South-Caucasus Geopolitical Wath – from February 12 to February 18, 2022

02/11/2022: Ratification of the Shusha declaration by the Turkish and Azerbaijani presidents.

On February 11, Recep Tayip Erdogan, the Turkish President, ratified with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, the Shusha declaration signed in June 2021 and approved by the parliaments of the two countries. This document includes political and commercial issues, in particular the transport corridor through the Zanguezour, but it aims above all to enshrine a mutual military assistance agreement in the event of a threat or aggression by a third country against the independence, sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the two countries. This declaration extends the agreement signed with former Turkish President Abdullah Gül ten years ago and this, one hundred years after the Treaty of Kars.

02/13/2022: Arrest of several high-ranking soldiers of the Azerbaijani army for corruption.

Azerbaijani authorities on 13 February arrested Colonel Rafael Khalilov, head of the Ministry of Defense’s finance department, as well as three high-ranking military personnel from the national army, including Bayram Bayramov, head of the land forces’ finance department, Farahim Sarkarov, head of the finance department of a military unit, and Vusal Alizade, an officer, who were all remanded in custody for a period of 4 months on charges of “embezzlement” of more than 10 million euros and “abuse of power”, following an ongoing restructuring of the financial system of the ministry concerned which is linked to cooperation with the Turkish armed forces. These arrests were followed by that of Jalal Kazimov, head of the air force’s financial department on February 17.

02/14-16/2022: Visit of the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar, to Georgia.

EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar, traveled to Georgia on February 14, after his visit to Armenia, to meet Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani the next day, with whom they discussed regional security and “measures taken by Russia against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and Ukraine“. Issues of militarization, fortification of occupation lines, and human rights violations, including violations of freedom of movement and arbitrary detentions, were thus addressed. He met the next day, February 16, the Minister for Reconciliation, Tea Akhvlediani, in order to deepen discussions on humanitarian issues in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. They thus agreed to continue their efforts for the release of 7 prisoners in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali, while on the same day the Georgian citizen Genadi Bestaev, released from South Ossetia last November died in the clinic where he was receiving treatment. since his release, after two years of detention. On February 17, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the implementation of the Common Foreign Security Policy (CFSP) calling on the EU and its member states to recognize the European perspective of Georgia and Ukraine.

02/14-16/2022: Strengthening of educational and media cooperation between Sokhoumi and Moscow.

Abkhaz Foreign Minister Inal Arzimba, on a trip to Russia since February 8, during which he met with State Secretary of the State of the Union between Belarus and Russia, Dmitry Mezentsev , on February 10, also met with the head of Rossotrudnichestvo, the Federal Agency for the Affairs of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and Humanitarian Cooperation, Yevgeny Primakov, with whom he agreed to increase joint activities and to extend support to young people in Abkhazia, which led to the announcement on 14 February of the opening of a youth center “The Future of Abkhazia” in the premises of the Abkhazian mission in Moscow, which will be coordinated by Edgar Gdazava, a student at MGIMO. This center aims to help Abkhazians looking for training and internships in Russia and its creation was preceded by numerous exchanges with university officials from MGIMO, the Higher School of Economics, the Diplomatic Academy of the MAE Russian and the Financial University dependent on the Russian government. On February 16, the opening of an Abkhaz MFA media center was mentioned by Inal Arzimba and Margarita Simonian, editor-in-chief of Rossiya Segodnia, Sputnik and RT.

02/14-16/2022 Continuation of negotiations around the resolution of the Karabakh conflict against the backdrop of reciprocal Armenian-Azerbaijani accusations of breaking the ceasefire.

On February 14, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar, visited Armenia where he met with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Deputy Prime Minister Mehr Grigorian, MFA Ararat Mirzoyan and Defense Minister Suren Papikian. Questions were thus addressed relating to the results of the quadripartite videoconference meeting of February 4, the planned arrival of the UNESCO mission and international organizations in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. The interlocutors agreed on the need to continue the conflict resolution process under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group. The United States Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Lee Litzenberger, made a point of distinguishing the United States’ position vis-à-vis Russia by declaring on February 16 that the “principled position [of the United States] is not to provide lethal weapons to either side. […] I point out that Russia is also a member of the Minsk Group but has a completely different position with respect to its obligations and supplies arms to both Armenia and Azerbaijan. We do not believe this is an acceptable way to achieve a peaceful settlement”. On the same day, the Russian MFA, Sergei Lavrov, met successively with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, Ararat Mirzoyan and Djeyhun Bayramov, in order to discuss the implementation of the trilateral agreements as well as the situation in Ukraine. On the same day, the Russian Defense Ministry issued a report on the situation of peacekeeping forces specifying the death of a Russian soldier as a result of incoming fire from Azerbaijani positions the previous day. On February 16, the French Ambassador to Armenia, Anne Louyot, and the Armenian Minister of Defense, Suren Papikian, discussed cooperation projects in the field of defense and security. The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense denounced Armenian fire on February 14 and 15 in the districts of Kelbajar and Tovuz while the Armenian side reported the serious condition of an Armenian serviceman following an Azerbaijani bombardment on February 15 as well as shooting at a farmer targeted in the village of Khramort near Askeran on the same day.

02/15/2022: The National Assembly of “Artsakh” adopts the law “On Occupied Territories” in the first reading.

On February 15, was adopted unanimously and in first reading in the “Parliament of Artsakh” the “law on the occupied territories” aimed at prohibiting the activities of foreign organizations wishing to operate without the authorization of the “government of Artsakh on a territory less than that of the former autonomous oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh.

02/15-17/2022: A journalist and human rights activists beaten up in Baku.

On February 15, journalist Teymur Karimov was beaten up several times at the police station and then in the hospital emergency room, when she had been arrested at the same time as two colleagues, Fatima Movlamli and Sevinj Sadigova, covering with them a demonstration by mothers of Azerbaijani soldiers who died outside the battlefield and claiming for them the status of “martyrs” which would give their families rights to compensation.
On February 17, Rufat Safarov and Zaur Akper, two human rights activists, were also beaten up in Narimanov’s police station in Baku, where they had gone to try to meet Ramish Jafarov, an entrepreneur who organized the blockade of Heydar Aliyev Avenue that very morning with his trucks.

02/15-17/2022: The expulsion of three leaders of the Georgian Parliament further strains relations with the EU.

The Georgian parliament terminated the terms of three opposition deputies on February 15. This measure concerns first Shalva Natelashvili, president of the labor party, and Elena Khostaria, president of the “Droa” party (“It’s time!”), sanctioned for “not having attended without valid reason more than half of the regular sittings of parliament” under a recently amended law that is also expected to deprive them of state financial support and free television airtime. It also concerns Badri Japaridze, a leader of the “Lelo” party, convicted of fraud in January. All three were signatories to a joint memorandum to boycott parliamentary activities on December 11, 2020. These sanctions come as the United National Movement (MNU), the main opposition party, announced in January the end of its parliamentary boycott, followed by in this closely by the Labor Party, then the creation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the alleged ill-treatment of its currently imprisoned founder, Mikheïl Saakashvili, and which requires the support of a third of the total number of deputies. The mandate of two other parliamentarians having been terminated in 2021, the opposition now only has 55 of the 60 seats it held. This decision was strongly contested by the opposition, civil society organizations and by the president herself, Salome Zurabishvili. Badri Japaridze has announced his candidacy for the next partial legislative elections in Rustavi on 2nd April next, for which he has received the support of the UNM. EU Ambassador to Georgia Karl Hartzel, meanwhile, said the move “arguably came at the expense of political inclusiveness and democratic pluralism in parliament,” prompting a swift response. of the chairman of the ruling “Georgian Dream” party, Irakli Kobakhidze, arguing that none of the diplomat’s statements “were fair and impartial and [that] this is precisely why they did not interest [them]”

This decision comes a few days after the 10th EU-Georgia Parliamentary Association Committee which gave rise to numerous declarations in the following days, and in particular that of MEP Marina Kaljurand, President of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with the South Caucasus arguing on February 14 that “the situation could still be improved in certain areas, in particular the accountability of law enforcement, the independence of the judiciary and the fight against discrimination of vulnerable groups and minorities” and raising concerns about “the shortcomings of the 2020 legislative elections and the 2021 municipal elections […] the maintenance of the appointments of judges to the Supreme Court, the recent reform of the common courts, the hasty elimination of the Service of the State Inspector, and the slow progress of constitutional reform“. She also insisted on the necessary respect of the April 19 agreement with the EU and she renewed the suggestion of setting up a Jean Monnet dialogue to promote cooperation between political parties in Parliament.

02/16/2022: Georgian condemnation of the Duma’s vote in favor of the independence of the self-proclaimed republics of Lugansk and Donetsk.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani on February 16 condemned the Russian State Duma’s call for Vladimir Putin to recognize the independence of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk republics in Donbass that he described as “particularly alarming” and “categorically unacceptable” and saying that this decision would “further aggravate the already difficult situation and jeopardize international agreements”, during a reception at the Ukrainian Embassy in Georgia organized the “Day of Unity” in the presence of representatives of the presidential administration, the Ministry of Defense, as well as the Ukrainian diaspora, various political parties, civil society and the media. This day was marked by numerous messages of support from the entire Georgian political spectrum and particularly from President Salome Zurabishvili, and by the lighting in Ukrainian colors of the Batumi television tower and football stadium. It should be noted that the Georgian embassy and Georgian consulates in the cities of Odessa and Donetsk have switched to emergency work and heightened security mode.

02/16-17/2022: Participation of the Georgian Minister of Defense in the NATO meeting in Brussels and multiplication of cooperation agreements.

On the sidelines of the meeting between the Defense Ministers of the NATO member states in Brussels on 16 and 17 February, to which the Ukrainian and Georgian Ministers were invited, the Georgian Defense Minister Juansher Burchuladze met the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Soltenberg, as well as the Chairman of the Military Committee and Admiral, Rob Bauer, with whom he discussed the strengthening of their cooperation in the face of security challenges and threats from Russia, as well as the upcoming exercises NATO-Georgia 2022 scheduled for March. He also met with his American counterpart, Lloyd Austin, during which they underlined the importance of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Georgia Defense and Deterrence Enhancement (GDDE) initiative signed on February 14 and which is a continuation of the Georgia Defense Readiness Programm (GDRP). Bilateral cooperation issues were also discussed with his Czech counterpart, Jana Cernochova, with whom he signed a 2022 plan for cooperation between their ministries, as well as with a delegation from the Lithuanian ministry with whom he also signed a 2022 plan for cooperation and a memorandum of cooperation with the Kaunas Cyber ​​Defense Center including the United States and Ukraine. On February 17, NATO defense ministers reaffirmed their “open door” policy and their determination not to return to “an era of spheres of influence where the great powers bully and dictate to others”.

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