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Post-war Armenia: New remedies for old maladies

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՛՛The Republic of Armenia is the guarantor of the security of Artsakh՛՛,- is stated in the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Armenia updated last year. The current political realities which emerged after the recent war over Nagorno-Karabakh destroyed Armenia’s security system which has lasted for more than two and half decades,thuscreating absolute uncertainty.  The current situation not only causes existentialmeances for the Armenianness of Artsakh, but also create new threats for the actornessof the Republic of Armenia for the long run. The problematic demarcation issues with the Republic of Azerbaijan, the reopenning of the regional communication routes and also the assymetric dependence on Russia create real threats for Armenia’s sovereignty. The ongoing concerns around these problems pave necessary ground for the spread of frustration in the society which is reflected in the statementscalling for deepenening integration with Russia, even worse to become a part of Russia.

Unfortunately, it is now really difficult for the Armenian side to acknowledge that the status quo had been succesfullty kept due to the fragile geopolitical equilibrium. But the reality dramatically changed in 2014-2015 when the USA started withdrawing from Afghanistan and the Middle East andshifting its attention towards the East Asia.  Moreover, the downing of the Russian fighting jet by Turkey resulted in new state of affairsin the region. This new period was symbolized for the Armenian side by the April war back in April, 2016 and then reached its peak in the recent war of 2020.  Several important traits of this new era have been either misinterpreted or ignored by the Armenian side.  The most important one is the new nature of the Russo-Turkish relations which are product of the above-mentioned events starting since 2014, which are aimed at filling the power vacuum gap in the Middle East by the Russo-Turkish tandem.

The state of the art of the Russo-Turkish bilateral relations is excellently described by th MFA of Russia S. Lavrov as ‘sui generis cooperation and competition’. Ignoring this fact and presuming that the possible war could have the repetition of the April War by its scale, and the Russian side should have been interested in the maintance of the status quo albeit deviated, speaks about the Armenian side’s underestimation of the current realities around Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and the wider region in general. The existing consensus between Turkey and Russia over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, is obviously shaped by their attempts of redistributing the spheres of influence in the entire region thus trying to keep all extraregional actors and first of all the West out. Unfortunately, it led to devastating consequences for the Armenian side.  The geopolitcal myopia of the Armenian side resulted in the unprecedented destruction, seen last time a century ago again by the performance of the same Russo-Turkish pair, which then led to the partition and sovietization of Armenia. The claims stemming from  the Armenian side, including the ruling elite,  that the war prepration rests only with the Turkish-Azerbaijani alliance and for the Russian side it was undesirable and unexpectable, causes doubt based upon the bellow-suggested explanations.

First of all, it’s necessacry to recall that the post-elections demostrations which started in Belarus, a OSCT/EAEU member state and a close neighbor of Russia, should have been worrying, if of course there were directed against the Kremlin and were sponsored by the West. And in light of these events, the opening of  so-called ”second frontier” against Russia in the South Caucasus  should have induced Russia to keep the balance in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict at any cost, at least by supporting the weaker party – Armenia- by solving the problem of supplies in advance, avoiding possible blockades of Armenia.Another  nuance which deepens the concern that the war wasn’t surprise for Russia, was the post-election revolutionary situation in Kyrgyzstan, another Russian sphere of influence, which happened in the beginning of October, when the war in Nagorno-Karabakh was at its height. Though the Kremlin-backed Russian media channels and prominent analysts were doing everything to show that there was a Western conspiracy working against Russia at the same time in Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh and Kyrgyzstan, however in reality this anti-western paranoia doesn’t find reasonable ground as in all three dimensions Russia’s stance has strengthened in the result.

Finally, the last fragment which attracts attention, is the timing of the war. The period of presidential elections campaign of the USA, when both the ruling administration and Biden’s team were fully busy with the election preparations, and France alone couldn’t counterbalance Russia and restrain Turkey at the same time. The preelection timing was an ideally calculated as the polls of the previous period showed that Trump didn’t have chances for reelection. This fact wasn’t the most desirbale option for Russia and Turkey given the isolationist nature of Trump’s foreign policy, on the one hand, and Biden’s tough stance against Russia and Turkey on the other hand. Overall, the aforementioned developments have shaped the current state of affairs in the South Caucasus having devastating effects for Armenia. It’s out of question that Russia, possessing huge amount of resources and tools at its disposal,could react to this conflict properly in order not to harm its ally’s – Armenia’s interests,  if, of course, it was stemming from its intersts and agenda in the region. 

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenian-Russian relations have evolved in a wrong way, making Armenia’s position more vulnerable and causing assymetric dependence on Russia. This has been conditioned because of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide, which have kept borders of Armenia with these counties closed. The fact of being landlocked and having 2 out of 4 borders closed, staying out of the regional economic projects and also having tensions between Iran and the West, which makes the southern border unreliable, have created favorable conditions for Russia to establish total control over Armenia, shaping that vary mindset of the Kremlin towards Armenia:Where can  they escape? (Акудаониденутся?).Moreover, after the second Karabakh war, domestic excitements, alarms and worrying in Armenia, pave the ground for the expansion of the thoughts ranging from joining the Union State of Belarus and Russia up to joining Russian Federation as one of its entities like Tatarstan or Chechnya.  This delusive and apathetic discourse, which is being encouragedboth by the Russian media channels and some pro-Kremlin politicians and parties, needs to be neutralised only by increasingArmenia’s substantiveness as a fully functional subject of Internationa law. Certainly, the economic, military and political security state should have been totally different, if Armenia’s leadership lacking legality and legitimacy, didn’t aleinate the strategically important facilities to Russia back in the beginning of 2000s.The so-called program ‘property for debt’and later deals passedalmost all major and important facilities of the Armenian economy under control of Russia. Two strategically important facilities could and today also can change Armenia’s economic, political and security environment mostly reducing its isolation and increasing prospects of economic prosperity. These are Iran-Armenia railway and Iran-Armenia-Georgia gas pipeline.

Railway

Armenia’s assymetric dependence on Russia can be solved solely based on diversification and due to involvement of other actors as well, which will expand Yerevan’s area of maneuver.  But this diversification shouldn’t be fragile as the one back in 2000s labelled as ‘assymetic complementarity’, which again emphasized the iportant role of Russia. In that concept Russia wasn’t regarded as ‘primus inter pares – first among equals’, but it can be deescribed as ‘Russia and the rest’. Given the existing complicated relations with Turkey, in the role of primary actors involved in the Armenia’s foreign policy spectrum are Iran, China and the EU. The construction of Iran-Armenia railway has huge potential to solve a few real problems. Firstly, Armenia gains stable access to the Iranian market. Then, with th already existing railway web in Iran, Armenia gains access not only to the Central Asia but also to China. On the other hand, joining the Iranian railway, Armenia reaches the Persian Gulf and Indian ocean. In the result, Armenia becomes an important connecting ring in this whole chain between the Georgian and Iranian ports securing links between the Eastern Europe and East Asia. Iran and Armenia solve their isolation problem in some extent, while China gets an opportunity to join the Eastern Europe by sea avoinding dependence on Russia. As a result, this project and its geoeconomical influence allow Armenia to increase the role of Iran and China in the regional affairs thus creating leverage for her benefit. The fact that the existing Armenian-Georgian railway works, there is a need to build up Tabriz-Yerevan section. Doubtless, this project should be substantiated economically, which will will increase Armenia’s economic attractiveness. Last year, China and Iran signed a strategic partnership agreement, which envisages 400 bln USD Chinese investment in the development of Iran’s infrastructures over the next 25 years. The railway and roads systems compose important part of this infrastructure complex. The upgrade of Iranian facilities are aimed at solving Iran’s isolation and openinng new opportunities for China. Iran’s MFA J. Zarif announced during his last visit to Armenia, that the territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia is a red light for Iran, thus highliting the vital importance of border with Armenia. It is’ot secret that if Armenia loses its southern border with Iran, then Azerbaijan and Turkey establish land contact, which isolates Iran from the North and puts an end to the existence of the Armenian statehood in general. Therefore, taking into account security importance of railway for Iran and Armenia, as well as economic attraction for Eastern Europe and China, the question of this project should receivea majorpriority for Armenia.

Gas pipeline

The next project of strategic importance, which will change the regional politics, economy and security, is the Iran-Armenia-Georgia gas pipeline. In 2005, when the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline was in the process of negotiation, Alexander Ryazanov, a vice-president of  Gazprom, declared that if Gazprom wasn’t involved in that project, it’s uncertain where this gas would flow. Certainly, this idea should have scared Armenia’s that time administration, which not only didn’t have domestic support due to corruption and authoritarian levels, but also it [the administration] had many fears that the Nagorno-Karabakh  status quo could have been changed in favor of Azerbaijan by Russian intervention. As a result, the operation of the Iraian-Armenian pipeline alongside with other facilities, including the railway of Armenia, were passed to Russia thus trying to accomodate Russia in all possible ways. In the following years, Russian Gazprom also obtained the right to operate the whole gas system of Armenia. Moreover, in December 2013, then president Serzh Sargsyan signed an agreement with his Russian counterpart, according to which, Armenia was obliged to buy gas from Gazprom until 2043. It’s worthless to mention about legality and nonsense nature of this agreement. It’s worth reminding, that a similar gas deal with Russia cost Ukraine’s former Prime-Minster Yulia Tymoshenko 7 years in prison.

Thus, the Armenian side did everything to deprive itself of having diversified gas sources. The Iranian gas pipeline has huge potential not only to liberalize Armenian domestic market, establishing fair competition, but also to provide Armenia with transit fees increasing economic attractivenessof Armenia. The Iranian gas pipeline has great potential to change the energy market of Georgia as well as reducing its dependence on Azerbaijan. Moreover, given the EU depdendence on Russian gas, it’s logical to have the Iranian gas pieplines reached to Europe crossing the Black Sea. Initial destination can be Romania. First of all, given its geographical proximity with Ukraine and Moldova, these countries may solve their gas dependence problem on Russia.On the other hand, the end destination of the pipeline can be France, which can regain its balance vis-a-vis Germany. In addition, this project may attract Turkmenistan’s attention as well, as it receives an alternative channel for the TransCaspian pipeline.

Overall, this ambitious project will solve Armenia’s and Georgia’s energy, economic, political security issues, reducing their  vulnerable  position in the region. It will change Russia’s stance in the region, thus changing also its foreign policy behavior, perception of Armenia and Georgia as well.  Armenia will solve the asymmetric devastatingdependence problem and also will have a chance to break Turkis-Azerbaijani isolation. With this project, Islamic Republic will recieve a chance to connect with Europe and to break thr isolation, which is ncessary for for the EU an Iran.  Finally, the European Union can get a free hand vis-a-vis Russia.

I am a Brussels-based independent analyst covering the South Caucasus, EU-Russia, EU-Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Eastern Partnership. I am also a policy advisor with strong interest in European Public Affairs in the areas of Tech adn start-ups, Large-scale infrastructures, energy and associations. I am holding MA in EU Studies from the College of Europe, Belgium.

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Eastern Europe

Demystifying the Myth of War Crimes in Ukraine

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image source: war.ukraine.ua photo: Vadim Ghirda

Hypocrisy – a prevalent trait of the western powers. West’s policies on human rights are deluged with double standards. What is going around the world is a secondary, to them safeguarding their interest is prime. What Indian barbaric regime is doing in India with the minorities and in Indian occupied Kashmir, Israelis in Palestine, is not enough to catch an eye, because Muslims are dying, its none of their business. Let’s recap what USA did in Afghanistan and Iraq. How war crimes done by the west in these countries can be ignored. Humanity suffered at the hands of these western states. Innocent people got killed in the drone strikes and the West called it ‘Collateral Damage’. Innocent civilians suffered pain, hunger, and anguish, but West was mute. Human rights are for all without any discrimination based on religion, origin, race and colour. Unfortunately, the hypocrite USA only consider Human Rights for its allies and the holy land of USA. Clear violations of international humanitarian law are done by USA and its western allies in Afghanistan and other states. Moreover, the crime partner of USA, India is doing ferocious acts in India Occupied Kashmir, but all of them are silent.

As per the standards set by USA, kill innocent people and then an apology by Central Command is enough to justify an unjust loss of human life. Yes, the world should follow this too. Why only Americans have the right to make unjust just. Who will set an example of justice, war mongers, liars and killer USA? Oh yes, wonderful, now make big news out of nothing or yes something on Ukraine. Ukrainians are the only human left on the face of earth to get the western sympathizes. But it’s important for the Ukrainian decision makers to not to be fooled by the USA. Demystifying the war crimes by Russia in Ukraine is not to support Ukraine but yes to counter Russia. The very reason why this conflict started is West itself. And then, yes USA is excellent at imposing sanctions and it did the same with Russians as well. But, literally speaking who is going to listen to USA, not even India, one of the USA’s defense partners.

International Criminal Court – ICC should know its responsibility and first of all held USA accountable for the war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Fake news, misinformation, mal-information, and disinformation is playing big role in manipulating the contemporary international politics. States are using this to hijack the actual information and create an environment of mistrust. Access to actual information in such circumstances in becoming difficult.  Why Russian news channels are blacklisted, why only Ukrainian and other foreign media outlets are into play. USA is busy in narrative building based on fake information.  USA is actually selling the despairs of Ukrainian people.  Therefore, huge responsibility also lies on journalists as well. Are we living in the stone age or in 21st century? Where is responsible journalism? The journalist and civil societies should work as pressure groups and push ICC to open investigations on unlawful killings by USA and its allies in Afghanistan. ICC also open inquires on the atrocities done by Israelis in Palestine, and Indian barbarism in Indian Occupied Kashmir. A detailed systematic investigation is need of hour.

This will reveal the horrible face of these elites of international arena. The USA forces in Afghanistan have “committed acts of torture, killings, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence”.  Did Russian forces have created a ‘secret kill team’ to allegedly kill innocent Ukrainian Civilians?  The answer is NO.  Let’s also consider ‘Collateral Damage’ in the case of Russia – Ukraine War. Instead of making world fool again on Ukraine, USA should remorse over its war crimes. A shameless country with no ethos is going to advocate Human Rights when its own citizens are not safe from the hate-fire it started. Humanity – a word, not known to USA. All it knows is to control other states’ resources, sovereignty, and independence. Subtle interference in the other countries’ internal matters, and creating fault-lines to manipulate the policy making. I doubt USA as an example of human rights and democracy. Disinformation is the new normal for USA.

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Eastern Europe

The Illusion of Constraint: Russia Advances in Eastern Ukraine Despite Harsh Sanctions

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The war of attrition is gradually becoming a reality as Russia continues to make gains in the east. According to Ukrainian officials, Russian forces now control about 80% of the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk. Despite new aid packages by the US and European Union (EU), Ukrainian armed forces are struggling in Donbas as a brutal Russian offensive is underway – forces now controlling over 20% of Ukrainian territory, according to president Zelensky. Analytical estimates reveal that Russia (alongside pro-Russian rebels) has already seized almost 90% of eastern Donbas; en route to upend the city of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in the province of Luhansk. And geopolitical experts believe a similar showdown in the neighboring Donetsk province would ease Russian domination over the entire Donbas region.

The Ukrainian dignitaries have consistently insisted on long-range artillery support to counter Russia’s onslaught. However, a single contention prevails in the Western cohort: supplying long-range weaponry could enable Ukrainian attacks beyond Russian borders, perhaps invoking a direct conflict with a belligerent Russia. Thus, the Western support remains mostly limited to conservative alternatives as Russia defies earlier odds to gain an upper-hand. The core western defense has been the barrage of sanctions imposed on Russia and the damage to the Russian economy. The West believes it could avoid militarily provoking Russia and still economically debilitate the country to the point of desperate negotiation. However, the truth is far divergent from this popular belief.

Even after three and a half months, the torrent of sanctions has failed to decimate the Russian economy as initially envisioned by the West. Putin has spent the last two decades fortifying the Russian economy via integration into the global financial apparatus. Sure, the invasion in late February spurred financial restrictions and constraints on trade. But the initial panic has since receded as relative stability is taking on the reins. The Central Bank of Russia has played a pivotal role in preventing a financial collapse. As sanctions threatened to spur a crisis, the Bank of Russia hiked the policy rate to 20% – encouraging savings; preventing the egress of investments. The Kremlin mandated the state-owned enterprises to hold export receipts in Roubles. And salaries and pensions were generously increased to compensate for the inflationary effects of the invasion. Three months forward, the interest rates are back to the pre-invasion level of 9.5%. The Rouble – crashing to a record low in days following the invasion – is trading near four-year highs. And inflation, though still a vice, has cooled off to 17% year-on-year from a two-decade peak in April. While fiscal and monetary policies have considerably stabilized the economy, another underlying factor has unsurprisingly buttressed the rebound: the Russian energy sector.

Foreign companies are pulling out, investments are downgrading, and currency reserves are locked up around the globe. Then how exactly is Russia financing the war in Ukraine? Sure the stocks of imports are running low, and people are spending less. Yet how is the Russian war machine still operational when the world is closing up for Russia? Ironically, the world is indirectly financing the Russian agenda in Ukraine. Fossil fuel exports have always been monumental for the Russian economy. Receipts from oil and gas exports made up roughly 45% of Russia’s federal budget in 2021. According to a market report of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Russia’s oil revenue alone is up by 50% this year – despite the toughest raft of sanctions ever meted out by the West. The US has utterly banned Russian energy imports while the EU has managed to reduce its reliance on Russian energy supplies. According to the data from the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) – a Finnish nonprofit think tank – the EU lowered natural gas imports from Russia by 23% in the first 100 days of the invasion (February 24 to June 3) compared to the same period last year. The data further reveals that the EU reduced its oil imports from Russia by 18% in May. Still, Russia earned a record $97 billion in revenue from exports of fossil fuels despite a modest fall of 15% in export volumes. How is that possible?

Despite trading at roughly 30% discount from international prices, Russian crude is sailing as surging global oil prices are still fetching receipts over 60% higher compared to last year. The volumes have certainly lowered as many countries have refused to trade with Russia to avoid American fury. Yet some countries have contended for cheap Russian energy supplies to guard domestic economic interests. India has been surprisingly vocal and determined about its choices of self-interest despite Western pressure. Since the invasion, India has procured 27% of its crude needs from Russia – up from less than 5% in April. According to research, India has cumulatively imported roughly 18% of Russia’s total oil exports since the invasion – increasing from roughly 1% pre-war quota. China has been another noteworthy importer of Russian oil, building its strategic reserves amid high global oil prices. Despite agreeing on a partial embargo banning roughly three-quarters of Russian oil imports to the region, Europe would not cast a substantial blow to Russia until 2023. While criticizing India and China for purchasing Russian oil, the EU has perhaps neglected its own energy imports from Russia, approximating €57 billion in the first 100 days of the invasion. And in spite of lofty promises to wean off Russian energy, European countries like Hungary and Slovakia would continue to rely on Russian oil via pipeline till at least 2024. Hence, while the West convenes to topple Russian dominance in Ukraine, the efforts are unfortunately not enough to fluster Putin – at least in the short run.

Nonetheless, the sanctions would hurt Russia somewhere down the line. Elvira Nabiullina – Governor of the Bank of Russia – recently admitted: “The effect of sanctions has not been acute as we feared at the beginning. [However] it would be premature to say that the full effect of sanctions has manifested itself.” The windfall energy export receipts may continue, but the import shortfall could damage the productivity of other sectors of the Russian economy. However, we need to understand that this is a war of attrition. And (despite a budget deficit) Russia has enough fiscal room to finance its domestic and military needs shortly. Mr.Richard Connolly – Director of the Eastern Advisory Group – sums up the reality perfectly: “For as long as the political will is there in the Kremlin and for as long as export prices remain high, I don’t see any immediate financial constraints confronting the Kremlin.” Hence, as sanctions fall short and Ukrainian defense fissures, the outlook is bleak – especially when Kyiv is resistant to negotiate territorial gains to fend off a humanitarian catastrophe.

Ultimately, the West needs to acknowledge its failure and decide: Is the sluggish war in favor of Ukraine or Russia? And what would be the primary goal of negotiations if Russia gains enough territory to dictate the terms? Given how the West has already exhausted almost all of its economic options and military options are off the table, I wonder how even the negotiations could do any good to Ukraine!

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Lithuania to lose confidence for German troops in near future

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Nine NATO member states held talks in Romania on Friday ahead of a key NATO summit later this month.

The nine, including Romania, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania urged NATO to increase their protection.

It should be noted that some of these countries use every political event to call NATO for additional troops on their territories. Thus, the Baltic States are the leaders among applicants.

Germany in its turn agreed last week to increase its contribution to NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battalion in Lithuania. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced such plans after passing legislation to increase defense spending during a visit to Vilnius on Tuesday.Germany leads the 1,200-strong eFP battlegroup in Lithuania and currently has around 500 soldiers stationed there.

“We are going to increase our contribution by strengthening the Eastern flank of NATO. We are going to create a strong brigade and we have discussed that together in our meetings and we are going to have to work towards this direction,” Scholz said at a press conference with Baltic and German leaders.A brigade usually consists of between 3,000-5,000 troops. So, Berlin intends to increase its troops by 10 times.

The Baltic States welcomed Germany’s “historic decision” without suspecting what it could lead to.

It is no secret that German military contingent has very dubious reputation. In 2021 Germany had to recall a platoon from a NATO mission in Lithuania after reports emerged of troops engaging in racist and anti-Semitic behaviour, as well as sexual assault.According to Der Spiegel, the allegations relate to a party held at a hotel in Lithuania at the end of April, 2021.Some 30 German soldiers headed home from Lithuania.

The misconduct of foreign soldiers in Lithuania was a slap in the face of Lithuanian population who believed troops are here to defend.

A number of troops were also suspected of bullying, threatening violence and filming an incident of sexual assault.

Such behaviour is not only inexcusable but brings shame on Germany as NATO’s security guarantor.

Meanwhile, according to the FT latest publication, the proposal from Berlin is that a 3,500-strong brigade would only have a permanent headquarters in Lithuania, staffed by 50 to 60 personnel, but be based in Germany.

And probably, this Germany’s back step will secure Lithuanian population.

The Berlin’s decision to increase its military presence in Lithuania by 10 times could cause potential threat of increasing the number of incidents with inappropriate behavior of German military personnel by 10 times. It is logical that the number of crimes will rise and the residents’ trust in NATO ally will drop significantly. Is Lithuania ready to tolerate aggressive foreign soldiers in the streets of its cities? Can Lithuanians be calm for their children? Does Lithuania really need such foreign troops increasing? There are too many questions to answer before making the final decision.

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