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The Four-Day War in Nagorno-Karabkh: EU and NATO

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karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh is a 4400sq km self-governing state sited in the northeastern part of the Armenian highland. This territory has been a ground of struggle between Armenians and Azerbaijanis since the years 1918-1920. The region has been disputed mainly for historical motives by both the sides. Azerbaijan insists that it has been under their rule since renowned history and on the contrary, the Armenian side claims that Nagorno-Karabakh was an Armenian territory originally and that the claims of Azerbaijan are not legitimate.

The conflict escalated by 1988, when under the Azerbaijani repressions in Nagorno-Karabakh large-scale demonstrations and strikes erupted, which brought Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh epicenter. On February 13, 1988 the Supreme Soviet of Karabakh, adopted a resolution, which signposted that Nagorno-Karabakh region must be transferred from Azerbaijan to Armenia. The taught to be frozen conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh erupted on April 2, 2016, continued for four days and left dozens of casualties on both sides. The situation remains extremely volatile, despite a temporary truce and calls from the international community and organizations to immediately stop the fighting and get back to the negotiations table. Among those were international organizations NATO and the EU, which both have wide ranged interests in the South Caucasus region.

South Caucasus is geographically located on the most crucial crossroad linking the West and East, North and South of the Eurasia and has always drawn the attention of superpowers and while aspiring to strengthen their military political influence, they attached significant importance to taking control over this particular crossroad.

NATO’s policy in the Caucasus has never been static. Rather, it has evolved under the influence of many factors, including the strategic interests of the United States and its European allies, aspirations of the regional players (Turkey, Iran), key security challenges such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and regional conflicts, which can addressed through concerted international cooperation. The region is located on key oil and gas transit routes, which makes it extremely important place to be. South Caucasus, being in proximity to the NATO borders, the Alliance directly links the security in South Caucasus to the security in the entire Euro-Atlantic zone; therefore, the alliance tries to play a significant role in enhancing security and stability in region. NATO is best interested in the stability in the South Caucasus region, with the reform-capable states, sharing democratic values with the Alliance that are the best guarantors of security, stability and prosperity. NATO and other European structures as well are eager to perceive South Caucasus as a geopolitically unified area and work with the region as such, whereas the region is united only geographically, and totally fractured politically. An integrated approach towards the region fails as Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan follow quite different foreign policy vectors. Statement, urging the sides to respect the ceasefire, was made by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, quote “I am encouraged by the reports of the cessation of hostilities along the Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact. I urge the sides to respect the ceasefire, show restraint and prevent any new escalation. NATO supports the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group. The parties need to go back to the negotiating table and find a comprehensive settlement, under the auspices of the Co-chairs. There is no military solution to the conflict. The peaceful resolution of conflicts is one of the core commitments to which all NATO’s partner countries commit when joining the Partnership for Peace”.

These statement level actions show that the alliance does not have the goal to get fully engaged in the conflict as leading members of NATO, United States and France are already co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group, which mediates the peace talks. South Caucasus is largely considered by west as a Russian “space” to which Russia gives utmost importance, regarding it as its southern gate, an access to the Middle East. Being fully engaged in the region and in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict means confronting Russia and other regional powers, which is not worth.

Armenia and Russia are supposed to be strategic partners, but “strategic partnership,” some Armenian analysts acclaim, has become outlined more by a precarious amount of Armenian overdependence than unbiased cooperation. Russia embraces a unique place in the Armenian foreign policy notion of ‘complementarism’. Armenia considers the military-political cooperation with Russia as a critical component of its policy in the scope of defense and security and if NATO-Armenia relations want to proceed any further NATO must offer more than just the Individual Partnership Action Plan and cooperation on democratic, institutional, and defense reforms. Security matters most to the Armenian interests because Armenia is at war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and is at odds with Turkey over the 1915 Armenian Genocide, who also supports Azerbaijan in the Karabakh conflict.

The European Union has become engaged in this area since the independence of the South Caucasian states in 1991 and though the EU borders the South Caucasus through the Black Sea, lacking direct land border, the region is still perceived as a potential threat for the European security. Another prevailing factor for EU’s interest is the need for diversification of energy resources for the EU and the role of the South Caucasus for production and transportation of hydrocarbons. Along with energy security, the role of trade, transport, and communications corridor should be highlighted on the background of the region’s strategic location between Europe and Asia. Although politically and economically highly involved in the region, EU’s attitude to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is distanced. European Union like NATO has remained satisfied with just making statements on the four-day war between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.

The EU and NATO despite having no direct role in the negotiation process fully support the current mediation efforts and have called for a peaceful settlement. At first stance the EU’s position looks rather vague – proposing two opposite solutions, territorial integrity and self-determination, show the EU’s lack of interest in the specifics of the conflicts at the EU’s periphery. Indeed, the EU’s overall strategy towards Nagorno-Karabakh and the South Caucasus in general has been incoherent, resembling to a child who is just about to walk and is still making clumsy steps. EU has developed its own distinctive, though not always effective, approach to conflict resolution and that is Europeanisation, comprising both conditionality and social learning. Whilst by applying conditionality, be it through the ‘carrots’ or ‘sticks’, the European policy-makers seek to achieve the required changes in the domestic structures in a third country, social learning advocates an internalization of the EU norms by the domestic actors who would consider these norms both legitimate and intrinsically valuable. However, this nudging concept of social learning has little chance of being welcomed in the states like Armenia and Azerbaijan, where the vast implications of the contagious Soviet legacy are still felt throughout. Civil society reform in both countries is far from fully developed.

It is by the use of sanctions, and in particular, targeted sanctions, the EU can reinforce and exert its influence, thus yielding positive changes in the policy making of the two South Caucasian countries. That may take the form of sanctions in the event of violations of contractual obligations undertaken by both countries. These positive changes towards democratization should lead to a more constructive conflict resolution that should be enabled by an active support of civil society initiatives and thus fostering of an open dialogue between conflict-affected parties. This would make the EU’s stake in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution more tangible and effective.

Eastern Europe

Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers

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Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv.  In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.

The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.

It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.

They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!

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Eastern Europe

Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?

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Photo: Robert Anasch/Unsplash

The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.

A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.

One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.

The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.

Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.

First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.

Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.

Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.

Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.

The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.

The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.

Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.

But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.

The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.

Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.

Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.

This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank

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Eastern Europe

Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia

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Photo: Protesters hold a banner depicting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi, Georgia July 1, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.

On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.

But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”

For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.

In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.

That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.

A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.

It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.

Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.

One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.

It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.

Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.

The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.

To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.

Author’s note: first published at cepa

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