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South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from March 5 to March 11, 2022

03/5-11/2022: Worsening tensions in Karabakh: multiplication of clashes in Karabakh and a damaged gas pipeline.

On March 7, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense denounced several ceasefire violations by “Armenian illegal armed detachments” since March 5 with 23 shots at the positions of Garanboy, Tartar, Agdam and Khojaly, which was denied by the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and by the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army which accused the Azerbaijani side of having themselves violated the ceasefire. The prosecutor’s office of the “Republic of Artsakh” also denounced Azerbaijani fire in the Khramort district of Askeran province and lamented the death of an Armenian serviceman. For its part, the Azerbaijani side reported the disappearance of two soldiers in the Lachin region. These episodes were repeated throughout the week, with the Azerbaijani side denouncing shootings at Agdam districts on March 7 and at Ordubad, Granboy and Khojaly districts on March 8 and 9, or at several villages in Agdam, Khojavend and Fizouli districts on March 10, then on nearby positions on March 11.
The Armenians, for their part, denounced Azerbaijani fire on March 9 on the Armenian positions on the western part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, on the villages of Karmir-Shouka and Knouchinak in the district of Martouni and on the village of Khramort in the province of Askeran, then on March 11 on the villages of Khnapat, Parukh and Khramort in the district of Askeran.

Damage to a gas pipeline supplying the territory of “Nagorno-Karabakh” occurred in the territory controlled by Azerbaijani forces on March 8, depriving the population of heating. Repair works requiring demining operations are still the subject of negotiations between the Azerbaijani authorities and the Russian peacekeeping forces. In addition, part of the Russian peacekeeping contingent allegedly withdrew on March 9 via the Lachin corridor with a view to redeployment in Ukraine, which was denied by the “Security Council of the Republic of ‘Artsakh’.

State Minister of the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Artak Beglaryan said on March 11: “In recent days, taking advantage of the concern of the whole world and in particular of Russia regarding the situation in Ukraine, the provocations and threats by Azerbaijan against the peaceful population of Artsakh have increased significantly“. The Azerbaijani side denounces for its part, a cooperation of the Russian peacekeeping forces with the Armenian armed forces remaining on its sovereign territory.

03/07/2022: Dispute between Georgia and Ukraine over the export of dairy products to Russia.

Following the March 5 decision by Russia’s Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision Service (Rosselkhoznadzor) to lift the ban on 15 Georgian companies exporting their milk production to Russia, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has the following day called on the Georgian government to distance itself from this decision by stating “we believe that the promotion of trade relations with Russia, whose armed forces are attacking peaceful Ukrainian cities with missiles and bombs, killing innocent civilians, including children, is unacceptable“.

On March 7, Irakli Garibashvili, the Georgian Prime Minister, reiterated his solidarity with Ukraine while recalling the 140 tons of humanitarian aid provided to this country while the Ministers of Agriculture and Economy, Otar Shamugia and Levan Davitashvili, respectively said that it was an “opportunity for [Georgian] companies to plan more production, to work at full capacity and to have specific longer-term plans” or that “the uproar [on the issue] is probably due to a lack of information“. The executive secretary of the ruling “Georgian Dream” party, Mamuka Mdinaradze, meanwhile, said that “during all these years, Georgia has maintained trade relations with Russia just like Ukraine” and that “the Russia remained the main trading partner until the first day of the war”. He also claimed that it would be irrational to impose sanctions that “would have done no harm to Russia but created serious economic and social problems for the Georgian people.”

This dispute comes in the context of the refoulement of several opposition journalists from Russian media who were prevented from entering Georgian territory, such as Mikhail Fishman of the Dozhd newspaper on March 5 or Dave Frenkel of the online media Meduza on March 11. Moreover, Georgia is not on the list of countries hostile to Russia, published this week. Similarly, one of the leaders of the Shame activists group that has been heavily involved in organizing anti-government and pro-Ukrainian protests over the past two weeks, Shota Dighmelashvili, was arrested on March 8 and sentenced to 4 days prison while demonstrating against the treatment meted out to other activists the previous day, which has been widely criticized by civil society organizations.

09/03/2022: The European Parliament condemns the “destruction of Armenian heritage” in “Nagorno-Karabakh” in a resolution against Azerbaijan.

European Parliament resolution 2022/2582 (RSP) of March 9 adopted by 632 votes for, 2 against and 42 abstentions strongly condemned a “continued policy of Azerbaijan to erase and deny the Armenian cultural heritage in and around the Karabakh” and it “recognizes that the erasure of Armenian cultural heritage is part of a larger framework of a systematic state policy of Armenophobia, historical revisionism and hatred towards Armenians promoted by the Azerbaijani authorities“. She thus argued that “the elimination of traces of Armenian cultural heritage in the Nagorno-Karabakh region is achieved not only by damaging and destroying it, but also by falsifying history and attempting to present it as self -called Caucasian Albanian“.

While welcoming the “central role played by UNESCO in the protection of cultural heritage and the promotion of culture as an instrument of rapprochement and dialogue“, she recalled the proposal of this body to send a mission of independent experts and requested that it be sent “without delay“. The resolution “stresses that Azerbaijan must grant unimpeded access to all cultural heritage sites so that the mission can conduct an inventory on the ground.

It thus paradoxically asks Azerbaijan to “ensure that no intervention on Armenian heritage sites takes place before a UNESCO assessment mission and that Armenian and international cultural heritage experts are consulted before and closely involved during interventions at Armenian cultural heritage sites” without mentioning any Azerbaijani experts. She also asks the European Union to “deploy mechanisms to facilitate UNESCO’s fact-finding mission” while wishing to link this issue to that of conflict resolution by stressing the “need to address the issue of the protection of historical and cultural heritage within the broader framework of resolving the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan”. She thus evokes a “final definition of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh” in spite of international law and calls on Azerbaijan to “abandon its maximalist objectives, its militaristic approach, and its territorial claims on Armenia and to engage in good faith in negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group“.

The committee for international and inter-parliamentary relations of the Azerbaijani Milli Majlis responded on March 11, stating that this resolution was “entirely based on false information provided by Armenia and the Armenian lobby in the European Parliament and [distorted] the realities emanating from the period of occupation of Azerbaijani lands for 30 years“. The statement even argues that “this resolution could safely be called yet another collapse of European democracy” and concludes “The European Parliament resolution in question will not succeed in clouding the high national, moral and cultural values ​​of the Azerbaijani people. It is just a piece of paper. We strongly condemn the European Parliament’s attempt to spread false statements in the most one-sided manner and call for avoidance of provocations that could harm the normalization process in the region.

03/09/2022: Meeting between Nikol Pashinian and Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met with French President Emmanuel Macron on March 9 at the “Ambitions: Armenia France” conference in Paris. The development of bilateral cooperation in the fields of economy, infrastructure, tourism, health, education, science and culture was discussed as well as the situation in Karabakh, Nikol Pashinian denouncing the ” provocative actions [of Azerbaijan] in Artsakh and on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border”, while calling for a settlement of the conflict within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group format.

Speaking at the conference, he said, “The living symbol of modern Armenian-French relations is the presence of a vibrant Armenian community of 700,000 people in France which is one of the powerful drivers of our effective cooperation. […] President Macron was the first world leader to give a clear and unbiased assessment of the events [the 44-day war] unfolding” while speaking of “hope that joint mediation efforts with other co-presidents [of the Minsk Group] will help establish peace in the region.

Emmanuel Macron, for his part, made a point of discussing the Ukrainian situation in these terms: “What is obviously happening in Ukraine today is not without consequence in the rest of the region and is not without consequence for the Armenia […] today’s conflict does not make us forget that of autumn 2020 […] France would have liked to do more […] We are also going to initiate a major program of training, preservation, promotion of the Armenian cultural and religious heritage led by the National Institute of Heritage […] so I hope that Unesco can provide all its support and expertise […] The State will initiate this competition fund […] Many collectivities wished, as we well know, to be able to bring projects to Armenia, to Nagorno-Karabakh too. It was fully legitimate […] With this support fund, we are going to provide a stable framework, identified with, I would say, the full and complete support of the State, French diplomacy […] the region is experiencing a major trauma which will have consequences for all of us […] what is happening in Ukraine is not without consequence and we see it again with violence again, with again disturbing events which reappear. We also see the links that exist between these situations when we begin to speak lightly again of genocide and when we begin to install political discourses that are based on historical revisionisms. And Armenia knows that one cannot talk lightly about these subjects. She knows that we must not accept that we disguise history to serve political ends […] this war launched by Russia is destabilizing your immediate environment. […] it is indeed a long-term peace treaty that must be built” before concluding “War is returning to Europe, but there are more than inclinations, resolute plans, to change the deep balances at in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, and so these are the plans that we need to thwart. It must be done with a commitment that will be ours, but by committing our European partners, the European Union”. Another informal meeting took place the same evening with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel.

03/09-10/2022: Closer ties of Abkhazia with the self-proclaimed republics of Ukraine and South Ossetia.

On March 9, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia announced the establishment of diplomatic relations with the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk and the preparation of a draft treaty of friendship and cooperation while stating that the two republics de facto supported “the policy of the Russian Federation aimed at the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine“. This support was reaffirmed during the meeting the same day between de facto President Aslan Bzhania and the Russian Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Dimitri Volvach. On March 10, the self-proclaimed Luhansk Republic also established diplomatic relations with Abkhazia while the leader of the “Luhansk People’s Republic”, Leonid Pasechnik, signed a “decree on the recognition of the republic of Abkhazia as an independent and sovereign state”.

The Abkhazian and South Ossetian Foreign Ministers, Inal Ardzinba and Dimitri Medoev, met on March 10 in Sokhoumi to study developments in their bilateral cooperation, before adopting a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to obtaining a wide international recognition and calling on Georgia to recognize the sovereignty and independence of the two republics. They also expressed their “firm intention to reach the signing of a legally binding agreement on international guarantees of non-use of force by Georgia“. At the same time, they expressed their “support for the actions of the Russian Federation aimed at carrying out a special military operation for the protection of civilians in the Donbass” and their “commitment to the establishment of a multipolar system of international relations and granting the right to express the positions of the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia on the United Nations platform”.

03/10/2022: Summit meetings on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomatic Forum.

While on March 6, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president said he was ready, during a telephone conversation with Recep Tayip Erdogan, his Turkish counterpart, to come to Istanbul or Ankara in order to meet the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, a meeting between Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish foreign ministers Sergei Lavrov, Dmytro Kuleba and Mevlut Cavusoglu took place on March 10 on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomatic Forum which started the next day.

On the same day, on the sidelines of this summit which takes place from March 11 to 13 on the theme “rebuilding diplomacy”, the Armenian Foreign Minister, Ararat Mirzoyan, who had confirmed his participation on March 7, met his Russian counterpart. , Sergey Lavrov, to “compare their approaches to promoting cooperation in joint integration associations, including CSTO, EAEU and CIS“.

While Recep Tayip Erdogan, the Turkish President met with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, with whom he discussed regional developments and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On this occasion, they re-emphasised the importance of the “Zangezur Corridor” and the successful operation of the Southern Gas Corridor (CGS), as well as discussed the construction of the Igdir-Nakhchivan gas pipeline and the supply of gas to Europe via Turkey as well as the pursuit of military cooperation between the two countries. On March 5, Ilham Aliyev and his Minister for Foreign Affairs, Djeyhoun Bayramov, had already met the Turkish Prime Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, which had allowed them to stress the importance of Choucha’s declaration, to reaffirm their desire to pursue a foreign affairs coordinated policy, and to express their opposition to the war in Ukraine and their support for the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations.

On March 10, Sergey Lavrov also met with his Azerbaijani counterpart to discuss “further steps to implement the provisions of the Declaration on Allied Interaction” signed on February 22, and the conflict resolution process with Armenia. They agreed to work for the holding of the second meeting of the Regional Consultative Platform “3+3” as soon as possible.

10/03/2022: The International Criminal Court files an arrest warrant against South Ossetian officials

The ICC prosecutor in The Hague, Karim Khan, on March 10 filed a request for an arrest warrant against three South Ossetian officials for their criminal responsibility for war crimes committed between the 7 and the 28 August 2008 : Lieutenant General Mikhail Midzaiev, de facto prime minister between 2005 and 2008, Hamlet Guchmazov, head of the pretrial detention center of the Ministry of the Interior at the time, as well as David Sanakoev, presidential representative for human rights. This request for an arrest warrant concerns acts of kidnapping, ill-treatment, hostage-taking, and illegal transfer of civilians, of elderly or sick people who refused to leave their homes after the departure of the Georgian forces chased away from South Ossetia. This decision was welcomed by the entire Georgian political class.

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