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Armenia’s Aggressive Policy is a Real Danger for the Entire Region

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On 24 September 2020 Ilham Aliyev, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, while delivering a speech at general debates of 75thsession of the United Nations General Assembly in a video format and on 25 September 2020 while receiving EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar, informed international community that hostile declarations and provocations of Armenian leadership revealed that Armenia was planning a new aggression against Azerbaijan. The President called on the United Nations, European Commission and whole international community to urge Armenia to prevent its recent provocations and another military aggression. The President also emphasized that Azerbaijan was aware that intensive military training was underway and Azerbaijani side would defend itself as it had already been done in Tovuz and many other cases.

Contrary to Azerbaijan’s effective communication, under the mediation of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Armenia has deliberately been undermining the format and content of the negotiation process. The comment given by Armenian Defense Minister D. Tonoyan at a meeting with the Armenian community in New York on “new war for new territories” instead of “peace for territories” concept was one more admittance by the high-ranking Armenian representative of hostile policy of this country. The declaration by Prime Minister of Armenia, Pashinyan that “Karabakh is Armenia” completely destroyed the mechanism of negotiations. The so-called inauguration of Nagorno-Karabakh’s so called leader in the historical Azerbaijani city of Shusha and moving the so-called parliament of “Nagorno-Karabakh” from Khankandi to Shusha were other provocations by Armenia. Lately Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s wife, Anna Hakobyan, appeared with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle in her hands during a military exercise in occupied Nagorno-Karabakh with the Armenian Army at a time of rising clashes. This happened one year after her call “fight for peace”. This also negatively affected the ongoing negotiation process. What is more, as Azerbaijanis consider Shusha as a pearl of their history and it has a profoundly moral value for them, all these provocative actions insulted the feelings of Azerbaijanis. All these robust facts and Armenia’s latest aggression on the border are indicators that the official Yerevan is actually not interested in the mediated settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute.

So what happened? On September 27, at 6:00 a.m., Armenian armed forces again flagrantly breached the ceasefire agreement engaging in large-scale military actions, subjected to in-depth bombing from large-caliber weapons, mortars and artillery mounts of different calibers of the Azerbaijan Army positions along the total length of the front and residential areas in the frontline region. Besides continually shelling Azerbaijani settlements by using heavy artillery, the Armenian armed forces also caused significant damage to the population’s property, infrastructure and the economy. Through these acts Armenia blatantly breaches international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and its obligations in this respect. Contrary to this brutality, Azerbaijani armed forces never set fire to civil settlements.

Throughout the night of October 3, Azerbaijan’s Terter city and Sahlaabad, Gazyan, Gapanli, Qaynaq, Askipara, Husanli villages of the district, Ayag Garvand, Imamgulubeyli, Garadagli, Tazakend villages of Aghdam district and Muganli, Qiyameddinli, Ranjbarlar and Tapgaragoyunlu villages of Goranboy district were subjected to heavy artillery fire by the Armenian armed forces. Decisive response measures were being taken by the Azerbaijani army. Unfortunately, the Armenian army not only strikes at Azerbaijan’s villages, but also attacks local and international media representatives in the frontline conducting their professional duty.

Despite Armenia’s shelling due to the successful operations by Azerbaijani Armed forces 6 villages in the Fuzuli-Jarbayil direction and Madagiz were liberated from the occupation. President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev immediately restored its historical name and from October 3, 2020 it will be called Sugovushan. On the same day, the Azerbaijani Army liberated several more villages in Tartar, Jabrayil and Fuzuli district and city of Jabrayil and several villages of the district from the occupation.

On October 4, the Armenian Armed Forces again blatantly breached the norms and principles of international law, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, the decisions and resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, intentionally stroke the civilians of Azerbaijan, shelled the heavily populated areas of Ganja. One person was killed and 32 were injured as a result of rocket and artillery shelling in Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan. Intense battles continue along the entire front. Azerbaijani residential areas in different directions of the front have been subjected to heavy artillery and rocket attacks of Armenia.

According to the press service of the Prosecutor General’s Office, 22 people killed, 74 people injured, 248 houses destroyed and 49 civilian facilities were severely damaged as a result of heavy artillery shelling by the Armenian armed forces.

The other side of the issue is the information warfare. Thus, the battle is not only in the trenches, but also in the information space. Currently the Armenian news machine by producing various, baseless fake news is trying deceive the world community. For instance, all the allegations that Turkey is involved as a party to the dispute spread by the Armenian side are misleading. Actually, Turkey is taking a stabilizing role in the region and does not engage in this dispute in any other ability. Firstly, by doing so, Armenia aims artificially reduce the combat capability of the Azerbaijani Army, which is now fulfilling its task of restoring its territorial integrity with dignity. In addition, Armenia is trying to establish the perception that the crisis is rising and in order to justify its aggression this country is attempting to include as many countries as possible.

Another fake news of the Armenian side is the alleged involvement of mercenaries from Syria in the Azerbaijani Army, which was directly and biased by the Armenian propaganda and is constantly circulating on various websites and in the media. By placing terrorists from Syria and Lebanon in Nagorno-Karabakh, it is Armenia itself that is grossly violating the norms of international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. Azerbaijan has a well-trained army and a large mobilization reserve. To be more precise, with a population of 10 million versus 2 million in Armenia, Azerbaijan does not need human resources. 

Another fake news is that the F-16 aircraft of the Turkish Air Force shot down an Armenian Air Force plane Su-25. Azerbaijani side officially declared that the F-16 aircraft of the Turkish Air Force does not participate in operations in any way. Ilham Aliyev told that taking into account modern technologies’ availability and satellite observation currently it is very difficult to conceal anything. Therefore, it is another provocation by Armenian side. What is more, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared that Azerbaijan did not ask for Turkey’s support. Turkey has only a moral support to Azerbaijan. Therefore, while delivering speech at the Turkish Parliament Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again expressed Turkey’s absolute support for Azerbaijan.

Furthermore, Pakistan demonstrated resolute position on the issue of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and because of Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijan’s lands Pakistan has not recognized Armenia. The General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation also made a statement that it strongly condemned the aggressions and persistent attacks by the Armenian armed forces, restated its support with Azerbaijan and urged for the enforcement of the related resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. Also, in his letter to Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Sefik Dzaferovic, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, firmly condemned the attacks by the Armenian artillery and demonstrated obvious respect to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

While waiting neutrality in the process by France as one of the co-chairs of OSCE Minsk Group unfortunately French President Macron seemed to assure Armenia wider support emphasizing that “I say to Armenia and to the Armenians that France will play its role.” Macron also notified Turkey about “warlike remarks … which effectively eliminate all barriers from Azerbaijan in what would be a Nagorno-Karabakh reconquest. France will not allow that.” Macron’s statement absolutely negatively accepted by Azerbaijani government and condemned by society. During his interview to Al Jazeera TV President Ilham Aliyev told that “Minsk Group co-chairs should proceed on working together if all of them keep neutrality. Co-chairs should not make counter-productive statements and which are demonstrating a kind of change in the position in neutrality. Co-chairs should act in a capacity of mediator.”

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Eastern Europe

Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers

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Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv.  In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.

The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.

It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.

They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!

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Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?

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Photo: Robert Anasch/Unsplash

The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.

A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.

One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.

The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.

Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.

First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.

Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.

Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.

Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.

The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.

The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.

Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.

But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.

The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.

Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.

Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.

This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank

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Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia

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Photo: Protesters hold a banner depicting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi, Georgia July 1, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.

On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.

But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”

For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.

In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.

That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.

A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.

It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.

Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.

One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.

It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.

Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.

The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.

To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.

Author’s note: first published at cepa

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