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Opinion
Opinion: Does Russia lose Armenia to France?

Opinion: Does Russia lose Armenia to France?

In an interview with France24 during his February 2024 visit to Paris, Nikol Pashinyan highlighted Azerbaijan's perception of Armenia as "Western Azerbaijan" and expressed concerns about Azerbaijan's preparations for a new war, writes Dr. Anzhela Mnatsakanyan in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. "This interview marked a significant departure as Pashinyan openly scrutinized Russia's policies towards Armenia and hinted at the possibility of a new war. The timing of this interview, a few days before Azerbaijan presented a re-edited version of the so-called "Peace treaty," suggested that the "peace" offered by Azerbaijan is more about the capitulation of Armenia. This interview was a kind of “call for help” from Pashinyan to Western countries on the eve of a possible new war."
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Opinion
Opinion: German diplomacy on the move in the South Caucasus

Opinion: German diplomacy on the move in the South Caucasus

"The EU cannot afford to overlook the strategic importance of the South Caucasus", writes Simona Scotti in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. "If on the one hand over the past two years significant steps have been undertaken, including the deployment of the EUMA in Armenia and the Brussels track of negotiations led by Charles Michel, on the other hand some more concrete actions, with a well-defined and consistent strategy, would be appreciated. The lack of a clear and coherent vision has destabilized Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have often questioned to which extent they can really trust a Western involvement in the region."
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News
Sombre mood across the Islamic world as Muslims think of Gaza at the start of Ramadan

Sombre mood across the Islamic world as Muslims think of Gaza at the start of Ramadan

Muslims round the world today marked the first day of fasting at the start of the Islamic Holy month of Ramadan in a sombre mood, as communities reflected on the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza. In Gaza the population is on the verge of starvation, and in other Palestinian territories the shadow of war is not far away either, with tensions high in East Jerusalem. Thousands of Israeli police have been deployed around the narrow streets of the Old City in Jerusalem, where tens of thousands of worshippers are expected every day at the Al Aqsa mosque compound, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Israel's relentless campaign in Gaza has caused increasing alarm across the world as the growing risk of famine threatens to add to a death toll that has already passed 31,000. In the ruins of Gaza itself, where half the 2.3 million population is squeezed into the southern city of Rafah, many living under plastic tents and facing a severe shortage of food, the mood was correspondingly sombre. "We made no preparations to welcome Ramadan because we have been fasting for five months now," said Maha, a mother of five, who would normally have filled her home with decorations and stocked her refrigerator with supplies for the evening Iftar celebrations when people break their fast. "There is no food, we only have some canned food and rice, most of the food items are being sold for imaginary high prices," she said via chat app from Rafah, where she is sheltering with her family.
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News
Swedish flag flies at NATO headquarters

Swedish flag flies at NATO headquarters

The Swedish flag was raised at NATO Headquarters for the first time on Monday (11 March) in a ceremony to mark the country’s membership of the Alliance. Sweden became NATO’s 32nd Ally on 7 March upon depositing its instrument of accession to the North Atlantic Treaty with the United States government in Washington D.C. NATO's Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, welcomed Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to NATO Headquarters for a flag-raising ceremony to mark Sweden’s accession. Speaking ahead of the ceremony, the Secretary General thanked Prime Minister Kristersson for his strong personal leadership and commitment to leading Sweden into NATO. He said: “Sweden has taken its rightful place at NATO’s table under the shield of Article 5 protection – the ultimate guarantee of our freedom and security. All for one and one for all.” Sweden’s flag was hoisted to join the flags of the other 31 Allies, as the Swedish national anthem and the NATO hymn were played. Flag-raising ceremonies took place simultaneously at Allied Command Operations (SHAPE) in Mons (Belgium) and Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia (United States). Standing alongside Prime Minister Kristersson, the Secretary General said: “Sweden’s accession shows again that NATO’s door remains open. No one can close it. Every nation has the right to choose its own path, and we all choose the path of freedom and democracy.” Noting that NATO will mark its 75th anniversary this year, Mr Stoltenberg underlined that the transatlantic bond between Europe and North America has ensured our freedom and security. Sweden will help to build an even stronger NATO at a critical time for Euro-Atlantic security, he said, adding that “joining NATO is good for Sweden, good for stability in the North, and good for the security of our whole Alliance.”
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Commentary
Jittery Kremlin hits out at Central Asia NGOs

Jittery Kremlin hits out at Central Asia NGOs

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, speaking on the occasion of the Special Operations Forces Day at a meeting of the Board of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation in Moscow on 27 February, unleashed an attack against Central Asian NGOs, accusing them of "continuously increasing hostile activities against Russia", especially in the "creation of new initiatives and structures aimed at discrediting and countering the Russian presence in countries traditionally our friends". Shoigu said the situation in this region is "very delicate", recalling the contemporary threat of the Afghan Taliban and ISIS terrorists, to which he equates the works of non-governmental organizations. In his speech, Shoigu said "over 100 large pro-Western NGOs operate in these countries, which have more than 16 thousand representations and branches, which aim to weaken the technical-military, economic and cultural collaboration with the Russian Federation, against the background of the special military operation [Ukraine War], and we have to do something."   Central Asia is hardly the first place that comes to mind when it comes to civil society activism, but the process of opening up to the world, and the reforms being put in place across the region, has widened the space for NGO activity – even if only to a small extent. Enough it seems to worry the head of the Russian Defence Ministry who one would have thought would have other things to worry about at the moment. But Kremlin observers say that Shoigu’s outburst is a jittery reaction of a paranoic Kremlin that is obsessed by criticism at home or abroad, and sees everything as one big conspiracy. Reaction in Central Asia has been mixed but in Kazakhstan, where President Tokayev has set out a course for systematic reforms in the country, and where the government is looking at civil society as partners in this process, the reaction to Shoigu’s speech was negative, and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Roman Vasilenko, spoke out in defence of the NGOs in Kazakhstan. “As you know, support for the civil sector and support for NGOs are a top priority for the president, for the government and for the Ministry of Culture and Information, which is responsible for this area”, Vassilenko said on 29 February.
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Opinion
Opinion: Clarity, Consistent Rhetoric, and Multitrack Diplomacy Still Lacking in Armenia-Azerbaijan Normalisation Talks

Opinion: Clarity, Consistent Rhetoric, and Multitrack Diplomacy Still Lacking in Armenia-Azerbaijan Normalisation Talks

It was touch and go for a while. Even a day before this year’s prestigious Munich Security Conference it was unclear whether both Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev would attend. In the past, Armenian leaders have more often shunned the event and even despite December’s much-lauded bilateral COP-29 joint statement made bilaterally by Baku and Yerevan, the war of words between the sides unfortunately continues.
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News
Gulf relief agencies seek to fill UNWRAs funding gap as humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens

Gulf relief agencies seek to fill UNWRAs funding gap as humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens

The Humanitarian crisis in Gaza continues to worsen every day. Amid talk of an imminent ceasefire during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, famine and starvation and completely inhumane conditions now affect the entire population of the territory. The problem has been exacerbated by the decision of a number of western donors to stop or suspend funding to the main UN humanitarian agency in Gaza, UNWRA, based on claims that some of its staff were involved in the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel. Relief agencies in the Gulf states and others are now moving to try to fill the funding gap. On its part, the European Union, one of the largest donors to Palestinian humanitarian relief, has reviewed its stance on the funding of UNWRA. In a statement on Friday, the European Commission said it " has decided to allocate an additional EUR 68 million to support the Palestinian population across the region to be implemented through international partners like the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. This comes in addition to the foreseen EUR 82 million of aid to be implemented through UNRWA in 2024, bringing the total to EUR 150 million. The Commission will proceed to paying EUR 50 million of the UNRWA envelope next week. Furthermore, the Commission has allocated EUR 125 million of humanitarian aid for Palestinians for 2024. The Commission is contracting the first EUR 16 million today. Meanwhile Gulf countries are stepping up  their support for UNWRA to fill remaining gaps." Dr Abdullah Al Rabeeah, supervisor general of Saudi Arabia's top aid agency KSrelief, said Riyadh and regional and international partners were working to fill the funding gaps for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNWRA), caused by major donor cuts. "We are counting on other partners in the region and beyond," Dr Al Rabeeah told the UAE newspaper, The National, at the Human Capability Initiative conference in Riyadh.
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News
Taking forward the work on landmine action advocacy in the South Caucasus - report issued after consultation process

Taking forward the work on landmine action advocacy in the South Caucasus - report issued after consultation process

LINKS Europe has just published a report on the future of landmine action advocacy in the South Caucasus based on a consultation process with stakeholders between June 2023 and February 2024. The report focuses on the regional campaign "Landmine Free South Caucasus", which was implemented from October 2018 to December 2023. A formal consultation process was held from 15 January to 15 February 2024, through an open call to which anyone could reply. In the course of the consultation process LINKS Europe held 22 in-person meetings, 12 online meetings. and received written submissions from several partners. The report makes 12 recommendations on how the work can be organised in the future.