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Nicolae Timofti elected Moldova’s President: political future of the state

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Nicolae Timofti’s election as the President of Moldova is stipulated by the search of a compromise figure that would be able to consolidate political forces-members of governing coalition.

Timofti became Mihai Ghimpu’s protégé, thus causing the Liberals to refuse struggling for the post of Parliamentary speaker.

He hasn’t revealed his political ambitions before; moreover he hasn’t got his own team.

All above-listed testifies ambiguity of his own political game, thus meaning maximal concentration on implementation of the political course that would be in behalf of the AEI (The Alliance for European Integration).

We’re expecting the policy of the new Moldova’s President to be oriented towards relatively fast systematic reforms’ implementation, in the legal sphere uppermost.

We estimate that the opposition law adoption would be one of the primary N.Timofti’s initiatives, aiming at the relocation of the opposition forces’ activity from the streets to the interior of the Parliament.

We’re supposing that the whole block of this draft law would be devoted to the creation of the system of opposition forces’ responsibility and would restrict their possibilities of radical counteraction to the governing regime.

Being a lawyer, the current President would take legal reform implementation (judicial system, prosecutor’s office, procedural legislation) under control in the framework of directions  designated by the AEI program “The European integration: Freedom, Democracy, Wellbeing” 2009-2013.

The particular accent could be made on the creation of the independent judicial system and depolitization of law-enforcement machinery.

Timofti’s statements as for his becoming “the president for every citizen” may suggest that the policy of the country’s leader will also be concentrated on fulfillment of the part of the program in the sphere of civil society consolidation and cooperation with public sector.

It foresees the creation of the legislative base favorable for the civil society development in the capacity of the intermediary for the greater public good and the partner of public authority bodies in the process of internal policy implementation.

We’re supposing the main President’s task on a mid-term horizon would mean becoming a mediator between the power and the opposition, thus providing the maximum possible non-conflict and fast harmonization of the European standards with the national legislation.

In our opinion, N.Timofti is likely to initiate the changes in the Constitution of Moldova in so far as it relates to the Presidential election.

Preparation for the Presidential election was accompanied by the active discussion of the national idea search in the Moldovan mass-media.

In the course of his speech in the parliament Timofti said: “Society consolidation is the biggest problem. We need an idea integrating the whole society. And European integration should become this idea”.

According to our assessments, the process of Moldovan European integration, on the whole, is identical to the integration with Romania for the most part of the AEI and the unionists.

In particular, in the beginning of March 2012 members of the National Council for the unification of Romania and Moldova claimed their intentions to conduct the propaganda company inside the country, one of the main theses being: “unification with the neighbor country [Romania] is the most effective way of Europeanisation of the Republic of Moldova”.

Despite the fact that Timofti does not declare officially his support to the unification with Rumania in his comments, confining himself just to the thesis of ill-timing of such discussions, the representatives of the AEI, especially the leader of the National Liberal Party Vitalia Pavlichenko hailed the candidate for presidency not being antiunionist.

It’s worth paying attention that Timofti held talks with the representative of the Moldovan Socialists Dodon, saying that “we shouldn’t discuss the question of unification today, but it doesn’t mean that the generations to come shouldn’t discuss it”.

In response to Dodon’s objection as for the necessity to create conditions in order to exclude the rise of this question for the generations to come, Timofti emphasized that he didn’t know how to do it.

According to our assessments, it means that Timofti’s election, who had received Socialists’ votes in the Parliament, evidently took place as a change to non-stating publicly the unification with Romania.

But there is high probability that the Presidential stand would be altered into more open support of the unification after implementing necessary legal and constitutional reforms.

It should be noted that such scenario will be supported by the official Bucharest.

In January 2011, The President of Romania Traian Băsescu stated: “The Republic of Moldova remains the priority! Romania will further support the process of its approaching to the EU. I hope that in 2012 Kishinev will have the President, and the process of reforms will be intensified”.

In December 2010 «Da Vinci AG» issued the operational report “Scenarios of Romanian policy development in relation to Moldova” where two scenarios of Moldova and Romania unification were mentioned: historical reunification and unification following the EU integration.

At that time we emphasized that the fall of electoral support of the Communists in Moldova favored the realization of the EU integration scenario by Kishinev followed by the further unification with Bucharest.

Ex-President Voronin’s resignation, political crisis and election of the AEI candidate, supporting the plans of signing The EU accession agreement, increase the scenario realization probability.

In this case Kishinev and Bucharest may appeal to Serbia’s precedent that is preparing to the EU joining, regardless the existence of conflict territories.

Timofti’s policy as to Transnistria will apparently correspond to the AEI program of the PMR reintegration.

The main emphasis will be made on the renewal of «5+2» talks, as well as on the attempt to replace peace-keeping forces by the civil mission, thus giving the opportunity to level integration barriers.

The process of “soft integration” with Romania may be dramatized by Bucharest itself.

Romania is supposed to probably start speeding up the events within 1,5 years and try to expedite the process of states convergence at the economical and social and cultural levels.

Two main factors say much for it:

  1. A) Domestic policy problems among the ruling groups in Romania connected with the deterioration of social and economic welfare of the citizens and upcoming hustings.

As the result of post-crisis agreements with the IMF, budget salaries in Romania have been reduced by 30%, pensions – by 15%, retirement age increasing up to 65 years.

Sales tax has been increased likewise.

In the end of 2011 the decision to “freeze” salaries and pensions increase has also been made.

These and some other measures resulted in the protest moods intensifying, mass riots and negatively influence authorities rating.

In its turn, “The Great Romania” theme, including first of all Moldova affiliation, is traditionally exploited by current ruling groups in order to raise their own rating inside the country, remove social tension and unite the nation.

We consider this technology to be used this time likewise as a response to the social challenges that the new government faces.

It means that the question of Romania and Moldova unification may be enforced by the ruling groups of Bucharest in order to maintain domestic and social stability.

Closer to 2014, when Romania faces fierce presidential election campaign without the direct participation of Traian Băsescu, “Moldovan issue” may become the key point for the electors. Upcomingchanges in the UE structure.

As of today the most likely scenario is to change the EU structure further, alongside with centrifugal tendencies intensification.

Every next year the probability of new members joining the EU or entry of new territories in any other way will decrease.

That’s why the long-term and leisurely strategy as for Moldova will unlikely be convenient for Bucharest, where these risks are estimated beyond all doubt.

At the same time, macroeconomic performance of Moldova as of today is capable of impairing fatally social and economic situation in Romania.

For instance, Moldovan export in 2011 amounted USD 2221,6 mln., whereas import – USD  5191,6 mln.

Meanwhile Romania occupies only the third place in the geographic structure of Moldova’s import after Russia and Ukraine.

So, Romania’s economics, especially at its current, crisis-like stage of development won’t bear the “unification strike”.

Thereby, it is extremely beneficial for official Bucharest to create more effective social and economic model in Moldova and to conduct pro-european reforms.

The main directions of such steps are estimated to be the following:

  1. Unification of Moldova’s legislative base in social and economic sphere with the Romanian legislation under the auspices of the all-European standards.
  2. Activation of mutual cooperation at the governmental level, aiming at elaboration of similar development model for two countries.
  3. Energy resources supply diversification in order to reduce Russia’s influence on Moldova.

Particularly, this direction includes “Iași – Ungheni” gas pipeline construction and mutual link-up of power lines.

  1. Increase of the level of goods interpenetration to the markets of both countries. The main emphasis particularly being on creation of joint projects in agricultural sector.
  2. Joint projects in defense sphere and border guard.
  3. Activation of “Transnistria question” approach and finding compromise in favor of Moldova. It’s worth noting that recently the leaders of Moldova and Transnistria have been trying to start developing constructive dialogue.
  4. Activation of educational and training projects for Moldovan youth.
  5. Active propaganda campaign in Moldova as for the European integration of the country alongside with activation of “The Great Romania” thesis implementation by Bucharest on its territory.

Taking into account the above mentioned the main risks for such Romanian strategy in regard of Moldova would be the following:

  1. Russia’s position as for Transnistria and Moldova. Vladimir Putin, after being elected the President of Russia once more, is likely to pay more attention to the “Moldovan vector” trying to limit Romania’s influence in the region that is strategic for the Kremlin. The latest is evidently to activate its work with left-wing political forces (The Communist Party of Moldova first of all), as well as with political movements representing national minorities’ interests.
  2. Imbalance in social and economic development of Moldova and Romania. Per capita income in Moldova, according to World Banks’ data, totals USD 1810, in Romania – USD 7840. The average pension amount, in accordance with statistics data, amounts EUR 52, in Romania – EUR 175.
  3. Antiunionist forces counteraction inside Moldova (with the support of Russia as well), whose actions may be aimed at destabilization of the situation, internal political conflict and republic crushing.

None of these risks is estimated to be insuperable for Bucharest, though the weight of these factors is evident. Thus, we evaluate the possibility of the above-mentioned scenario realization at the level of “probable”.

Thereby we deem necessary to indicate the risks that Ukraine may face in case of Romania’s implementation of this scenario as for Moldova.

  1. Decline in Ukrainian goods’ part at Moldova’s market. Increase in Romanian goods’ part at Moldova’s market required by Bucharest may be realized through the lowering of the role  of two eastern state’s partners: Ukraine and Russia. It’s worth mentioning that in comparison with 2008, export of Ukrainian goods to Moldova has decreased from USD 1,17 bln. to USD 874,4 mln. annually.
  2. Strengthening of the informational, cultural and diplomatic tension, alongside with the intensification of Romanian intelligence services activity as for Ukraine regarding the territorial questions of Bukovina and the southern part of Odessa region in the framework of strategy of “The Great Romania” construction.
  3. Decrease in Kyiv’s influence on the processes in Transnistria, reduction of protection possibilities for Ukrainians living within the territory of PMR, and also of Ukrainian capital interests and of the state economic interests within this territory.

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Eastern Europe

Can economic cooperation contribute to sustainable peace in Karabakh?

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A major step has taken towards the Karabakh conflict on November 10, 2020. The century-old conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has undoubtedly, entered a different phase with the signing of a trilateral statement by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia. Before this, in late September, Azerbaijan has launched a successful counter-offensive to implement the UN Security Council Resolutions (822, 853, 874, 884) through liberating its territories that were under Armenian occupation for almost 30 years. As a result of the military campaign, Azerbaijan was able to get back the majority of the strategic points in Karabakh including the historic city of Shusha. 

While the protests broke out in the Armenian capital Yerevan, when PM Pashinyan publicly declared that he was obliged to sign the agreement to prevent its army from a total collapse, the Azerbaijani side enjoyed the victory by massive celebrations in Baku. The President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev signed the statement on a live broadcast, and right after, addressed the nation and familiarized the Azerbaijani public with the context. As the details revealed by President Aliyev, it became obvious that the agreement was the capitulation of the Armenian side.

Afterward, the consequence of the “44-day war” was described as “a defeat both on the battlefield and in the diplomatic arena” by the Armenian President Armen Sarkissian. Namely, the agreement comprised the unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian troops from the occupied territories within a definite schedule, the return of all refugees, and the deployment of the Russian peacekeepers in the several points of Karabakh. Furthermore, the cardinal element of the statement is that there was not a word about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Apparently, the overwhelming military advantage of Azerbaijan induced the Armenian government to come to the negotiation table and finalize its illegal military presence within the boundaries of a neighboring sovereign state.

The agreement further articulates the opening of all communications, restoration of economic and transport links. Due to the stipulated economic notions, the statement possesses a significant role for lasting and sustainable peace. In this context, if Armenia would ensure adherence to the principles of the trilateral statement, the possible economic consequences will encapsulate in two dimensions: regional and global.

The regional dimension or local basis encompasses joint initiatives and shall include Georgia as well. For instance, the “South Caucasus Economic Union” could emerge to build high-quality cross-border infrastructure, to establish intraregional supply chains, and to form stronger financial links. The project rationale derives from the recognition that the development of an integrated South Caucasus, which can guarantee peace and spur growth in all fields, requires multiple, cohesive, and long-term efforts. Thus, the fundamental prerequisite for Armenia is to terminate all the hostilities with neighboring countries.

In the mutually assured peace environment, Azerbaijan and Armenia would strongly benefit from enormous savings on conflict-related fiscal expenditures. Military expenditures could be lessened by 2% of annual GDP in both countries to a reasonable level as in the countries at peace. Besides, Azerbaijan could eventually save expenditures for supporting refugees amounting to 0.4% of annual GDP, thus diminishing total expenditure by 2.4% of GDP yearly. Armenia could save annual expenditures of 0.9% of GDP for supporting the local economy in Nagorno-Karabakh and 0.1% of GDP in interest payments, thus saving 3% of GDP every year. Such massive fiscal savings would enable both countries to avert the budget-related issues and at the same time substantially increase spending in social spheres by eliminating any budgetary pressures.

In the global dimension, South Caucasus is capable of creating opportunities for sustainable growth. The ongoing conflict was generating an elevated extent of risks, which were constituting several constraints for the capital flow to the region. Since an opportunity has emerged to settle the conflict thoroughly regarding the trilateral statement, the effect that it would create in the future on ratings, risk premiums on bonds, loans and equity, investment, and finally, economic growth are likely to be very positive.

The South Caucasus region, acting as a link between the Middle East, China, Russia, and Europe, has immense strategic significance. Previously opened the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, today serves as the shortest way to deliver Chinese goods to Turkey and reduces delivery time to Western Europe. This project was developed within a larger Trans-Caspian International Transit Route, as part of the Belt & Road Initiative.

Within the scope of the agreement, Azerbaijan gained a corridor that links the mainland to the exclave Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic through the Zangazur region of Armenia. The new corridor seems to be a more efficient alternative from distance and timing aspects. Thus, the agreement can be characterized as pivotal since it will not only stimulate the regional development credibly, it will transform the region into a hub of the international supply chain system, as well.

Undoubtedly, the foremost economic issue will be compensation as Armenia officially approved itself as the aggressor state in this conflict with the sign of PM Pashinyan on November 10. According to the United Nations, the overall damage to the Azerbaijani economy has estimated to be around $53.5 billion in 1994. Recently, President Ilham Aliyev stated that foreign experts are going to be invited for the up-to-datecalculations of the total damage as the result of the occupation.

After a longstanding negotiation process, the situation has been exacerbated, and inevitably, processes oriented to the military theatre. This trilateral statement can forestall the risks of resumption of the military operations in this phase. Here, strengthening the capacity to manage the conflict and promote peace through regional economic integration, trade facilitation initiatives, and other policy measures will be on the agenda. There is a plethora of similar practices in the world so that it might lead to a feasible solution.

The Karabakh conflict was making South Caucasus one of the most explosive regions in Eurasia. Nevertheless, from this moment, the focus shall be on the peacemaking process as it yields considerable economic benefits. As mentioned, the flow of investments to the region will tremendously increase, whereby the states in South Caucasus will be able to maximize their economic potentials. For Armenia, it is time to act on facts and realities rather than dreams. So, it should renounce territorial claims and start to rational cooperation with neighbors for a better future.

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Eastern Europe

The new border geopolitics of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Azerbaijan

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Borders are spatial-political phenomena that have a prominent importance and place in the global political sphere because they have divided the world arena into countries and put them together as actors. This importance and prominent position of borders has caused various fields of study such as political science, political geography, international law, etc. to study them from their point of view and continuously to follow and monitor their developments and changes. In the meantime, it seems that after the acceptance of the ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia along the northwestern borders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, some developments have happened that need to examine. So, we examine these developments with a geopolitical perspective. The geopolitical attitude towards the border developments of Iran and Azerbaijan can analyze in the form of the following angles:
Border geopolitics in terms of location is the knowledge, acquisition, exploitation and preservation of geographical sources of power in border areas and related areas in transnational, national, regional and global relations. In other words, designing and reviewing the strategies of actors to achieve benefits and goals based on the geographical resources of power in the border areas called border geopolitics. The developments along the Iran-Azerbaijan border after the ceasefire show these developments cause the geographical sources of Iran's power: alliance with Armenia; severance of Iran's position as Azerbaijan-Nakhchivan communication bridge; reducing Azerbaijan's dependence on Iran for access to the high seas; reducing the possibility of transferring Iranian gas to Europe, etc. that along the borders should significantly reduce. On the other hand, the increase of geographical sources of power: increasing the size of the territory; establishing a connection with the Nakhchivan sector; forming a new opportunity to connect with the high seas through Turkey, etc. has brought about for the country of Azerbaijan. Based on this, it seems that in designing the forthcoming strategies of Iran and Azerbaijan, we will see changes in the geographical sources of power due to these changes.
 
Border geopolitics from a functional point of view is the knowledge, acquisition, exploitation and preservation of geographical sources of power in transnational, national, regional and global relations to achieve protection, control, management, security and other objectives in the length of borders and border areas. In other words, designing and reviewing the strategies of actors to achieve protection, control, management, security and other goals based on the geographical sources of power in the border areas called border geopolitics. If we examine the developments along the Iranian-Azerbaijani border after the ceasefire from this point of view, we will see that the importance and value of Azerbaijan's geographical resources along the border with Iran is increasing compared to Iran's geographical sources of power. It seems to put more effective and successful strategies in front of Azerbaijan to achieve goals such as control, security, etc. along the common borders. On the contrary, it will change the strategies facing Iran to some extent.

Border geopolitics from a player point is the knowledge, acquisition, exploitation and preservation of geographical resources of power in the border areas of the two countries, by Iran and Azerbaijan to achieve their goals and aspirations in transnational, national, regional and global. In other words, the use and exploitation of the geographical sources of power in the common border areas of Iran and Azerbaijan to achieve their goals and aspirations in transnational, national, regional and global relations called geopolitical borders.If we examine the developments along the Iranian-Azerbaijani border after ceasefire from this point of view, we will see that these changes have made Azerbaijan, as a geopolitical player compared to Iran, more powerful than geographical sources. On the other hand, variety of actors such as Turkey, Russia, etc. are present directly along the borders of the two countries.

In general, the changes that have taken place along the borders of Iran and Azerbaijan from a geopolitical point of view of the border seem to have been in favor of Azerbaijan and the geographical sources of power along the border between two countries in favor of this country. It has changed and thus increased the efficiency of the strategies facing Azerbaijan against the strategies of Iran based on the geographical sources of power in the border areas.

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Eastern Europe

The Emerging Nakhchivan Corridor

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As the details of the Karabakh deal are being fleshed out, the stipulation on the new corridor through Armenian territory has caused great debate. Beyond the signatories of the deal, Iran and Georgia are particularly worried as any meaningful change to the connectivity patterns in the South Caucasus could harm their transit capabilities.

The 2020 Karabakh war ended with major Russian diplomatic success on November 9 when a tripartite agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia was signed. The surrounding seven regions were to be returned to Baku, while Russian peacekeepers would guarantee the security of the truncated Nagorno-Karabakh. Though the exact role is yet to be confirmed, based on the rhetoric from Ankara and Baku, some sort of direct Turkish military involvement on Azeri soil is likely to materialize. 

More importantly, however, Turkey gained a land corridor to Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhchivan. The stipulation in the document reads: “Armenia guarantees the security of transport links … for unimpeded movement of citizens, vehicles, and cargo in both directions” between mainland Azerbaijan and the exclave of Nakhchivan, which are separated by Armenian territory. Moreover, “Transport control is exercised by the Border Service of the Federal Security Service of Russia. By agreement of the parties, the construction of new transport communications connecting the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and Azerbaijan’s western regions will be provided.”

The stipulation is a major breakthrough for Turkey as it would allow the country to anchor its influence on the Caspian Sea and perhaps, in the longer term, look even further towards its Central Asia kinsmen. 

This would create a major dilemma for Iran and Russia, as Tehran and Moscow have historically perceived the Caspian Sea as a condominium between themselves (plus the littoral states since the end of the Soviet Union). Potential Turkish involvement could disrupt this equilibrium and especially Iran’s standing. However, this is highly hypothetical. After all, it would need years if not decades for this scenario to be realized and even then Turkish influence could not be as large as Chinese or Russian – two major forces in the region.

What bothers Iran is a potentially major shift in the region’s transportation routes. For decades Azerbaijan has been dependent on Iran for transiting energy and other supplies to Nakhchivan. The new Karabakh deal could change it. Armenia will now guarantee the opening up of a corridor through its territory to allow Azerbaijan to transport goods directly to Nakhichevan. Quite naturally, this limits Tehran’s leverage over Baku.

However, Javad Hedayati, who heads transit operations in the Iranian transportation ministry, announced that Iran is likely to stay a favorable route for trade despite the planned opening of the new corridor. “It is likely that this corridor will merely accommodate local traffic between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan,” said Hedayati.

Ankara has long been working on using the Nakhchivan corridor for geopolitical purposes. This is proved by the quickness with which the Turkish government announced the plans to build a railway to Nakhchivan following the November agreement. This comes on top of an earlier announcement of a gas pipeline construction to the exclave, and underlines the seriousness behind the Turkish intention, at least regarding the section from the Turkish territory to the exclave itself.

Much, however, remains unclear about the new corridor on the Armenia territory itself. First of all, will the road be used by the Turks and Azerbaijanis only? Considering the level of mistrust in Ankara and Baku towards Moscow, whose forces will be controlling this corridor, it is highly unlikely that Azerbaijan and Turkey will be willing to commit large financial resources to rebuild links on the Armenian land. After all, will the corridor be the Armenian territory, or will it fall under the tripartite administrative regime? These are arguably the defining questions which remain unanswered. One could also imagine constant incidents along the corridor as Armenia will remain unhappy with the stipulation. Transit fees could soften Yerevan’s position, but why should Russia be interested in the operation of the corridor? If the corridor is operational, these troublesome questions will have to be managed between the two sides sharing no trust in the other. These dilemmas were well summed up in the words of the Iranian official Hedayati. He stressed that Armenia could prevent Turkey’s access to the corridor for transfer of freight or passengers through Nakhchivan to Azerbaijan and further to countries to the east of the Caspian Sea.

Georgia is worried

One country which is particularly worried with the potential development of the new corridor is Georgia. Various pipelines, roads and a major railway transit the country from Azerbaijan on to Turkey. This has been a backbone of Georgia’s regional importance since the end of the Soviet Union and indeed served as a major attraction for larger players such as Europe and the US.

Quite naturally many in Tbilisi have begun to think whether this enviable position could be challenged. The consensus thought is that in the short and medium term no reshuffling in the region’s connectivity patterns is likely to take place. Even in the longer term, if the above mentioned uncertainties around the new corridor are resolved, many still believe that Baku and Ankara would not trade the already built and functioning railway and pipeline infrastructure, which runs through Georgia, for the Nakhchivan alternative. Perhaps the corridor will serve for ensuring local connections, perhaps limited trade (though highly unlikely).

After all, Georgia has been officially engaged in the trilateral partnership with Turkey and Azerbaijan for nearly a decade. The endurance of the format has been tested by changes of governments and region-wide geopolitical transformations over the last decade. Each country of the three needs the others. Turkey wants a more stable Georgia with deeper economic and energy relations, while Azerbaijan needs Turkey’s backing. Georgia, under pressure from Russia and, given that it is located between its two fellow members of the cooperation, dependent on transit, in turn needs both Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Georgia also sees its position as straddling between two large regions – Europe and Central Asia. The 826-kilometre Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway unveiled in 2017 enables the delivery of cargo between China and Europe with a haulage duration of approximately two weeks. Up to eight million tons of cargo may be carried via the railway by 2025.

Abandoning this transit corridor would undermine the efficacy of the South Caucasus transportation and energy corridor. This makes the extent of the Nakhchevan corridor quite limited. Perhaps, what the region is likely to see is the growing interconnectedness of the exclave with the Turkish territory. The emergence of a major corridor through the Nakhchivan is likely to happen if, at minimum, a meaningful improvement of Turkey-Armenia relations takes place. 

Author’s note: first published in caucasuswatch.de

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