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Armenia sides with Russia again- This time in Syria

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Authors: Rusif Huseynov, Abbas Zeynalli*

On February 8, Armenian Defense Ministry spread the news informing that 83 Armenian specialists – doctors, deminers and security officers– will be dispatched to the Syrian city of Aleppo. According to the information, this group was to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. Severe humanitarian conditions, UN Security Council’s Resolutions 2393 (2017) and 2401 (2018), Syria`s formal requests, as well as Aleppo`s big Armenian community have been referred to as the main reasons for the deployment of the so-called non-combat team, which is supposed to work in those areas which are not engaged in any military operations (Mil.am, February 8).

This action is actually not the first engagement of Armenia in the Syrian civil war. Since the outbreak of the conflict, thousands of Syrian refugees, mainly of Armenian origin, were accepted by the South Caucasian nation (OC-Media, February 19). However, some of refugees were illegally settled in Nagorno Karabakh, a conflict area which is internationally recognized as part of neighboring Azerbaijan (Al Jazeera, December 17, 2017).

While some questioned the legality of the action, as Armenian law has no provisions for protecting civilians or involving its military service people in such humanitarian activities, several politicians spoke out against the government’s decision. For instance, Hovsep Khurshudyan believes that Russia dragged Armenia into the Syrian conflict, which will have unpredictable consequences for Armenia, which has not received and will not receive anything in return (OC-Media, February 19).

The first international reaction on the formed Armenian team naturally came from Bashar Assad`s key ally Russia that covered the trip`s logistics and security issues.On the same day, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu thanked his Armenian counterpart David Tonoyan by stating that “You were the first to respond to our call to provide assistance to the Syrian people” (Al Jazeera, February 9). 

For a long time, at least since 2012 the Kremlin had been seeking support in Syria from its military allies (Eurasianet, June 1, 2012). Although some news on a CSTO peacekeeping mission circulated in the following years (Eurasianet, October 5, 2016), with Russia being especially interested to involve Central Asian Muslim countries, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (Eurasianet, June 23, 2017), those speculations never materialized as other CSTO members seemed less enthusiastic to get engaged in the bloody conflict.

The negotiations on possible Armenian participation in the Syrian war started a few years earlier. In 2016, Russian and Armenian foreign ministers discussed the deployment of army sappers to the Syrian town of Palmyra (Azatutyun, August 28, 2017). These discussions took place during the presidency of Serzh Sargsyan, openly pro-Russian, who stepped down as a result of the Armenian revolution in spring 2018. The protests were led by Nikol Pashinyan, who had long criticized his predecessors` foreign policies, opposing Armenia’s joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and calling it a “serious threat” to Armenia (Euractiv, October 23, 2018).

Therefore, Armenia`s teaming up with Russia in Syria now should raise some questions to Yerevan`s post-revolution government; Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his team have already worsened their relations with Moscow but could not make any dramatic U-turn westward either despite the expectations both from within and outside of Armenia.

In fact, the current government`s Syria deal with Russia was announced at least back in summer 2018, when Pashinyan disclosed on August 17, 2018, that Yerevan and Moscow were to undertake an “unprecedented humanitarian initiative” in the Middle East (Jamestown, September 17, 2018). Later in September both Pashinyan and Defense Minister Tonoyan confirmed Armenia`s plans of dispatching troops to Syria (Panarmenian, September 12, 2018).

The negative reaction by the United States also arrived immediately in September 2018, during the visit of U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton to Yerevan. The top official warned Armenia against sending its troops to Syria to back up government forces or their allies. “It would be a mistake for anybody else to get involved militarily in the Syrian conflict at the moment… There are already … seven or eight different combatant sides. To get involved with anyone of them for any other country would be a mistake,” he noted (Azatutyun, October 25, 2018).

In February 2019, the U.S. Embassy to Armenia issued a special statement of the State Department, which “did not welcome” the initiative: “We do not support any interaction with the Syrian Armed Forces, regardless of whether it is about providing assistance to civilians or is of a military nature” (Ritm Eurasia, February 16).

This action was claimed to be the reason whythe planned visit of Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan to Washington was canceled by a decision of the U.S. State Department, which followed a conversation between Mnatsakanyan and John Bolton (Regnum, February 22).

Interestingly enough, Armenian plans were announced and then realized amidst and despite the tensions between Yerevan and Moscow, as well as within the CSTO. Having not heavily interfered with the revolution and post-revolution processes in Armenia, the Russian authorities did not still welcome Armenia`s new officials warmly. Moscow seemed particularly upset with Pashinyan`s policies and attempts to bring to court his pro-Russian predecessors.

As for the CSTO, during the Khachaturov case, when the post of Secretary General of the organization became vacant and the Armenian authorities tried to fill in the position with its another representative, they faced the resistance of other member-states, especially Belarus and Kazakhstan. The situation has fully exposed Armenia’s vulnerable position in the organization (New Eastern Europe, November 28, 2018).

Among the main factors of Armenia`s decision to enter Syria could be Pashinyan`s desire to appease Putin who may consider a threat any revolutions and democracy attempts in Russia`s near abroad (Jamestown, September 17, 2018). Moscow could have especially been interested in such a serious move in order to demonstrate the Western community Armenia`s alliance with Russia despite the increase of pro-Western sentiments in Armenian society, the cooling of Armenian-Russian relations and inner problems within the CSTO.

It is not the first time when Armenia openly sided with Russia against the West. After the incorporation of Crimea into Russia, an event condemned by many countries, especially Western community, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan was the first person to congratulate Vladimir Putin on a happy annexation (Eurasianet, March 28, 2014). No surprise that Armenia was also one of the 11 states which voted against the United Nations Resolution calling upon the states not to recognize changes in status of the Crimean region (UN, March 27, 2014).

A humanitarian mission sent by the new government is said to either appease Putin or to acquire some concessions (e.g. non-interference in Armenia`s domestic policy) from the Kremlin.

No matter what could be the calculations of the post-revolution Armenian authorities that replaced a pro-Russian government, it is obvious that they cannot turn to the West or even balance between Russia and the West. Russia`s omnipresence in Armenia (Russian military base, dominance of Russian companies) leaves little or no room for maneuver for Yerevan, making it virtually impossible to shift its domestic and foreign policies.

It will be too difficult for Armenia to get rid of Russian umbrella and diversify its foreign and security policies, given that the landlocked and resource-short nation has problems and sealed borders simultaneously with two of its neighbors – Turkey and Azerbaijan. Moscow`s relatively calm attitude towards the Armenian Maidan (unlike the cases of other color revolutions in the post-Soviet space) may also stem from the fact that the Russian authorities are fully aware of their strong positions in Armenia and realize that this country cannot unanchor from Russian sphere of influence.

*Abbas Zeynalli is the Research Fellow from Topchubashov Center, Azerbaijan. His areas of interest cover Middle East, Chinese foreign policy, South Caucasus and European integration. 

Rusif Huseynov is the co-founder of the Topchubashov Center. His main interest is peace and conflict studies, while his focus area covers mainly Eastern Europe, Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia.

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Eastern Europe

Balts believe that they are under occupation

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Research fellows from GLOBSEC published at the end of June their report «Voices of Central and Eastern Europe» which presents perceptions of democracy and governance in 10 EU countries, including the Baltic States.

GLOBSEC is a global think-tank based in Bratislava. Its main goal is to shape the global debate through conducting research activities and connecting key experts on foreign and security policy.

This report provides an overview of the satisfaction and support for democracy and current governance systems among respondents in Central and Eastern Europe.
Its conclusions are very demonstrative and should be taken into consideration by native authorities. The findings are really alarming.

They show population’s dissatisfaction with the current government and countries’ great dependence on the US and NATO. As it turned out, people have no confidence in their governments and consider the US as one of the main influential country.
Thus, 10% of Lithuanians and 21% of Latvians agree that the movement towards independence in 1990 was orchestrated by the US for the sole purpose to cement its dominance in the region.

The more so, the polling data show that 13% of Lithuanians and 26% Latvians believe that the Baltic states are under NATO occupation, where the US is a leading nation.
The authors write that “Latvia belongs to the more dissatisfied group of countries in the Satisfaction with the System of Governance Index. Decreasing voter turnout reflects the strong perception among the public that the needs of the people are not taken into consideration by the political system. 76% of Latvian respondents believe so, which is the highest percentage among CEE (Central and Eastern Europe) countries. Such perceptions provide a fruitful ground for populist rhetoric.

As for Lithuania, the authors made a conclusion that “over the past decade, the concept of “the two Lithuanians” – elites versus common citizens – has emerged. The concept is nurtured by a narrative focusing either on the “elite” being in a privileged position and gaining wealth at the expense of the “common citizens” or on the “common citizens” being decisive in voting for “populist” or “inept” governments and receiving meager, short term benefits to be pacified. This weaves its way through a variety of issues, ranging from distrust to dissatisfaction with democracy, with entire groups feeling like they have lost from the democratic transition, being concerned by growing inequality and social issues.”

Here are only some of the findings of the researchers:
54% of the respondents in Latvia and 49% in Lithuania agree that who holds the power in the government does not matter, since nothing will change.
79% of the respondents in Latvia and 77% in Lithuania agree that oligarchs and financial groups have strong control over the government in their country.

It should be said, that the report, written in English, has not been presented to the wide audience in the Baltic States. It is clear that the document contradicts official statistics and may harm the image of the authorities. Nevertheless, the data speak for themselves. The population of the Baltic States DISSATISFIED with the current authorities. So, what is next?

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Eastern Europe

Azerbaijan’s Inclusive Diplomacy Amidst COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic represents an unprecedented disruption to the global supply chain, as production and consumption are on a downward trend across the world. While the outbreak weakened considerably the global value chain by disrupting the balance between supply and demand, the economic repercussions are having a profound adverse impact on evry sphere of life. Against this backdrop, some countries tried to turn the coronavirus pandemic into a propaganda tool, whilst the others were suffering from the outbreak.TheCovid-19 pandemichas subsequently become a test for international community and also an ideal momentum for certain great powers to extend their influence globally.

While the world is in the throes of the COVID-19, under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan has taken important initiatives to strengthen international solidarity and cooperation in the fight against coronavirus at the regional and global levels.The holding of an extraordinary Summit of the Turkic Council and anonline Summit-level Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement Contact Group in response to the COVID-19 initiatedby Ilham Aliyev, the current Chairman of of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States and the NAM, President of Republic of Azerbaijanis an example of this.The heads of state participating in the summits, as well as the heads of the UN and the World Health Organization praised the initiatives of the President of Azerbaijan to curb the pandemic.At these summits, extensive discussions were held on the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and various ideas and proposals were put forward. Azerbaijan has proposed convening a special session of the United Nations General Assembly (UN GA) to strengthen the global efforts to combat the new coronavirus (COVID-19). The proposal has been already supported by more than 130 UN Member States which demonstrates confidence and trust in Azerbaijan.When the world is facing a global disaster and all countries need international solidarity and cooperation, though it may seem improbable Armenia is the only country protested against the initiative which is in the interests of the international community.

While the COVID-19 wrecking the world, unfortunately the international community has demostrated limited solidarity. However, as mentioned by António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations that we are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply and this is, above all, a human crisis that calls for solidarity. In this sense, hopefully Azerbaijan’s above-mentioned initiative will invigorate global ambition to find a solution to the global disaster by breaking the silence of the UN and it will once again become a platform for global discussions and this special session will lay the potential groundwork for greater engagement in response to this humanitarian crisis.

Azerbaijan always attaches great importance to mutually beneficial cooperation with all countries. This principle is clearly reflected in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy during pandemic, as well.Assistance to a number of countries suffering from the pandemic is a clear example of Azerbaijan’s inclusive aid-oriented foreign policy.Azerbaijan, amidst the pandemic, once again repeatedly supports international solidarity and provides assistance to most needy countries.So far, Azerbaijan has extended a helping hand to many countries suffering from the pandemic.Azerbaijan has sent medical aid to about 30 countries, including the People’s Republic of China, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.It included financial assistance and support in the form of medical equipments and supplies to strengthen the health, social and economic resilience of the most pandemic-hit countries. At the same time, it has provided $ 10 million in assistance to the World Health Organization, which will help countries in the world that are suffering from the pandemic and financially struggling to fight the pandemic. The donation has been distributed to most vulnerable Non-Aligned Movement member countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Additionally, in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak, Azerbaijan even donated $5 million of financial aid to the Islamic Republic of Iran devastated under the US sanctions which made it impossible for the country to swiftly take the necessary medical, economic and social measures to protect its citizens from the coronavirus.The main criteria here are the countries in need the most.All this, of course, is a clear example of the humanity and generosity of the people of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan never turns away those who ask for help. Therefore, the sympathy and respect for Azerbaijan, who pursues the right and dignified policy both domestically and internationally, is growing day by day.That once again attests Azerbaijan is always at the forefront of fight against the global challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a public health crisis for the whole of humanity.Understanding the significance of the problem, therefore Azerbaijan shoulders a tremendous responsibility as a middle power to uphold the vision of strengthening the solidarity and the promotion of multilateral diplomacy. Azerbaijan conducts a diplomacy focused on the practical mesaures to deal with a global disaster of this dimension, at multiple levels, in coordination with each other and international community. Some experts consider the recent developments in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy as “the rise of Azerbaijan’s diplomacy”.

To conclude, at a time when the global crisis and uncertainty are deepening, Azerbaijan is taking responsibility and making a real contribution to multilaterialism.As a responsible and reliable member of the world community, Azerbaijan has supported calls for global solidarity from the earliest days of the coronavirus threat.Azerbaijan’s foreign policy stance on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is that the international community can only tackle the current crisis through a multilateral rules-based order and there is no way to protectionism and isolationism.More specifically, Azerbaijan prefers the inclusive diplomacy as a possible framework for addressing the current critical situation.

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Eastern Europe

Special Session of the UNGA related to COVID-19 to be convened at the initiative of Azerbaijan

Dr. Esmira Jafarova

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When dystopian scenarios became our everyday reality with COVID-19 reigning over our lives and divesting large numbers of world population of their normal routines, little did everyone know that very soon we would also be experiencing a pent-up disenchantment with the role played by global institutions that are tasked with the protection of international peace and security. While the magnitude of the contagion has turned great geographic areas into quarantines zones, with concomitant physical and mental health challenges brought to millions of people, the message sent out by the United Nations –the largest global multilateral organization – is rather mixed and definitely not reassuring. Despite the fact that the UN General Assembly adopted its first ever resolution on the COVID-19 on April 2, 2020, calling for “global, solidarity, multilateralism and international cooperation” to cope with the pandemics, the voice of the UN Security Council is still missing as it has failed on numerous occasions to adopt a resolution that would finally categorize the COVID-19 as a threat to international peace and security. While the World Health Origination (WHO) was and still remains the frontrunner of the international response to this unprecedented health crisis, some governments, however, did not unfortunately demonstrate a unified and solid support to these global efforts, having thus occasionally yielded to their own national agendas and opted for criticisms and recriminations instead of forging global unity and cooperation in these difficult times.

The conceptual debate as to when and how the pandemics will be defeated, impending surge of the second wave, as well as about the contours of the post-COVID-19 world is ongoing in parallel to practical efforts on the part of medical community, scholars, pundits and politicians to ease the sufferings of millions of people worldwide, save and repair whatever vestige of normalcy we may still have. Azerbaijan was among the countries that having assessed the dangers of the pandemics took very swift measures upon the news about the first infection case on 28 February as the government put the country into quarantine and enhanced it as the situation so demanded. The special Coronavirus Support Fund was established with 19 March 2020 Presidential Decree and the government prepared 9 programs worth about 3,5 billion manats- 3 % of the GDP to support the economy and extend social benefits. Many new hospitals were built for COVID-19 patients and local production of medical masks was introduced right from the beginning. Like many other countries around the world, Azerbaijan is also still battling the COVID-19 induced challenges, however, it has been doing so in a well-prepared and consistent manner that oozes confidence that one day we will beat this global health crisis and return to normalcy, whatever that might mean in a post-COVID-19 world.

Azerbaijan as an emerging and ambitious “middle power” did not obviously suffice with its domestic achievements, as the dynamics of the pandemics shows that “no one is safe until everyone is safe”. As the incumbent Chair of the Turkic Council and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the country initiated two online summit meetings of these two institutions on 10 April and on 4 May, respectively, in the midst of strict lockdowns in many parts of the world. Being an ardent believer in the value of international cooperation and multilateralism, it was only natural to expect Azerbaijan to initiate a discussion within these institutions in order to foster unity of purpose through effective multilateralism, and seek for common solutions that would attenuate and eventually overcome challenges imposed by this global contagion. Azerbaijan’s once again assuming a leadership role especially in such difficult times to promote the norms and values it believes in, therefore gibes with its image as a norm entrepreneur and a “middle power”.

NAM- the largest international body after the United Nations, opts for not aligning with or against any major powers and promotes “the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries”. In line with its broader foreign policy objectives Azerbaijan vowed to promote multilateralism, international cooperation and solidarity also within the NAM group during its chairmanship in 2019-2022.Among the important outcomes of the above online NAM summit on 4 May, the idea proposed by President Ilham Aliyev that NAM countries could initiate convening the special online session of the UN General Assembly on COVID-19 on the level of Heads of States and Governments gained particular traction. This initiative voiced an innate belief by many that more should be done on the part of international organizations to stave off the repercussions of the COVID-19 and unite global efforts through fostering more cooperation and multilateralism as opposed to pursuance of isolationist and national agendas in the face of this calamity.

It was this confidence and trust in Azerbaijan’s initiative by NAM countries and the greater UN community that the proposal of convening of the special session of the UN General Assembly in response to COVID-19 was supported by more than 130 UN Member States, which makes 2/3 of the UN states. The only country that rejected the initiative was Armenia, however, the decision was adopted through the “silence  procedure” by the majority of the UN Member States. So far only 30 UN General Assembly special sessions have happened as they are different from regular sessions. It has also been quite a while since the UN General Assembly adopted its second resolution on COVID-19 on 20 April 2020, calling for “International cooperation to ensure global access to medicines, vaccines and medical equipment to face COVID-19”. However, it is not enough. This health crisis is a moving target and continues to pose unseen and so far untrammeled challenge to our existence in the habitual system of international relations. Discussions within the UN on the issue should not cease, quite the contrary, they should carry a particular importance and provide a sense of direction in the absence of the UN Security Council resolution on COVID-19 threat.

When seeing the current international response to the crisis in such a disarray, with shambolic UN Security Council and mostly low profile demonstrated by other international institutions, neorealists would cheer, as their central thesis of an “anarchic and self-helping international system” seems to once again prevail. However, the humanity has not suffered so many wars, deprivations and sufferings throughout this century alone to turn a blind eye to the lessons learned. The World War II became an inflection point making states realize that they cannot exists in isolation, and cooperation is the best strategy to stand against common threats and enemies. Many international institutions were therefore created afterwards, setting the stage for the never ending debate between neorealists and neoliberalists (institutionalists) as to the relevance and influence of these organizations in interstate relations and in shaping the world order. Many would agree that humanity’s battle against COVID-19 also resembles a war, this time against an invisible enemy. We may as well dub it the World War III given its proportions and uncertainty that it brings to all of us.It is therefore incumbent upon each and every member of the international system to contribute to the global efforts to fight this scourge. Azerbaijan, once again, as an ardent believer in the power of international institutions, cooperation and solidarity, stood up to its role as a norm entrepreneur by having initiated and achieved the summoning of the special session of the UN General Assembly in response to COVID-19. Every effort matters, but one is not enough to cope with such a crisis if it is not multiplied by the like-minded. Azerbaijan’s efforts to achieve global solidarity was supported first within the NAM, and later, by the rest of the UN community, and our expectations from this special UN General Assembly session are first and foremost related to the message of solace that we are not all alone in this war.

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