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Azerbaijan might be the champion that GUAM needs

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38th Meeting of the GUAM Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs. Image source: guam-organization.org

International organizations remain key venues where states with overlapping interests try to cooperate and find common ground. Such organizations range from all-encompassing global organizations to small thematic institutions. In order to remain operationally relevant and on the agenda, they may need to seek ways of reviving organizational structures with fresh methods and ideas that fit their interests and values.

GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development is an organization with a unique membership of four post-Soviet states – every of which has gone through identical turmoil in their recent history. GUAM – which takes its name from initials of the member states – Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova – promised a great deal of hope when it was first conceived. GUAM Charter includes “strengthening international and regional security and stability,” as well as “intensification of political interaction and practical cooperation in the fields of mutual interest,” among its core purposes. GUAM’s publicity and day-to-day role have been focused on rather thematic areas mostly, however organization can be revitalized and cooperation within it might be include important topics such as post-conflict restoration, something that is crucial for all of the member states.

GUAM is known to be aimed at sectoral cooperation, rather than being an all-out alliance that takes a unified stance at every possible platform. In spite of this, GUAM members were unanimous when it came to common problems, such as condemnation of military occupation of their respective territories in various platforms. Each of GUAM member states suffered or continue to suffer from the same type of problem. Territorial conflicts with the final outcome of military occupation marred all spheres of life in Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), Ukraine (Crimea and Donbas), Azerbaijan (Karabakh) and Moldova (Transnistria).

GUAM can deliver efficient outcomes if its functioning might be tailored to the realities of the day. Common historical past, values and interests can bring enormous opportunities to be explored for the prosperity of all member states.

First of all, GUAM needs a champion country that would both help member states create a common and acceptable vision and vigorously promote it across the region and globe. Appointing or electing champion country has not been a very wide practice among international organizations; however, it can be very effective if pinpointing right causes or initiatives to target. Champion country or countries can take the leading position in advocating specific measures or implementation of obligations set out by agreements of different sorts. UNESCO and UN Network on Migration are among the institutions that utilize champion countries practice in order to reach hastened and effective implementation of initiative and agreements. Although GUAM’s daily proceedings function on the basis of yearly rotation principle, having a champion country who sets examples for increasing organization’s appeal could be a long-needed way of boosting GUAM’s appeal and effectiveness.

Azerbaijan, with a recent positive track record of effectively putting an end to decades-long military occupation of its sovereign territories by Armenia, might be the right candidate for championing GUAM in possible platforms. Many calls were made by expert community to thoroughly study Azerbaijan’s experience of military victory. Its better-trained military forces and technologically superior weapons systems allowed it to inflict a crushing defeat upon Armenia, which lost gigantic amount of weaponry and military personnel during 44 days of intense fighting. Nevertheless, it is not exclusively the military power at its disposal that makes Azerbaijan the right candidate for being a GUAM champion country, but rather and mostly, its ability to diplomatically and economically bring about and accommodate its military victory with the geopolitical realities of the contemporary world. Indeed, Azerbaijan’s success of harnessing allies and not estranging those interested in power politics of the region played a crucial role in bringing about its military triumph. Thus, GUAM countries may learn significantly in terms of military-diplomacy nexus and can turn GUAM into a functionally competent organization under the Azerbaijani guidance.

Second topic that needs to be addressed is including broader issues to the GUAM agenda, such as involving GUAM countries in the reconstruction of liberated territories. The latter approach may help GUAM countries to see how post-conflict territorial rehabilitation takes place and give them first-hand opportunity to draw lessons for themselves. Considering that all four member states have long suffered from the same type of problem – territorial aggression – they may need to engage in a dialogue over finding ways of reconstruction once they have restored access over their internationally recognized territories.

Colossal projects implemented by Azerbaijan in liberated territories, such as rapid construction of Fuzuli airport, turning an ex-ghost town Aghdam into a modern industrial center, as wells as projects to restore roads and railway links among others, makes it an attractive champion that other GUAM countries may want to learn from.

Built in just over 10 months, fully-operational Fuzuli International Airport has proven that with adequate economic measures and political will, post-war reconstruction can happen in a record time. Fuzuli city, where the airport is located, was razed to the ground by Armenian Armed Forces during the First Karabakh War and were surrounded with minefields upon its liberation by Azerbaijani Armed Forces in October 2020 during the Second Karabakh War. Another example is massive infrastructure projects being realized in Aghdam, a ghost-town once called “Hiroshima of the Caucasus” with unprecedented scale of destruction and pillage. Moreover, railway and highway constructions are being carried out in order to rebuild and increase connectivity to the liberated territories and rejuvenate transport corridors across the broader region. Azerbaijan’s reconstruction projects are not limited to these. Beyond mentioned efforts, Azerbaijan’s ambitious plan of transforming liberated territories into economically viable region continue at a full pace.

Once again, other GUAM nations may grow their much-needed expertise thanks to Azerbaijani experience in this field. Perhaps, this may also motivate them to seek ways of solving territorial disputes through soft means such as promising similar development and rehabilitation initiatives along with other measures to the people living in their occupied areas.

To conclude, this article does not invoke other GUAM countries to emulate Azerbaijan’s practice of military solution to the so-called “frozen conflicts”, but rather suggests to take positive lessons from Azerbaijan’s post-conflict restoration and give the relevant credit that it needs for advancing GUAM’s interests and vision worldwide. Azerbaijan’s experience can be used by GUAM countries to create roadmaps for themselves in order to incorporate into future policies regarding their own territorial issues. Furthermore, with the cooperation of all member states, GUAM can advocate for resolution, post-conflict reconstruction and restoration in broader context and improve its standing as an organization with a unified voice. It can expand its focus from more than a sector-oriented organization to the one that embodies economic development and democracy – with its active engagement in Azerbaijan’s liberated territories and learning from its experience – as its name also depicts.

Guntaj Mirzayev is an independent analyst on international security issues. He received his masters degree in International Security Studies from Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna and University of Trento.

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Eastern Europe

Rebuilding of Karabakh: Results of 2021

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Image source: azerfocus.com

The restoration work in Karabakh entered the active phase in 2021 as several projects had been completed and the foundations for new ones were laid down. The restoration process in Karabakh started right after the November 10th declaration that ended the 44-Day War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the war, Azerbaijan liberated its territories that constituted about 20% of the total territory of Azerbaijan and were occupied by Armenian forces in the early 90s.

During the occupation, about thirty years, Karabakh was subject to ruthless destruction and looting by the occupants. As a result, most of the social infrastructure, including residential buildings, schools, and hospitals, were totally destroyed, and most parts of the occupied territories were left empty. Despite the fact that the total destruction in Karabakh makes the restoration process complex and time-consuming, Azerbaijan immediately started the restoration process. For this purpose, the plan for socio-economic development of the liberated territories was prepared, and for the implementation of this plan, “Coordination Headquarters” and 17 working groups on different areas were established. In 2021, $2.2 billion was allocated from the state budget for the restoration process. The same amount of funds is planned to be directed to the restoration process in 2022 as well. The allocation of the necessary financial resources and the establishment of the state bodies for the efficient organization of the recovery process led to the rapid implementation of projects in 2021.

The most notable project that was almost completed in 2021 was the Fuzuli International Airport. The inauguration of the airport took place in Azerbaijan’s liberated city of Fuzuli in Karabakh on October 26. It was the first airport built by Azerbaijan in the liberated areas, and its construction took only eight months. It was built in accordance with the highest international standards, which enables it to accommodate any type of aircraft. A runway with a length of 3000 meters and a width of 60 meters has been put into operation at the airport. The first test flight to Fuzuli International Airport was performed on September 5, 2021, when the largest passenger aircraft of Azerbaijan Airlines, named Karabakh, landed at the airport. Because of its location, the new airport is considered as an “air gate of Karabakh”. Along with Fuzuli airport, the foundations of the other two airports in Lachin and Zangilan districts were also laid down in 2021.

The year 2021 was also marked by the establishment of the Horadiz-Jabrayil-Zangilan-Agband highway. The foundation of this road was laid on October 26, with the participation of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey. With a length of 124 km, it is part of the Zangezur Corridor, the establishment of which was envisioned in the November 10 declaration. The Zangezur Corridor is a very important project that is going to change the transportation architecture of the South Caucasus and its neighborhood. Its proximity to the Karabakh and connection to the main roads in the region will accelerate the restoration and development of the Karabakh.

Within the framework of the restoration process, another important event in 2021 was the foundation of the first “smart village” in Agali village in the Zangilan district on April 26. As of October, the construction work on more than 110 hectares in Agali village was underway. It includes the construction of 200 ecological houses, 4 non-residential buildings, a smart school for about 360 students, and a kindergarten for 60 children. Work on establishing smart agricultural infrastructure on approximately 600 hectares of land is also ongoing. According to the restoration program, it is planned to re-establish cities and villages in the liberated territories based on the “smart city” and “smart village” concepts. Thus, after the Agali village, this concept will be implemented in other areas of Karabakh.

In 2021, the highway that connects the Fuzuli and Shusha cities was also opened. As this highway passes through the territory that was used to liberate Shusha city, it has a symbolic meaning for Azerbaijan, and therefore it is named “The Road to Victory.” The Fuzuli-Shusha highway is part of the Ahmadbeyli-Fuzuli-Shusha highway, one of the main highways in Karabakh. It is 101.5 km in length and reduces the distance from the capital Baku to Shusha to about 363 km. The foundation of another important transport project, the Horadiz–Agband railway, was also laid in 2021 and its construction continues. This railway is 100 kilometers long and has strategic importance as it will connect the mainland of Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan’s landlocked exclave, through the Zangezur corridor.

Along with the mentioned roads, the opening ceremony of the 28-kilometer highway that connects the city of Tartar with the villages of Sugovushan and Talish took place in 2021. The length of this road is 28 kilometers, and as planned, the extension of this project will include 22 kilometers of highway from Talish to Naftalan. Construction and planning work on various transportation projects such as the Barda–Aghdam railroad, the Fuzuli-Shusa railway, and the Toganal-Kalbacar highway were also continued.

Comprehensive works in the energy sector were also carried out within the framework of the restoration program, based on the strategy for transforming the liberated territories into “green energy” zones and connecting the energy infrastructure in those territories to Azerbaijan’s general energy system. In 2021, with a total capacity of 20 megawatts, “Gulabird”, “Sugovushan-1” and “Sugovushan-2” small hydroelectric power stations (HPS) were reconstructed and put into operation in the liberated territories. In total, nine digital substations were built in the Karabakh and East Zangezur regions. Simultaneously, in the Aghdam and Jabrail regions, the construction of “Aghdam-1,” “Aghdam-2,” and “Jabrayil” substations as well as the Karabakh Regional Digital Management Center has been completed.

The other important project in the energy sector was the foundation of the Digital Station Management Center in Fuzuli. This project, implemented for the first time in the South Caucasus, allows through automation to reduce the impact of the human factor on the operation of the network, increase reliability and reduce losses during the transmission of electricity. All these projects in the energy sector serve to maintain the energy security in liberated territories and to transform these territories into “green energy” zone.

All the mentioned projects show that Azerbaijan has actively worked for rebuilding Karabakh in 2021. It will enable Azerbaijan to fully integrate the Karabakh economy into the Azerbaijan economy and to use its economic potential in upcoming years. As the liberated territories have great potential in sectors such as agriculture and energy, it will also positively affect the development of the non-oil sector in Azerbaijan. Implementation of all projects that were started in 2021 will not only contribute to the economic development of Azerbaijan, but will also transport Azerbaijan and Karabakh to the transport and economic center of the region.

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Eastern Europe

No borders to struggle against COVİD-19: Solidarity of humanity can help the situation

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Just as COVID-19 does not recognize borders, it is necessary to build the struggle against it on the basis of organization, solidarity, mutual assistance, the use of positive experience, and it should not recognize borders.

2021 was a year of continued struggle against the pandemic and of the emergence of new variants of the virus. The South Caucasus also was not away from COVID-19 and its variants. Azerbaijan continued its effective fight against COVID-19, making the most of the lessons of previous years and the opportunities for rapid response. The vaccination campaign, which was conducted as well as in highly developed countries, is a real sign of performance in this sector. During the year Azerbaijan gave humanitarian and financial aid to more than 30 countries in order to fight the pandemic, made a voluntary financial contribution of 10 million US dollars to the World Health Organization and freely donated 150,000 doses of vaccine to four countries.

The newly appointed head of the EU delegation to Azerbaijan, Petr Michako, also stressed the high level of vaccination in Azerbaijan. The capital – Baku is working closely with The European Union in this direction. The European Union and the World Health Organization have supported the fight against COVID-19 in Azerbaijan with the necessary medical equipment. Medical personnel in Azerbaijan have been repeatedly provided with respirators, goggles, transparent masks and overalls for this purpose. All equipment sent for the safety of medical personnel fighting the virus on the front lines was tested for compliance with quality and safety standards. Kestutis Jankauskas, Head of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan, said that his organization, as a “Team Europe”, is helping to prevent, detect and combat the COVID-19 pandemic. “Healthcare workers are at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which increases their risk of contracting the virus,” he said. -They are our heroes and they need protection. “As part of the Team Europe initiative, the EU has launched an individual COVID-19 package with a budget of around € 32 million to support urgent needs and socio-economic recovery.

In 2021, Azerbaijan achieved major progress in combating the pandemic and the global economic crisis and in mutual cooperation. As a chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, Azerbaijan put forward an initiative to establish a UN High-Level Panel on global restoration after COVID-19. The member states of the Non-Aligned Movement took a unanimous decision to extend Azerbaijan’s chairmanship of the movement for another year, until the end of 2023.

Azerbaijan proposed a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement on equal and universal access to vaccines for all countries and the resolution was passed unanimously in March 2021. This resolution showed Azerbaijan’s stance on the increasing vaccine nationalism in the world and became an international success.

As a result of all measurements now the number of people receiving the second,third and further doses of the vaccine in Azerbaijan has exceeded 40 percent. Azerbaijan is one of the countries in the continent where the number of virus infections is rapidly declining. Azerbaijan is doing its best to observe this trend around the world. Solidarity can help the situation.

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Eastern Europe

2021: the year of political bankruptcy of Lithuanian government

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Ramūnas Karbauskis, Lithuanian businessman and politician, Chairman of the Farmers and Greens Union severely criticized  Lithuanian authorities’ actions.

The Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (Lithuanian: LVŽS) is a green-conservative and agrarian political party in Lithuania. Following the 2020 parliamentary election, the LVŽS has been in opposition to the Šimonytė Cabinet.

Ramūnas Karbauskis did not even try to find softer words to describe on Facebook the results of the past year. He noted that “2021 Lithuanians will remember as the year of bankruptcy of government, the reluctance and inability to speak, which caused and deepened health and illegal migration crises.” According to him, 2021 is marked as “a scaling and segregation of society, demolition of diplomatic roads, cutting not only with one of the biggest economies in the world – China, but even with allies and neighbors.”

He paid attention to the fact, that current negative economic tendencies were the direct results of shortsighted government actions.

To his mind, “2021 will also be remembered as the year of emptying the state budget, gold government purchases, including golden houses for illegal migrants. The government actively pushed the decriminalization of drugs, the measures to promote the trade of alcohol. He also said, that the end of the year was crowned by the Belarusian fertilizer transit scandal, but Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and Transport Minister Marius Skuodis responsible for it remained in their posts.

Thus, he is absolutely sure, that overall, this year has only strengthened the impression that “the government is not working for the Nation, not for its benefit.”

Ex-Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkas has also criticized the permission to open a Taiwanese representative office in Vilnius, saying that the conflict with China has led to huge loses. In his words, “that recognition should have, first, been done by the world, the major countries that have influence and their decision should provide results, not a small Lithuania.”

Today, when these loses have become more and more destructive for the Lithuanian economy, Ausrine Armonaite, the Economy and Innovation Minister says that “the European Union should be more united in its response to China’s pressure on Lithuania.” It turned out, that the mistake was made by Lithuania, but the EU for some reason should solve this problem. Once again Lithuanian authorities shift responsibility to others.

It seems as if Lithuanian officials have chosen the way of confrontation not only with China, but with neighbouring Russia and Belarus. Thus, they continue to increase defence budget of the country instead of allocating additional funds to economically fragile spheres. 2021 defence budget initially amounted to 1.028 billion euros. However, the government allocated additional 20.7 million euros during a budgetary review. 2022 defence budget will be increased to 1.298 billion euros.

The government has not learned how to place political accents correctly. Thus, the lack of coordination and common understanding in the ruling circles lead to political mistakes and the loss of the country’s image in the international arena. Lithuania’s behaviour has led to the shaping of ridiculous image as a country that takes on much more powers than it can afford.

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