South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from May 21 to May 27, 2022

05/21/2022: The Georgian Prime Minister responds to renewed criticism of the Ukrainian state over an alleged evasion of sanctions against Russia.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibachvili responded on May 21 to the criticisms voiced the day before by Andrei Yermak, the chief of staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in these terms: “And we can prove that certain jurisdictions, companies, individuals are helping Russia to avoid penalties. […] It is very unfortunate that this list includes a traditionally friendly country like Georgia, which is on the same boat, on this “black list” […] Regarding countries like Georgia, we know that some men influential businessmen are major Gazprom shareholders. There is a great risk that they will be involved in efforts to circumvent Russia’s sanctions.

The Georgian Prime Minister called his remarks “complete nonsense“, “slander“, “irresponsibility” and “dirty propaganda“. He reaffirmed that Georgia would not allow “any sanctioned company or person to operate in Georgia in order to use [its] territory to evade sanctions.” He said, “I want to show my solidarity with Ukraine once again. […] Unfortunately, the objective of the Ukrainian authorities was to open a second front in Georgia. This was publicly stated by the Secretary of the Security Council of Ukraine. Mr. Arestovitch also came out and said that if Saakashvili was in power, he would go to war with Russia and sacrifice the country for that desire and that goal. Of course, they couldn’t and never will get that, because today we are in power and we won’t allow it. Most of our people know the price of war. We have fought three times in 30 years and we have suffered a lot, our territories are occupied, Russian troops stand on our territory. All of this is a reality created during the reign of Saakashvili.

The following day, Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, in a congratulatory letter to Georgia’s new Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili, urged the country to “take all possible steps to support the Ukraine and hold the Russian Federation accountable for its war crimes”. On May 20, Georgia and the United States signed a bilateral concept document as part of the execution of the Georgia Defence and Deterrence Enhancement Initiative (GDDEI), launched in October 2021.

05/22/2022: Trilateral meeting of the President of the European Council with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan: a decisive European breakthrough in the resolution of the South Caucasus conflict?

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, met on May 23 with the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders, Nikol Pashinian and Ilham Aliyev, for a third trilateral meeting in Brussels which he described as “frank and constructive“, and following which he announced a first joint meeting of border commissions “at the state border in the coming days“.

Furthermore, the South Caucasian leaders are said to have agreed on “the principles governing the transit between western Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan, and between different parts of Armenia via Azerbaijan, as well as the international transport via the communication infrastructures of the two countries“. They would thus have agreed on “principles of border administration, security, land and customs fees in the context of international transport” and the continuation of this work by the Deputy Prime Ministers was announced. The parties also reportedly agreed that “teams led by foreign ministers move this process forward in the coming weeks.” Charles Michel also insisted on the need for “the rights and security of the ethnic Armenian population in Karabakh to be addressed“. Finally, a continuation of the work of the economic advisory group was also announced. A next meeting in this format should take place “by July-August“.

The following day, May 23, the two leaders each signed a decree on the establishment of commissions for the demarcation of the state border, chaired by Deputy Prime Ministers Shahin Mustafayev and Mher Grigorian respectively. Telephone conversations between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts also took place on May 23.

On the same day, the spokeswoman for the “President of Nagorno-Karabakh”, Lusine Avanesian, stated that “the attitude of the authorities of the Republic of Artsakh [had] been expressed unequivocally on several occasions by the President and the ‘National Assembly” while recalling certain provisions published by Arayik Haroutiounian last December: “1. The full recognition of the right of Artsakh Armenians to self-determination is not subject to any limitation or concession. 2. International recognition of the independence of the Republic of Artsakh continues to be the guideline of the authorities. Any status within Azerbaijan is unacceptable. 3․ Going backwards, not only in terms of status, but also in terms of demographics, is unacceptable. The Republic of Artsakh has the task of restoring its territorial integrity”. On May 24, it was the “National Assembly of Nagorno-Karabakh” which expressed its “perplexity” at Charles Michel’s remarks which, according to it, “distort the essence of the settlement of the Karabakh conflict and the legacy of the 30-year negotiation process“. In particular, it denounced the fact that “for the first time in the negotiation discourse, an attempt is made to abandon the political and geographical notion of ‘Nagorno-Karabakh’ and the expression ‘Armenian ethnic population of Karabakh’ is put in traffic “. According to it, “under the current circumstances, the authorities of the Republic of Armenia are obliged to be guided exclusively by the position of advancing and protecting in international forums the right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination, on the basis of the decision of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Armenia of July 8, 1992, according to which “any national or international document in which the NKR is mentioned as part of Azerbaijan is unacceptable for Armenia. The declarations on the formation of two Armenian republics, the values ​​enshrined in the decision of September 2, 1991 and the independence referendum of December 10, 1991 must be priorities for the authorities in place both in Artsakh and in Armenia”.

On May 21, the Azerbaijani side accused Armenia of violating the ceasefire dated May 20 regarding firing towards the settlement of Yellija in the district of Kelbajar, which was denied by the Ministry of Armenian Defence. On May 23, reciprocal accusations of ceasefire violations were again voiced by both sides.

05/23/2022: Abkhazia Day celebrations in Georgia.

On May 23, while Abkhaz “Foreign Minister” Inal Ardzinba was travelling to Moscow to meet with representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the Presidential Administration and the State Duma, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili published the following message on the occasion of Abkhazia Day: “I wholeheartedly congratulate all of Georgia, especially our Abkhaz brothers and sisters on this day. This other excellent tradition introduced with the blessing of His Holiness Ilia II, Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia, symbolizes the unity of Georgians and Abkhazians. We are divided today by the occupying line, but what unites us is a common history and culture, values ​​and a yearning for a better future for our children, igniting the belief that tomorrow is a matter of unity, peace and friendship. We are doing our best for this purpose and I am convinced that in the not so distant future we will manage to unite again to start building a strong, developed and European country together”.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili engaged in exposing a historical version of the construction of the Abkhaz conflict through a series of tweets: “The fact is that the oldest Georgian state is the ancient kingdom of Colchis, made famous by the myth of the Argonauts. Colchis spread throughout present-day western Georgia, including Abkhazia, and was most likely centred around Kutaisi, as evidenced by recent archaeological finds there. The successor states of Colchis, Egrisi and Lazica, would continue to develop on the shores of the Black Sea. As Georgian states began to merge and unite in the Middle Ages, the Kingdom of Abkhazia played a crucial role. It is Bagrat III, king of Abkhazia, who will finalize the unification of the Georgian lands. It was from his reign that Georgian rulers bore the title “King of the Abkhazians, Iberians, etc.” […] When Georgia was torn apart in the 15th century, Abkhazia became one of the principalities of Western Georgia. But even more, the Catholicos of Abkhazia, based in Kutaisi, protected the Georgian religion throughout the region. And despite the Russian annexation of Georgian lands throughout the 19th century, and despite the Empire’s policy of Russification, a common set of values ​​and a common culture have continued to bring us together. In 1921, the constitution of the First Republic provided for Abkhaz autonomy. It was when the Soviet Union invaded and annexed Georgia in 1921 that divisions began to appear. […] But the reality is this: there would be no Georgia without Abkhazia, and no Abkhazia without Georgia. Today we see the disastrous result of the continued occupation: the Abkhazian language, the Abkhazian culture is disappearing before our eyes.

05/24/2022: First meeting of the delimitation commissions of the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia and controversy over a “Zangezur corridor”.

On May 24, the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministries announced the holding on the border between the two states of the first meeting of the border delimitation commissions which brought together the two Deputy Prime Ministers, Shahin Mustafayev and Mher Grigorian, during the day. They agreed to organize a second meeting in Moscow and a third in Brussels.

In response to statements made by Ilham Aliyev to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on May 23 by telephone that the parties had “agreed on the opening of the Zangezour corridor, including the construction of railroads and highways“, a clarification was made on May 24 by Armen Grigorian, secretary of the Armenian Security Council who reaffirmed that “no road or transport route in the logic of a corridor [could not] operate on the territory of Armenia” and that “all the agreements reached in Brussels [concerned] the opening of regional connections“. Similarly, Arman Yeghoyan, MP and Chairman of the Standing Committee on European Integration said: “The road connecting Azerbaijan with its Nakhchivan Autonomous Region through the territory of Armenia will operate in accordance with all international standards, in taking into account all customs and other procedures in force. Aliyev can “sell” any agreement regarding the unblocking of transport communications to his citizens under the guise of a “corridor”, but in order to understand whether it is a corridor or not, it is necessary to understand what is meant by the word “corridor”. There will be no extraterritorial routes in Armenia. All international laws will apply, with customs fees, controls, etc. The operation of the route will involve procedures for passport control, customs control and all other attributes prescribed by international law. All this will be done on an equal basis. In the same logic, we will use the territory of Nakhchivan for land communication between Yerevan and Meghri, for example”.

05/24/2022: Inauguration ceremony of the new “President of the Republic” of South Ossetia.

The inauguration ceremony of the new South Ossetian “President of the Republic”, Alan Gagloev, of the “Nykhas” party took place on May 24 in Tskhinvali and was reportedly attended by “hundreds of citizens of South Ossetia, as well as guests from various regions of the Russian Federation, Nicaragua, Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, Abkhazia, Artsakh and Pridnestrovie Moldavia” as well as former leaders Ludvig Chibirov, Leonid Tibilov and Anatoly Bibilov.

He thus referred to the geopolitical context and the orientations of his foreign policy in these terms: “There is an acute geopolitical situation in the world at the moment. We are witnessing an armed confrontation between good and evil. We believe that the measures taken by our strategic partner, the Russian Federation, are fully consistent with the threat to national security hanging over the countries in the orbit of the “Russian World”. […] South Ossetia will always be faithful to its allied duties. […] We will never forget that it was Russia that helped South Ossetia in deadly times and protected the Ossetian people from destruction. The relations of alliance and integration with Russia are our main vector of international policy. […] Deepening and developing close ties with Russia will be a priority. At the same time, we will continue to deepen the development of relations with countries that are friends with us.”

On May 25, the Council of the Federation of Russia, the upper house of the Russian Parliament, ratified the agreement on the simplification of dual nationality with South Ossetia, already ratified by the Duma on May 19. This agreement must be signed by Vladimir Putin before entering into force.

05/26/2022: Independence Day celebrations in Georgia.

On the occasion of 104 years since the proclamation of the independent Democratic Republic of Georgia on May 26, 1918, restored in 1991, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili addressed the nation from the Place of Freedom in Tbilisi. The President largely referred to the current context of applying for membership of the European Union by describing “a historic opportunity [which] presented itself on the road to Europe” and which “was not done without effusion blood nor without sacrifice”. She said: “While we have defended Georgian faith, identity and values ​​against a number of conquering empires, we have also defended Europe… For the first time, a real chance arose. is presented. Neither civil society united around this objective, nor the souls of our ancestors, nor future generations will forgive us for having missed this chance. […] We must not only feel the pain of the Ukrainian people, but also show them total solidarity. […] A united nation has a bright future ahead of it: Europe and a return to basics! “. The Prime Minister, meanwhile, recalled having signed the country’s application for EU candidate status on March 3 and spoke of “a new stage in Georgian history” while welcoming the results of the current government in moving towards European standards in politics, economics, defence, governance and democracy. He insisted on the “gospel values ​​which are also the foundation of modern Europe” while expressing the solidarity of the Georgian government and people with Ukraine.

A joint letter from Georgia’s opposition parties was sent to the European Union leadership after it was read out in plenary session in parliament by Citizens’ Party deputy chairman Levan Ioselian on May 25 to silence criticism of the ruling “Georgian Dream” party, including those voiced by its leader, Irakli Kobakhidze, who said: “We call on the radical opposition to put aside at least once its vicious and biased political intentions and to stop agitprop against Georgia” by denouncing a campaign in Brussels by “specific radical opposition politicians” against Georgia gaining candidate status.

05/27/2022: Azerbaijani President signs clemency order for 213 convicted persons.

Ilham Aliyev, the Azerbaijani president, signed a pardon order on May 27 for 213 convicted people and which is expected to coincide with the commemoration of the country’s independence on May 28. Thus 167 people should be released from the remaining length of their sentence, 36 people would see their sentence reduced by half, one person would be released from the life sentence, 3 would be released from their conditional sentence and 6 from a sentence in the form of restriction of liberty.

Among all these people are about twenty political prisoners and in particular Saleh Rustamov, former head of the Gadabay region, and several journalists such as Afgan Sadigov, leader of Azel TV, Bahruz Aliev of the media, or Pasha Umadov, member of the “Popular Front” party. Also among those pardoned are all defendants in the Ganja case and its July 2018 riots, as well as several senior officials from the former Ministry of National Security such as Major General Teymur Guliyev and Colonel Salim Mammadov . According to Rufat Safarov, co-founder of the organization Line of Defence, there would remain a hundred political prisoners in Azerbaijani jails.

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