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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

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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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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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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