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Erdogan the Likely Winner as Post-War Armenia Rethinks

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Photo: Presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkey visited "Khan gizi" spring in Shusha. Credit: President of Azerbaijan

It is only a year since Turkey demonstrated its new power in the South Caucasus, providing significant military and other help to Azerbaijan to achieve its irredentist ambitions against its old enemy, Armenia.

Russia, traditionally sympathetic, offered little help as Armenian forces were comprehensively beaten in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Upheaval rocked the country as it digested a historic defeat.

Faced by this brutal new reality, Armenia has reevaluated its position and has tentatively concluded that one answer to its dilemma is to put aside bitter memories of its relationship to Turkey — including the genocide of Turkish Armenians — and seek a rapprochement with the old enemy.

Armenian and Turkish officials have recently exchanged positive statements which signal the change. The Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that he was ready for reconciliation with Turkey “without preconditions.” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he was ready for gradual normalization if Armenia “declared its readiness to move in this direction.” More recently the president’s aide and spokesman İbrahim Kalın said that Turkey is “looking positively to normalization” with Armenia.

More concretely, Armenia has allowed Turkish Airlines to fly to the Azeri capital, Baku, through its airspace. Moreover, Armenia’s recently unveiled five-year government action plan, approved  by the legislature, states that “Armenia is ready to make efforts to normalize relations with Turkey.” This, if implemented in full, would probably take the form of restoring full diplomatic relations and perhaps opening the 300km (about 200 miles) border, closed since the early 1990s. More importantly, the five-year plan stresses that Armenia will approach the normalization process “without preconditions” and says that establishing relations with Turkey is in “the interests of stability, security, and the economic development of the region.”

So far, the relationship has involved little more than an exchange of positive statements, but their regular repetition indicates that momentum for improvement of bilateral ties is there. The timing here is interesting. Following the 2020 war, Armenia sees the need to act beyond the historical grievances it holds against Turkey and be more pragmatic in foreign ties. In Armenia’s calculus, the improvement of relations with Turkey could deprive Azerbaijan of some advantages. Certainly, the Azerbaijan-Turkey alliance will remain untouched, but the momentum behind it could decrease if Armenia establishes ties with Erdoğan.

Turkey has established a pivotal role in the region. Having disrupted the status quo in the South Caucasus, it has positioned itself as a new center of gravity for Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The advantages for Armenia are not only security-related; a rapprochement provides a new market for its products and businesses in its western neighbor. In the longer term, this could encourage the country to diversify its foreign trade.

There is another key point: economic and transport diversification means the diminution of Russian influence in the South Caucasus. Armenia’s closed border with Turkey has resulted in reliance on Russia, as the majority of roads and railways run toward the north. For Turkey, a reopened border is also beneficial in creating faster links with Azerbaijan. And improving regional links is a cornerstone of Turkey’s bid for a stronger position in the South Caucasus.

So what about Russia? It is natural to suggest that the potential improvement between Turkey and Armenia, Russia’s old ally, would be impossible without the Kremlin’s blessing. Russia expressed readiness to help Armenia and Turkey normalize their relations, saying that would boost peace and stability in the region. Yet, it is not entirely clear how the normalization would suit Russia’s interests. One possibility is that the Armenia-Turkey connection would give Russia a direct land link to Turkey, via Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, here too the benefits are doubtful. The route is long and will remain unreliable — Russia-Turkey trade via the Black Sea will remain a primary route. The issue will have been discussed during President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Erdoğan in Sochi on September 29, though few details were given.

Iran will also be watching closely. A reopened Turkish border will diminish Armenia’s dependence on Iran for imports. Iran is increasingly suspicious of Turkey’s influence in the South Caucasus and has complained about its involvement in military exercises in the Caspian Sea. In response, it organized massive military drills near the border with Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Iranian trucks heading for Armenia are being stopped and forced to make payments to Azeri troops arguing that they are infringing its sovereignty.

For now, at least, events are playing very well for Erdoğan and his dreams of becoming a regional strongman. Through its military and economic presence, Turkey can hope to open new railways and roads, thus steadily decreasing Russian and to a certain degree Iranian geopolitical leverage in the South Caucasus.

But the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement is far from guaranteed because of ingrained distrust between the two sides and the potential spoiling influence of Azerbaijan and Russia. Recently Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the country would coordinate with Azerbaijan to reestablish relations with Armenia. In everyday reality, this means the potential normalization process is fraught with problems, which could continuously undermine the improvement of regional relations.

Author’s note: first published at cepa

Emil Avdaliani specializes on former Soviet space and wider Eurasia with particular focus on Russia's internal and foreign policy, relations with Iran, China, the EU and the US. He teaches history and international relations at Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University (Georgia).

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Eastern Europe

A turning moment in Ukraine Crisis

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Germany’s decision to send tanks to Ukraine is a major moment in the Ukraine Crisis. It will have a far-reaching impact and may turn it into World War III. It is a tradition of the US to gang up to counter its adversaries. Iraq war, Libyan attacks, Syrian aggression, and the Occupation of Afghanistan, all were the result of allied forces, the US has the skills to make allies in addition to NATO and achieve its political objectives.

The US lobbies against its adversaries, and use all dirty tricks including media to malign its adversaries. They mislead the public and level the ground for the next stage – armed intervention. Looking at US interventions in any part of the world, you may conclude a similar approach.

Ukraine is also no exception. The US was preparing grounds for this crisis for a long and dragged Russia into it. Including Ukraine in NATO, was a red line for Russia, but, deliberately, this path was chosen to spoil global peace.

After failing all negotiations, Russia was left with no option except launch a special military operation on the same line as the 2014 Crimea operation. It was just a limited operation and should have been over after securing Russian borders only.

Unfortunately, the US had different intentions and trapped Russia in Ukraine and a full-scale war started. It was purely American war against Russia, but, as usual, America ganged up with NATO and also sought assistance and support from friendly countries.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the move on Wednesday, bowing to intensifying international pressure – led by the United States, Poland, and a bloc of other European nations, which called on Berlin to step up its military support and commit to sending their sought-after vehicles. The influx of Western tanks into the conflict has the potential to change the shape of the war. The shipments are a breakthrough in the West’s military support for Kyiv, signaling a bullish view around the world about Ukraine’s ability to reclaim occupied territory. Crucially, they may allow Ukraine to take the fighting to Moscow’s forces and re-capture more occupied land, rather than focusing primarily on beating back Russian attacks.

The US has increased its defense budget and military aid to Ukraine. It is aimed to attack Russia, not limited to liberating Ukraine only. It will prolong the war and let Russia bleed for longer.

Participation of Europe in conflict may worsen the situation and may harm Europe more. Although there are public rallies, protests, and agitations in major cities in Europe to end the Ukraine war or at least oppose Europe’s active participation. Some were chanting slogans to leave NATO. It seems the public understands the consequences but the rulers are blindly following US policies. It might create a rift between the public and rulers.

Blunders made by rulers, but, the price is being paid by the public, in the form of inflation, hikes in the price of fuel, energy, food, etc., are a common phenomenon all over Europe. The danger of spreading the war is at high risk.

Imagine, if Russia also seeks assistance from its allies and gangs up to conform to NATO aggression, it will be certainly a Word War III. Today, the World is obviously polarized and blocks are emerging rapidly.

It also can turn into nuclear war too. The 8 declared nuclear states have enough piles of nuclear weapons to destroy the whole world completely. It is scaring scenario.

But despite knowing the consequences, no one is taking any initiative to end the war and seek political solutions to the crisis. The US is not interested in the peaceful resolution of the disputes and Europe is blindly following America.

It is urged that the UN may intervene proactively and initiate a dialogue to reach an acceptable solution for all stakeholders. Unbiased, non-partisan nations may come forward to initiate peace dialogues. All peace-loving countries and individuals may act proactively and struggle to end the Ukraine crisis. Satisfying all concerned parties may achieve sustainable peace and avert any big disaster.

Humankind is the most precious thing in this universe and must be respected. Value human lives, save human lives, and without any discrimination protects human lives across the board all over the globe.

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Lithuanian society is left shaken by plans to raise retirement age

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This month Lithuanian society is left shaken after spreading the news about the increasing of the retirement age. In Lithuania, the retirement age has increased every year since 2012 and by 2026 it will be 65 years. Previously, discussion surfaced on whether raising the retirement age to 72 would help offset Lithuania’s ageing population issues.

As Lithuania’s demographic situation continues to worsen, the European Commission estimates that the number of working-age people capable of supporting pensioners will go down in the future. Brussels says that increasing the retirement age could be a solution.

The existing average in Lithuania is now 57.5 years. It should be said that Lithuania expects to reach a life expectancy of 65 years only in 2030.

In some years there will be 50 retirees per 100 working people and it will have crucial implications for public finances and may require raising taxes. At the moment, 35% of the country’s population are aged over 55.

Before prolonging its working age, Lithuania should address the relatively poor health and low life expectancy of its population. Before they even reach retirement age, many people in Lithuania are unable to work due to high prevalence of chronic, non-infectious conditions.

It’s necessary to focus on increasing healthy life expectancy in Lithuania, instead of weighing up the idea of increasing the retirement age, Irena Segalovičienė, presidential adviser has said.

Taking into account the fact that men in Lithuania live an average of 14 more years from the age of 65, and women an 18 more years, Vilnius residents are not impressed with such an idea.

The officials are afraid of possible protests which could lead even to the government resignation.

Thus, late Thursday afternoon millions of French workers were still on the streets protesting against President Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension reforms.

Lithuanian officials were quick to announce that it’s inadequate to consider a 7-year increase in the retirement age at this stage. Most likely, the news was deliberately disseminated in order to study public opinion on this issue.

Discussion is most toxic now, and will continue in Lithuania because wasting money on defence, government puts aging population at risk of poverty and death.

At the same time, the government calls for more defense spending. Together with Poland and the UK, Lithuania is leading a push within the NATO to agree to higher spending goals. In 2023, the country’s national defense budget will reach 2.52% of its gross domestic product (GDP). According to Zilvinas Tomkus, Lithuania’s vice minister of defence, Lithuania is ready to spend even more on the modernization of its armed forces and military infrastructure. The more so, spending money on defence procurement today will not improve Lithuania defence today. The modernized weapons, vehicles and equipment will be available only in some years while old Lithuanians need money right now just to survive.

Thus, chosen political priorities do not reflect the current social and economic situation in the country and even worsen it.

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Eastern Europe

Why there is New Escalation in Ukraine War?

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In Dnipro, the Russian missile smashed the entire section of a nine-story building. January 14, 2022.Photo from Valentyn Reznichenko, Head of the Dnipropetrovsk Region Military Administration

Russia and Ukraine war has entered its second phase where violence and destruction become more prevalent with less possibility of negotiation between the conflicting parties. Russia claimed to have conquered a hotly disputed salt mining town, a rare win for the Kremlin after a string of losses in its invasion of Ukraine. Moscow chose Donetsk and the adjoining Luhansk province as objectives from the start, and in September proclaimed them part of Russia along with two other territories. Taking control of the town would allow Russian forces “to sever supply lines for the Ukrainian soldiers in Bakhmut and then block and encircle the Ukrainian battalions. Russia sees Bakhmut as a stepping stone toward total control of Donbas, the industrial region that encompasses Donetsk Province.

Moreover, Russia has opened multiple fronts encircling Ukraine from all sides. Russian missiles blasted a military camp in western Ukraine, killing 35 people in an attack on a site that served as a vital hub for collaboration between Ukraine and the NATO countries that assist its defense. The attack’s proximity to a NATO member country heightened the prospect of the alliance becoming involved in the war, which has reignited old Cold War rivalries and threatens to alter the present global security system. Poland also serves as a transit point for Western military supplies to Ukraine, and the bombings came in response to Moscow’s threats to target those shipments.

 However, despite significant casualties in the Ukrainian military forces over the last 11 months, Kyiv believes it is in a good position. It would be considerably more powerful if more contemporary weaponry were available, and there have already been some significant breakthroughs in this area, such as the supply of a variety of flexible light armored vehicles from Germany, France, and the United States that can move troops around quickly. Against a backdrop, Russia would reject any peace agreement that does not include the retention of all seized Ukrainian territory. On the flip side, Ukraine has been pleading with Western nations for months to equip it with more modern armaments, such as the Patriot air defense system.

Ukraine War and the Remilitarization of Europe

 Kyiv has shifted its focus toward Western Europe and the United States and the NATO alliance has been galvanized in a way not seen since the Cold War. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress in a historic speech on his foreign tours after the Russia attack in February. “Against all odds and doom and gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn’t fall’. Throughout the war, Kyiv has relied significantly on Western military help, and Zelenskyy continues to want more. Zelenskyy’s visit coincided with the announcement of $1.85 billion in further military support to Ukraine, which includes a Patriot missile battery for the first time.

The United Kingdom has announced that it will equip Ukraine with British tanks, putting pressure on Germany and other nations to offer additional military assistance to Kyiv in its conflict with Russia. It would send Challenger 2 tanks as well as additional artillery systems to Kyiv. Zelensky tweeted that British help “would not only boost us on the battlefield but will also send the proper signal to other partners. The decision by the United Kingdom to send the tanks would be important if other Western countries followed suit. Poland intends to send 14 Leopard tanks produced in Germany to Ukraine as part of a bigger multinational aid alliance. French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed intentions for France to supply the Ukrainian military with AMX-10 RC light tanks. The Ukrainian armed forces will get Western-designed tanks for the first time. It represents a considerable increase in French engagement in the Ukraine war. Moreover, European Union foreign ministers have agreed to top up a fund for arms deliveries to Ukraine by a further two billion euros ($2.11bn) and discuss the 9th Round of sanctions on Russia which will escalate the skyrocketing food and oil prices further.

The Tanks are unlikely to change the game of the war but it triggers the remilitarization of Europe on the widest scale since that war, escalating military combat in the Pacific, and high levels of international instability produced by the war in Ukraine and tensions over Taiwan. Besides, it reflects that at the beginning of the war, the NATO members were divided regarding their response to the Ukraine war, and their responses were confined to the gamut of sanctions against Russia. However, as the war becomes complex, the European countries enhanced their support to billions of dollars in military aid and small weapons to Ukraine. Now, the whole of Europe can witness an increase in defense budget which drags them more in the dangerous trajectory of war resulting in more escalation and mayhem.

Putin’s Shadow War: New Front in Belarus

Belarus is being engaged in launching a new front in Ukraine’s war, which might compel Kyiv to shift resources and focus away from its counteroffensives in the country’s east and south. Belarus’s President, Alexander Lukashenko, announced on Monday that his soldiers will join Russian forces along the Ukrainian border, accusing Kyiv and its western backers of planning an attack on Belarus. Two days after visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg, Lukashenko announced the deployment. Kyiv, according to Zelenskiy, has no intentions to strike Belarus. Russia exploited Belarus as a staging area for its February 24th war, moving hundreds of troops across the border to attack Kyiv and firing missiles from Belarusian air bases into Ukrainian targets. Ukraine’s borders were allegedly under attack from Russian forces in Belarus to the north and Crimea to the south, near various Ukrainian cities including Kyiv, Kharkiv’s second biggest city, Odesa, and distant shooting from Zaporizhzhya. Engaging Belarus in the war will certainly open a new front in the Ukraine war.

Russian New General and Plausible New Escalation

Russia intends to deploy 500,000 extra troops beginning in mid-January, much more than the 300,000 soldiers it recruited in September. So far, Russia claims that 150,000 of those troops have been delivered to Ukraine.Besides, Russia named a new general in command of the Ukraine conflict, replacing its predecessor after only three months. This might indicate that Russia is preparing to intensify its conflict. Russia’s new commander in Ukraine has inherited a poisoned chalice, making him likely to deepen the conflict as Russia attempts to recover from a run of military failures. The ministry portrayed Gerasimov as taking on a new role with even more authority over Russia’s conflict in Ukraine.

His appointment, coming after months of Russian defeats, might indicate that Russia is about to step up its attempts to wrest triumph from defeat. Gerasimov has greater access, power, and resources at his disposal than any other subsidiary commander. This might entail increasing levels of violence, more cooperation, and a full-scale, all-out war on all fronts. Gerasimov is said to have been one of the military officers who devised Russia’s original invasion strategy.  The November missile strikes against Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities as well as orchestrated gas and oil leaks on European pipelines have been deeply painful for Ukraine but the winter doesn’t go as harshly as Putin expected. Ukraine has survived the first phase of the war better than both supporters and detractors expected. Russia has failed to realize its military aspirations, and the tide has begun to turn in Ukraine’s favor in recent months. he needs a win or his career will end in shame. As the conflict drags on with no apparent conclusion in sight, fierce fighting is likely to restart in early spring. Putin has previously used a variety of escalators tactics to destroy Ukrainian resilience and hope.

It is largely unlikely that Russia will fully retreat from the war as Vladimir Putin has grown so involved in the Ukraine conflict that he is making operational and tactical choices. He, on the other hand, is personally engaged in the battle and cannot afford to lose. Even if Russia pulls out from Ukraine, there is no chance for Russian disintegration which the West is silencing as part of its war strategy. Meanwhile, Ukraine is now well-equipped to hold its current leverage in the war but is not yet in a position to conclusively win the war. Besides, if the opposite happens or the war prolongs for years, then how would Ukraine and the transatlantic onslaught survive? Europe is already undergoing a cost-of-living crisis. The skyrocketing energy crisis, global inflation on the flip side, and increasing military expenditure left the west between the devil and the deep sea. In that regard, both are destined to pay heavy prices if the stalemate isn’t over. Thus, the fate of the Ukraine war this winter and the spring offensives will be critical in determining the course of the conflict in 2023.

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