Welcome to ICR Center’s weekly briefing on conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine. This week protests supporting Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, spread across Russia, tensions rise between North and South Ossetia and the Crimean Platform expands its agenda.
The Caucasus Headlines
European Court of Human Rights Rules Against Russia for Actions in 2008 War
On January 21, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia committed several human rights violations during the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. The Court concluded that Russia breached six articles of the European Convention of Human Rights, failed to conduct an investigation into the breach of the right to life, and that Russia exercised ‘effective control’ over the ‘buffer zone’ during the official withdrawal of Russian troops. Georgia had appealed to the European Court of Human Rights on August 11, 2008, one day before the ceasefire agreement was signed between Georgia and Russia.
Azerbaijan Reflects on 31st Anniversary of ‘Black January’
January 20 marked the 31st anniversary of the events of ‘Black January’ in Azerbaijan. In the late 1980s, Armenian separatist activities accelerated in Nagorno-Karabakh, giving way to large scale protests against the Soviet government in Azerbaijan. During January 19-20, the Soviet army invaded Baku and other cities in Azerbaijan, killing 147 civilians and injuring another 744. According to international law, these events are classified as crimes against humanity, but no international assessments of the events have taken place as the Soviet Union is no longer in existence. Despite strict quarantine measures, the annual memorial ceremony was held at the Martyr’s Lane in Baku.
Sources: Civil.ge, Reuters, Oxu.az
Eastern Europe Headlines
Mass Protests Erupt Across Russia Against Detention of Alexei Navalny
Tens of thousands of Russians gathered in cities across Russia, from Moscow to Vladivostok, to show their support for Alexei Navalny, an opposition leader jailed upon his arrival in Moscow last week on January 17. By January 23, more than 3,000 people had been arrested in more than 100 cities across the country. Protests have temporarily died down, however, Leonid Volkov, an aide to Mr. Navalny, stated that more demonstrations are planned for next weekend. The U.S. State Department has condemned the Russian police force’s use of ‘harsh tactics’ against protesters.
Poland Lobbies for Increase in U.S. Military Presence
On January 22, Polish President Andrzej Duda told private broadcasting channel TVN24 announced his plans to continue lobbying for an increased U.S. military presence in Poland. Poland, a NATO member, has long considered the United States to be a partner in maintaining the country’s security and protecting against threats from Russia. Duda previously floated the idea of constructing ‘Fort Trump’ and announced efforts to initiate discussions with President Biden.
Protester Sets Himself on Fire in Minsk
A 35-year-old protester set himself on fire outside of a government building in Minsk on January 22. Witnesses and police officers put out the flames with a fire extinguisher, and the man was taken to a local hospital. The Belarusian Investigative Committee stated that they are working to establish the background and determine the man’s motives. Protests in Belarus are still ongoing, having started in the summer of 2020 after the presidential elections in which Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected following allegations of vote-rigging.
Sources: The New York Times, Bloomberg, Reuters
Abkhazia Will Likely Refuse Russia’s Upcoming Extradition Request
Astamur Butba and Nugzar Papava, Russia-Abkhaz dual citizens, were charged in absentia for a 2009 murder case. The Investigative Committee of Russia announced on January 19 that they are seeking the extradition of the two men. The Prosecutor’s Office of Abkhazia confirmed that they had received the extradition request from Moscow, however, Abkhaz law prohibits handing over its citizens to foreign jurisdictions for criminal prosecution. While Abkhaz officials may not extradite Butba and Papava, the two men may be tried in Abkhaz courts using evidence from Russian authorities.
Russian Foreign Minister to Meet with Acting Foreign Minister of South Ossetia
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will host a meeting with the Acting Foreign Minister of the regime occupying South Ossetia, Dmitry Medoev, on January 25. The meeting was announced during a Foreign Ministry briefing given by Maria Zakharova. According to Zakharova, Russian and South Ossetian officials will discuss the future of bilateral relations and foreign policy coordination.
Georgian Citizen Detained After Crossing Georgia-South Ossetia Border
The State Security Committee of South Ossetia released a report detailing the detention of a Georgian citizen at the Georgia-South Ossetia border in late December. The Georgian citizen was detained near that Akhmadz (Akhmadji) settlement of the Leningor (Akhalgori) region. According to the South Ossetian KGB, the detainee stated that he attempted to cross into South Ossetia to seek employment. The release does not indicate whether or not the Georgian citizen was released or remains in detention.
Tensions Flare Between North, South Ossetia Over Attack on South Ossetian Journalist
Journalist Ruslan Totrov of South Ossetia was attacked in Vladikavkaz, the capital city of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania. Dina Gassieva, the Press Secretary of the President of South Ossetia, referred to the attack as a ‘provocation.’ North Ossetian media stated that the attack was caused by Totrov’s criticism of South Ossetian authorities.
Sources: Civil.ge, OSInform Information Agency, State Information Agency “RES”
Crimean Platform to Expand Number of Items on Agenda
As reported by Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, the Crimean Platform is working to address a wider number of issues during the upcoming period. According to Rustem Umerov, the head of the Turkey-Ukraine Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group, current priorities include discussions on political prisoners, sanctions, and security issues in the Azov and Black Sea regions. Umerov noted that other initiatives are being planned to further develop Ukraine’s strategy for the de-occupation of Crimea.
Ukrainian FM Reacts to BBC Russia’s Designation of Crimean Cities as Russian
On January 24 while reporting on individuals detained in protests in support of Alexei Navalny, the Russian service of BBC referred to the Ukrainian cities of Sevastopol and Simferopol as part of Russia. The speaker of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Oleg Nikolenko, responded and called upon BBC Russian to not promote ‘false Russian narratives’ and noted that Crimea is not annexed, but occupied.
Crimea’s Longest River Runs Dry
The longest river in southern Crimea, the Suuk-Su River, has dried up and no longer flows into the sea, despite significant rainfall in January. After Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, Ukraine severed water supplies, which were primarily delivered through the North Crimean Canal. As the occupation of the peninsula has continued, fresh water has become scarce for the local population as reservoirs run dry. Ukrainian authorities have stated that water supplies will resume to Crimea when Russia ends its occupation.
Sources: Daily Sabah, 112 Ukraine, Unian Information Agency
U.S. Embassy Promotes Territorial Integrity on Ukrainian Unity Day
Joseph Pennington, the Acting Deputy Chief of the U.S. Mission to Ukraine, called on Russia to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders on January 22, the Day of Unity of Ukraine. Pennington added that the United States will continue to support Ukrainians in building a free and democratic Ukraine and the associated reforms necessary. The Day of Unity of Ukraine became an official holiday in 1999, and marks the day when the Ukrainian People’s Republic and the West Ukrainian People’s Republic signed the Unification Act in 1919.
National Guard of Ukraine Delivers 5 Tons of Humanitarian Aid to Luhansk Region
The Press Service of the National Guard of Ukraine reported on January 19 that Ukrainian soldiers delivered 5 tons of humanitarian aid, provided by European countries, to the Luhansk region. The Press Service indicated that the Ukrainian National Guard has delivered more than 400 tons of humanitarian aid to residents of Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014. Humanitarian supplies were transported to the Military Medical Clinic Center of the Eastern Region as part of the ‘Help East International’ humanitarian initiative.
Swedish Foreign Minister Pledges to Continue to Facilitate Dialogue in Donetsk, Luhansk
Ann Linde, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, stated that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine will continue to monitor the situation in Donetsk and Luhansk and facilitate dialogue in a joint meeting with Ukrainian officials on January 20. Linde reaffirmed that resolving the crisis remains a priority, and that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected by the OSCE. In this visit, Linde met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories Oleksiy Reznikov, and Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights Liudmyla Denisova. Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional civil-military administration, assured the OSCE that Donetsk regional authorities are ready to cooperate to achieve peace in Ukraine.
Armenia Has Provided Incomplete List of Prisoners of War According to Russia
Armenia has repeatedly stated that it considers the return of Armenian prisoners of war from Azerbaijan as one of its highest priorities. In a press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that lists of prisoners provided by Armenia were incomplete and not delivered as scheduled. Lavrov noted that Russia sees the return of prisoners from both sides as a priority. The office of Tigran Avinyan, the Deputy Prime Minister of Armenia, alleges that the number of prisoners is confidential and should not be released.
Trilateral Agreement Over Security of Yerevan-Kapan Road Achieved
The Deputy Prime Minister of Armenia Tigran Avinyan stated that Armenia has reached an agreement with both Azerbaijan and Russia regarding the security of the Yerevan-Kapan road, which connects Armenia’s capital with the Syunik province on the border with Azerbaijan. Avinyan noted that Russian troops are stationed on various sections of the road, and that there have been no security incidents along the roadway.
Armenia and Azerbaijan Initiate Talks on Border Demarcation and Delimitation
Armenia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan announced that Armenia and Azerbaijan have begun talks on the delimitation and demarcation of borders in the near future. While addressing members of parliament, Avinyan noted that the installation of temporary border posts is nearly complete, and the negotiations on the limits of borders are ongoing. He stated that security will be upheld along the international border, but the process of delimitation and demarcation is expected to take a long time.
Sources: JAM News, Armenpress.am, oxu.az
Chisinau, Tiraspol Consider Opportunities of Transport Liberalization
Authorities from Moldova and Transnistria met on January 21 to discuss the development of transportation and road infrastructure between Moldova and the Transnistrian region. The Press Service of the Reintegration Bureau noted that topics of discussion included activities of vehicle registration points in Tiraspol and Rybnitsa, as well as barriers to free movement of passenger vehicles through the Transnistrian region. Moldovan officials stated that they will work with Transnistrian officials to provide documents for Transnistrian drivers that will allow them to meet the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic and drive abroad using a Transnistrian license. The issue of developing neutral license plates was also discussed.
Russian Official Appeals to Duma to Offer Vaccine Assistance to Transnistria
Konstantin Zatulin — the Special Representative of the Parliament for Migration and Citizenship and the First Deputy Chairman of the Committee for CIS Affairs — launched a proposal to the Government of the Russian Federation for assistance in vaccinating residents of unrecognized states, including Transnistria. Vadim Krasnoselsky, the President of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, already secured 30,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine during a working visit in Moscow in December. These 30,000 initial doses will be used to vaccinate doctors, teachers, and members of the territory’s security forces.
Sources: Infotag, Novosti Pridnestrovya