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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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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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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January 26 – February 1

The Caucasus Headline

Georgian Business Owners Ignite Protest Against Government’s Coronavirus Restrictions
A group of protesters representing restaurants, hotels, and winter resorts gathered outside the Administrative Building of the Government of Georgia to demand the easing of coronavirus restrictions on businesses. The protesters stated that their businesses will fail to recover unless they are able to reopen and resume sales immediately. To increase public awareness, more than 200 restaurants ceased operations for a 24 hour period as a form of protest.
 
Armenian Lawmaker Arrested for Alleged Threats Against Prime Minister
Vahan Badsyan, a former lawmaker from the internationally-unrecognized Republic of Artsakh, was arrested for alleged threats against Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. In an interview with reporters on January 28, Badsyan indicated that there are possible ways of removing the Prime Minister from office, even if the use of arms are required. The statement was classified as a death threat by the National Security Service, and Badsyan was detained the same day. A court date has not been set for his case yet. 
 
Water Prices in Azerbaijan to Double on February 1
The Tariff Council of Azersu Open Joint Stock Company held a meeting on January 31 in which it was confirmed that the price of water would double beginning on February 1. The price for one cubic meter of water for cities of the Absheron Peninsula will increase from 0.35 AZN to 0.7 AZN. Despite public criticism, Azersu stated that the increase was necessary in order to facilitate improvements in quality of service, reconstruction of water supply and sewage systems, and cover all operating costs. 
 
Sources: Agenda.ge, Armenpress.am, APA.az

Eastern Europe Headlines

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya Nominated for Nobel Prize
Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda. Tsikhanouskaya has been living in Lithuania after fleeing Belarus in August following the disputed presidential elections. The President of Lithuania nominated the activist in order to show Lithuania’s support for the Belarusian democratic movement and support for free elections. 
 
Thousands More Detained in Second Weekend of Navalny Protests
Protesters gathered for a second time on January 31 to show support for Alexei Navalny who remains in prison. According to OVD-Info, an independent site that monitors arrest activity, more than 5,000 people were detained across the country for protesting, with 1,600 individuals detained in Moscow alone. Demonstrations are expected for Tuesday, February 2, when a court will decide whether or not Navalny’s suspended sentence on previous charges should be replaced with a real jail term. 
 
Protests Against Abortion Ban Erupe Across Poland
On January 29, thousands of people gathered for marches in cities across Poland to protest a near total ban on abortions put in place by the government earlier in the week. The protests come after a Constitutional Tribunal ruling in October that terminating pregnancies under the context of fetal defects was unconstitutional. The decision came into effect on January 27. 
 
Sources: VOA News, CNN, Reuters

Abkhazia/South Ossetia

Russian Foreign Minister Hosts Meeting with South Ossetian Counterpart
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosted Dmitry Medoev, the Foreign Minister of the unrecognized South Ossetian government, for a meeting on January 25. The two parties discussed growing bilateral ties in trade, culture, and humanitarian areas. Lavrov and Medoev signed the Consultation Plan 2021-2022 for the continued development of bilateral coordination of foreign policy. At the meeting’s conclusion, Lavrov awarded Medoev with a Russian Foreign Ministry Badge for his contribution to the development of Russia-Ossetian relations. 
 
South Ossetia State Security Committee Releases Report on 2020 Border Detentions
South Ossetia’s State Security Committee released a report indicating that in 2020, 423 individuals were detained at the territory’s borders with both the Russian Federation and Georgia proper. 184 detentions were for attempting to illegally cross the State Border, 227 for illegal stay within the border zone, and 12 for disobeying the orders of Ossetian KGB and Russian FSB officers. 11 criminal cases were initiated based on the detentions. 
 
Abkhaz Foreign Minister Discusses Business Cooperation With Pakistan
On January 28, Abkhazian Foreign Minister Daur Kove met with Javad Rahman, the President of the Association for the Promotion of Business Relations with Pakistan. The Foreign Ministers discussed opportunities in developing cultural, trade, and economic ties across various fields. Kove noted that he is prepared to facilitate the establishment of business contracts between Pakistan and Abkhazia. It should be noted that Pakistan openly supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijan, and does not recognize Armenia as a country. The interest in developing business relations with Abkhazia goes against Pakistan’s typical position on territorial integrity. 
 
Sources: civil.ge, Apsnypress, State News Agency “Res”

Crimea

Ukrainian Reintegration Ministry to Promote Crimean Tatar Language
The Ministry for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine developed a draft of a plan to promote the Crimean Tatar language. The draft plan was created after several rounds of consultations with experts from the National Academy of Sciences, teachers, the Mejlis of Crimean Tatars, and NGOs. The Ministry has already requested help from Google and Duolingo to implement the use of Crimean Tatar language in their platforms. The draft is now up for public debate, after which it will become a proposal to be considered by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.
 
Russian Anti-Ship System Deployed to Crimean Peninsula
The Russian military deployed an anti-ship missile launcher to the Crimean Peninsula shortly after the United States sent a third naval vessel to the Black Sea region. Russian officials state that the system, officially part of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, was deployed for military drills on the peninsula. The system is capable of defending more than 600 kilometers of coastline. 
 
Slovakia Latest Country to Join Expanding Crimean Platform
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry reported that Slovakia is the latest country to announce its plans for attending the Crimean Platform Summit later this year. Slovakia’s Foreign Minister described the importance of Ukraine as a neighboring country and noted its support for Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Slovakia also reaffirmed that it does not recognize the violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. 
 
Sources: UNIAN Information Agency, 112 International

Donetsk/Luhansk

OSCE Monitoring Mission Spots Heavy Weaponry in Russian-Occupied Territories
An unmanned aerial vehicle belonging to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine spotted heavy weaponry in sites in Russian-occupied districts of Donbas. On January 28, the drone discovered mortars and battle tanks at a training ground located in Donetsk. Ten infantry fighting vehicles were spotted in the same area, which is considered as a military presence in the security zone, violating the Package of Measures agreed upon by Russia. 
 
Russia Deploys Sputnik Vaccine to Donetsk 
Russia has begun to supply the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine despite a ban by the Ukrainian government. The Ukrainian government plans to receive Western-made vaccines and has banned the use of the Russian vaccine. According to Denis Pushilin, the head of the unrecognized Donetsk republic, stated that a few thousand doses of vaccine have been supplied and that vaccinations would begin soon. 
 
U.S., Russia Ready for Dialogue on Solution to Donbas Conflict
According to the Russian Presidential Press Secretary, Dmitriy Peskov, stated in a press conference that as a result of the recent conversation between President Biden and President Putin, there is a readiness to continue dialogue on the resolution of the Donbas conflict. Russia views the situation in Donbas as a domestic Ukrainian conflict, and the United States supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and labels the situation as ongoing Russian aggression. 
 
Sources: UNIAN Information Agency, Reuters, 112 International

Nagorno-Karabakh

OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs Announce Future Visit to Nagorno-Karabakh
According to an announcement issued by the Spokeswoman of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova, the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group are currently having discussions to organize an official visit to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally-recognized as part of the Republic of Azerbaijan, but the portion including the city of Khankendi (Stepanakert) is still held by ethnic Armenians following the 2020 war. Zakharova noted that the date of the visit has not yet been confirmed.
 
Turkish-Russian Ceasefire Monitoring Center Opens in Aghdam
The Turkish-Russian Joint Monitoring Center in Aghdam was inaugurated on January 30. The establishment of the Joint Monitoring Center was a result of the trilateral peace agreement signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia on November 10, 2020. The objective of the Center is to increase the effectiveness of monitoring both sides’ compliance with the ceasefire agreement. Azerbaijan views the opening of the Center as a crucial step in implementing the 3+3 cooperation format, which would include Russia, Turkey, and Iran as external partners, and Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia as the regional members. 
 
Expert Subgroups to be Formed for Transportation Developments in Nagorno-Karabakh
In a statement released by Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Alexei Overchuk, Azerbaijani, Russian, and Armenian officials met in Moscow to discuss the creation of subgroups of specialists for developments in transport and security following the trilateral peace agreement. The three countries decided to form subgroups on numerous topics including on rail infrastructure, road investments, and border controls. The formation of the expert subgroups are expected to be completed by February 2. 
 
Sources: Armenpress.am, Report.az, Oxu.az

Transnistria 

Transnistrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Meets with OSCE Officials
Transnistria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vitaly Ignatiev met with the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office Thomas Mayer-Harting, the Ambassador from Sweden to Moldova Anna Lieberg, and the head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova Klaus Neukirch. The representatives discussed several topics, including road transportation issues that have recently been the subject of debate between Moldova and Transnistria. The parties also discussed the prospects of holding a discussion in the 5+2 format, but this was not confirmed nor was a date established. 
 
Transnistrian President Meets With Board of Ministry of Internal Affairs
President of Transnistria Vadim Krasnoselsky took part in a virtual meeting with the board of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to discuss the results of work conducted in 2020. The Minister of Internal Affairs, Ruslan Mova, devoted the majority of his speech to describing the efforts used to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Krasnoselsky issues several instructions for activities to be completed in 2021. He indicated that Trasnistria’s Safe City system has proven to be effective, but requires further development. The President encouraged the Ministry of Internal Affairs to make improvements without requesting additional funds from the state treasury. 
 
Sources: MFA PDR, Novosti Pridnestrovya

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January 18 – January 25

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/South Ossetia

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”

Crimea

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

Donetsk/Luhansk

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.

Sources: Ukrinform

Nagorno-Karabakh

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

Transnistria 

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

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December 23 – December 28

Welcome to ICR Center’s weekly briefing on conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine. This week Azerbaijan reports an Armenian armed attack in Khojavend, Maia Sandu becomes the new president of Moldova and the Armenian PM discusses the possibility of early parliamentary elections.

The Caucasus Headlines

Georgian Parliament Approves Resolution Supporting EU and NATO Ascension Goals
On Dec. 26, Georgia’s parliament unanimously adopted a resolution supporting the country’s aspirations of gaining membership in NATO and the European Union. Previously, the Executive Secretary and Political Council Member of the ruling Georgian Dream party Irakli Kobakhidze stated that Georgia will apply for full EU membership in 2024. The resolution also supports the peaceful settlement of all conflicts. 

Armenian Prime Minister Discusses Possibility of Early Parliamentary Elections
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced on Dec. 25 that he is ready to discuss the possibility of holding early parliamentary elections. Many have called for early elections as a result of dissatisfaction with Armenia’s military defeat in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh war. Despite the consideration of early elections, Pashinyan continues to ignore demands for him to step down from his position as Prime Minister.Azerbaijan to Mediate Discussions Between Turkey and Israel
Azerbaijan cooperated with both Turkey and Israel during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war and following the signing of a trilateral peace agreement in November, Azerbaijan is now attempting to mend the relationship between Israel and Turkey. Relations between Israel and Turkey have deteriorated since the 2008 Gaza war, however, it has been reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has responded positively to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s request of improving relations. 

Sources: TASS, AP, Axios

Eastern Europe Headlines

COVID-19 Cases Rise in Belarus Prisons
Activists report a spike of COVID-19 infections in detention prisons in Belarus connected to the mass incarceration of protesters demonstrating against the authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko. Incarcerated protesters allege lack of medical treatment, overcrowded cells and poor ventilation.
 
Putin Allowed Ex-Presidents Become Senators for Life
President of Russia, Vladimir Putin signed a law permitting former presidents to become lifelong senators in Russia’s upper house of parliament. Presidents can also name up to 30 senators to the Federation Council. Other legislation currently in the works would grant ex-presidents political immunity for life.

Source: Associated Press, Reuters 

Abkhazia/South Ossetia

Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Declares South Ossetia as ‘Closed and Isolated’
Georgia’s State Minister for Reintegration and Civic Equality Tea Akhvlediani described the current status of South Ossetia as ‘closed and artificially isolated’ in a recent statement. South Ossetia has kept the crossing points connecting the territory with the rest of Georgia closed for over a year. The Georgian delegation of the Geneva International Discussions recently raised the issue of the humanitarian situation in the territory, noting that locals have been unable to receive medical treatment. It was noted that 16 people have died as a result of blocked access to urgent medical facilities and delayed hospitalization.

Abkhaz Forces Construct New Barriers between Abkhazia and Georgia
The Georgian Security Service recently announced that Russian-backed occupation forces in Abkhazia have constructed new, illegal barriers dividing the territory from the rest of Georgia. The Georgian Security Service stated that barriers and barbed-wire fences were installed near the Pakhulani village of the Tsalenjikha municipality on Dec. 26-27. Georgia has stated that the new barriers further complicate the security situation and restricts the free movement of the local population.  

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia Expresses Concern Over Georgia’s Military Expansion
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia published a response to Georgian Minister of Defense Irakli Garibashvili’s recent announcement of plans of purchasing reconnaissance and combat aerial vehicles and plans for partnering with Israel to modernize the country’s air defense system. The Abkhaz side alleges that these actions limit the possibility of reaching a peaceful settlement on existing conflicts and partially places blame on the United States for its support of Georgia. Sources: Agenda.ge, Apsyn Press

Crimea

Ukraine to Prevent Construction of Russian Water Desalination Plants in Crimea
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuebla announced that Ukraine is intending to block the Russian construction of water desalination plants in Crimea. Ukraine formally provided 85% of water to the peninsula before the Russian annexation. As a result of the drought, five Crimean rivers and reservoirs are drying up.
 
Zelensky to Call Putin in Normandy Four Is Delayed 
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he will call Russian President Vladimir Putin if the meeting of the Normandy Four leaders is delayed. The advisors to the Normandy Four (Ukraine, Germany, France and Russia) were scheduled to meet in December. Zelensky noted that calling Putin would be more effective as the Normandy format only discusses Donbas and not Crimea.
 
Russia Initiates Trial Against 25 Crimean Political Prisoners
The Crimean Solidarity human rights group wrote that the trial for the Hizb ut-Tahrir case charging 25 Crimean Political Prisoners will begin on Dec. 28th in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Almost all prisoners are Crimean Solidarity activists, and three defenders are journalists. All 25 defenders are currently detained in Crimea and will be transferred to Rostov-on-Don the day of trial.
 
Sources: 112 International, Interfax, Urkinform

Donetsk/Luhansk

OSCE Reports 171 Ceasefire Violations, Restricted Freedom of Movement
From Dec. 23 to Dec. 27th, OSCE reported 130 violations of ceasefire agreements in Donetsk region and 37 in Luhansk. The Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) followed up with civilians crossing the two entry-exit checkpoints in Donetsk and three crossings in Luhansk. The Mission noted restrictions on movement in Donetsk checkpoints near Shevchenko and Zaichenko.
 
Zelensky Signs a Law on Special Status of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky signed a law that prolonged for one year the possibility of temporary procedures for local self-government in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The law allows for the creation of legislative initiatives to promote peaceful settlement under the norms of the international law. The law was initially implemented in 2014. 
 
Sources: OSCE, Ukrinform

Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenian Armed Group Attacks Azerbaijani Forces in Khojavend
A group of six armed Armenians, including residual Armenian Armed Forces members that remained in the region following the signing of the trilateral peace agreement ending the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, led an attack on the Azerbaijani army officers on Dec. 27. One Azerbaijani soldier was killed in the attack, and another was injured. All six members of the Armenian group were killed. The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense condemned the attack and announced that it will take additional actions if another similar event occurs in the future. 

Russian Peacekeepers Continue Demining Work in Nagorno-Karabakh
Specialists from the Russian Ministry of Defense’s International Mine Action Center are continuing demining efforts in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Demining specialists are using modern robotic systems to detect explosive objects. So far, 300 hectares of land have been cleared, as well as 120 kilometers of roadways and 505 buildings. More than 12 thousand explosive devices have been discovered and neutralized since the beginning of demining efforts. 

Law Offices Established in Shusha for Returning Refugees
Anar Bagirov, the Chairman of the Bar Association of Azerbaijan, released an announcement on the topic of establishing legal offices in the Shusha. He noted that citizens returning to the region must have access to quality legal services. During the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, the Bar Association collected legal evidence and sent case reports and appeals to international organizations and also provided free legal assistance to families of soldiers and officers involved in military operations. Sources: report.az, ArmenPress, oxu.az

Transnistria 

New Moldovan President Takes Office
Maia Sandu was sworn in as the new president of Moldova on Dec. 24th in Chisinau. Sandu promised to unite Moldova by appointing a team of experts to manage the economy and by integrating with the EU. In her inauguration speech she also called for snap legislative elections. Sandu is expected to nominate a new prime minister after pro-Russian PM Ion Chicu and his government resigned on Dec. 23. 
 
Source: RFE/RL

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December 15 – December 22

Welcome to ICR Center’s weekly briefing on conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine. This week Azerbaijan announces a plan to return residence to Shusha, Russian opposition leader exposes his poisoners and Putin reaffirms his support for Donetsk and Luhansk.

Caucasus General News

First Georgian Judge Appointed to International Criminal Court

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia nominated former deputy justice minister Gocha Lortkipanidze for a nine-year tenure role with the International Criminal Court based in the Hague, Netherlands. Previously, Lortkipanidze worked in the Georgian Foreign Minister and later as the prime minister’s advisor in foreign affairs and international law. He began to serve as the acting justice minister after the parliamentary elections recently held in Georgia.

U.S. To Provide Georgia With Additional Javelins

According to Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Garibashvili, the Georgian Ministry of Defense plans to purchase additional units of Javelin anti-tank missiles from the United States in 2021. The Georgian Ministry of Defense purchased its first batch of Javelin missiles in 2018. The missiles are capable of self-guidance and have the advantage of defeating modern tanks by attacking them from above.

Azerbaijan Hosts Meeting with Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross

Chairman of the State Committee for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons Rovshan Rzayev met with the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross Arian Baueri in Baku on December 22. Rzayev explained that in the recent conflict, Azerbaijan had restored its territorial integrity and currently Azerbaijan is making efforts to clear the liberated territories of landmines and return IDPs to their lands. Expanded programming of the ICRC and the recruiting of local staff was also discussed in this meeting.

Sources: agenda.ge, report.az

Eastern Europe General News

Navalny Cons a Spy Who Reveals Details of his Poisoning

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny conned a Russian FSB agent Konstantin Kudryavtsev into exposing details of Navalny’s near-death poisoning. Kudryavtsev, thinking that he was on the phone with an official from Russia’s National Security Council, revealed that Novichok poison was applied to Navalny’s underwear when it was in the hotel’s laundry service. The FSB issued a statement, calling Navlany’s call “fake.”

Belarus Will Start Vaccinating Citizens with Sputnik V Vaccine

Belarussian Health Minister Dmitry Pinevich confirmed that citizens will be vaccinated with Russian Sputnik V vaccine starting January. Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Egypt also announced their production and use of the vaccine. Russian developers claim Sputnik V is 91.4% effective against COVID-19.

Belarus Opposition Leaders Face Criminal Charges

Belarus’ Public Prosecutor’s Office said opposition leaders Svitlana Tsikhanouskaya, Olga Kovalkova, Maxim Znak, Maria Kolesnikova, Sergei Dylevsky and others are investigated for conspiracy and “extremist association” charges against the state of Belarus. Kolesnikova has been in custody for four months, reporting police brutality against activists in detention. Other opposition leaders had been exiled to EU countries.

Sources: CNN, Reuters, TASS, The Moscow Times, DW,

Abkhazia/South Ossetia

Abkhaz Opposition Protest Normalization of Relations with Tbilisi

Aslan Bzhania signed a decree approving the Abkhaz “Foreign Policy Concept” on December 4 which included clauses calling for dialogue and normalization of relations with Tbilisi. A group of Abkhaz war veterans called for the parliament to host a discussion on December 21, in which members of opposition parties argued that negotiations with Tbilisi cannot take place until Georgia recognizes the independence of Abkhazia. The opposition also criticized the decree, stating that it aims to replace the Geneva International Discussions.

Head of Abkhaz Security Council Calls for Dialogue with Tbilisi

Sergei Shamba, the former Foreign Minsiter of Abkhazia and current security council head, has called for a resumption of dialogue with Tbilisi. Shamba stated that neither Abkhazia nor Georgia will retreat from ‘fundamental interests’ but that compromise solutions can be found between extreme positions. Shamba noted the potential for bilateral discussions on some issues, including the operation of the Enguri Hydropower Plant and criminal activities.

South Ossetian Security Officers Sentenced In-Absentia in Murder Case

The Mtskheta District Court of Georgia sentenced two South Ossetian security officers to life in prison in absentia for the torture and murder of Archil Tatunashvili, a 35-year-old Georgian who died at the hands of Russian-backed authorities in Tskhinvali in 2018. Tatunashvili was detained after crossing into Akhalgori in 2018, and he was tortured for his participation in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. His cause of death was determined to be heart failure, but his body was returned to Georgia without his internal organs, making it difficult to determine his cause of death.

Sources: civil.ge

Crimea

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Announces Russia’s Plans for Nuclear Weapon Deployment in Crimea

According to Ukrainian Minister of Defense Andriy Taran, the Russian Federation is planning to deploy nuclear weaponry to the Crimean Peninsula in an attempt to establish its dominance in the Black Sea basin. Taran also described Russia’s obstruction of the Kerch Strait, which has created concern for other countries in the region, notably Romania. Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov has also reported that Russia has the possibility and intention of deploying nuclear weapons to the region.

Energoatom Files Suit Against Russian Federation

Ukraine’s National Nuclear Energy Generating Company Energoatom has taken steps to file a lawsuit against the Russian Federation. Energoatom is seeking compensation for assets lost during the occupation of Crimea. The amount of the lawsuit is estimated at approximately $100 million. Energoatom will be represented by the international law firm Shearman & Sterling, and the two parties signed an agreement on December 17.

Source: 112 International

Donetsk/ Luhansk

Russia Voices Continued Support for Donetsk and Luhansk

During a press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed that Russia intends to continue to provide support for districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. Putin stated that he believes a settlement is inevitable, but that the timeline for establishing a settlement relies on the Ukrainian government. The Russian government is prepared to provide additional support in the forms of social support and infrastructure investment.

Sources: 112 International

Nagorno-Karabakh

Residents of Syunik Region Protest Arrival of Armenian Prime Minister

Armenian forces were made to withdraw from positions near the border with Azerbaijan near the town of Kapan in the Syunik Region of Armenia. Residents initiated protests and claimed that Armenia is surrendering territory to Azerbaijan. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attempted to travel to the region to reduce tensions, but clashes between police and protesters broke out as residents blocked roadways to prevent Pashinyan’s arrival. Ultimately, Pashinyan was only able to visit the city of Sisian and the village of Sarnakunk via helicopter as roads remained closed.

Azerbaijan Announces Plans to Return Residents to Shusha

Faiq Ismayilov, Chairman of the Public Association Organization for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments in the Occupied Territories of Azerbaijan, conducted a visit to Shusha for inventory and assessment purposes in order to determine the city’s ability to support the returning population. According to Ismayilov, issues related to water supply have been nearly resolved, but other infrastructure work, including the restoration of the electrical grid, still must be completed. It is currently expected that Azerbaijanis will be able to relocate to Shusha by next summer.  

Sources: Kavkaz Uzel, JAM-News, Report.az

Transnistria

Ukrainian Ambassador Proposes Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine Association

Ambassador of Ukraine to Belgium, Mukola Tochytskyi said and association between Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine could be beneficial in terms of economic and infrastructure projects without the EU’s “big politics.” He also discussed the challenges of including Belarus to the EU Eastern Partnership summit in March of 2021. The Eastern Partnership policy launched in 2009 to develop cooperation between the EU, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Sources: Ukrinform,

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December 7 – December 13

Welcome to ICR Center’s weekly briefing on conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine. This week Armenians call for PM Nikol Pashhinyan’s resignation, Russia resumes the construction of Nord Stream 2 and Georgian opposition parties agree to the third round of negotiations with the Georgian Dream party.

The Caucasus Headlines

Azerbaijan Receives Minsk Group Delegation
On December 12, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev received officials of the Minsk Group from France and the United States in Baku. Aliyev met with OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair Stefan Visconti from France, U.S. Co-Chair Andrew Shaffer, Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Mikhail Bocharnikov, and Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office Andrzej Kasprzyk. In his address to the delegation, President Aliyev highlighted the ineffectiveness of the Minsk Group, noting that over the course of 28 years, no resolution was established. The Minsk Group representatives said that they are willing to participate in the ‘transition phase’ of the region. 

Russian MP Claims Right of Self-Determination in Karabakh
In an online discussion, Konstantin Zatulin, the First Deputy Chairman of the Committee of the State Duma for the CIS and Relations with Russian Nationals Abroad, stated his belief that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh should have the right to self-determination. Zatulin said that Azerbaijan needs to reconsider its claims to the territory, which directly contrasts with international law. In the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Russia did not become directly involved militarily because of its recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan.  

Source: Report.az, armenpress.am

Eastern Europe Headlines

Switzerland Froze Lukashenko’s Financial Assets
Switzerland froze President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko’s financial assets following his violent response to post-election protests. Lukashenko, his son, and 15 other people were banned from entering or traveling through Switzerland. Officials called for the immediate release of detained protesters. Belarussian police detained approximately 70 anti-Lukashenko protesters this Sunday.

Belarus Will Close Land Borders, Citing COVID-19 Fears
Belarus announced that it will close its land borders on Dec. 19th for Belarusians traveling on non-work or study-related trips. Officials stated that the travel ban will lower COVID-19 infection rates, which had reached 1975 individuals per day. Opposition leader Svitlana Tsikhanouskaya compared the ban to the Soviet-style Gulag attempting to prevent brain drain, citing Lukashenko’s previous carelessness towards the pandemic.

Source: Reuters

Abkhazia/South Ossetia

Germany, France, Ukraine Condemn Russian-Abkhazian Integration Talks
After Russian President Vladimir Putin and the de-facto leader of Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania met on November 12, a plan to create a common socio-economic space between Russia and Russian-occupied Abkhazia was announced. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry condemned the agreement, labeling it as ‘another attempt to annex the Russian-occupied territories of Georgia.’ Germany and France echoed this sentiment in a joint statement, affirming ‘support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders.’ Ukraine, Germany, and France repeated their call that all parties concerned should fully implement the EU-mediated August 12, 2008 ceasefire agreement.

Geneva International Discussions Held for First Time in 2020
The participants of the Geneva International Discussions gathered for the first (and only) time in 2020 to discuss the security and humanitarian issues surrounding Georgia’s occupied South Ossetia. The GID co-chairs, from the European Union, United Nations, and OSCE, reported that the current situation is stable. Conversations on the status of internally displaced persons and refugees were undermined by a walkout of some participants. Georgian officials welcomed the resumption of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM)  meetings in Ergneti and emphasized the need to resume Gali IPRM meetings as well. The next round of discussions is planned to take place on March 23-24, 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland. Source: agenda.ge

Crimea

Crimean Tatar Rights Activist Sentenced to 14 Years
Russian Military Court sentenced a Crimean Tatar human rights activist, Server Mustafayev to 14 years in a strict penal colony. Amnesty International released a statement demanding Mustafayev’s immediate release on grounds of freedom of speech.Owner of Tatar TV Channel Sentenced to 19 Years
Russian Supreme Court of Crimea sentenced in absentia the owner of the Tatar ATR TV channel, Lenur Islyamov, to 19 years in a high-security penal colony, charging him with the creation of armed formation and organization of sabotage in Crimea. Officials representing Islyamov said he will file an appeal to the European Court on Human Rights.

ICC Concluded Preliminary Examination of Armed Conflicts in Donbas and Crimea
The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the conclusion of the preliminary examination of the situation in Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Court found a reasonable basis to believe the regions experienced “a broad range of war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court must carry out the further decision to investigate the crimes. The examination first launched on Apr. 24th, 2014.
UN General Assembly Urges Russia to Withdraw From Crimea
The UN General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution urging Russia to de-occupy Crimea and withdraw its military forces from the peninsula. It calls Russia to stop the transfer of advanced weapon systems like nuclear-capable aircraft and missiles, weapons, ammunition and military personnel to Crimea. The resolution was supported by 63 countries, rejected by 17 and abstained by 62. 

Source: Urkinform, Amnesty International, 112 International, REE/RL

Donetsk/Luhansk

OSCE Reports 622 Ceasefire Violations, Civilian Damage in Donetsk City
From Dec. 7 to Dec. 13, OSCE reported 477 violations of ceasefire agreements in Donetsk and 145 in Luhansk. The Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) observed damage to a residence in Donetsk city and anti-tank mines on both sides of the contact line in Donetsk Oblast. The Mission reported weapons in violation of withdrawal lines in non-government-controlled areas in both regions on four separate days. OSCE’s movement was restricted by armed formations near non-government-controlled  Korsun and Oleksandrivske in Donetsk Oblast.

Amnesty International Reports Increased Gender-Based Violence In Ukraine’s East
Amnesty International said the armed conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk regions intensified domestic violence against women. The human rights watchdog attributed the increase to “the military presence, a lack of security, the absence of erosion of the rule of law, and the pervasiveness of actual or perceived impunity for the perpetrators.” 

Source: OSCE, RLE/RL Ukraine Service 

Nagorno-Karabakh

Azerbaijan Government Reports Acts of Terrorism Caused by Rogue Armenian Soldiers
Following the signing of the trilateral peace agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia, groups of Armenian armed forces remained in the forest areas northwest of Hadrut in the Khojavend region of Azerbaijan. Armenian officials claim that groups of soldiers were lost in the woods, but Russian peacekeepers and Azerbaijani forces revealed that these soldiers had instead created battle positions and led attacks on villages of the Khojavend region. The State Security Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan has commenced anti-terror operations in the area in cooperation with Russian peacekeeping forces. 

Russian Peacekeepers Confirm First Ceasefire Violation
On December 12, Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of breaking the ceasefire agreement established in early November. The Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan reported that four Azerbaijani soldiers were killed when their units were attacked in areas adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh, and Armenian authorities reported that six soldiers had been wounded. The Armenian army also reported ‘intrusions’ by Azerbaijani forces into the villages of Hin Tagher and Khtsaberd. These villages remain under Armenian control but are entirely surrounded by territories captured by Azerbaijani forces during the war. 

Source: Report.az, Al-Jazeera, Kavkaz-uzel

Transnistria

Moldova’s President-Elect to Visit Ukraine in January
Moldova’s President-elect, Maia Sandu announced her first presidential visit to Kyiv next month, shortly after her inauguration on Dec. 24th. Sandu said Moldova is interested in relaunching bilateral relations with Kyiv in conversations with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. Sandu and Kuebla discussed European integration, national security, energy cooperation and increasing Moldovan-Ukrainian trade. Kuleba insisted on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria.

Moldova’s Incumbent President Strips Presidential Control Over Special Services
Moldova’s incumbent President Igor Dodon approved parliament’s decision to strip the President-elect Maia Sandu of presidential control over the Service of Information and Security. Earlier, over 20,000 protesters took the streets protesting the bill and calling for snap parliamentary elections on Dec. 6th. Source: Kyiv Post, TASS, France 24

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November 30 – December 6

Welcome to ICR Center’s weekly briefing on conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine. This week Armenians call for PM Nikol Pashhinyan’s resignation, Russia resumes the construction of Nord Stream 2 and Georgian opposition parties agree to the third round of negotiations with the Georgian Dream party.

The Caucasus Headlines

Georgian Opposition Parties Agree to Third Round of Talks with Ruling Party
Opposition parties in Georgia established a common position and will proceed with the third round of negotiations with the Georgian Dream party and US and EU ambassadors. The opposition parties are calling for repeat parliamentary elections, which were originally held on October 31. The latest round of elections was held under the new system in which 120 candidates were elected through the proportional system, and 30 were elected according to the majoritarian system. 

Lower House of French Senate Accepts Resolution for ‘Recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’
The Lower House of the French Senate adopted a resolution affirming the need to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh. This action comes shortly after the adoption of a similar resolution in the Upper House of the French Senate on November 25. Jean-Yves Le Drian, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of France, released a statement indicating that Armenia does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh, so France should not recognize it either. 

Sources: JAM News

Eastern Europe Headlines

Russia Resumes Construction of Nord Stream 2
German shipping authorities issued a travel advisory for the Baltic Sea area where the last kilometers of the Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 is constructed. On Dec. 5, Russian pipe-laying ship Fortuna left the German port to construct another section of the pipeline. The completion of Nord Stream 2 will bypass Ukraine and will double Russian gas deliveries to Germany. It is speculated German Chancellor Angela Merkel will stop supporting the construction following the poisoning of Russian opposition personality Alexei Navalny. 

Belarus Protests for 18th Consecutive Week
Thousands of protestors marched on Dec. 6 denouncing the “rigged” victory of President Alexander Lukashenko. Over 300 protestors have been detained. Witnesses report seeing military vehicles, water cannons and uniformed men in helmets grabbing civilians.

Sources: RFE/RL

Abkhazia/South Ossetia

International Criminal Court Allocates Funds for Victims of 2008 War
The Directorate of Trust Fund for Victims, belonging to the International Criminal Court, has launched a three-year program with a budget of 600,000 euros to support victims of the 2008 war. According to Gocha Lortkipanidze, the Acting Minister of Justice, the funds will support medical treatments, psychological rehabilitation, and other health initiatives for individuals on both sides of the internationally unrecognized border between Georgia and South Ossetia.

Enguri Bridge Opens for One-Week Humanitarian Corridor
The Enguri Bridge crossing point linking Georgia with the occupied territory of Abkhazia was opened on December 3 as part of an initiative to establish a humanitarian corridor and will remain open until December 10. The crossing point has been closed since March in light of the global pandemic.

Georgian Government Delivers 10,000 Doses of Flu Vaccine to Abkhazia
According to the Head of the National Center for Disease Control Amiran Gamkrelidze, the Georgian government has delivered 10,000 doses of flu vaccine to the occupied region of Abkhazia. Gamkrelidze indicated that the private sector in Georgia purchased more doses than expected, resulting in a government surplus. Vaccinations will be prioritized for high-risk groups, including military personnel and teachers.

Abkhaz President Notes Goal of Common Defense and Security System with Russia
As a result of the recent developments in Nagorno-Karabakh, the de facto President of Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania stated that the creation of a common defense and security agreement with Russia is a primary goal for the territory. The effort of establishing this type of agreement is seen as a continuation of the partnership signed in 2014, which established a ‘socio-economic space’ with Russia.

Sources: agenda.ge

Crimea

Latvia Charges Russian State Media Journalists for Sanctions Violations
Latvian officials charged seven Russian state media journalists from Rossiya Segodnya news agency for their affiliation with Dmitry Kiselyov, who was sanctioned by the EU for pro-Crimean annexation propaganda. Latvia’s counter-intelligence State Security Service initiated “court-sanctioned proceedings” against unnamed journalists alleging violations of EU sanctions. 

Ambassador Reeker Discusses Crimean Occupation, Sentencing of Activists
U.S. Ambassador Philip T. Reeker addressed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe stating that Russian occupation of Crimea undermines regional security in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Middle East. He said he was disturbed by Crimean activist Server Mustafayev’s 14-year imprisonment. The Ambassador noted that more than 90 Ukrainians are unjustly imprisoned for peaceful dissent. 

OSCE Ministerial Council Opens with Discussion on Conflict Settlement in Crimea
The OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Edi Rama said conflict in Ukraine is the “utmost priority,” including the de-occupation of Crimea at the 27th OSCE Ministerial Council. Rama also called for constructive discussions in the Trilateral Contract Group overseen by the OSCE.

Sources: U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Russia, Reuters, Ukrinform 

Donetsk/Luhansk

OSCE Reports 402 Ceasefire Violations, 13 Anti-Tank Mines
From Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, OSCE reported 242 violations of ceasefire agreements in Donetsk and 160 in Luhansk. The Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) observed 13 anti-tank mines near non-government-controlled Petrivske, Donetsk Oblast. The mission confirmed that a member of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine was injured from the detonation of an explosive device on Sep. 1st near Stantsia Luhanska, Luhansk Oblast. 

Ukraine Denies Talks with Donbas “Representatives” in UN Security Council Meeting
Ukrainian delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) disproved claims made by Russian media about a formal meeting at the UN Security Council between Ukraine and self-proclaimed representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics mediated by Russia. In a joint statement, the U.K., U.S., Estonia, and the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya rejected the notion that Russia is an acting mediator in the Donbas conflict. 

Sources: OSCE, Ukrinform, 112 UA

Nagorno-Karabakh

Political Crisis Festers in Armenia After Ceasefire Agreement
After Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia signed the ceasefire agreement on Nov. 10, protests erupted in Armenia, as citizens and officials alike felt that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had made a unilateral decision. Numerous officials close to Pashinyan resigned, and President Aarmen Sarkissian has begun to distance himself from the Prime Minister. Sarkissian has called on the current government to resign and has made ‘private visits’ to Moscow.

President of Azerbaijan Announces Rebuilding Efforts in Liberated Territories
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev received a delegation led by the Deputy Speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies on Dec. 7. In this meeting, Aliyev noted the widespread destruction that took place during the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories. Aliyev announced that the Azerbaijani government will soon invite international companies, including those from Italy, to participate in the large-scale reconstruction and restoration efforts.

New Armenian Foreign Minister Meets with Russian Foreign Minister in Moscow
Armenia’s new Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Dec. 7. The two parties discussed the process of exchanging prisoners and fallen soldiers in the Karabakh conflict zone. Foreign Minister Lavrov stated that Russia will do its best to promote progress in the resolution of the conflict, noting that Russian peacekeepers are already actively operating in the region.

Sources: Eurasianet, Report.az, Sputnik Armenia

Transnistria 

20,000 Protesters Demand Snap Elections in Chisinau
Approximately 20,000 protestors demanded full government resignation and snap parliamentary elections on Dec. 6. President-elect Maia Sandu called the rally after the parliament passed a bill transferring presidential control over Moldova’s intelligence agency to the pro-Moscow government.  European Union External Action Service said the voting failed to respect the necessary parliamentary procedures. In 2019, parliament voted to move the power over the intelligence agency to the pro-Russian President, Igor Dodon.

Low Turnout at Transnistrian “Parliamentary Elections”
Transnistrian “parliamentary elections” for the Supreme Council on Nov. 29th recorded a voter turnout of 27.79%, making it the lowest in history. Self-proclaimed Transnistrian authorities validated the victory of the Obnovlenie Party, led by oligarch Viktor Gushan. Tiraspol has staged seven parliamentary elections since 1992.

Russian Officials Respond to President-Elect’s Agenda for Transnistria
Kremlin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov responded to the Moldovan President-elect’s refusal to sign any agreements to station the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Transnistria, saying the change in the status quo will destabilize the region. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded to Sandu’s statement on the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers, calling it “irresponsible” to withdraw troops until the conflict is resolved. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reinstated that Russian troops in Transnistria violate Moldova’s territorial integrity.

Sources: Moldova.org, RFE/RL, European Union External Action Service, Balkan Insight

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Armenia’s Shifting Expectations of the Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Deal

Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia Ara Ayvazyan | Source: Arm.info

Less than one month after the signing of a trilateral peace agreement to end the hostilities of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, the Armenian government is hinting at a new position on the future of Nagorno-Karabakh.

A political crisis rift erupted in Armenia following the signing of the agreement with Azerbaijan and Russia. Several government ministers and members of the Prime Minister’s own political party have stated that they were not informed of Nikol Pashinyan’s decision to capitulate to Azerbaijan. A statement issued by the Office of Armen Sarkissian, the President of the Republic of Armenia, supported this claim, as Sarkissian noted that he had not participated in any negotiations. “I learned about the conditions for ending the war from the press as well,” he added.

Another high-level resignation was that of Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. Mnatsakanyan played an active role in Armenia’s diplomacy during the war, participating in numerous international meetings including with the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Following his resignation, Ara Ayvazian, a career diplomat, was appointed to the position.

Within a few weeks of signing the ceasefire, the Ministerial Council of the OSCE, composed of the Foreign Ministers of the 57 OSCE member countries, gathered in Tirana, Albania for annual dialogue on security issues within the OSCE area. As the new Foreign Minister, Ayvazian provided Armenia’s address in the session.

In his remarks, Ayvazian made numerous allegations and hinted at a shift in the viewpoint of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh from what Armenia had agreed to in the agreement of November 9. The Foreign Minister echoed criticisms from France, accusing Azerbaijan of recruiting foreign fighters with the assistance of Turkey. However, there are numerous documented cases of diaspora Armenians from other countries fighting on the side of Armenia. According to International Humanitarian Law, “foreign fighters may fulfil ‘mercenary’ definitions contained in national legislations prohibiting mercenarism.”

Ayvazian also announced several claims that are contrary to the norms and laws established by international organizations. For example, the Foreign Minister referred to Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories as ‘occupied by Azerbaijan’ when in fact, four United Nations Security Council resolutions established that these territories are part of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Adding onto this, Ayvazian provided an explanation on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, which many have since interpreted as conflicting with the recently signed agreement. Speaking before the OSCE member countries, the Foreign Minister claimed that, “reality clearly attests to the fact that Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be placed under the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan.”

Ayvazian continued, stating that a comprehensive resolution of the conflict that would lead to lasting peace must include, “status of Artsakh [the name of the de facto state within the internationally-recognized territory of Azerbaijan] based on realization of the right of self-determination,” “de-occupation by Azerbaijan of the territories of Nagorno-Karabakh,” “safe and dignified return to their homes of the recently displaced population of Artsakh” , and “preservation of Armenian cultural and religious heritage on the territories.”

This list of requirements indicates that Armenia should have control over all of Nagorno-Karabakh, or the territory that fell within the boundaries of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast during Soviet times. The sixth clause of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire Agreement states that Azerbaijan will retain control of Shusha. Based on Ayvazian’s claims, Shusha would need to be in the hands of Armenia, thus directly countering what was settled with the agreement from November 9.

It is also important to note that regarding the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has affirmed that there will no special status for the region, as indicated in a national address held on November 10. Aliyev repeated this message in an address on November 17, adding that, “there is a single Azerbaijan: multinational and multi-confessional.”

The support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan was echoed by Russian officials. Dmitry Peskov, the Press Secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin, recently stated that, “the belonging of this territory is determined by the relevant resolutions of the Security Council,” adding that “President Putin said that Karabakh itself was not recognized.”

With protesters calling for Prime Minister Pashinyan to step down, it’s unclear if these assertions by Ayvazian are in line with the government’s official stance, or if this rhetoric is being used to quell discontent and preserve Pashinyan’s position instead.

Widespread public discontent signals that the war isn’t over. From the Armenian perspective, the peace agreement is seen as unjust. The peace agreement itself has several critical omissions, so it is certainly possible for Armenia to use these weaknesses or lack of clear terms in conjunction with its close relations with Moscow to advocate for changes in the implementation of the solution.

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November 12 – November 16

Welcome to ICRCenter’s weekly briefing on conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine. This week, Russia announces Russian-Turkish Ceasefire Monitor Center, Moldova elects pro-EU president, and Pompeo prepares a visit to Georgia.

Abkhazia/South Ossetia

Pompeo to Visit Georgia to Discuss Georgian Euro-Atlantic Integration
U.S. Department of State officials discussed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Georgia on Nov. 17–18. Senior officials said “free and fair” Georgian runoff parliamentary elections on Nov. 21  are essential for Georgian Euro-Atlantic ties. Officials condemned the Russian invasion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and reaffirmed their support for Georgia’s sovereignty. Pompeo will meet with President Salome Zourabichvilli, PM Giorgi Gakharia, and Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia. 

Putin Meets with Self-Proclaimed President of Abkhazia
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with de-facto President of Russian-occupied Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania in Sochi on Nov. 12. Putin said Russia will continue to be Abkhazia’s “number one partner.” Putin added that 70% of Abkhaz economic development stems from Moscow and hopes that Russian doctors will help the region to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Georgian Ambassador to Austria Ketevan Tsikhelashvili denounced the meeting, calling it a direct violation of Georgian national sovereignty.

U.S. Mission to OSCE to Welcome OSCE Field Presence in Georgia 
U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said they would welcome the reestablishment of OSCE field presence in Georgia to reduce local tensions. The Mission commented on Russia’s refusal to participate in the 51st round of Geneva Discussions on Oct. 6–7, declining dialogue about detained civilians and restoration of movement across the Administrative Boundary Lines. Russian Foreign Ministry said Abhaz and Tskhinvali officials did not attend the platform due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Sources: State.gov, Agenda.ge

Crimea

Program to Address Crimean Water Shortages
The Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Marat Khusnullin claims the shortage of water in Crimea is caused by residents stealing water.  Khusnullin says that a program to account for water usage and control will be in place by Dec. 1. Ukraine provided 85% of the Crimean peninsula’s freshwater supply prior to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. The peninsula now faces low water levels in reservoirs due to drought.

Ukraine Officials Call on EU to Expand Sanctions Against Russia
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called on the EU to expand sanctions against Russia during the sixth meeting of the EU-Ukraine Association Committee. The Ministry reasoned that the Russian Federation’s State Duma elections in Crimea on Sep. 13 violated Ukrainian national sovereignty, requesting additional diplomatic and economic pressure from the international community.

Sources: 112 International, TASS, Ukrinform

Donetsk/Lugansk

OSCE Reports 141 Ceasefire Violations, 89 Undetermined Explosion
From Nov. 12–14, OSCE reported 97 violations of ceasefire agreements in Donetsk and 44 in Luhansk. The Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) observed 89 undetermined explosions on Nov. 12. Two men were injured due to the detonation of an explosive device in Volnovakha, Donetsk region. OSCE SMM witnessed a surface-to-air missile system near the government-controlled village of Chernenko.

OSCE Official Comments on Upholding of Ceasefire Agreements
The Special Representative of the OSCE Ambassador Heidi Grau stated the ceasefire in Donbas is “generally respected” but there are many repeated violations targeting Donetsk Filtering Station (DFS). Of all violations, 44% were committed around critical water infrastructure, which endangers 380,000 people living on both sides of the contact line. 

Separatists Do Not Open Checkpoints in Zolote and Shchastya
Foreign Ministries of Germany and France demanded Russia and the separatists to open checkpoints in Zolote and Shchastya. The separatists have not complied with the Trilateral Contact Group’s agreement opening crossing points on Nov. 10. Ukraine opened two new crossings, abiding with the agreements of the Normandy-format.

Ukraine Proposes to Send 1,500 OSCE Officers to Police Donbas
Ukraine proposes to send 1,500 police officers from OSCE to oversee the conflict in Donbas. OSCE previously considered sending armed monitors to the area only if it was supported by all cooperating states. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration seeks to demilitarize the region to hold elections in Donbas in the future. 

UN Report Estimates Nine Million Ukrainians in Poverty Due to COVID-19
The UN report on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic could lead nine million Ukrainians to poverty. In 40% of families, at least one family member lost a job during the pandemic. 15% of families reported being in debt, compared to 11% before March. The report stated Luhansk hospitals are 70% full and the region is negatively affected by the government shutdown of the Stanytsia Luhanska checkpoint.

Sources: OSCE, 112 International, RFE/RL, Reuters, Impact-Repository.org

Nagorno-Karabakh

Russia Announces Russian-Turkish Ceasefire Monitoring Center
On Nov. 11, the Russian Defense Ministry reported a memorandum setting up a joint Russian-Turkish ceasefire monitoring center in Azerbaijan that had been signed between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar. The following day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov clarified that “No peacekeeping units of the Turkish Republic will be dispatched to Nagorno-Karabakh…The mobility of Turkish monitors will be restricted by the coordinates to be set for the location and deployment of the joint Russian-Turkish monitoring center in the territory of Azerbaijan, that part of it which is not close to Karabakh and is to be agreed on separately.”

Deadline to Withdraw from Kalbajar Extended
On Sunday, Nov. 15, Azerbaijan agreed to extend the deadline for Armenians to leave the Kalbajar district. The withdrawal, originally set for Nov. 15, is part of a Russian-brokered peace deal signed on Tuesday, Nov. 10. According to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s foreign policy adviser Hikmet Hajiyev, “Azerbaijan agreed to prolong the deadline for the withdrawal from Kalbajar of the Armenian armed forces and of illegal Armenian settlers until November 25.”

Armenians Burn Villages as they Leave Azerbaijan
Armenian residents of the Kalbajar district began fleeing villages following the ceasefire agreement last Tuesday. As they leave the area, many civilians are setting fire to their homes so that no Azerbaijanis can move in. The district was settled by Armenians after the war in the 1990s when Armenia occupied the region. Azerbaijan has always viewed these Armenian settlements as illegal.

Azerbaijan Promises to Protect Christian Churches
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has assured Russian President Vladimir Putin that Christian churches will be protected as Azerbaijan regains control over several territories which Armenia has occupied since the war in 1994. Azerbaijan is about 95% Muslim and Armenia is majority Christian. “Christians of Azerbaijan will have access to these churches,” Aliyev’s office said in a statement on Sunday, Nov. 15.

Russia to Establish Humanitarian Response Center in Nagorno-Karabakh
On Friday, Nov. 13, the Kremlin press service reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed an executive order to create an inter-agency humanitarian response center for Nagorno-Karabakh. Putin has asked for the Russian Foreign Ministry to work closely with the OSCE Minsk Group, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and UNESCO to help resettle refugees in their permanent homes in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Sources: CBC, France 24, Reuters, The Guardian, BBC, TASS

Transnistria 

Pro-EU Candidate Wins Presidency
Pro-EU candidate Maia Sandu has won the presidential runoff elections, securing the majority with 56% votes. Moldova’s Putin-backed incumbent Igor Dodon won 43% of the votes. Sandu’s platform promised to end corruption and establish closer ties with the EU. 

Moldova’s War Veterans Patrol Transnistrian Border to Avoid Voter Fraud
Moldovan veterans gathered around the village of Varnita that connects to Transnistria to prevent mass transportation of Transnistrian voters across the border. In the 2016 and 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections, pro-Russian incumbent Igor Dodon won by over 70,000 votes because of illegal bussing and bribing of separatist Transnistrian residents. Moldovan authorities banned any vehicles carrying more than eight individuals entering from the de facto state for the runoff elections on Nov.15th.

Sources: DW, Euronews

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Conflict Monitor

Welcome to ICRC’s weekly briefing covering conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine.
 
This week, Georgian elections spark protests in Tbilisi, Moldovan elections lead to a runoff between a pro-Russian incumbent and pro-Western former Prime Minister, and attacks in Nagorno-Karabakh may be identified as war crimes. 


Abkhazia/South Ossetia

Georgian Dream Party Wins the Election, Rejected by the Opposition
Georgia’s ruling party the Georgian Dream claimed to have won the Oct. 31st parliamentary elections, but the largest opposition party, the United National Movement (ENM), rejected the results and called for a protest in Tbilisi. Thousands of demonstrators gathered on Nov. 1st demanding new elections. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that elections were competitive but fundamental freedoms were not violated. The Georgian Dream received 48.15 percent of votes and ENM stood at 27.14 percent. Abkhazia and South Ossetia did not vote in the election.
 
Source: RFE/RL


Crimea

Ukraine Calls France to Join “Crimean Platform”
Foreign Minister of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba invited his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian to join the “Crimean Platform” – an initiative by the Ukrainian government to end Russian occupation and protect human rights. French representatives said they will consider the invitation and continue non-recognition of the Crimean annexation.
 
Russia Sentences Three Tatars on Extremist Charges 
The Southern Military Regional court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced three Crimean Tatars to 17, 13, and 12 years in a Russian prison. The men were found guilty of being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic, a group legal in Ukraine but labeled extremist in Russia. Over 200 people gathered around the court to protest the sentencing on Nov. 3rd.
 
COVID-19 Cases Reach 11,300 in Crimea
The occupying authorities in Crimea reported 11,347 confirmed cases, with 2,338 cases reported in Sevastopol. The Crimean Human Rights Group said the total death toll is 206 people but allege the number is underestimated. 
 
Ukraine Invites Russia to Join Crimean Summit
First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Emine Dzheppar encouraged Russia to participate in the Crimean Summit scheduled for 21 May 2021. Countries that expressed their interest in attending the platform include Turkey, the US, and the Baltic States. The summit, also known as the “Crimean Platform” will discuss de-occupation and human rights violations on the peninsula.
 
U.S. Mission to OSCE Released a Statement on Situation in Crimea
Deputy Chief of U.S. Mission, Courtney Austrian addressed the Permanent Council in Vienna directing Russia to a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and end the Crimean occupation. Austrian made note of seven civilian deaths from cluster ammunitions, inability of Ukrainian voters in Donbas and Crimea to vote in local elections, mass conscription of Crimean residents, and human rights violations of Tatars. The Deputy Chief encouraged Moscow to “engage in genuine diplomacy.”
 
Source: Unian, RFE/RL, Ukrinform, osce.usmission.gov


Donetsk/Lugansk

Ukrainian Serviceman Acquitted in Murder of Italian Journalist in Donbas
Ukrainian National Guard serviceman Vitaliy Markiv returns to Kyiv after being acquitted of the 2014 murder of Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli. Markiv was arrested in 2017 during his visit to Italy and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Italian prosecutors alleged that Ukrainian National Guard under Markiv’s command deliberately targeted a town outside of Slovyansk knowing that there were journalists on the scene. Milan overturned the conviction on Nov. 3rd.

OSCE Reports 49 Ceasefire Violations in Donetsk, One Man Dead, Two Injured
From Oct. 28– Nov. 3rd, OSCE reported 49 violations of the ceasefire agreements in Donetsk and nine in Luhansk. Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) reported one man killed in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk from a hand grenade detonation, and two men were injured by a detonation of an explosive device in Rubizhne, Luhansk. Armed formations in non-government-controlled Olenivka delayed the mission’s passage for two hours on Oct. 29th

Zelensky Dismisses Claims of Ukraine Selling Chemical Weapons to Azerbaijan
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky denounced allegations of Armenian-Russian director Sarik Andreasyan that Ukraine supplied Azerbaijan with phosphorus bombs. Zelensky stated that Andreasyan was spreading Russian propaganda and reinstated that Ukraine is “categorically against wars.” Ukrainian President encouraged the director to reconsider his silence on the war in Donbas, citing numerous deaths of Armenian-Ukrainians on the frontlines. 

Zelensky Meets with Red Cross President Urging Him to Visit Donbas
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer to discuss access to political prisoners held on occupied territories. Both sides discussed the mine clearance process, safe checkpoints, and COVID-19 support for eastern oblasts.  

Western Diplomats Push Kyiv to Find Killers of the Ukrainian Activist
U.S., Canadian, and British Embassies in Ukraine alongside the EU delegation urged Kyiv to find the killers of Kateryna Handzyuk, a Ukrainian civil activist killed in an acid attack in 2018. Officials sentenced five men to prison for terms of between three and 6 ½ years and arrested the head of the regional council Vladyslav Manher on a suspicion of ordering the attack. Human rights activists and western diplomats urge Kyiv to launch a thorough investigation. 

Ukrinform, RFE/RL, OSCE, Kyiv Post, Interfax


Nagorno-Karabakh

UNCHR Warns of War Crimes as Attacks Continue 
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warns that continuous attacks in Nagorno-Karabakh will amount to war crimes. Despite an agreement reached on Friday between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the central market in Stepanakert/Khankendi was reported to be hit and Azerbaijani sources report an artillery strike on the city of Tartar. Bachelet condemned the use of cluster ammunition after it was reportedly used in a rocket attack in the Azerbaijani town of Barda, resulting in 21 dead and 70 injured. Azerbaijan reports 40,000 people displaced, and Armenia says 90,000 ethnic Armenians fled from Nagorno-Karabakh.
 
Military Death Toll Rises to 1,177 in Nagorno-Karabakh, 130 Thousand Displaced
Armenian officials in Nagorno-Karabakh reported the deaths of 1,177 servicemen and 45 civilians. Azerbaijan doesn’t disclose military death toll but said the escalations killed 91 civilians and wounded 400 people. UNICEF announced that over 130,000 residents were displaced.
 
Aliyev Meets Turkish Foreign Minister to Discuss Russia’s Aid to Armenia
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Baku, where they discussed that Armenia has “no basis” to request military aid from Russia. Aliyev said Azerbaijan will “go to the end,” continuing fighting if negotiations fail and Armenian forces are not withdrawn from Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia’s foreign ministry reinforced that they will provide any assistance to Yerevan if fighting spills into Armenia.
 
Russia Claims It Will Continue Working with Turkey for Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow will work with Turkey to end fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia is also considering the Iranian proposal for Iran to lead peace negotiations. The spokesperson for Collective Security Treaty alliance said Russia has security alignment with Armenia and not Nagorno-Karabakh.
 
UN Secretary-General Urges for Humanitarian Ceasefire and Dialogue
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released a second statement condemning violence and endangerment of civilians under humanitarian law. Guterres fully supports the OSCE Minsk Group’s call for a humanitarian ceasefire and “substantive dialogue” between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
 
UK Allocates Funding in Humanitarian Help for Nagorno-Karabakh
The United Kingdom allocated a £1million aid package in medical supplies, food, hygiene products, and other necessities to aid civilians. The International Committee of the Red Cross will provide life-saving treatment for people caught in the crossfire. 
  
Sources: OHCHR, The Washington Post, Aljazeera, UN News, US News, Reuters, TASS, Gov.Uk


Transnistria 

Moldova to Hold Runoff Presidential Elections on November 15th
Pro-Western former prime minister Maia Sandu will face pro-Russian incumbent, Igor Dodon in a runoff election on November 15th. First round results showed that Sandu secured 36 percent votes over Dodon’s 33. In their campaigns, Sandu, a former World Bank economist, promised to get financial support from Brussels, while Dodon was endorsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
 
EU Expresses Approval of Moldovan Elections
In a statement on Nov. 2nd, EU spokesperson praised Moldovan officials for upholding democratic election standards during COVID-19 pandemic. The EU will continue to observe situation in Moldova through OSCE/ODHIR Election Observation Mission for the runoff elections. 
 
Source: Aljazeera, EEAS

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October 20 – October 27

Welcome to ICRC’s weekly briefing covering conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine. This week, the U.S.-brokered ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh fails, the Ukrainian President addresses the nation, and Moldova prepares for presidential elections.


Abkhazia/South Ossetia

CoE Reinforces Georgia’s Sovereignty for the Seventh Time
The Council of Europe issued its seventh resolution stating the Russian Federation inhibits peaceful conflict resolution in Abkhazia and South Ossetia due to increased military exercises in the region. The Committee urged Kremlin to withdraw troops from Abkhazia and Tskhinvali and abide by Ceasefire Agreements ratified on Aug. 12, 2008.

Abkhaz Officials Respond to Georgian President Remarks on Abkhaz Language Day 
On Oct. 27, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili said Georgia has a responsibility to preserve the Abkhaz language and linguistic diversity. Kremlin-backed Abkhaz officials responded that Georgian leadership facilitated the erosion of Abkhaz identity, citing Abkhaz statehood as the only way to preserve their cultural heritage.

Former Abkhaz De Facto VP Calls for Union with Russia and Belarus
Valery Arshba, former Abkhaz “vice-president,” said Abkhazia should unite with Russia and Belarus to avoid “further destruction of the nation.” Arshba also criticized Aslan Bzhania’s de facto administration for economic cooperation with Georgia.
 
Sources: Agenda GE, COE, Civil Georgia


Crimea

New Russian Naval Drills Reported in Crimea
Russian Defense Ministry reported conducting military exercises with Air Defense Forces of the Black Sea Fleet. Ships on duty were tested for combat readiness using anti-aircraft missile weapons. Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said Ukrainian creation of naval bases is a potential danger to Russian Federation, justifying reoccurring military drills.
 
Tatars Call for OSCE Monitoring Mission to Crimea Amidst COVID-19 Concerns
The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars urged the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to expand its mission to Crimea. Chairman of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov raises concerns about the absence of accurate COVID-19 reporting, discrimination in hospitals, and lack of health updates of illegally detained activists in Crimean prisons.
 
Ukrainian Government Will Not Negotiate Water Supply to Crimea
Oleksiy Reznikov, Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories, stressed that no negotiations on reopening water supply to the Crimean Peninsula will be considered by the Ukrainian government. Reznikov maintains that water shortage is a result of increased Russian militarization.
 
Russia Illegally Launches Archaeological Excavations in Crimea
The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine condemns Russian “Crimean War” archaeological excavations in Alma Valley and the city of Sevastopol. The Ministry cited the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and UNESCO provisions as grounds for the preservation of Ukrainian historical heritage. 
 
Sources: 112 UA, Ukrinform, Interfax Ukraine, UNIAN


Donetsk/Lugansk

Congressional Ukraine Caucus Concern About Nord Stream 2 Sanctions 
Congressional Ukraine Caucus expressed concern about the possibility of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) annulling sanctions against the Russian natural-gas pipeline to Europe called Nord Stream 2. Members believe that vague language regarding sanctions can “water down” the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Clarification Act (PESCA) that widens sanctions for pipelines from Russia to Germany.

OSCE Reports 154 Ceasefire Violations in Donetsk, 10 in Luhansk
From Oct. 20–27th the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe reported 154 violations of the ceasefire agreements in Donetsk and 10 in Lugansk. The mission observed 27 weapon violations beyond withdrawal lines in non-government-controlled areas, which include residential areas.

OCHA Reports Over Seven Thousand COVID-19 Cases, Wildfires in Luhansk
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 12,140 COVID-19 cases in eastern Ukraine with 7,559 confirmed cases and 537 deaths in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Wildfires in government-controlled areas of Lugansk damaged about 500 houses, 1,800 outbuildings, and 60 vehicles since Sep. 30. Fires spread rapidly because of heavy mine and explosive contaminations of the forest.

No Local Elections Take Place in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea 
Non-government-controlled regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea were unable to elect mayors and local councils.OSCE monitored polling locations on Oct. 25th during local elections in government-controlled areas, where only 10 percent of voters declared their vote for Volodymyr Zelensky’s party “Servant of the People.” Polls predict that 60 percent of Ukrainian voters planned to vote for Russia-friendly parties such as “Opposition Platform – For Life.”

Zelensky Announces Amnesty for Separatist Citizens After Reunification
President Volodymyr Zelensky announced to the Ukrainian Parliament that when separatist territories reunify with Ukraine, they will be granted amnesty to ensure safe reintegration. Transition period laws will not apply to those who had committed murder or other crimes against civilians. Zelensky noted that people who gave up Crimea “without a fight” in 2014 will face punishment. Vice Prime Minister of Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, Oleksiy Reznikov estimates that the reintegration of Donbas will take 25 years.
 
Source: OCHA, OSCE, Yahoo! News, Office of the President of Ukraine, Ukrinform, RFE/RL


Nagorno-Karabakh

Third Attempted Ceasefire Falls Apart
A U.S.- brokered a humanitarian ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan went into effect on Monday, only to collapse amid renewed shelling and military operations near the town of Terter, Armenia. Both sides have accused each other of violations while maintaining their own innocence. The now-failed ceasefire is the third attempt by outside powers to halt the hostilities, which began on Sep. 27th.
 
Azerbaijan Reports Armenian Attacks on Barda, Killing Over 20 Civilians
Azerbaijani authorities are accusing Armenia of launching a rocket strike on the town of Barda, which resulted in 21 civilian deaths and 70 injured. Armenia denies responsibility and reports that an Azerbaijani rocket hit a maternity hospital in Nagorno-Karabakh resulting in no casualties.

Concerns of COVID-19 Spread Amid Fighting
Doctors in the Nagorno-Karabakh region are warning that COVID-19 is spreading unchecked throughout the enclave following the heavy fighting. The strained health infrastructure in Stepanakert/Khankendi, already struggling to contain the virus before the outbreak of hostilities, has been overwhelmed by the influx of wounded civilians into hospitals. Many public health workers are forced to provide medical care or conduct surgeries while suffering from COVID-19 symptoms. 

Erdogan Proposed Joint Effort with Putin for Karabakh Peace
Following the failure of the U.S. ceasefire, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he suggested a collaborative peace effort with Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied Erdogan’s claim of Turkey-Russia negotiations.
 
U.S. Secretary of State Meets with Armenian and Azerbaijani Ministers
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted top diplomats from Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington last week to negotiate the now-failed ceasefire. Both sides reiterated their openness to dialogue, despite the continued heavy fighting on the ground. Azerbaijan expressed the necessity to end what it calls the “Armenian occupation” of Nagorno-Karabakh, clarifying that such a conclusion could be reached politically rather than militarily. Secretary Pompeo emphasized that the top priority was the cessation of hostilities to protect civilian lives.
 
Sources: BBC, AP, Bloomberg, RFE/RL


Transnistria

Moldova Is Choosing Between Russia and EU at Upcoming Presidential Elections
Moldovan presidential elections will take place on Nov. 1st and incumbent pro-Russian President Igor Dodon is facing former Prime Minister Maia Sandu. The former PM said Moldova must resolve its corruption problem to normalize relations with the EU, Romania, and Ukraine. The candidate warned about Russian intervention in elections, falsifications via the illegal purchase of votes in Transnistria, and potential Belarus-type protests.
 
JCC Meeting on Transnistrian Security Cancelled Again
Human rights violations worsen in Transnistria following another Joint Control Commission meeting cancellation for the third consecutive week. Representatives from Moldova and Transnistria would have discussed illegal border checkpoints, restrictions on free movement, and reports of kidnappings in Tiraspol. Earlier, OSCE reported a rise of abusive detentions, arrests, and intimidation in the unrecognized republic. Moldovan delegation fears that reoccurring JCC meeting cancellations negatively affect peacekeeping mechanisms established during 1992 ceasefire agreements. 
 
Sources: Euronews, Moldova.org

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