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Fighting the Shadow Silk Road: Anti-trafficking Efforts across the Caspian

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Most conversations about the Caspian countries revolve around the region’s political and economic developments and Central Asia’s new Silk Road initiatives that seek to facilitate regional cooperation in the areas of energy, transportation and trade.

Despite all of these commendable advancements, there is a dark side that is rarely explored because many find the topic rather unpalatable. There is an underground and subversive “shadow” Silk Road that has become a source of prosperity for those that would seek to enslave humans – many of them among some of the most vulnerable – for the purpose of exploitation and abuse.

Human-trafficking, a type of slavery that involves the transport or trade of human beings for the purpose of labor, affects virtually every country in the world. Despite the fact that slavery was abolished well over a century ago, there are more slaves in the world now than at any other time in history. Unfortunately, none of the Caspian Five countries are immune to the proliferation of human-trafficking and corruption within their borders. In fact, the Caspian makes up a very significant part of a human-trafficking network that has, at any given time, ensnared about two and a half million people around the globe. Overall, human-trafficking is estimated to be a $32 billion a year industry and shows no signs of slowing down, despite – thanks to the rise in the production of documentaries and the release of blockbuster Hollywood movies like Taken – the growing awareness of the public. The victims of human-trafficking include people of all backgrounds and are trafficked for a variety of purposes. Men are trafficked to be used in hard labor jobs and women and children are trafficked to work in the agriculture, fishing, and textile industries. Men, women, and children are all trafficked into the commercial sex industry and used for prostitution, pornography, or other forms of sexual exploitation.

Human beings are smuggled within national or across international borders, work out of both public and private organizations, and are ‘sold’ over and over again across time. While not all human-trafficking victims are acquired in the same way, the common theme among those that are ‘recruited’ is extreme poverty. When a person is trafficked, the victim is removed from everything that is familiar and finds himself or herself isolated and powerless. They often don’t speak the same language – or understand the culture – of their captors, ‘customers,’ or fellow victims and, in many cases, even travel through multiple countries before they end up at their final destination, making most efforts to track and rescue almost impossible. Once in the custody of their kidnappers – who are often part of a larger, more organized group of criminals – victims are stripped of their documentation, told that they are breaking the country’s laws by being there, and threatened with harm to their loved ones if they try to escape. They are subjected to physical and psychological abuse ranging from degradation to food and sleep deprivation to torture. As a result, the victims often become confused, disoriented, frustrated, and ultimately compliant from sheer despair. The average life span of a victim of human-trafficking after being ensnared is somewhere between three to seven years. In many of these cases the victim is literally worked to death.

The proliferation of human-trafficking is fueled by widespread corruption and greed. In some parts of the world the life of a female holds so little value that there is not much opposition to the idea of purchasing them for sexual services across the general population according to several disturbing survey polls. Prostitution is often considered a victimless crime and in many countries there is a perception that it is a woman’s choice to enter the commercial sex trade as their preferred profession. Despite the efforts of governments – including formally the governments of the Caspian Five countries – to regulate and enforce anti-trafficking legislation, local governments and police forces have been known to not only protect sex-trafficking rings but to participate in them. There are also lucrative benefits to countries because of the practice of sex tourism – where travelers vacation to a particular country for the purpose of having sex with an exotic and/or underage male or female.

Azerbaijan, known as a ‘destination country’ for women from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Russia for forced prostitution, is also identified as a transit country for victims of sex and labor-trafficking from Central Asia to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Iran. According to the U.S. Department of State, Azerbaijan is classified as a TIER 2 country, which means its government does not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards but is making significant efforts to do so. According to the 15th annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, Azerbaijan’s government did increase the number of trafficking investigations and convictions, enacted a new national action plan, and introduced new legislation to provide reintegration assistance to vulnerable populations.

Kazakhstan, also identified as a TIER 2 country, is to a lesser extent a destination and transit country for sex-trafficking and forced labor. Unlike neighboring countries, most victims of trafficking in Kazakhstan are lured there with promises of legitimate employment. People from the country’s rural villages are attracted to the economic prosperity they perceive in Kazakhstan’s major cities, like Astana and Almaty. Upon arrival, many are deceived and made victims. According to the TIP report, Kazakhstan’s government is committed to combating the problem by improving its anti-trafficking legislation, training law enforcement officials, and investigating and prosecuting suspected police officers that participate in trafficking activities. Kazakhstan has also significantly increased its funding for victim assistance and continues to cooperate with international organizations and NGOs to protect victims and raise awareness of trafficking crimes.

Turkmenistan, recognized as a TIER 2 Watchlist country, is a ‘source’ country for people subjected to forced labor and sex-trafficking. Most of the Turkmen people that become victims are mainly taken to Turkey and Russia, where they are often forced to work in the cotton and construction industries. Even though Turkmenistan is supposedly ‘making significant efforts’ to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, its government has not been particularly committed to devoting sufficient resources to implement such plans to bring about compliance. While Turkmenistan has continued to convict traffickers, it does not demonstrate very adequate efforts to identify and protect victims and, in some cases, even punish victims for their ‘crimes.’

Both Russia and Iran, which have been identified as TIER 3 countries, are source, transit, and destination countries. Neither country’s government makes much of an effort to eliminate trafficking. They do not share information with NGOs, the media, international organizations, and other governments in order to address the extensive trafficking problem found within their borders (and beyond) and neither have a national action plan in place to combat trafficking. While Iran did make a small effort to work with other countries in the region to combat other types of transnational crime, Russia has refused to take major public steps to combat root human-trafficking causes that often originate within its own borders through its extensive organized criminal groups.

As seen after the collapse of the USSR, economic systems were completely transformed and many people, especially women, found themselves facing unemployment and poverty. These people flocked to the cities in search of work opportunities, higher wages and a better future. Unfortunately, many found themselves swept up in the sex-slavery trade and modern-day indentured servitude. Now that sanctions have been lifted on Iran there are so many new opportunities across the entire Caspian region that will no doubt prove to be irresistible for people in search of a better life. People will thus find themselves looking to leave home to make the voyage to a ‘nearby new world’ where they hope new opportunities that weren’t there a few short months ago can transform their lives. Unfortunately, wherever there is hope there is also an accompanying fear. Wherever there is opportunity there is also exploitation. As hopefuls flood back and forth across the Caspian Five, governmental efforts must not simply continue to formally declare their animosity to trafficking but they must begin to truly fight the predators waiting in the shadows. If they do not, then fighting the Shadow Silk Road will likely remain a losing battle.

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Eastern Europe

The Outlook for Lugansk People’s Republic after 4 years of War with Ukraine

George Eliason

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Leonid Pasichnik, the acting Head of Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) has been in office for almost one year. With the state of his reforms in LNR, you want to judge him against leaders of countries at peace, not as one that just formed in the middle of a war four years ago.

For the last thirty years, Donbass was neglected in Ukraine. The infrastructure across Ukraine was bad, but in Donbass it was notorious. Key infrastructure like the water supply has been neglected since 1983.

Political Leaders and oligarchs from what would become LNR historically were only interested in what they could take out of the region. Donbass coal and industry historically provided the basis of Ukrainian wealth. No other region contributed as much and no one including Victor Yanukovych had any interest in investing any of that money back in the region to build it up.

Pasechnik is providing a marked difference. During what is still considered nation building, his interim administration is taking the economic and social problems in the newly formed republic head-on.

In the spring of 2018, his administration introduced their five-year socio-economic development plan called “Our Choice.” His administration included input from 70,000 LNR residents to make sure people’s concerns about the future are addressed as reforms go forward.

LNR’s Current Outlook

For the last four years, LNR has worked to build a lasting peace. Fulfilling their side of the Minsk Agreements LDNR (Lugansk &Donetsk People’s Republics) negotiated with Poroshenko’s regime has been a key part deciding what direction the republic is taking. Kiev hasn’t attempted to fulfill any point agreed to and tries to use the agreement to beat Russia over the head within the US and the EU.

The often overlooked part of the Minsk agreement in the west is Ukraine is not negotiating with Russia. Russia is a guarantor for the agreement the same as the EU is, nothing more. If Poroshenko had any intention of reintegrating Donbass, Ukraine would negotiate in good faith and keep its word. This hasn’t happened.

Because of this, Pasichnik’s government recognizes the fact that until the government in Ukraine changes, real negotiation and progress remain impossible. For Ukraine to be taken seriously, decentralization in the form of federalization will have to take place. Ukraine will also have to start creating the conditions for building an economy in all its regions.

Even in view of this LNR has consistently fulfilled its part of the Minsk agreements.

The West’s Shortsighted Spectacle

Unfortunately, even recent history shows there is no reason to take any offer Ukrainian nationalists make or are part of negotiating seriously. Poroshenko is only after sound bites and not substance. Pravy Sektor nationalist leader Dimka Yarosh has announced he is pulling his troops away from the front line to monitor Ukrainian elections. Ultra-nationalists monitoring elections? Yeah, this should go well.

In a recent interview with Ukrainian “Novoye Vremya,” Condoleezza Rice commented it was “bad” that the world was starting to believe Russia’s version of what was going on in Donbass.

At the end of the day, world leaders still have to believe somebody. After four years of looking at the diplomatic and economic train wreck, Ukraine has evolved into, they have no reason to believe Ukraine.

Instead of becoming the promised European model they could all look to, Ukraine has taken away every safety net even marginal civilizations provide for their people. Manufacturing is gone and instead of working through internal issues, the new government attacked its powerhouse region in Donbass. LNR and DNR provided a lion’s share of wealth because of the coal industry and manufacturing. The nation’s most important engineering universities are ensconced in the capitals because of this.

That isn’t something the EU or the rest of the world can take lightly. With no possibility of recovery in the near to mid future, Ukraine’s only hope is to find work in Europe. Ukrainians making it to Europe are finding low paying bottom tier work as well as the illegal sex trade.

Under Donald Trump, there is no reason to believe the US would be willing to take in violent nationalists from a country that tried to destroy his candidacy and his presidency.

All of this is the result of Poroshenko’s Ukraine destroying every possible growth industry it had including rocket engines, weapons, and technologies, and traded that for giant corporate farms. Agribusiness giants and agro-holdings companies are the big growth areas but provide no jobs.

The outlook for Ukraine is very poor for the foreseeable future unless drastic policy changes are implemented.

When you contrast this to what LNR is accomplishing under Leonid Pasichnik, it’s easy to see why Condi Rice is so upset.

Lugansk People’s Republic’s Reform Renaissance

It’s easy to argue renaissance is too strong a term to use for the reforms going on in LNR because there is a war going on. The infrastructure and economy have taken serious hits over the past four years. Nineteen bridges have taken extensive damage or collapsed in LNR hampering transportation. Roads were also shelled and in many areas need to be rebuilt.

On top of this, starting at day one, Pasichnik’s government had to fight the civil war as well as the systemic corruption that had not been touched by his predecessor. It’s very difficult to imagine a government starting out with a weaker hand.

In the short time Pasichnik has been in office, his government not only formulated a five-year plan, but they also started implementing it in a grand way. It started with building an energy bridge to power the steel mill in Alchevsk. High voltage transmission lines were installed that not only allowed the plants to go into production, but they are also increasing production and hiring plant workers. Business is opening in other manufacturing sectors because the government has been able to negotiate its way around sanctions to a small degree. In the garment industry, this is creating jobs.

Large-scale road work and bridge work has commenced and the bridge connecting Lugansk to Donetsk is complete. Part of the 5-year plan is to restore the railways for large-scale transportation to service commerce and commuters. Pasechnik just announced fuel prices in LNR will be dropping to Russian levels. This is while a war is being fought.

Water has been an issue for the last four years and part of LNR’s water supply is purchased from Ukraine. Pasichnik has ordered pipelines from LNR’s own aquifers be rebuilt to solve this problem. Redundancy is a consideration for the design of the project. If one water main is down for repair or maintenance, a second water main will be put in use according to the building specifications.

The farming industry was in tatters because of the war. The current government is working to increase yields of high-quality grains like wheat. LNR has achieved food security for the republic. This by itself is an incredible feat given the fluidity of the situation with the civil war.

As part of the reforms, Pasichnik ordered the customs borders be taken down between LNR and DNR on April 1, 2018. DNR still needs to reciprocate but it is only logical considering how closely both republics need to cooperate.

Along with all these concrete reforms, LNR is also writing new equitable laws to replace the old corpus. More importantly, reformation of the judicial system is underway. Currently, the family courts are complete and work has begun on Supreme Court reform.

It is easy to see why Condoleezza Rice would be a little upset when little tiny upstart countries believe in federalized representative governance and can build a society even with all the stumbling blocks and chaff the US and Europe throw at it. While Ukraine, Rice’s model of what a European country should be, looks anemic by comparison.

It’s easy to have the support of the EU and the USA and make these reforms when they give you billions of dollars to do so. It’s certainly easier to jumpstart an economy when the economic zones are in safe areas.

Pashichnik and his political party Peace for Lugansk (Мир Луганщине) have shown the world they can do it on their own. This is what former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is concerned Russia will tell the world.

We’re going to start exploring the reforms listed above as well as others going on in depth. We’ll also get to know his party and the other political parties in LNR. I like looking at concrete results and Pasichnik is providing that in a substantial way.

After being here from before the beginning of Kiev’s Euromaidan coup, you get a little-jaded writing about politics and political leaders. From my perspective, it’s a shame he and his party wasn’t elected in the first place. I believe both republics would be in a better place.

After taking a real look at this overview, how do political leaders where you live measure up?

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Will Pashinyan punish the perpetrators of the Khojaly Massacre?

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On October 16 th the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced his resignation, paving the way for a snap parliamentary elections to be held on December 10th. The move is seen as a manoeuvre to return to Prime Minister’s Office with his party having the majority in the parliament, thus acquiring even more dominant position in the political life of Armenia.

While the support of the ordinary people was instrumental in Pashinyan’s becoming the prime minister, he did not achieve to gain full political control in the country as his government has been at logger heads with the majority of lawmakers in the parliament, most of whom are representing the Republican Party. Thus, during the five-months period of his term, Pashinyan’s main objective was to reduce the influence of the Nagorno-Karabakh`s Armenian clan, which has had for years controlling positions in the Republican Party and Armenian politics. Despite their prevalent status in all the areas in the country including politics, military and business during the last 20 years, the representatives of the Nagorno Karabakh`s Armenian clan gradually lost their credibility among the population because of the wrong policies conducted during recent years. The popular uprising in April, therefore, was not only against Serzh Sargsyan`s personality,but also against the entire Nagorno Karabakh`s Armenian clan, which had put doubt on the future of Armenia. Realizing the clan’s influence in the country has been rapidly exhausted among the population, Pashinyan became determined to fight them.

Pashinyan came to power by overthrowing the former President Serzh Sargsyan, one of the most important representatives of the Nagorno Karabakh`s Armenian clan. Samvel Babayan, one of the important representatives of the aforementioned clan and of the military dictatorship in Armenia, was imprisoned during Pashinyan’s five-month period because of having illegally brought Igla missiles to Armenia. During Pashinian’s term, Robert Kocharian, who ruled Armenia between 1998 and 2008, was arrested within the campaign to fight against corruption and bribery. According to Pashinyan, these figures are the main culprits of the situation in Armenia. Indeed, those who closely follow up Armenia are well aware that the current state of grievances of the citizens of the Republic of Armeniais is the result of the state capture by the Karabakh clan, which has led to serious problems between the Armenians of Armenia and the Armenians of Karabakh.

The important point here is that Nagorno Karabakh`s Armenian clan not only conducted poor internal policies, but also followed policies which caused Armenia to be isolated in the region, establishing belligerent relations with the neighboring states. In 1998, representatives of Karabakh`s Armenian clan, Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sargsyan, seized power by forcing president Levon Ter-Petrosyan to resign, who believed that there would be no promising future for Armenia without the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh problem. During the last 20 years, the Karabakh clan played to nationalist and populist expectations in Armenia and systematically marginalized the politicians who attempted to give positive messages in the direction of solving the problem, essentially preventing any ways for the Armenian society to lean towards supporting the peace agreement. The group defined as the Nagorno Karabakh`s Armenian clan under the leadership of Sarkisian and Kocharian did not only substantially damage the future of the citizens of Armenia through poor internal policies, but also committed a genocide against Nagorno-Karabakh`s Azerbaijani population during the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Through the brutal massacres and genocides against the civilian population residing in the region between 1988-1994, the Karabakh clan seriously damaged peace prospects by encouraging hatred and enmity among the peoples of the region.

During his interview with the British journalist Thomas de Wall, the former president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan described what he had done against the civilian population in the region during the Nagorno-Karabakh War, emphasizing that:”Before Khojaly, the Azerbaijanis thought that … the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We were able to break that [stereotype].”Referring to the question of why Armenians killed civilians, Svante Cornell, an American expert in the region, clarified the following: “The Armenian side had two important objectives: firstly, to force the civilian population to abandon its territory in a way that it would never come back; and to break the resistance of civilians against the Armenian occupation”. As a result, the remaining population of Nagorno Karabakh and of the surrounding seven districts left their homes because of the the fear that similar atrocities would be repeated.

Human Rights Organization “Memorial” prepared a report on the incident immediately after the events in Khojaly in 1992 and accused the armed Armenian clan of Karabakh in the calamities of the night of 25-26th of February signified by the killings of 613 civilians. The newspapers of the period shared the same view. In 1997, the president of the UN Human Rights Organization Holy Cartner confirmed this statement to Armenia`s Minister of Foreign Affairs. In his official letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Cartner emphasized: “We hold Karabakh Armenians responsible for the death of civilians in Khojaly.” Until now 15 US States, parliaments of the seven states in the world and one international organization have recognized Khojaly as genocide.

In fact, it is not a secret to anyone who perpetuated the massacre in Khojaly. Dmitri Saveliev, representative of the Duma of the Russian Federation, said in his opening speech of the Khojaly genocide memorial: “Those who did the Khojaly genocide were still not punished. We should all work together to punish those responsible for the genocide”. Of course Saveliev was right. Right after the Second World War, the Nuremberg Trials were set up to punish those who committed genocide against the Jewish people. Similar measures were also taken against those who committed atrocities in Srebrenica. Unfortunately, perpetrators of Khojaly are still unpunished despite the fact that 26 years have passed since then.

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Armenia’s Role in South Caucasus Policy of Russia

Aliyar Azimov

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The Caucasus has long been one of the most important regions in the world. Many states had the desire and plan to rule this region from time to time. For centuries Russia has a great influence in the Caucasus and the main reason for the importance of the Caucasus region for Russia is its geostrategic location on important trade routes. Because by passing through this region Russia can reach the Balkans, the Black Sea and the White Sea, the Persian Gulf, as well as the Indian Ocean. The other important reason is the Caucasus is a great source of raw materials for the Russian economy. North Caucasus regions, such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Tatarstan, cover almost half of Russia’s energy needs. Also, the Caucasus region has significant strategic importance in terms of the routes that aimed to bring the Caspian Sea resources to the West and controlling these routes.

After the dissolution of the USSR, relations between Russia and Armenia intensified since 1992. There are numerous agreements have been signed between Russia and Armenia in various fields. The most important agreement was signed in Moscow a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance by Presidents Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Levon Ter-Petrosian of Armenia. The treaty also envisages consultations and mutual military support if either side is attacked or considers itself threatened by a third party. Despite Russian and Armenian officials denied this, it was one of Russia’s interference in the South Caucasus through Armenia. This agreement has made Russia’s presence stronger in the region. Russia has military bases in Armenia and the main purpose of these bases is to protect Russia’s interests and Armenia’s national security. After the recent crisis in Georgia and the withdrawal of Russian military bases, Armenia became a more important actor for Russia.

Russia has a significant impact on the processes in the region by using the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The conflict started with Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani lands and as a result of Russia’s efforts, a ceasefire was declared and negotiations started. The Kremlin supports the peaceful settlement of the conflict within the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as in bilateral meetings. Consequently, Russia provides political and military support to Armenia as an important ally in the region, as well as prevents Azerbaijan moving away from it by being as a guarantor of the peaceful settlement of the conflict. Time to time Russia uses this conflict to make political pressure on both countries which makes it another most important factor for Russia. Georgia’s attack on North Ossetia and later on Russian intervention in Georgia and recognition of North Ossetia and Abkhazia, have led to thinking whether there will be a change in the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Also, Russian intervention in Georgia has shown that the problems in the CIS region cannot be solved without Russia. Therefore, it is possible to say that resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute is highly dependent on Russian presence. However, the growing interest of the West in this region and proposing new solutions to the conflict, make Azerbaijan and Armenia use this dispute card against Russia. The possibility of Western-South Caucasus rapprochement in the future may lead to not only a political, but even a serious economic impact on Russia. Russia’s economy is heavily dependent on energy resources and the European energy market is the most important, profitable, and stable market for Russia. At the same time, the EU tries to diversify its energy routes and to reduce its dependency on Russian energy exports. The South Caucasus, especially the Caspian region has rich oil and gas sources. Hence, in the light of the Western-Caucasus relations, the role of Azerbaijan becomes more significant and strategic. In addition, strengthening and developing relations between Armenia and the EU is important in terms of ensuring the security of supply. Such a significant reduction of the EU’s dependence on Russia will have a great impact on Russia’s economy. Considering the fact that there are numerous sanctions on Russia, the weakening of the Russian economy may hamper its regional power. Even more likely, this may lead to domestic riots in Russia, and Russia may face the threat of a division of the country.

The Kremlin and Moscow have a special control over the region to prevent this scenario and creates barriers to the South Caucasian countries’ integration into the European Union. For instance, abandoning the Nabucco project, Russia’s military intervention in Georgia, and being a shareholder in projects in this region (excluding TAP and TANAP) are some examples of these barriers.

Diasporas also play an important role in Russia’s Caucasus policy. They are most influential tools in key areas of government and are closely involved in political activities. Moreover, the existence of many Russian citizens in Armenia, the wider use of Russian language in the country, and the broadcasting of Russian radio and television channels are the core elements of Russian presence in Armenia. Some Russians living in Armenia also have the opportunity to participate actively political and cultural relations due to their Armenian language knowledge.

Conclusion

After the collapse of the USSR, Armenia became Russia’s main ally in the South Caucasus. Integration of Georgia into West, conflicts and problems with Turkey and Azerbaijan, threats to national security urge Armenia to be closer to Russia. At the same time, large-scale projects implemented by Azerbaijan and Georgia with Turkey and Western countries, integration into the Western markets, and problems with Armenia hinder Armenia’s regional, political and economic development. To ensure this development, Armenia sees Russia as its biggest ally and closely cooperates with Russia.

The basis for the national security of Armenia relies on military cooperation between Russia and Armenia, however, the dependence on Russia in the economic sphere and the fact that all the strategic enterprises are controlled by the Russians is contrary to Armenia’s interests. Therefore, Armenia is in search for ways to integrate into the West without undermining its relations with Russia. However, Armenia’s political and economic dependence on Russia and tensions with Azerbaijan and Turkey make difficult to integrate into the West. in order to get rid of isolation, it is important for Armenia to step back in disputes with Turkey and Azerbaijan and mitigate relations.

In the near future, it is impossible for Armenia to completely break the dependency on Russia and integrate into the EU and the West. The grounds for this integration, which depend on Russia’s foreign policy strategies, have not yet been established. Today, the Armenian authorities understand that it is impossible for Armenia without Russia to exist in these conditions. While the integration into the West is on the agenda, the isolation of Armenia in the region prevents the achievement of political and economic prosperity. Russia’s active involvement in the region is important for Armenia, both for internal and external stability. Armenia’s integration to the West will continue in the frame of Russia’s interests, but from now on the Armenian government will pursue a more discreet policy towards Russia. Russia, on the other hand, can take two actions; to take a step which can lead to the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenia’s defeat, or to control Armenia without military intervention by making some concessions to current or future authorities. The first option is dangerous for Russia in terms of losing Armenia and reputation in South Caucasus, however, in the second variant, Russia can maintain its influence in the region by ensuring its long-term interests.

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