Since its transition to independence, Azerbaijan has looked both east and west for its place on the world stage. Predominantly Muslim, Azerbaijan has no formal state faith and its constitution allows for freedom of religion.
“Under the constitution, persons have the right to choose and change religious affiliation and beliefs (including atheism), to join or establish the religious group of their choice, and engage in religious practice.” (Religious Freedom Report, 2013) However, like other Middle Eastern countries, Azerbaijan’s laws targeting religion lead to fines, closures mandated by court decisions, police harassment, and the restriction of importing some religious literature (Ibid). Azerbaijan has used these laws to imprison and restrict the activities of religious groups that it considered ‘non-traditional’. Azerbaijan’s human rights record, at least as concerns real religious freedom, is thus tarnished. Several times this year the United States has called upon Azerbaijan’s government to respect the universal rights of all its citizens. (Daily Press Briefings, 2015) Yet Azerbaijan has continued to restrict religious freedom, freedom to assemble, and restrict and punish peaceful dissent. (Human Rights Report, 2015)
Previously, Western countries, while concerned about Azerbaijan’s human rights record, focused on the energy sector and Azerbaijan’s strategic location and willingness to provide NATO and U.S. forces a supply route to Afghanistan to fight the war on terror. Potentially a key transport hub from the region to Europe, Azerbaijan wants to peacefully promote oil imports away from Russian gas, hoping to double the flow to Europe and potentially transfer gas from Turkmenistan and/or Iran as well. (Farchy, 2015) However, with the potential for new gas now able to come from Iran directly (on account of the new accord) and with the American military drawdown in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan’s strategic importance for the West has arguably waned. Investing in its Southern Gas Corridor project, Azerbaijan’s focus will shift in the immediate future to the slightly less grand need of transporting regional oil to the Mediterranean. Yet with declining oil prices and the expensive funding of the pipeline, Azerbaijan will increasingly need to be looking for external investors.
This has led to some increasing friction between Azerbaijan and Western nations on the promoting democracy and human rights fronts. (Kauzlarich, 2015) This is at least partially explained because of the following: Azerbaijan’s rightful belief in its own inviolable sovereignty; the conviction that it is following international law already; the suspicion that there is a double standard in how the West applies international law related to human rights and sovereignty (for example, the West’s support for Ukraine’s demand to return Crimea while refusing to support Azerbaijan’s plea to return Nagorno-Karabakh).
In the midst of these changes, Azerbaijan participated in the IV Caspian Summit held in Astrakhan, Russia, on September 29, 2014. After this meeting both Russia and Iran spoke to the unanimous decision by the Caspian States on the inadmissibility of any foreign military presence. Both Russia and Iran have long sought to restrict Western influence in the region and highlighted in the agreement that regional militaries are fully capable of independently maintaining the security of the Caspian Sea. (Dettoni, 2014) According to a statement issued by Russian President Putin, “only the Caspian littoral states have the right to have their armed forces present on the Caspian”. His Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, added that “there is consensus among all the Caspian Sea littoral states that they are capable of maintaining the security of the Caspian Sea and military forces of no foreign country must enter the sea.” (Ibid)
Yet, paradoxically and nearly immediately after the meeting, the United States and Azerbaijan reaffirmed their commitment to each other. First, on September 30, 2014, one day after the Caspian Summit, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “We maintain a strong security cooperation relationship with Azerbaijan, focusing on border security, counterterrorism, NATO interoperability, and its capacity to contribute peacekeepers to international missions. We do not anticipate the Caspian Five joint statement will change that.” (Daily Press Briefings, 2014)
Additionally, in an interview to Bloomberg in December 2014, the Azerbaijani President`s Aide for Public and Political Affairs, Ali Hasanov, highlighted U.S.-Azeri bilateral relations:
“The ties between Azerbaijan and the USA coincide both in terms of national interests and from the point of view of global international aspect, and are partner relations in nature. Today the relations between the two countries continue on main issues of mutual concern, including the global transnational aspect of cooperation and partnership. These are intensive mutual contacts. I believe that these factors will define the future trend of the ties between our countries.” (Alibayli, 2015)
However, Azerbaijan still strongly disagrees with the Western view that it has suppressed human rights and ignored international law. To Russia and Iran’s benefit, Azerbaijan therefore has a love-hate relationship with the West. While it plans to continue its focus on energy production and gas exports to Europe’s markets, Azerbaijan hates the aforementioned double standard. Yet that main energy focus on Europe also somewhat injures its positions with Russia, who is the main exporter of oil to Europe, and Iran, who will enter the market quickly with the approval of the nuclear deal and removal of some of the West’s sanctions. Currently, Azerbaijan is also dependent on Russia and Iran for grain. Vugar Bayramov, Chairman of the Center for Economic and Social Development, states, “given the fact that Azerbaijan’s population consumes more bread, products like grain and bread became strategic items for Azerbaijani government. Although Azerbaijan produced 2.4 million tons of grain in 2014, the quality of major part of the grain was not appropriate for baking industry.” He noted only a few parts of the grain are appropriate for use in the baking industry, so Azerbaijan must purchase grain from neighboring countries, in particular Russia, Kazakhstan and Iran. “Although Azerbaijan has increased its grain production, the country practically depends on import in ensuring its domestic demand.” (Karimova, 2015)
Thus Azerbaijan must look to the East and to the West, both as ally and adversary. Azerbaijan depends on Western energy markets and NATO training and coooperation. Yet, Azerbaijan similarly depends on regional cooperation to build it’s pipeline, transport gas, and provide security to the region. Thus, like the Roman diety Janus, Azerbaijan is a country of transitions – facing both east and west, to and from conflict, from its past with Russia and Armenia to its future with the West and Iran, its desire for a heightened place on the world stage remains constant. It is a delicate and ever-changing balance indeed that shows no sign in the near future of becoming less so.
Alibayli, V. (2015, July 17). Azerbaijan says yes to the USA`s peace gesture, but…. News.AZ. Retrieved from http://www.news.az/articles/politics/99668
Daily Press Briefing. (2015). Department of State. Retrieved from http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/
Dettoni, J. (2014, October 1). Russia and Iran Lock NATO Out of Caspian Sea. The Diplomat. Retrieved from http://thediplomat.com/2014/10/russia-and-iran-lock-nato-out-of-caspian-sea/
Farchy, J. (2015, March 12). Baku seeks alternatives as Azerbaijan oil production declines. The Financial Times. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/b86cb5b4-be99-11e4-8036-00144feab7de.html#axzz3gNu9zE3p
Human Rights Report: Azerbaijan. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2014&dlid=236500
Karimova, A. (2015, January 8). Azerbaijan increases grain fund’s reserves to ensure food security. AzerNews. Retrieved from http://www.azernews.az/business/75735.html
Kauzlarich, R. D. (2015, February 12). Testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats: Azerbaijan’s New Direction: Human Rights Challenges and the Situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Brookings Institute. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/research/testimony/2015/02/12-azerbaijan-human-rights-abuses-kauzlarich
Religous Freedom Report: Azerbaijan. (2013). U.S. Department of State. Retrieved from http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm?year=2013&dlid=222191
Did Russia Really Win in the 2008 August War?
Eleven years have passed since the short Georgian-Russian war started on August 7-8 in 2008. As every discussion on who started the war generally is, the Georgian-Russian one too is about finding moral grounds for military actions which both sides took at the time.
Morality in geopolitics, and the Georgian-Russian conflict is indeed caused by pure geopolitical calculations, is at most times a superfluous thing. All these years the Russians have been trying to convince the world and the public inside the country that the Russian military moves actions and subsequent recognition of the independence of the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions were the only possible and correct actions to be taken. The Georgians also have their dilemmas: some marginal political figures still believe that it was the Georgian government that was most to blame for the catastrophe of 2008. Though close geographically, these diverging narratives and the constant need to prove one’s own truth says a lot about how far apart Georgia and Russia have grown in the past decade.
11 years since the war and it is still unclear what Russia has gained from its military and diplomatic actions since 2008. True, military build-up in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region limited Tbilisi’s ability to become an EU/NATO member state. Moreover, Russian intervention into Georgia in 2008 also showed the West how far Moscow can go if a strategic decision is made to draw Georgia into the alliances. At the time (August-September 2008) those seemed to be long-term (strategic) victories for Moscow. In international relations and geopolitical calculations, you can stop a country from attaining the aims harmful to you, but in the long run you will be unable to reverse the process by forceful actions alone: you have to provide a counter-policy to turn an unfriendly state into an amenable neighbor.
Put all of this into the Russian case. More than a decade has passed since 2008, only a few not-so-important states recognized Georgia’s territories as independent entities. The Georgian public is overwhelmingly anti-Russian, the last hopes of a grand geopolitical bargain – the return of the territories in exchange for reversing EU/NATO aspirations – have disappeared among the Georgian public, and support for western institutions so far has only increased.
In the end, though Moscow waged a reasonably costly war in 2008, took and still experiences a diplomatic burden for its moves against the West, and has yet to attain its grand geopolitical goal of reversing Georgia’s pro-western course. Politicians in Moscow, at least strategists behind the scenes, all understand that Georgia’s persistence, which seems naive today, might turn into serious business if Russia’s geopolitical positions worsen elsewhere in Eurasia.
Indeed, there are signs that Russian influence is set to diminish further in the former Soviet space as the country’s economy is unlikely to be attractive to the neighboring states. Imagine a scenario where Russian internal problems (Putin’s upcoming succession, economic downturns, China’s rise, stronger Ukraine, etc.) weigh ever stronger upon the Russian decision-makers in the 2020s, then Georgia’s western aspirations might become more concrete – it will be easier for the West to make a strategic decision to draw Tbilisi into EU/NATO.
Overall, Russia definitely gained significant results in 2008, but in the long run it did not change the strategic picture in the South Caucasus, though it did produce a grand design for geopolitical domination in north Eurasia: years after the war, Moscow initiated its Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) to draw its neighbors into one economic space – a prerequisite for building a world power. Ideally, it should have attracted Russia’s major neighbors and it would have served the people of the former Soviet space economically. But Moscow failed to get Ukraine and other states involved: without Kiev, the EEU, if not dead, is at least a marginal project. This means that Russian policies towards Georgia and the wider South Caucasus remain the same as before 2008 – keeping foreign powers out of the region, while failing to provide an alternative vision for Tbilisi.
Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today
Lithuania’s new chief of defence has no chance
Lithuania’s new chief of defence, Major General Valdemaras Rupsys calls himself a realist though it seems as if he is a fatalist with no hope to change anything in the national armed forces.
In a detailed interview with BNS Valdemaras Rupsys demonstrates his inability and even lack of hope to modify national military system. He distinctly reveals his plans.
Major General Valdemaras Rupsys says he will seek to accelerate new armored vehicle and artillery system purchases if the country’s defense spending makes this possible.
The key words here are “if the country’s defense spending makes this possible”. The matter is Lithuania itself can rely only on foreign financing and help to strengthen its defence. Thus, he informs that a number of Boxer IFVs are currently being delivered to Lithuania. Renamed “Vilkas”, or “wolf” in Lithuanian, the vehicles will be provided only to two battalions of the Iron Wolf mechanized infantry brigade, in Rukla and Alytus. It should be noted that Mechanized Infantry Brigade “Iron Wolf” is the core unit of the Lithuanian Army and forms the country’s contribution to NATO collective defence. But even this unit will not be provided with all necessary vehicles and equipment.
The brigade’s other two battalions, in Rukla and Panevezys, will continue to use old M113 armored personnel carriers, with plans to replace them with more advanced vehicles by 2030. No budget money – no vehicles!
Major General Valdemaras Rupsys admits that the only thing he can definitely do – to speak to the authorities. “We’ll definitely have to speak to the ministry about whether there are possibilities to replace their platform earlier than planned,” the general told in an interview. “Plans call for doing so in around 2030 but everything depends on financial resources. There won’t be any drastic decisions to replace the acquisitions that we are already planning now,” he added.
When he answers to the question if the Iron Wolf brigade needs tanks he is very flexible and says that “being aware of our means and financial capacity, I don’t dream about tanks right now. We don’t have such plans.
Another question is if he dreams about fighter jets in the Lithuanian army. And he again says – “No, I don’t today. I am a realist and don’t dream about things we cannot have.”
The worst thing is his full satisfaction with the existing situation. He will not even try to change things. In terms of conscription system he shifts the responsibility on the political leadership, on the whole, which should decide on that. And then what is his responsibility? Does Lithuania need such a chief of defence who decides nothing from the very beginning?
Obviously, Lithuania has no money, but according to Major General Valdemaras Rupsys Lithuania even lacks of ambitious either to be a strong country. Possibly, this aim could be reached at the expense of others. At least he is honest.
Polonia: Poland’s diaspora policy
In 2007, the Polish authorities for the first time adopted a government program to promote cooperation with the Polish diaspora (Polonia) and Poles abroad. In 2002, they introduced May 2 as Day of Polonia and Poles Abroad.
The strategic objectives of this program for 2015-2020 include support for the development of Polish language and culture among Poles abroad, strengthening Polish national identity among representatives of Polonia, contributing to the popularity of Polonian organizations abroad and the return of Poles living abroad to their homeland, establishing economic, scientific and cultural contacts between Poland and Polonia .
The Polish Foreign Ministry estimates the number of members of the Polish diaspora, including ethnic Poles and people of Polish descent, at 18-20 million, one third of them were born in Poland. Polonia and the Poles rank the sixth if we compare the proportion of members of the diaspora abroad with the population of the country of origin. 18% of tourists visiting Poland are members of Polish organizations abroad and ethnic Poles.
The largest Polish diasporas are in the USA (9.6 million according to 2012 reports), in Germany (1.5 million) and Canada (1 million). Poles are also living in France and the United Kingdom (0.8 million in each), the Netherlands (0.2 million), Ireland and Italy (0.15 million in each), the Czech Republic (0.12 million), Sweden and Norway ( 0.11 million in either), Belgium (0.1 million). In countries such as Austria, Spain, Denmark, and Iceland, members of the Polish diasporas number less than 100 thousand people.
According to the Polish Foreign Ministry, more than 1 million Poles and people of Polish descent live in post-Soviet countries. According to the ministry, these estimates are not accurate – for one, in Belarus, the most “Polish” republic of the former USSR, the number of Poles and people of Polish origin could amount to up to 1 million (official reports estimate the number of Poles living in Belarus at 295 thousand).
Lithuania comes second by the number of Poles residing there – (250 thousand), the third is Ukraine (144 thousand), then Russia (47 thousand), Latvia (46 thousand) and Kazakhstan (34 thousand) – the fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.
Polonia is conditionally divided by the Polish Foreign Ministry into ten functionality-based geographical groups: 1. Lithuania 2. Belarus 3. Ukraine 4. Latvia, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic 5. Western European countries (Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, etc.). 6. USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand 7. Other European countries 8. Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia 9. Brazil, Argentina 10.Other countries of the world.
This division was carried out on the functional, rather than numerical basis and there is no universal approach as to how to categorize Poles living abroad – each of the above mentioned countries sets its own requirements for working with Polonia. People who have Polish roots but do not speak Polish and who reside in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Brazil are regarded as Polish diaspora by Warsaw. In this case, there is a need to popularize Polish informational and ideological products for Polonia in these countries in the language of the country of residence with emphasis on the economic and cultural components and projects for the study of the Polish language.
The latter bears particular importance. In Brazil, for one, there are more than a dozen Polish language courses. People who go there are provided with social benefits and all the necessary documents – student ID passes for students, work certificates for teaching staff (teachers get discounts 33% to 49% on public and rail transport in Poland, etc.), certificates of Polish schools for distance learning, etc.
Given the presence of anti-Russian sentiment in Poland’s policy, it is not surprising that Russia, the republics of the Caucasus, and countries of Central Asia are among those that Warsaw accuses of breaching the rights of ethnic minorities, including Poles, which is not true. Working with Polonia in these regions carries a clear ideological touch, as historical grievances prevail over culture and economy. By intentionally inciting conflict, concocting accusations of violating the rights of ethnic minorities,Warsaw equips itself with ideological tools to justify its aggressive Eastern policy towards Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
In particular, there are noticeable attempts by Warsaw to force Polish organizations in Russia to participate in anti-Russian propaganda campaigns, especially regarding retrospective assessments of Russian-Polish and Soviet-Polish relations. Polish diplomacy cites the unsuccessful Polish uprisings of the 18th-19th centuries, exiled and repressed Poles of the tsarist and Stalinist times, return of Poland’s western lands to Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belarus following the Red Army’s Polish campaign in 1939, etc.
The Polish Institute of National Memory (PINP), being an exclusively ideological structure, is on the list of state institutions and ministries that are responsible for cooperating with Polonia. A projecttitled “The Next Stop is History” has been launched in order to promote the historical and ideological heritage of Poland. Implemented within the framework of the Polish diaspora program of the Department of National Education of PINP in several countries at once (conferences, exhibitions, symposia, film screenings, lectures, military sports games), the project has no geographical restrictions and is conducted with the participation of certified teachers.
Let us focus on some characteristic features of the Polish diaspora policy:
– the prevalence of economic aspects while establishing cooperation with ethnic Poles living in the USA, EU and South America;
– a powerful propagandistic and political emphasis and a minimal presence of economy while dealing with Polonia in countries of the former USSR;
– abandoning tactics of interaction with Polonia which presuppose acting through Polonian organizations only and which have proved ineffective;
– coverage by social, cultural and other projects of the largest possible number of ethnic Poles, in the first place, those who are not members of diaspora organizations;
– absence of heavy vertical hierarchy in disapora organizations in favor of horizontal links and shuttle diplomacy;
– contribute to the formation of a protest and opposition-minded stratum amongst the young in countries of the former USSR (Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine) with further placement of its representatives in local government structures, the media and other socially important projects.
Summing up, we can say that Warsaw’s diaspora politics abroad are focused on strengthening its positions in the Western community and pursuing unilateral and controversial goals in the eastern direction. From our partner International Affairs
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