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Ukraine after Putin – Biden talks

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Negotiations between US and Ukrainian Presidents Joe Biden and Volodymir Zelensky in the wake of Putin-Biden talks were anticipated with genuine interest, particularly given that talks between the Ukrainian and American leaders took place against the backdrop of the Ukrainian provocation in the Sea of Azov.

As became clear from official sources, the “Ukrainian issue” stood high on the agenda of the talks between the Russian and US presidents. Meanwhile, no one consulted Ukraine. There was a visit to Moscow by Victoria Nuland, who is chief on Ukraine in the State Department, and there was an urgent flight to Moscow by CIA Director William Burns. Of course, that made Kyiv jumpy, amid “threats” outlined by American special services as “a concentration of Russian troops along Ukrainian borders”, scenarios and the Thus, likelihood of Russia advancing on Ukraine, described in colour and discussed at length by western media. Despite all these high-profile preparations for talks between the leaders of the world’s key nations, Kyiv came to believe that it was no more than preparations for the talks. No more……

Thus, it was important to aggravate the situation so Kyiv opted for a provocation. On December 9 Russia’s Federal Security Service reported that the Ukrainian naval ship “Donbass” was moving in the direction of the Kerch Strait and was not responding to any appeals for it to change course. Despite the warnings, the ship continued to move towards the strait and the Crimean Bridge. Several hours after the vessel reversed course. It was a play of nerves. The auxiliary vessel of the Ukrainian Navy posed a techno rather than military danger – 122 meters long, its hypothetical blow on the Crimean Bridge pillars could be tangible enough. The  result of this pathetic provocation-2021 was that Zelensky asserted himself as possessing a larger ship – 122 meters, against Poroshenko’s tugboat in the provocation – 2018 – 23 meters.

On December 9, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba urged in his Twitter page “to put an end to the violations of freedom of seafaring in the Black Sea and in the Sea of Azov”. The scenario with the “advancing” “Donbass” resulted in a flop – it was expected that the Russian frontier guards would send it to the bottom, thereby demonstrating the extent of Crimea’s militarization, the level of aggression, and the absence of any freedom of navigation in the region. But that did not happen.

One of the outcomes of Putin-Biden talks is the US decision to freeze military assistance to Ukraine. «The decision is designed to contribute to a diplomatic settlement of the conflict. However, the US authorities are considering an extensive package of military aid in case Russia invades Ukraine.  …the assistance was frozen despite Kyiv’s requests and requests from some American lawmakers. The US administration adopted such a decision in order to make time for a diplomatic settlement between Russia and Ukraine and in order to ease tension». This sounds strange, as there is no situation between Russia and Ukraine that cries for settlement. Russia is not getting ready for war, its troops are minding their own business on their own territory. And even though the issue of Nord Stream 2 and the Minsk Agreements is still on the agenda, there is nothing to talk about, as everything has already been said. Ukraine has nothing to do with Nord Stream 2, it’s none of its business. The Minsk Agreements do require a settlement but it will become possible on condition Ukraine meets all of the provisions. No more can be said on this, everything was said before. But Kyiv is not interested in a diplomatic settlement and has no intention of implementing the Minsk Agreements, looking for an opportunity to abolish them.

The turbulent reaction to the movement of Russian troops across Russia has triggered a serious irritation in the West. One of publications to this effect is titled: «Stop playing into Putin’s hand, idiots». The author of the article argues that Putin managed to “blow the West’s mind” by means of his “threat to attack Ukraine”: «He told an enlarged meeting of the panel of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: «Our warnings of late do make themselves felt and produce a certain effect. However, tension did emerge. Given this, I see two options: firstly, it is important that they experience this state of mind for as long as possible, so that it will not occur to them to start a conflict we do not need on our western borders. We do not need conflicts». Tis is the most important thing.

The author of the article, just like many government officials in NATO countries, is discontent over their fear. A voice of reason should have told them that Russia does not want aggression, just as it does not want Lviv, which reads as Lemberg on invasion maps from the German Bild. It looks like reason did tell them that, but this demonstrative fear coming from “the presumption of Russia’s aggressiveness” (a term coined by Viacheslav Nikonov) covers a far bigger fear. The West, having  used up all the available instruments of exerting pressure on Russia, is searching for other options – what else it can do to this end.

But let’s make one step backward. I assume that the  military and political fear that prompted high-ranking officials to visit Moscow hinges on the following fabricated concerns:

  1. If Russia chooses to advance on Ukraine, it will not stop at division line – on the border of Donbass republics;
  2. The USA will not take part in this military conflict – Ukraine is not a member of NATO, an overt conflict with Russia is inadmissible.

These scary scenarios and assumptions pursue a certain propagandistic agenda. Meanwhile, it’s important to bear in mind that no sanctions will stop Russia from defending its national interests.  Neither disconnection from SWIFT, the potential danger of which has been estimated and measures taken, nor energy or individual sanctions, nothing “can reform” Moscow. This is no longer scary. American political analyst Dimitri Simes pointed at during Viacheslav Nikonov’s program “Big Game”: “Russians are used to this unpleasant normality”.

Reports that the United States has frozen military assistance to Ukraine are encouraging. However, this does not mean that the US waives its plans to militarize Ukraine, which can be done through mounting military aid on behalf of other parties, that it is not possible to set up training camps and “temporarily” deploy separate NATO units on those “temporary” bases. This something to play with: should they raise the question of NATO units in Ukraine – they will pull them out but will start to supply weapons, and vice versa – discontinue weapons supplies but will bring in troops. Besides, there could be assistance in developing and building military infrastructure – marine bases etc.

Europe will have to pay a high price for “political correctness” if it approves energy sanctions against Russia and declines to buy Russian oil and gas. If Europe dances to the US tune and opts for an energy blockade of Russia, by relying on LNG and building interconnector pipelines for connecting the so far unconnected European pipelines for the supply of gas not from Russia. This process which will take several years will lead to protests and an increase in oil and gas prices. No “green energy” will be able to balance the energy balance, so discussions will start on nuclear energy, which will begin to shake the political foundations of Europe. This is what Washington offers the European Union and Europeans – a set of fairly dubious prospects.

Given the situation, Ukraine has found itself in a big political game yet again. Nevertheless, it remains one of the points within the framework of preparations for the talks. Ukraine remains a principal issue and a geopolitical platform in the competition between Moscow and Washington. But as before, it is not a party whose initiative matters to Washington. While everybody talks of Ukraine, Ukraine is the last to talk to. Such is the reality.  

From our partner International Affairs

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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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