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The LNR Elections Through the Lens of the Russian Federation and the LNR Foreign Ministry

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On November 11, 2018, along with people from twenty-two countries, I was in Lugansk People’s Republic as an election observer for the national election. The elections in Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics were necessary because of the assassination of DNR Head of the Administration Alexandr Zakharchenko and the resignation of former Head of the Administration Igor Plotnitsky.

In the run up to the election and following it I was privileged to be able to interview diplomats from the Russian Federation and Lugansk People’s Republic. I took statements from the Deputy Foreign Minister in LNR, an OSCE election observer who was on his way to monitor the US mid-terms, and the mayor of Stakhanov which is a city in LNR.

Shattering the republics seem to be the motivation behind Zakharchenko’s assassination.

The elections themselves had the power to make or break the new republics. If the turnout was low, it would have meant that people voted no confidence in the young states and would have signaled they were failing.

Instead, the voter turnout is among the highest recorded anywhere in recent memory. Lugansk People’s Republic had a 77% voter turnout and DNR came in with 80%.

Instead of the outcome being determined by the results, this election is getting parsed by commas and period placement. While no one is actually arguing whether the election was legal or not, Ukraine is arguing its legitimacy.

Ukraine and LDNR only have one mechanism to negotiate through. This embodies the Minsk agreements. Minsk II makes the only reference to elections agreed to by all parties. Ukraine has the right to regulate local elections in LDNR. This gives the Ukrainian government control over how city and town elections are run. Ukraine decides what determines a legitimate election and what does not according to Ukrainian law.

Notice the parsing between legitimate (authentic) and according to Ukrainian law. This represents the arguments made about the election.

The principle involved is the same as a government assuming a power because it isn’t forbidden in the Constitution. This is done all the time and is considered normal.

Since the Minsk Agreements don’t specify for Ukraine to regulate the national elections, LDNR rightfully assumes the authority to do so. This is against the backdrop of DNR Head Zakharchenko’s assassins admitting they were working for Ukraine.

What does that mean? Well, for international bodies that means different things depending on what their mandate is. I was able to put these questions to an OSCE Election Observer on his way to monitor the US midterm elections. This is what he could say:

“The OSCE can only observe an election if it is invited to do so by an OSCE participating State, so any statements from the OSCE would not comment on any procedural aspects of the elections. The OSCE only observes elections when they are invited by the internationally recognized government, which in this case would be the authorities in Kyiv, and since the Ukrainian government denounces the Donbas elections as illegitimate, it is not inviting the OSCE to observe. Therefore the OSCE will not be monitoring and will not comment on the procedural aspects.”

As you can see, it isn’t legality that is questioned. It’s legitimacy that Kiev questions. It’s procedure, which is administrative detail. And lastly, it is the lack of an internationally recognized government invitation.

This is important because the same principals apply when I interviewed Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Dimitry Polanskiy and LNR’s Foreign Minister Vladislav Danego.

Ambassador Polanskiy, I would like to have a statement from you about Russia’s official attitude toward what kind of status change this (the election) brings to LDNR?

Second, do you see this as a step to (LDNR) normalizing relations with Russia? IE recognition?

Ambassador Polanskiy- “Hello once again. I will try to explain our position to you. The leaders of some districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions were elected on November 11 of this year. The current leaders – Denis Pushilin (Donetsk) and Leonid Pasechnik – were elected to the top positions. The voter turnout was unprecedentedly high – almost 80 percent.

The elections were organized under the universal and equal right to vote as guaranteed by item 7.3 of the 1990 Copenhagen Document of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and by the basic standards of democracy.

The Kiev authorities do not want to hear this, but we will tell them about the unanimous opinion of the many observers from over 20 countries, including OSCE member states. On the whole, voting took place in a calm atmosphere and without violations. The absence of excesses was reaffirmed by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM). Its personnel did not act as observers at these elections but continued monitoring the situation in the unrecognized republics under their mandate.

 Now I would like to say a few words about motives. After the assassination of Alexander Zakharchenko, the potential “vacuum of power” created a real risk of total destabilization in southeastern Ukraine. This could have negatively affected the sustenance of life in Donbass and the process of settlement in general against the backdrop of the Kiev-imposed trade and economic blockade and Kiev’s continuous threats to use force.

The elections made it possible to avoid this scenario. Now the people’s elected officials have a mandate to address the practical goals of supporting a normal life in these regions and carrying out the social functions that have been stubbornly neglected by the Ukrainian authorities. It is essential to approach the results of the election in Donbass with understanding, respect, and consideration for the totality of all factors.

We assume that it was held outside the context of the Minsk Package of Measures, item 12 of which is exclusively devoted to local elections. We hope the newly elected leaders of Donetsk and Lugansk will continue the dialogue with Kiev in the framework of the Contact Group on settling the crisis in southeastern Ukraine in accordance with the Minsk agreements.

2.And we are open for normalization with Ukraine, all the contrary initiatives come from Kiev, not from us. Ukraine has become an “Anti-Russia” from the point of view of its foreign policy

Instead of looking for alleged Russian aggression and blaming everything on my country Ukraine should better try to find the way to win back the trust of its citizens – those who live in the East and in the South. There is no other way to peace for Kiev but through dialogue with Donbass!

To answer your question about recognition. We do not intend to recognize these two republics, and the elections change nothing in this regard. They create no new status. Previous ones were held 4 yrs ago. According to Minsk agreements someday they will return to Ukraine.

But Kiev needs to implement Minsk agreements for this, create conditions for residents of Donbass to feel at home, speak Russian language and teach their children in it as well as respect their historic figures who fought for the liberation of Ukraine from Nazi Germany. So far it is not being done.”

Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Polanskiy makes it clear that Russia’s position while supportive, remains within its agreements and international norms regarding LDNR. Ukraine, on the other hand, has been ramping up the rhetoric and bringing in the machinery of war to the front lines as it continues to shell peaceful civilian homes and apartments. Kiev is now threatening a Blitzkrieg war in a region Ukrainian nationalists assisted Germany with its Blitzkrieg war in WWII.

LNR FM Vladislav Danego on what the results mean going forward

The morning after the election I was lucky enough to catch LNR’s Foreign Minister Vladislav Danego in the hotel lobby and he graciously agreed to an interview.

George Eliason– I’m with LNR’s (Lugansk People’s Republic) Foreign Minister Danego. It’s the day after the election and they have a mandate, 77% of voters able to vote; voted.

Foreign Minister Danego, how do you see negotiations, peace negotiations going with Ukraine from this point forward?

LNR Foreign Minister Vladislav Danego– “The result that was shown yesterday, that level of political awareness and desire (aspiration) that people showed with 77% participation (in the election) said that the world needs to respect (honor) the people’s choice and that would also include Ukraine. 

Donbass clearly said, “We are for the republic.” In LNR and DNR it’s absolutely unprecedented (electoral) participation. That level of voter participation is rarely seen anywhere.

In this situation, we will force Ukraine to accept the opinion (choice) of Donbass. And in the talks, first of all, and most of all, it will complicate the talks because Ukraine categorically refuses to hear the people of Donbass. But I hope the international community will make Ukraine open their eyes, and open their ears, and hear what Donbass is saying.

Only under those conditions will there be the possibility of at least some progress in dialogue with Ukraine.  If Ukraine will continue pretending they cannot see or hear Donbass, then accordingly, we will make our decision on whether it’s feasible to try and negotiate with such a country. Or will we need to wait until the government in Ukraine becomes the kind that is willing to talk and negotiate?

And that’s why we had elections because we now have two republics where there are governments acting for the interests of the people who live in Donbass and have to periodically check for the approval of the people.

Right now, first and foremost, people showed their patriotism and responsibility toward their country. The results will be announced shortly. Preliminary results show that interim Head of the Republic Pasichnik is ahead and also results for members of the People’s Council.

People showed a high level of trust in the current leadership of the republic. They showed their desire to move forward. They showed they want to build peaceful lives and count on the help of the Russian Federation. They showed this clearly at the end of the day of the election.”

Every one of Foreign Minister Danego statements is in line with international law and the agreements Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) has with Kiev.

FM Danego isn’t saying Kiev has to deal with LNR in a different way. He made it clear the people have decided who is representing them at the negotiating table and who is leading them into the future today. The one other thing is Kiev has to start respecting the agreements they are party to.

LNR DFM Anna Soroka on reasons why this election is important

We went to the commemoration at the We will not forgive! We will not forget! Memorial with LNR Deputy Foreign Minister Anna Soroka. This is the text of what she had to say.

This place is where the soul of Lugansk People’s Republic lays. In this place, some of the citizens of Lugansk were killed during the military actions of the summer of 2014. I am the Deputy Foreign Minister of Lugansk People’s Republic. My name is Anna. I, personally was a participant and took part in the events that happened in 2014.

Right now, we’re at the memorial for the burial of the victims. It’s called “Never forget, Never forgive!” Here lies up to 800 citizens of the republic. One hundred nineteen we know the names of. The rest are unknown to us.

I will explain how / why this happened. Aberonnaya Street divides the city (Lugansk) into two parts and it has importance in two wars, the first and the second world wars. As it happened this street historically divides our city into two parts.

The memorial for victims of nineteen forty-two, nineteen forty-three (behind her in the video) is for up to twenty-five thousand war victims of Voroshelovgrad (Lugansk) tortured by the Nazi army and this place where we stand now, the memorial “We don’t forget, we don’t forgive!” is for the victims of Ukrainian aggression of 2014 (to her left in the video).

This is the one place that doesn’t need (more)proof of the guilt of the Ukrainian army of the Kiev regime that unlawfully came to power in February 2014. It, by itself, is the witness that in peaceful normal conditions this kind of mass grave has no place. It cannot happen.

In the summer of 2014, when Lugansk was without lights and water, from the airport and all sides of the surrounding territory (Lugansk) was occupied by Ukraine, mortars were flying from the territory occupied by Ukraine. Civilians were dying everywhere, all over the city, even in the center of Lugansk.

The city was not able to keep up with all the bodies that were coming in because there was no electricity and not enough generators. All four cemeteries of Lugansk were under fire by the Ukrainian army. The decision was made to bury people here. If you can imagine the situation, this was the frontline (points in the middle distance). The airport which was four kilometers from here was under the control of the Ukrainian army. They attacked from there.

It was very difficult to bury people here as well (because it was also under fire). People dug trenches and as we said before (most of those who died) is unknown. We are now working on Identifying the rest of the people buried here.

I don’t want to paint this horrific picture if you could imagine for a minute, no lights, no water, explosions every minute, shells exploding overhead, bodies without heads, legs, or arms. It was very scary, horrific. We didn’t know who they were. That’s why there are so many unknown.

And we want very much for the world to know about the fact this place exists. This precise place is a direct witness to the crimes of Ukraine against our people. And today, when we stand before the choice that we have to make at our election, we would like to know that the world will hear us and understand us.

And understand we are not just trying to show our willfulness (contrariness). We fight for our lives, for peace. We fight for them (points to the mass grave) because we are responsible before them. I propose a moment of silence for all those who have died.

An interview with Sergey Schevlakov, the Mayor of Stakhanov about why the election is important to Donbass.

“The Ukrainian government started this. None of us, not I, not you wanted to start this war. We didn’t go to Lviv or somewhere else in Western Ukraine to tell them how to run things. We were all friendly, all friends. Our families were friends. It’s them that came to kill us.

It is them that is tearing the country (Ukraine) apart. So, it’s understood the government of Ukraine has different goals. For example, a long time ago in 12th century Great Rus, when it was torn apart into little kingdoms and history is repeating itself.

It happened in the 16th century. It’s repeating again today. Everyone wants to be a little king separating into little kingdoms. Instead of uniting, they tried to be great themselves.”

George Eliason– Will the Moscow Patriarchate be able to mend the breach in Ukrainian Orthodoxy?

Mayor Sergey Schevlakov -” Let me put it this way, we had one great powerful country. The world had competition. To have someone lose you have to impoverish(bankrupt) them spiritually and economically.

So, the European countries coalition tore apart the Soviet Union and now they are doing it to everything else including Ukraine. The goal is to push away a part of Russiya (greater Russia) that had Ukraine and Belarus together. It used to be one body or one country, they are consciously separating Ukraine and Russiya, pushing them away from each other so they could never unite again.

For a thousand years, Ukraine and Russia were one country and one people. For them not to unite and show that they are different, is why they are consciously forcing the Ukrainian language and won’t have Russian. Although we have one language, they are forcing the concept that we are different people and a different country.

And now to separate us spiritually, they are setting up the Ukrainian Prava Slava (Orthodox Church) so they want to be separate from the Russian Orthodox Church.

To divide the church into parts is to separate part of the people that live in Ukraine. On their own, the western countries and institutes created the separation to divide us so that we could never join again so that we could never become strong again.

So that we will always be poor and miserable. So that we crawl on our hands and knees before those that give welfare handouts or that we have to go to their countries to work on their plantations.

To make us the 21st-century slaves.

In other words, instead of building equality between countries, between different nations and peoples there should be respect and equality to build peaceful and good relationships between countries. But today, unfortunately, a different road is chosen. War, destruction, poverty, sorrow, tears, and so on;

We don’t want this.

We want peace and normal relationships politically, economically, and spiritually. That is why we are against the separation and division in the Church as well.

So, to summarize; we are former Soviet countries, meaning we are one people really. But in Soviet times the Germanies after WWII were separated in two countries. Russia did not fan the flames of division between the two Germanies. Was there a war between the two Germanies? No.

The Soviet Union left everything in Germany (didn’t rob the country) and took the Soviet army out. They allowed the two Germanies to come together without any conflict. But why then is the same Germany that was allowed to unite, the first to interfere in our union?

Instead, they’re causing us to divide instead of uniting so that we are left hungry and without work. That’s why I have this question. How is this a democratic Europe? Just saying, for example.”

Since the election, Ukraine has declared a state of war. They have moved S-300 surface to air missiles into the Donbass conflict zone. Olexandr Turchinov wants to use Blitzkrieg operations which he says will subdue LDNR in one week.

Russia is taking the threat very seriously this time. This is the result of the election on Ukraine’s side. Especially since there is a mandate for the newly elected leaders to continue moving in the direction they are going, Ukraine wants to destroy the new republics, not reintegrate them.

The world community needs to take these threats seriously. The people of the region have suffered enough. If the conflict in Donbass widens at all, ie starts to involve Russian military, it will likely engulf the entire region as well.

In the meantime we get a clear window into the democracy Ukraine is proposing, not just for Donbass, but for the rest of Ukraine that is already under Poroshenko’s wing. It is penury, perpetual escalation, and war for the sake of a comma and the placement of a period.

*All video by Olga Eliason*

George Eliason is an American journalist who lives and works in Donbass. His articles have been cited in books about the Ukrainian civil war. He has been published at Mint Press News, the Security Assistance Monitor, Washingtons Blog, OpedNews, Consortium News, the Saker, RT, Global Research, and RINF, ZeroHedge, and the Greenville Post along with many other great publications. He has been cited and republished by various academic blogs including Defending History, Michael Hudson, SWEDHR, Counterpunch, the Justice Integrity Project, along with many others. Project Censored listed two article series from 2017,2018 as #2 for national impact for those years.

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Russia-Ukraine War Alert: What’s Behind It and What Lies Ahead?

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Perhaps the most important thing for the Russian leadership in this episode was to prevent the need to actually go to war against Ukraine in the future. Going overkill in terms of military maneuvers on the Ukrainian border now may avoid the need to do terrible things at a later point.

The troops are not yet back at their bases, but the war alert along the Russo-Ukrainian border has passed. In fact, a war was never in the cards. Yet the alert, while it lasted, was profoundly disturbing. For the West, it highlighted the dangers of a large-scale direct clash between Russia and Ukraine. For Russia, which heretofore has dismissed the Donbas conflict as a civil war in Ukraine, it opened up the prospect of having to wage a real war against a large neighboring country. And for Ukraine, such a war might have been existential.

With the threat of war receding, it is important not to waste this dangerous experience, and instead to draw conclusions from it. For that, it’s essential to understand what was driving the behavior of the parties involved, to explain the moves that they made, and to consider the short- and medium-term results of the face-off.

Drivers

Seven years after its Maidan revolution, Ukraine is a country in considerable difficulties. Economically, its GDP is still 20 percent below its pre-Maidan level. Politically, it has not yet established a stable balance among the vested interests. Ideologically, and in many ways culturally, it continues to be split. Ukraine has become a ward of the West, but its prospects of being admitted to NATO, not to mention the EU, are very remote: essentially nonexistent for the foreseeable future. Since being elected president in 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky and his party have lost much of their once astounding popularity. The Servant of the People party has come under hard pressure from the Russophone opposition based in the east of the country, and the nationalists rooted in Ukraine’s west.

Seven years after the start of its confrontation with the United States, Russia is bracing itself for even more pressure from Washington. For U.S. President Joe Biden, Russia is a lower foreign policy priority than it has been for any U.S. administration since FDR. Biden talks tough, imposes sanctions, and is going after Russian interests such as the Nord Stream II pipeline. Russia’s relations with Europe are worse than they have ever been since the days of Mikhail Gorbachev. The special relationship with Germany is no more. The dialogue with France, always superficial, has definitively stalled. At the same time, coordination between U.S. and European policies on Russia has substantially increased under Biden.

The self-proclaimed people’s republics in the Donbas have been in limbo throughout these years. They are increasingly distancing themselves from Ukraine and integrating ever more closely with Russia. The ruble is the currency; Russian is the only official language; and 10 percent or more of the population of 3.6 million have already acquired Russian citizenship. Yet their future is unclear. Still wedded to the Minsk peace process and unwilling to sever its remaining ties with Europe, Moscow will not formally recognize the republics or allow them to accede to Russia. Frustration is mounting.

Behavior

It was Zelensky who moved first. He dealt a serious blow to the Russophone opposition by closing down its TV stations and charging its leaders with high treason. From a staunchly nationalist position, he advanced into the political territory of former president Petro Poroshenko. He took on the legal system head-on and elevated the National Security and Defense Council to the top position in the Ukrainian government. Most recently, he also demonstrated his willingness to stand up to Russia.

In February, Zelensky ordered troops (as part of the rotation process) and heavy weapons (as a show of force) to go near to the conflict zone in Donbas. He did not venture out as far as Poroshenko, who dispatched small Ukrainian naval vessels through the Russian-controlled waters near the Kerch Strait in late 2018, but it was enough to get him noticed in Moscow. The fact of the matter is that even if Ukraine cannot seriously hope to win the war in Donbas, it can successfully provoke Russia into action. This, in turn, would produce a knee-jerk reaction from Ukraine’s Western supporters and further aggravate Moscow’s relations, particularly with Europe. One way or another, the fate of Nord Stream II will directly affect Ukraine’s interests. Being seen as a victim of Russian aggression and presenting itself as a frontline state checking Russia’s further advance toward Europe is a major asset of Kyiv’s foreign policy.

Even though Kyiv’s moves at that time were not preparations for a military offensive (Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s senior official responsible for dealing with Ukraine, said he saw them as a PR stunt), the Kremlin decided to seize upon them to raise the stakes. Given the current state of Russian-U.S. relations, Moscow felt it had nothing to lose and something to gain by acting boldly and on a larger scale. Russia decided not so much to test the new U.S. president as to warn him early on of the dangers involved regarding Ukraine.

The Russian military massed troops along the entire Russo-Ukrainian border, from the north to the east to the south. It did so visibly and made sure that Western observers could analyze the maneuvers and conclude that they might not necessarily be a drill. Some reports, for example, spoke of field hospitals being brought to the border. In making its move, Moscow was pursuing several objectives:

To intimidate and deter Ukraine’s leaders, whom the Kremlin regards as inexperienced and irresponsible (in Kozak’s disparaging words, “children with matches”);

To send a message to the United States urging Washington to take better care of its wards, lest they get America itself into trouble (there were repeated references to Mikheil Saakashvili syndrome, referring to the then Georgian leader launching an attack in 2008 against the Russian-protected breakaway region of South Ossetia in the belief that he would be supported by a U.S. military intervention, which never came);

To convince the Germans and the French that supporting everything that Ukraine says or does carries a cost for Europe;

To reassure the people of Donbas that Russia will not abandon them to the Ukrainian army should it attack the two enclaves.

During the crisis, Kozak, who is also the Kremlin’s deputy chief of staff, essentially repeated President Vladimir Putin’s earlier stern warning that a Ukrainian offensive in Donbas would spell the end of Ukrainian statehood.

Having made their points by means of actions on the ground, the Russians were then available to discuss the situation, both with German and French political leaders and the top U.S. military commander. In those conversations, they dismissed out of hand all European criticisms about the troop movements on their own territory and only engaged in a detailed professional discussion with the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, simply to help him avoid a dangerous miscalculation.

Results

It appears that in the short term, President Zelensky got what he was aiming for. Having burnished his patriotic credentials, Zelensky strengthened his position. In foreign policy terms, it was amid the crisis along the border that President Biden called Zelensky for the first time, ending an awkward pause. Both NATO as an institution and individual U.S. allies voiced their support for Ukraine. The UK, in its new role as a power separate from the EU, convened a meeting of Ukraine’s closest friends: the United States, Canada, Poland, and Lithuania. Against that background, Zelensky repeated Kyiv’s earlier request to be admitted to NATO.

It is hard to say whether Russia has “won” anything. Moscow certainly backed up its earlier verbal warning with a credible demonstration of force. However, it is less clear whether Russia’s demonstration will lead to the United States monitoring its Ukrainian clients more closely and avoiding making misleading statements of the kind that landed Saakashvili in trouble in 2008. As for the Germans and the French, who of course are much more worried about a war in their own neighborhood, they have little influence in Kyiv. Russian pleas for the Europeans to take a less uncritical attitude toward Ukrainian policies and actions are unlikely to be heeded.

Perhaps the most important thing for the Russian leadership in this episode was to prevent the need to actually go to war against Ukraine in the future. It’s unlikely that Putin was bluffing when he said that a major attack against Donetsk and Luhansk would provoke a massive Russian response with catastrophic consequences for Ukraine. Unlike the 2008 war with Georgia, in which Russian objectives were limited to restoring the territory of the South Ossetian enclave and temporarily holding some areas in Georgia proper, it appears a war against Ukraine would be bigger by several orders of magnitude. Such a war would also deeply affect Russia itself and its international position. Going overkill in terms of military maneuvers on the Ukrainian border now may avoid the need to do terrible things at a later point. Under that same logic, doing nothing now would sow uncertainty and invite trouble, while doing nothing when trouble arrives would be suicidal for the Kremlin leadership. While Russia is not looking for more U.S. sanctions, it is ready to take them as a price for its muscle-flexing.

Prospects

The passing of the war scare is not the same thing as de-escalation. The high level of tension in the region is now the new normal. Unfortunately, there is no political solution in sight. The 2015 Minsk II agreement, the basis of the diplomatic process for ending the Donbas conflict, was stillborn. To the keepers of the national flame in Kyiv, implementing that agreement would always have been a case of high treason. Poroshenko only signed it because the Ukrainian military was decimated in Donbas, and it was the only way to stop the disaster. Putting the agreement into practice, however, threatened to undermine the work of the Maidan revolution by giving Russia a foothold, and thus was deemed completely unacceptable. Withdrawing from the Minsk agreement is not an option for Kyiv either, however, because the agreement was brokered by Berlin and Paris. Zelensky’s mission to get Russia to agree to a major revision of the Minsk terms in Ukraine’s favor has turned out to be impossible.

Expanding the format of the Normandy talks (currently held among France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine) to get the dialogue to result in an agreement is both impossible—Russia is unlikely to agree to U.S. participation—and impractical: even if the United States, which is not particularly willing, were to join, it would not lead to Russia yielding under U.S. pressure.

Absent progress on the Minsk agreement and Normandy talks, however, diplomacy will be increasingly practiced not in the usual way of harrowing but confidential negotiations (tellingly, Russia’s Kozak, frustrated with his counterparts, proposed making the talks public: a nonstarter, of course), but by means of sending messages through specific actions, like Russia’s current exploits on the Ukraine border. The only lifeline to peace left then will be direct contact between the Russian and U.S. military chiefs.

From our partner RIAC

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Armenia After the Parliamentary Elections

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On June 20, snap parliamentary elections will be held in Armenia. The move will ease tensions in the country but will fail to end political divisions and solve structural troubles such as poor economic situation, weak judiciary, and the fragile army.

The decision to hold elections followed months of protests when all the former presidents of Armenia, the current president Armen Sarkissian, leadership of the Armenian Church and large parts of the top leadership of the armed forces acted in concert to oppose the Pashinyan government. They all blame him for the country’s unexpected defeat in the war with Azerbaijan in 2020, as a result of which Yerevan had to cede most of the Azerbaijani territory it has occupied since the 1990s, including parts of the mostly Armenian populated Nagorno-Karabakh.

Pashinyan, a protagonist of the 2018 Velvet Revolution, enjoyed widespread popularity in the first two years of his rule. However, expectations for fundamental changes proved to be too high given Armenia’s weak state institutions, polarized political culture, and corruption. Additionally, those who appeared in the government with Pashinyan mostly came from Armenia’s civil society, which meant they had only limited policy development experience.

The year 2020 was associated with some tectonic upheavals in Armenia. The human toll and economic troubles from the pandemic coupled with the war with Azerbaijan, questioned Pashinyan’s competence. His position was undermined both at home and abroad. Still, no clear alternative to Pashinyan exists, which makes observers believe that a long-term solution to the country’s woes is not forthcoming.

According to the poll by the International Republican Institute, Pashinyan’s “My Step” faction remains the country’s most popular political party with 33% support. Second is “Prosperous Armenia,” the faction led by former President Kocharian. Both have 3%, while the former ruling Republican Party has only 1%. The figures show Pashinyan is still wanted, but political apathy is also on the surge when nearly 44% of Armenians do not support any party and 45% of the population disagrees with the general direction the country heading into. This suggests that in the longer run there is political vacuum, space for a new political force to emerge.

Elections will be competitive, but Pashinyan is likely to win. After all, despite all of his mistakes, Armenia’s military losses are a result of a slow degradation of Armenia’s military potential before his coming to power and the general change in the balance of power, namely, Azerbaijan’s rapid growth as a military power; the latter’s exponential military ties with Turkey, and Russia’s opportunistic behavior during the 2020 war.

New elections may well ease tensions, but the structural problems facing Armenian politics will remain. Deeper flaws, such as a lack of accountability, a lack of an independent judiciary, and a weak parliament, will negatively affect any new government. Additionally, Armenian politics remains highly polarized and personalized, which limits the room for real political changes in the fabric of the country’s management. Long-standing problems with corruption, unemployment, emigration and an ineffective economy will remain.

Geopolitical Ramifications

The parties participating in the Armenian elections are not debating foreign policy. If since 1991 the country’s foreign policy course was always discussed, these elections mark a break with this tradition. Following the war, without the presence of Russia in the country, Yerevan would be unable to defend itself, which gives the elections an external dimension. 

And here Russia’s position matters as it is in a fortunate position to favor both sides of the aisle. Russia does not need to fully support the overtly pro-Kremlin candidate, because in reality every plausible ruling entity in Armenia will become increasingly dependent on Moscow. Take, for example, “Bright Armenia” headed by Edmond Marukyan. The party is known for its moderately pro-European attitude. However, after the 44-day war – Marukyan called for the creation of a second Russian military base in the country. 

Thus, Russia is in a perfect position. With one masterful blow in November 2020, Moscow physically placed itself in the only territorial conflict in the South Caucasus, where it previously had no direct influence. With its peacekeepers in Karabakh, and Armenian army and the general public demoralized and confused after the 2020 fiasco, Russia is Armenia’s only hope. As argued above, this becomes increasingly clear for the entire political spectrum of Armenia’s political elite. 

Thus, the election results will not entail major changes in foreign policy. Nevertheless, the results will be of great importance for the Armenian-Russian relations and Armenia’s geopolitical maneuvering. The political parties are now itching in favor of closer ties with Russia, which could change the very fabric of bilateral relations. Russia can insist on deeper integration of Armenia into its favorite economic organization – Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Better trading conditions for Russian companies could be sought and more modern Russian weapons could be supplied in return.

The plausible deeper amalgamation could set a scene for a new integration pattern between Russia and the neighbors in the former Soviet space. Deeper ties with Armenia would also mean that Russia could be able to play Armenia and Azerbaijan against each other. This Russian approach is not new, but this time its intensity will be much greater. In four years, Russia will have to officially extend its peacekeeping mission in Azerbaijan. However, the Russian military presence worries the political minds of Baku. The desire to annul the Russian peacekeeping agreement will grow, and the Kremlin will have to play a smart game. 

Some concessions from Baku may be effective, but other political and military messages may work. At times, Russia will indicate to Baku that in case of its peacekeepers’ withdrawal, a much better trained and equipped Armenian army, bristling with high-tech Russian weapons, would prepare for a military campaign. Other ways to persuade Azerbaijan to a prolonged Russian presence might not work. 

Conclusion

Regardless of who wins the upcoming election, the structural troubles besetting Armenia will remain in place. A weak judiciary, military and the parliament will hinder the prospects for a quick solution to the traumas the country has been through since early 2020. The political landscape will remain viciously personalized, which would preclude potential cooperation between the parties to limit internal political pressure. Though Armenians nowadays think little about the country’s foreign policy, critical changes will take place – dependence on Russia will only grow because of the lack of options. Multi-vector policy attempts will cease to be made or will not bring any practical results.

Author’s note: first published in caucasuswatch

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Eastern Europe

Relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union

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The crises, revolutions, and wars of the first half of the 20th century led to serious geopolitical upheavals, economic crises, and serious violations of social justice. Formally formed after the end of World War II in 1945, liberal economic organizations such as the United Nations, GATT and the European Union focused on the formation of liberal internationalism in international relations and the transition to a global system of government (Dower & Williams, 2002). The failure of the liberal steps taken by the League of Nations in 1920 led to major economic crises in the second half of the 20th century. As a result of these economic crises, the end of socialism in international relations with the USSR in the 1990s, the emergence of independent states and liberal internationalism’s efforts to reach a global level reshaped both geopolitical positions in international relations and global economic forces and the system of international relations (Christopher S. Browning, 2013). After the degradation of the left ideology with the USSR, the emergence of independent states moving towards liberal values made the role of international organizations formed in the post-World War II period even more important. This article also provides information on the liberal relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan, which gained independence in the 1990s and the European Union.

General introduction to relations between Azerbaijan and European Union

The wave of democratization that began in 1974 began to radically change international relations. This democratization mainly covered the former USSR states; namely, the former communist states, geographically. After leaving the USSR, these states entered a very difficult process of democratization. Because for many years they lived in a totalitarian political system, as well as in a communist-planned economy. This directly prevented their transition to liberal multi-party democracy as well as to the “laissez faire” capitalist economy. Because, initially, the reforms were carried out with instructions from abroad. (namely, with instructions from global organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, etc.). Second, these countries did not have a strong economic base that would suddenly transition to market capitalism. Third, a culture of respect for individual freedoms was not ingrained in the policies of these states (Heywood, 2013). Therefore, after the collapse of the USSR, the newly independent states began to work closely with the European Union to accelerate the transition to globalization and democratization. Azerbaijan, one of these states, also became an active participant in international relations and international politics in 1991, building its relations with the West and the European Union on the principles of mutually beneficial cooperation, good neighborliness and peaceful coexistence.

The prospects of Azerbaijan’s relations with the European Union were mainly based on internal and external factors. Unlike other countries in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan’s relations with the European Union are mainly in support of economic and political reforms, the establishment of the East-West transport and communication corridor, infrastructure development, etc. (SAM, Main directions of Foreign Policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2017). Azerbaijan’s strategic transit position in the South Caucasus region, its location at the crossroads of land and air routes between Europe and Asia, and its role as a major distribution hub in Eurasia are of great importance to the European Union (Azerbaijan’s gas policy: challenges and dilemmas, 2009). One of the main tools for the European Union to interact with the countries of the South Caucasus was the European Neighborhood Policy. The inclusion of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the ENP program in 2004 enabled Azerbaijan to implement many of its economic, political, legal and administrative reforms within the ENP, and for this purpose Azerbaijan received financial and technical support from the European Union (SAM, Main directions of Foreign Policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2017). It should be noted that in addition to the European Neighborhood Policy program in its relations with the European Union, the Azerbaijani state joined the Eastern Partnership project at the 2009 summit in Prague. As the Eastern Partnership is an initiative of Poland and Sweden to improve relations with the CIS countries within the framework of the European Union’s neighborhood policy, it initially played a very important role in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy (EEAS – European External Action Service, 2018).

However, neither the European Neighborhood Policy nor the Eastern Partnership promised security guarantees for Azerbaijan’s foreign policy in the next stages of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, so Azerbaijan did not sign the Association Agreement and began negotiations with the EU for a new comprehensive agreement such as the Strategic Partnership Agreement (Shahin Abbasov, Jan18, 2011). Because in the foreign policy of Azerbaijan, there were economic and political reasons for not signing the Association Agreement of the European Union. Initially, the Association Agreement was not successful on the example of Azerbaijan. Because both sides had different requirements and needs. Secondly, this agreement was of no economic or political benefit to official Baku. However, Azerbaijan has been pursuing numerous projects with the European Union since the 1990s in many areas (energy, transport, education, culture, agriculture, regional development, economic, political and institutional reforms). As oil and gas from the Caspian Basin play an important role in ensuring the EU’s energy security, the European Union itself understands the geopolitical realities of Azerbaijan and acts accordingly (Elkhan Suleymanov. EU-Azerbaijan relations, 2011). Azerbaijan has existed with the European Union not only in the energy and economic spheres, but also in the social and political spheres. However, the relations within this framework have gradually weakened and lost their value. Although the European Union has taken an open position on Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, IDPs, Armenia’s occupation policy and existing UN resolutions, and has even adopted declarations, these principles have subsequently weakened. The first reason is that since both Azerbaijan and Armenia are parties to the Eastern Partnership, the European Union’s inaction in the conflict has affected the activities of the Eastern Partnership. In addition, although Azerbaijan itself is a modern and secular country, it often faced double standards of the European Union.

Historical and legal basis of Azerbaijan-EU relations

After gaining independence in 1991, Azerbaijan began to take an active part in building relations with Western countries and in international politics on the basis of the protection of statehood and national interests, as well as the principles of mutually beneficial cooperation, good neighborliness and peaceful coexistence. The fundamental requirements of state-building after the collapse of the USSR created a good basis for building relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union member states at both bilateral and multilateral levels. Due to its geographical proximity, important geostrategic location, availability of significant energy resources, Azerbaijanis a country of traditional interest to European countries (Sadigov R. The South Caucasus factor in the Eastern policy of the European Union. Politicale.ü.fddissertation, Baku, 2011, p.52). In general, in the first years of independence, the prospects of Azerbaijan’s relations with the European Union were based on internal and external factors. Internal factors included the continuation of reforms in the political, economic and social life of Azerbaijan to achieve the standards of the European Union, the full liberalization of the domestic market, production and services, and the completion of the country’s democratic transformation. External factors included the settlement of the conflicts in the South Caucasus, including the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, joint cooperation between the countries of the region, security cooperation, the formation of a unified legislative, executive and judicial authorities in all three countries (Mammadov N, p.285). In general, the Republic of Azerbaijan declared in 1993 that Azerbaijan was interested in establishing relations with the EU. By signing the “Partnership and Cooperation Agreement” with the European Union, Azerbaijan began official relations with the EU. The European Union sent its first representative to Azerbaijan in 1998, and in 2000 the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the EU was opened in Brussels. The Representation of the EU Commission in the Republic of Azerbaijan has been operating in Baku since February 4, 2008. This body was later renamed the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Azerbaijan. The appointment of the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus on 7 July 2003 was a step towards increasing the organization’s activity in the region (Ahmadov E, p. 227).

The European Union has developed a “Technical Assistance to the CIS” program to provide financial assistance to countries belonging to the new group of democracies, such as Azerbaijan, to implement democratic reforms, create a market economy, develop interstate trade and transport relations and improve the customs system. In 1992-2006, more than 414 million euros in humanitarian, technical and food assistance was provided to Azerbaijan within the framework of the EU’s TACIS and other assistance programs (E. Ahmadov, 241). In addition, serious steps have been taken between Azerbaijan and the European Union in the field of human rights and politics. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Azerbaijan was signed in Luxembourg on 22 April 1993, providing for cooperation in trade, investment, economy, legislation, culture, immigration and the prevention of illicit trade and laying the legal basis for bilateral relations. This agreement can be considered as one of the most successful pages in foreign policy, as it is the legal basis for expanding relations between Azerbaijan and EU institutions. The EU-Azerbaijan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement entered into force in 1999 after ratification by the Azerbaijani Parliament.

European Neighborhood Policy

One of the main tools for the European Union to interact with the countries of the South Caucasus was the European Neighborhood Policy. In 2004, the Republic of Azerbaijan was included in the ENP program. The central element of the ENP is the Action Plan agreed between the EU and each partner country, which sets out a number of short- and medium-term priorities for the country. The “Azerbaijan-EU Action Plan” was adopted at the meeting of the Azerbaijan-EU Cooperation Council held on November 14, 2006 in Brussels (E. Ahmadov, p. 240). The action plan identifies a number of priority areas of cooperation between the European Union and Azerbaijan. These are: mainly the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; strengthening democracy; strengthening the protection of the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms; improving the business and investment climate; improving the work of the customs service; support for balanced and sustainable economic development; improvement of economic legislation and administrative practice; Deepening energy and transport cooperation between the European Union and Azerbaijan; strengthening cooperation in the fields of justice, freedom and security, including border issues; strengthening regional cooperation (Mammadov N. Foreign policy: realities and vision for the future. Baku: QANUN, 2013, p.212).The cooperation carried out within the ENP allows Azerbaijan to establish economic relations with EU countries, establish preferential trade and credit regimes, labor, market relations and migration, fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, promote investment, attract new financial sources, etc. opened up opportunities such as (N. Mammadov, p. 287).

Eastern Partnership

The Eastern Partnership initiative was launched by Poland and Sweden at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on 26 May 2008. The initiative covers Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. A joint declaration was adopted at the EaP Summit in Prague on May 7, 2009, and the EaP officially began operations. The EaP intends to raise relations between the European Union and the member countries of the program to a higher level, to continue and expand existing cooperation in bilateral and multilateral formats. Azerbaijan also joined the Eastern Partnership program at the 2009 summit in Prague. The EaP program was a different framework from the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Thus, in order to establish closer ties with each partner country within the EU, the signing of new association agreements instead of existing partnership and cooperation agreements within the bilateral format, the establishment of a Deep and Detailed Free Trade Zone with a partner country in the WTO, as well as gradual visa requirements. liberalization, deeper cooperation to strengthen the energy security of partner countries and the EU, etc. planned. In other words, the EaP program did not promise the prospect of EU membership, but only a free trade agreement and associative political cooperation with this body, which provided for deep economic integration. However, neither the ENP nor the EaP did not sign the Association Agreement and began negotiations with the EU for a new comprehensive agreement, such as the Strategic Partnership Agreement, as Azerbaijan did not promise EU membership or any security guarantees. Because both the ENP and the EaP were programs that reflected the interests of the EU and the political and economic interests of the partner countries. On the other hand, the signing of the Association Agreement was not economically attractive for Azerbaijan. Because Azerbaijanis not a member of the World Trade Organization, which is one of the main requirements for signing the “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement”. On the other hand, the Association Agreement would not give a significant vote to Azerbaijan within the EU Customs Union. In addition, membership in the association would not reduce the share of oil and gas exports, which account for more than 90% of Azerbaijan’s exports, in the short and medium term. In general, Azerbaijan views the entry into any customs zone from three perspectives: political independence, economic efficiency and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

In addition, the European Union must accept that both sides have different requirements and needs. Therefore, before the EA Summit in Riga in 2015, Azerbaijan submitted a proposed document on the Strategic Partnership Agreement to the EU. Azerbaijan, like Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, did not sign the Association Agreement, so it preferred to sign an agreement that has a separate legal force and reflects the national interests of the country. On 14 November 2016, the EU Council of Ministers mandated the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to begin negotiations on behalf of the EU member states on the signing of an agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan. It should be noted that the new agreement will replace the 1999 TES and will be a new large-scale agreement with a legal obligation. Unlike other framework documents, the STS will address the common problems and goals facing Azerbaijan and the EU and will create a new basis for mutually beneficial cooperation and political dialogue between the two sides. The STS is a practical example of the “difference” approach outlined in the context of pursuing Azerbaijan’s interests in relations with the EU and in the updated version of the ENP (SAM, Main Directions of Foreign Policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, pp. 324-326, 2017).

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