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Defeating Systemic Corruption? Anti-Corruption Measures in Post-Revolution Ukraine and Armenia

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Ukraine and Armenia offer case studies on the challenges of recovering from post-Soviet authoritarian legacy, fraught with rampant corruption. As a matter of fact, systemic corruption has long condemned the two post-Soviet countries to a vicious circle of underdevelopment, bad governance and inability to implement fundamental economic and political reforms. Not surprisingly, the anti-corruption reforms have been put at the heart of post-revolution state-building in both countries.

Notably, Ukraine’s former President Petro Poroshenko’s government significantly reduced the corruption, particularly in the gas, banking, and government procurement sectors. As a sign of moving the fight against corruption to the highest possible policy agenda, the Ukrainian government introduced the National Anti-Corruption Bureau  and the Specialized AntiCorruption Prosecutor’s Office NABU as well as Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO)  established in 2015 with the participation of civil society and donor countries. Yet, the effectiveness of these institutions has been questioned by several observers, pointing to insufficiency of anti-corruption measures amidst unrelenting efforts by power  groups to retain their outsized influence over law enforcement and justice. In essence, Poroshenko’s steady decline as a political powerhouse significantly owed  to his failure to eradicate corruption.

Meanwhile,  VolodymyrZelensky’s promises of defeating rampant corruption resonated with Ukrainians, who placed a great deal of faith in his ‘game-changing’ agenda.

The Rada’s first day was marked with the adoption of important pieces of anti-corruption legislation, including the removal immunity from prosecution for MPs and the proposal to provide the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) with the right to undertake autonomous surveillance.

Moreover, Zelensky’s anti-corruption efforts resulted in investigations and subsequent arrests of  some of President Poroshenko’s associates, including Oleg Hladkovsky, a top Defense official; a People’s Front party MP and the former head of the Rada’s defense committee SerhiiPashinsky; ex-deputy minister for the occupied territories Yuri Hrymchak; and Poroshenko Bloc MP YaroslavDubnevych, etc. Furthermore, Zelensky put the High Anti-Corruption Court into action,  that passed a bill   reinstating criminal liability for the illicit  enrichment of officials.

Similarly, the post-revolution government in Armenia criminalized  illicit enrichment and intensified its anti-corruption campaigns. The government pushed for a series of high-profile trials against former senior officials, most notably ex-president  Robert Kocharyan, former high-ranking officials Manvel Grigoryan,  Aram Harutyunyan, Seyran Ohanyan and others. This extended to former defense minister and outstanding former ruling Republican Party member, Vigen Sargsyan, who was charged with “abuse of power,”  as well as to former  Chief of Police Alik Sargsyan  –  charged   with   covering up  illegal post-election crackdown on opposition protesters in Yerevan in 2008 and with  destroying evidence of the “overthrow of the constitutional order” led by then President Kocharyan. However, these arrests and investigations have not yet led to court rulings. Essentially, both Pashinyan’s and Zelensky’s fight against corruption has so far focused on punishing former governments’ members or associates. The question remains if the anti-corruption measures will move beyond selective prosecution of former officials to the unequivocal application of “zero tolerance for corruption” principle.

This, in turn comes down to the furtherance of democratic reforms , leading to the advancement of good governance  practices and eradication of the systemic corruption in both countries.Some  critics have been skeptical about the effectiveness of anti-corruption reforms in these countries, positing that while governments   embark on “crowd-pleasing affairs,” much needs to be done to address the more systemic problems that the new governments inherited.

Both Zelensky and Pashinyan have placed a special emphasis on defeating judicial corruption. While former Ukrainian President Poroshenko hailed the  judicial reform  as “the mother of all reforms,” there was not much to reinforce government’s pledges of fundamental reforms.

In an effort to rectify this, in autumn 2019, President Zelensky embarked on judicial reforms. More specifically, he dismissed the High Qualification Council of Judges (the body responsible for attestation and selection of judges), announced plans to reload the Higher Council of Judges (the highest self-governance body of judges) and halved the number of Supreme Court judges.   Remarkably, while the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe,  praisedZelensky’s government’s judicial reform, it expressed concern over certain aspects of the reform, pertaining to “important issues of the rule of law” in Ukraine. The Commission criticised the situation, where the politicians are seen to get too much power to determine whether the sitting judges remain in their position or not. Similarly, the judicial corruption is one of the most harrowing challenges facing Pashinyan’s government. Following the controversial release of second President Robert Kocharyan in May 2019, Pashinyan contended that the judiciary is a remnant of the former corrupt system which would cook up conspiracies against the Armenian people.  As a result, he called for a mandatory “vetting” of all judges to the all the courts in the country because of their ties to the previous regime. The tension between Pashinyan’s government and the “remnants” of the former regime reached a point, where the Armenian parliament adopted a bill on holding a referendum on suspending the powers of a majority members of the Constitutional Court. Pashinyan would largely treat the current Constitutional Court as an impediment to completing the revolution in Armenia. More specifically, it was regarded as an instrument that prevented the people from exercising their right to form a government in the country in the 1996, 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013 presidential elections. Notably, PACE co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Armenia, called on Armenian political players to refrain from actions and statements that could be perceived as exerting pressure on the judiciary.  Essentially, Pashinyan threw his weight behind changing the Constitutional Court, contending that the latter represents the corrupt regime of Serzh Sargsyan, rather than the people of Armenia. Furthermore, he regarded the opponents of the referendum as “anti-state” forces.

Overall, the judicial reform remains as big challenge in both countries, as its success is critical to breaking with the authoritarian legacies.

 Based on the comparative analysis of anti-corruption strategies in developing countries, there are three main  observations to make regarding  Ukraine’s and Armenia’s trajectories.

First, in both countries corruption has been deeply entrenched and a result of the post-soviet authoritarian legacy. Essentially corruption has permeated every section of society and become a way of life in both countries . A major impediment to democratic state building, including fight against corruption in Armenia  and Ukraine is related to prevailing post-Soviet “informality”. The use of informal networks and connections in exchanges of favours, gift-giving along with other informal activities have been been deeply ingrained in both Ukrainian and Armenian societies. Therefore, the state apparatus, as well as education, healthcare, judiciary and law enforcement have long been dominated by informality.Thus, quite often the  institutions that have been set up to fight corruption  run up against deeply entrenched habits of graft in society and politics. Even though it would be an oversimplification to contend that Armenian and Ukrainian societies are congenitally hooked on graft as a way of life, the “culture of corruption” will not disappear overnight. Studies show that Ukrainian citizens tend to  “condemn” high-level corruption”  yet “regard petty corruption as a justifiable evil”. As a matter of fact, countries with long histories of informal illiberal practices and corruption often face tremendous challenges in eradicating these blights .Therefore eradicating the culture of corruption and informality should be an urgent priority on the reform agendas of new Ukrainian and Armenian governments.

 Second, one of the biggest challenges of anti-corruption reforms in developing and particularly transitional countries is the persistence and prevalence of corrupt practices by political and economic elites. More specifically, the residual influence of oligarchy presents a threats to the fight against systemiccorruption. Clearly, the political elite’s robust commitment to eradicating systemic corruption is indispensable. Meanwhile, inconsistencies and the weakness of a commitment lead to a situation, under the banner of “zero tolerance for corruption” governments keep playing a “tolerant corruption” game. Although political will may not be sufficient, it is a necessary condition to defeat corruption. The case of Romania demonstrates that the political will to defeat corruption may well make up the absence of a tradition of the rule of law and democracy. More specifically, the European Union pressure, along with the electoral pressure and the political will of the domestic political elite combined to ensure the establishment of the rule of law and defeating corruption in the Romanian judiciary .

Third, external factors including the anti-corruption programs of international donors have proved conducive to the fight against corruption.  While Ukraine’s choice for Europe and fervent desire to irreversibly depart from the orbit of the Russian influence is a crucial impetus to defeat corruption, Armenia’s centrality in the Russia-led socio-political order has remained intact. Nevertheless, Pashinyan’s government’s anti-corruption efforts prompt to posit that international efforts may well resonate with prevalent social norms in Armenia. A question remains if the legitimacy of the anti-corruption norms promoted particularly by the European Union will lead to their smooth implementations in Ukraine and Armenia.

Last but not least, the lessons from the successful anticorruption crusades of Singapore and Hong Kong show the need for anticorruption reform initiatives to be participatory and inclusive of all stakeholders including public and private sectors as well as civil society. Thus, it is absolutely essential for Armenian and Ukrainian civil society organizations to further develop institutional and professional capacity to contribute to anti-corruption reforms and influence their implementation.

Overall, the grounds for cautious optimism need to get reinforced to ensure that systemic corruption will no longer undermine democratic state-building in both countries.

Aram Terzyan, PhD, is a visiting senior lecturer at UNESCO Chair of Human Rights, Democracy and European Studies of Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences and research fellow at Eurasian Research and Analysis Institute, USA. E-mail: aramterzyan[at]gmail.com .

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In The Bends And Labyrinths Of Civilizations

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What describes a nation, or more importantly who describes a nation? Nations like to tell about heroic, victorious events of their history, it is pleasant; they are proud of their famous compatriots. Moreover, they are flattered to be highly estimated by foreign prominent people for two and a half thousand years and sometimes that words have been even overestimated. But the first-hand sources confirm, consequently, they are real. Accordingly, it is needed to understand why they expressed glorious opinions about Armenians as the authors include famous thinkers of different nations and world greats.

There are many scientific hypotheses known in the history of science, which have been rationally explained for many, even hundreds of years. Great thinkers often come to intuitive conclusions that are incomprehensible to most of their contemporaries, they are even being criticized for their ideas. For decades, I kept viewing an approach by Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656–1708), a great French thinker and member of Paris Academy who noted; “Armenian nation is the best nation in the world; they are moral, polite, full of chastity and decency.”

At first sight, one may take this kind of statement as unreasonable and exaggerated. Armenians are patriotic, proud, but they are very critical to themselves; even a nationalist Armenian will not express such ideas. At the same time, another French thinker, historian, famous geographer Jacques Élisée Reclus (1830–1905) claims: The Armenian villager can be attributed to what Turnefor said; “Armenians are the best people in the world without much exaggeration”, which, in its turn, means that there are still serious grounds for such opinions.

More than a hundred years after Tournefort, the great English poet Lord George Gordon Byron wrote. “The virtues of Armenians are their own, and the shortcomings are taken from others”. In short, Armenians are decent and perfect and the like.

At first glance, it seems that such opinions require a lot of different knowledge on many nations, which will let us come to a certain conclusion through comparison. In other words, it was necessary to study a certain set of knowledge, which was still quite narrow at the times of the mentioned authors. Accordingly, the conclusions had to have a different starting point.

From our point of view, that starting point could have been based on several notorious historical facts, in particular:

1) Testimonies of ancient Greek and Roman historians about the Armenian people and Armenia,

2) Although several dozen peoples lived in the Armenian Highlands and Mesopotamia in ancient times, but few survived, including the Armenian people,

3) Starting from the ancient Roman and Persian periods and throughout the Middle Ages, Armenia was the scene of savage invasions (Arabs, Mongols, Seljuks, Ottomans, etc.), but Armenians continued to keep their existence in the Armenian Highlands,

4)  the last mentioned outstanding peace-loving characteristic of the Armenian people, which was manifested both during the powerful Armenian kingdoms and after the loss of statehood

5) Existence of Armenian colonies in many countries, including European ones, where Armenians, have both preserved their national identity, and, at the same time, having been integrated  in the new national environment, have contributed to the prosperity of those countries,

6) The process of preserving and continuously developing the Armenian language, the theological, philosophical, scientific, literary heritage created in Armenian, and the publishing heritage, too,

7) Existence of unique Armenian culture, civilization, and also contribution of Armenians to world civilization.

These basic ideas, of course, are not exhaustive; there are and there will possible be other ideas, too. It is necessary to understand the main thing: who is the Armenian, what are his peculiarities and what it was that ensured his existence for millennia?

I will emphasize the following description of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a great German thinker about Armenians: “Hardworking and intelligent people”, “they have a special origin”, “all the nations accept Armenians with open arms”, they have “excellent mettle”, “it is impossible for us to talk about their preliminary formation”.

Till today, modern historiography, linguistics, and ethnography are not “able” to fully present the “preliminary formation” of the Armenian nation, but there are certain assumptions. But first, let us consider the “special origins” of the Armenian people.  One thing is certain; the origin, development and formation of the Armenian people are hidden in the thick fog of thousands of years. At all events, according to the modern genetic research, scientists confirm that Armenians have lived in their highlands for more than 7-8 thousand years. The Armenian language and culture also testify to the mentioned facts. It is clear that the perfection of the language, the elaboration, the rich vocabulary, the ability to express thoughts, ideas, knowledge, human emotions could not be created even for centuries, it has, surely, taken millennia. Differently, the development of the language also has required a rich culture, the development of which also took millennia. Language and culture, complementing and enriching each other, as well as creatively assimilating and synthesizing the best values ​​and traditions of neighboring languages ​​and cultures, have become, one may say, a dominant language and culture of regional significance. Thanks to that, the Armenian people have survived in the Armenian Highlands for millennia.

When talking about the special origin of the Armenian people, one can’t help drawing attention to the Armenian Highlands. Generally, living in the mountains is viewed to be one of the best ways of protections from outside attacks, but limiting yourself to it does not yet give answers to many questions. The inhabitants of the mountainous regions have to constantly struggle and adapt to the harsh climatic conditions, and in order to achieve the result they need the joint efforts of the people, which, in its turn, forces them to develop special and stricter forms of coexistence as compared with the conditions in the valleys. On the contrary, mountains devote people certain advantages, such as working tools, raw materials for housing (obsidian, copper, tin, iron, various non-metallic building materials, and the like), easier means of self-protection, and all the rest. And finally, the mountains give people spiritual charge, spirituality, and also form a uniqueway of thinkingand a way of life which corresponds to it. The “One for all, all for one” thinking is typical, first of all, to the mountaineers. The evidence of the last mentioned is not only the way of life, behavior and manners of Armenians, but also of all mountain peoples.

There is not any coincidence that the civilizations formed in Mesopotamia, more specifically in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, have constantly been changed, and the Armenian civilization having been formed in the Armenian Highlands has kept maintaining its existence and developing steadily.

The mountaineer, whether he wants it or not, must be honest, decedent, hospitable, hardworking and inquisitive, physically and mentally healthy, conservative, apologist of public and individual order, initiative and courageous, and so on and so forth. Just as he receives guests with open arms, so he will be received with open arms, too. The mountaineer is in need of accepting guests just because he is isolated from the world and needs to be informed about what is going on in the world around him. This is how the “excellent mettle”, mentioned by Kant, has been formed. It is obvious that the bearer of all this is first of all the villager, to whom Reclu rightly attributes Turnefor’s words about Armenians.

The “open-arms” feature is also hardened in the cold. Armenians have also been involved in trade for centuries, which comes to say that they have not cheated in doing business, no matter how much they pursued personal interests, on the contrary, they have been able to attract customers, including members of royal families, great princes and feudal lords, nobles, local big merchants, and also to prove their honesty, kindness, without which they would have never been “welcomed with open arms”. Armenian merchants often also acted as royal translators, diplomats, achieved high positions in some countries, and became foreign ministers.

It is obvious that during the long contacts the Armenian merchants have not been engaged only in trade, but, simultaneously, have introduced Armenian culture, art, crafts to foreigners, participated in various events of the given country and the like. With their involvement, the Armenians have built churches, schools, established printing houses in the colonies, and came up with charitable initiatives. They have even had a special costume-suit worthy of the time and it is not accidental that Rousseau wore the clothes of an Armenian merchant to avoid political persecution. And, of course, the establishment of that country was well aware of all that.

Another characteristic Armenians have, is their peace-loving nature. Turnefor writes that Armenians “consider themselves to be happy when not dealing with weapons, “in contrast with other nations, they take up arms only to defend themselves against any attacks.” Another thing that is worth mentioning is the assurance of the Russian historian Sergei Glinka (1775 / 6-1847). “I am not writing praise, and how far are all stories(about Armenians) from praise? Armenians were not carried away by violent outbursts of conquest by the moral features of their national spirit as all that have been transitory.

Defending the homeland, preserving their own independence, withstanding external violence attempts-these are the main goals for them to get armed. Here is why Mihr, one of their pagan Gods, was a spiritual fire that preserved and would not harm the nature and man”. Let’s apply to J. Byron again. “It is difficult to find a chronology of a nation that is free from vicious crimes than that of the Armenians, whose virtues are the product of peace and whose vices are the result of repression”. An English politician, statesman William Ewart Gladstone (1805-1898) is also needed to be mentioned as a known person having written about Armenians; According to him, “Armenians are one of the oldest peoples of the Christian civilization and one of the most peaceful, entrepreneurial and sensible one in the world”, he also mentions that diligence, striving for peace, common sense are the main reasons why slavery was not formed in Armenia as a society.

We may continue the series of glorifying Armenians may be continued remembering the German orientalist V. Belkin member of the French Academy, Russian military historian Viktor Abaza (1831-1898) and others. Just let me mention that the biggest proof of the Armenians’ love of/ towards peace is their history, full of episodes of their struggle for independence and liberation, also known in the East for its arrogance, pages about great generals, war heroes and, finally, the best evidence is the epic poem “Sasna Tsrer”. An example of peace-loving feature of the Armenian people is the King Artashes I of the mighty empire of Greater Armenia, who marked the borders of the Armenian kingdom not through force of arms, but through the presence of an Armenian-speaking population. Generally, peace-loving is conditioned with diligence and the ability to acquire wealth on one’s own. For thousands years having lived in the strict conditions of the highlands, Armenians have learned to earn their own living, to work hard, to know the laws of nature, and also to realize that by robbing someone else’s property, you impoverish yourself. Having always been constant victim of the surrounding robbers, Armenians have forever realized that robbery is not the right way to live well. Robbery, theft, taking someone else’s property always causes resistance and as a result of robbery one should be ready not only to gain, but also to lose; one loses his children, his peace of mind, and often becomes a victim of robbery. There have existed many powerful empires, which have disappeared with their peoples before the eyes of Armenians. Every war, even a victorious one, gives birth to a new war and, predominantly, the winner becomes the loser. This is how the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, Roman and Parthian empires disappeared from the face of the earth.

Since the ancient times, plunder has been an important part of the way of life of the peoples having in the European continent, but having adopted the ancient Greek philosophical rationalism, the Europeans did manage to greatly promote education, science, technology, develop the arts, and inherit the cruel, malevolent and arrogant path concentrating on urgent political and economic interests and due to that, they succeeded in ensuring a prosperous life for the “golden billion” of their citizens and subjects.

The thinkers of the European Enlightenment, who advocated the ideas of human rights, freedom, equality, “fraternity” proclaimed by the French Revolution, in fact did not have worthy followers and did not guarantee the embodiment of the idea of ​​”fraternity”. It was all this that led archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann Johann Ludwig Heinrich Julius Schliemann (1822-90) to come to the conclusion according to which “the tragedy of Europe is that its civilization is stood on the Greek rather than the Armenian culture”.

Today, the West is reaping the fruits of its sins; international terrorism and international migration. They are just germs and still Europe has a lot to pay for the atrocities, looting, wars, and damage to hundreds of peoples.

Above we mentioned about the Armenian colonies, which have a history of thousands of years, and not only multilingual literature, references-studies exist but also significant traces of material culture have been preserved. Some Armenian colonies have been created by the migration of Armenians, when for various reasons the Armenians were forced to leave their homeland, others by the forced resettlement or deportation of savage states. The forcible deportation had several goals: first, to evict the Armenian territories in order to appropriate them once and for all, on the other hand, to make those territories unattractive or unsuitable for the enemy neighboring countries. Our immediate neighbors, Byzantium, Persia, Rech Pospolita, Transylvania, Russia, India, have forcibly or peacefully populated villages, towns, and regions with Armenians. By deporting, sometimes taking advantage of, providing land, economic privileges, national educational, cultural, religious freedoms, granting internal autonomy, Armenians settled their uninhabited or occupied territories, using their commercial and craft potential for their own security and development. What was the reason for this kind of friendly attitude towards Armenians? The answer is obvious. Armenians are hardworking, progressive and, also, peace-loving/peaceful.

On this subject, I would love to remind a part from the history of the Crimea. When Russian Empress Catherine II (1762-96) instructed Prince Potemkin to seize the Crimea, he took the following step: invited the Greeks and Christian Armenians, granted tax and property privileges to his country. The caravans of Christian Armenians and Greeks moved to Christian Russia, as a result of which the short-lived worker collapsed economically and lost his resistance on the eve of the Russian invasion.

Byzantium once weakened the Armenian kingdoms, evicted Armenians, paved the way for the Turkish troops to the depths of the country, to Constantinople and perished, so the Turks did not shy/keep away from any means, even resorting to genocide and statelessness, depriving themselves of a viable Christian element.

The West will also greatly contribute to this, as soon as it gets rid of Britain’s “We have no fixed allies, we have no eternal enemies. Only our interests are immutable and eternal”(Henry Temple, Lord Palmerson, 1848) destructive philosophy. It is necessary to have “permanent friends”, which can be achieved only through mutually beneficial cooperation.

Although, at first sight, the words of praise from many famous foreigners about the Armenian people may seem to have been exaggerated, they are really justified. However, this does not still mean that Armenians are the “best” people of the world, at least because there are many “good” nations, who have greatly contributed to the development of human civilization. For centuries, Armenians, having been under the brutal rule of foreigners, have taken many of their flaws and now they have left the national-moral image of their ancestors out having lost many values. Accordingly, I am sending a message to Armenians not only to be proud of the glory and praise of the past, but also to make efforts to restore the special majesty and virtue of the Armenian nation, and to get rid of foreign flaws. Only with that self-purification and exaltation you will be able to consider yourself a virtuous people, which is more important than the praise of others.

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What stands behind escalation of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan?

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Thousand Azerbaijanis are launching peaceful protests and marches around the world to support Azerbaijan’s position demanding a justice for this country which is suffering for over 25 years from the illegal occupation of its internationally recognised territory by Armenia, which was clearly acknowledged by four UN Security Council resolutions (822, 853, 874 and 884). Azerbaijan still has the largest number (1 mln.) of refugees and IDPs in Europe as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

During the peaceful protests of Azerbaijanis around the world we are witnessing a high level of violence and aggression by the Armenians against Azerbaijanis and even Azerbaijani diplomatic missions in certain cities such as Brussels, Amsterdam and Los Angeles. In some cases, the inaction of the law enforcement agencies in Belgium, the Netherlands and US, which admitted such attacks on the Azerbaijani diplomatic missions in these countries is deeply disappointing.  Obviously, the individual cases of such violence against Azerbaijanis abroad fall under the jurisdiction of the states where those crimes took place. Any inactivity or failure to do so by the local law enforcement agencies to investigate and bring to the responsibility of those criminals, would potentially give the Azerbaijani State a right to bring Belgium, the Netherlands or US to the responsibility under the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Under international law the territory of diplomatic and consular missions is considered as a territory of that state and they enjoy full diplomatic immunity.  Article 22 (2) of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations clearly provides that “The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity”. It should be noted that all of these countries, along with Azerbaijan joined the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. This gives Azerbaijan the right to bring these states to international responsibility for non-compliance with the requirements of the Vienna Convention. In the 1980 United States Diplomatic and Consular Staff in Tehran (United States of America v. Iran) case, the International Court of Justice clearly defined that that the immunity and protection of the diplomatic mission is the responsibility of the host and it is responsible for ensuring such full security.

Earlier this month and at the time of global war with COVID-19 pandemic, starting from 12 July 2020 we were witnessing a tragic escalation of the conflict between the two former Soviet republics.  Both countries have faced serious challenges and the negative coronavirus statistics is pretty stable for some months now.  Recently, the Armenian regular armed forces attacked Azerbaijani border territory in Tovuz region. Although the two countries have an unresolved conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan for decades, and Armenia still illegally occupies 20% of the Azerbaijani territory, at this time the clash provoked by Armenia takes place at Azerbaijani-Armenian border. Quite unusual, since for all these years any escalations between the rivals took place only in and around of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The latest events in the Tovuz region of the Republic of Azerbaijan can and should be qualified as military aggression against Azerbaijan. This is nothing more than a violation of the fundamental principles of international law enshrined in the UN Charter such as the principle of the non-use of force and the threat of force, the principle of inviolability of state frontiers, the principle of the territorial integrity of states and the principle of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is also necessary to recall the numerous conventions and regional agreements to which Armenia has joined within the framework of the Council of Europe, OSCE and other international organisations.

An attack on Azerbaijani border force positions in Tovuz is nothing more than an act of aggression against Azerbaijan. In this case, reference should be made to the position of the International Court of Justice in the Nicaragua v. United States of America (1986) (Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua case, where the Court expressly determined that military action of regular armed forces of one state in relation to the international borders of another state is an armed attack and aggression. Under international law the attack by the regular Armenian military forces on the border force positions of Azerbaijan in the Tovuz region shall be precisely qualified as an act of aggression against Azerbaijan.

To certain degree it could be argued that the Government of the Armenian Prime-Minister Nikol Pashinyan decided to distract attention from the disastrous outcome of COVID-19 pandemic and deepening economic crisis, and justify his personal failure by playing with patriotic feelings of the Armenian people.  However, a bigger picture of certain attempts of economic sabotage of major economic projects affecting the European energy security are seen in the background.

Tovuz is a critical geographical hub for Azerbaijan and transportation arteria for its hydrocarbons export to Europe through Georgia and Turkey. The three Azerbaijani strategic energy pipelines Baku-Supsa, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum were launched under the patronage of the West. All three pipelines pass through Tovuz region.  The importance of such oil and gas supply for Europe as a part of the latter’s supply diversification strategy contributing in reducing the energy dependence from Russia is undeniable.  Tovuz also lies within the new Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway link connecting pro-western Georgia and Azerbaijan with Europe through Turkey. 

Why now? Perhaps it is a part of the general strategy that there is no more reliable supply for Europe other than the Russian Nord Stream 2. Discrediting Azerbaijan as a reliable energy supplier due to the military clashes with Armenia is a strong argument to assert.

Armenia’s third-party orchestrated attempts to attack Azerbaijan is not just a threat to the regional peace and stability, but also to the Europe’s energy security.  We are currently witnessing a passive reaction from the West who has substantial economic interests in Azerbaijan and in the said energy projects.  Such position could contribute into further escalation and development of a scenario favourable to third parties having their own agenda for this region.

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The political inertia of the EU in the South Caucasus becoming a serious problem for the West

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The geopolitical panorama  in the South Caucasus, which has strategic importance for Europe, has changed dramatically in recent years. Different development indicators of the countries in the region, as well as innovations in the Caucasus policy of foreign states and organizations now create a new situation here.

Processes show that Azerbaijan and Georgia are again the main countries interested in integration into the Euro-Atlantic space. On the other hand, in the current situation, Azerbaijan’s importance and role in Europe’s energy supply and security is growing. Official Baku is interested in establishing closer relations with the European Union in the economic, political and juridical spheres.

At present, Azerbaijan is a decisive country in the South Caucasus, and 75% of the region’s GDP is formed in Azerbaijan. Transnational projects implemented by the country in partnership with Western countries show that Azerbaijan’s economic position will continue to grow. This point is becoming increasingly important for geopolitical players in the region to cooperate with Azerbaijan.

The European Union is an interested party in the development of relations with Azerbaijan also.  But this is more about economic relations.  However, the geopolitical role of the South Caucasus, including Azerbaijan, is unique in terms of its potential and geostrategic position. This region plays an important role both as an energy source and in the transportation of Caspian energy resources to Europe in general. The location between  of the Caspian and Black Seas, Russia, Iran and Turkey turns the South Caucasus region into an East-West and North-South corridor.  This factor shows that the Caspian region, especially the South Caucasus, has an important position on the geopolitical map of the world. However, the European Union is not as active in the South Caucasus as a geopolitical actor. This is one of the main factors making Russia as major geopolitical player in the region. This situation ultimately causes the Kremlin to treat Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia at different levels and in different statuses.  The countries of the region, with the exception of Armenia, have to take into account Russia’s position. The tradition of the Armenian authorities to act on instructions from Russia has not changed.

Currently, Azerbaijan and Georgia are trying to prevent Russia from acting as an outpost against them. On this purpose they hope to cooperation with the West, including the European Union. But to achieve this, they need the economic and political support of Europe and the United States.  That is, economic cooperation alone is not enough. It should be noted that the demand for oil and gas is growing not only in the West, but also in the rapidly developing countries of Asia. The Caspian Sea basin, comparable to the hydrocarbon reserves of Kuwait, Mexico and the North Sea, makes the Central Asian energy resource region a vital interest zone for the superpowers. The safe flow of this energy to the West depends on stability in the South Caucasus. Stability here lies in resolving existing conflicts in the region, especially the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Because Russia, which wants to keep Europe in an energy monopoly, maintains its influence in the region through these conflicts. By taking an active part in resolving them, Europe can become a key player in a strategically important region and successfully secure its geoeconomic interests.

While Azerbaijan is the gateway to the region, Armenia, which remains under Russian influence, plays a divisive role in the policy pursued by the Western world to ensure its strategic interests in the South Caucasus. By maintaining Russian military bases in Armenia and relying on Russia’s political support, official Yerevan does not give up its policy of aggression and baseless territorial claims. These factors play a role in reviving the modern political landscape of the South Caucasus region.

The current geopolitical reality is that there is no unique security system in the Caucasus. First of all, the presence of conflicts in the South Caucasus, especially the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, in which Azerbaijan unjustly involved is a major obstacle to Caucasus regional security system. The security of Azerbaijan is very important for the security of the whole region. It is a stable and secure system for delivering the region’s energy resources to world markets. Participation in global economic projects can be attributed to Azerbaijan as one of the leading countries in the region. But Azerbaijan still does not receive any important support from the Western world.

Another point here is the European Union, the United States, which initiated the creation of a security system in the region, but despite concrete proposals and models, did not take serious steps in this direction. However, Azerbaijan is a favorable place for them both from a geostrategic and geopolitical point of view. Transnational projects in the South Caucasus are being implemented with the main participation of Azerbaijan. Along with the regional projects implemented so far, Azerbaijan is considered to be a country with sufficient potential and transit opportunities in the implementation of new transnational projects in the coming period. The irreplaceability of Azerbaijan is not only due to the fact its energy producer, but also as an energy transit corridor that transports the oil, gas products of the Central Asian republics to Europe as a transit country. So, by helping to ensure the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, the West would also guarantee its security.But they are still not politically active in the region.

During the new military clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia in July of this year, Western countries did not take an active part in the subsequent course of events in the region. Instead, Russia is again active in the South Caucasus in terms of both the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and other political processes. Such situation is a serious obstacle to accelerating the integration of countries such as Azerbaijan and Georgia into the Euro-Atlantic space. This is also unacceptable in the interests of Europe and the United States. Now it is important for the European Union, which is close to the region, to be more active in the South Caucasus, to contribute in settlement of conflicts, and for this there is a need for active political steps. Otherwise, the European Union will continue to lag behind Russia.

It should be noted that the European Union peacekeeping mission is very important, first of all, to accelerate the process of European integration. The European Union has great experience as both a conflict mediator and a participant in diplomatic negotiations. Over the past 20 years, the European Union has participated in about 30 peacekeeping operations. Its activities are regulated by the European Security Strategy, the Amsterdam Agreement, the Petersberg and Helsinki Declarations. Thus, the European Union has shown that it is one of the main centers of power in the settlement of regional conflicts and ensuring European and international security. In this case, the organization can have a stronger geopolitical position in the South Caucasus by playing an active role in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and helping to restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The formation of a security system at the regional level and the expansion of multilateral relations with the European Union are of particular importance for Azerbaijan. It just needs to be European active role not only economically but also politically field  in the region. Otherwise, European Union will continue to lose geopolitically to Russia and, in the long run, to China in the region.

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