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The situation in Ukraine

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The conflict between the Russian Federation and the Ukrainian government is the point of greatest tension, but also of EU weakness  towards its East, as well as the point of greatest tension between Russia and Europe still today.

The European Union cannot solve this problem, just because it currently has the same armies that ironically Stalin asked the Pope to have – hence it will be closed to its East.

Unlike Jason and his Argonauts – owing to the clash going on in Ukraine –  Europe will not be able to find the “Golden Fleece”.

And the “Golden Fleece” is the beginning of the Greek myth: Jason who travelled to Colchis to look for gold – an initiation theme – and married the sorceress Medea. Now Europe is depriving itself of the new way of communication with the land of Colchis to accept the orders of a power that is obviously doing its utmost to harm the EU, the Euro, the EU  exports, etc.

Currently none of the two main parties, namely Russia and Ukraine, has any intention to implement or at least to formally comply with the Minsk II agreements of February 2015.

In what did those agreements consist? It will be worth recalling the  origins and the development of the conflict.

After the various “Orange Revolutions” of February 2014 – which were US operations – when the long wave of protests called the Euromaidan movement culminated in the removal of the regularly elected President Viktor Yanukovych, violent riots broke out in the Eastern part of the country – traditionally the region most linked to the Russian-speaking world and the Russian culture.

The Ukrainian activists of the pro-Russian Eastern region feared the marginalization – and hence the future ban – of the Russian language and also rejected the new resurgence of Ukrainian nationalism, traditionally linked to the Third Reich and the Nazi mythologies.

 At that juncture the armed insurgency took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and spread also to the other cities of the Russian-speaking neighboring regions. Indeed, most of the Ukrainian people is Russian-speaking.

 At the end of summer 2014 a real war broke out between the Ukrainian armed forces and the rebels operating within the “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk.

 Hence, in late August 2014, Ukraine decided to proceed with a diplomatic solution.

 It was the typical problem of the Ukrainian forces since they were badly organized, badly trained and could not face the rebels of the two “pro-Russian” Republics, who were much better organized and optimally motivated.

 Finally, on September 5, 2014,  the representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as the OSCE observer, gathered in the capital of Belarus and signed the Protocol called “Minsk-I”.

 It was essentially an agreement for the ceasefire and the exchange of prisoners.

 Ukraine promised to adopt a law on the special status of the two regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

 From the very beginning it was an agreement written in the sand. Meanwhile clashes and firefights went on, in addition to bombings on the inhabited centres.

 Nevertheless it was in January 2015 that tension mounted again.

  The reason lay in the fact that the Ukrainian military, who came to the region in force, planned to fully reconquer the Donbass, while the “rebels” of Donetsk and Luhansk, too, thought they could expand the territory of their own pro-Russian republics.

 On both sides, however, the forces on the field were not enough to achieve their respective goals.

 And the Donetsk and Luhansk military fought very well, albeit with a much lower number of soldiers than the Ukrainian army.

 Ukraine, however, decided to resume diplomatic negotiations.

 Therefore the above stated “Minsk-II” agreement was signed by Russia, Ukraine, the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, France, Germany, the usual OECD observers and the delegates from the other secessionist Ukrainian provinces, which had not been officially invited to the meeting.

Everything happened on February 12, 2015 in the Belarusian capital – as was the case with the Minsk-I agreement – in the sumptuous Independence Palace. It was an agreement envisaging 13 points: 1) immediate and full ceasefire in the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk as from midnight on February 15; 2) pull-out of all heavy weapons and withdrawal of troops by both sides with the aim of creating a security zone on minimum 50 kilometers apart for artillery and 140 kilometers for multiple rocket launchers. However, the pullout of the above-mentioned heavy weapons had to begin no later than the second day after the start of the ceasefire and finish within 14 days. The process had to be assisted by OSCE with the support of the Trilateral Contact Group; 3) OSCE effective monitoring and verification of the ceasefire and pullout of heavy weapons from the first day of pullout; 4) on the first day after the pullout a dialogue had to start on the ways for conducting local elections in accordance with the Ukrainian law and the Minsk I agreements in the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk; 5) pardon and amnesty had to be provided by means of a law forbidding persecution and punishment of people in relation to the events that took place in the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk; 6) the release and the exchange of all prisoners and illegally held persons had to be ensured; 7) safe access, delivery, storage and distribution of humanitarian aid to the needy had to be provided on the basis of international rules and mechanisms; 8) definition of the ways to fully restore social and economic relations and connections, including social transfers such as payments of pensions, wages and welfare benefits; 9) restoring full control of the State border to the Ukrainian government in the whole conflict zone; 10) pullout of all foreign armed formations, military equipment and also mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under OSCE supervision, as well as disarmament of all illegal groups; 11) constitutional reform in Ukraine, with a new Constitution the key element of which had to be  decentralization and also approval of permanent legislation on the special status of the Donetsk and Luhansk districts; 12) the issues related to local elections had to be discussed and agreed upon by Ukraine with the representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk districts; 13) intensification of the activities of the Trilateral Contact Group.

 It was a weak agreement, just to play for time.

  An agreement that was reached also thanks to a very strong pressure put by France and Germany.

 The Minsk-II agreement was a rift between the Franco-German axis and the US interest, which had previously dominated the European strategy.

 This was the core of the matter at that stage.

 The United States was thinking of a new war to make the Russian Federation think twice and see reason since – after the USSR collapse – Russia had not resigned itself and adapted to be the poor Asian country depending on the IMF’s and World Bank’s funds and selling its oil and minerals off.

 As Francesco Cossiga said, however, “Americans are always about to wage a war and later, when they are stuck in it, they do not know how to break through”.

 Least of all, the United States wanted to join the Eurasian peninsula and the “Greater Russia”, according to Zbigniew Brzezinsky’s old idea.

 It would be the end of its geopolitical project.

 Furthermore, Ukraine is the contact point between the Russian Federation and the EU area that has accepted the US missile rearmament and “signal war” programme in Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania.

 As said in the United States, it is formally positioned “against the Iranian missiles”, but no one is so naive not to understand what this new positioning is really for.

 It is from Ukraine that the safety and security of those installations is controlled and that we can react to a possible attack by Russia and its allies on the US bases at the edges of the Russian Federation.

 It is worth clarifying that they are US and not NATO installations.

 The United States has also de facto declared war on Russia, with Resolution No. 758 of the US Congress adopted on December 4, 2014.

 A resolution stating that Russia was an “aggressor State” that had invaded Ukraine and ordered the shooting down of the MH17 flight of Malaysian Airlines that took place on July 17, 2014 – something which is still uncertain. Furthermore the Resolution called upon NATO to apply Article  5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, should Russia invade Ukraine.

 Yet there is a not negligible fact to consider: Ukraine is not a member of  NATO.

  Considering the aforementioned Resolution, the US President could legally declare war on Russia without requiring further authorizations from the House of Representatives and the Senate.

 The Pentagon sent 100 tanks to Eastern Europe shortly after voting on that Resolution, while the Ukrainian government was full of strange characters at that stage such as Natalia Jaresko, US citizen, Minister for Economy until April 2016 and Aivaras Abromavicius, a Lithuanian citizen and investment banker, married to a Ukrainian lady, who resigned on February 3, 2016. Without fearing of falling into the temptation of “conspiracism”, it is also worth recalling that George Soros, the point of reference of the many foreigners present in the Ukrainian government at the time, publicly stated in a CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria on May 25, 2014 that he had funded the Euromaidan coup.

 In Resolution 758 there is also an explicit reference to Georgia and Moldova, which could be treated by the USA as points of friction and attrition against the Russian Federation if the situation in Ukraine developed  according to the best predictions.

 Said points could cause a US war against the Russian Federation just as with Ukraine.

 Nevertheless let us revert to the Franco-German axis in the Minsk-II agreements.

 There were three sets of reasons for the finally vigorous behaviour  of the Franco-German duo. Firstly, since September 2015, the pro-Russian  militias had tripled their control area up to the Sea of Azov. Secondly, 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers were trapped in the Debaltsevo bulge and, southwards, the neo-Nazis soldiers – particularly loved by US Senator McCain – were encircled by the pro-Russian militias of the Azov division.

 Thirdly, the increasingly disorganized Ukrainian army could certainly not reconquer the Donbass.

The defeat of the Ukrainian Armed Forces marked the end of the project – nurtured in the EU Eastern region – of a new Hanseatic League that would unite the rich and powerful German-Baltic-Polish North to the fertile lands of the Golden Fleece, namely Ukraine.

 This was precisely the “dream” that had convinced Germany to accept the US policy line on Ukraine.

 In an infra-European perspective, said project was also a German way to clearly oppose the EU Mediterranean areas.

 The idea was to have an autonomous sea of reference and leave the Mediterranean to the poor Southern European countries, deprived of means and resources, as well as flooded by African migrants and overburdened by massive public debt.

 Nevertheless even if the United States had provided more weapons to Ukraine, no success would have been recorded by the anti-Russian front on the ground.

 In that case, it was Angela Merkel who flew to Putin’s Russia to ask for putting an end to the conflict and later visited President Obama to stop the transfers of weapons to Ukraine.

 President Obama always hoped that the truce would fail, while Putin did not need it because he was already the strongest on the ground.

  Currently Russia can control NATO’s Southern Flank from Crimea – which was not illegally annexed, as Western documents repeatedly state –  including remote control from the US missile base in Devreselu, Romania.

 With the appropriate security of the area, Russia can always exert control again from Crimea and also from the “friendly” Ukraine.

 Ukraine could be an irrenounceable asset also for the Atlantic Alliance, as Western military stations in that country could control the axis stretching from Novorossisk to Sevastopol, the real key connection for Russia in the region.

 Said axis is decisive also for Russia’s operations in Syria.

 At economic level, the clash between Ukraine and Russia is also very dangerous for Russia’s gas distribution to the EU.

 The Russian Federation cannot use the natural gas it exports to Europe as a real tool for political pressure, considering the magnitude of the clashes that block any influence action outside the Ukrainian area.

   Furthermore Russia tends to support two pipeline projects encircling  Ukraine, namely Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream.

 The Nord Stream 2 pipeline stretches from Narva Bay, Russia, on the border between Finland and the Baltic countries, up to Lubmin, along the German coast on the border with Denmark.

 The TurkStream pipeline stretches from Anapa in the Krasnodar region, Southern Russia, up to Kiyikoiy in the Turkish Thrace after crossing the Black Sea.

 The recently reactivated Turkstream pipeline will above all meet the Turkish interest. It will naturally join the TransAdriaticPipeline (TAP) and reach Italy, thanks to the Turkish Botas carrier, without infringing the EU rules that accept the crazy sanctions against the Russian Federation.

 However, we still need to be careful: on August 2 last, President Trump’s Administration signed a new law called “Countering America’s Adversary Through Sanctions Act”, which extends the energy sanctions against Russia significantly.

 The Russian strategic logic in Ukraine basically works on the assumption that the breaking of trade and economic ties with Russia and the loss of the Donbass are the beginning of default for the Ukrainian economy.

 Ukraine, however, is still able to acquire resources from both the  International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, regardless of the problematic situation of its economy.

 Until when, however, the interests of the United States and its ever less  convinced allies will be such in that region as to afford the costs for maintaining a failed state such as Ukrain,e which is not even capable of waging a real proxy war against the Russian Federation?

 The Russian economy finds it hard to back the war in Ukraine, but it cannot certainly withdraw from the conflict.

 The war stagnation, however, now favours the Ukrainian Republic, which is supported by the United States and the international financial institutions, while Russia is still constrained by international sanctions and the stagnation of the oil price, which is yet showing some signs of recovery.

 Hence, as Italians and Europeans, are we interested in following Zbi Brzezinsky’s old geostrategic psychosis, which keeps us in check and slave  at any price to the United States? Or can we finally think for ourselves with the independence of mind to open the doors to the Russian economy, without having to pay this now meaningless seventy-year-long tax to those who won the Second World War (and made us pay it also immediately afterwards)?

 Hence, we can assume a further strategic separation between the two  NATO mainstays, namely Europe and the United States, with the EU putting an end to sanctions. Or we can assume a heroic exit – the only possible today – of Putin who decides to launch the final attack on current Ukraine so as to later redesign the geopolitics of the Great Mediterranean region.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Eastern Europe

Moldova: Time to Overwrite the Mind Traps

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Image By Andrez1 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39746488

Moldova is usually assigned the title of the poorest country in Europe mired in financial and corruption scandals. The ’frozen’ Transnistrian conflict is said to further divide the country between chimeric pro-Russian and pro-Western camps. Oligarchs are blamed for having captured the state and preventing democracy to flourish; and so goes on the litany of reputational prejudices about Moldova.

Although these clichés hold some water, they have generated mind traps and have prevented any alternative reading of Moldova. Caught in a thug of war between Brussels and Moscow, Europe has three options on how to approach Moldova: oppose Moscow on Moldovan territory; scale back its engagement; or honour its commitment to strengthen the rule of law and deepen economic cooperation with Chisinau. The last option requires the political maturity to accept that Chisinau can be a partner of both Brussels and Moscow.

The Bright Side of Scandals

Moldova made headlines in 2014 when the banking sector was defrauded of one billion dollars. Courtesy of the testimony of one oligarch, Ilan Shor, who himself has been convicted of involvement in the fraud, the former Prime Minister Vlad Filat was convicted and sentenced to nine years imprisonment. Despite his own conviction, Ilan Shoris now the mayor of the small town of Orhei, heads the Shor party and recently won a seat in the parliament. For many, this was a typical “à la moldave” scenario where most of the thieves got off scot-free whilst only one sits behind bars. Taken from another angle, even though Ilan Shor has been granted some form of witness protection and has escaped punishment himself, at least some part of the truth has been divulged and justice has been partly served. Following Shor’s revelations about the scandal, people took the streets and a citizen movement emerged under the name of Dignity and Truth, now a political party headed by politician Andrei Nastase.

The one-billion theft has understandably attracted a lot of public attention, as did the role of Moldova in the Russian Laundromat, a scheme that laundered tens of USD billions from Russia between 2010 and 2014, involving over one hundred countries. Following these two scandals, Moldova launched a large package of reforms of its banking and judiciary systems, and put in place a National Integrity and Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2017-2020. These improvements have not gone unnoticed: the World Bank extolled the efforts of the National Bank of Moldova and the country’s economic progress, which should boost investors’ trust. Furthermore, criminal activities, such as smuggling, have been curtailed thanks to international cooperation, but the grey zone of Transnistria remains a thorn in Moldovan development.

Transnistria – A Peaceful Frozen Conflict

The active phase of the short 1992conflict lasted four months and left a thousand people dead. Due to the prolonged absence of military engagement, the situation was branded as a frozen conflict – thisvague concept was coined to qualify the blurry simmering situations of violence that followedthe several wars in various post soviet republics. As time passed, the term conflict has become redundant in the context of Transnistria; not much is frozen: population travels freely, students from Transnistria study in Chisinau and Transnistrians voted for the first time in the most recent February elections. There is a need to rethink our reading of this so called frozen conflict in Transnistria – violence is unlikely to resume between Tiraspol and Chisinau as long as escalating tensions between Moscow and Brussels do not boil over.

Former Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Osmochescu, asserts that the settlement was on right track with the 1992 Settlement Agreement, although he questions the decision to include Transnistrian representatives in the joint commission as it eventually gave Russia – allied with Tiraspol – the upper hand. The former diplomat is convinced that settlement dialogue should only include Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Moldova, excluding Tiraspol authorities that continue to insist on international recognition as a state. It is highly unlikely that European countries will recognize Transnistria owing to the fact that the EU Council has adopted restriction measures against the leadership of Transnistria for stalling progress of the political settlement.

Thecurrent process is a 5+2 settlement format, named after its composition including 5 negotiators (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, Moldova and Transnistria) + 2 observers (EU and US). Unfortunately it has not yielded any meaningful results with the tensions between Russia and the West increasingly running counter-productive to the intent of the mechanism. During the recent conference on Transnistria, Russian academic Natalia Kharitonova underlined the unprecedented situation whereby relations between the external participants to the settlement process are far worse than between the parties to the conflict.

Today, some observers claim that a new conflict is poised because of Russian troops’ presence in Transnistria and in 2018 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution introduced by Moldova on the withdrawal of foreign troops, specifically targeting Russian troop and armament presence. These elements demonstrate that Transnistria is being utilised by both the West and Russia in pursuit of their own strategic objectives and, arguably, Transnistria is more an international affair than an internal one.

An Unhelpful International Involvement

For decades the presence of Russian troops in Transnistria has been a major concern for NATO, which has been amplified by the situation in Ukraine; and in its efforts to counter Russia, NATO opened an Information Office in Chisinau in December 2017. In view of the militarisation of the region and the recent collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF),the NATO-Russia confrontation directly affects Moldovan sovereignty and security. The Foreign Policy Advisor to the President, Mr Ciocoi, acknowledged that his country is trapped between a rock and a hard place:‘as a constitutionally neutral country, we are not pleased with the presence of Russian troops or NATO on our soil. It is a legacy of the past and a consequence of today’s geopolitical realities. We have to deal with it.’

With most international efforts focusing on security issues and more recently on the fight against so-called Russian propaganda, little effort has been comparatively made to promote sustainable economic development and the rule of law in Moldova. Moldovans’ daily concern is about making ends meet and employment, whilst Brussels and Moscow use the carrot and stick approach to promote their policies. Using economic incentives and sanctions, Brussels and Moscow are forcing Chisinau to choose between the West and the East. This dilemma is leading nowhere as Moldova is both West and East with the country depending on Russia for its energy and the EU market to export its goods. No reasonable politician or businessman in Moldova today embraces a west or east approach, but all favour a mixed approach. It is thus misleading to label President Dodon as a pro-Russian or the tycoon Plahotniuc as a pro-Western.

Blame it on the Rich

An oligarch turned politician, Vlad Plahotniuc presides over the Democratic Party, which won 30 seats at the recent parliamentary elections. Often described as the puppet-master who captured the state, most people blame him for all wrongs in the country and believe that he pulls the strings of the country including the judiciary system.

In a recent discussion with Vitali Garmurari, the Spokesperson for the Democratic Party said that the accusations against Vlad Plahotniuc need to be substantiated. Only a court can rule over the guilt of a person and so far, Mr Plahotniuc has not been sentenced, he added. Recently, Interpol rejected the request of Russia to place Mr Plahotniuc on their wanted list for alleged involvement in the attempt on the life of German Goruntsov, a Russian banker. For Vlad Plahotniuc’s detractors, the absence of condemnation is not a proof of his innocence but evidence of his control over the judiciary.

In Moldova and abroad, rumours flourish about this man who has unquestionable power thanks to his key role in the energy sector. As a veteran in the oil and gas business, he has forged strong connections in the US, who are obsessed with replacing Russia as the leading gas exporter to Europe. The situation though is not as straightforward as it seems. Moldova relies completely on Transnistria for its energy and the region acts as a small hub for Russian gas to the Balkans. Moldovagaz – a joint venture between the Ministry of Industry of Transnistria, the Moldova Government and the Russian giant Gazprom – has the monopoly over gas transactions. One of the issues is that Moldova has committed to the European Third Energy Package that calls for the unbundling and opening of the energy market. As part of its commitment Moldova must strip Moldovagaz of its privileged position and, given the complexities at play, Chisinau was granted an exceptional delay until 1 January 2020. This European requirement corners Moldova as the country is totally dependent on Russian gas and Gazprom holds 50% of Moldovagaz shares and, de facto, the 13% nominally held by Transnistria. The situation gets even more complicated as the contract between Gazprom and Moldovgaz are valid until the end of 2019and Moldova does not have a meaningful gas alternative in place. Mr Plahotniuc understands perfectly the gains to be by playing Russian, the US and European against each other in the energy sector. In 2017,his close ally Vasile Botnari was appointed as the new head of Moldovagaz.

The ruthless energy competition between Russia and the United States for the European market is driving their political and security agendas. The year 2019 will be pivotal in the Moldovan energy market and, as this deadline approaches, the manoeuvrings of those invested parties both within Moldova and externally will be a riveting game to observe.

An Oligarchy on the Way to Democracy?

In the meantime, the Moldovan constitutional court has validated the result of the 24 February elections and Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party has emerged as the party with second largest number of seats. Alongside the Democratic Party with 30 out of 101 seats, the Socialists gained 35 seats, the ACUM group gained 26 and the remaining 10 seats were shared between the Shor party and independents.

One of the features of the Moldovan political landscape is the fact that oligarchs head several parties: Vlad Plahotniuc heads the Democrats, Ilan Shor has his eponymous party and Renato Usatii is the president of Our Party. According to popular narratives, oligarchs are involved in politics to further their own profit and wealth; however their involvement does not necessarily pose a barrier to democracy. Commenting on the recent elections and the political landscape, Professor Osmochescu sees the emergence of these parties as a genuine mirror of the diverse opinions held by the population. Looking back at the political developments over the past thirty years, Professor Osmochescu recalls the evolution from an early enthusiasm with plethora of parties, the uncertainties around the future and the disillusion with both Russia and Europe. Today, he is hopeful that the leading parties will observe democratic principles and contribute to a new political paradigm.

The OSCE statement on the recent elections echoes the same opinion: although violations were recorded, fundamental rights have been generally respected, says the preliminary report. Taken as a whole, Moldova is transitioning and some are definitely looking at the cup half full rather than focusing on shortcomings.

It’s All About the Money

Conflict specialist Iulia Cozenco has worked on various projects in Transnistria over the past decade and today she has one message: efforts should be directed towards social inclusion, and not only in Transnistria. Due to all the challenges Moldova has gone through over the past three decades, the population has become increasingly vulnerable and the country lacks a social protection system capable of responding to all the problems. She concludes that international assistance should be directed at broader social inclusion and protection initiatives rather than narrow Tiraspol-Chisinau confidence-building projects.

Commenting on the situation in Transnistria, Dumitru Budianschi, an economist at the Moldovan ExpertGrup,has observed that, the lack of a political settlement between Tiraspol and Chisinau does not prevent economics agreements from forging on. These agreements cover energy and mobile communications, however Mr Budianschi has raised the concern that these agreements lack transparency and have been extremely profitable to a select few people on both sides of the river. Unsurprisingly, the lack of settlement is perversely convenient for such shady deals. According to Mr Budianschi, the international policy of small steps in Transnistria will not pay off and a crackdown on the criminal activities in the region is needed in order to give any settlement a chance of succeeding. The growing trade with Europe, Moldova’s first export partner, is a positive development that can no longer accommodate the black holes around Transnistria.

International involvement in Moldova is both a part of the problem and the solution. Should involvement take the shape of interference advancing eastern or western interests, it will only serve to polarise and destabilise Moldova and will ultimately backlash on European security. Disengagement would be equally damaging as Moldova today relies on both Brussels and Moscow and wishes to maintain relations with both partners. At this point in time, Chisinau needs international cooperation with Moscow and Brussels to assert itself as a solid partner to both the West and the East.

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Georgia Stands With Azerbaijan: Strategic Partnership In The South Caucasus

Aliyar Azimov

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Authors: Aliyar Azimov and Aynur Azimzade*

South Caucasus has always been a focus of geopolitical competitions for centuries with its geo-strategic location and natural resources. The transportation and energy projects, which implemented in the region, have further increased strategic importance of South Caucasus due to being in the junction West and East in the globalized 21st century. After the dissolution of USSR two major processes occurred: 1) regional cooperation between independent states in terms of common threats and economic-political projects; 2) geopolitical interests and competition among the regional powers (Russia, Iran, Turkey) and the US and the EU.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the three South Caucasus countries found themselves in a new geopolitical vacuum, which resulted in serious events also (territorial conflicts and separatism). On the other hand, this vacuum enabled two of the newly independent South Caucasus countries – Azerbaijan and Georgia – to build and maintain good neighboring relationships, to jointly implement major and strategic regional oil and gas projects (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline) without any intervention of Russia. Until 2008, Russia was a major gas supplier to Georgia. However, the August War in 2008 ended with cut off relations between Russia and Georgia. Starting from 2007, Azerbaijan has steadily been supplying the majority of Georgia’s oil and gas demand, especially after the August War Azerbaijan provided more energy flow by completely meeting its strategic ally’s energy needs.

The development of east-west energy corridor in the South Caucasus allowed Azerbaijan and Georgia to involve in the projects as the main partners and to promote the development of the infrastructure by improving the macro-economic environment and international integration. Turkey also gives support to the international projects in the region and deepening the multilateral relations between Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey also promotes and intra-regional cooperation and diplomatic resolutions of regional problems. This cooperation is the most functional; it is built on interdependence by trade and transportation relations.

Since 1992, political relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia has reached a high level, cooperation in all fields has become more strategic year by year, and neighborship relations are based on the principles of the strong friendship and mutual respect. Because of this, all officials in Georgia have always firstly visited Azerbaijan in their terms.

Why Georgia needs Azerbaijan?

The East-West strategic energy cooperation helped to strengthen the state independence of Georgia and Azerbaijan. The projects, which implemented and proposed to be realized, are the basis of a strong foundation for economic stability and prosperity for both countries, even for South Caucasus. Considering this fact, in 2009 Georgia was not affected by the energy crisis thanks to Azerbaijan and energy contracts for the supply of gas and oil. Georgia is especially interested in energy transportation from Azerbaijan because since the gaining independence Georgia has had a permanent and stable supply of energy which allowed industries to operate smoothly and contributed the economy of Georgia significantly by making it as a transit country.

Azerbaijan also plays a vital role in the transformation of Georgia into the EU and the development of EU-Georgia relations. The lack of stability in the Middle East increases the role of Caspian Basin not only as a significant energy source but also more secure and shortest supply route for both countries as well as for the EU. Azerbaijan-Georgia good neighborhood relations are vital for the EU in the context of east-west energy cooperation. As the EU is more interested in ensuring a reliable flow of energy resources to the Member States and cooperates with Azerbaijan and Georgia, it makes both countries to be a significant player in the projects and economically and politically powerful in the South Caucasus region.

Salome Zourabichvili’s first official visit to Azerbaijan

On 27 February 2019, newly elected Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili made her first official visit to Azerbaijan. It was a signal of Georgian administration’s desire to continue its strategic partnership with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is one of the biggest investors to the Georgian economy and considering large regional projects between both countries, her first official visit to Azerbaijan in the region was not surprising.

In the recent past, there was a tension between Azerbaijan and Georgia due to:

  • The monument of an Armenian separatist, who fought against Azerbaijan during the occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory of Azerbaijan by Armenian military, in the Akhalkalaki region of Georgia, where ethnic Armenians live, and the participation of Georgian administration in the opening ceremony of this monument,
  • In the response of this event, protest of Baku against the unveiling of a monument to a separatist in Georgia.

For this reason, the Georgian President’s visit to Azerbaijan was of particular importance. The Georgian President knew well that Azerbaijan plays a crucial role in the energy supply and settlement of the problems in the region. At the same time, because its energy sector is dependent on Baku-Supsa, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines and Southern Gas Corridor, Georgia does not want to lose Azerbaijan as a strategic partner. Georgian President’s visit to Azerbaijan also showed that some provocations could not affect the relations between the two countries. Zourabichvili’s speech in Baku once again confirmed that Georgia always stands together with Azerbaijan on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh by stating, “Conflicts and violation of territorial integrity are tragedies for both countries. We still fight together to restore and recognize our territorial integrity in international organizations.” The Armenian media expressed assurance that Zourabichvili would change her statement during her visit to Armenia on March 13-14.However, Georgian President protested visit to Abkhazia and South Ossetia paid by Nagorno-Karabakh separatists by stating “It is very unfortunate when delegations from Nagorno-Karabakh visit Abkhazia and South Ossetia and discuss these two conflicts as of the same type. This is very sad and painful for us. These conflicts impede the development of our region. Georgia has two occupied territories, and if we talk about the country’s interests, then one single concern for us is recognition of our sovereignty in deeds than in words.” After the meeting, the Russian newspaper “Kommersant” mentioned about the Georgian president’s visit in its article by stating, “These statements by President Zurabishvili were not seen in the Georgian post-Soviet history, because Georgia has pursued an impartial policy in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict till now.”

Armenia has tried to position itself as a bridge between Iran and Georgia to transport Iranian energy resources to Europe. However, in 2008, its position in the Russian-Georgian war strained relations between Georgia and Armenia. Armenia was interested in North-South cooperation in order to escape from regional isolation and to revive its economic condition. Nevertheless, newly elected Georgian President’s visit to both countries and her statements declared that relations with Azerbaijan are a high priority for Georgia and for being leading countries in East-West cooperation, Georgia has extensive interests in establishing strong friendship relations.

Azerbaijan and Georgia have been cooperating in several political and economic projects since the early years of independence. Several factors influence the dynamics of the Georgian-Azerbaijani relations in a positive way. Firstly, cooperation in transportation, energy, and economics is interdependent. Georgia’s location makes it more essential for Azerbaijan in terms of to reach European and World markets. On the other hand, Georgia has increased its economic prosperity by participating in regional projects. In 2018, Azerbaijan was a third-largest direct foreign investor (33 million dollars) to the Georgian economy, second in Georgian imports (14.4%) and third in Georgian exports (10.7%).

Another key factor in the Azerbaijani-Georgian relations is that Azerbaijan and Georgia support eachother’s positions on important issues in the international arena. Georgian officials always stress all the official statements that the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which occurred as a result of the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenia, within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. 

When it comes to energy cooperation, Azerbaijani oil-gas company SOCAR is the main supplier of gas to Georgia as a reliable energy partner. Despite the gas agreement signed between Georgia and Russia in 2017, SOCAR has a large share in the Georgian energy sector. In 2018, gas transportation volume was 2.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Georgia. High dependence on Azerbaijani gas arose the concerns about national security, but in fact, Azerbaijan never used energy shipments as a political pressure tool. Even Azerbaijan have supplied more energy to Georgia in order to resolve energy shortages during difficult times.

S. Zourabichvili’s recent visit to Baku declared that Georgia does not want to lose its strategic ally. Because political and economic support by Azerbaijan is essential for Georgia in terms of its integration to the West. Also, because of Georgia plays a transit role between Azerbaijan and the West in the field of transportation and energy, losing this position is unacceptable for the Georgian administration.

*Aynur Azimzade is research fellow at the Institute of Caucasus studies of Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences

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Eastern Europe

To be or not to be the Baltics’ and Poland’s defender

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Usually, when we speak about the US we keep in mind its might and influence. This country plays one of the main roles in the world politics. It does its best to be the leader. Everybody used to it. Even Americans used to it.

We, Europeans, take its role for granted. Very often Europeans call for the US assistance and help in politics, trade, finance and even on war issues. But at what cost does the US manage to keep its omnipotent image? Do its people deserve the destiny to resolve foreign conflicts, defend foreign countries, finance foreign political projects and so on.

It is interesting that America First become the official foreign policy doctrine of the Trump administration. But Donald Trump’s motto is completely contrary to reality.

According to the Wiki, “America First refers to a foreign policy in the United States that emphasizes American nationalism and unilateralism. It first gained prominence in the inter-war period and was advocated by the America First Committee, a non-interventionist pressure group against the American entry into World War II. Since 2016, an identically-named foreign policy that emphasizes similar objectives has been pursued by the administration of US President Donald Trump.”

The today’s US policy does fit the slogan. In order to bolster the NATO deterrent against possible Russian aggression the US has again been increasing military activity in Europe. That includes stationing four multinational battalion-size battlegroups in four eastern nations of the alliance, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, led respectively by Britain, Canada, Germany and the US. Poland would like also permanent US base (what Polish president Andrzej Duda dubbed “Fort Trump”) as a deterrent to Russia.

The Center of Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), located in Washington, DC, issued in March a report – “Strengthening the Defense of NATO’s Eastern Frontier” which supports the idea of US further military involvement.

In the document the experts “offer a new strategy for deterring and, if necessary, defeating Russian aggression against NATO in the Baltic region and make recommendations for enhancing the US forward posture in Europe and improving Poland’s military capabilities and force structure to support this strategy.”

On the one hand, the US increasing its presence in Europe, shows its power and military capabilities. One the other – this is an exceptional case when Europe has reached its goal to feel safe at the expense of others – mainly, the US.

And what about Americans? Do they really feel the need to protect somebody far away from their homeland? Do they need long deployments? Are they proud of being defenders or are they victims of Trump’s ambitions? Who are they in Europe?

European states have become absolutely helpless before their problems and found nothing better than using the US, its money and soldiers. Europe has outwitted the US! Of course, it is much better to deploy in Europe American soldiers in time of war or conflict, than burn natives.

Is the US really aware of the European countries authorities’ plans? Do American soldiers want to be cannon fodder?

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