Why Armenia and Azerbaijan Are Shooting at Each Other

Yerevan Armenia
View of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia (Unsplash/Artak Petrosyan)

In what have been some of the worst clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in years, sixteen soldiers and one civilian were killed in the last two weeks. Armenia has threatened to bomb an Azerbaijani reservoir. Azerbaijan has threatened to destroy an Armenian nuclear plant. These may be empty threats, but they speak to the level of tension between the two countries.

What exactly happened, why, and what is the likely outcome? Read more “Why Armenia and Azerbaijan Are Shooting at Each Other”

The Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, Explained

Welded pipes of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline are lowered in northern Greece, November 2016
Welded pipes of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline are lowered in northern Greece, November 2016 (TAP)

After four years of construction, the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) has started pumping gas into Europe.

TANAP is part of Europe’s Southern Gas Corridor, connecting the South Caucasus Pipeline (completed) with the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (still under construction). It aims to transport natural gas from Azerbaijan all the way through to Italy, where it flows into the European market.

Once the system is fully operational, it should be able to pipe 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas into Europe per year. Read more “The Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, Explained”

Russia Signs Integration Treaty with South Ossetia

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin chairs a government meeting at his country residence outside Moscow, October 13, 2014 (Kremlin)

On the one-year anniversary of its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, Russia signed an integration treaty with Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia, seemingly paving the way for absorbing that territory as well.

In Moscow, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a twenty-five-year pact with his self-declared South Ossetian counterpart, Leonid Tibilov, under which Russia takes responsibility for the region’s borders and security and South Ossetia gets €140 million in aid over the next three years. Russia has already given the region €670 million in the last six years.

The treaty is similar to one Russia signed with Georgia’s other breakaway region, Abkhazia, late last year. Read more “Russia Signs Integration Treaty with South Ossetia”

European Union Seeks Caspian Gas to Limit Russian Imports

Baku Azerbaijan
The sun sets on Baku, Azerbaijan (iStock/Photo Aliona)

The European Union seeks to form strategic partnership with natural gas producers around the Caspian Sea to lessen its dependence on Russian imports, an energy proposal released on Wednesday showed.

The Financial Times reports that the European Commission is stepping up a “charm offensive” in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan “in a drive to put the gas-rich but politically sensitive countries at the heart of the bloc’s energy strategy.” Read more “European Union Seeks Caspian Gas to Limit Russian Imports”

Abkhaz Leaders Wary of Russian Integration Proposal

A street in Sukhumi, capital of the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, May 12, 2009
A street in Sukhumi, capital of the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, May 12, 2009 (WomEOS)

A Russian proposal to deepen security cooperation with the breakaway Georgian territory of Abkhazia is meeting resistance not just from Tbilisi but the region itself. While the separatist enclave on the Black Sea coast has few allies besides Russia, it is reluctant to surrender sovereignty to it.

In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, acting Abkhaz president Valeri Bganba said Russia’s proposals were unacceptable. When lawmakers were presented with the details last week, the reaction was “close to” negative, he said, “because many points are about losing sovereignty.”

Russia proposes to merge the Abkhaz and Russian forces stationed in the area and give itself the right to take command of the joint force in times of crisis.

Abkhazia has depended on Russian economic and military support since it seceded from Georgia in 1993. Georgia most recently attempted to retake control of the territory in 2008 when it also attacked South Ossetia, another breakaway province. Without Russian support, it is doubtful the two statelets would have been able to withstand the Georgian offensive.

Under a proposed treaty, Abkhazia would also harmonize its customs and tax regulations with those of the Eurasian Economic Union which is due to go into effect next year. Besides Russia, the trade bloc includes Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan, another former Soviet republic in Central Asia, has expressed an interest in joining.

In order to entice Abkhazia to accept the proposal, Russia has promised to pay for the increases in Abkhaz pensions and public-sector salaries needed to align them with those in Russia.

South Ossetia is more enthusiastic about integration. Following Russia’s occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March, its leaders openly called on Russia to annex them as well. So did lawmakers in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria.

Russia is one of few countries that recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. It does not recognize Transnistria as such.

Georgia described the proposed Russian treaty as yet another attempt to seize control of its territory. President Giorgi Margvelashvili called on parliament and the country’s international partners to act.

Saakashvili’s Successor: Georgia’s “European Course” to Continue

Georgia’s newly-elected president said on Monday he would press ahead with efforts to deepen the Caucasus nation’s ties with the West even as Mikheil Saakashvili’s election defeat cleared the way for rapprochement with Russia.

“Europe is our choice and this election is a confirmation of our European course,” Giorgi Margvelashvili, an academic and political novice, told a news conference.

Margvelashvili, who briefly served as education minister, was little known and elected on behalf of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition mainly because voters were tired of Saakashvili’s tenure as president which lasted almost ten years. Read more “Saakashvili’s Successor: Georgia’s “European Course” to Continue”

Azerbaijan Denies Plans to Facilitate Israeli Iran Strike

Israeli F-16 fighter jets
Israeli and Italian F-16 fighter jets in Sardinia, November 18, 2010 (IDF)

Azerbaijan denied on Monday that it has plans to facilitate an Israeli airstrike against Iran. “Baku will never let anyone use its territory for an attack on our neighbors,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

A day earlier, The Sunday Times reported that Israel plans to use unmanned drone aircraft off Azerbaijani air bases to fend off an Iranian counterattack in the event the Jewish state decides to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. The drone fleet would disrupt Iran’s missile system because it could fully retaliate.

The Times has previously run reports based on unnamed Israeli intelligence sources. No specifics were given as to whom provided their information this time. Read more “Azerbaijan Denies Plans to Facilitate Israeli Iran Strike”

Azerbaijan’s Necessary Energy Diversification

The ink dried in 1994 on the “deal of the century” between Azerbaijan, BP and a number of Western oil companies. It paved the way for Azerbaijan to become one of the world’s most pivotal oil and gas exporters under the direction of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR).

But in a new century, even hydrocarbon rich Azerbaijan must begin considering ways to diversify its energy portfolio. Furthermore, developing alternative sources of energy within Azerbaijan would leave more natural gas for export and help diversify the Azerbaijani economy.

A Chinese proverb notes, “A partnership is like a marriage; you sleep in the same bed but have different dreams.” Still there is no doubting the significance of the oil deal signed that September 1994. Azerbaijan was recovering from a disastrous war with Armenia in which up to one million Azeris from Armenia and the Karabakh region were displaced and major damage had been sustained to Azerbaijan’s economy. At the time the Caucasus was a forgotten region on the world map, a mere byproduct of the dissolution of the Cold War. But for international oil companies, the region was not without opportunities nor its political risks. Read more “Azerbaijan’s Necessary Energy Diversification”

Georgia’s Saakashvili Concedes Election Defeat

Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili conceded defeat on Tuesday after early results in the Caucasus nation’s hotly contested election showed the opposition led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili in the lead for a majority.

Earlier in the night, Saakashvili had insisted that his United National Movement, which previously held 80 percent of the seats in the parliament, would emerge as victor once again but with 25 percent of the votes counted, Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition had 53 percent compared to 42 percent for the president’s party. Read more “Georgia’s Saakashvili Concedes Election Defeat”

Heated Election Challenges Saakashvili’s Grip on Power

Georgians head to the polls on Monday in a fiercely contested parliamentary election that is dominated by the Caucasus nation’s relations with neighboring Russia and concern about the state of political freedoms under the leadership of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Saakashvili’s United National Movement and the opposition Georgian Dream coalition, headed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, are both liberally conservative. The ruling party, which currently holds nearly 80 percent of the seats in parliament, has accused Ivanishvili of being a stooge of Russian president Vladimir Putin, however, who supposedly poured billions into his election campaign. The former businessman, who made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s, denies that he is a “Kremlin project” and vows to repair ties with Moscow, but not at the expense of the country’s Western orientation. Read more “Heated Election Challenges Saakashvili’s Grip on Power”