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Eastern Europe

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

Grisha Aghajanyan

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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.

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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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