It is more of a job to interpret interpretations than to interpret the things M.Montaigne «The Complete Essays Опыты»
The fast pace of a settlement process in Nagorno-Karabakh and the arrival of Russian peace-keepers in the conflict zone took those Russian and foreign ”experts” that cashed in on the one-sided presentation of Russia’s policy, by surprise. Their interpretations of events while they were hot smack of confusion and mutually exclusive conclusions. The impression is that a guidebook for the “analysis” of the situation and “interpretation of interpretations” has yet to be written, so they interpret things at will, thereby creating their own “plausible” myths. Such free judgements range from the allegedly well-planned winning operation by “intriguing” Moscow in Nagorno-Karabakh to V.Putin’s 10 defeats in Trans-Caucasus. What comes to one’s mind in connection with Moscow’s so-called “wicked games” to incite the conflict, is the parable about a man who saws a tree he is sitting on. A passerby tells him: «Don’t cut it – you will fall down», but the man continues to cut the tree. As he falls, at last, he exclaims: «Was it witchcraft that did it?». This can easily be applied to Armenia. It was Y.M.Primakov who warned the Armenians years ago that in the absence of a compromise deal the armed conflict in Karabakh was bound to erupt anew sooner or later: «Azerbaijan can work and wait. And it has the resources. 10, 20, 30 years, and they will gain strength and will grab EVERYTHING from you». The same warning came from Armenia’s first President Levon Ter-Petrosyan in 1997, and in 2011.
The Armenians, while fully aware of the impending war, demonstrated inability to collect themselves to counteract the threat. They did not boost their defenses or purchased the required armaments. The country’s combat readiness decreased as well: the new government, fearing a military coup, opted for the support of the army and replaced professional commanders with government-loyal laymen who had no links to the previous top brass. Moreover, the government, which came to power as a result of a color revolution and consisted of officials who used to work for Soros organizations, began to gradually distance itself from its only true ally – Russia, closing Russian-language schools, launching ungrounded persecutions of Russian companies, imposing restrictions on pro-Russian media, think tanks, politicians and civil campaigners. All these measures were presented under the slogan of the versatility of foreign policy and the need to fight against corruption. The versatility of Armenian policy led to an equally versatile attitude on the part of Moscow: it demonstrated the same policy with regard to Armenian allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization and Azerbaijani partners. Thus, considering the suicidal can’t-care-less approach on the part of the Armenian leadership, it would be absurd to talk about the wicked intrigues of Moscow, which allegedly orchestrated the capitulation of Armenia with a view to “punish” its “democratic” leadership. Armenia orchestrated its own defeat (see below).
A common stance in favor of an immediate end to the bloodshed and a ceasefire control mechanism was repeatedly discussed with countries co-chairing the OSCE’s Minsk Group (the United States, France) at the presidential level, at the level of ministers, and by special envoys. But the formulation of a final three-party statement did not appear possible – a delay was out of the question as it would jeopardize thousands of lives.
Russia, which put an end to the senseless slaughter while other members of the Minsk Group chose to keep a low profile, could hardly be blamed for ill-doing. Nevertheless, the ardent opponents of the “criminal regime” are set on presenting the entire conflict as a number of V.Putin’s defeats. А. Illarionov argues that there were exactly 10.
Firstly, the Kremlin’s former economic adviser blames the Russian president for being unable to prevent and stop Azerbaijan’s aggression in the initial stage, and for failing to prevent the capitulation of Armenia. These are presented as V.Putin’s first three defeats.
What became a target for using force is Karabakh – an unrecognized republic, which received no recognition even from Armenia proper after nearly thirty years of its independence. Under UN resolutions, Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan, which is particularly relevant speaking of territories, occupied by the Artsakh Defense Army in the 1990s and comparable in size to the unrecognized republic itself. The problem is that since then Armenia has done nothing to legalize its paternalism in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh. The uncertainty of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status for Armenia, Russia’s ally in the CSTO, prevented Moscow from coming out in defense of this territory. Technically, the conflict was Azerbaijan’s internal affair: it did not attack Armenia’s territory, carried out military operations against separatists on its own territory. The Artsakh Defense Army was a good deterrent. Even Armenia chose not to deploy its army units in Karabakh but dispatch volunteer corps instead.
Given the situation, deployment of Russian peacekeeping forces was possible only on condition of approval from both parties. The negotiations were under way from the very first day of the conflict but N.Pashinyan, who counted on western assistance, would not agree to the conditions proposed after consultations with western curators. As military operations continued, the terms for a peace settlement became less attractive until on November 9th the situation grew critical with possibilities for a ceasefire deteriorating further.
Undoubtedly, co-chairing countries of the Minsk Group could have stepped in to guarantee an earlier ceasefire, by introducing a balance of strength, by imposing a strict ban on Turkey’s attempts at intervention in the conflict. This could have been secured within NATO, or by threatening with UN Security Council sanctions. However, in early November, one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council (needless to guess, it was Britain) blocked a draft resolution proposed by three co-chairing members of the CSTO’s Minsk Group to ensure an immediate ceasefire and prevent third countries from meddling in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, while NATO did not even raise such an issue. Given the situation, the Kremlin could not prevent an attack and neither could it force N.Pashinyan to sign a statement earlier, as the latter, until the very last moment, hoped that “the West will help us”. Therefore, it is the West that should be blamed for being unable to prevent military operations and to nip the conflict in the bud. Meanwhile, if we follow A.Illarionov’s logic, we must ascertain the defeat of the USA in 2008, when Washington proved unable to prevent M.Saakashvili’s attack on South Ossetia.
Russia entered Georgia after M.Saakashvili attacked Tskhinval from Grad multiple rocket launchers killing Russian peacekeepers who were deployed there on the basis of an official agreement signed by both sides. The fact that M.Saakashvili was the first to start the war (having more than 100 military advisers from the USA and more of them in Georgia’s government agencies) – was pointed out in a EU report. This report, compiled by the EU independent panel, was ready in spring 2009 but was published only in the autumn, after the western media celebrated one year to RUSSIA’s attack on “small” “democratic” Georgia. The report by the EU panel was mentioned in passing. What will be the case this time? If Russian peacekeepers come under attack from either of the parties involved and Russia takes retaliatory action, what will be the reaction of well-wishers, like A.Illarionov?
The war was stopped thanks to intensive peace-keeping activity by V.Putin personally, while Armenia’s capitulation was the result of its “versatile foreign policy” and assistance of western advisers (capitulation can be described as partial, since except Shusha and Hadrut, Karabakh remained under peacekeepers; the other, earlier occupied areas would have surrendered anyway sooner or later – in general, Armenians did not settle there).
As the fourth defeat, A.Illarionov cites the fact that Turkey’s assistance to Azerbaijan proved more effective than Russia’s aid to Armenia, which is rendered in full compliance with Moscow’s commitments as an ally.
An economist by qualifications, A.Illarionov could compare the budgets of the two countries and the oil money on which Azerbaijan for 26 years purchased cutting-edge weapons. Armenia has neither oil, nor the oil money, and the diaspora are not quick to loosen their purse-strings. According to experts, it would cost Armenia 10 yearly budgets to mount an appropriate defense of Karabakh, which, of course, was unaffordable, considering that even the available resources were spent irrationally. For example, Armenia chose to buy the old Osa missile systems from Jordan, though it could have bought ultramodern systems from Russia at prime cost or on credit. It was unclear why Armenia purchased Russian fighter jets which were absolutely superfluous for the country’s military needs and did not make a single flight in the course of military operations. A report to this effect was made a few days ago by an Armenian general, who serves in the capacity of chief military inspector of Armenia.
As it happens, it is not enough to have the resources – it is also vital to have competent military experts. But the incumbent Armenian prime minister, as was said above, got them out of the way as he fought for power.
It is not Russia’s fault that Armenia could not use the opportunity of getting the assistance it needed. It was only after the start of military operations that the Armenian leadership became aware of the shortages of military hardware. Russia was quick to offer assistance but this aid took long to be delivered as it was transported via Iran after Georgia had shut the land and air border with Armenia because of the conflict. Georgia opened the air corridor for Russian peacekeepers alone after the signing of the statement.
V.Putin’s fifth defeat in the interpretation of A.Illarionov is (and this is strange for a liberal) the Russian president’s mediation in talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan instead of “dictating their will to smaller nations”.
As far as the Russian mediation is concerned, it would be more appropriate to blame co-chairing countries of the Minsk Group – the USA and France, which failed to act on their commitments to establish peace. They thus tend to shift responsibility from the guilty to the innocent. Should they have followed what Aliyev “dictated” (A.Illarionov writes this about the three-party statement), Azerbaijan would have captured the entire Karabakh, there would be no Russian peacekeepers there, and the observer center would have been opened without Russia. Armenia wouldn’t have welcomed it.
What A.Illarionov also blames the Russian president for is the absence in the final document of any mention of the status of Karabakh.
In the early days of the war, when the terms of peace were much more favorable for Armenia, N.Pashinyan, assisted by western advisers, missed the chance of reaching agreement on the status of Karabakh. After the defense crumbled and Shusha surrendered, this chance was lost altogether – status was not on the agenda, what was necessary was to keep what remained. V.Putin’s hint: talks on the status could be on the agenda in the future, at the moment the most important thing is to put an end to military operations.
In addition, A.Illarionov cites V/Putin out of context, by selecting some words and leaving out the main idea: “Speaking about recognition-unrecognition of Karabakh as an independent state, there can be different opinions to this effect, but what proved essential was that the mere position of non-recognition of Karabakh, including on the part of Armenia, left a visible footprint on the course of events and on how these events were perceived».
V.Putin continued: «We must say about it openly: after the criminal, without doubt, activities of the former Georgian leadership, namely the strikes against our peacekeepers in South Ossetia, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We acknowledged as fair the wish of Crimean people to become part of Russia, we acknowledged their free will, we did it openly. Some may be in favor, some may be against, but we did it in the interests of people who live there, in the interests of entire Russia, and we do not hesitate to openly say so. This was not done with regard to Karabakh, which made a tangible impact on what has been happening there».
While taking for granted the presence of NATO military contingents from Britain, Canada and Germany in the Baltic countries in 2017, А. Illarionov lashes at V.Putin for voicing no objections to the dispatch of Turkish military to Azerbaijan and their participation in the peace-keeping operation. This suggests a selective approach, a kind of “liberal logic”, under which the presence of NATO military in some former Soviet republics should be seen as appropriate while the presence of NATO servicemen in other former Soviet republics should be seen by Russia as inappropriate. The disfavored liberal economist is also indignant over V.Putin’s recognition of the sovereignty of Azerbaijan and his consent to the presence of observer centers consisting of Russian and Turkish experts on the territory of Azerbaijan.
The Turkish influence on Azerbaijan became reality in the 1990s, as a result of the irresponsible policies of Yeltsin/Kozyrev. While we are allies with Armenia, we are only partners with Azerbaijan, so the latter’s desire to win the support of one more guarantor is quite understandable. Had the co-chairing countries of the peace process – the USA and France – not withdrawn from the scene at a critical moment, they could have taken Turkey’s place. Now, instead of demanding, within NATO, that Turkey account for its actions to incite conflict in Southern Caucasus, which were perpetrated in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, western partners in the Minsk Group require Russia to account for the role of Turkey in the Karabakh conflict. They ought to ask themselves first.
About the peace-keepers, A.Illarionov distorts the facts: the statement envisages the presence of only Russian peace-keepers in Karabakh and empowers Turkey to establish a Turkish-Russian ceasefire monitoring center on the territory of Azerbaijan.
For an even score, A.Illarionov argues that among V.Putin’s other defeats is the use of drones in an online regime to monitor the situation along the division line, as the drones, he says, caused the death of Armenians. Does it need to explain that technical means can both carry death and control the peace process, depending on the set purposes.
What A.Illarionov disliked was V.Putin’s support of N.Pashinyan, who opted for putting an end to the bloodshed, eventually. Nevertheless, it would be naïve to assume that the interview by an initiator and mediator in the peace settlement was designed to obtain all but backing the Armenian prime minister, though at the present, his resignation could take place only as a result of an anti-constitutional coup. Deputies from the ruling My Step bloc, who control two thirds of seats in parliament, made it clear that they want N.Pashinyan to stay. So much public disappointment means that there is a chance that radical groups may come to power in Armenia, such as terrorist organization «Sasiatser», and these groups may disrupt all the agreements and unleash a war to a complete self-destruction of Armenia.
Considering an overwhelming public support (over 70%) for N.Pashinyan’s bloc My Step at parliamentary elections in December 2018 and in the absence of any alternative leader or party that would be equally popular, Moscow exerted every effort for 2,5 years to hit it off with N.Pashinyan, despite his apparent tilt towards the West.
When still in opposition, N.Pashinyan called for withdrawing from the CIS, from the Eurasian Economic Union, to join the EU and NATO, and for removing a Russian military base from the territory of Armenia. The “street” were hilarious. After becoming prime minister and waking up to the Armenian reality, N.Pashinyan stopped calling for an immediate breakaway from all integrational Eurasian organizations. Instead, he proclaimed versatility of the country’s foreign policy. In domestic policy he introduced the doctrine of so-called “transitional justice”, which enabled him to get rid of political adversaries under the pretext of fighting against corruption and without any legal instruments. He gave top government posts to a bunch of non-professionals who used to work in Soros organizations and had no experience of public administration.
The Armenians were either hilarious about what was happening, or condescending. For 2,5 years government-supporting media cultivated Russophobic attitudes among the public. It got so bad that some Yerevan residents complained that they found it “unpleasant” to see Russian border guards at Yerevan Airport, or Russian servicemen moving to Erebuni Airport via Yerevan (but there is no other way) – and all this instead of thanking their defenders with flowers. Russian border guards have been protecting Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran under a bilateral agreement of 1992, since Armenia lacks the resources to secure the protection of its borders on its own.
Even now, after a crushing military defeat, n.Pashinyan’s supporters tend to distort the course of talks on a statement signed on November 9th . As it seems, V.Putin gave an interview which is being “analyzed” by A.Illarionov for the purpose of providing undistorted account of the course of the negotiations. As for accusations of backing the Armenian prime minister, it’s either that the author knows nothing and is absolutely unaware of V.Putin’s manner of allegorically ironizing over political opponents, or he is set on deliberately misleading the reader. For example, as the Russian president spoke about the closeness between the US Democratic Party’’s slogans (BLM support) and the CPSU, he definitely spoke with tongue in cheek. In the case of Pashinyan the support by V.Putin of the Armenian prime minister made it possible for the Russian president to inform the people of Armenia about progress at talks with N.Pashinyan and the proposals made in the course of these talks (the latter would spread misinformation on the talks to justify his actions). In addition, Russia’s President “is defending” the Armenian prime minister because for V.Putin, what matters is not the person but the policy he pursues, which at the present stage meets the interests of Armenia and Russia – the national interests of BOTH countries.
If we are to examine the outcome of the conflict from the point of view of the “zero sum” (victory-defeat), I recall an interview of one year ago with one of the commanders of the Artsakh Army, a hero of the first Karabakh war. Asked about the future of the unrecognized republic he said that the best solution would be to deploy Russian peace-keepers in Karabakh, while for the republic itself the best option would be the status of a mandate territory like Palestinian Autonomy (until 1948) or Cyprus (until 1974). At that time I found it utopic as neither the co-chairing countries in the Minsk Group (the USA and France), nor Azerbaijan would never agree to such an option. Life, however, (or our diplomacy?) has made the impossible possible. Residents of Nagorno-Karabakh have got protection, Russia – the possibility of controlling both parties in the conflict. Of course, the peace-keepers’ mission is dangerous as there could be provocations on the part of the conflicting parties and on the part of the “co-chairs” as they run trying to jump on the step of a leaving train.
Many interpreters will try to compromise the Russian foreign policy, including those in the West who describe the successful establishment of peace in Karabakh on the principle of “a game with a zero sum” as a defeat of their countries.
Peace has come, but history does not stop there.
From our partner International Affairs
Thorny path towards peace and reconciliation in Karabakh
On January 11 the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a deal to develop cross-border transportation routes and boost economic growth to benefit the South Caucasus and the Wider Region. This meeting took place two months after the Moscow-brokered armistice between Armenia and Azerbaijan ended a 44-day war over Nagorno-Karabakh.
This ethno-territorial conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has drawn dividing lines between Armenia and Azerbaijan for almost 30 years. Some estimates put the number of deaths on both sides at 30,000 after the First Karabakh war before a ceasefire was reached in May 1994. As a result of this war, one fifth of the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan was occupied and the entire Azerbaijani population of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) and seven adjacent districts (Lachin, Kalbajar, Agdam, Fizuly, Jabrail, Gubatli and Zangilan) was forcibly expelled by the Armenian armed forces. Incidentally, due to sporadic frontline skirmishes and clashes, both military personnel and civilians have been killed along the Line of Contact, devoid of any peacekeeping force, since 1994.
Over the years, Armenia and the separatist regime that emerged in the occupied Azerbaijani territories refused any final status short of independence for Nagorno-Karabakh and tried to preserve this status quo and achieve international security guarantees on the non-resumption of hostilities while avoiding the withdrawal of its armed forces from the occupied territories and preventing the safe return of expelled Azerbaijani inhabitants to their permanent places of residence. However, such a policy, in its turn, polarized the region and reduced to naught any meaningful regional cooperation between the three South Caucasus states.
The Second Karabakh war, which took place from September 27 to November 9, 2020, and the subsequent Russia-brokered peace deal on November 10, significantly changed the facts on the ground and created a new political reality that replaced the “no war, no peace” situation that had been hanging over the region for almost 30 years. As a result of this war, more than 6,000 soldiers died on both sides in fighting.
This war came to an end because of a clear victory for Azerbaijan, which has restored its territorial integrity and sovereignty. Owing to the humiliating defeat of Armenia,the myth of the invincibility of the Armenian armed forces has been shattered and the Prime Minister of this country has been under continuous pressure from the opposition to step down.
Thus, after the Second Karabakh war, the pendulum has swung from devastating war towards actual peace. The question, is, however, whether the conflicting parties will be able to achieve lasting peace in the coming years: How can a relationship that has been completely destroyed owing to this protracted armed conflict and previous wars be restored?
The fate of all inhabitants of both the highlands and lowlands of Karabakh, irrespective of their ethnic origin, is crucial in this context. Security arrangements for the Armenian minority residing in this area are currently organized through the deployment of 1,960 Russian peacekeepers for at least five years to monitor the implementation of the trilateral statement signed by the heads of state of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the Russian Federation on November 10 (hereafter, the trilateral statement). At the same time, the return of the former Azerbaijani inhabitants to their permanent places of residence previously occupied by the Armenian armed forces is envisaged by the trilateral statement and the UNHCR has been assigned to oversee this task.
It is paramount that Azerbaijan has to demonstrate a policy of “strategic patience” in the coming years to entice the Armenians of Karabakh region into closer incorporation through attractive political, economic, social, and other development.
On the other hand, Armenia has to concentrate on its own internationally recognized sovereign territory. Today, it is important that this country changes its external minority policy and withdraws its territorial claims against Azerbaijan. As a next step, both Armenia and Azerbaijan can recognize the territorial integrity of one other.
Such rapprochement can lead to the opening of the borders between Armenia and Turkey and Armenia and Azerbaijan, which would increase economic opportunities for landlocked Armenia. It can thereby contribute to regional stability, development, and trans-regional cooperation among the three South Caucasian states. At the same time, it would create an enabling environment that could be more conducive for future dialogue and interactions between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.
We must face the fact that a stable equilibrium between these two nations has never previously been achieved. However, despite ups and downs, there was peaceful coexistence between the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities in Karabakh as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan’s respective minorities in Azerbaijan and Armenia. This protracted conflict has, however, led Armenians and Azerbaijanis to live in parallel realities for almost 30 years.
In light of the recent past, we cannot soon reconcile our different narratives. It is a long process; however, reconciliation is not only an outcome, it is also a process. Although the gestation period might be long, the process of reconciliation itself can be extremely rewarding.
In fact, the Armenian and Azerbaijani inhabitants of Karabakh have lived together in this region in the past. However, for almost 30 years this was impossible. Will and determination should be put to good use in order to arrive at such a peaceful coexistence once again.
Dawn of great power competition in South Caucasus
The pace of geopolitical change in the South Caucasus is staggering, with the recent Karabakh war only underlining several major geopolitical trends in the region.
The first noticeable trend being the undercutting of democratic ideals and achievements of the region’s states. Take Armenia, its young democracy had high hopes following the 2018 revolution, but now it will be more even more dependent on Russia.
It is not a matter of whether a democratic model is better or not, the matter lies in the incompatibility of an aspiring democracy with a powerful nondemocracy such as Russia.
The Armenian leadership will now have to make extensive concessions to Moscow to shore up its military, backtracking on its democratic values. Building a fair political system cannot go hand in hand with the Russian political model.
The war also put an end to any hopes of Armenia implementing a multivector foreign policy, an already highly scrutinized issue. Mistakes were made continuously along the way, the biggest being an overreliance on Russia.
In the buildup to 2020, Armenia’s multiaxial foreign policy efforts gradually deteriorated, with the 2016 fighting showing the limits. Armenian politicians attempted to develop ties with other regional powers in the aftermath, but Russian influence had already begun to incrementally increase.
Tipping the scales in a no longer balanced alliance culminated in the 2020 war with Azerbaijan thanks to Yerevan’s maneuvering. More crucially, the war has obliterated Yerevan’s multiaxial policy efforts for years to come.
Now, Armenia’s dependence on Russia would be even more pronounced with no viable geopolitical alternatives.
With no more foreign policy diversification, the three South Caucasus states are divided by larger regional powers, further fracturing the region.
The return of Turkey and the growth of the Russian military could resurrect the great power competition, in which a nation’s military power, infrastructure projects and economic might are directly translated into their geopolitical influence over the region, ultimately deterring long-term conflict resolution.
The Western stance
The Karabakh war highlighted a regression in Western peacekeeping standards. The Western approach to conflict resolution based on equality rather than geopolitical interests has been trumped by the Russian alternative.
Moscow is not looking to resolve the conflict (it never does in territorial conflicts); instead, it is seeking to prolong it under its close watch in a bid to increase its influence.
Looking at the situation from the Russian perspective, it is clear the country will continue to influence Armenia and Azerbaijan, only now to a far greater extent than before.
The West’s inability to accommodate fluid geopolitical realities in the South Caucasus also raises questions about its commitment to resolving the issues at hand. The second Karabakh war was in a way a by-product of the West’s declining engagement in the region over the past several years.
The West can no longer treat the South Caucasus as a monolithic entity, and a diversified foreign policy should be applied in line with realities on the ground.
Policies should reflect each individual state, and the West should, perhaps, be more geopolitical in its approach.
Turkey’s recent suggestion to create a six-nation pact bringing together the South Caucasus states, Russia, Turkey and Iran, shows the regression of Western influence in the region. But the geopolitical vacuum is never empty for long, and Turkey and Russia approach.
Georgia could act as the last bastion of dominant Western influence, but even there, the West should be cautious. The country is on the cusp of Europe, making it susceptible to foreign influence.
Bordered by Russia and Turkey, two powers often discerning of Europe, Georgia also feels the pressure to adapt to the changing circumstances on the ground.
The lack of Western resolve in the region and the Black Sea could propel Tbilisi if not toward a total reconsideration of its foreign policy, toward diversifying its foreign ties – one could call a “rebalancing.”
The war also solidified that the Caspian basin and South Caucasus are inextricably linked to the greater Middle East.
Russia and Turkey are basing their strategies in the region on developments in the Middle East and the Black Sea region. Not since the end of the Soviet Union has the South Caucasus been such a critical point for the West, especially the incoming Biden administration.
But time is critical and any further delay in active U.S. policy could spell disaster for Georgia, which serves as a door to the Caspian and on to Central Asia.
The West has been in regression in the region for quite some time now; the Karabakh war only brought it to the light, and it must be proactive if things are to change.
Much will depend on the U.S. and its new administration, but the West will have to come to an understanding with Turkey, even if it be limited, to salvage its deteriorating position in the region.
After all, the South Caucasus has always been the only theater where Turkish and Western interests have always coincided. Considering its limited presence in the region, the West could consider backing Turkey.
Not only would it serve as a reconciliatory gesture pleasing Ankara, but it would also limit Russia’s movement in the region. With the ink about to dry on who will influence the region, the West must immediately adapt its approach if it wishes to have any input in the rapidly changing geopolitics of the South Caucasus.
Author’s note: first published in dailysabah
An Impending Revolution
Even on the end note, the year contains surprises enough to deem it as a year of instability and chaos given every nook and cranny around the globe is riddled with a new crisis every day. Latest down in the tally is the country of Belarus that has hardly streamlined over at least half a decade but now is hosting up as a venue to rippling protests in almost all the districts of its capital, Minsk. The outrage has resulted from the massive rigging imputed on the communist party in ruling for almost three decades since the split of Soviet Union in 1994. With Europe and Russia divided on the front as the protests and violence continue to rage: a revolution is emerging as a possibility.
The historical map of Belarus is nearly as complex as the geographical landscape which might only stand next to Afghanistan in terms of the intricacies faced by a landlocked country as such. Belarus is located in the Eastern European region bordered by Russia to the north-eastern perimeter. Poland borderlines the country to the West while Ukraine shares a border in the South. The NATO members, Lithuania and Latvia, outskirt the borders of Belarus in the Northwest, making the region as a prime buffer between the Russian regime and the western world. As Belarus stands as a junction between the European Union (EU) and Russia, the proximal nature brings about interests of either parties in the internal affairs of Minsk. However, the nature of the bond shared between the trio is by no means a triangle unlike other former soviet nations since Belarus has casted its absolute loyalty to Russia since the split of Soviet Union and ultimate accession to power of president, Alexander Lukashenko, the leader of the Communist Party of Belarus. Along with the alliance, however, came the unwanted dependency since over the 26-year rule of Lukashenko, he crippled the economy and the political writ of Belarus, using every last ounce of authority to subdue the opposition and the democratic mechanism of the country, earning him the nefarious title ‘Europe’s last dictator’.
The outburst of protests today stems from this very problem that is more deep-rooted than what comes across as apparent. The excessive and draconian use of power and autonomy has invalidated the independence of Belarusians and turned them haplessly at the mercy of Russian aid and support while blocking out any western support in the name of guarding national sovereignty. The ongoing surge of dissent was triggered earlier in August when the elections turned about to be absurdly rigged in favour of Alexander Lukashenko, granting him an indelible majority of 80% of the total vote count along with a lifetime of rule over the country despite his blatant unpopularity across the country. The accusations were further solidified when one of the popular opposing candidates, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, casted a complaint with the authorities regarding the falsification of election results. Instead of being appeased, she was detained for 7 straight hours and was even forced to exile to the neighbouring country of Lithuania. This resulted in major tide of riots and protests erupting all across Minsk, preceding over 3000 arrests over the election night.
On the official front, however, an aggressive stance was upheld along with a constant refusal of Lukashenko from stepping down from the long-held office or even considering a review of the polls counted despite exorbitant reports of unfair results. Heavy use of rubber bullets and tear gas was an eccentric protocol adopted by the local police force which instead of placating the rioters, further ignited the protests in more districts of the capital city. The anti-government relies also entitled ‘March of Neighbours’ transitioned into a high scale protest with many of the state employees resigning from their positions to stand upright against the long overdue corrupt regime. With the protests raging over months and the Lukashenko government getting more and more aggressive with their policies, the fear that once sparkled in the eyes of the natives is dwindling exceedingly and is turning into a cry for an outright revolution, which would be a ground-breaking one ever since the revolution of Iran back in 1979.
European counties have taken their conventional passive position in the crisis sinceEU is well aware of the Russian influence in Belarus and does not want to interfere with a probability of a direct conflict with Russia. However, they did call out their protest over the rigged elections, slapping sanctions over Belarus yet have not accused Lukashenko directly but instead have proposed a thorough international dialogue. Russia, on the other hand, faces a complex position since the dependence of Belarus bought Moscow a base against the West along with other regional rogues like Ukraine. However, high scale protests and rising chances of a full-blown revolution is hardly the choice Russian intends to opt. As the situation continues to unfold, economic reforms, as promised by Lukashenko, appears to be the only option that both EU and Russia could encourage as a bipartisan plan. Despite that, with six months of protests erupting as an outrage over a tyranny of 26 years, the reform-offering might be a bit late an offer since its no more about the country anymore, it’s about a struggle between a liberal or a communist Belarus.
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