After the Velvet Revolution, international community expected that new Armenian government would intensify the diplomatic negotiation process for Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Everybody thought that Pashinyan-led government would act differently from the previous government that sized the power in Armenia during last 20 years. Winning the most of the seats during the parliamentary elections gave a strong authority to Nikol Pashinyan to discuss this issue with Armenian society too. At the early days, his government made positive statements about the process. But this discourse suddenly (without serious reason) is changed. For instance, on 6 March, during his visit to Brussels, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan made a remark about forthcoming meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev and said that at the “next meeting we will discuss the format of negotiations. For the resolution of problem, we should firstly formulate an effective format and achieve Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenians) be part of the negotiations”. Armenian new approach was not accepted by international community, rejected by Azerbaijan and criticized even by Armenian experts. While the OSCE’s Minsk Group Co-chairs assessed the continuing lack of casualties on the line of contact positively and welcomed the discussions about preparing populations for peace, the new statements of Armenian officials affected negatively the atmosphere of negotiating process prior to the next planned meeting the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders.
OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs didn`t support Pashinyan`s new statements on the conflict resolution process. In this context, the Co-Chairs urged the sides to refrain from statements and actions suggesting significant changes to the situation on the ground, prejudging the outcome of or setting conditions for future talks, demanding unilateral changes to the format without agreement of the other party, or indicating readiness to renew active hostilities.
EU officials didn`t support Pashinyan`s new statements on the conflict resolution process as well. According to the press service of the European External Action Service, European Union High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Morgherini “advocated full engagement in negotiations without preconditions, under the auspices of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs”. Meanwhile Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations also didn`t advocate Pashinyan new approach when he said that “I think we shouldn’t try new negotiating format we should protect old one. We should focus on principles of trust”.
Azerbaijani government strongly criticized Pashinyan’s new statement. Azerbaijan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Elmar Mammadyarov reacted that saying we should clarify that whether we are going to prepare our people to peace or we should choose different way. Hikmat Hajiyev, Head of Foreign Policy Department of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan called Pashinyan`s new approach as a “Puppet policy”.
The new position of Armenian government has been criticized by Armenian experts as well. According to Richard Giragossian new approach of Armenian government lead to Armenia`s significant setbacks in diplomatic position and prestige within the peace process.
New approach of Armenian government is neither advocated by history of negotiating process nor by real situation. Firstly, on 16 January the ministries of foreign affairs of both countries hosted consultations in Paris and agreed upon the necessity of taking concrete measures to prepare the populations for peace. So new approach of Pashinyan is wholly contradicting to that agreement and rises the new expectation in Armenian domestic politics which the main barrier for peace agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Actually Pashinyan’s new motivation focused on more domestic politics rather than international community. But experience proved that such kind of approach during Kocharyan and Sarkisyan’s period has failed.
Secondly, throughout the last 20 years, the diplomatic negotiations over the Nagorno-Karabakh have taken place under the arbitrary role of OSCE’s Minsk Group Co-chairs between Republic of Azerbaijan and Republic of Armenia. Meanwhile after the elections, Armenian Prime Minister and Ministry of Foreign Affairs met several times with Azerbaijani counterparts in order to discuss this conflict.
Thirdly, of all decisions, declarations and statements of many international organizations including the UN Security Council, Council of Europe, OIC, Non-Aligned movement and as well as The European Court of Human Rights (case of “Chiragov vs Armenia”)has not been implemented by Armenian side. That is why, Armenia firstly has to implement these demands and withdraw her troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Whereas, instead of withdrawing her military forces, Armenia tries to present new preconditions to shadow over the negotiation process.
Fourthly, today the real population of Nagorno Karabakh is around 80.000 people. According to Armenian sources, there are 25.000 soldiers located in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. That means 1/3 of populations are soldiers and many of soldiers are from the Republic of Armenia, but not local Armenians. During the ceasefire period and April war in 2016 many soldiers died in the fights are of Armenian citizens. The mothers of Armenian soldiers made protests in Yerevan against taking their children to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. So the question is that: If the Armenia is not the side of the conflict what are the Armenian troops are doing in Azerbaijan territories?
Pashinyan demand that Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians have a right of being a part of negotiations, but he rejects the Azerbaijani demand that the Azerbaijani population of occupied territories also has similar right of being part of the negotiations. According to Armenia, 80.000 population of Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenians) must be part of negotiations, but 750.000 of population of the occupied territories which are living under IDP status, land cannot be part of the negotiations. According to Armenian argument, those 750.000s people didn`t suffer as a result of war, they cannot demand their rights or even they don`t have rights. Of course this approach is illogical.
The geopolitical reality in the region also doesn`t support the position of Pashinyan. As a result of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenia is isolated from the all regional transportation and energy projects, and her borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed. Armenia’s open borders are with Iran and Georgia is also subject to many political and financial limits for Yerevan. Meanwhile Armenia doesn`t have direct connection with her allies as a member of EEU and CSTO. One may observe that Pashinyan tries to change geopolitical situation around Armenia. But his last visits to Iran and Brussels failed due to geopolitical isolation of Armenia. Georgian new President Salome Zourabichvili supported Azerbaijan position on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during her visit to Azerbaijan; Turkey keeps advocating for Azerbaijan’s position in the resolution process. Therefore, it is not a right time for Pashinyan to change the negotiation format otherwise he will fail.
Ukraine war’s first anniversary and beyond
The first anniversary of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine falls on February 24. The Russian strategy of attrition war has not yet produced the desired political outcome but has been a success nonetheless, writes Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer M.K. Bhadrakumar.
The delusional “westernist” notions of the Moscow elite that Russia can be a dialogue partner of the West have dissipated thoroughly, with ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stunning disclosure recently that the West’s negotiations with Russia regarding the Minsk Agreement were an “attempt to give Ukraine time” and that Kiev had used it “to become stronger.”
Thus, the accession to Russia four ex-Ukrainian regions — Donetsk and Lugansk [Donbass], Zaporozhye, Kherson oblasts – accounting for around one-fifth of Ukrainian territory, is a fait accompli now, and Kiev’s recognition of it is a pre-requisite for any future peace talks.
The Kremlin has put necessary mechanisms in place to galvanise the defence industry and the economy to meet the needs of the military operations in Ukraine. From a long-term perspective, one historic outcome of the conflict is going to be Russia’s emergence as an unassailable military power that draws comparison with the Soviet Red Army, which the West will never again dare to confront. This is yet to sink in.
Under the plan approved by Putin, the Moscow and the Leningrad military districts will be created, three motorised rifle divisions will be formed in the Kherson and the Zaporozhye oblasts (that have been annexed in September) and an army corps will be built in the northwestern region of Karelia bordering Finland.
The internal western assessment is that the war is going badly for Ukraine. Spiegel reported last week that Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) “informed security politicians of the Bundestag in a secret meeting this week that the Ukrainian army is currently losing a three-digit number of soldiers every day in battles.”
The Biden Administration is hoping to buy time till spring to revamp the pulverised Ukrainian military and equip it with advanced weaponry. The old stocks of Soviet-era weaponry have been exhausted and future supplies to Ukraine will have to be from hardware in service with NATO countries. That is easier said than done, and western defence industry will need time to restart production.
All the bravado that ‘Kiev is preparing for an offensive to drive the Russians out of Ukraine’ has vanished.
The big picture, therefore, as the war enters the second year is that the West is working feverishly on plans, with the Biden Administration leading from the rear, to deliver heavy armour to the Ukrainian military by spring, including German Leopard tanks. If that happens, Russia is sure to retaliate with strikes on supply routes and warehouses in western Ukraine.
Dmitry Medvedev, the outspoken former Russian president who is close to Putin and serves as deputy chairman of the powerful security council, explicitly warned, “Nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depends.”
There is the ‘X’ factor — US domestic politics as it approaches the 2024 election year. The Republicans are insisting on an auditing of the tens of billions of dollars spent on Ukraine — $110 billion in military aid alone — making the Biden Administration accountable.
The CIA chief William Burns paid an unpublicised visit to Kiev, reportedly to transmit the message that US arms supplies beyond July may become problematic.
China Still Ambivalent About the Middle Corridor
Despite the oft-touted momentum behind the Eurasian Middle Corridor circumventing Russia, China still appears not to be fully behind the project beset by geopolitical challenges and infrastructure hurdles.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has been a game-changer for Eurasian connectivity. The route through north Eurasia running from China to Europe that served as a major conduit between the two is now less attractive as a result of the Western sanctions imposed on Moscow. China-EU shipments along the Northern Corridor have decreased by 40 percent according to data from October 2022. This new reality serves as a major incentive for finding alternative routes.
It is rare in geopolitics that so many states in such a short timeframe would agree on advancing a certain project. The Middle Corridor, connecting China and Europe via Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Black Sea, is a good example of a vision where different countries from across Eurasia have accelerated the work not only on promoting the idea, but also laying the ground for its expansion.
In the months following the invasion of Ukraine, the EU has re-invigorated its policies toward the wider Black Sea region and has actively engaged Central Asia through high-level visits, pledging economic and political support. No longer willing to trade with China through Russia, Brussels is now pushing for the expansion of the Middle Corridor.
Small nations along the Corridor, too, have upped their diplomatic game. Leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Central Asian states have grasped the emerging opportunity and begun inter-state cooperation through bilateral visits and the signing of memorandums on the minimization of tariffs and border crossing hurdles.
The effects of such cooperation are already evident. Indeed, emerging connectivity opportunities push the governments to reconsider their previous position on long-stalled projects such as the Anaklia deep sea port in the case of Georgia or the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, which the cooperating states pledged to begin work on in 2023.
Then, there is Turkey. Seeing an opening in the region, Ankara has increased its outreach to Central Asia already following Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia in 2020. Effectively the initiator of the Middle Corridor idea back in 2000s, Turkey is now arguably one of the critical players driving the concept. A series of “block train” transports were initiated in recent years, traversing the corridor. In February 2021, a train reached China from Turkey’s eastern provinces after nearly twenty days of transit. In April 2022, another train was dispatched via the same route. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Kazakh colleague Kassym-Jomart Tokayev commended during their summit in Ankara in 2022 “the growth of cargo transit via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad and the East-West Middle Corridor.” Moreover, the two sides “stressed the importance of strengthening coordination between the relevant institutions for the effective and sustainable use of the Middle Corridor.”
Yet, one critical player– China – is largely missing. Beijing has rarely commented on the Middle Corridor and Chinese analysts write exceptionally little on the issue. Most importantly, Beijing has invested very little in the actual development of the corridor.
China’s reticence so far can be explained by pure pragmatism. Of course, there is a major imperative for Beijing to find alternative routes as transit through Russia becomes problematic. In that regard, the Caspian Sea and the South Caucasus indeed constitute geographically the shortest link to Europe.
Yet, the route is not an easy one – it is multimodal, i.e. consists of both sea lines and land routes and crosses multiple countries which have made little effort to synchronize their transit capabilities and develop infrastructure before 2022.
Currently, there is close to no joint tariff coordination, effective inter-governmental dialogue and adequate infrastructure to process the throughput which has been shipped through Russia. For instance, lack of infrastructure in the Caspian Sea prevents convenient transit from Central Asian ports to Azerbaijan. Similar troubles beset the Georgian side of the Black Sea, especially as there is no deep sea port. The construction of the Anaklia port was postponed due to political infighting in the country with new construction plans only recently announced. In 2022, the Middle Corridor could only absorb 3-5 percent of the China-EU trade, which limits Beijing’s interest in the route.
Finally, geopolitical factors, such as instability in the South Caucasus, have contributed to making the Middle Corridor not as attractive for China as it might seem on the first sight. Russian influence is a primary factor. Despite Russia’s current weakness and incrementally growing dependence on China, the latter will have to carefully measure how Moscow will be responding to the development of a route which circumvents it from the south, in the region where Moscow has four military bases.
Kremlin could potentially rupture the connection both politically and through the use of more radical measures if deemed necessary. Much will depend on how Moscow fares in Ukraine. Perhaps a victory might even embolden it to prevent the corridor from materializing. But even if defeated or bogged down in a protracted war, Russia’s behavior will remain unpredictable, keeping China at unease.
From the South Caucasus, the Middle Corridor continues to either the Black Sea or Turkey. The former is currently a war theater, with chances for peaceful implementation of the corridor quite limited. This leaves China with Turkey.
Ankara and Beijing have promoted inherently competing visions of Eurasian connectivity. There were even hints that Turkish and Chinese influence clashed in Azerbaijan, which limited China’s engagement in the expansion of the Middle Corridor. After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the situation seems to have changed and Turkey and China have opened more active talks on cooperation along the corridor. For instance, China-Turkey Communication Forum was held in September 2022, focusing, among other things, on synergizing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with the Turkey’s Middle Corridor. Yet, the pace of cooperation remains slow with little practical steps taken so far.
China might eventually grow interested in the re-invigorated Middle Corridor as a part of a hedging strategy. As was the case with silk roads in ancient and medieval times, trade corridors rarely remain static. They constantly adjust to emerging opportunities and evade potential geopolitical dangers. In the same vein, China’s massive BRI is far from stationary, but constantly evolving and adjusting to varying circumstances instead.
Although the South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea have not featured high in the BRI documents published by Beijing, the region can rise to rank higher among Chinese interests amid a new emerging geopolitical reality. This is especially the case if Russia grows even more sidelined in Eurasian geopolitics and Beijing realizes that betting on Russia long-term is a dead-end.
Author’s note: first published in chinaobservers
A turning moment in Ukraine Crisis
Germany’s decision to send tanks to Ukraine is a major moment in the Ukraine Crisis. It will have a far-reaching impact and may turn it into World War III. It is a tradition of the US to gang up to counter its adversaries. Iraq war, Libyan attacks, Syrian aggression, and the Occupation of Afghanistan, all were the result of allied forces, the US has the skills to make allies in addition to NATO and achieve its political objectives.
The US lobbies against its adversaries, and use all dirty tricks including media to malign its adversaries. They mislead the public and level the ground for the next stage – armed intervention. Looking at US interventions in any part of the world, you may conclude a similar approach.
Ukraine is also no exception. The US was preparing grounds for this crisis for a long and dragged Russia into it. Including Ukraine in NATO, was a red line for Russia, but, deliberately, this path was chosen to spoil global peace.
After failing all negotiations, Russia was left with no option except launch a special military operation on the same line as the 2014 Crimea operation. It was just a limited operation and should have been over after securing Russian borders only.
Unfortunately, the US had different intentions and trapped Russia in Ukraine and a full-scale war started. It was purely American war against Russia, but, as usual, America ganged up with NATO and also sought assistance and support from friendly countries.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the move on Wednesday, bowing to intensifying international pressure – led by the United States, Poland, and a bloc of other European nations, which called on Berlin to step up its military support and commit to sending their sought-after vehicles. The influx of Western tanks into the conflict has the potential to change the shape of the war. The shipments are a breakthrough in the West’s military support for Kyiv, signaling a bullish view around the world about Ukraine’s ability to reclaim occupied territory. Crucially, they may allow Ukraine to take the fighting to Moscow’s forces and re-capture more occupied land, rather than focusing primarily on beating back Russian attacks.
The US has increased its defense budget and military aid to Ukraine. It is aimed to attack Russia, not limited to liberating Ukraine only. It will prolong the war and let Russia bleed for longer.
Participation of Europe in conflict may worsen the situation and may harm Europe more. Although there are public rallies, protests, and agitations in major cities in Europe to end the Ukraine war or at least oppose Europe’s active participation. Some were chanting slogans to leave NATO. It seems the public understands the consequences but the rulers are blindly following US policies. It might create a rift between the public and rulers.
Blunders made by rulers, but, the price is being paid by the public, in the form of inflation, hikes in the price of fuel, energy, food, etc., are a common phenomenon all over Europe. The danger of spreading the war is at high risk.
Imagine, if Russia also seeks assistance from its allies and gangs up to conform to NATO aggression, it will be certainly a Word War III. Today, the World is obviously polarized and blocks are emerging rapidly.
It also can turn into nuclear war too. The 8 declared nuclear states have enough piles of nuclear weapons to destroy the whole world completely. It is scaring scenario.
But despite knowing the consequences, no one is taking any initiative to end the war and seek political solutions to the crisis. The US is not interested in the peaceful resolution of the disputes and Europe is blindly following America.
It is urged that the UN may intervene proactively and initiate a dialogue to reach an acceptable solution for all stakeholders. Unbiased, non-partisan nations may come forward to initiate peace dialogues. All peace-loving countries and individuals may act proactively and struggle to end the Ukraine crisis. Satisfying all concerned parties may achieve sustainable peace and avert any big disaster.
Humankind is the most precious thing in this universe and must be respected. Value human lives, save human lives, and without any discrimination protects human lives across the board all over the globe.
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