No formal or international recognition of sovereignty, no peace and no solution in foreseeable future. The international importance of territory and the whole region leading to unsuccessful involvement of international organizations, neighboring countries and world powers is reality that describes Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Ethnic “frozen” conflict between the formal Soviet countries Republic of Armenia and Azerbaijan has been going on since the year of 1988 with the region’s legislature passed to join Armenia, and resulted in full-scale war in the 1990s. Occupation of Azerbaijan territories happened during the time of gaining independence in both of the countries. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is self-declared independent republic with primary ethnic Armenians. Nagorno-Karabakh was established as an autonomous region inside Soviet Azerbaijan way back in 1923. In 1992 with the declaration of independence and with the help of Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh occupied over 20% of Azerbaijan internationally recognized territories, the war began. The overall war resulted in over 20.000 Azerbaijanis deaths, around 5.000 missing persons, more than 100.000 wounded and half of formal number disabled. Ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population on the entire territory of Azerbaijan began and also virtually all ethnic Azeri’s had fled or been forced out of the region. More than one million were Internal Displaced persons (IDPs) or refugees. Based on international Crisis Group reporting around 30 people die every year because of the conflict. End of the fighting did not bring an end to the conflict.
Mediation initiatives and different proposals to resolve pivotal problems and to achieve peace came from different countries, politicians and organizations over different timeframes. Four United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions were passed demanding withdrawal of Armenia from Azerbaijan. Beside the neighboring countries and the West one of the international organization is also Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) that has been meditating with OSCE Minsk Group ever since the conflict erupted, from the year 1992 on. The group was created in order to resolve the conflict, but so far no improvement has been seen. In OSCE Minsk Group Russia, USA and France proposed several options of proposals, but none has been accepted by all sides. One step towards solution could be uphold of the International community to the non-binding UN and OSCE arms embargoes on Armenia and Azerbaijan. Some progress was made in May of 1994 when Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia signed a ceasefire, which is still effective regardless the everyday violations. All initiatives are fruitless since each side has its own claims and views on how the conflict should be resolved. Azerbaijan considers Nagorno-Karabakh as illegally occupied territory by Armenia and does not recognize it as a state since the enclave has not even been by the end of 21. Century internationally recognized. Azerbaijan is striving to perused world opinion that Nagorno-Karabakh is just aggression of Armenia not a struggle for self-determination. Meanwhile, Armenia believes that conflict must be resolved with recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh people’s right to self-determination. Neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan recognizes the republic’s territorial sovereignty. The formal and Russia does not regard Nagorno-Karabakh as a full negotiating partner. All three sides have different expectations. First Nagorno-Karabakh with a population of about 14.000 persons, wants recognition of its independence before the negotiations. Second Azerbaijan wants Armenia to end its occupation of the territories and withdraw of forces before discussing the republic final status. And third Armenia wants resolution first on the status before backing out of disputed territories.
The conflict had, has and could further have consequences on the broader regional situation with diverse actors involved. Broad regional relations between countries must be taken into an account. The most important actor that has influence in this region is Russia, which supports Armenia, while Azerbaijan forged alliances with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), with Partnership for Peace program (PFP) in 1994 and the West. It is also true that both Armenia and Azerbaijan are politically and economically recovering from war and another escalation would bring no benefits to the either of opposing sides. Despite being members of the Minsk Group, Russia and the US are among the main suppliers of military equipment to both countries. In the region we can see that world leading states such as Russia and US have also other strategic issues and goals that should be considered while looking for a solution. Armenia on one hand is very depended of Russia also because of closed border with Turkey. The Turkey-Armenia border was closed in 1993 when Armenian forces occupied districts of Azerbaijan surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan based on the International Crisis Group even threaten Turkey’s preferential price for its Shah Deniz natural gas supplies and chances of greater volume to feed the planned Nabucco transit pipeline to Europe. Increased trade would result in Yerevan less depend on Moscow. Even though Turkey had officially proclaimed its neutrality in the conflict, it sides with Azerbaijan. We need to have in mind that the South Caucasus region is crossed by major oil and gas pipelines which represents great importance for Europe’s and also Central Asia energy security. The BP-led Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline runs through territory less than 100 kilometers from the cease-fire line. Therefore territory is an important energy corridor and whole region is growing in importance in oil and gas sector. United States Department of Energy data shows that the proven reserves in the Caspian Basin for oil reserves of the entire region are equal to those of Iran or Iraq and proven gas reserves are about half as much as Qatar’s, but much has been unexplored. Neighboring countries, including Iran try to influence on or resolve the conflict. Also neighboring country Georgia is a strategic partner of Azerbaijan and upholds the preservation of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Standpoint and pro-Azerbaijan stance has roots in problems that it has on its own territory and disputes involving Abkhazia and South Ossetia and also plans of making a transit route for Caspian oil through its territory. Both are clinging to NATO, but Georgia as one of many failed states in the world has no influence on resolving the conflict. The Western states and the US access to Caspian oil and gas resources serves as minimization the West’s dependence on Middle East oil. There are activities that are leading to minimize Iran’s and Russia influence in the region.
Stability in the South Caucasus cannot be achieved without finding a lasting solution for Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Nagorno-Karabakh maybe has no future as a part of Azerbaijan and whatever the solution is, it must emanate from the will of the Karabakh people. Maybe meeting of the Azerbaijan and Armenia in Saint Petersburg in June this year will shine a new light into long lasting problems and conflict. Even though a conflict escalation is in many ways seen unlikely and the chances of war are not high, the tensions and distrusts between Armenia and Azerbaijan continue. The danger of escalation persists to this day and potential of increase in casualties on the frontlines is growing. Both states can with its armed forces, Azerbaijan with around 95.000 and Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh 70.000 personnel, hit large population centres, communications and critical infrastructure. Regional alliances could pull in Russia, Turkey and Iran, which all play an important role in keeping the region stable. Furthermore, important oil and gas pipelines near the front lines could be threatened. Instead of peace based on Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)we see growing military expenditures, state-fuelled propaganda, and political ineffectiveness to achieve permanent solution, ceasefire violations and lack of diplomatic progress.
Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers
Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv. In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.
The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.
Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.
It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.
They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!
Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?
The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.
A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.
One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.
The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.
Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.
First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.
Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.
Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.
Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.
The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.
The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.
Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.
But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.
The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.
Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.
Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.
This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank
Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia
Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.
On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.
But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”
For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.
In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.
That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.
A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.
It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.
Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.
One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.
It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.
Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.
The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.
To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.
Author’s note: first published at cepa
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