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Is Caucasus the next Syria – Don’t forget OSCE

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The recent all-shoot out in Azerbaijan between the ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijani forces brought yet another round of casualties, psychological traumas and property destructions. Sudden and severe as it was, the event sent its shock waves all over Caucasus and well beyond.

Is Caucasus receiving the ‘residual heat’ from the boiling MENA? Is this a next Syria? Is a grand accommodation pacific scenario possible? Or will it be more realistic that the South Caucasus ends up violently torn apart by the grand compensation that affects all from Afghanistan up to the EU-Turkey deal?

Most observes would fully agree that for such (frozen) conflicts like this between Azerbaijan and Armenia, mediation and dialogue across the conflict cycle have no alternative. Further on, most would agree that the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) with its Minsk Group remains both the best suited FORA as well as the only international body mandated for the resolution of the conflict.

However, one cannot escape the feeling that despite more than 20 years of negotiations, this conflict remains unresolved. What is the extent of the OSCE failure to effectively utilize existing conflict resolution and post-conflict rehabilitation tools?

The very mandate of the Co-Chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group is based on CSCE Budapest Summit document of 1994, which tasks them to conduct speedy negotiations for the conclusion of a political agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict, the implementation of which will eliminate major consequences of the conflict and permit the convening of the Minsk Conference. In Budapest, the participating States have reconfirmed their commitment to the relevant Resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and underlined that the co-Chairmen should be guided in all their negotiating efforts by the OSCE principles and agreed mandate, and should be accountable to its Chairmanship and the Permanent Council (PC).

Nevertheless, as it emerged from this sudden eruption of violence in the region in late March/early April of 2016, the OSCE and its Minsk Group have been side-stepped from the settlement process. Why?

Over the years, the role of the OSCE and its participating States, including those that are members of the Minsk Group, has been limited to extending formal support to the activities of the Co-chairmen. It gradually led to change the conflict resolution process into conflict containment activities as reflected in artificial and out-of-mandate prioritization of tasks of the co-Chairmen to focus on prevention of escalation rather than lasting solution, and interference with the activities of other international organizations wishing to contribute to the true and comprehensive settlement of the conflict.

In parallel, one may observe rather selective approaches by some OSCE Member States and regional groupings to the principles with regard to the protracted conflicts in the OSCE area.

As an ending result, the Organization as such lost its control over the process. Such a lack of control over the activities led to negligence to inherent balance and inter-linkage between the principles of the most fundamental Security structure of Europe achieved ever – the Helsinki Final Act. It is rather dangerous and counterproductive to equalize the principles of non-use of force against the territorial integrity of political independence of the States, territorial integrity and equal rights and self-determination of peoples, which some publicly present as a basis for a settlement. Misinterpretation is evident even in naming of these principles.

These voices claim that there is no hierarchy among the above mentioned principles and that these elements should be observed and applied independently of each other. In fact, such a voluntary interpretation of the principles is in direct contradiction to the letter and very spirit of the Helsinki Decalogue and its Final Act, which in seven out of ten principles places strong emphasis on the necessity to fully respect internationally recognized borders of states and their territorial integrity against any attempt of forceful acquisition of territories or change of borders, and (one-sided) application of self-determination.

Such a deviation from the agreed character of the principles unfortunately provided Armenia with a card blanche to justify its territorial claims against Azerbaijan, consolidate the status-quo and made the process of settlement dependent on whims of the Armenian side.

Several FORAs (incl. the OSCE mechanisms) openly claim that they have no responsibility for the conflict resolution, and that the parties need to demonstrate political will and to make necessary compromises (‘no way to exert pressure on the sides’ and ‘we can only be a communication channel between the two conflicting parties’ lines of usual rhetoric).

In the meantime, Armenia keeps holding a premium over the internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan, which it continues to occupy. Clearly, that ‘process’ is far away from OSCE principles and commitments, and will dangerously backfire elsewhere in Europe.

Unless we want another Syria, and yet Europe entirely enveloped by the insecure neighbourhood all the way from Mediterranean to Caucasus, we need a tremendous progress in the settlement of the conflict. Over last years, most of conflict resolution-potent initiatives have been blocked in the OSCE. Discussion on the conflict has been turned into a taboo within the OSCE, even when the informal discussions are in question – and so, not only when Caucasus was in case.

If we want to revive this particular process and return it from a de facto conflict containment back on track to the conflict resolution process, the following steps for Caucasus are needed:

  • To unblock and fully revitalize the OSCE Minsk Group, and intensify the efforts towards earliest pacific solution of the conflict, especially by using the best services from the member countries willing to constructively solve the problem;
  • Serious attempt of the OSCE to re-establish the dialogue at the level of the communities affected by the conflict is more than essential stabilizer. It is an indispensable instrument for any confidence building measure. To it related as complementary is the exchange of data on the missing persons, a mechanism foreseen in a tripartite approach by the French, Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents late last year. It should be coupled and further enhanced by variety of the P2P programs that could bring Armenians and Azerbaijanis all profiles, ages and origins together;
  • Items above surely presuppose the relaxation of tensions and renunciation of usage of military effectives as a means of conflict resolution. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan (either at different occasions, also through their top diplomats at the OSCE Vienna, ambassador Arman Kirakossian and ambassador Galib Israfilov) signalled their wishes and efforts to move beyond this status quo. That is in line with all statements of the UN and OSCE in past 20 years. Surely, the best way to shake this status quo of containment back on track to the lasting solution, is to eliminate the military factor;
  • Regrettably, the only military factor remaining in the region in/around Nagorno Karabakh is the presence of the Armenian troops – something that surely does not service Armenian community there on a long run! (Min how much Serbs harmed their own community in Kosovo by their rigid military stance.) If, as currently as of now, Armenian Government is serious of the danger and incidents along the Line of Contact they should withdraw their troops. If so, people could at least feel safer in those territories, halt the massive migratory wave, and plan their own future viably;
  • And finally, a pacific, orderly and balanced re-integration of the currently occupied territories back into the Azerbaijani political, legal, social and economic system – that serves ethnic Armenians on a long run the most. It will shield them from an otherwise lost demographic battle.

This would be the best way to reinvigorate the OSCE’s relevance in mediation efforts and create an environment in which the OSCE as an organization can play a meaningful role applying its existing tools – all for the lasting benefits of the peoples and nations of Caucasus. The OSCE area should be what is meant to be – the area of security and stability. Stubbornness and irrational pride should never be an obstacle to this higher end.

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Eastern Europe

Will Russia serve the old wine in a new bottle?

Angela Amirjanyan

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Nowadays, one of the main features of global political developments are non-violent or color revolutions. These revolutions are brought about by wide-spread corruption, poverty, unemployment and a deep gap between masses and the ruling elite with the latter being the biggest political risk for the ruling party. Most analysts argue that these factors are combined also with outside support, which can culminate in the revolution. However, what happened in Armenia after a few weeks of peaceful demonstrations, the Velvet revolution, that brought down the regime and has exercised true people power, is considered to be unprecedented for it didn’t owe its origin to the external assistance or wasn’t an attempt by ‘‘US to export democracy’’ in Armenia. The geopolitical factor was initially excluded.  In fact, Russia has traditionally had negative attitude towards color revolutions and has seen them ‘‘as a new US and European approach to warfare that focuses on creating destabilizing revolutions in other states as a means of serving their security interests at low cost and with minimal casualties’’.This means that Russia, desperate to maintain its own standing in the Caucasus, was likely to intervene in the events unfolding in Armenia. However, the Kremlin didn’t view turmoil in Armenia as a Ukraine-style revolution. Asked if Russia would intervene, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the matter was “exclusively an internal affair” and Russian action would be “absolutely inappropriate”. Moreover, after Armenia’s unpopular leader Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called Armenians “a great people” and wrote, “Armenia, Russia is always with you!”

The prospect of a Russian intervention was low for 2 key reasons

One of the possible reasons behind Russian inaction was that Moscow didn’t regard the revolution in Armenia as a threat to its geopolitical prerogatives, but rather as an opportunity to make a strategic move through a global panic over Russia’s continued warlike behavior. Satisfied that this is genuinely an internal Armenian issue directed at an incompetent and ineffective government, Russia proved with its muted response to Armenia’s color revolution that Kremlin embraces the policy of non-interventionism.

Secondly, a rapid spread of pro-Western sentiment among local journalists, civil society representatives and youth was prevalent in Armenia in the past decade. This process only accelerated after Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan unexpectedly decided in 2013 to join Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) over EU Association Agreement.Yerevan’s decision of September 3, 2013 to involve in Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) was mostly conditioned by Moscow’s ultimatum imposition, which left a deep track in the perception of Armenia-Russia relations and formed a comparatively new cliché. Anti-Russian sentiments were on rise in Armenia in recent years due to major levers of influence that Russia maintained over Armenia: Armenia’s corrupt oligarchic system and the military threat coming from Azerbaijan. Civil society and the opposition in Armenia viewed Russia as the sponsor of the autocratic, oligarchic system of governance in Armenia. They have traditionally criticized the government for having closest ties with the country which provides 85 percent of arms export to Azerbaijan-a country which is in continuous conflict with Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.  This anti-Russian sentiment reached its apex in 2016 when the intense fighting broke out in Karabagh known as Four-Day War. This drew the public attention to the Russian-supplied arms which played a role in the deaths of dozens of soldiers.

Both opposition leaders and civil society members demanded not only Armenia’s exit from the EAEU, but also an end to the Russian military presence in the country. The anti-Russian rhetoric was useful for both the Armenian government and the opposition to alert Russia not to take Armenia for granted.Hence, in one way the April Revolution in Armenia was a test for Russian-Armenian relations, and Russia viewed it as a new impulse for mutually beneficial relations aimed at restoring the damage of Russia’s protective image among Armenians.Needless to say,Armenia is important to Russia, as losing Armenia would cause fundamental changes in Moscow’s influence in the South Caucasus. Furthermore, Armenia can’t cherry-pick among its closest allies because its landlocked position limits the freedom to maneuver in its foreign policy and its economic and defense imperatives dictate a close alignment with Russia. This was reaffirmed by new prime minister and protest leader of Armenia, Nikol Pashinian, who not only supported maintaining the current Russian-Armenian relationship but also suggested a “new impulse” for political and trade relations during the meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 14. During another meeting a month later, Armenian PM expressed his hope that ‘’the relations will develop more effectively on the basis of mutual respect for the best interest and sovereignty of the two States’’.

On the whole, Armenia will continue to pursue its “Complementarian” or multi-vector foreign policy, which means that no radical change in the realm of foreign policy is expected to take place.  Yet there is no strong anti-Russian current in Armenian political and society rhetoric. The recent civic movement was significant in realizing the potential of Russian-Armenian mutual relations for economic development and security. Undeniably, Russia should adopt new approaches towards Armenia and it should realize that under new circumstances the backward-looking policies are destined to be counter-productive. In Armenia people hope that Kremlin wouldn’t serve the old wine in a new bottle.

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Eastern Europe

Lithuania deserves better life

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The latest expressive headlines on delfi.lt (the main Lithuanian news portal) such as “Gender pay gap increased in Lithuania”, “Sudden drop in EU support pushes Lithuania into middle income trap, finmin says”, “Lithuanian travellers spent EUR 186.5 mln abroad this year” and “Lithuania’s Jan-May budget revenue EUR 14.3 mln below target” clearly demonstrate difficult situation in the country. The only positive thing in this fact is Lithuanian authorities do not try to hide the social problems or they just cannot do it anymore.

While in the international arena Lithuania continues to be very active and promising, the internal political and social crisis as well as decrease in living standards of the population make Lithuanians worry about their future. Idleness of the Lithuanian authorities makes the country poorer.

The most acute social problems today are emigration of young people, unemployment rate, increase in the number of older persons and poverty. The appalling consequences of such phenomena are alcoholism and suicides of the Lithuanians.

According to Boguslavas Gruževskis, the Head of Labour Market Research Institute, in the next 5-6 years, Lithuania must accumulate reserves so that our social protection system can operate for 15 years under negative conditions, otherwise serious consequences are expected.

Over the past two years the level of emigration has grown by more than 1.5 times. In 2015 the country left about 30,000 people, in 2017 – 50,000. This is a social catastrophe, because, in fact, the country has lost the population of one Lithuanian city. And the situation with depopulation cannot be corrected by an increase in the number of migrants coming to Lithuania. Their number is too small because Lithuania cannot afford high living conditions for newcomers like Germany or other European countries and may serve only as transitory hub.

As for unemployment rate and poverty, in Lithuania, 7.1% of the population is officially considered unemployed. The more so according to the Department of Statistics for 2016, 30% of Lithuanian citizens live on the verge of poverty, which is 7% higher than the average European level.

One of the most profitable sectors of the economy – tourism, which allows many European countries to flourish, Lithuanian authorities do not develop at all. Even Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis plans to spend his summer vacation in Spain. This fact speaks for itself. Skvernelis notes that spending vacation in Spain is cheaper than in Lithuania. Thus, he is lacking the will or skill to do something with the situation as well as other high ranking officials. He is named one of the main presidential candidates but does nothing to improve the distressful situation.

At the same time, Lithuanian President wants more foreign troops and modern weapons, increase in defence budget and uses all her skills to persuade her NATO colleagues to give help. Probably, she is afraid of her own people, which is tired of helpless and indifferent authorities, and wants to protect herself by means of all these new weapons and foreign soldiers?

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Spoiled Latvia’s image in the international arena

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Latvia is actively preparing for one of the most important political event of the year. Parliamentary elections will take place in October 6, 2018. Submissions of the lists of candidates for the 13th Saeima elections will take place very soon – from July 18 to August 7, 2018. But the elections campaign as well as all political life in the country faces some problems which require additional attention from the authorities. And these problems spoil the image of Latvia as a democratic state which might respect the rights of its people.

This is a well-known fact, that the image of the state is composed of several components: it heavily depends on its foreign and domestic policy directions. The more so, internal events very often influence its foreign policy and vice versa.

Latvia considers itself a democratic state and tries to prove it by all possible means. But all attempts fail because of a serious unsolved problem – violation of human rights in Latvia.

It is not a secret that about one third of Latvians are ethnic Russians. Their right to speak and be educated in their native language is constantly violated. This problem is in the centre of attention of such international organizations as OSCE and EU. This fact makes Latvian authorities, which conducts anti Russia’s policy, extremely nervous.

Thus, the Latvian parliament recently passed in the final reading amendments to the Education Law and the Law on General Education under which schools of ethnic minorities will have to start gradual transition to Latvian-only secondary education in the 2019/2020 academic year. It is planned that, starting from 2021/2022 school year, all general education subjects in high school (grades 10-12) will be taught only in the Latvian language, while children of ethnic minorities will continue learning their native language, literature and subjects related to culture and history in the respective minority language. This caused

Hundreds joined a march in the centre of Riga in June to support Russian-language schools in Latvia. The event was held under the slogan: “For Russian schools, for the right to learn in native language,” as the government wants to switch the language of the education system to Latvian.

The European Parliament deputies called for support of Russian education in Latvia. 115 people have signed the joint declaration that will be forwarded to the Latvian Sejm and government. The declaration is signed by representatives of 28 EU countries, and almost all parliamentary factions. Every 7th deputy supported the necessity of the Russian school education in Latvia. The document authors marked that this is unprecedented expression of solidarity towards the national minorities, especially Russian residents of the EU. Authors of the letter sharply criticize the education reform that takes away from children of national minorities the right to study in their native language.

On the other hand the parliament contradicts itself by rejecting a bill allowing election campaigning only in Latvian.

The matter is in parliamentary election will take part not only Latvians, speaking Lantvian, but Latvians, who speak Russian. Their voices are of great importance either. The authorities had to recognize this and tempered justice with mercy.

After years of oppressing Russian speaking population and violating their rights Saeima committee this month rejected a bill allowing election campaigning only in Latvian.

It turned out that politicians need ethnic Russians to achieve their political goals. They suddenly remembered that Campaigning Law should not promote discrimination because publicly active people should not have problems using the state language.

“Wise” deputies understand that Russian speaking children are not going to participate in the elections while Russian speaking adults can seriously damage political plans. Only this can explain the controversy in the Parliament’s decisions.

In Russia Riga’s decision to transfer the schools of national minorities to the Latvian language of teaching considers as unacceptable and could cause introduction of special economic measures against Latvia as well as condemnation by the international community.

So, Latvia’s on-going war against its residents also could become a reason for deterioration in attitudes not only with Russia but with EU and OSCE that will have unpleasant economic and political and even security consequences for Latvia. It is absolutely clear that making unfriendly steps towards own citizens and neighboring states, Latvia can not expect a normal attitude in return.

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