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Haunted by war: Nagorno-Karabakh

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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.

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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.

Teja Palko is a Slovenian writer. She finished studies on Master’s Degree programme in Defense Science at the Faculty of Social Science at University in Ljubljana.

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Eastern Europe

The Stewards of Hate

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A big bear is rattling the open door of his cage.  He cannot abide a NATO spear in his belly.  Hence Valdimir Putin’s demand for Ukraine to remain out of it, and for the military alliance to stop its advance into eastern Europe.

For 72 years until 1991, Ukraine was a republic of the Soviet Union, and before that for centuries an oblast of the Imperial Russian empire.  In 1939, parts belonging to Poland were annexed.

It was during the breakup of Russia following an independence referendum that Ukraine opted to separate.  But NATO is another story.  After the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact (NATO’s eastern counterpart), Russia had expected the West to do the same.  Instead, NATO became a US fig leaf for its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Apparently, everyone in the world saw through this — except the US — as it embroiled itself in both countries, and the bill for the misadventures rocketed from $80 billion to an estimated $5 trillion.

The EU, a path to riches for East Europeans, is a Ukrainian dream, and Russian troops the reality when they wake up.  Such are the facts, no matter how much the Ukrainians are trying to ignore them. 

If the powerful Russian bear is the Ukrainian bete noire, its polar opposite is the case in India.  A powerful Hindutva movement abhors the Muslim minority.  It blames them for India’s problems, very much akin to the situation for Jews in pre-WW2 Germany.  Not unsurprisingly given the roots of the RSS, which modeled itself after the Nazis, instituting uniforms and drills.  A former member assassinated Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims.  Post independence, the RSS was banned by India’s first government which was led by Jawaharlal Nehru, a secular socialist.

The current prime minister, Narendra Modi, is a former RSS pracharak —  that is an active member who devotes himself full time to promoting RSS doctrine and, like a missionary, in seeking new members.  As an ambitious politician, he shed RSS ties when he entered politics and as leader expresses the wish for unity — sentiments not shared by his BHP colleagues.

There is the yogi elected chief minister of India’s largest state, and his undisguised derogatory opinions of Muslims.  Worse, at a political event at the end of December, leaders called openly for the killing of Muslims, and India’s leaders kept silent.  After general social media outrage at the speeches, the police  finally registered a case against some of the speakers for ‘promoting hatred between religious groups.’

Videos show many of the speakers are prominent religious leaders often present with senior ministers in the BJP government.  Imagine, calling for genocide in 2021.  The world reacted to the effort to eliminate Tutsis in Rwanda where it also began with reviling and dehumanization.  Genocide and even incitement to genocide is a crime.  Hence the prosecutions.  Incitement to genocide is recognized as a separate crime under international law and an inchoate crime which does not require genocide to have taken place to be prosecutable.

The founders of post-independence India, Gandhi and Nehru who took pride in being secular, must be in agony over international outlaws wanting to become the stewards of their child.

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Eastern Europe

Lithuania is left in the dust

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The nearly completed Nord Stream 2 is again in focus. It has become known that the U.S. Senate on January 13 failed to pass a bill to slap sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline sponsored by Republican Senator Ted Cruz. The tally was 55 in favor and 44 against the bill that needed 60 votes to pass. Those who voted against his bill said it risked breaking unity in Washington and in Europe. U.S. senators said also Cruz sanctions on Nord Stream 2 could harm relations with Germany which is very important for the U.S. foreign policy and economy.

Top Ukrainian officials, as well as Lithuanian government supported Cruz’s bill, arguing the United States should do everything in its power to halt the pipeline project.

The link is designed to export gas from Russia directly to Germany by bypassing Ukraine, through which Russia has sent gas to Europe for decades. That would deprive Ukraine of lucrative transit fees and potentially undermine its struggle against alleged Russian aggression. The decision will allow the completion of the gas pipeline to Europe without the imposition of further US sanctions. Earlier Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that the a deal between the United States and Germany on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was a “mistake”. It is interesting that the vote came as U.S. and European officials held high-level talks with their Russian counterparts. It is quite possible that the decision about Nord Stream 2 pipeline was the result of these negotiations.

This fact has sparked anger and has become great political disappointment for the Lithuanian officials who view the project as a security threat.

Lithuania, positioning itself as the main Ukraine’s patron in Europe, is confused with such U.S. decision. Lithuania promotes the U.S. interests and support all American initiatives even to the detriment of its own interests. Only this month Lithuania took a number of steps to prove its commitment to US policy. Lithuania even has dared to challenge China, one the main US strategic competitors. It continues to spend millions of dollars on military purchases from the U.S. using the narrative of “the threat from the East”. In December Lithuania signed an agreement with the U.S. to improve military interoperability.

The more so, the Lithuanian government has decided to accelerate its planned purchase of a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) amid Russia’s military buildup on its border with Ukraine. The decision to buy US’ Lockheed Martin system in 2026, two years earlier than Vilnius previously planned.

The country also regularly holds political consultations with the U.S. officials to coordinate its further actions. But the U.S. in its turn does not pay attention to Lithuania’s opinion and makes decision in its favour.

Lithuanian government should gain Lithuanians’ support and pay attention to their needs. The matter is discontent in Lithuanian society is growing every day. Thus, on January 13, the usual commemoration of Freedom Defenders saw loud booing and heckles from the crowd of protesters who called on the government (and the parliament) to resign.

It is obviously that the threat from the East is not so real as threat to be fired due to loss of confidence in near future.

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Eastern Europe

Rebuilding of Karabakh: Results of 2021

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Image source: azerfocus.com

The restoration work in Karabakh entered the active phase in 2021 as several projects had been completed and the foundations for new ones were laid down. The restoration process in Karabakh started right after the November 10th declaration that ended the 44-Day War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the war, Azerbaijan liberated its territories that constituted about 20% of the total territory of Azerbaijan and were occupied by Armenian forces in the early 90s.

During the occupation, about thirty years, Karabakh was subject to ruthless destruction and looting by the occupants. As a result, most of the social infrastructure, including residential buildings, schools, and hospitals, were totally destroyed, and most parts of the occupied territories were left empty. Despite the fact that the total destruction in Karabakh makes the restoration process complex and time-consuming, Azerbaijan immediately started the restoration process. For this purpose, the plan for socio-economic development of the liberated territories was prepared, and for the implementation of this plan, “Coordination Headquarters” and 17 working groups on different areas were established. In 2021, $2.2 billion was allocated from the state budget for the restoration process. The same amount of funds is planned to be directed to the restoration process in 2022 as well. The allocation of the necessary financial resources and the establishment of the state bodies for the efficient organization of the recovery process led to the rapid implementation of projects in 2021.

The most notable project that was almost completed in 2021 was the Fuzuli International Airport. The inauguration of the airport took place in Azerbaijan’s liberated city of Fuzuli in Karabakh on October 26. It was the first airport built by Azerbaijan in the liberated areas, and its construction took only eight months. It was built in accordance with the highest international standards, which enables it to accommodate any type of aircraft. A runway with a length of 3000 meters and a width of 60 meters has been put into operation at the airport. The first test flight to Fuzuli International Airport was performed on September 5, 2021, when the largest passenger aircraft of Azerbaijan Airlines, named Karabakh, landed at the airport. Because of its location, the new airport is considered as an “air gate of Karabakh”. Along with Fuzuli airport, the foundations of the other two airports in Lachin and Zangilan districts were also laid down in 2021.

The year 2021 was also marked by the establishment of the Horadiz-Jabrayil-Zangilan-Agband highway. The foundation of this road was laid on October 26, with the participation of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey. With a length of 124 km, it is part of the Zangezur Corridor, the establishment of which was envisioned in the November 10 declaration. The Zangezur Corridor is a very important project that is going to change the transportation architecture of the South Caucasus and its neighborhood. Its proximity to the Karabakh and connection to the main roads in the region will accelerate the restoration and development of the Karabakh.

Within the framework of the restoration process, another important event in 2021 was the foundation of the first “smart village” in Agali village in the Zangilan district on April 26. As of October, the construction work on more than 110 hectares in Agali village was underway. It includes the construction of 200 ecological houses, 4 non-residential buildings, a smart school for about 360 students, and a kindergarten for 60 children. Work on establishing smart agricultural infrastructure on approximately 600 hectares of land is also ongoing. According to the restoration program, it is planned to re-establish cities and villages in the liberated territories based on the “smart city” and “smart village” concepts. Thus, after the Agali village, this concept will be implemented in other areas of Karabakh.

In 2021, the highway that connects the Fuzuli and Shusha cities was also opened. As this highway passes through the territory that was used to liberate Shusha city, it has a symbolic meaning for Azerbaijan, and therefore it is named “The Road to Victory.” The Fuzuli-Shusha highway is part of the Ahmadbeyli-Fuzuli-Shusha highway, one of the main highways in Karabakh. It is 101.5 km in length and reduces the distance from the capital Baku to Shusha to about 363 km. The foundation of another important transport project, the Horadiz–Agband railway, was also laid in 2021 and its construction continues. This railway is 100 kilometers long and has strategic importance as it will connect the mainland of Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan’s landlocked exclave, through the Zangezur corridor.

Along with the mentioned roads, the opening ceremony of the 28-kilometer highway that connects the city of Tartar with the villages of Sugovushan and Talish took place in 2021. The length of this road is 28 kilometers, and as planned, the extension of this project will include 22 kilometers of highway from Talish to Naftalan. Construction and planning work on various transportation projects such as the Barda–Aghdam railroad, the Fuzuli-Shusa railway, and the Toganal-Kalbacar highway were also continued.

Comprehensive works in the energy sector were also carried out within the framework of the restoration program, based on the strategy for transforming the liberated territories into “green energy” zones and connecting the energy infrastructure in those territories to Azerbaijan’s general energy system. In 2021, with a total capacity of 20 megawatts, “Gulabird”, “Sugovushan-1” and “Sugovushan-2” small hydroelectric power stations (HPS) were reconstructed and put into operation in the liberated territories. In total, nine digital substations were built in the Karabakh and East Zangezur regions. Simultaneously, in the Aghdam and Jabrail regions, the construction of “Aghdam-1,” “Aghdam-2,” and “Jabrayil” substations as well as the Karabakh Regional Digital Management Center has been completed.

The other important project in the energy sector was the foundation of the Digital Station Management Center in Fuzuli. This project, implemented for the first time in the South Caucasus, allows through automation to reduce the impact of the human factor on the operation of the network, increase reliability and reduce losses during the transmission of electricity. All these projects in the energy sector serve to maintain the energy security in liberated territories and to transform these territories into “green energy” zone.

All the mentioned projects show that Azerbaijan has actively worked for rebuilding Karabakh in 2021. It will enable Azerbaijan to fully integrate the Karabakh economy into the Azerbaijan economy and to use its economic potential in upcoming years. As the liberated territories have great potential in sectors such as agriculture and energy, it will also positively affect the development of the non-oil sector in Azerbaijan. Implementation of all projects that were started in 2021 will not only contribute to the economic development of Azerbaijan, but will also transport Azerbaijan and Karabakh to the transport and economic center of the region.

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