South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from March 12 to March 18, 2022

03/12/2022: Meeting with the Turkish and Armenian Foreign Ministers on the sidelines of the Antalia Diplomatic Forum.

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on March 12 on the sidelines of the Antalia Diplomatic Forum. They expressed on this occasion their willingness to “lead the process aimed at full normalization and good neighbourly relations between Turkey and Armenia without preconditions”. Ararat Mirzoyan said the following day: “Armenia is ready to establish diplomatic relations and open borders with Turkey. I was happy to hear from my Turkish counterpart that there is political will on their side to lead the process to this end as well. Faced with the rapidly changing situation in the world, I believe that we should not hesitate to take concrete measures.”

03/12/2022: 1st round of parliamentary elections in Abkhazia.

With 51.2% participation in the first round of parliamentary elections in Abkhazia out of 132,000 voters, 17 seats were filled in Parliament. The second round should take place in 18 other constituencies. The Georgian MFA described the election as “another futile attempt to legitimize the ongoing illegal occupation of the two integral regions of Georgia” while EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell said “in what concerns the so-called legislative elections […] we recall that the European Union does not recognize the constitutional and legal framework in which they took place”. The US Embassy and the Azerbaijani MFA made similar statements.

03/14/2022: Georgian President’s speech in Parliament calls for unity and sets government and opposition back to back.

During her annual speech to the Georgian Parliament, President Salome Zurabishvili delivered strong criticism against the current Georgian government, saying that it was “[sinning] against her country“. But above all, she called for unity, dismissing government and opposition back to back, declaring: “I do not understand, and I cannot tolerate that at this turning point, instead of ending  quarrelling, bickering, the enmity, destructive confrontation and polarization, you, gathered here, forget what our coat of arms displays: strength is in unity. […] The [parliamentary] majority, instead of seeking consensus, paints anyone who disagrees with it as a traitor or as the war party […] The opposition, instead of seeking consensus , unequivocally characterizes any government statement or decision as pro-Russian.

She confirmed the information circulating about the Georgian government’s refusal of her working visits abroad, and in particular those recently carried out in Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Warsaw. She also called on Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, to send his ambassador back to Tbilisi so that “the ties between [their] two nations at this serious time are fully strengthened, closer and unshakable” while emphasizing that “any disagreement between the Georgia and Ukraine is good for Russia and Russia alone.

03/14-15/2022: Exchange of statements by the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministries on the Karabakh peace process.

Leyla Abdullayeva, spokesperson of the Azerbaijani MFA recalled on March 14 5 basic principles contained in the Azerbaijani proposals of the one-page document “on the basic principles for the establishment of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia” already presented to the Armenian side. It thus set out these 5 principles: “mutual recognition of respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability of internationally recognized borders and political independence of the other; mutual confirmation of the absence of territorial claims against each other and acceptance of legally binding obligations not to raise such a claim in the future; obligation to refrain, in their inter-State relations, from undermining the security of the other, from resorting to the threat or use of force, both against political independence and against territorial integrity, and in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the Charter of the United Nations; delimitation and demarcation of the state border and establishment of diplomatic relations; unblocking transportation and other communications, arranging other communications as appropriate, and establishing cooperation in other areas of mutual interest”.
On the same day, the Armenian Foreign Ministry stated that the Republic of Armenia had responded “to the proposals of the Republic of Azerbaijan and [had] requested the co-chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk Group to organize negotiations with a view to the signing of a peace agreement between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan on the basis of the United Nations Charter, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Helsinki Final Act”. He recalled the following day that “the two countries, having signed on December 8, 1991, the ‘Agreement on the Establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States’, have in fact already recognized the territorial integrity of the other and accepted that they have no territorial claims to each other” but he also demanded that “the status of Nagorno-Karabakh be finally clarified” while stating “For us, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not not a territorial question, but a question of rights”.

The Azerbaijani MFA replied to him on March 15: “Azerbaijan’s position on the normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia is clear and consistent. We do not need to repeat the position that we have expressed many times […] Azerbaijan has made proposals in this regard and is ready to move forward in this direction. If Armenia also takes the matter seriously, then it must present its concrete proposals and must therefore demonstrate that it is ready to enter into substantive and result-oriented negotiations”. While Eduard Aghajanian, Chairman of the Standing Committee on External Relations of the Armenian Parliament, said on the same day: “I think the negotiations should start. Including on the question of the final status of Artsakh“.

03/14-15/2022: Antony Blinken’s telephone conversation with Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinian.

On March 14 and 15, the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, met successively with the Armenian President and then with the Azerbaijani President the next day. He thus asked his two interlocutors to “show restraint and intensify diplomatic engagement to find comprehensive solutions to all outstanding issues“. He reportedly spoke in favour of a “comprehensive settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs” during talks with the Armenian side while urging it to continue its democratic reforms . He also called for respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Azerbaijan during his discussion with the Azerbaijani side.

03/14-16/2022: Visit of the European Union Special Representative for the South Caucasus to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Toivo Klaar, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus arrived on March 14 in Yerevan where he met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure Gnel Sanosyan, Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan and National Assembly Deputy Speaker Ruben Rubinyan. This trip was intended to hold consultations on “how the EU can support a peaceful and stable South Caucasus, in particular by helping Armenia and Azerbaijan to overcome the consequences of war and to implement a series of confidence-building measures” according to the EU Delegation to Armenia. He visited Baku on March 16, after welcoming the ongoing repair by the Azerbaijani side of the gas pipeline damaged on March 8 and supplying “Nagorno-Karabakh”, repair completed March 18.

Azerbaijani denunciations of breaking last week’s ceasefire continued earlier this week, with the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry denouncing March 13 fire from “Armenian illegal armed detachments“, which was again described as “disinformation” by the Nagorno Karabakh Defence Army.

03/16/2022: Anatoli Bibilov’s main rivals prevented from running in the “presidential elections” in South Ossetia.

The Central Election Commission of South Ossetia registered on March 16 5 candidates for the presidential elections which should be held on May 10. Thus, alongside Anatoli Bibilov who is seeking the renewal of his mandate, Alan Gagloev, leader of the Nykhas party, Dmitry Tasoev, former deputy, Garry Mouldarov, deputy, and Alexander Pliev, deputy speaker of parliament will be able to enter the running. 12 candidacies were rejected, including those of the two main opponents of the current president, namely the Minister of Defence, Ibragim Gasseev, and the deputy David Sanakoev, despite the 3,500 signatures collected conditioning their candidacy.

On March 15, Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, submitted to the Duma for ratification the agreement concerning the facilities for obtaining dual nationality for citizens of South Ossetia. This agreement should enter into force for a renewable period of 5 years. The units of the 4th Russian military base in Tskhinvali left for the Ukrainian front and include South Ossetian forces in accordance with the military agreement signed with Moscow in 2017.

03/16-18/2022: Telephone conversation between the French Foreign Minister and the Russian President and his French counterpart.

On March 16, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation in Karabakh and Armenia’s appeal to the co-chairmen of the Minsk Group within the framework of the resolution of the conflict. They also discussed the Armenian-Turkish dialogue and the situation in Ukraine. He also met on March 18 with his French counterpart Jean Yves le Drian, with whom he discussed the issues of economic cooperation between the two countries but also the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the role of the co-presidents of the Minsk group. The French MFA also met with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Djeyhun bayramov on March 17, with whom he discussed the 5 basic principles proposed by the Azerbaijani side in the context of conflict resolution.

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