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Eastern Europe

Time to re-think about Eastern Partnership?

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Azerbaijan is reluctant to actively participate in the EU’s Eastern Partnership Initiative.It is the only country in the South Caucasus region that still engages with the EU through the outdated Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed in the late 1990s. Although the parties have been negotiating on a new treaty since 2017, there are still indifferences that hinder the progress. Until recently, the incumbents in Azerbaijan appeared confident about the overall process and chose not to rush to conclude the new agreement before they resolve all controversies.

In his last interview with the local journalists in December 2019, President Aliyev highlighted that the main reason for not signing the agreement is not the EU but Azerbaijan. There he commented on the unresolved issues and emphasized one more time that Azerbaijan is not asking for anything from the EU. On the contrary, Azerbaijan itself is a donor country. Thus,it expects equal partnership, not a unilateral instruction list from the EU. Going further, he criticized the EaP format, saying nothing is uniting EaP members except being post-soviet countries.His final remarks on EaP were more disappointing for the technocrats in Brussels when he said Azerbaijan is not leaving EaP, but it is not a necessary program for us.

When Aliyev gave the interview, he could not foresee that all hell might break loose soon. The indicators that made him confidently downgrade EaP and the EU might suddenly evaporate. Actually, the forecasts by the World Bank and other organizations about the growth of the Azerbaijan economy in 2020 were quite optimistic – around 3.3 %. According to the latest estimates, the number of tourists coming to the country would be at its peak in 2020 thanks to, at the same time, the major international events- Formula 1 and European Football Championship. To facilitate the arrivals of the fans and to attract more tourists, Azerbaijan activated the fifth and seventh freedoms of the air from January 2020. The price of the oil was around 60 dollars per barrel, and the completion of the Southern Gas corridors would bring additional revenues from the gas trade. Besides, after the structural reforms, Azerbaijan was ranked 25th in terms “Ease of Doing Business’ by the World Bank what made the officials optimistic about increased foreign direct investments in upcoming years in different sectors, especially transport and logistics.

And here comes COVID-19. The pandemic hits the entire world and slows down the global economic activities. The demand for oil goes down dramatically. In March,Russian and Saudi Arabian gambling amid OPEC+ talks slumps the oil price further. WTI crude oil futures collapse to negative prices for the first time in history.

Nowadays,the Azerbaijani oil brand – AzerLight is circa $ 20per barrel. According to  Rovshan Agayev,if the average price fluctuates around $25 compared to 2019, Azerbaijan will receive 5 times less revenue from the sale of the oil in 2020. The earnings from tourism and agriculture also will significantly go down. The global recession and so-called de-globalization put Azerbaijan’s heavily invested connectivity projects under the risk.

Taken, the significant portion of Azerbaijan GDP comes from the export of the hydrocarbon resources,as soon as oil prices slumped, panic ensued. Traumatized by the devaluations of 2014 and 2015, people rushed to exchange their savings. As the banks were not able to meet unexpectedly grown demands for foreign currencies, big rows emerged in front of the banks. Although there were strict quarantine measures in Azerbaijan due to COVID-19, since mid-march, the banks are full of people. The recent closure of the four banks proves the panic is not ungrounded.

Currently, Azerbaijan uses its own resources and capacities to handle the situation.  To do so, the government expends the reserves accumulated in the oil fund to keep the national currency – manat stable. Yet, in a worst-case scenario, Azerbaijan also will need assistance from its international partners. But the number of partners, capable of and ready to assist Azerbaijan is limited. Besides, the pandemic puts extra pressure on international financial institutions, as many countries require urgent assistance.

Unusually nowadays, with its flaws and deficiencies, the most active actor in the South Caucasus is the EU. It seems the EU tries to use the momentum to exert its global leadership. Conventionally it takes a lot of time for the EU to agree upon at various institutional levels before taking action. This time the EU’s response was relatively prompt. In late March, the EU pledged about 16-billion-euro assistance in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences. Later the “Team Europe” package reached more than 20 billion euros.

The EU has the utmost interest in the resilience of the neighborhood countries, including Azerbaijan. The EU mentions this in all documents addressing neighborhood, such as revised ENP, Global Strategy, and many others. In the recent “Eastern Partnership policy beyond 2020” proposal, the EU confirms again that the resilience of EaP countries remains a priority for the EU. According to the proposal, the EU will continue to employ the incentive-based approach – more for more and less for less- to contribute to EaP’s resilience. Put it differently, the degree of the EU’s engagement with EaP countries will contingent on incentives coming from them.

The EU’s emergency support package for Eastern Partnership countries in early April shows the ‘more for more principle’ at work.  The EaP countries having association and enhanced agreements with the EU receivegenerous aid while Azerbaijan gets the smallest portion- 14 million euros. This number is even four times less than the amount given to Belarus. It is a tribute paid to Azerbaijan leadership’s attitude towards the EU and EaP.

To mitigate the negative repercussions of the pandemic, Azerbaijan will need assistance from the EU. Practice shows the EU could mobilize investments and loans when required. In case of an emergency, Azerbaijan might also ask the EU  to do so. Besides, in the long run, the EU’sinstruments and know-how might be helpful for Azerbaijan in its much-needed diversification endeavor and structural reforms.

Taken, the EU recently revised its neighborhood policy, and EaP is much more flexible and tailor-made nowadays, there is a great potential for cooperation, especially in fields of sustainable development, energy, transport, and logistics.  Thus, rather than downgrading the EU and praising Azerbaijan’s strategic partnerships with nine EU members, Azerbaijan should use those countries to improve its collaboration with the EU.

To sum, although Azerbaijan is not happy about it, the technocrats in Brussels are not willing to devise an alternative framework to collaborate with Azerbaijan. Whether Azerbaijan likes it or not, for the EU, Azerbaijan is an Eastern Partnership country. It means the EU will continue to regulate its cooperation with Azerbaijan according to the policy documents designed for EaP and the principles defined in them.Thus, to secure future assistance from the EU to lessen the consequences of the pandemic, Azerbaijan should avoid employing unnecessary rhetoric and accommodate the current EaP framework rather than wasting time to alter it.

More meaningful and reciprocally beneficial cooperation is still possible in the margins of the current EaP. Resolving the indifference sand replacing the outdated PCA with a new agreement in a due time might be the right policy to achieve this.In its turn, the EU should also encourage Azerbaijan to -change its attitude towards EaP through real actions on the ground – by demonstrating objectives defined in EaP documents are not empty promises, and the EU genuinely stands with Azerbaijan.

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Eastern Europe

Conflict in Ukraine is doomed to escalate

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The meet-up location of NATO foreign ministers on November 29-30— Bucharest — was where ten years ago, former US President George W. Bush persuaded America’s transatlantic partners that Ukraine and Georgia should one day join their military alliance. The foreign ministers duly “reaffirmed” that decision yesterday and left it at that. 

However, their statement on the conflict in Ukraine emphatically stated that the NATO “will never recognise” Russia’s incorporation of four Ukrainian regions and underscored the alliance’s resolve to “continue and further step up political and practical support” to Kiev. 

The NATO General-Secretary Jens Stoltenberg who is the mouthpiece of Washington, warned that despite Ukraine’s bravery and progress on the ground, Russia retains strong military capabilities and a large number of troops, and the alliance will continue to support Kiev for “as long as it takes … we will not back down.” 

Such pronouncements betray the absence of any new thinking although developments on the ground are showing that Washington’s best-laid plans are floundering. And there are also growing signs of disunity on Ukraine issue among the US’ European allies and between the latter and the Biden Administration.

The neocons in the Biden team who are the driving force in the Beltway are still full of passionate intensity. The flicker of hope that the moderate opinion voiced in the famous statement by 30 Democratic lawmakers recently was brusquely snuffed out. 

Moscow has drawn appropriate conclusions too, as evident in the Russian Foreign Ministry stance that it makes no sense in the prevailing climate of unremitting hostility from Washington to hold the Bilateral Consultative Commission under the Russia-US New START Treaty, which was   originally scheduled to take place in Cairo on November 29 – December 6.   

Again, nothing much need be expected out of the French President Emmanuel Macron’s meeting with President Biden at the White House tomorrow. Macron still hopes to be the western leader to accept President Putin’s surrender terms and go down in history books, but in reality his credibility is in shatters in Europe and Atlanticist circles in particular, and even within France. 

Europe’s number one priority at this juncture, which is a turning point in the conflict in Ukraine, ought to be its strategic autonomy to act in its own interests. But that requires deep thinking as to what is it that Europe wants to be autonomous about, and secondly, the understanding that deep down, a strategic interest cannot be reduced to security interests. 

In our new Hobbesian world, a world of competing economic zones, Europe’s first goal should be to achieve strategic economic autonomy. But is that goal attainable anymore when its energy security that gave underpinning to its prosperity and industrial might has been smashed to smithereens in the depths of the Baltic Sea by unseen hands? 

Be that as it may, the unfolding events in Ukraine are sure to create a new dynamic. The visible acceleration of the Russian offensive in Bakhmut in the most recent weeks is dramatically shortening the timeline for the capture of the city from several weeks ahead to the next few days at the most. Similar signs are appearing in Maryinka and Ugledar in the Donbass region, too. 

If Bakhmut is the lynchpin of the Ukrainian defence line in Donbass, Maryinka is from where Ukrainian forces are bombarding Donetsk city; and, the capture of Ugledar will enable the Russian forces to move toward Zaporozhye city and conclusively ward off any future challenge to the land bridge to Crimea and to the ports in the Azov Sea. 

The common thread here is that the ongoing beefing up of the Russian forces deployed in Donbass after the mobilisation of nearly 400,000 soldiers is beginning to show its first results. For once, Russian forces are outnumbering Ukraine’s and Russian fortifications have been significantly strengthened. 

The fall of Bakhmut will signal that the Battle of Donbass, which is the Russian special military operation’s leitmotif, is entering its final phase. The Ukrainian defence line in Donbass is crumbling. Russian control of Donbass is at hand in a conceivable future. 

What happens next? The Russian objective may be to push the Ukrainian forces further away from the Donbass region and keep the steppes to the east of Dnieper river as a buffer zone. Indeed, the Dnipropetrovsk oblast is also rich in mineral resources, containing large deposits of iron ore, manganese ore, titanium-zirconium ore, uranium, anthracite coal, natural gas and oil and lignite coal and is the major centre of Ukraine’s steel industry, apart from being a region of intensive grain growing, animal husbandry, and dairy industry. Its loss will be a crippling blow to Kiev.  In political terms, the narrative of victory in Kiev — that Ukraine is winning the war and is about to capture Crimea, etc. — is becoming unsustainable for much longer. 

Meanwhile, Europe too is struggling with its demons — unable to shake off the idea of a price cap on Russian oil that is sure to boomerang and further aggravate Europe’s energy security; need to step up imports of LNG from Russia still, which is far cheaper than from America; Europe not being in a position to respond to the launch of the highly consequential inflation reduction act in the US or  migration of European industry to America; EU’s inability to strengthen the international role of the euro for absorbing some of the world’s surplus savings, and so on. 

Therefore, at this defining moment faced with an imminent escalation of the conflict in Ukraine in the coming weeks, the neocons in the US are having their way to step up the arms supplies to Ukraine. The neocons invariably win the turf battles in the Beltway, especially under a weak president. If the Republicans step up the investigations on Biden, his dependency on the neocons will only increase during the period ahead. 

The regime-change-in-Russia propaganda is not going to wither away even under the emerging stark realities of the emerging ground situation in Ukraine. The neocons’ aim, as the investigative historian Eric Zuesse put it succinctly, is “to destroy Russia so fast that Russia won’t be able to destroy America in retaliation.” The sheer absurdity of the thought is self-evident to everyone but the neocons. So, they are going to argue now that the cardinal mistake the US made in Ukraine was its failure to put boots on the ground in that country in 2015 itself.

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Eastern Europe

UK Special Services continue to provoke an aggravation of the situation near the Black Sea

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British foreign secretary James Cleverly in Kiev with president Zelensky.

Russian precision attacks against Ukrainian infrastructure are a necessary response to Ukrainian sabotage on Russian soil, including the bombing of the Crimean Bridge, President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The two leaders spoke by phone at Berlin’s request.

Putin explained the logic behind Russia’s military operation against Ukraine which has started military aggression against Donbass in 2014 and later against Russia in 2022, and stated that the Western policy of arming and training Ukrainian troops was “destructive.”

“It was noted that the Russian Armed Forces had been refraining from conducting precision missile strikes on certain targets in the Ukrainian territory for a long time, but now such measures have become necessary and unavoidable as a reaction to Kiev’s provocative attacks on Russian civilian infrastructure, including the Crimean Bridge and energy facilities.” The “terrorist attack” against the Nord Stream undersea pipelines “stands in the same category” and requires a transparent investigation that would include Russia, Putin told the German leader.

– Belarusian and Russian troops will act as a unified force. The two countries don’t want war, but are preparing to “repel any aggression, – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has announced amid heightened tensions with the West over the Ukraine large-scale aggression against Donbass in 2014 and later against Russia in 2022. “Today we are preparing like a single force, a single army,” Lukashenko said, adding that instructors from both countries were training each other’s troops.

Lukashenko underlined that the situation around Belarusian border is ‘tense’. The country’s security agencies have registered an increase in the number of “provocations.”

– Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu called Belarus a “trustworthy partner” for Russia during a meeting with Viktor Khrenin, his Belarusian counterpart. Two ministers signed a revised version of a Regional Security Treaty between the two governments on December 3.

– Western European states are creating a dangerous situation by trying to exclude Russian and Belarus from the continent’s security order, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned. He accused EU leaders of allowing the US to dictate policy, and surrendering their own interests to Washington, and claimed that EU policy is creating insecurity on the continent. The West “is already trying to build a security architecture [in Europe] without Russia and Belarus. We don’t need such security,” Lavrov said. “The whole security [architecture] in Europe now comes down to it being completely subservient to the USA,” he claimed.

– Kiev plotting provocation on ammonia transit from Russia. The grain deal, as a part of a UN- and Turkey-brokered agreement that unblocked exports of Ukrainian grain and Russian fertilizers in the Black Sea, did not reportedly cover exports of Russian ammonia via the Tolyatti-Odessa pipeline. However, earlier, a UN-aid chief said that the ammonia deal would likely be reached by the end of the week.

Kiev  has been given a free passage of its grain deliveries abroad via the Black Sea under the multilateral deal reached last July, but is plotting a provocation to subvert the UN initiative on resumption of Russia’s ammonia transit abroad free of charge.

Guided by UK Special Services, and with help from Canada’s private military company (PMC) GardaWorld, the provocation is to echo the blasts carried out at Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. The goal, like in the case of the September 2022 sabotage at the pipelines, is to prevent Russia from exporting its resources to other countries.

The Kiev regime’s plan reportedly presupposes blowing up ammonia storage facilities at Odessa Portside Plant, to subsequently blame Russia for the explosion.

From our partner International Affairs

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Eastern Europe

It Is Possible To Live Peacefully In The Caucasus

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The Caucasus is a geographical area inhabited by a number of peoples. This region with its beautiful nature has experienced complicated events throughout history. The South Caucasus, which is also the historical homeland of the Azerbaijanis, has gone through difficult periods over the past periods, which shaped the current map.

December 5th marks the Day of Deportation of Western Azerbaijanis from their native lands. The policy of ethnic cleansing systematically carried out against Azerbaijanis throughout the 20th century resulted in the forced deportation of the last Azerbaijanis from the territory of West Azerbaijan in 1988-1991.

The vast majority of our compatriots displaced from their native lands on the territory of present-day Armenia at various times died longing for their homes. About 250,000 of the Azerbaijanis, who were subjected to deportation in 1988-1991, are still longing for their homes and native lands. Those people are deprived of their fundamental rights – the right to live in the lands of their birth and to visit the graves of their relatives.

Unfortunately, the rich cultural and historical heritage of West Azerbaijanis was purposefully destroyed or alienated. The destruction of cemeteries belonging to Azerbaijanis is very heartbreaking. The destruction of a monument belonging to the world heritage means the destruction of a historical object and the infliction of damage to human history. International organizations, especially UNESCO, which should react sharply to such cases, are still keeping mum. A possible just position by UNESCO, its deployment of a fact-finding mission to the monuments, which belong to West Azerbaijanis and are in danger of being wiped out, as well as their registration and ensuring their safeguarding, would be very useful for human history.

Today, West Azerbaijanis are dreaming of returning to their homes and native lands, where they were deported, and reuniting with their homeland.

The community of those people declares readiness for peaceful coexistence in their native lands in Armenia. “We desire to return to our homes and visit the graves of our loved ones. Taking into account the ongoing positive processes for peaceful coexistence of 25,000 people of Armenian origin in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and being inspired by it, we believe that coexistence in the territory of Armenia may be possible”, Western Azerbaijani Community members state.   

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