration of surnames and ethnicity of origin” for which she recalled that the recommendations of previous years had “remained unanswered“.

She also made recommendations to international organizations “concerning the need to de-isolate Abkhazia, to ensure access to international human rights instruments, cooperation of international institutions with state institutions of Abkhazia, the non-discrimination of citizens of Abkhazia regarding their right to freedom of movement, access to education and health care outside Abkhazia”. She thus lamented that “the international approaches of Abkhazia [have] not changed as a whole” and that “the interaction of the outside world with Abkhazia [be] rather limited and [be] largely in line with the standards prohibitive provisions of Georgian law on so-called “occupied territories“. She explained: “The policy of non-acceptance of Abkhazia’s participation in international cooperation hampers the modernization processes of the republic, limits citizens in exercising their rights. The indefinite blockade of Abkhazia by the international community leads to serious human rights violations” while recognizing “on the other hand, one can only be concerned about the growing tendencies towards self-isolation of the Abkhazia, which apparently are considered by some state bodies as an adequate response to stereotypical international approaches, exacerbated by the difficult geopolitical situation”.

She strongly criticized “the idea of ​​the need to adopt a law on so-called ‘foreign agents’ [which] imposes itself on society, despite the fact that it does not reflect Abkhazian realities” which according to her, risks “limiting the external relations of Abkhazia and, on the other hand, limiting the rights and freedoms in Abkhazia“. According to her, “If such a law is adopted in Abkhazia, the activity of civil organizations in the field of human rights protection and civil control will be limited. Restriction of rights and freedoms will inevitably affect both political actors and ordinary citizens of Abkhazia who wish to express their own views.”

06/08/2022: Resolution A/76/L.62 on the “Status of displaced persons and refugees from Abkhazia in Georgia, and from the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia in Georgia” by the General Assembly of United Nations.

The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted by 95 votes for, 12 against and 56 abstentions the draft resolution A/76/L.62 on the “Status of displaced persons and refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia, and the region of Tskhinvali/South Ossetia, Georgia”. The countries that voted against the resolution are: Belarus, Burundi, China, Cuba, North Korea, Laos, Nicaragua, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

Georgia’s Permanent Representative to the UN said on the occasion: “By supporting this resolution, we are not only telling these 400,000 that they matter too, and are not forgotten or left behind, but we let us also exert moral pressure on the participants in the Geneva International Discussions to fulfil their obligations” while the deputy permanent representative of Russia gave the reasons for their opposition in these terms: “the long-standing exploitation of the issue of refugees by the Georgian authorities significantly undermines efforts to resolve humanitarian problems in the region, causing tensions between representatives of communities living in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia” considering that this resolution “[was] exclusively aimed at to undermine normalization in the region and to pressure the sovereign states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia“.

06/08-10/2022: Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Armenia before the meeting of CSTO Foreign Ministers in Yerevan.

On June 8, Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, arrived in Yerevan welcomed by his Armenian counterpart, Ararat Mirzoyan, and Deputy Foreign Ministers Alexander Pankin and Mnatsakan Safarian held consultations on the subject of “interaction within the framework of the CIS, the EAEU and the CSTO”. After visiting the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial together the next day, June 9, the two MAEs spoke about “the overall regional trend in the South Caucasus region“. Ararat Mirzoyan thus hinted at a discussion concerning: “a possible document for the settlement of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan“.

Ararat Mirzoyan reaffirmed “the importance of utilizing the potential and experience of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs in accordance with its international mandate” while stating: “The Russian Federation has played a key role in stop Azerbaijan’s aggression against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. The deployment of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh, as a factor aimed at preventing provocations and ensuring the safety of the people of Artsakh, is responsible for creating conditions for the restoration of normal life, stability and security in our region. […] Armenia continues to believe that Russia is able to restore the status quo established by the Tripartite Declaration of November 9, 2020, which was violated by the invasion by Azerbaijani armed forces of the village of Parukh in Upper Karabakh on March 24, 2022. […] We must not forget Azerbaijan’s armenophobic and expansionist rhetoric, its continuous provocations and its regular violations of the ceasefire regime”. Moreover, he criticized the process of rapprochement in Armenia and Turkey in these terms: “irrespective of the declarations on the desire to improve relations without preconditions, we periodically see a link between the settlement of Armenia-Turkey relations and the settlement of Armenia-Azerbaijan relations. We believe this is an unconstructive approach.

Sergei Lavrov confirmed that the next meeting of the boundary commissions will take place in Moscow and regarding the communication routes he informed: “The railway route has been agreed. The coordination on the route of the highway is being finalized and the coordination of a simplified regime that will be put in place is also being finalized. It will certainly be based on the recognition of the sovereignty of Armenian territory, and there can be no ambiguity there.

06/09/2022: European Parliament resolution on “violation of media freedom and safety of journalists” calls for sanctions against former Georgian President Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The European Parliament adopted on June 9 a resolution on the “violation of media freedom and safety of journalists in Georgia” initiated by 5 political groups by 308 votes in favour and 218 against.

The Parliament declares itself “concerned by the significant deterioration of the situation of the media and the safety of journalists in Georgia in recent years” by “the steady increase in Russian disinformation and manipulation of information in Georgia” or by “the destructive role played by Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country’s sole oligarch, in the politics and economy of Georgia and by the level of control he wields over the government and its decisions, including with regard to persecution , for political reasons, journalists and political opponents […] by the personal ties and proven business ties between Ivanichivili and the Kremlin, which determine the position of the current Georgian government with regard to the sanctions against the Russia” while commending Nino Lomjaria, the Public Defender of Georgia, for “her actions to preserve media freedom, despite regular government attacks.

The resolution condemns “the increasing number of cases of intimidation, threats and violence against journalists and persecution of journalists” or “the persistent discrimination against LGBTQI+ people” and denounces “the conviction of Nika Gvaramia, director of the main pro-opposition TV channel Mtavari, on May 16, 2022, which highlighted the continuing distrust of the Georgian judicial system” while endorsing “the call made by Reporters Without Borders in favor of a review of the conviction of Nika Gvaramia“.

It denounces “the continuing lack of diligent investigations or prosecutions of those responsible for the violence against journalists and peaceful protesters during the ‘Tbilisi Pride’ march on July 5, 2021“. It thus calls on Georgia to “guarantee freedom of the media, which should encompass editorial independence, transparency of media ownership and pluralistic, impartial and non-discriminatory coverage of political opinions in the programs of private broadcasters and, in particular, public, including during election campaigns” and to “ensure unhindered access to information intended to be publicly available and to ensure the safety, protection and empowerment of journalists and other media professionals“, “to refrain from using aggressive and discriminatory rhetoric against media representatives“, “to carry out effective investigations into the wiretapping scandal and to put in place adequate mechanisms for democratic control of surveillance and information-gathering activities provided by public institutions“, “develop media literacy programs for its citizens, to support civil society in the creation of fact-checking mechanisms and to take active measures to prevent disinformation campaigns by foreign or domestic actors against the country, vulnerable groups or individuals, such as those living in communities ethnic minorities or in conflict areas, and against political parties“.

It encourages Georgia to “make the best possible use of all instruments and initiatives dedicated to building resilience in the framework of the Eastern Partnership” while “urging all Georgian political actors to refrain from exploiting attempts to Russian disinformation to target their political opponents“. Finally, it calls on the Georgian authorities to “release former President Mikheil Saakashvili from prison on humanitarian grounds in order to allow him to undergo appropriate medical treatment abroad“.

Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, said in response on June 9: “It is extremely worrying that one of the most important authorities in the modern world, such a high-ranking institution of the European Union, is falling victim false…The resolution calls for the release of the enemies of Georgian democracy and freedom of the media, Saakashvili and Gvaramia. It has nothing to do with European values, and such a resolution, frankly, is worthless” while Archil Talakvadze, Deputy Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, said that this resolution “[deviated] from reality” while speaking of “lack of fairness” and “distorted facts“. Nikoloz Samkharadze, chairman of the parliamentary foreign relations committee said: “If there is no evidence that Bidzina Ivanishvili has political or business ties with the Kremlin, it will be considered slander, lies and an attack on Bidzina Ivanishvili himself and the party he founded“.

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Central Asia Geopolitical Watch – from June 4 to June 10, 2022