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Eastern Europe

Time to Make Friends with the Promised Land

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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

Rebuilding of Karabakh: Results of 2021

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Image source: azerfocus.com

The restoration work in Karabakh entered the active phase in 2021 as several projects had been completed and the foundations for new ones were laid down. The restoration process in Karabakh started right after the November 10th declaration that ended the 44-Day War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the war, Azerbaijan liberated its territories that constituted about 20% of the total territory of Azerbaijan and were occupied by Armenian forces in the early 90s.

During the occupation, about thirty years, Karabakh was subject to ruthless destruction and looting by the occupants. As a result, most of the social infrastructure, including residential buildings, schools, and hospitals, were totally destroyed, and most parts of the occupied territories were left empty. Despite the fact that the total destruction in Karabakh makes the restoration process complex and time-consuming, Azerbaijan immediately started the restoration process. For this purpose, the plan for socio-economic development of the liberated territories was prepared, and for the implementation of this plan, “Coordination Headquarters” and 17 working groups on different areas were established. In 2021, $2.2 billion was allocated from the state budget for the restoration process. The same amount of funds is planned to be directed to the restoration process in 2022 as well. The allocation of the necessary financial resources and the establishment of the state bodies for the efficient organization of the recovery process led to the rapid implementation of projects in 2021.

The most notable project that was almost completed in 2021 was the Fuzuli International Airport. The inauguration of the airport took place in Azerbaijan’s liberated city of Fuzuli in Karabakh on October 26. It was the first airport built by Azerbaijan in the liberated areas, and its construction took only eight months. It was built in accordance with the highest international standards, which enables it to accommodate any type of aircraft. A runway with a length of 3000 meters and a width of 60 meters has been put into operation at the airport. The first test flight to Fuzuli International Airport was performed on September 5, 2021, when the largest passenger aircraft of Azerbaijan Airlines, named Karabakh, landed at the airport. Because of its location, the new airport is considered as an “air gate of Karabakh”. Along with Fuzuli airport, the foundations of the other two airports in Lachin and Zangilan districts were also laid down in 2021.

The year 2021 was also marked by the establishment of the Horadiz-Jabrayil-Zangilan-Agband highway. The foundation of this road was laid on October 26, with the participation of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey. With a length of 124 km, it is part of the Zangezur Corridor, the establishment of which was envisioned in the November 10 declaration. The Zangezur Corridor is a very important project that is going to change the transportation architecture of the South Caucasus and its neighborhood. Its proximity to the Karabakh and connection to the main roads in the region will accelerate the restoration and development of the Karabakh.

Within the framework of the restoration process, another important event in 2021 was the foundation of the first “smart village” in Agali village in the Zangilan district on April 26. As of October, the construction work on more than 110 hectares in Agali village was underway. It includes the construction of 200 ecological houses, 4 non-residential buildings, a smart school for about 360 students, and a kindergarten for 60 children. Work on establishing smart agricultural infrastructure on approximately 600 hectares of land is also ongoing. According to the restoration program, it is planned to re-establish cities and villages in the liberated territories based on the “smart city” and “smart village” concepts. Thus, after the Agali village, this concept will be implemented in other areas of Karabakh.

In 2021, the highway that connects the Fuzuli and Shusha cities was also opened. As this highway passes through the territory that was used to liberate Shusha city, it has a symbolic meaning for Azerbaijan, and therefore it is named “The Road to Victory.” The Fuzuli-Shusha highway is part of the Ahmadbeyli-Fuzuli-Shusha highway, one of the main highways in Karabakh. It is 101.5 km in length and reduces the distance from the capital Baku to Shusha to about 363 km. The foundation of another important transport project, the Horadiz–Agband railway, was also laid in 2021 and its construction continues. This railway is 100 kilometers long and has strategic importance as it will connect the mainland of Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan’s landlocked exclave, through the Zangezur corridor.

Along with the mentioned roads, the opening ceremony of the 28-kilometer highway that connects the city of Tartar with the villages of Sugovushan and Talish took place in 2021. The length of this road is 28 kilometers, and as planned, the extension of this project will include 22 kilometers of highway from Talish to Naftalan. Construction and planning work on various transportation projects such as the Barda–Aghdam railroad, the Fuzuli-Shusa railway, and the Toganal-Kalbacar highway were also continued.

Comprehensive works in the energy sector were also carried out within the framework of the restoration program, based on the strategy for transforming the liberated territories into “green energy” zones and connecting the energy infrastructure in those territories to Azerbaijan’s general energy system. In 2021, with a total capacity of 20 megawatts, “Gulabird”, “Sugovushan-1” and “Sugovushan-2” small hydroelectric power stations (HPS) were reconstructed and put into operation in the liberated territories. In total, nine digital substations were built in the Karabakh and East Zangezur regions. Simultaneously, in the Aghdam and Jabrail regions, the construction of “Aghdam-1,” “Aghdam-2,” and “Jabrayil” substations as well as the Karabakh Regional Digital Management Center has been completed.

The other important project in the energy sector was the foundation of the Digital Station Management Center in Fuzuli. This project, implemented for the first time in the South Caucasus, allows through automation to reduce the impact of the human factor on the operation of the network, increase reliability and reduce losses during the transmission of electricity. All these projects in the energy sector serve to maintain the energy security in liberated territories and to transform these territories into “green energy” zone.

All the mentioned projects show that Azerbaijan has actively worked for rebuilding Karabakh in 2021. It will enable Azerbaijan to fully integrate the Karabakh economy into the Azerbaijan economy and to use its economic potential in upcoming years. As the liberated territories have great potential in sectors such as agriculture and energy, it will also positively affect the development of the non-oil sector in Azerbaijan. Implementation of all projects that were started in 2021 will not only contribute to the economic development of Azerbaijan, but will also transport Azerbaijan and Karabakh to the transport and economic center of the region.

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Eastern Europe

No borders to struggle against COVİD-19: Solidarity of humanity can help the situation

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Just as COVID-19 does not recognize borders, it is necessary to build the struggle against it on the basis of organization, solidarity, mutual assistance, the use of positive experience, and it should not recognize borders.

2021 was a year of continued struggle against the pandemic and of the emergence of new variants of the virus. The South Caucasus also was not away from COVID-19 and its variants. Azerbaijan continued its effective fight against COVID-19, making the most of the lessons of previous years and the opportunities for rapid response. The vaccination campaign, which was conducted as well as in highly developed countries, is a real sign of performance in this sector. During the year Azerbaijan gave humanitarian and financial aid to more than 30 countries in order to fight the pandemic, made a voluntary financial contribution of 10 million US dollars to the World Health Organization and freely donated 150,000 doses of vaccine to four countries.

The newly appointed head of the EU delegation to Azerbaijan, Petr Michako, also stressed the high level of vaccination in Azerbaijan. The capital – Baku is working closely with The European Union in this direction. The European Union and the World Health Organization have supported the fight against COVID-19 in Azerbaijan with the necessary medical equipment. Medical personnel in Azerbaijan have been repeatedly provided with respirators, goggles, transparent masks and overalls for this purpose. All equipment sent for the safety of medical personnel fighting the virus on the front lines was tested for compliance with quality and safety standards. Kestutis Jankauskas, Head of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan, said that his organization, as a “Team Europe”, is helping to prevent, detect and combat the COVID-19 pandemic. “Healthcare workers are at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which increases their risk of contracting the virus,” he said. -They are our heroes and they need protection. “As part of the Team Europe initiative, the EU has launched an individual COVID-19 package with a budget of around € 32 million to support urgent needs and socio-economic recovery.

In 2021, Azerbaijan achieved major progress in combating the pandemic and the global economic crisis and in mutual cooperation. As a chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, Azerbaijan put forward an initiative to establish a UN High-Level Panel on global restoration after COVID-19. The member states of the Non-Aligned Movement took a unanimous decision to extend Azerbaijan’s chairmanship of the movement for another year, until the end of 2023.

Azerbaijan proposed a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement on equal and universal access to vaccines for all countries and the resolution was passed unanimously in March 2021. This resolution showed Azerbaijan’s stance on the increasing vaccine nationalism in the world and became an international success.

As a result of all measurements now the number of people receiving the second,third and further doses of the vaccine in Azerbaijan has exceeded 40 percent. Azerbaijan is one of the countries in the continent where the number of virus infections is rapidly declining. Azerbaijan is doing its best to observe this trend around the world. Solidarity can help the situation.

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Eastern Europe

2021: the year of political bankruptcy of Lithuanian government

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Ramūnas Karbauskis, Lithuanian businessman and politician, Chairman of the Farmers and Greens Union severely criticized  Lithuanian authorities’ actions.

The Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (Lithuanian: LVŽS) is a green-conservative and agrarian political party in Lithuania. Following the 2020 parliamentary election, the LVŽS has been in opposition to the Šimonytė Cabinet.

Ramūnas Karbauskis did not even try to find softer words to describe on Facebook the results of the past year. He noted that “2021 Lithuanians will remember as the year of bankruptcy of government, the reluctance and inability to speak, which caused and deepened health and illegal migration crises.” According to him, 2021 is marked as “a scaling and segregation of society, demolition of diplomatic roads, cutting not only with one of the biggest economies in the world – China, but even with allies and neighbors.”

He paid attention to the fact, that current negative economic tendencies were the direct results of shortsighted government actions.

To his mind, “2021 will also be remembered as the year of emptying the state budget, gold government purchases, including golden houses for illegal migrants. The government actively pushed the decriminalization of drugs, the measures to promote the trade of alcohol. He also said, that the end of the year was crowned by the Belarusian fertilizer transit scandal, but Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and Transport Minister Marius Skuodis responsible for it remained in their posts.

Thus, he is absolutely sure, that overall, this year has only strengthened the impression that “the government is not working for the Nation, not for its benefit.”

Ex-Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkas has also criticized the permission to open a Taiwanese representative office in Vilnius, saying that the conflict with China has led to huge loses. In his words, “that recognition should have, first, been done by the world, the major countries that have influence and their decision should provide results, not a small Lithuania.”

Today, when these loses have become more and more destructive for the Lithuanian economy, Ausrine Armonaite, the Economy and Innovation Minister says that “the European Union should be more united in its response to China’s pressure on Lithuania.” It turned out, that the mistake was made by Lithuania, but the EU for some reason should solve this problem. Once again Lithuanian authorities shift responsibility to others.

It seems as if Lithuanian officials have chosen the way of confrontation not only with China, but with neighbouring Russia and Belarus. Thus, they continue to increase defence budget of the country instead of allocating additional funds to economically fragile spheres. 2021 defence budget initially amounted to 1.028 billion euros. However, the government allocated additional 20.7 million euros during a budgetary review. 2022 defence budget will be increased to 1.298 billion euros.

The government has not learned how to place political accents correctly. Thus, the lack of coordination and common understanding in the ruling circles lead to political mistakes and the loss of the country’s image in the international arena. Lithuania’s behaviour has led to the shaping of ridiculous image as a country that takes on much more powers than it can afford.

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