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Who is Bako Sahakyan?

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One of the main problems of authors writing on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the misuse of the terminology. There are different groups who misuse the terminology on the conflict. Some authors in purpose misuse the terminologies like the former US ambassador to Armenia John Evans did. John Evans presented Nagorno-Karabakh as a “legal entity” and Bako Saahakyan as its “legal representative”. And others unintentionally interpret the terms by describing Bako Sahakyan as a “leader of Nagorno-Karabakh”. While the author’s approach in the article is rather different, one can assume that the use of the “Nagorno-Karabakh leader” in the headline is an unintentional misuse of the word. The headlines are very important since they dictate number of people reading the story, when social media could massively spread it out. The headlines shape the way people think about a piece and the way they remember it in the future. Misuse of terminology as a result of information pollution is the main problem of modern international relations. Bako Saakyan neither politically nor legally represents the people of Nagorno-Karabakh region; nor is a leader. To be more precise, Bako Sahakyan is the leader of Armenian separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Firstly, Bako Sahakyan, was born in Khankendi, then the central city of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) of Azerbaijan. In 1988, before becoming the activists of the separatist movement of Nagorno-Karabakh, Bako Sahakyan held different positions in NKAO. In 1990, he joined Nagorno-Karabakh separatist military movement against Azerbaijan. Sahakyan started his career as a responsible person for smuggling arms for Nagorno-Karabakh separatists from abroad, but he was called back due to embezzlement of some money. As a leader of separatists, he is known for buying ordinary people’s loyalty through cash money or by paying their debt for them.

Secondly, Bako Sahakyan cannot be recognized as the “legitimate representative of Nagorno-Karabakh”, since Azerbaijanis living there were deported from their homelands in between 1988-1994. Even on February 20, 1988, when the parliament of the NKAO voted for the unification with Armenia, the representatives of the Azerbaijani community were absent of this process. As a result of parliamentary meeting, without approval of Azerbaijani population of NKAO, they seceded from Azerbaijan contrary to the constitution of Azerbaijan SSR. After the war, when the illegal and unconstitutional referendum over independence took place in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh was expelled from the region. Until today, more than 780.000 Azerbaijanis have been deported from the Nagorno-Karabakh region as a result of the Armenia-backed military operations internationally recognized as occupation by the UN Security Council resolutions and resolutions from other international organizations. Because of the occupation, the members of Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh remains internationally displaced persons in different regions of Azerbaijan. Thus, the Nagorno-Karabakh region is not consisted of Armenians only, the Azerbaijani population used to live there before they were forcefully left from their homelands.

Armenia and the Armenia-backed separatists captured the management of NKAO through the use of heavy weapons and established their military regime over the civilian population that could not exercise their free will. Not only Azerbaijan, but Armenia itself also suffered from the separatist movement. As a result of this movement, Armenia isolated itself from the regional projects. In 1997, separatists from Nagorno-Karabakh, precisely the so-called “Karabakh Clan” that included Bako Sahakyan as well as the former and current presidents of Armenia Robert Kocharyan and Serj Sargsyan, forced Levon Ter-Petrosyan to resign since he did not share their view of the conflict and expressed his readiness to resolve the conflict. As the President of Azerbaijan Republic Ilham Aliyev put it, “the only reason why Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has not been resolved yet is because Armenia doesn’t want to liberate occupied territories.” Armenia along with occupying Azerbaijani territories, also ruined the prospect of the future development for the Armenian people.

Bako Sahakyan is a representative of illegal entity that occupied the sovereign state’s territories. Nagorno-Karabakh is an internationally-recognized part of Azerbaijan. The issue is not that no country in the world recognizes separatist regime in Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state; it is merely enough to glance at the map of Azerbaijan on the UN official page. The official website of the US State Department also displays Nagorno-Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan. And yet, despite the fact that the UN and also the United States recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan, the US State Department still provided the visa for Bako Sahakyan. By issuing a visa for the separatist leader, the U.S. government indirectly supports the illegal activity of separatists, which killed thousands of people and caused the mass deportation of the civilian population from their homelands.

But right after the referendum was held on March 16, 2014 in Crimea, on March 17, 2014,the EU foreign ministers imposed EU-wide sanctions against Crimean separatists. Washington followed up with a sanction list of its own. On April 12 2014, the US imposed sanctions on high-profile Crimean separatists. On June 20, 2014, the US imposed new sanctions against separatists in Ukraine. The targets included some of the most high-profile figures of separatist movements in the eastern Ukraine. On 26 June, 2018,the Trump administration imposed new sanctions against eleven individuals that were involved in separatist movement in the eastern Ukraine. The list includes individuals such as so-called minister of finance, trade, justice and security in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic in the eastern Ukraine. Until today, the US has imposed four sanctions against the separatists from the Crimea, but no sanctions against the Nagorno-Karabakh separatists, including Bako Sahakyan, who can freely receive visa to the EU countries and the US, in order to legalize the illegal entity. Both in case of separatists in Ukraine and Catalonia, we saw that western countries show rather different approaches to separatist attitudes in the Eurasian region.

To sum up, whether intentionally or unintentionally, misusing the terminology of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict serves the legalization of the illegal entity on the territory ofthe sovereign state, which is totally unacceptable. Officials and experts should be careful in choosing the terminology. Because, separatism is not just a problem for Eurasian geography, but as we have seen in the case of Catalonia, for the whole world. The Catalan case proved that sovereignty of the states should be respected by all the actors and they have to avoid providing direct or indirect support for the legalization of  illegal entities.

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Eastern Europe

Polonia: Poland’s diaspora policy

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In 2007, the Polish authorities for the first time adopted a government program to promote cooperation with the Polish diaspora (Polonia) and Poles abroad. In 2002, they introduced May 2 as Day of Polonia and Poles Abroad.

The strategic objectives of this program for 2015-2020 include support for the development of Polish language and culture among Poles abroad, strengthening Polish national identity among representatives of Polonia, contributing to the popularity of Polonian organizations abroad and the return of Poles living abroad to their homeland, establishing economic, scientific and cultural contacts between Poland and Polonia .

The Polish Foreign Ministry estimates the number of members of the Polish diaspora, including ethnic Poles and people of Polish descent, at 18-20 million, one third of them were born in Poland. Polonia and the Poles rank the sixth if we compare the proportion of members of the diaspora abroad with the population of the country of origin. 18% of tourists visiting Poland are members of Polish organizations abroad and ethnic Poles.

The largest Polish diasporas are in the USA (9.6 million according to 2012 reports), in Germany (1.5 million) and Canada (1 million). Poles are also living in France and the United Kingdom (0.8 million in each), the Netherlands (0.2 million), Ireland and Italy (0.15 million in each), the Czech Republic (0.12 million), Sweden and Norway ( 0.11 million in either), Belgium (0.1 million). In countries such as Austria, Spain, Denmark, and Iceland, members of the Polish diasporas number less than 100 thousand people.

According to the Polish Foreign Ministry, more than 1 million Poles and people of Polish descent live in post-Soviet countries. According to the ministry, these estimates are not accurate – for one,  in Belarus, the most “Polish” republic of the former USSR, the number of Poles and people of Polish origin could amount to up to 1 million (official reports estimate the number of Poles living in Belarus at 295 thousand).

Lithuania comes second by the number of Poles residing there – (250 thousand), the third is Ukraine (144 thousand), then Russia (47 thousand), Latvia (46 thousand) and Kazakhstan (34 thousand) – the fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.

Polonia is conditionally divided by the Polish Foreign Ministry into ten functionality-based geographical groups: 1. Lithuania 2. Belarus 3. Ukraine 4. Latvia, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic 5. Western European countries (Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, etc.). 6. USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand 7. Other European countries 8. Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia 9. Brazil, Argentina 10.Other countries of the world.

This division was carried out on the functional, rather than numerical basis and there is no universal approach as to how to categorize Poles living abroad – each of the above mentioned countries sets its own requirements for working with Polonia. People who have Polish roots but do not speak Polish and who reside in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Brazil are regarded as Polish diaspora by Warsaw. In this case, there is a need to popularize Polish informational and ideological products for Polonia in these countries in the language of the country of residence with emphasis on the economic and cultural components and projects for the study of the Polish language.

The latter bears particular importance. In Brazil, for one, there are more than a dozen Polish language courses. People who go there are provided with social benefits and all the necessary documents – student ID passes for students, work certificates for teaching staff (teachers get discounts 33% to 49% on public and rail transport in Poland, etc.), certificates of Polish schools for distance learning, etc.

Given the presence of anti-Russian sentiment in Poland’s policy, it is not surprising that Russia, the republics of the Caucasus, and countries of Central Asia are among those that Warsaw accuses of breaching the rights of ethnic minorities, including Poles, which is not true. Working with Polonia in these regions carries a clear ideological touch, as historical grievances prevail over culture and economy. By intentionally inciting conflict, concocting accusations of violating the rights of ethnic minorities,Warsaw equips itself with ideological tools to justify its aggressive Eastern policy towards Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.

In particular, there are noticeable attempts by Warsaw to force Polish organizations in Russia to participate in anti-Russian propaganda campaigns, especially regarding retrospective assessments of Russian-Polish and Soviet-Polish relations. Polish diplomacy cites the unsuccessful Polish uprisings of the 18th-19th centuries, exiled and repressed Poles of the tsarist and Stalinist times, return of Poland’s western lands to Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belarus following the Red Army’s Polish campaign in 1939, etc.

The Polish Institute of National Memory (PINP), being an exclusively ideological structure, is on the list of state institutions and ministries that are responsible for cooperating with Polonia. A projecttitled “The Next Stop is History” has been launched in order to promote the historical and ideological heritage of Poland. Implemented within the framework of the Polish diaspora program of the Department of National Education of PINP in several countries at once (conferences, exhibitions, symposia, film screenings, lectures, military sports games), the project has no geographical restrictions and is conducted with the participation of certified teachers.

Let us focus on some characteristic features of the Polish diaspora policy:

– the prevalence of economic aspects while establishing cooperation with ethnic Poles living in the USA, EU and South America;

– a powerful propagandistic and political emphasis and a minimal presence of  economy while dealing with Polonia in countries of the former USSR;

– abandoning tactics of interaction with Polonia which presuppose acting through Polonian organizations only and which have proved ineffective;

– coverage by social, cultural and other projects of the largest possible number of ethnic Poles, in the first place, those who are not members of diaspora organizations;

– absence of heavy vertical hierarchy in disapora organizations in favor of horizontal links and shuttle diplomacy;

– contribute to the formation of a protest and opposition-minded stratum amongst the young in countries of the former USSR (Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine) with further placement of its representatives in local government structures, the media and other socially important projects. 

Summing up, we can say that Warsaw’s diaspora politics abroad are focused on strengthening its positions in the Western community and pursuing unilateral and controversial goals in the eastern direction. From our partner International Affairs

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Eastern Europe

The US Naval Power & Georgia

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In many ways, Georgia’s sovereignty and slow but gradual integration into the western political and economic systems (NATO and EU) is contingent upon direct US support and power in the region. Therefore, tracking changes in American power and Washington’s vision of its military posture around the globe should be of importance for successive Georgian governments.

The starting point of course is the understanding that the US power in the South Caucasus and the Black Sea overall has always been of relatively limited character in comparison with other regions. This is largely caused by the fact the US is a sea power surrounded by large swathes of water and its reach into the depths of Eurasian continent through the deployment of troops is constrained.

Let us start with simple numbers. The Earth is a relatively modest-sized planet having 25,000 miles in circumference at the Equator, while its total surface area is 197 million square miles. This means that nearly three-quarters of the planet is water. The power controlling the world ocean thus commands numerous economic and military developments across the globe.

Americans know this well, seen in their efforts since the late 19th century to expand naval capabilities. The 20th century was an American century, but this is changing. China and India are building navies, Iranians grow assertive in the Persian Gulf, while the Russians do the same in the Black Sea.

Among them, the Chinese are crucial to watch. Their strategy is more to dilute American power than to engage them outright. This is a clever approach, more like hit and run, and creates uncomfortable conditions for a rival power. Chinese strategists of ancient times give some interesting insight into how the Chinese could be seeing their competition in the modern world.

Pure numbers and power overstretch too is blame. Consider the following fact. In the Cold War the US had to deploy fleets (overall up to 1000 ships) mostly in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea. In a striking contrast, nowadays, with up to less than 500 ships, the US need to cover the whole world as the number of competing sea powers has risen, as mentioned above.

Another reason for probable decline of the US naval capacity is globalization. The faster the pace of globalization, the bigger is the need to control every corner of the world as a minor military confrontation in Asia, Europe or the Middle East might transform into a global problem.

The sea power throughout history has proved to be far more long-lasting than any other land power and it actually is the best indicator of a nation’s power.

The US might hope to retain its global dominance also by enlisting allies of similar geopolitical aspirations as its own. But even there, it will rather mean that the US naval power admits its relatively weaker position. Many would call it an elegant decline. Another possibility will be spending more on navy and building new fleets, but their cost is at times as high as the accumulated GDP of tens of African and Asian states.

In many ways, this is what the British officials experienced before World War I. The country has been a primary naval force in the world for almost two centuries (especially in the 19th century), but a gradual rise of the US and German naval fleets was becoming more evident and potentially threatening to the British order at sea.

One of the reactions of the British elite was to negate the trend and claim that their power will be unmatched. It is difficult to admit your relatively declining power.

What does all this mean for Georgia? It relies on the US for its security and it borders on the Black Sea. However, in the long run when the focus of the US grand strategy will more focused on containing China at sea, Washington will be less able to properly address the Russian navy in the Black Sea. As said, there are simply not enough naval resources to hand. The scenario is unfortunate for Tbilisi, particularly at a time when the country is set to build the Anaklia Deep Sea Port.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today

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Why does Ukraine fret so much about Russia’s return to PACE?

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Ukrainian politicians and experts blame PACE’s decision to restore the Russian delegation’s voting rights on President Volodymyr Zelensky and his administration, and also on the leadership of the Council of Europe for allegedly wanting to ensure the resumption of Russia’s annual contribution of 30 million euros to the Council’s budget. They also foul France and Germany for striking a deal with Moscow, which they describe as “a shame not only for Ukraine, but primarily for European values.”

Kiev believes that there is only one right way to go, and that is an anti-Russian, nationalistic, dependent and provocative one, coupled with additional sanctions against Moscow. This stance was rejected by 118 PACE delegates from Azerbaijan, France, Spain, Italy, Norway, Austria, Slovakia, Portugal, Serbia and Turkey, with 62 delegates from Ukraine and Georgia, and the majority of delegates from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia,  Britain and Sweden voting for it, and 10 delegates abstaining.

Simultaneously, Ukrainian politicians and media representatives tried to ignore a statement by their Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who said that the decision to return the Russian delegation to PACE was taken before (!) the presidential elections in Ukraine. He said that this had been brewing for some time, and would have been made regardless of the political situation in the country.

“It is not an issue of a distribution of responsibility, which, by the way, I don’t exempt myself from. It’s not about Poroshenko, Zelensky or somebody else either. This is a common problem, which we should be working together to address. In view of the ongoing election campaign, I fully understand the need for people to go on air and social networks, but it is really a matter of honesty and readiness to face the challenges as they are.”

Well, a surprise sign of political sobriety on Klimkin’s part, and a very inconvenient interpretation of the event for Kiev.

The prominent Ukrainian political analyst Vitaly Portnikov paints a rather gloomy picture of where things could go from now.

“What we are dealing with is a banal political special operation, primarily aimed at the resumption of full-fledged cooperation between the West and the Kremlin. It is by no means coincidental that this special operation was set in motion during the presidential election campaign in Ukraine, because its masterminds were eager to show just how sick and tired the Ukrainians were of the conflict, how much they wanted to “end all this shooting” and  reconcile with Russia. Therefore, the West would subsequently change its tack and help implement popular aspirations so clearly expressed during the Ukrainian elections by making its own compromises with Russia. In the next stage of this special operation, US President Donald Trump would meet with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Osaka to seal the fate of the post-Soviet countries, agree joint efforts to “deoligarchize” them and create effective institutions there. The next stage would be to discredit Ukraine as a country run by oligarchs using a weak and dependent president and a controlled parliament of rascals to accomplish their goals. This, in turn, would help bring about a regime change in Ukraine, force out the oligarchs and bring to power a Moldova-style coalition working under Moscow’s control and imitating mutual understanding with the West.”

What is interesting here is that Ukrainian experts started talking about such scenarios only after Russia’s return to PACE. It seems that this fact alone proved enough to spoil the mood of Ukrainian politicians and experts, who now paint a grim picture of their country’s future. They are aware of a problem, but they have no idea how to deal with it. Ukraine has no desire to change, even though it understands full well that in its present state it is increasingly losing its appeal to Europe. Given the hysterical state of mind of the country’s political elite, the situation there is very alarming and dangerously fraught with the darkest possible scenario.

With Russia now back in PACE, Ukraine is in a state of shock, dreading the possible lifting of anti-Russian sanctions. Ukrainian ex-President Petro Poroshenko described Russia’s return to PACE as the first step towards lifting the sanctions, “a powerful challenge to Ukraine,” “the first serious diplomatic blow that Ukraine received in the last five years,” and also “a blow to fundamental European values, when a price has been chosen between values and price.” He also vowed to fight the spread of “the virus of forgiveness of Russia for the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of Donbass.” Poroshenko’s statements reflected his relief and hidden joy that Russia’s return to PACE did not happen on his watch, because otherwise a  political defeat at home would have been compounded by a foreign policy debacle.

Ukraine’s current president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is equally “disappointed” by the Russian delegation’s return to PACE, despite all his efforts to prevent that happening.

“Last week I personally discussed this issue with the President of France and the Federal Chancellor of Germany. I tried to convince Mr. Macron and Mrs. Merkel that the Russian delegation’s return to PACE is possible only after Moscow has met the fundamental requirements put forward by the Parliamentary Assembly. It is a pity that our European partners did not hear us and acted differently.”

The young Ukrainian president was thus taught a lesson in Realpolitik where state interests always come before declarations, ideology or the spirit of the times.

Ukraine may find itself in the “gray zone” of European politics. Kiev can blame this on a compliant Europe or the “cunning Putin.” Or it could adequately assess its own foreign and domestic policy, which threatens to push it back to the very “gray zone” of world and European politics, which Kiev believes it emerged from thanks to the “revolution of dignity.” Later, however, Ukraine took a step back unleashing a civil conflict in the south-east.

The Minsk process and the Normandy format were meant to pull Ukraine out of the “gray zone,” to create the impression of a certain normalcy amid an ongoing civil conflict and the emergence of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. A sort of political schizophrenia grown on an anti-Russian soil…

What came as the first blow to Kiev, however, was not Russia’s return to PACE, but rather the fall from power of the Moldovan oligarch Vladimir Plakhotnyuk. For Kiev this is something more than just a precedent, it is the specter of a “big deal,” which came about so unexpectedly and translated into an agreement struck by political rivals in Moldova. This is something Kiev fears most, a future where, with Russian gas flows diverted elsewhere, the Ukrainian gas transportation system will turn into a pile of scrap metal, where nationalistic rhetoric will be increasingly criticized in the world and international demands for the implementation of the Minsk accords will likewise increase. 

The situation for Ukraine is very serious indeed: Moscow and Washington can act as one in Moldova, and Europe, interested in joint energy projects and economic relations with Russia, and facing strong US pressure on energy issues (regarding the construction of Nord Stream-2) is looking for ways to normalize relations with Moscow. 

 From our partner International Affairs

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