Moldova Celebrates Independence While Transnistria Braces for Change

Photo By republika.md

Despite emphasizing pragmatism and openness to negotiate, newly elected Moldovan President Maia Sandu has again called for Russia to withdraw the up to 2,000 troops stationed in the Russian-backed breakaway region of Transnistria.

A pro-Western technocrat and former World Bank analyst, Sandu had avoided discussing the conflict in the run up to her July 2021 election. But in an August 23 interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on the 30th anniversary of Moldova’s independence from the Soviet Union, President Sandu affirmed her commitment to negotiating the “frozen conflict on our territory” while avoiding “a destabilization of the situation.”

Estimates of the number of Russian troops in Transnistria – which has not been recognized by the United Nations or the international community – vary between 1,400 and more than 2,000. Whether tasked as peacekeepers or security for Soviet-era arms depots, the imposition of Russian troops has incited a domino effect of regional anxiety. When the Russian Federation annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in the spring of 2014, it also initiated military exercises between the Operational Group of Russian Troops in Transnistria (OGTR) and Russian Federation troops, as reported by Al Jazeera. A repeat of these exercises in Transnistria in April increased regional tension once again, leading Ukraine to bolster its State Border Guard along its border with Moldova. This represented the largest buildup of troops since Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

This saber rattling coincides with border conflicts throughout the region due to waves of new immigrants and refugees throughout Eastern Europe. Newly elected Peace And Solidarity Party deputy Rosian Vasiloi – whose Sandu-led party swept to power on an anti-corruption mandate – told EuroNews that stopping human trafficking and smuggling across the Transnistrian border will require nothing short of Moldovan authorities taking over the rebel state’s border management.

As Russia has been firmly entrenched since the 1990s, any new movements from the Moldovan side will likely be viewed as provocations threatening to upset the existing status quo. To avoid destabilization, the most effective confidence building measures would involve people-to-people communications in order to reestablish trust amongst the general population. However, due to the division between the respective societies, the conflict will likely remain ‘frozen’ until confidence building measures induce a gradual ‘thaw.’

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Evaluating the Term “Displaced Persons” A Background Guide

The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as “any person who: owing to a well-founded fear or being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the
country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

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Fractious Karabakh Peace Provides Washington With Opportunity in the Caucasus

Photo by Rufat Abas.

The Russian-mediated peace deal [AC1] that ended the Second Karabakh War in November between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not a calm one. It came only after three ceasefires failed, with the longest lasting one day, the second [AC2] lasting hours, the shortest barely minutes.

The peace recognized Azerbaijan’s wartime territorial gains. Azerbaijan retook half of Nagorno-Karabakh (including the strategic and cultural city of Shusha) and the territories Armenia occupied since 1994. Russia achieved its long-standing goal of deploying troops in Nagorno-Karabakh, even if it shares an observation post with a Turkish mission. But Putin’s ceasefire focused on getting those Russian troops into Karabakh, and left a host of other pressing issues untouched. These issues present opportunities for the United States to bolster its presence in a region that has emerged as a linchpin for global geopolitical security.

A major problem effecting the peace is the contamination of Nagorno-Karabakh and the recovered territories of landmines and other unexploded ordinance that are the legacies of decades of ongoing conflict. Azerbaijan has estimated mine clearance operations will take upwards of a decade, and Baku has asked Yerevan to turn over maps of minefields to assist with clearing the land. Believing the minefields[AC3]  are necessary to the defense of Armenia and what remains of Armenian-held Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian government has so far refused to turn over these maps.

Then there are the Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) held by Azerbaijan. So far Baku has returned 61 Armenian POWs (58 in February, three in May), though the European Court of Human Rights says that Azerbaijan continues to hold 188 Armenian POWs. Baku has only confirmed detaining 72 Armenians, 62 of whom were captured in the Azerbaijani province of Hadrut in December, a month after the official end of hostilities. Because of the time of their capture, Azerbaijan calls them terrorists, not POWs, and is refusing to return them.

And culture is another sticking point to peace. For Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, referred to as the Republic of Artsakh by Armenians, is the birthplace of the Armenian nation. For Azerbaijan, the city of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh is the cultural heart of the Azerbaijani people. Following Armenia’s conquest of Nagorno-Karabakh 1994, over 800,000 Azerbaijanis fled Armenia and Karabakh (while over 250,000 Armenians fled Azerbaijan[AC4] ). Armenia destroyed several mosques in Yerevan and Nagorno-Karabakh following the Azerbaijani exodus in 1994; the surviving mosques have been renovated[AC5]  in a ‘Persian style’ to erase Azerbaijan’s connection to Karabakh.

But Azerbaijan is not free of sin. In May, photos emerged of the removal of the Armenian Ghazanchetsots Cathedral’s dome in Shusha, though Baku said this was to repair damage caused by falling shells. The creation of a ‘Military Trophies Park’ in Baku following the Second Karabakh War is another example of the inflammatory rhetoric (coming from both sides) sustaining the conflict. Opening with a display of Armenian helmets taken from the bodies of Armenian soldiers, the park shows visitors wax models of Armenian soldiers bearing strange and frightening countenances. In an interview, the statues’ creators confirmed their goal was to “create the most freakish depictions” of Armenians possible. Such displays are inimical to peace between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.

Washington should take advantage of these unresolved issues and set up a trilateral working group between Baku, Washington, and Yerevan; should Baku and Yerevan make meaningful steps towards peace and reconciliation, then Washington would invite the sides to Camp David to formalize the peace. The first step could be accomplished by having Azerbaijan release all Armenian detainees listed by the ECHR, while Yerevan would exchange the relevant minefield maps to all parties involved in mine clearance operations.

Regarding the cultural issues, the United States should offer the services of the Smithsonian Institution in the preservation and renovation of religious and cultural landmarks in the region. The Smithsonian has extensive experience in such work and has operated in hazardous areas, having sent teams to restore artifacts in Iraq and Syria destroyed by Islamic State and is notably impartial. Washington should also condition future aid to both Baku and Yerevan on efforts to clamp down on anti-Armenian and anti-Azerbaijani/Turkish rhetoric coming from official channels. A first step would be at least taking down the offensive statues in the Military Trophies Park, if not the dismantling of the Park itself, which is hardly conducive to establishing peaceful relations.

Moscow has no intention of resolving these issues, which provides space in the region for Washington. If President Biden wants to combat Russian aggression and show that the United States remains a credible international force, then he should start in Karabakh.

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The Mafia’s Wars

The 1990s saw the emergence of the Russian mafia as a powerful force in Russian political and social life. Under President Putin’s patronage, the mafia has become an extension of the Russian state. Join us as ICR Center Chair Christopher Chambers talks with journalist Olga Lautman on the influence of the criminal underworld in the frozen conflicts plaguing the former Soviet Union.

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Azerbaijan Field Visit After the Second Karabakh War


Representatives of the International Conflict Resolution Center traveled to Baku, Azerbaijan to gather information about the history of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; the ongoing issues and relations between Armenia, Azerbaijan, third countries, and the international community; and the reconstruction efforts that will take place in the territories reclaimed by Azerbaijan during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. The delegates of the organization met with representatives of both governmental and non-governmental organizations in the capital city of Baku. Members of the International Conflict Resolution Center met with the leaders of the Azerbaijani Community of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Vice-Chairman of the Russian Community of Azerbaijan, the leadership of the Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center), officials from the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Hikmet Hajiyev, the Assistant to the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Head of the Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the Presidential Administration. For the second part of the field visit, the representatives traveled to regions in the western parts of Azerbaijan to meet with regional officials. Regional officials in the cities of Ganja and Tartar coordinated visits for the representatives to observe damages inflicted during the war. These territories were located within the internationally-recognized borders of the Republic of Azerbaijan, located far away from the conflict zone. The representatives of the
International Conflict Resolution Center concluded their visit by visiting Aghdam with a military escort, a city that was decimated by Armenian forces during the first Nagorno-Karabakh war between 1988 and 1994.

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New Russia Policy

The Donbas Crisis has shown that the U.S. and European policy on Russia is in desperate need of review. Join the International Conflict Resolution Center’s Chair Professor Chirstopher Chambers as he talks with Dr. Stephen Blank, a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program, to learn what a new and effective Russia policy for the Biden Administration would look like.

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The Ukrainian Crisis

The Ukrainian Crisis: A Conversation with Generals Benjamin Hodges and Michael Repass

Join ICR Center’s Professor Christopher Chambers as he sits down with Lieutenant General (retired) Benjamin Hodges and Major General (retired) Michael Repass to discuss the latest troubling developments of the Ukrainian conflict. 

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Black Sea Region

Interview with former NATO commander Gen. Ben Hodges

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March 30 – April 5

The Caucasus Headlines

China Donates 100,000 Doses of Coronavirus Vaccine to Georgia

China will donate 100,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine to Georgia in April according to Amiran Gamkrelidze of Georgia’s National Center for Disease Control. Georgia received 100,000 doses from China last week, and the country has plans to purchase additional doses. Sinovac has been approved for use in more than 30 countries, including Hungary, Turkey, and Mexico. Gamkrelidze noted that Georgia will overcome the pandemic if 60 percent of the population receives vaccinations, however, recent surveys indicate that many Georgians do not plan to get vaccinated.

Trial of Former President Kocharyan Adjourned

On March 30, the trial of the former President of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, was adjourned by Judge Anna Danibekyan of the Yerevan Court of General Jurisdiction because the prosecutors were not present for the trial. Kocharyan is currently accused of violating Article 300.1 of the Penal Code, overthrowing the constitutional order. The court will convene again on April 6 to consider whether or not to terminate criminal prosecution against Kocharyan. The decision will be announced at 5:45pm Yerevan time.

Azerbaijan Announces New Plans for Agricultural Production

In a recent video conference between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Zaur Mikayilov, the recently appointed Chairman of the Amelioration and Water Resources Open Joint Stock Company, Aliyev announced new measures for improving the nation’s food security. Aliyev noted that Azerbaijan has a diversity of climate and this should be used to the country’s advantage in accelerating development for providing food for the growing population. The President also noted that with proper management, Azerbaijan will be able to increase its export potential, contributing to the growth of the non-oil sector.

Sources: Agenda.ge, Armenpress.am, Report.az

Eastern Europe Headlines

Biden Calls Zelensky Amidst Russian Troop Buildup

U.S. President Joseph Biden called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time on April 2. The call comes as Russia deploys approximately 15,000 troops for military exercises along the Russian-Ukraine border. President Biden pledged ‘unwavering’ support for Ukraine in his call with the Ukrainian President.

Ukraine Cracks Down on Smuggling

On April 2, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine met and placed personal sanctions on the top ten smugglers in the country. This is the first time Ukraine has used personal sanctions against smugglers.

Ukraine to Join NATO in Iraq

Colonel Andriy Pavelko announced that Ukraine will contribute troops to the ongoing NATO mission in Iraq as well as to the NATO Operation Sea Lion in the Mediterranean. This comes as Ukraine is working to further cooperate with the Western military alliance.

Sources: rferl.org, ft.com, unian.info

Abkhazia/South Ossetia

Georgian Citizen Released from South Ossetia Prison

On April 1, Georgia’s State Security Service reported that Ramaz Begheluri, a Georgian citizen, had been released from pre-trial custody in Georgia’s occupied Tskhinvali region. Begheluri was detained on February 2 by Russian forces near the Gugutiantkari village in the Gori region. Begheluri’s arrest was discussed within the Geneva International Discussions as well as the Ergneti Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism. 

3,000 Ethnic Georgians Detained for Crossing Abkhaz-Georgian Border in First Quarter of 2021

In the first three months of 2021, approximately 3,000 ethnic Georgian residents of the Gali district were detained for alleged illegal crossings into Georgia proper. Starting in February 2020, Abkhaz authorities closed the Enguri crossing point. Abkhaz officials have allowed humanitarian corridors several times during the pandemic, but a full reopening is not expected anytime soon.

Abkhaz, Russian Officials Meet in Moscow

Daur Kove, the Foreign Minister of the regime controlling Abkhazia, traveled to Moscow on April 2 to meet with Mikhail Bogdanov, who serves as the Special Representative of Russia for the Middle East and Africa as well as the Deputy Foreign Minister. The parties discussed Abkhazia’s status internationally and methods of improving Russian-Abkhazian foreign policy interaction. Russia continues to indicate that it will invest in strengthening Abkhazia’s presence internationally.

Sources: civil.ge, Apsnypress

Crimea

Presidential Spokesperson Indicates Planning for Crimean Platform Continue

According to a statement by Iuliia Mendel, the Spokesperson for the President of Ukraine, officials are actively discussing the format and programming for the Crimea Platform summit, which is planned for August 23. The Crimean Platform has been created to improve the international response and recognition to the occupation of Crimea by Russian forces. It is also designed to draw attention to human rights violations.

Russia Accused of Launching Conscription Initiative in Crimea

As Russia has built up its forces in Donetsk and Luhansk, the European Union has accused Russia of launching a conscription initiative in Crimea to draft residents of the occupied region in the Russian Armed Forces. The E.U. has stated that this military conscription effort is another violation of international humanitarian law.

Sources: ukrinform.net, RFE/RL

Donetsk/Luhansk

Conflict in Eastern Ukraine Experiences Escalation

In the past week, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine has escalated sharply. In Donetsk, Russian-backed separatists killed four Ukrainian soldiers and wounded another during a buildup of Russian forces on the border. Open-source intelligence shows that Russia is actively moving troops and military equipment into the region.

Further Ceasefire Violations Reported in Occupied Ukrainian Territories

Russian-backed rebel forces breached the ceasefire agreement 21 times on April 2. Twenty of the attacks were against Ukrainian military forces, and the other attack was against civilian infrastructure. The violations were largely comprised of machine gun fire and artillery.

Sources: ukrinform.net, The New York Times

Nagorno-Karabakh

Iskander Missiles Discovered During Demining Operation in Shusha

During a demining operation in Shusha, the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) discovered the remains of Russian-made Iskander-M missiles, which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The Armenian military allegedly only has Iskander-E missiles, which have a shorter range, in its arsenal. Analysts suggest that the Iskander-M missiles were fired from Russia’s 102nd military base in Gyumri, Armenia.

Azerbaijan Accuses Armenia of Supplying Incorrect Maps of Landmines

On the International Day for Mine Awareness and Mine Action, Assistant to the President Hikmet Hajiyev issued a statement alleging that Armenia has yet to provide the correct maps of landmines in the liberated territories. According to Hajiyev, the National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) initiated a demining effort using maps supplied by Armenia, but nothing was found, indicating that ANAMA had been misled. Demining efforts are one of the main tasks in restoring the liberated territories.

Armenia-Azerbaijan State Border Remains Stable

According to the Defense Ministry of the Republic of Armenia, a stable operational situation with no incidents has been maintained along the Armenia-Azerbaijan line of contact. Additionally, no incidents were reported in the Vorotan-Davit Bek section of the Goris-Kapan road, which is monitored by the Armenian National Security Services. 

Sources: Oxu.az, Armenpress.am

Transnistria 

Transnistrian President Meets with Senior Kremlin Aide

Vadim Krasnoselsky, the President of the Transnistrian breakaway state, met with Dmitry Kozak, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office. The two reportedly discussed the continuance of ties between Russia and the breakaway territory as well as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Transnistrian President Discusses Issue of Negotiations with Moldova with Russian Official

Transnistrian President Vadim Krasnoselsky met with Andrei Rudenko, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Krasnoselsky thanked Russia for supporting Transnistria in fields including efforts to counter the coronavirus pandemic. Krasnoselsky informed Rudenko of the status of communication with Moldova, which he described as having ‘alarming tendencies associated with the further degradation of the dialogue.’

Sources: Novosti Pridnestrovya

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Moldova’s Frozen Conflict

Understanding the Politics of Moldova’s Frozen Conflict: An Interview with Executive Director of the Institute for European Policies and Reforms and Board Member of the Institute of Strategic Initiatives Iulian Groza.

In this interview, ICR Center Chair Professor Christopher Chambers sits down with Iulian Groza, the Executive Director of the Institute for European Policies and Reforms and Board Member of the Institute of Strategic Initiatives. Learn about the history of the frozen conflict in Moldova and its effects on the country’s politics and relations with its neighbors. 

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March 23 – March 29

The Caucasus Headlines

Georgian Ruling and Opposition Parties Prepare for EU-Mediated Talks
Leading up to the EU-mediated talks between Georgian Dream and its rival political parties, Georgian Dream stated that it is willing to continue talks with even the most ‘destructive’ parts of the opposition. A party representative stated that Georgian Dream has already enacted compromising steps to help resolve the political crisis, and the party expects the opposition members to negotiate an agreement that benefits the entire country.

Azerbaijani, Armenian, Russian Foreign Ministers to Meet in Moscow
On March 26, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova stated that Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov will meet with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Lavrov is also scheduled to meet with Armenia’s Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan. The parties will meet on April 2 as part of a CIS Council of Foreign Ministers meeting. A meeting between the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia has not yet been confirmed.

Armenian Lawmakers Lift Martial Law Ahead of Elections
Armenian lawmakers have voted to lift martial law, imposed at the beginning of a 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, as it prepares for early parliamentary elections in June. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has said his parliamentary bloc plans to pass amendments that would switch the electoral system to a fully proportional one before snap parliamentary elections scheduled for June.

Sources: Agenda.ge, Report.az, RFE/RL

Eastern Europe Headlines

Kremlin Arrests Father of Navalny Ally on Corruption Charges
Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny associate and director of the Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, has reported that his father has been detained by state authorities on March 29. Mr. Zhdanov has said that the arrest was meant to put pressure on him. His father, Yury Zhdanov, was arrested for recommending that the town of Rostov-on-Don help subsidize an apartment for a local woman, who apparently had previously received housing allocations. Ivan Zhdanov himself was arrested and served a 15-day jail term in 2019 for joining an unsanctioned rally to protest the Moscow municipal elections.

Kremlin Spokesperson Says Talks Between Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin are not Scheduled
Kremlin Spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told the Russian TASS news agency on Monday that there are no plans for a phone call between Presidents Putin and Zelensky, though it could be arranged. This announcement was made shortly after Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the head of the President’s Office, said that such a conversation was being planned. President Zelensky himself said he was looking to set up a conversation with President Putin to complement the ongoing Normandy Format negotiations. The Normandy Format, comprising France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine, was set up to bring a negotiated end to the Donbas Conflict.

Belarusian Authorities Arrest 200, Cordon Belarusian Capital
Belarusian police arrested 200 people on March 27, and cordoned off streets in Minsk, the country’s capital. This came after calls for renewed mass protests against the results of the latest Belarusian presidential election which resulted in Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko winning a sixth term. The election was seen by many as fraudulent, which has resulted in on-and-off mass protests throughout the country.

Sources: RFE/RL, Unian.info

Abkhazia/South Ossetia

UNHRC Adopts New Resolution on Georgia’s Occupied Territories
On March 24, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a new resolution highlighting the deteriorating human rights situation in Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The resolution — titled Cooperation with Georgia — stresses the concern of the UNHRC in the continued process of borderization and use of artificial barriers to create division between Georgia and its own territories. The UNHRC also expressed concern over the continued discrimination against ethnic Georgians.

Abkhazia, Russia Strengthen Ties Through Cultural Cooperation Plan
Ministers of Culture of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia Olga Lyubimova and Gudisa Agrba signed an agreement on March 25 to increase cooperation in the field of culture during 2021. The two parties discussed the limitations in the promotion of cultural activities in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but Russia will assist Abkhazia in holding in-person and online events through educational institutes this year with the purpose of ‘further strengthening cultural and humanitarian interaction.’

Sources: Civil.ge, Apsynpress.info

Crimea

Ukrainian Journalist Confesses to Spying Charges, Torture Suspected
On a March 18 televised interview, the Ukrainian journalist Vladislav Yesypenko publicly confessed to spying on behalf of Ukraine. Mr. Yespyenko is a freelance contributor to the website Crimea.Realities, which is a regional news outlet for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian service. The head of the organization Reporters Without Borders’ Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk, Jeanne Cavelier, said on March 26 that he was concerned that Mr. Yesypenko was subjected to ‘psychological and physical pressure.’ Mr. Yesypenko has also been charged with ‘making firearms,’ a sentence punishable by up to six years in prison.

Sources: RFE/RL

Donetsk/Luhansk

Ceasefire Broken Again Over Weekend, Casualties Reported
On March 26, rebel forces in the Donbas broke the ceasefire, with six casualties (four Ukrainian soldiers killed, two injured) from shelling. An additional ten ceasefire violations, which included shelling, mining, and one skirmish, occurred on March 28, although no Ukrainian casualties were reported.

Ukrainian Minister Estimates 25-30 Years to Demine the Donbas
Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukrainian Minister for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories and Deputy Prime Minister, announced on the TV Channel Dom that landmine clearance in the Donbas will take an estimated 25-30 years. The minister based this estimate on the nature of the war and the experience of Croatia following its secession from Yugoslavia. The minister refrained from estimating the amount of money required to demine the territory, as such estimates could only be made after returning the rebel territory to Kyiv’s oversight.

Sources: Unian.info

Nagorno-Karabakh

Parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh Gives Russian Official Status
The parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh approved a proposal to make Russian the ethnic Armenian-populated region’s second official language, along with Armenian. The bill says that giving the Russian language an official status would deepen Nagorno-Karabakh’s history of “cultural, military, and economic links” with Russia. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, where Azerbaijani is the only official language of the country.

Azerbaijan’s President Signs Decree on Urban Development in Liberated Territories
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree on the topic of governance and urban planning in the recently liberated territories of Azerbaijan. Under the new decree, the State Committee for Urban Planning and Architecture will be responsible for determining land use, the issuance of construction permits, and transferring any category of land from one category to another.

Sources: Armenpress.am, Report.az

Transnistria 

Transnistrian Authorities Appeal Russia for Vaccine Shipment
On March 24, the Supreme Council of the de facto Transnistrian government sent a resolution to Russian President Vladimir Putin to provide Covid-19 relief. The resolution asked the Russian president to send COVID-19 vaccines to save the lives of Russian citizens and Russian compatriots living in the rebel region. This request comes as Transnistria, like most of Europe, is being hit by a third wave of the virus.

Sources: MFA of Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic

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March 15 – March 22

The Caucasus Headlines

Armenia Appoints New Chief of General Staff of Armed Forces
On March 22, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan visited Armenia’s Defense Ministry to introduce the country’s newly appointed Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces, Artak Davtyan. In his remarks, Pashinyan expressed hope that Davtyan would be able to carry out reforms to strengthen the Armed Forces and improve external security defense. Pashinyan also urged Davtyan to keep the Armed Forces apolitical in the future.

Georgian Coast Guard Joins NATO Drills
On March 19, Georgia’s Interior Ministry reported that the Georgian Coast Guard joined a group of NATO vessels for joint drills in the Black Sea. Two of Georgia’s Island-class patrol boats joined the exercises, which consisted of four NATO vessels. The exercises were conducted alongside NATO members Romania, Turkey, and Bulgaria.

Azerbaijani and Turkish Diplomats Hold Talks in the United States
Turkey’s newly appointed Ambassador to the United States, Hasan Murat Marjan, met with Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to the United States Elin Suleymanov on March 19. The Ambassadors discussed the friendly relations of their respective countries and the possibilities for further cooperation between Presidents Aliyev and Erdogan. Ambassador Marjan’s first visit as Ambassador to the United States was to the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington, DC.

Sources: Armenpress.am, Agenda.ge, Report.az

Eastern Europe Headlines

Russian Court Denies Navalny Lawsuit to Investigate Poisoning
A Moscow military court rejected the jailed Russian dissident Alexei Navalny’s lawsuit against the Main Military Investigative Directorate (GVSU) for refusing to investigate his poisoning. On March 22, the 235th Garrison Military Court’s Judge Andrei Tolkachenko ruled that the GVSU’s decision to not investigate Mr. Navalny’s poisoning was ‘legal and well grounded.’ Vyacheslav Gimadi, Mr. Navalny’s attorney, declared that he will appeal the ruling.

Russian Ambassador to the United States Returns to Moscow Over Biden’s Comments
On March 21, the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, landed in Moscow. Ambassador Antonov was recalled to Moscow for ‘emergency consultations’ following U.S. President Biden’s comments referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a ‘killer.’

Sputnik V Vaccine Developers in Spat with European Union Officials
Developers of the Sputnik V anti-Covid vaccine accused the European Union of bias after the bloc’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, said the EU did not need the vaccine. The developers announced in a tweet that Mr. Breton’s comments and the refusal of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to approve the Sputnik V vaccine is indicative of an anti-Russian bias. In response, Mr. Breton’s communications advisor Terence Zakka said that the EU has enough vaccines and the capacity to roll out enough vaccines for its own use, whereas even if the EMA approves the Russian vaccine, rollout would not reach adequate levels until 2022.

Ukraine Nationalizes Aerospace Company ‘Motor Sich’
A Ukrainian court seized the assets and all shares from the aerospace company Motor Sich, which is one of the world’s largest producers for helicopter and airplane engines. On March 20, the Ukrainian SBU, the country’s state security service, announced that the company was transferred to another government body for management. This comes after Chinese investors began buying shares of the company, which was already mired in corruption scandals.

Sources: RFE/RL, Financial Times

Abkhazia/South Ossetia

Ministry of Education Names Promotion of Ossetian Language as ‘Primary Task’
The Minister of Education of South Ossetia Natali Gassieva listed the territory’s priority tasks in the educational sector in a recent conference. Gassieva noted the importance of updating the content of secondary vocational educational, supporting gifted youth, and providing high quality preschool education. Additionally, she noted that the Ministry will continue to draft programs involving instruction of Ossetian language as well as ‘spiritual and moral education’ of the younger generation.

Russia, Abkhazia Agree on Proposal for Restructuring Railway Loan
On March 19, Acting Prime Minister of Finance of the Republic of Abkhazia Vladimir Delba met with the Deputy Minister of Finance of the Russian Federation Timur Maksimov in Moscow. The focus of the meeting was to restructure the loan terms for Russia’s loan to Abkhazia for restoring and developing the Abkhaz railways. Russia has agreed to conduct a study to evaluate the terms of the loan, which was initially signed in December 2010.

Source: OSInform Information Agency, Apsnypress

Crimea

G7 Countries Declare Russia Aggressor in Ukrainian Conflict
On the seventh anniversary of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, the Foreign Ministers of the G7 countries denounced Russia’s ‘temporary occupation’ of the peninsula. The group also condemned Russian human rights abuses in the peninsula, particularly against the indigenous Crimean Tatar community. The Foreign Ministers also expressed their firm opposition to Russia’s actions in continuing the conflict in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Russia Digging Wells to Alleviate Crimean Water Shortages
Russia has launched a plan to supply the occupied Crimean Peninsula with 300,000 cubic meters of water daily. The Kremlin plans to do this by boring water wells in the Crimean Peninsula as well as in the Sea of Azov. Some wells have already come online in Sevastopol, and the first Azov wells are due to come online in April. Crimea’s water shortage began after Russia’s occupation of the peninsula when Ukraine cut off the water supplied through the North Crimean Canal, which originally provided the region with 85 percent of its fresh water.

President Putin Bans Ukrainians from Owning Land in Crimea
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared on March 20 that foreigners are forbidden from owning land in Crimea termed as ‘borderlands’ including land in Kerch, Yalta, Sevastopol, and other territories within the Russian Federation. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called this ban ‘legally null and void’ and that Ukrainian land ownership will be restored upon the restoration of Ukraine’s internationally recognized territories.

Sources: 112UA, KyivPost, Unian.info

Donetsk/Luhansk

Multiple Ceasefire Violations in Donbas
On March 21, Ukraine recorded four separate violations of the ceasefire by Russian-backed forces in which one soldier was killed. On March 19, one Ukrainian soldier was killed amidst two ceasefire violations, and on March 18 a Ukrainian soldier was killed during a ceasefire violation. All Russian-backed violations included artillery attacks.

Sources: Unian.info, 112UA

Nagorno-Karabakh

World Bank Announces Support for Reconstruction Efforts in Nagorno-Karabakh
In a recent interview, World Bank Country Manager for Azerbaijan Sarah Michael stated that the World Bank has a long-term partnership with Azerbaijan and would be happy to support the restoration efforts of the Azerbaijani government. Michael noted that the World Bank includes several other financial institutions, including the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which has experience in rehabilitating areas. The World Bank has allocated approximately $4 billion for projects in Azerbaijan since 1992.

No Ceasefire Violations Registered along Armenia-Azerbaijan Border
According to the Armenian National Security Service, a stable operational situation with no incidents has been maintained along the Armenian-Azerbaijani line of contact in recent days. The situation, according to the National Security Service, also remains stable in the Vorotan-Davit Bek and Goris-Kapan sections of the border.

Armenian Prime Minister Encourages Improvements in Regional Connectivity
During a rally held in the Bazmaberd community of the Aragatsotn province on March 20, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan discussed the importance of opening regional communications and transportation links. Pashinyan cited the benefits for both nations, including the importance of Azerbaijan having access to its exclave of Nakhchivan as well as Armenia having access to rail and communications infrastructure with Iran and the Russian Federation.

Sources: Report.az, Armenpress.am

Transnistria 

Moldova Receives Shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccines from United States through COVAX
Moldova received 24,570 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on March 19 via the COVAX program, marking the second COVAX shipment to Moldova. The United States has accelerated the donation of anti-Covid vaccines through USAID via a four-billion-dollar donation to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Moldova received a first shipment of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine from Romania on February 27. Moldova also received a shipment of doses from the COVAX facility on March 4. So far, Moldova has vaccinated over 16,000 medical workers.
 
Transnistria Authorities Tighten Pandemic Quarantine Measures
On March 18, Transnistrian officials tightened pandemic restrictions in response to the increase of daily infections and the shortage of beds in hospitals. Cultural, sports, and entertainment events have been suspended, along with corporate meetings. Restaurant hours and operating hours for public transit systems have been limited. Law enforcement has also been instructed to enforce mask wearing and social distancing.
 
Sources: Novosti Pridnestrovya, Moldova.UN

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February 8 – February 16

The Caucasus Headlines

OSCE Chairwoman Makes Official Visit to Georgia
OSCE Chairwoman Ann Linde visited Georgia on February 16. In her official visit, Linde reaffirmed the OSCE’s ‘strong support’ for Georgia in conflict resolution. Linde met with Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani and is scheduled to meet with the Georgian Prime Minister, President, Parliament Speaker, and State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality. Linde stated that the peaceful resolution of the Russian-Georgian conflicts is one of the priorities of her OSCE chairmanship. 

Armenia to Receive Parliamentary Delegation from Iran
The head of the Armenia-Iran friendship group Mkhitar Kayrapetyan held a phone meeting with Seyyed Mehdi Farshadan, the head of the Iran-Armenia friendship group. In the call, the representatives discussed the further development and expansion of bilateral relations. Farshadan informed Kayrapetyan that the Islamic Republic of Iran plans to send a delegation to Armenia in the near future. 

Azerbaijani President Visits Liberated Territories, Discusses Future of Green Energy
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev conducted a visit to the liberated territories of Fizuli, Zangilan, Lachin, and Jabrayil. The infrastructure in these regions was destroyed during the Armenian occupation, and the government has already launched restoration and reconstruction efforts. Renewable energy systems will be constructed in Kalbajar and Lachin for electricity production. These regions have favorable natural conditions for renewable energy. 

Sources: Agenda.ge, Armenpress.am, Baku.ws

Eastern Europe Headlines

IMF Requires Ukraine to Make More Reforms Before Attaining a New Loan
IMF representative Goesta Ljungman encouraged Ukrainian officials to strengthen governance of the central bank, implement policies to reduce fiscal deficit, corruption and energy policy to secure the $5 billion loan. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said the government will take into account IMF suggestions. Ukraine is awaiting a $2.2 billion loan from the IMF in 2021.

Belarusian Journalists Raided by Police
Belarusian police raided 22 homes and offices of prominent journalists, human rights activists and trade union members on Feb 16. Official claim that raids were a part of an investigation into anti-government protests. Some victims of the raids include the chief of Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) Andrei Bastunets and human rights organization Viasna.

Navalny Accused Russian Authorities of Fabricating a Case Against Him
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny accused Russian authorities of falsifying a case against him. The prosecutor asked for a $13,000 fine for allegedly libeling an elderly World War II veteran. The court will announce its verdict on Feb. 20. Navalny faces another trial for alleged embezzlement, which is punishable for upto 10 years in prison. Meanwhile, protests supporting Navalny continued throughout the week.

Sources: Reuters, DW, The Washington Post

Abkhazia/South Ossetia

Abkhaz Economy Minister Proposes Restoration of Sukhumi Airport
On February 15, the economy minister of the government in control of Georgia’s Abkhazia met with Alexander Neradko, the Head of the Russian Federal Agency for Air Transport, in Moscow. The two parties discussed the planned reconstruction of the Sukhumi airport, which has been closed since the early 1990s. A working group has already been established.

South Ossetian President Travels to Moscow for Working Visit
Beginning on February 16, the President of South Ossetia Anatoly Bibilov will conduct a three-day working visit to Moscow. Bibilov will attend several meetings with Russian counterparts to discuss socio-economic cooperation between the occupied territory and the Russian Federation. Traveling with the President is South Ossetia’s Minister of Finance, Aza Khabalov. 

Abkhazia Schedules Elections for April 11
Aslan Bzhania, the leader of the regime in control of Abkhazia, has set local elections for April 11, 2021. Local elections have been postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 30,000 ethnic Georgians of the Gali district are ineligible for participation in local, parliamentary, and presidential elections as a result of policies stripping them of Abkhaz citizenship in 2014 and 2017. 

Sources: civil.ge, State News Agency “RES”

Crimea

EU Refuses Removal of Sanctions Until Russia Follows the Minsk Agreements
High Representative of the European Union of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borell said in a joint press conference with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal that there will be no normalization of EU-Russia relations until Ukrainian territorial integrity is restored. Borell added that the EU is expecting the fulfillment of the Minsk Agreements and condemns human rights violations on the Crimean peninsula.

U.S. and EU Accuse Russia of Blocking Ukraine Solutions
U.S. diplomat Rodney Hunter publicly condemned Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea at the UN Security Council video conference marking the sixth anniversary of the Minsk II agreements. Germany, France, and other European members of the Security Council released a joint declaration against the instability in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. 

Source: UNIAN, Aljazeera

Donetsk/Luhansk

Russian media claims that a car of a separatist police chief, Sergei Popov in Donetsk was denoted in the town of Horlivka on Feb. 15. There are no further media reports on Popov’s condition, potential suspects, or official Ukrainian response. Several Donetsk militia commanders were previously attacked by bomb explosions from 2016 to 2018.Three Ukrainian Soldiers Killed by an Explosive in Donetsk 
Ukrainian army reported that three soldiers have been killed by an explosive in Novoluhanske, Donetsk Oblast on Feb. 14. According to the army reports, an unknown device exploded when three men headed to take their position. On Feb. 11 two other government soldiers were killed in combat in the Donetsk region, violating the summer ceasefire agreements.

Sources: RFE/RL

Nagorno-Karabakh

Russian Peacekeepers Facilitate Cargo Deliveries to Kalbajar Russian peacekeepers facilitated the delivery of 185 tons of cargo to the Kalbajar region. The delivery included generators, electrical equipment, and construction materials. The equipment delivered is intended to be used to help restore energy infrastructure, water supply systems, social facilities, and residential buildings. The deliveries were compliant with the terms of the trilateral peace agreement signed by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia on November 10. Construction of New Settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh for Displaced Armenians
The construction of a residential settlement between the villages of Astghashen and Patara has begun. The settlement is located in the Askeran region, which is internationally recognized as the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan, but still held by ethnic Armenians after the 2020 war. The housing projects will be for ethnic Armenians displaced by the war from the Jraghatsner, Moshkhmhat, Madatashen, and Sghnakh villages, which border the Azerbaijani city of Khojaly. Construction of the settlement is expected to be completed by December 2022. 

Sources: Oxu.az, Armenpress.am

Transnistria 

Transnistria Is Second Most COVID-19 Affected Region, UN Reports
United Nations Moldova reported that Transnistria has the second highest infection rate of 12 percent. Chisinau remains the most affected area with 42 percent of all confirmed cases. This week, Moldova had 9,108 active cases, with an average of 802 cases per day. Since the start of the pandemic, Moldova reported 170,186 cases. Moldova’s President Implores EU to Allocate Vaccines to Moldova
President of Moldova Maia Sandu said in an interview that Moldova is struggling to obtain COVID-19 vaccines because companies are interested in supplying “bigger countries” instead of smaller ones like Moldova. Sandu declined to rule out the Russian Sputnik V vaccine but is anticipating help from the EU. 
Sources: UN Moldova, France 24

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Peace Agreement

Interview with Elin Suleymnov, Ambassador of the United States from the Republic of Azerbaijan

Professor Christopher Chambers: how is Azerbaijan approaching the peace agreement? How is Azerbaijan navigating this when emotions are still running high on both sides after the end of the war?

 

Ambassador Suleymanov: We need to prepare the populations for peace. This has been discussed in the past, and the Minsk Group should make this a priority. They haven’t done enough on this in the past. The Minsk Group should have made it clear that peace based on international law would be inevitable. They did not make it clear to Armenia that sooner or later, this would happen.

The international community could have done a better job in facilitating communication between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenia has failed to recognize existence of the Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Minsk Group has facilitated some communications, created outlines, discussed the restoration of territorial integrity, but the main accomplishment was doing shuttle diplomacy. Perhaps now they can build on this to promote dialogue.

 

The Armenian lobby fears that it is losing relevance, and they want to maintain their relevance. The lobby is very afraid that people in Armenia are not as extreme as they are. Armenians are of course upset by war, and the human loss is not easy for either side. Armenians understand that there is a reason for mass immigration, poverty, and why they lost the war. They realize that they need to coexist, and the best way to do this would be to increase integration with Azerbaijan and the rest of the region. The best way to secure growth would be to have friendly, neighborly relations with Azerbaijan.

Professor Christopher Chambers: there are many components not addressed in the peace agreement – what are some of the considerations from the Azerbaijani side about what is open to interpretation and what is iron clad? Do you have any thoughts on this, specifically the peace agreement?

 

Ambassador Suleymanov: This agreement is the most comprehensive and important document in the history of this conflict and the history of independent Armenia and Azerbaijan. It does not include every detail because it was signed immediately after capitulation by Armenia. The key factors are included: the Armenian military withdraws, recognition of Azerbaijan’s territory, processes of normalization, and the key factor of resuming links, communications, and transportation.

 

Nobody questions the importance of returning prisoners of war. POWs and detainees are important issues, but these are in some ways, technical.

The communication channels have been generally described, but now there are working groups for further development of communications and adding specific content to the statements of the agreement.

The agreement by itself is not really open to interpretation. Some parts are very specific, such as the number of Russian peacekeepers, armored vehicles, etcetera. The most effort was put into this.

Professor Christopher Chambers: the war affirmed the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, but a separatist movement is still operating inside the territory. What can Azerbaijan do to work towards peace with this condition still existing?

 

Ambassador Suleymanov: In all agreements, including this one, which was signed by the Prime Minister of Armenia, the entity of an independent Nagorno-Karabakh does not exist. [Independent] Nagorno-Karabakh never existed legally anyway, and there is no legal basis for its existence.

The problem with the situation is that to deal with it, you have to introduce force, which we don’t want to do. At the moment, this is an exclusive responsibility of the Russian peacekeepers. There is no higher authority in the Russian Federation than President Putin. Russian peacekeepers on the ground have to follow the guidelines established by their Commander in Chief [President Putin].

 

At this moment, it’s just a matter of time. There will be attempts to play games of course. For the past 30 years, people pretended that [independent Nagorno-Karabakh] existed, but it never did.

For now, there is too much focus on this put and there is not much relevance.

There are much more important issues at hand, primarily the rehabilitation of the region.

Professor Christopher Chambers: what about the rehabilitation of the area, infrastructure, natural resources? Will there be legal actions to obtain compensation for destruction? What is the current state of infrastructure and natural resource exploitation that you might want compensation for?

 

Ambassador Suleymanov: There are many aspects to this. There is no infrastructure, if you look at what has been done, if you go into all of the areas that Armenia controlled outside of Nagorno-Karabakh, there is total destruction. The Armenian diaspora gathered millions of dollars to support this for decades. There was also some support from the U.S. government, which went to demining, but now we can see the extent of the laying mines instead.

 

There is a high amount of corruption, no investment in the territories, and nothing has been done. There was deliberate destruction, and ill intention. There was never a real effort to live in those territories, and this is an important indication of how emotional and impractical the Armenian policy has been.

Armenia’s day of real independence is not in 1991. Armenia’s real day of independence is November 10, 2020. For the last 30 years, it has been an outpost rather than a sovereign Nation, and completely dependent.

There are now two approaches. One, the government of Azerbaijan will pursue legal action. A case has already been filed against Armenia in the European Court of Human Rights, for example. Two, there will be legal action against companies and individuals. Titles and concessions were given for natural resources and legal action will continue.

The Azerbaijani government has already initiated reconstruction in the liberated areas. One of the most interesting things is that right behind the military were teams restoring communication and power lines. Azerbaijan has full intention of rebuilding the liberated territories.

The territories will be rebuilt and reconstructed, but there is also a strong effort for making the region a center for innovation in the future. With what Azerbaijan has been able to achieve in regional cooperation, this should be possible.

 

Professor Christopher Chambers: what do the next 6 months, 1 year, and 5 years look like in Nagorno-Karabakh to you?

Ambassador Suleymanov: When we began our conversation, you mentioned how emotions cloud judgement. There should be a passion for good, for reconstruction, and for peace.

In the past 3 decades, Armenian emotions didn’t translate to anything practical other than destruction. In order to build peace and normalcy, we need to facilitate economic, socioeconomic, and political foundations.

In the next 6 months, there should be a specific program put together including economic incentives, tax breaks, investment opportunities to encourage reconstruction and engagement of the international community, IMF, and World Bank.

We also want to see more dialogue between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, and lay some seeds to move forward. There needs to be clarity to move forward.

The Turkish-Russian joint [monitoring] center just began operating, but we want more clarity on the Russian peacekeeping mandate, and how we define that.

The key factor in the enormous territory is that we should see some significant land mine clearing actions to be able to begin to see some results in returning civilians to their homes. HALO Trust, a British NGO operating as the sole provider of demining efforts, has worked there without Azerbaijani authorization, repeatedly violating Azerbaijani laws. The organization’s justification was that they were there for demining, but in reality, they trained local people how to plant mines, and this is especially disturbing considering that Americans provided funding.

In 12 months, all of these things described should go deeper: more areas should be demined, there should be better contact, more progress in communication, and customs and security procedures should be established.

For the first time in thirty years, Azerbaijan fully controls its border with Iran. A key priority for Azerbaijan should be to secure the border with Iran to the same standard that it has secured its other borders.

Professor Christopher Chambers: what do you think the role of Turkey might be going forward? We talked at length about Russia, do you think there are advantages or disadvantages for greater Turkish involvement?

Ambassador Suleymanov: I don’t see any disadvantages to greater Turkish involvement. Why does Turkey matter? Turkey has shown recently that it can play a serious role in the region, and that it is a significant contributor to peace and security. We talk about Russia and Iran, but Turkey is the only country that borders all three South Caucasus nations.

Turkey is also a member of the Minsk Group. The Minsk Group met frequently with Turkey in Ankara, and they wouldn’t do this if Turkey didn’t matter. Turkey is already present, but needs to be more present, especially in the reconstruction efforts. Turkey also has good experience in monitoring and maintaining peace operations.

Imagine if Turkey was not fully involved: what would Armenia do? Then it wouldn’t be possible to open the border between Armenia and Turkey, and without Turkey’s involvement, Armenia would remain isolated.

Professor Christopher Chambers: do you think there is a danger that militant forces within Armenia would look at Turkish involvement as a slap in their face? They have used Turkey as a foil to justify certain behaviors. Are you concerned about this?

Ambassador Suleymanov: The reality is very simple. Armenia is nothing as an outpost without any viable economic potential. People in Azerbaijan feel emotional about Russia, but we have to look at the reality. Russia is necessary. Armenians feel emotional about Turkey. Armenia should accept Turkey as part of reality instead of antagonizing it.

Professor Christopher Chambers: are there any concrete or specific proposals for creating that dialogue moving forward? Either inside or outside the agreement?

Ambassador Suleymanov: Presidents Aliyev and Erdoğan have spoken about the need for a regional platform in the 3+3 format [Russia, Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia]. This is not an easy thing to do when there are many differing views, Russia and Georgia and Armenia and Turkey.

Reality has shown us that we need to find a regional solution to our problems. The key actors should be regional actors. Once we open up communications, begin transportation, and economic cooperation, Armenians and Azerbaijanis need to relearn how to live with each other. When this happens, many of the questions that you have now will go away.

In many ways we are close to each other, so I don’t know why we can’t live together, but this takes time; integration solves most of the grievances historically. We need to find common points: music, cuisine, dances.

There is a bright future, and a unique opportunity to build a regional cooperation project, which in the long term is beneficial for the U.S., Central Asia, and Eastern Europe.

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February 2 – February 8

February 2 – February 8

Welcome to ICR Center’s weekly briefing on conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine. 

The Caucasus Headlines

U.S. Naval Destroyer Docks at Georgian Black Sea Port
The USS Donald Cook, a destroyer from the U.S. Naval Forces arrived in Georgia’s Black Sea port in Batumi on February 5. After refueling, U.S. Naval Forces will engage in training with the Georgian Coast Guard to “improve readiness, strengthen maritime domain awareness, and refine bilateral interoperability” according to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Georgia.
 
New U.S. Secretary of State Holds Call with Russian Foreign Minister
The incumbent U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Blinken raised the issues of possible Rusisan interference in the 2020 U.S. elections, Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine and Georgia, the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, the SolarWinds hacking incident, and other issues. Both the U.S. State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry released press briefs after the call, and the Russian press brief left out references to regional conflicts. 
 
Sources: Agenda.ge, Civil.ge, Mid.ru

Eastern Europe Headlines

President Zelenskiy Blocks Russian-Backed TV Channels
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy met with G7 and E.U. ambassadors on February 3 to explain his decision to block the 112, NewsOne, and ZIK television channels. Zelenskiy justified his decision by claiming that it was a necessary measure to fight Russian aggression and disinformation. The channels are believed to belong to Russian-national Viktor Mevedchuk, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and supports the Opposition Platform for Life, a political party popular in Southeastern Ukraine. 
 
Ukrainian City in Donetsk Will Possibly be Renamed ‘New York’
The Parliamentary Committee on the Organization of Public Authority introduced legislation to rename the settlement of Novhorodske in the Donetsk region to ‘New York.’ Members of Parliament previously introduced this concept in 2017, but the measure was revoked. Parliament Members have once again suggested renaming the settlement, explaining that it is based on the historical name of the town. The settlement appeared on military maps from 1846 as ‘New York’ and was renamed Novhorodske in 1951.
 
Source: 112 UA, RFE/RL

Abkhazia/South Ossetia

Georgia Requests Support from EU, US in Securing Release of Georgian Citizen
Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia met with the Head of the E.U. Delegation Carl Hartzell and US Ambassador Kelly Degnan to request support in securing the release of a Georgian citizen being held by authorities in the occupied South Ossetia region. Zaza Gakheladze was detained by South Ossetian forces in summer 2020, and he was charged with illegally crossing the border and attempted murder. Ossetian authorities sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
 
Woman’s Death in Akhalgori Result of Delayed Medical Care
Zamira Chochieva, a teacher in the Akhalgori district of the occupied South Ossetia region, died of a heart attack due to delays in receiving medical assistance. Activists say that Akhalgori has been isolated from Georgia proper for more than one year, and the local population is unable to receive vital services including medical services. Since September 2019, more than 20 individuals have died in Akhalgori as a result of closed border checkpoints and delays in receiving medical assistance. 
 
Russian Parliamentary Delegation Visits South Ossetia
A Russian parliamentary delegation, led by the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian Federation Council Konstantin Kosachev, visited South Ossetia on February 5. The delegation met with the President of the regime occupying Georgia’s Tskhinvali region, Analtoly Bibilov, as well as members of this government’s parliament. The Parliament of the South Ossetian regime has been protesting and has not convened since September 2020. The visit from Moscow was designed in part to put pressure on the local government to improve the relations with Moscow as a whole.
 
Sources: Agenda.ge, Civil.ge

Crimea

Ukraine Maintains Position on Crimean Water Supply
Ukranian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba gave an interview to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian Service, and in this interview, he stated that the water supply to the Crimean peninsula can only be restored after the end of Russian occupation. Prior to Russia’s occupation, Ukraine supplied up to 85% of freshwater supplies to Crimea through the North Crimean Canal. Since 2014, droughts and low water supplies in reservoirs have become common, and local authorities have imposed water restrictions on residents.
 
Ukraine Imposes Sanctions on Nicaragua for Opening Consulate in Crimea
According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister spokesman Oleg Nikolenko, the establishment of an honorary consul of Nicaragua in Crimea is a violation of Ukrainian and international law. Ukraine has responded to the situation with sanctions on Nicaragua. Ukraine proposed sanctions against Nicaragua in November 2020, however, it wasn’t until February 2 that the Verkhovna Rada adopted Resolution No. 4689 which formally applied sanctions and ‘other restrictive measures’ on the Republic of Nicaragua. 
 
Sources: unian.info, Ukrinform

Donetsk/Luhansk

Russia to Supply Sputnik V Vaccine to Occupied Parts of Eastern Ukraine
On February 3, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that the Russian government will supply separist regions of Eastern Ukraine with the Sputnik V vaccine despite Ukraine’s ban on the Russian product. A Donetsk-based media outlet claimed that shipments of the Russian vaccine had begun, but the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is responsible for marketing the vaccine abroad, said that it did not supply the occupied territories of Ukraine. 
 
Massive Arms Cache Discovered in Donetsk
According to the Press Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office, a massive arms cache was discovered in an abandoned building in the Primorsky district of Mariupol in the occupied Donetsk region. Law enforcement officers discovered more than 1,600 hand grenades, 2,000 flares, 1,060 fuses, dozens of handguns, and 124 boxes of cartridges. A case has been opened to investigate the mishandling of weapons, ammunitions, and explosives. 
 
Sources: Reuters, 112 UA

Nagorno-Karabakh

Azerbaijan to Launch Regional Radio Service in Liberated Territories
The National Television and Radio Council of Azerbaijan convened for a videoconference on February 8 to discuss the organization of expanding radio broadcasting into the territories recently liberated in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. New broadcasting frequencies will be introduced in the areas returned to Azerbaijan, and national radio channels will be broadcasted through the Shusha Radio and Television Broadcasting Station to provide service to the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
 
Foreign Diplomats Examine Destruction in Liberated Territories
Presidential Aide Hikmet Hajiyev led a delegation of ambassadors, military attaches, and representatives of international organizations on a visit to Jabrayil and Zangilan on February 6 to examine the destruction caused to Azerbaijani territory during three decades of occupation. The purpose of the visit was to provide representatives of foreign governments and entities with first-hand knowledge and awareness of the widespread destruction committed by ethnic Armenians when they occupied these territories. 
 
Sources: Report.az, Azernews

Transnistria 

WHO Provides Humanitarian Aid to Transnistria
A shipment of humanitarian aid from the World Health Organization was delivered to Transnistria. The WHO provided supplies for prevention and control of COVID-19, including ventilators, oxygen concentrators, and oxygen masks. Transnistria has had 24,527 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 13,920 confirmed recoveries and 464 deaths. 
 
Transnistrian and South Ossetian Foreign Ministers Meet in Tiraspol
The Foreign Minister of the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic Vitaly Ignatiev met with the Head of the Official Representative Office of the Republic of South Ossetia Vitaly Yankovsky on February 3. The two parties discussed their relations, and the South Ossetian representative expressed gratitude to the Transnistrian government for holding the Commemoration Ceremony for Victims of Ossetian People Genocide dated 1918-1920. The two parties also discussed bilateral cooperation in the cultural field including through the International Drawing Competition. 
 
Source: Novosti Pridnestrovie, MFA PMR

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