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Figurehead of Fake Country to Get Fake Award at U.S. Capitol

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The U.S. Congress is about to get embarrassed by letting itself be used to create fake news and lend legitimacy to a controversial situation.

On Wednesday, Bako Sahakyan, the self-proclaimed president of a fictional country known as “Artsakh” has scheduled an event at the U.S. Capitol to speak and receive an unidentified award. The event’s invitation bills it as a “Congressional reception” and, though no actual Members are listed, the invitation says they are “invited to offer remarks.”

Here are the facts: “Artsakh” is actually the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan that Armenia seized in a 1988-1994 war. The Nagorno-Karabakh region and nearby territories have belonged to Azerbaijan since antiquity. In 1988, Armenia attacked. Six years later when a ceasefire was declared, the region – which accounts for 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s land mass – was in the hands of Armenians and Armenian-backed separatists.

Armenia has repeatedly violated a ceasefire in the region and refuses to negotiate an acceptable end to what has been called a “frozen conflict” that would return the territory to Azerbaijan. During the long war, 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed, 50,000 more were wounded and a shocking 724,000 were turned into refugees, as Armenia drove them out of their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh, engaging in what many called ethnic cleansing.

“Artsakh,” which also calls itself the “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,” is not recognized by a single nation on earth. Every international body from the United Nations on down agrees that Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan and was illegally seized by Armenia, which continues to run the region.

If Armenia cannot make a factual case that “Artsakh” is a legitimate country, its only remaining strategy is to blur the facts. Like a child or a politician that believes repeating a lie enough times makes it true, Armenia thinks that if it peddles the fiction of an “Artsakh” nation enough it will eventually become fact.

Wednesday’s event with Sahakyan at the Capitol is the latest attempt to build that fiction. This time, organizers of the event appear to be trying to co-opt the power – or at least the image – of the world’s most important deliberative body, the U.S. Congress.

Artsakh may be a fictional country, but its self-styled president, Bako Sahakyan, is a real obstacle to any peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia and has a real history of blood.

During the worst part of the Nagorno-Karabakh War from 1991 to 1994, Sahakyan was the deputy commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Committee of Defense Forces. This made him the No. 2 to Monte Melkonian, who commanded Armenian forces against Azerbaijan. Sahakyan is clearly committed to retaining Azerbaijan’s illegally seized Nagorno-Karabakh territory and has shown he will resort to deadly force to do so.

Armenia has become a virtual puppet state of Russia, key to President Vladimir Putin’s plan to restore the former geopolitical influence and regional footprint of the defunct Soviet Union. Armenia has a joint-defense pact with Russia and has been the only country allowed to have nuclear-capable Russian Iskander missiles. According to press accounts, Sahakyan was given Russia’s prestigious “Peter the Great” award.

Any pretense that Artsakh is an independent country with an agenda of its own is undermined by the invitation to Wednesday’s fake-news event. RSVPs are directed to the Embassy of Armenia and its major front groups in the U.S., the Armenian National Committee of America and the Armenian Assembly of America.

Thanks to the internet, we live in an era when any actors can create fake-news events that carry an air of legitimacy, spread rapidly around the world and can have real consequences. It’s uncertain so far what governments and countries can do to stop this tide of lies. But one thing that can be done is to deny these bad actors access to the sacred symbols of democracy and legitimacy they seek to co-opt.

No matter how influential the Armenian lobby may be, the U.S. Congress should not allow bogus politicians and their fake-news events to occur under its roof and patronage.

Eugen Iladi is a freelance reporter based in Virginia who covers politics, conflict, business and development in emerging markets. He has contributed to numerous publications, including The National Interest, The Foreign Policy Journal, Real Clear Politics, Global Politics, the Gulf News, AlArab Online, Iraqi Business News, Taipei Times, Prime-Tass, Business New Europe, iAfrica, Cape Times, and many more.

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Eastern Europe

Another government but the same problem in Latvia

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Latvia is on the brink of a social explosion. Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš’s statement cold serve as the impetus to it. In an interview with LNT’s programme 900 sekundes last week he said that “Latvia is currently unable to significantly raise the wages of teachers, because it would require either increasing the budget deficit or higher taxes.” This statement was made despite all promises to teachers made by the previous government. The head of the government cynically reminded that compared to other countries, Latvia has too many teachers per its number of pupils.

In the morning of Wednesday, February 13, he told that the promise by his fellow party member, ex-Minister of Education and Science, Kārlis Šadurskis, had been made in relation to school reform. The increase included in the Latvian state budget of 2019 had actually been an effort to avoid the reduction of the size of teacher salaries, the PM explained. Thus he insisted that there were no plans to increase salaries, just to keep them at the same level. To all appearances school reform will raise questions. The government is not going to fire teachers directly, it plans to reduce the number of schools and as a result teachers will be forced to quit.

According to the news that the Riga City Council is planning to shut down two schools and merge eight, the promises not to cut the number of teachers are forgotten. The new government which only few weeks ago struggled for people trust, does not care about people’s loyalty any more.

Such behaviour could be easily regarded by Latvians as betrayal and an insult. So the new government could not even fight the results of short-sighted social policy not to mention the needed fight with the causes of such problems.

According to Statistical Yearbook of Latvia 2018, public and private pre-school education institutions’ pedagogical staff (at the beginning of 2017 school year) in the public sector counts 10 633 persons. These professionals monthly earn about 800 euro.

Is it a big problem to find the source of financing such vulnerable sphere as education?

That’s for sure, people, who are near our children, give knowledge, spend a lot of time with them, who are responsible for Latvian future should not make ends meet.

For instance, government does not make any difficulties for the realization of ambitious military projects. It has become known that from 2018 to 2021, Latvia plans to invest about €50 million annually into military infrastructure, the ministry of National Defence said January 25, reports LETA. The bulk of the funds will go to the Ādaži military base.

€50 million annually would be a substantial help to Latvian teachers! Unfortunately, teachers are not so important for the country image, so they will continue not to live, but to exist.

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Eastern Europe

Expansion of Georgia’s Black Sea Ports: Modus Vivendi for Georgia

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Over the past several months, a whole range of actions has taken place to expand all of Georgia’s existing and future Black Sea ports. These moves, in their entirety, could have geopolitical significance on at least the regional level as it will help further connect the country to the world maritime routes, increase the country’s transit potential and also enhance its position when it comes to China’s multi-billion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Several weeks ago, the European Union decided to financially support the Anaklia Deep Sea Port. In a document published by the European Commission regarding the development of the ‘Trans-European Transport Network’, it is stated that 233 mln Euros have been allocated for financing the 2nd phase of the Anaklia Deep Sea Port. It is also noted in the project that hundreds of millions of Euros have been assigned for the construction of the rail lines and highways throughout Georgia which will lead to the Anaklia Deep Sea Port. Moreover, the German Development Bank (DEG) together with the Dutch development bank have also decided to invest in Anaklia.

Further south, in Poti, a decision was made to construct a multimodal transit terminal. The facility will have modern equipment able to store up to 60,000 tons of fertilizer. Wondernet Express, the international logistics company behind the project, will invest $20 million in the project.

International port operator APM Terminals, along with Poti New Terminals Consortium, have submitted a conceptual design for the expansion of the APM Terminals’ Poti Sea Port. The project entails a 14.5-meter water depth at the 700-meter quay wall and 25 hectares of land for the bulk operation yard and covered storage facilities for various cargo types, including grain, ore, and minerals.

The US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has issued a loan of $50 million to Pace Group to develop a multi-functional marine terminal in Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti, aimed at expanding its operational capacities.

In Batumi, it was agreed that the expansion of the port will take place with the construction of an additional terminal.

It was even announced by the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Giorgi Kobulia that the discussion of a ferry line between Georgia and the EU has been renewed.

Overall, these decisions show that there is a certain progress being made on Georgia’s Black Sea ports development and their inclusion in the world maritime network. This global financing from Europe to the US also shows how these geopolitical players regard the South Caucasus and Georgia in particular. One could surmise that the geopolitical projection of those global companies is based upon the idea that the situation in Georgia will remain stable and that Georgian-Russian relations are unlikely to take a confrontational course (at least from the mid-term perspective).

But this expansion of Georgia’s sea port infrastructure could also lead to increased interest from China in the Georgian transit corridor. I argued in a previous article for GEORGIA TODAY that, although Georgia does not figure in China’s BRI, the Chinese project is an evolving one. I suggested in the same article that over time, new corridors would appear; that the BRI, rather than being a static initiative, is in fact a model which will constantly adjust to rising opportunities.

It might be suggested that a more developed infrastructure will eventually draw the Chinese to Georgia’s Black Sea ports. The above-mentioned developments at Anaklia, Poti and Batumi can be considered the first stage in this process.

Taking a global perspective of these economic developments, I will argue that one of the scenarios in which Georgia and all the neighboring countries will reap benefits, is when as many world actors as possible have stakes in the Georgian economic corridor. It would be a certain modus vivendi for Georgia’s future development.

Analysts often argue that there is a solely military solution to Georgia’s problem with Russia. However, it is suggested here that yet another, and probably more accurate, solution to the Georgian dilemma for everyone (including the Russians) would be a Georgia where every great player has economic interests and is forced to upkeep the geopolitical security in the country for those very interests.

Author’s note: First published in Georgia Times

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Eastern Europe

Trump buys Lithuania, EU cannot stop it

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The US President Donald Trump is no doubt a successful businessman who rules his country as if it is a huge enterprise. And this kind of management, to his mind, should lead to success. And very often it really works. As a wise leader he uses different tools to reach his goals. Thus, the most cunning one, which the US exploits in Europe – is indirect influence on the EU countries to gain the desired aim. The EU just becomes a tool in “capable hands” of the US.

Let us give the simple example. Last week the Ministry of National Defence of Lithuania announced that the Lithuanian Air Force Base in Šiauliai would get de-icing equipment for the aircraft. It would be acquired according to an agreement signed by the Ministry of National Defence and the AF Security Assistance and Cooperation Directorate (AFSACD) on behalf of the Government of the United States of America.

It is known that the new equipment is capable of removing ice from aircraft at the necessary height which allows the Šiauliai Air Base to support bigger aircraft of the Alliance, such as C-17 – one of the largest transport aircraft capable of moving a large number of soldiers and large amounts of cargo.

It is said that “the procurement for the Lithuanian Air Force Base will fill a critical capability gap and allow the Base personnel to carry out cold weather operations, as well as support the NATO Air Policing Mission. The equipment will also be used for providing servicing for the aircraft of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battle Group-contributing countries and other NATO allies at the Air Base.”

But according to data, only three C-17s belongs to NATO. The US, in its turn, has 222 C-17s in service as of Jan. 2018. Among EU member states the only country that has C-17A ERs is the United Kingdom with 8 C-17A ERs in use. But The United Kingdom is in the process of leaving the organization. So, it is logical to assume that the most interested country in deploying C-17 in Lithuania is the US, not the EU or even NATO. And of course Lithuania cannot even dream of having such planes.

The second issue which is even more important is the fact that the agreement of approximate value of USD 1.03 million is financed from the European Security Assistance Fund (ESAF). Lithuania is not able to share the burden.

So, nothing depends on Lithuania in this issue. It only gives permission.

In the recent years Lithuania’s procurement from the US has grown significantly. The ministry of National Defence is currently in negotiations with the US department of Defence for procuring JLTV all-terrain vehicles.

Unfortunately, being a member of the EU, Lithuania so hardly depends on the US in military and security spheres that it often mixes up its real needs, responsibilities to the EU with the US interests in the region. Such approach could seriously complicate the relations with neighbouring Russia and Belarus which Lithuania borders. These two countries are interested in Lithuania as an economic partner. But if Lithuania will pose military threat to them, deploying US military equipment, these states could terminate any economic cooperation.

Is it a cooperation or manipulation and who will benefit?

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