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Eastern Europe

Time to Make Friends with the Promised Land

Arman Navasardyan, Ph.D

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The first thing Armenia began to do shortly after it gained independence was establishing diplomatic relations with other states. This process received broad political resonance and infused pride in our compatriots who had just regained independence, both in our motherland and in the Diaspora.

Among all that joyousness the fact that Armenia and Israel didn’t exchange embassies fell out of sight.

The Armenian side explained this with the unwillingness to “offend” friendly Iran and spoil relations with the Arab world.

This was one of the flaws, ill-measured steps of the Armenian diplomacy whose negative consequences surfaced instantly and can still be observed.

In diplomatic practice there can be no normal development of relations between countries without opening embassies. (Currently Israel is represented in Armenia by its Ambassador in Georgia, while Armenia is represented in Israel by our Ambassador in Egypt.)

Just like physics, vacuum can’t remain continuously empty in diplomacy. It was filled by our neighbours Georgia and Azerbaijan in no time. And this was indeed done quickly and effectively.

Official Tel-Aviv holds the opinion that Georgian-Israeli relations are developing “swiftly and in the right direction”, and “the 26-century-long friendship of the two nations will last for the coming centuries”. For Georgians Israel is a country of unprecedented success in all spheres; and it is the Georgian dream to see their country become “Caucasian Israel”.

Georgia has been advancing contact with Israel in various aspects, including military and technical cooperation. It receives from Israel drones and modern artillery systems, modernizes T-72 tanks, trains military staff.

Israel’s relations with Azerbaijan are much deeper, more multi-faceted and perspective. Azerbaijan is one of the few states of the Muslim world (besides Turkey, Egypt and Jordan) developing bilateral relations with Israel. The embassy of the latter is quite active in Baku, while it is in no haste to open its diplomatic mission in Tel-Aviv, justifying its decision by the fear of negative reaction of the Arab world and Iran. This is a diplomatic myth, nothing more than double standards. Merely the fact that Azerbaijan has deployed a signals intelligence system to control Iran’s nuclear program on its territory demonstrates to what extent Azerbaijan “loves” Muslims and how sincere its feelings are. Azerbaijan and Israel are linked through political, strategic, economic and cultural interests. Relations between Baku and Tel-Aviv weren’t severed even by the tension between Turkey and Israel in 2011. In line with Russia, Israel is another major supplier of modern arms to Azerbaijan. Several plants assembling Israeli drones and other types of modern armaments function here. According to Azerbaijani reports the military machinery implemented in the attacks at the Armenian side during the four-day war of 2016 was mainly of Israeli make.

During informal meetings the Israelis try to convince us that their relations with Azerbaijan are purely of economic, business character and have nothing to do with politics. Things are definitely otherwise. Azerbaijan and Israel are linked to each other by a number of political consideratons: a) clearly pro-Azerbaijani position of the Israeli state concerning the Karabakh conflict; b) torpedoing of the recognition process of the Armenian Genocide in the Knesset; c) attempts to drive a wedge between the Armenian and Jewish lobbies in the USA favouring the interests of Baku and Ankara; d) desire to establish durable relations with Trump administration via Israel.

As to Armenia, it should be noted that our relations with Israel have been developing in the opposite direction. There are no more or less tangible political or economic relations between us. (According to the data provided by the National Statistical Service of Armenia, trade turnover between the two countries in 2016 constituted only $8,525 million or 0.1% of the external trade turnover of Armenia.) Both parties seem to have done their best to alienate our states, to erect an invisible wall between them. At the government level, attitude towards Israel has been cool and passive, while the press periodically embellished the idea that Jews actively participated in the crime of 1915, that Israel doesn’t recognize the Genocide, that Jews “envy” Armenians and that there should be no relations with them at all as friendly Iran would be offended.

Israel pays us the same coin. Knesset has periodically rejected the resolution on recognition of the Genocide by majority of votes. Opponents of normalization of bilateral relations, and their number is quite large, cultivate the idea that “Armenia is a leader of anti-Semitism on the post-Soviet territory, that the attitude to Jews has always been bad there”. Mass media, namely influential “The Jerusalem Post”, demonstrate anti-Armenian position. Ears of Turks and Azerbaijanians peep out behind all this who work coordinately, in Israel as well as in the United States of America and other countries, against rapprochement of Israel and Armenia.

Given the level of bilateral interrelations, the wish for rapprochement with Armenia voiced in Israel could be viewed as a political surprise and a rather interesting turn.

Delegations at ministerial and parliamentary level, also public and political figures arrive in Yerevan. One of the recent visits deserves mentioning, the one to Yerevan and Stepanakert paid by Avigdor Eskin, which gave rise to hysteria in Baku. Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi signed a number of inter-state agreements with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Culture in Yerevan. He stated that his country “wants to develop friendly relations with Armenia”. In September the third forum of “Armenia-Israel” public organization was held in our country, and an academic conference was organized on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Armenian-Russian (Slavonic) University which was attended by representatives of the University of Tel-Aviv. Armenian Parliamentary delegation visited Israel in January. On the background of the anticipated development of bilateral relations, the hope that both countries will get involved in integration processes is cherished. It is probable that through Armenia Israel will join infrastructure projects of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEC), specifically the North-South corridor. An Armenian air company is negotiating with the Israel-Armenia Trade Chamber to open a logistic center in Gyumri.

Some experts both in Yerevan and Tel-Aviv are talking of a breakthrough and thaw in the Armenian-Israeli relations.

Refraining from the temptation to confirm or reject these emotional moods, let us try to understand the reasons for the current changes, their internal logic from the position of Israel and Armenia.

Israel:

  1. Tel-Aviv’s “sudden” move to change its foreign policy vector concerning Armenia is conditioned by global geopolitical processes, situation and power balance in the region.
  2. Parallel to its multilateral contacts with Georgia and Azerbaijan and based on its far-reaching strategic interest, Israel intends to regulate its relations with Armenia, which prolapsed from its “diplomatic geography”.
  3. “The minor Middle East NATO”, created and led by the USA, should have been perceived by Tel-Aviv as an amicable alliance due to its anti-Iranian focus. However, this artificial formation inspires no confidence in Israel. That is exactly why Israeli diplomacy is looking for routes, is doing everything for Israel not to become a “sandwich” for two Muslim states – Saudi Arabia and Iran. Besides, Israel will seek normalization of relations with Armenia given it is a CSTO member and Russia’s only strategic ally in the South Caucasus. To some extent this step is considered to be able to provide security for Israel taking into account current turbulence across the region. Israel acknowledges that Armenia is much more preferable than Azerbaijan in easing tension with Iran. (During informal contacts Israeli politicians do not hide Tel-Aviv’s intentions and doubt reliability of Iran-Azerbaijan relations despite active contacts in economic and military spheres.)
  4. In case relations with Yerevan normalize, Israel will try to use Armenian Diaspora for its political and other aims.

Armenia:

  1. Development of relations with Israel is within our national interests and the need to enhance Armenian statehood. If these bilateral relations move forward, this will allow us to develop cooperation in a number of vital areas – science, high technologies, banking system, healthcare, agriculture, communications, trade, transport and others. Cooperation in military industry, which is at quite a high level in that country, isn’t excluded.
  2. Armenian-Israeli cooperation can develop in the format of multilateral diplomacy. Diaspora capacities of both countries could play a huge role here if state and public diplomacy, as well as soft power is implemented.
  3. It is possible that Armenian-Israeli cooperation might become necessary in the Kurdish issue and also in political and other processes in the Middle East region.
  4. Under global geopolitical transformations and in case of a favourable atmosphere Armenia can become a mediator between Israel and Iran, which is a part of Tel-Aviv’s strategic plans.
  5. In 2016 the military-political, economic and cultural union was formed between Israel, Greece and Cyprus (it has anti-Turkish direction) and is open for other states. We believe if Armenia joins this alliance, this could foster Armenia’s connection with the above mentioned countries, contribute to the enlargement of alternative external political opportunities and actions of Armenia.
  6. Normalization of bilateral relations will contribute to the maintenance and management of Armenian property and churches in Jerusalem, and also to enhancing their relations with Holy Etchmiadzin.
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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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Eastern Europe

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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