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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

Did Russia Really Win in the 2008 August War?

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Eleven years have passed since the short Georgian-Russian war started on August 7-8 in 2008. As every discussion on who started the war generally is, the Georgian-Russian one too is about finding moral grounds for military actions which both sides took at the time.

Morality in geopolitics, and the Georgian-Russian conflict is indeed caused by pure geopolitical calculations, is at most times a superfluous thing. All these years the Russians have been trying to convince the world and the public inside the country that the Russian military moves actions and subsequent recognition of the independence of the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions were the only possible and correct actions to be taken. The Georgians also have their dilemmas: some marginal political figures still believe that it was the Georgian government that was most to blame for the catastrophe of 2008. Though close geographically, these diverging narratives and the constant need to prove one’s own truth says a lot about how far apart Georgia and Russia have grown in the past decade.

11 years since the war and it is still unclear what Russia has gained from its military and diplomatic actions since 2008. True, military build-up in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region limited Tbilisi’s ability to become an EU/NATO member state. Moreover, Russian intervention into Georgia in 2008 also showed the West how far Moscow can go if a strategic decision is made to draw Georgia into the alliances. At the time (August-September 2008) those seemed to be long-term (strategic) victories for Moscow. In international relations and geopolitical calculations, you can stop a country from attaining the aims harmful to you, but in the long run you will be unable to reverse the process by forceful actions alone: you have to provide a counter-policy to turn an unfriendly state into an amenable neighbor.

Put all of this into the Russian case. More than a decade has passed since 2008, only a few not-so-important states recognized Georgia’s territories as independent entities. The Georgian public is overwhelmingly anti-Russian, the last hopes of a grand geopolitical bargain – the return of the territories in exchange for reversing EU/NATO aspirations – have disappeared among the Georgian public, and support for western institutions so far has only increased.

In the end, though Moscow waged a reasonably costly war in 2008, took and still experiences a diplomatic burden for its moves against the West, and has yet to attain its grand geopolitical goal of reversing Georgia’s pro-western course. Politicians in Moscow, at least strategists behind the scenes, all understand that Georgia’s persistence, which seems naive today, might turn into serious business if Russia’s geopolitical positions worsen elsewhere in Eurasia.

Indeed, there are signs that Russian influence is set to diminish further in the former Soviet space as the country’s economy is unlikely to be attractive to the neighboring states. Imagine a scenario where Russian internal problems (Putin’s upcoming succession, economic downturns, China’s rise, stronger Ukraine, etc.) weigh ever stronger upon the Russian decision-makers in the 2020s, then Georgia’s western aspirations might become more concrete – it will be easier for the West to make a strategic decision to draw Tbilisi into EU/NATO.

Overall, Russia definitely gained significant results in 2008, but in the long run it did not change the strategic picture in the South Caucasus, though it did produce a grand design for geopolitical domination in north Eurasia: years after the war, Moscow initiated its Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) to draw its neighbors into one economic space – a prerequisite for building a world power. Ideally, it should have attracted Russia’s major neighbors and it would have served the people of the former Soviet space economically. But Moscow failed to get Ukraine and other states involved: without Kiev, the EEU, if not dead, is at least a marginal project. This means that Russian policies towards Georgia and the wider South Caucasus remain the same as before 2008 – keeping foreign powers out of the region, while failing to provide an alternative vision for Tbilisi.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today

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Lithuania’s new chief of defence has no chance

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Lithuania’s new chief of defence, Major General Valdemaras Rupsys calls himself a realist though it seems as if he is a fatalist with no hope to change anything in the national armed forces.

In a detailed interview with BNS Valdemaras Rupsys demonstrates his inability and even lack of hope to modify national military system. He distinctly reveals his plans.

Major General Valdemaras Rupsys says he will seek to accelerate new armored vehicle and artillery system purchases if the country’s defense spending makes this possible.

The key words here are “if the country’s defense spending makes this possible”. The matter is Lithuania itself can rely only on foreign financing and help to strengthen its defence. Thus, he informs that a number of Boxer IFVs are currently being delivered to Lithuania. Renamed “Vilkas”, or “wolf” in Lithuanian, the vehicles will be provided only to two battalions of the Iron Wolf mechanized infantry brigade, in Rukla and Alytus. It should be noted that Mechanized Infantry Brigade “Iron Wolf” is the core unit of the Lithuanian Army and forms the country’s contribution to NATO collective defence. But even this unit will not be provided with all necessary vehicles and equipment.

The brigade’s other two battalions, in Rukla and Panevezys, will continue to use old M113 armored personnel carriers, with plans to replace them with more advanced vehicles by 2030. No budget money – no vehicles!

Major General Valdemaras Rupsys admits that the only thing he can definitely do – to speak to the authorities. “We’ll definitely have to speak to the ministry about whether there are possibilities to replace their platform earlier than planned,” the general told in an interview. “Plans call for doing so in around 2030 but everything depends on financial resources. There won’t be any drastic decisions to replace the acquisitions that we are already planning now,” he added.

When he answers to the question if the Iron Wolf brigade needs tanks he is very flexible and says that “being aware of our means and financial capacity, I don’t dream about tanks right now. We don’t have such plans.

Another question is if he dreams about fighter jets in the Lithuanian army. And he again says – “No, I don’t today. I am a realist and don’t dream about things we cannot have.”

The worst thing is his full satisfaction with the existing situation. He will not even try to change things. In terms of conscription system he shifts the responsibility on the political leadership, on the whole, which should decide on that. And then what is his responsibility? Does Lithuania need such a chief of defence who decides nothing from the very beginning?

Obviously, Lithuania has no money, but according to Major General Valdemaras Rupsys Lithuania even lacks of ambitious either to be a strong country. Possibly, this aim could be reached at the expense of others. At least he is honest.

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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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