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Kosovo Boomerang: Transcaucasian Separatism

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Аt the very beginning of April 2016 the armed conflict between the Armenian and the Azerbaijani militaries was shortly renewed over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh – an autonomous province within Azerbaijan but in fact under direct military control by Armenia.

This event once again opened the question of the legitimacy of similar self-proclaimed independence cases around the world and international (non)recognition of such de facto quasi- and client-states (Transnistria, North Cyprus, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, West Sahara, South Sudan, East Timor…).[1] However, from the European perspective, three cases from the Caucasus (Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia) have to be firstly analysed in comparison with the Balkan case of Kosovo.

A Domino effect

After February 2008 when Kosovo Albanian-dominated parliament proclaimed Kosovo independence (without organizing a referenda) with obvious U.S. diplomatic support (unilateral recognition) with explanation that Kosovo case is unique in the World (i.e., it will be not repeated again) one can ask the question: is the problem of southern Serbian province of Kosovo really unique and surely unrepeatable in some other parts of the world as U.S. administration was trying to convince the rest of the international community?

Consequences of recognition of Kosovo independence by one (smaller) part of the international community are already (and going to be in the future) visible primarily in the Caucasus because of the very similar problems and situation in these two regions. At the Caucasus (where around 50 different ethnolinguistic groups are living together) self-proclaimed independence already was done by Abkhazia and South Ossetia during their wars of 1991−1993 against the central authorities of Georgia but up to the mid-2008 both of these two separatist regions from Georgia were not internationally recognized by any state in the world. The region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which proclaimed its own independence in 1991 from Azerbaijan with a full military and political support by Armenia, was also not recognized before Kosovo independence. We have to remember that separatist movements in the Caucasus in the 1990s occurred at the time when Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina proclaimed their own independence from Yugoslavia and have been soon recognized as the independent states and even became accepted members of the Council of Europe and the United Nations.[2]

However, only several months after self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo on February 17th, 2008 a wave of recognition of three Caucasus separatist states started as a classic example of a domino effect policy in the international relations. It has to be noticed that the experts from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed even in 2007 their real fear that in the case of U.S. and E.U. unilateral recognition of Kosovo independence the same unilateral diplomatic act could be implied by Russia (and other countries) by recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a matter of diplomatic compensation and as result of domino effect in the international relations. It is also known and from official O.S.C.E. sources that the Russian delegates in this pan-European security organization have been constantly warning before 2008 the West that such scenario is quite possible, but with one peculiarity: from 2007 they stopped to mention a possibility of Russian recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s self-proclaimed independence in 1991. It was most probably for the reason that Moscow did not want to spoil good relations with Azerbaijan – a country with huge reserves of natural gas and oil.[3]    

Kosovo

img kformapKosovo is the Balkan region which became during the last 150 years contested land between the Serb and Albanian nationalisms. The region (for the Serbs Kosovo and Metochia, for the Albanians Kosova or Kosovë), however, has different historical and national-cultural importance for these two nations.[4] For the Serbs, Kosovo is the “cradle of Serbia”[5] – a central and pivotal land in regard to their statehood and national identity as before the Ottoman occupation of Serbia in the mid-15th century it was exactly Kosovo to be administrative, political, cultural, religious and economic centre of the medieval Serbia. However, differently to the Serb case, for the Albanians this region was all the time of the marginal importance concerning their national identity and particularly statehood. That became the crucial reason why the Great European Powers did not include Kosovo into the newly (and for the first time in history) self-proclaimed the independent state of Albania (on November 28th, 1912) but recognized Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia after the Balkan Wars 1912−1913.  

Kosovo was the birthplace of Serbia as the powerful state but also and the place were Serbia lost its real independence to the Ottoman Turks after the Battle of Kosovo on June 28th, 1389. Contrary, the region means simply nothing for the Albanian statehood, but it became a birthplace of the Albanian territorial nationalism as it was the town of Prizren in Kosovo where in June 1878 the (First Albanian) Prizren League declared a Greater (Islamic) Albania as an autonomous province within the Ottoman Empire composed by Albania itself, Kosovo, the West Macedonia, the East Montenegro and the North-West Greece. This megalomania project, nevertheless, left up today to be for all kinds of the Albanian chauvinistic nationalists as the cornerstone of their political ideology of a Greater and ethnically pure (Islamic) Albania. This process of purification of Kosovo on both ethnic and confessional bases started by the Muslim Albanians immediately after the Prizren League session in 1878 and was continued during the WWII within the borders of Mussolini’s created Greater Albania when up to 20.000 Cristian Serbs were killed in the region followed by at least 100.000 expelled Serbs.

The Albanian terror against the Serbs was legalized by the Yugoslav authorities at the time of Kosovo’s very broad autonomy (in fact independence) from 1974 to 1989 but it received a form of genocide on Serbs and all other non-Albanians from the time of the N.A.T.O.’s occupation of Kosovo in June 1999 up today (the British, U.S., German, Italian and French military forces occupied a different sectors of Kosovo).[6] As a consequence, the ethnic Albanians today compose 97% of Kosovo’s population compared with only 2% in 1455 (according to the first Ottoman census).[7] On the other hand, Kosovo’s Albanians were politically oppressed by the Serb-led regimes during the interwar time (1919−1941), first two decades after the WWII and during the government of Slobodan Milosevic in the years of 1989−1998. However, for the matter of comparison, the Serb oppression had as a single aim just to prevent territorial separation of Kosovo from the rest of Serbia while the Albanian terror was inspired by much serious national goal: to ethnically clean Kosovo as a part of a Greater Albania.        

South Ossetia

On the first glance it can be said that the Orthodox South Ossetians are equally separatist as the Muslim Kosovo Albanians. However, the South Ossetians are having sympathies towards the Serbs (not because both of them are the Orthodox) but not towards, as we could expect, separatist Kosovo Albanians. The real reason of such sympathies are similar legal state rights applied by both the Serbs in Kosovo and the South Ossetians – the only European nation in the Caucasus.

Historically, South Ossetia (like Abkhazia) was never integral part of sovereign Georgian state, differently with Kosovo in its historical relations with Serbia as Kosovo was not only integral, but culturally and politically the most important and even administratively central region of the medieval Serbian state till 1455 when Kosovo became occupied by the Ottomans and a such away separated from the rest of Serbia. Shortly, Kosovo before the Ottoman occupation was historical, political, administrative, cultural and church centre of Serbia populated before 1700 exclusively by the Serbs (the Albanians came to Kosovo from Albania after 1700).

However, in comparison with Kosovo-Serbia relation case, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were never of any kind of centres of any kind of Georgian state as all the time they have been provincial (occupied) regions of Georgia even populated by different ethnolinguistic groups. Moreover, Georgia itself was never before entered Russia at the very beginning of the 19th century strongly and definitely united state territory, also differently to Serbia which up to its lost independence in 1459 was profoundly united with Kosovo as its national and state centre. Also, differently with Georgia, Serbia by herself and Russian military and diplomatic support regained her state de facto independence during the Serbian Revolution of 1804−1815 against the Ottoman Empire while Georgia was waiting to regain its own state independence for the time of self-destruction of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. It has to be noticed that the present day territory of Georgia entered Russia in parts – segment by segment. Ossetia as united territory (not divided into Northern and Southern as today situation is) became voluntarily part of the Russian Empire in 1774. The Russian Empress Catherin the Great (1762−1796), in order to be surely convinced that the Ossetians are really independent, before incorporation of this province into the Russian Empire sent a special commission which informed St. Petersburg that “the Ossetians are free people subordinated to no one” (what means not under any kind of the Georgian rule or subordination!).

Georgia itself became part of Russian Empire in 1804 (27 years later then Ossetia) being before that from 1783 a protectorate of the Russian Empire. This fact is the most important argument used by the South Ossetians in their dispute with the Georgian authorities. Differently to the Ossetians, Kosovo Albanians such argument do not have in relation to the Serbs. In is known that the Albanians started to settle themselves at the region of Kosovo from the present-day Northern Albania only after the First Serbian Great Migration from the region in 1689. It should be said as well that, according to several Byzantine and Arab sources, the Balkan Albanians are originating from the Caucasus Albania. In the other words, the Caucasus Albanians left in the 9th century their homeland (Dagestan and Azerbaijan) and have been settled by the Arabs in the West Sicily and the South Italy which they left in 1043 and came to the Balkans (to the present-day Central Albania). It means that the Albanians are not authentic Balkan people differently to the Serbs who are most probably one of the oldest Balkan nations (the aboriginal Balkan Illyrians).

Georgia declared its independence during the Russian Civil War in 1918, but became occupied by the Bolshevik Red Army in 1921. Georgia joined the U.S.S.R. next year as a part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Republic together with Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, Georgia became a separate Soviet Republic in 1936 like Armenia and Azerbaijan. The southern part of Ossetia (together with Abkhazia) was given to be administered by Georgia by decision of three Georgian Communists – Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (Jughashvili), Sergei Ordzonikidze and Avelj Enukindze. Nevertheless, between two parts of Ossetia (North and South) never was a state border before 1994.

img Caucasus

The people of South Ossetia on the referendum upon destiny of the U.S.S.R. on March 17th, 1991 voted for existence of Soviet Union (like the Serbs upon Yugoslavia, but and Kosovo Albanians on illegal referendum to become independent from Serbia like Georgians from the U.S.S.R.) that was a month before Georgia became independent from the USSR. The referendum on March 17th, 1991 was organized two months after the Georgian army started the war against South Ossetia in which till September of the same year 86 Ossetian villages have been burned. It is calculated that more than 1.000 Ossetians lost their lives and around 12.000 Ossetians emigrated from the South to the North Ossetia. This is the point of similarity with expelled around 250.000 Serbs from Kosovo by the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army after the NATO peace-keeping troops entered this province in June 1999 and legalized Muslim Albanian terror over the Christian Serbs and other non-Albanians.

An Independence of the Republic of South Ossetia was proclaimed on May 29th, 1992. However, this legal act has not been understood as a “separatist” because at that time Georgia was not recognized by no one state in the world as an independent one and Georgia was not a member of the United Nations. Oppositely to the South Ossetian case, Kosovo Albanian unilateral independence proclamation on February 18th, 2008 cannot be treated by the international community as a legal one (at least without a direct permission by Belgrade) as Kosovo by the international law and agreements is still an integral part of Serbia. Moreover, Serbia (differently from Georgia in May 1992) is internationally recognized independent state and a member of the United Nations. This is and common point of similarity between the Ossetians and the Serbs: both of them are fighting against separation of one part of national body and land from the motherland (Ossetia and Serbia).

Abkhazia

Abkhazia is a Caucasian province that was a part of the ex-USSR in the form of an Autonomous Soviet Republic within the Soviet Republic of Georgia. However, in comparison with Kosovo status as an Autonomous Province within Serbia from 1974 to 1989, Abkhazia did not reach even half of the rights and power as Kosovo had: President, Assembly, police forces, Academy of Science and Arts, Constitution (in direct opposition to the Constitution of Serbia) and even Territorial Defence forces (in fact the provincial army). Nevertheless, in April 1991 Abkhazia became a part of the self-proclaimed independent state of the Republic of Georgia, against the will of both the Abkhazian population of the Islamic denomination (at that time 18% out of all Abkhazian inhabitants) and Abkhazian Russian-speakers (14%). Subsequently, at least one third of Abkhazian population opposed its integration into the independent Georgia in 1991.

The conflict with Georgian central authorities started when the troops of the Muslim volunteers from neighbouring territories, but mainly from Chechnya, helped the local Abkhazian Muslims in their struggle against Tbilisi security forces. Georgia at that time was already involved into the civil war against the Ossetian separatists and for that reason seriously weakened. As a result of the conflict with the Abkhazian separatists, Tbilisi, which lost all control over Abkhazia, was finally forced to accept to be militarily defeated and therefore compelled to start political negotiations on extensive autonomy status of Abkhazia within sovereign Georgia. Ultimately, the negotiations between the Abkhazian government and Georgia became futile, and a very fragile peace was achieved under the civil supervision of the UN observers and the Russian military troops as a guarantor of the peace-treaty implementation.  

Georgia was obviously week to recover political control over the separatist republic of Abkhazia in the 1990s. The President Eduard Shevardnadze was ultimately only able to restore some order within Georgia which was at that time under de facto Russian protection and therefore with implicit political-military assistance by Russia. As a consequence, Shevardnadze signed an agreement with Russia on allowance of 20.000 Russian military troops to be present in two Georgian separatist republics alongside with the Russian right to use Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti.

The economic background of such pro-Russian policy by Shevardnadze is understood from the fact that at that time Georgia was in desperate need of direct Russian economic assistance that is quite visible from the very fact that in 1994 Georgia’s GDP declined to only 25% of its pre-independence level. As a direct Russian economic and financial help, Georgia’s economy became soon stabilized with controlled inflation and state spending reigned in.  

Nevertheless, it was clear that Georgia can maintain at least a formal authority over both South Ossetia and Abkhazia only being within the Russian sphere of influence in the region of Transcaucasia. Any change of the side would bring and de facto separation of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Tbilisi what in fact happened in reality in 2008 due to (irrational) pro-American policy by Mikhail Saakashvili – a leader of 2003 Georgian coloured revolution (the Rose Revolution) which finally removed Shevardnadze from power but six years later and Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia.            

International system of governing and separatist movements

The main argument for the western politicians upon Kosovo independence in 2008, as an “unique case” of Kosovo situation, is the fact that according to “Kumanovo Agreement” between Serbia and the N.A.T.O. signed on June 10th, 1999, and the U.N. Resolution 1244 (following this agreement), Kosovo was put under the U.N. protectorate with imposed international system of governing and security. However, such “argument” does not work in the case of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as the Ossetians and Abkhazians are governing their lands by themselves and much more successfully in comparison with “internationally” (i.e. the N.A.T.O.) protected Kosovo. It was quite visible in March 2004 when international organizations and military troops could not (i.e. did not want to) protect ethnic Serbs in Kosovo from violent attacks organized by the local Albanians when during three days (March 17−19th) 4,000 Serbs exiled, more than 800 Serbian houses are set on fire followed by 35 destroyed or severely damaged Serbian Orthodox churches and cultural monuments.

The “2004 March Pogrom” revealed the real situation in the region of Kosovo – a region which had to be under the effective protection by the international community. The position of the South Ossetians in the independent Georgia from 1991 to August 2008 could be compared with position of the Serbs in Kosovo after June 1999. Differently with Kosovo case after June 1999, or even after February 2008, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria showed much more political-legal bases to be recognized as the independent states as they showed real ability to govern themselves by only themselves but not by the international organizations as it is in the case of Kosovo. They also proved much more democracy and respect for human and minority rights in comparison with the Albanian-ruled Kosovo Republic which is in fact transformed into the Islamic State of Kosovo (Kosovo I.S.I.L.).

Nagorno-Karabakh

img map1The region of Nagorno-Karabakh is the most contested conflict-area in Trancaucasia during the last three decades. It became a part of Azerbaijan with an autonomous status in 1936 within the Soviet Union but not a part of Armenian Socialist Republic established as such also in 1936 as one of 15 socialist republics of the U.S.S.R. During the whole time of the existence of the Soviet Union there were tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia over enclave (province) of Nagorno-Karabakh which was at the Soviet time populated by Islamic Azeri majority and the Christian Orthodox Armenian minority. However, the enclave was historically with majority of the Armenian population but due to the Islamic terror the Christian Armenians became a minority on their own land what happen as the same with the Christian Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo in relations to the Muslim Albanians. For the Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh enclave was unjustifiably separated from Armenia by the Soviet authorities and included into Azerbaijan in order to keep good political relations with neighbouring Turkey. The Serbs, similarly to the Armenians in regard to Nagorno-Karabakh, were complaining about the same practice with regard to Kosovo status from 1974 to 1989 when the “cradle of Serbia” was practically teared off from the rest of the motherland and granted actual independence from Serbia having much stronger relations with the neighbouring Albania than with Serbia.

The frictions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh ultimately led to the open bloody war mostly within the enclave which started in 1989 when the central Soviet authorities already have been in the process of collapsing. The war led in 1993 to the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and some strategic territory of Azerbaijan.[8] Consequently, Armenia became cut off from Azerbaijani oil supplies and as naturally being devoid of mineral resources or fertile soil Armenian economy collapsed in the mid-1990s. For instance, Armenian GDP had fallen to 33% of its 1990 level followed by the inflation of 4000%. Naturally, as politically supported by Moscow, the Armenian economy became mostly oriented toward Russia: for instance, 60% of Armenia’s export went to the Russian market. Up today, Armenia was not directly attacked by Turkey exactly for the reason that it is politically but also and militarily protected by Russia whose armed forces are located on the territory of Armenia nearby Turkey’s border.            

There are several similarities but also and great dissimilarities between conflicts upon Nagorno-Karabakh in Transcaucasia and Kosovo at the Balkans.

In both cases the international community is dealing with autonomy of compact national minority who is making a majority on the land in question and already having its own national independent state which is bordering this contested territory. Both Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians and Kosovo Albanians do not want to accept any other solution except separation and internationally recognized independence. Both conflicts are in fact continuations of old historic struggles between two different civilizations: the Muslim Turkish and the Christian Byzantine. In both conflicts the international organizations are included as the mediators. Some of them are the same – France, U.S.A. and Russia as members of both Contact Groups for ex-Yugoslavia and Minsk Group under the O.S.C.E. umbrella for Azerbaijan. Both Serbia and Azerbaijan have been against that their problem-cases (Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh) would be proclaimed by some kind of the “international community” (the U.N., the E.U., the O.S.C.E., etc.) as the “unique” cases as it would be (as the Kosovo Albanians already proved on February 18th, 2008) a green light to the Albanian and the Armenian separatists to secede their territories from Serbia and Azerbaijan without permission given by Belgrade and Baku.

However, there are and significant differences between Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh cases. Kosovo is internal conflict within Serbia (which is after June 1999 internationalized) but in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh we have to speak about external military aggression (by Armenia). In difference to Armenia in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh, Albania formally never accepted any legal act in which Kosovo was called as integral part of state territory of Albania (with historical exception during the Second World War when Kosovo, the East Montenegro and the West Macedonia have been included into Mussolini’s sponsored and protected “Greater Albania”). Delegation from Albania did not take any participation in the talks and negotiations upon the “final” status of Kosovo between Pristina and Belgrade in 2007, while Armenia has official status of “interested side” in the conflict concerning Nagorno-Karabakh. However, the Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh such status still did not obtain. Official regular army of Albania never was involved in Kosovo conflict (differently from great number of volunteers from Albania), while Armenia’s army (i.e. from the state of Armenia) was directly involved in the military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh from the very beginning of the conflict, but officially part of the independent state of Azerbaijan. As a result, Armenia occupied 1/5 of Azerbaijani territory and the victims of ethnic cleansing are primarily the Azeri as more than one million of them are being displaced as a result of the hostilities.

Differently to the case of Nagorno-Karabakh’s conflict, in which the main victims became a former majority population (the Muslim Azeri), in Kosovo case the principal victims of the war are the Christian Serbs as a minority population of the province. Nevertheless, differently from Kosovo case, weaker Azerbaijani side did not apply to the N.A.T.O. for the military help, but a weaker Albanian side did it during the Kosovo conflict in 1998−1999 and only due to the N.A.T.O.’s military intervention on the Albanian side and direct military occupation of Kosovo after the war it was possible for the Albanians to commit almost a full scale of the ethnic cleansing of the province during the first five years after the war (up to the end of March 2004).[9]  

Conclusions

It can be concluded that the Albanian unilaterally proclaimed Kosovo independence in February 2008 is not at all “unique” case in the world without direct consequences to similar separatist cases following the “domino effect” (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, South Sudan…). That is the real reason why, for instance, the government of Cyprus is not supporting “Kosovo Albanian rights to self-determination” as the next “unique” case can be easily northern (Turkish) part of Cyprus which is by the way already recognized by the Republic of Turkey and under de facto Ankara’s protection. Or even the better example: the Spanish government does not want to recognize Kosovo independence for the very “Catalan” reason as a domino effect of separatism can be easily spilled over to the Iberian Peninsula.

There are around 200 territorial-national separatist movements around the world for whom the case of Kosovo “precedent” is going to serve as the best moral and legal foundation for their own independence. Subsequently, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized by now by three non-U.N.’s member states according to Kosovo’s pattern: Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Furthermore, in 2012 (four years after Kosovo’s independence proclamation), a member of Uruguay’s foreign relations committee stated that his country could recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence and the Parliament of New South Wales (Australia) called upon the Australian government to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh. Two other Transcaucasian separatist republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia became like Nagorno-Karabakh recognized after Kosovo’s independence proclamation in 2008 by several states and quasi-states: Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Abkhazia and South Ossetia (each other).

In sum, Kosovo’s independence proclamation in February 2008 became in fact not “precedent” as the U.S.’s and the E.U.’s administration declared: it became rather a boomerang example of “domino effect” in the international relations. The case of Crimea in 2014 was in this respect quite clear: the Crimean popular self-determination rights to separate peninsula from Ukraine and to become part of Russia were at least formally founded on the same rights used by Kosovo’s Albanians (as majority in the province) to proclaim the state independence from Serbia.   


ENDNOTES

[1] On quasi-states, see [Pål Kolstø, “The Sustainability and Future of Unrecognized Quasi-States”, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 43, no. 6, 2006, 723−740].

[2] On the Caucasian geopolitics, see [Chorbajian Levon, Patrick Donabedian, Claude Mutafian, The Caucasian Knot, Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Zed., 1994; Jorge Heine, “The Conflict in the Caucasus: Causing a New Cold War?”, India Quarterly: A Journal of International Affairs, vol. 65, no. 1, 2009, 55−66].

[3] On the issue of connection between geopolitics and energy, see [Klare Michael, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008].

[4] However, in the western academic literature on Kosovo as disputed land between the Serbs and the Albanians, usually the region is wrongly presented as central for both nationalities concerning their cultural identity [Jan Palmowski, Dictionary of Contemporary World History from 1900 to the Present Day, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 354].

[5] Радован Самарџић и други, Косово и Метохија у српској историји, Београд: СКЗ, 1989, 5−46.

[6] On this issue, see [Dragan Kojadinović (ed.), The March Pogrom in Kosovo and Metohija (March 17-19, 2004) with a survey of destroyed and endangered Christian cultural heritage, Belgrade: Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia, 2004; Мирко Чупић, Отета земља. Косово и Метохија (злочини, прогони, отпори), Београд: Нолит, 2006; Hannes Hofbauer, Experiment Kosovo. Die Rückker des Kolonialismus, Wien, 2008].

[7] On the issue of Kosovo War in 1998−1999 and the Albanian terror after the war, see [Judah Tim, Kosovo: War and Revenge, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000].

[8] On the Armenian approach to the conflict, see [Armenian Center for National and International Studies, Nagorno Karabagh: A White Paper, Yerevan: ACNIS, 2008].

[9] On the conflict on Nagorno-Karabakh, see [Moorad Mooradian, Daniel Druckman, “Hurting Stalemate or Mediation? The Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, 1990−95”, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 36, no. 6, 1999, 709−727].

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Eastern Europe

Lithuanians fight for silence

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The Ministry of Defence of Denmark has made an important decision supporting human rights of Danish citizens.

Thus, Denmark’s new fleet of F-35s, which are to replace the F-16s currently in use, will arrive at Skrydstrup air base in South Jutland starting in 2023. When the new air force is finally ready, far more neighbours will be bothered by the noise exceeding limit values, calculations by the Danish Defence Ministry show. The 100 worst-affected homes will have to suffer noise levels of over 100 decibels, which is comparable to a rock concert or a busy motorway.

The noise pollution from F-35s is projected to exceed that of the F-16s, though noise pollution from F-16 also bother locals. Discontent of citizens reduced their confidence not only in the Ministry of Defence but in their current government and NATO as well.

Thus decided to compensate the victims.This step has improved the image of the armed forces and showed the population the care that the Ministry of Defense shows to a residents of the country.

A similar situation has developed in Lithuania. Lithuanian citizens demand compensation from the Ministry of National Defense due to high noise level made by fighter flights from Šiauliai airbase as part of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing.

Lithuania is a NATO member state and contribute to the collective defence of the Alliance. Thus, Šiauliai airbase hosts fighter jets that conduct missions of the NATO’s Baltic Air Policing.
Citizens also initiated on-line petitions in order to attract supporters and demonstrate their strong will to fight violation of human rights in Lithuania.

According to peticijos.lt, the petition was viewed more than 5 thousand times. This shows great interest of Lithuanian society in the subject.At the same time existing control over any political activity, as well as silence of current government and Ministry of National Defence don’t allow people openly support such idea. All websites with petitions demand the provision of personal data. Nobody wants to be punished and executed.

The lack of response is not a very good position of the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence in case Lithuania wants to prove the existence of democracy. Denmark is a prime example of a democratic society caring for its people.

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Eastern Europe

Georgia Returns to the Old New Silk Road

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Georgia has historically been at the edge of empires. This has been both an asset and a hindrance to the development of the country. Hindrance because Georgia’s geography requires major investments to override its mountains, gorges and rivers. An asset because Georgia’s location allowed the country from time to time to position itself as a major transit territory between Europe and the Central Asia, and China further away.

This geographic paradigm has been well in play in shaping Georgia’s geopolitical position even since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the rise of modern technologies. Thereafter, Georgia has been playing a rebalancing game by turning to other regional powers to counter the resurgent Russia. Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran (partly) and bigger players such as the EU and the US are those which have their own interest in the South Caucasus. However, over the past several years yet another power, China, with its still evolving Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has been slowly emerging in the South Caucasus.

This how a new Silk Road concept gradually emerged at the borders of Georgia. In fact, a closer look at historical sources from the ancient, medieval or even 15th-19th cc. history of Georgia shows an unchanged pattern of major trade routes running to the south, west, east and north of Georgia. Those routes were usually connected to outer Middle East, Central Asia, and the Russian hinterland.

Only rarely did the routes include parts of the Georgian land and, when it happened, it lasted for merely a short period of time as geography precluded transit through Georgia: the Caucasus Mountains and seas constrained movement, while general geographic knowledge for centuries remained limited.

It was only in the 11th-12th cc. that Georgian kings, David IV, Giorgi III and Queen Tamar, spent decades of their rule trying to gain control over neighboring territories with the goal to control the famous Silk Roads. Since, foreign invasions (Mongols, Ottomans, Persians, Russians) have largely prevented Georgia from playing a major transit role for transcontinental trade.

This lasted until the break-up of the Soviet Union. After 1991, Georgia has returned to its positioning between the Black and Caspian seas, between Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Major roads, pipelines and railway lines go through Georgian territory. Moreover, major works are being done to expand and build existing and new Georgian ports on the Black Sea with the potential to transform Georgia into a sea trade hub.

A good representation of Georgia’s rising position on the Silk Road was a major event held in Tbilisi on October 22-23 when up to 2000 politicians, potential investors from all over the world, visited the Georgian capital. The event was held for the third time since 2015 and attracted due attention. In total, 300 different meetings were held during the event.

The hosting of the event underscores how Georgia has recently upped its historical role as a regional hub connecting Europe and Asia. On the map, it is in fact the shortest route between China and Europe. There is a revitalization of the ancient Silk Road taking place in Georgia. This could in turn make the country an increasingly attractive destination for foreign investment. Indeed, the regional context also helps Tbilisi to position itself, as Georgia has Free Trade Agreements with Turkey, the CIS countries, the EFTA and China and a DCFTA with the European Union, comprising a 2.3 billion consumer market.

Thus, from a historical perspective, the modern Silk Road concept emanating from China arguably represents the biggest opportunity Georgia has had since the dissolution of the unified Georgian monarchy in 1490 when major roads criss-crossed the Georgian territory. In the future, when/if successive Georgian governments continue to carry out large infrastructural projects (roads, railways, sea ports), Tbilisi will be able to use those modern ‘Silk Roads’ to its geopolitical benefit, namely, gain bigger security guarantees from various global and regional powers to uphold its territorial integrity.

Author’s note: First published in Georgia Today

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Eastern Europe

Strategic Black Sea falls by the wayside in impeachment controversy

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Presidents Donald J. Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a plateful of thorny issues on their agenda when they met in the White House this week.

None of the issues, including Turkey’s recent invasion of northern Syria, its acquisition of a Russian anti-missile system and its close ties to Russia and Iran, appear to have been resolved during the meeting between the two men in which five Republican senators critical of Turkey participated.

The failure to narrow differences didn’t stop Mr. Trump from declaring that “we’ve been friends for a long time, almost from day-one. We understand each other’s country. We understand where we are coming from.”

Mr. Trump’s display of empathy for an illiberal leader was however not the only tell-tale sign of the president’s instincts. So was what was not on the two men’s agenda: security in the Black Sea that lies at the crossroads of Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and NATO member Turkey.

The Black Sea is a flashpoint in multiple disputes involving Russia and its civilizationalist definition of a Russian world that stretches far beyond the country’s internationally recognized borders and justifies its interventions in Black Sea littoral states like Ukraine and Georgia.

The significance of the absence of the Black Sea on the White House agenda is magnified by the disclosure days earlier that Mr. Trump had initially cancelled a US freedom of navigation naval mission in the Black Sea after CNN had portrayed it as American pushback in the region.

The disclosure came in a transcript of closed-door testimony in the US House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry of Mr. Trump’s policy towards Ukraine by Christopher Anderson, a former advisor to Kurt Volker, the US special representative to Ukraine until he resigned in September.

Mr. Anderson testified that Mr. Trump phoned his then national security advisor, John Bolton, at home to complain about the CNN story. He said the story prompted the president to cancel the routine operation of which Turkey had already been notified.

The cancellation occurred at a moment that reports were circulating in the State Department about an effort to review US assistance to Ukraine.

“We met with Ambassador Bolton and discussed this, and he made it clear that the president had called him to complain about that news report… I can’t speculate as to why…but that…operation was cancelled, but then we were able to get a second one for later in February. And we had an Arleigh-class destroyer arrive in Odessa on the fifth anniversary of the Crimea invasion,” Mr. Anderson said.

The operation was cancelled weeks after the Russian coast guard fired on Ukrainian vessels transiting the Strait of Kerch that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov and separates Russian-annexed Crimea from Russian mainland. ‘This was a dramatic escalation,” Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Trump at the time put a temporary hold on a condemnatory statement similar to ones that had been issued by America’s European allies. Ultimately, statements were issued by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley but not by the White House.

The Black Sea’s absence in Mr. Trump’s talks with the Turkish leader coupled with the initial cancellation of the freedom of navigation operation, the initially meek US response to the Strait of Kerch incident, and the fallout of the impeachment inquiry do little to inspire confidence in US policy in key Black Sea countries that include not only Turkey, Ukraine and Georgia, a strategic gateway to Central Asia, but also NATO members Bulgaria and Romania.

In Georgia, protesters gathered this week outside of parliament after lawmakers failed to pass a constitutional amendment that would have introduced a proportional election system in advance of elections scheduled for next year.

The amendment was one demand of protesters that have taken to the streets in Georgia since June in demonstrations that at times included anti-Russian slogans.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in 2008 and Russia has since recognized the self-declared independence of two Georgian regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Some 1500 US troops participated in June in annual joint exercises with the Georgian military that were originally initiated to prepare Georgian units for service in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The absence of the Black Sea in Mr. Trump’s talks with Mr. Erdogan raises the spectre that the region could become a victim of the partisan divide in Washington and/or Mr. Trump’s political priorities.

The Republican-dominated US Senate has yet to consider a bipartisan Georgia Support Act that was last month passed by the House of Representatives. The act would significantly strengthen US defense, economic, and cyber security ties with Georgia.

A Chinese delegation that included representatives of several Chinese-led business associations as well as mobile operator China Unicom visited the breakaway republic of Abkhazia this week to discuss the creation of a special trade zone to manufacture cell phones as well as electric cars.

The Black Sea is one region where the United States cannot afford to sow doubt. The damage, however, may already have been done.

Warned Black Sea security scholar Iulia-Sabina Joja in a recent study: “The region is (already) inhospitable for Western countries as they struggle to provide security… The primary cause of this insecurity is the Russian Federation… Today, Russia uses its enhanced Black Sea capabilities not only to destabilize the region militarily, politically, and economically, but also to move borders, acquire territory, and project power into the Mediterranean.”

Ms. Joja went on to suggest that “a common threat assessment of NATO members and partners is the key to a stable Black Sea. Only by exploring common ground and working towards shared deterrence can they enhance regional security.”

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