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Armenia’s Untimely Preconditions on Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

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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.

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Eastern Europe

Unhappy Iran Battles for Lost Influence in South Caucasus

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Events that might not matter elsewhere in the world matter quite a lot in the South Caucasus. Given a recent history of conflict, with all the bad feelings that generates, plus outside powers playing geostrategic games, and its growing importance as an energy corridor between Europe and Central Asia, the region is vulnerable. 

This has been worsened by the two-year-long Western absence of engagement. In 2020, Europe and the U.S. were barely involved as the second Nagorno-Karabakh war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, leaving about 7,000 dead. With tensions now on the rise between Azerbaijan and Iran, Western uninterest is again evident, even though this might have wider ramifications for future re-alignment in the South Caucasus. 

The drumbeat of Iranian activity against Azerbaijan has been consistent in recent months. Iran is getting increasingly edgy about Israel’s presence in the South Caucasus — hardly surprising given Israel’s painfully well-targeted assassination and computer hacking campaigns against nuclear staff and facilities — and especially its growing security and military ties with Azerbaijan, with whom Iran shares a 765km (430 mile) border. Iran has also voiced concern about the presence in the region of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries, who were used as Azeri assault troops last year.  

Much of the anger has been played out in military exercises. The Azeri military has been busy since its victory, exercising near the strategic Lachin corridor which connects the separatist region to Armenia, and in the Caspian Sea, where it has jointly exercised with Turkish personnel. Iran, in turn, sent units to the border region this month for drills of an unstated scale. 

This week, the Azeri and Iranian foreign ministers agreed to dial down the rhetoric amid much talk of mutual understanding. Whether that involved promises regarding the Israeli presence or a pledge by Iran to abandon a newly promised road to Armenia was not stated. 

Iran’s behavior is a recognition of the long-term strategic changes caused by the Armenian defeat last year. Iran has been sidelined. Its diplomatic initiatives have failed, and it has been unwelcome in post-conflict discussions. 

It is true that Iran was never a dominant power in the South Caucasus. Unlike Russia or Turkey, the traditional power brokers, it has not had a true ally. Iran was certainly part of the calculus for states in the region, but it was not feared, like Russia or Turkey. And yet, the South Caucasus represents an area of key influence, based on millennia of close political and cultural contacts. 

Seen in this light, it is unsurprising that Iran ratcheted up tensions with Azerbaijan. Firstly, this reasserted the involvement of the Islamic Republic in the geopolitics of the South Caucasus. It was also a thinly-veiled warning to Turkey that its growing ambitions and presence in the region are seen as a threat. In Iran’s view, Turkey’s key role as an enabler of Azeri irridentism is unmistakable. 

Turkish involvement has disrupted the foundations of the South Caucasian status quo established in the 1990s. To expect Turkey to become a major power there is an overstretch, but it nevertheless worries Iran. For example, the recent Caspian Sea exercises between Azerbaijan and Turkey appear to run counter to a 2018 agreement among the sea’s littoral states stipulating no external military involvement. 

The Caspian Sea has always been regarded by Iranians as an exclusive zone shared first with the Russian Empire, later the Soviets, and presently the Russian Federation. Other littoral states play a minor role. This makes Turkish moves in the basin and the recent improvement of ties between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan an unpleasant development for Iran — fewer barriers to the Trans-Caspian Pipeline threatens the Islamic Republic’s ability to block the project.  

This is where Iranian views align almost squarely with the Kremlin’s. Both fear Turkish progress and new energy routes. The new Iranian leadership might now lean strongly toward Russia. With Russia’s backing, opposition to Turkey would become more serious; Iran’s foreign minister said this month that his country was seeking a “big jump” in relations with Russia. 

The fact is that the region is increasingly fractured and is being pulled in different directions by the greater powers around it. This state of affairs essentially dooms the prospects of pan-regional peace and cooperation initiatives. Take the latest effort by Russia and Turkey to introduce a 3+3 platform with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, as well as Iran. Beyond excluding the West, disagreements will eventually preclude any meaningful progress. There is no unity of purpose between the six states and there are profound disagreements. 

Thus, trouble will at some point recur between Iran and Azerbaijan, and by extension Turkey. Given the current situation, and Iran’s visible discontent, it is likely it will take some kind of initiative lest it loses completely its position to Turkey and Russia. 

Author’s note: first published in cepa

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Eastern Europe

Right-wing extremist soldiers pose threat to Lithuania

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It is no secret that Lithuania has become a victim of German army’s radicalization. Could this country count on its partners further or foreign military criminals threaten locals?

It is well known that Germany is one of the largest provider of troops in NATO. There are about 600 German troops in Lithuania, leading a Nato battlegroup. According to Lithuanian authorities, Lithuania needs their support to train national military and to protect NATO’s Central and Northern European member states on NATO’s eastern flank.

Two sides of the same coin should be mentioned when we look at foreign troops in Lithuania.

Though Russian threat fortunately remains hypothetical, foreign soldiers deployed in the country cause serious trouble. Thus, the German defence minister admitted that reported this year cases of racist and sexual abuse in a German platoon based in Lithuania was unacceptable.

Members of the platoon allegedly filmed an incident of sexual assault against another soldier and sang anti-Semitic songs. Later more allegations emerged of sexual and racial abuse in the platoon, including soldiers singing a song to mark Adolf Hitler’s birthday on 20 April this year.

It turned out that German media report that far-right abuses among the Lithuania-based troops had already surfaced last year. In one case, a soldier allegedly racially abused a non-white fellow soldier. In another case, four German soldiers smoking outside a Lithuanian barracks made animal noises when a black soldier walked past.

Lithuania’s Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas said later that the investigation was carried out by Germany and that Lithuania was not privy to its details. The more so, Lithuania is not privy to its details even now. “We are not being informed about the details of the investigation. […] The Lithuanian military is not involved in the investigation, nor can it be,” Anušauskas told reporters, stressing that Germany was in charge of the matter.

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, German defence minister, said that these misdeeds would be severely prosecuted and punished. Time has passed, and the details are not still known.

It should be said Germany has for years struggled to modernize its military as it becomes more involved in Nato operations. Nevertheless problems existed and have not been solved yet. According to the annual report on the state of the Bundeswehr made in 2020 by Hans-Peter Bartel, then armed forces commissioner for the German Bundestag, Germany’s army “has too little materiel, too few personnel and too much bureaucracy despite a big budget increase.” Mr Bartels’ report made clear that the Bundeswehr continues to be plagued by deep-seated problems. Recruitment remains a key problem. Mr Bartels said 20,000 army posts remained unfilled, and last year the number of newly recruited soldiers stood at just over 20,000, 3,000 fewer than in 2017. The other problem is radicalization of the armed forces.

Apparently, moral requirements for those wishing to serve in the German army have been reduced. Federal Volunteer Military Service Candidate must be subjected to a thorough medical examination. Desirable to play sports, have a driver’s license and be able to eliminate minor malfunctions in the motor, to speak at least one foreign language, have experience of communicating with representatives of other nationalities, be initiative and independent. After the general the interview follows the establishment of the candidate’s suitability for service in certain types of armed forces, taking into account his wishes. Further candidate passes a test on a computer. He will be asked if he wants study a foreign language and attend courses, then serve in German French, German-Dutch formations or institutions NATO.

So, any strong and healthy person could be admitted, even though he or she could adhere to far-right views or even belong to neo-Nazi groups. Such persons served in Lithuania and, probably, serve now and pose a real threat to Lithuanian military, local population. Neo-Nazism leads to cultivating racial inequalities. The main goal of the neo-Nazis is to cause disorder and chaos in the country, as well as to take over the army and security organs. Lithuanian authorities should fully realize this threat and do not turn a blind eye to the criminal behaviour of foreign military in Lithuania. There is no room to excessive loyalty in this case.

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Eastern Europe

Lithuanian foreign policy: Image is everything

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It seems as if Lithuanian government takes care of its image in the eyes of EU and NATO partners much more than of its population. Over the past year Lithuania managed to quarrel with such important for its economy states like China and Belarus, condemned Hungary for the ban on the distribution of images of LGBT relationships among minors, Latvia and Estonia for refusing to completely cut energy from Belarus. Judging by the actions of the authorities, Lithuania has few tools to achieve its political goals. So, it failed to find a compromise and to maintain mutually beneficial relations with economic partners and neighbours. The authorities decided to achieve the desired results by demanding from EU and NATO member states various sanctions for those countries that, in their opinion, are misbehaving.

Calling for sanctions and demonstrating its “enduring political will”, Lithuania exposed the welfare of its own population. Thus, district heating prices will surge by around 30 percent on average across Lithuania.

The more so, prices for biofuels, which make up 70 percent of heat production on average, are now about 40 higher than last year, Taparauskas, a member of the National Energy Regulatory Council (VERT) said.

“Such a huge jump in prices at such a tense time could threaten a social crisis and an even greater increase in tensions in society. We believe that the state must take responsibility for managing rising prices, especially given the situation of the most vulnerable members of society and the potential consequences for them. All the more so as companies such as Ignitis or Vilnius heating networks “has not only financial resources, but also a certain duty again,” sums up Lukas Tamulynas, the chairman of the LSDP Momentum Vilnius movement.

It should be said, that according to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, prices for consumer goods and services have been rising for the eighth month in a row. According to the latest figures, the annual inflation rate is five percent.

Earlier it became known that in 2020 every fifth inhabitant of Lithuania was below the poverty risk line.

Pensioners are considered one of the most vulnerable groups in Lithuania. In 2019, Lithuania was included in the top five EU anti-leaders in terms of poverty risk for pensioners. The share of people over 65 at risk of poverty was 18.7 percent.

In such situation sanctions imposed on neighbouring countries which tightly connected to Lithuanian economy and directly influence the welfare of people in Lithuania are at least damaging. The more so, according Vladimir Andreichenko, the speaker of the House of Representatives of the Belarus parliament, “the unification of the economic potentials of Minsk and Moscow would be a good response to sanctions.” It turned out that Lithuania itself makes its opponents stronger. Such counter-productiveness is obvious to everyone in Lithuania except for its authorities.

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