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South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from May 7 to May 13, 2022

05/07/2022: Azerbaijan denies Russian accusations of the presence of biological weapons research laboratories on its territory.

Azerbaijan’s security service issued a press release on May 7 refuting Russian accusations of the presence of a biological weapons research laboratory on its territory, stating: “These statements, made without indicating any facts, arouse a certain concern in the society of our republic. In this regard, we note that such scientific centres have never operated in Azerbaijan, no research has been conducted that could harm the health of the country’s population or citizens of neighbouring states. It is unfortunate that such information, without asking the position of the Azerbaijani side, was released at international events, including in such an influential organization as the UN. At the same time, in view of our partnership relations, we express our willingness to carry out relevant investigations, in case specific facts on the above-mentioned matter are provided by the opposing party”. On May 9, Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department said about it: “I don’t want to give importance to these lies either. We know these are lies.”

05/08/2022: Victory of Alan Gagloev in the “presidential elections” of South Ossetia.

The second round of the “presidential elections” of South Ossetia which took place on May 8 with a participation rate of 73.93% ended in the victory of Alan Gagloev, president of the opposition party Nykhas, with 54.2% of the vote against the outgoing “president” Anatoli Bibilov who obtained only 43.30% of the vote, according to the figures not yet final at the end of the week. The winner said: “I am proud of the people, of the fact that the people expressed their opinion and of the fact that Anatoly Ilyich [Bibilov] recognized [defeat] in the elections. I want to express my deep gratitude to the people for their support and trust. […] We will form a new team”.

Andrei Rudenko, the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke about this election by declaring: “We hope that everything will go well, including in terms of continuity” while Vladimir Dzhabarov, the First Deputy Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council of Russia said “I believe that the change of leadership will not affect relations between South Ossetia and Moscow. Both candidates are pro-Russian. The people of South Ossetia have made their choice.” Russian President Vladimir Putin extended his congratulations to the winner, saying, “I hope that your activity in this high office will contribute to the further strengthening of relations between our countries, based on the principles of alliance and strategic partnership. For its part, Russia will continue to provide comprehensive support to its South Ossetian friends in solving urgent socio-economic development issues, as well as in ensuring national security.” According to Russian MP Leonid Kalashnikov, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots, South Ossetia should not rush the referendum on “reunification from the country “. He said: “As for the referendum, it remains their will. Having said that, I think Gagloev will wait now, unlike [incumbent leader Anatoli] Bibilov […] Even if he [Alan Gagloev] has announced that he is ready to organize such a referendum, it does not even depend on them, but of Russia, of the willingness of Russia and Belarus to expand the Union State“.

These elections have been the subject of criticism from the Georgian Foreign Ministry denouncing a “so-called second round of presidential elections” and claiming: “These illegal actions violate fundamental principles and norms of international law and seriously undermine the sovereignty and to the territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders. Under Russian occupation and effective control of the land, no election will have legal consequences as long as hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons expelled from Abkhazia and Tskhinvali as a result of the ethnic cleansing of Georgians will still be deprived the possibility of returning home safely and with fundamental rights and freedoms that are seriously violated. Russia’s effective control over the occupied regions of Georgia and its responsibility for human rights violations are clearly confirmed by the decision of the European Court of Human Rights of January 21, 2021.

On May 10, Alan Gagloev announced the date of his inauguration after next May 20 “because on May 20 we commemorate the tragedy of Zar. It would be a mistake to hold an inauguration on a tragic day,” he said. South Ossetia’s “Central Election Commission” on May 13 approved the package of documents submitted by “the initiative group supporting the referendum” as being “in accordance […] with the requirements of constitutional law“.

05/09/2022: Celebrations of the end of the 2nd World War in the South Caucasus.

On the occasion of the 77th anniversary of the “Great Patriotic War”, Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia, gave a speech on May 9 in which he recalled the figure of 300,000 Armenian dead and the commitment of half a million soldiers in the Soviet army. He thus declared: “With the victory in the war, civilized humanity has said no to one of the greatest evils, fascism” while drawing a parallel with the last war against Azerbaijan: “It was the heroic spirit of our grandfathers and fathers in the Great Patriotic War, World War II, which merged with the spirit of voluntarism in the early 1990s, becoming the guarantor of victory in the struggle for the survival of Artsakh, the First Artsakh War, the liberation of Shushi. […] The blood of our martyrs who gave their lives to the Fatherland must not be forgotten; the greatest recognition of their work should be the strengthening of the Armenian state, the full realization of the rights of the Armenians of Artsakh, the peaceful development of our generations and peaceful regional coexistence, which is the only reliable security guarantee of the Artsakh and Armenia […] We have not always been able to turn victories on the battlefield into victories in life. We must be able to transform our failures on the battlefield into victories in education, science, industry, economy, foreign policy, the ultimate result of which must be peace lasting and stable, a comprehensive settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict“.

On his part, Arayik Haroutiounian, “President of Nagorno-Karabakh” declared: “On behalf of the authorities of the Republic of Artsakh and on my own behalf, I offer my sincere congratulations for these precious and cherished holidays and I pay tribute in memory of all our martyrs who devoted their lives to the defence of the homeland, to their families and loved ones. For the sake of the sacred memory of our heroic grandfathers, fathers and sons, and for the sake of generations to come, Artsakh must always be Armenian and impregnable.

In Georgia, on the same day, Georgian leaders, including Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, Defence Minister Juansher Burchuladze and Interior Minister Vakhtank Gomelauri, met with several veterans in Tbilisi (who number 172 across the country) where they laid wreaths at the memorial to Meliton Kantaria, a Georgian soldier who raised the Soviet flag atop the Reichstag in 1945. While the Prime Minister avoided discussing the many requests to move this ceremony to May 8, the veterans have widely spoken in favour of Ukraine to the media.

In Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev visited the grave of Hero of the Soviet Union and Major General of the Armoured Forces, Hazi Aslanov, to lay a wreath. The Presidency website states that “Azerbaijani people have made a significant contribution to the historic victory over fascism. The Azerbaijani people, who played a huge role in achieving this victory, sent 600,000 of their sons and daughters to the front. More than 300,000 of them died heroically in battles […] For the second year in a row, the people of Azerbaijan celebrate the victory over fascism in the 1941-1945 war with double pride after the victory in the 44 day patriotic war. The justice that our people have been yearning for 30 years has finally triumphed and Azerbaijan has restored its territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders […] The memory of all our sons and daughters who died in the struggle for sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and in the 1941-1945 war will forever live in the hearts of the people“.

05/10/2022: Comments by the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister on the process of resolving the conflict with Armenia.

Djeyhun Bayramov, the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister spoke on May 10 on the process of resolving the conflict with Armenia. He described the Armenian anti-government protests thus: “Those who are organizing protests in Armenia […] are known to Armenian society, […] these are the people who have been making false promises to the Armenian people for many years, almost 30 years, living in illusions, they are the ones who have brought Armenia into the abyss today”. He addressed the Armenian desire to organize peace talks with the involvement of the Minsk group by explaining that “this [happens] at a time when, against the backdrop of events around Ukraine, there is no connection between the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, and its activities are paralysed”.

Furthermore, he announced that the last meeting held in Brussels on May 6 had led to the decision to set up a commission on the delimitation of borders, the first meeting of which should be held at the end of April and which should, on the Azerbaijani proposal accepted by the Armenian side, be organized at the level of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Regarding the announcement on May 5 by Secretary of the Armenian Security Council, Armen Grigorian, that Armenia had proposed 6 points (in response to Azerbaijan’s 5-point proposal, deemed by Armenia as “being not unacceptable”), and that Armenia was proposing to combine the two packages into 5+6 points in order to start negotiations for a peace treaty, Djeyhun Bayramov replied, “Everyone has seen the document presented by Armenia. Looking at the document, it seems that these cannot be called proposals. When this document was presented, the document from the Armenian side was in the form of a reaction to Azerbaijan’s proposals. I can list some of the points of these 6 propositions, and you can judge for yourself how much it can be called a proposal“.

Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov announced on the same day that “Restitution of the seven villages in the district of Qazax [bordering Armenia’s Tavush province] and Karki [bordering Nakhichevan] [would] be carried out in part of the delimitation process“. He said: “Armenia cannot say that these territories are not the territory of Azerbaijan. These territories are the territories of Azerbaijan. Since the restitution of these territories to Azerbaijan requires a process of delimitation, the question will be examined in this context. The return of these territories to Azerbaijan will be discussed and resolved”.

Reciprocal accusations of ceasefire violations have been happening every week since May 7, when the Armenian defence minister accused the Azerbaijani side of ceasefire violations, especially in the direction of the gold mine of Sotk, information denied by the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry. In turn, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence denounced the violation of the ceasefire by Armenia on May 10 and the shooting towards the settlement of Yukhari Ayrim in the district of Kelbajar, information also denied by the armenian part, then reiterated these charges on May 12, regarding firing in the same direction as well as towards the settlement of Zaylik in the same district.

05/10/2022: Controversial statements by the chairman of the “Georgian Dream” party regarding the late payment of damages from Swiss Bank to former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Reported delays in the payment of damages amounting to $600 million by Swiss Bank to billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, former Prime Minister of Georgia and founder of the ruling “Georgian Dream” party were qualified on May 10 by the current president of this party of “result of the coordination of certain forces, which want Georgia to get involved in the war“. “If someone tries to drag Bidzina Ivanishvili back into Georgian politics against her will, so that the country gets involved in a war, I consider that to be unacceptable and fundamentally wrong to say the least. If someone makes such an attempt, they don’t know Bidzina Ivanishvili well,” he said. Several Georgian figures supporting the ruling party pointed more directly to the United States. US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Gegnan reacted the next day, saying, “I think comments that have no basis in fact, that are said in a way that confuses the public, are very unnecessary […] This is the kind of misinformation that I think ends up confusing and ultimately dividing people”.

05/11/2022: Comments by the Prime Minister of Armenia on the process of resolving the conflict with Azerbaijan.

Nikol Pashinian, Prime Minister of Armenia, spoke about the process of resolving the conflict with Azerbaijan on May 11 from the Netherlands Institute for International Relations in Clingendale. After addressing the issue of the return of POWs saying, “By the way, the last time the President of Azerbaijan promised in the presence of the President of the European Council to release another group of prisoners, but so far, it didn’t happen […] when I personally took the political decision not to hold this type of haggling and we handed over to Azerbaijan all the mine maps we had, hoping that a humanitarian stage would be followed by a humanitarian stage” and sharply criticized Azerbaijani diplomacy in these terms: “the main task of Azerbaijani diplomacy in recent months is: to declare in the EU that Armenia is a pro-Russian country , and declare in Russia that Armenia is a pro-Western country. Sometimes they even say that there is in Armenia a government appointed by the West through a colour revolution, which acts against Russia“, Nikol Pashinyan described the Azerbaijani approach to the negotiations by stating: “Azerbaijan adopted a policy […] which can be formulated as “Karabakh without Armenians”” by denouncing methods such as “the use of loudspeakers by the Azerbaijani armed forces near the Armenian villages of the Nagorno-Karabakh calling their inhabitants to leave their homes, […] illuminating the houses of the Armenian villages of Karabakh with strong lights at night, or playing with loudspeakers the Muslim call to prayer, the Muslim azan, [ …] which, in fact, is a mere example of religious terrorism […] and another attempt to reintroduce the religious factor into the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone“. He thus made a point of clarifying his approach: “Our perception is completely different: the question of Nagorno-Karabakh is not at all a territorial question, as Azerbaijan has tried to present it, the question of Nagorno-Karabakh concerns [ …] the protection of the rights of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh”.

He thus said about the creation of a boundary commission: “In examining these proposals [Azerbaijani’s 5 points], we saw that they were not unacceptable for us, but we found that these points did not cover the whole agenda of our relations. And we completed the agenda by including the issues of the security rights of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians and the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh. […] Back from Brussels, I said that we have reached an agreement and, in fact, the Azerbaijani side also announced it. But later there were statements from Azerbaijan which gave the impression that only Azerbaijan’s proposals would be on the table, […] which does not correspond to the agreements we reached in Brussels”. On the same day, the Armenian Deputy Prime Minister, Mher Grigorian, confirmed that discussions were underway to place the Deputy Prime Ministers at the head of the commission on the delimitation of the borders.

On the same day, Ilham Aliev, the Azerbaijani President met with Anthony Blinken, the American Secretary of State. Following this conversation, the Presidential Administration claimed that the President had stated that “Armenia has accepted the five principles presented by Azerbaijan to normalize relations with Armenia and that Azerbaijan is ready to start negotiations on a peace agreement based on these principles“.

The day before, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, and representative of the opposition “Armenian Revolutionary Federation”, Ishkhan Saghatelian, had declared in the demonstrations in Yerevan: “We have already said that it is not only a question relating to Artsakh, it is an existential struggle. We said that after the loss of Artsakh, we would lose Syunik, Gegharkunik and the state. Therefore, we say we will go all the way. Today Azerbaijan repeated exactly the same as Nikol and his regime. According to them, no more than 5,000 people are participating in the protests, we are allegedly fighting for power, etc. Their texts are written in the same place, they pursue the same goals. We will send Nikol and Aliev to hell. Artsakh will never be part of Azerbaijan! “.

On May 12, Nikol Pashinyan’s statements regarding humanitarian issues were clarified by the Azerbaijani side as follows: “The baseless allegations made by the Prime Minister of Armenia against Azerbaijan [… ] show that the Armenian leadership is far from sincere on the issue of normalizing relations between the two countries. First of all, […] when the matter was brought to the attention of the international community […], the Armenian side denied the existence of mine maps as a whole. Then, in view of the position of the international community on the issue, Armenia presented the maps of the mines to Azerbaijan in packages, and the accuracy of the maps was around 25%. Generally speaking, it would be wrong to characterize Armenia’s transfer of mine cards as a humanitarian gesture, as it was an obligation of Armenia under international humanitarian law following the signing of the tripartite declaration. Since the signing of the Trilateral Declaration on November 10, 2020, 219 people, mostly civilians, have been killed or injured by landmines. Unfortunately, our fellow citizens are regularly victims of landmines, including after the transfer of maps by the Armenian side, as well as after the meeting of the two leaders in Brussels”.

05/12/2022: Visit of the Azerbaijani and Armenian Foreign Ministers to Dushanbe for the Council of Ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers, Ararat Mirzoyan and Djeyhun Bayramov, travelled to Dushanbe on May 12 and 13 for the Council of Ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). On this occasion, separate bilateral meetings and a trilateral meeting took place between the two ministers and their Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Ararat Mirzoyan reportedly told his Russian counterpart: “I would like to inform you that we discussed with our Azerbaijani colleagues the issue of establishing a commission on border delimitation and security. And there seems to be an agreement with Deputy Prime Minister Overchuk that there will be a meeting in Moscow on May 16-17 on communications, and there is also an agreement that a bilateral meeting on the demarcation and border security will be organized at the same time in Moscow“, information denied by the Azerbaijani side. Djeyhun Bayramov said on this occasion that the chairmen and the format of the national commissions for the delimitation of the borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia had been determined.
Sergey Lavrov said in a press briefing following the meeting: “We could not avoid talking about the negative consequences of the absolutely unacceptable actions of the West in what is happening in Ukraine as part of our military special operation. We have made a detailed account of the situation. Together with our Belarusian, Kazakh and other colleagues, we expressed our rejection of unilateral actions aimed at the collapse of existing economic, trade, logistics and transport ties. All underlined the inadmissibility of adopting unilateral sanctions by circumventing the UN Security Council”.

On May 12, Alexeï Overchuk, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, and Andrei Rudenko, Deputy Foreign Minister, visited Yerevan to meet Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian with whom they discussed the “need to resolve all legal issues, procedural issues” as part of the trilateral working group.

05/12/2022: A Georgian citizen sentenced to 5.5 years in prison in South Ossetia.

The Georgian State Security Service reported on May 12 the sentencing in South Ossetia of Mamuka Chkhikvadze, a Georgian citizen and former soldier arrested on last December 12 near the village of Zemo Nikozi, at 5 years and 6 months of prison.

05/13/2022: the Abkhaz “Foreign Ministry” puts an end to a project of the NGO “Action against Hunger”.

Following a meeting in Gali on May 13 between representatives of NGOs working in Abkhazia with “Minister of Foreign Affairs”, Inal Arzinba, “Minister of Justice”, Anri Bartsits, “Chairman of the Security Service of State”, Robert Kiut, and the “Head of the Gali District Administration” Konstantin Pilia, the decision was taken to end the implementation of the Action Against Hunger project “Improving local governance through inclusive development approaches”, which was justified in the following statement: “the questionnaire submitted to the Ministry for the approval of the project […] contained incomplete information, which constitutes a violation of the rules for the submission of questionnaires for the project approval. […] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs regards this as a concealment of exact data. […] this concerns part of the project which foresees the involvement of youth representatives from Abkhazia and Georgia in the so-called intercultural dialogue through joint trainings and seminars in Moldova, Austria and Armenia. […] Such initiatives are purely political in nature and are aimed at promoting the goals and objectives declared by the Georgian government in the official programs concerning the Republic of Abkhazia. […] We call on all international non-governmental organizations to respect the principle of transparency in the implementation of projects and to refrain from going beyond a humanitarian approach”.

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