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Commentary: A restless summer in the South Caucasus can be the harbinger of a difficult autumn

Commentary: A restless summer in the South Caucasus can be the harbinger of a difficult autumn

Despite the sweltering heat, officials in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia appeared to have taken little if any vacations this summer. The usual exodus to the beaches, or to cool mountain resorts, sometimes stretching from mid-July to mid-September, simply did not happen. In one capital, one observer commented that officials were at their desks throughout the summer. An air of uncertainty prevailed over the region. Low-intensity border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan threatened the fragile peace process. More dead and injured were added to the long list of victims of this conflict. Azerbaijan’s decision to assert its control over the Lachin corridor that connects the Armenian population of Karabakh to Armenia created hardships for the Karabakh Armenians, who on their part refuse to be supplied through alternative Azerbaijani routes. Inside Karabakh the political turmoil finally ended the fate of the de facto president, Arayik Harutyunyan, who resigned this week, adding to the instability. A meeting of the UN Security Council on 16 August discussed the Lachin issue. Concern was expressed by UNSC members, and most called on Azerbaijan to restore unhindered movement across the Lachin Corridor. But there was no consensus on a resolution, or even a Statement. In Georgia, summer ended as it started, with a permanent stand-off between the governing “Georgian Dream” party and the fractured opposition. The issue of whether or not Georgia will get EU candidate status before the end of the year continued to dominate the political discourse. Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, whose constitutional powers are mostly ceremonial, defied government advice and travelled to Europe at the beginning of September for talks with European leaders, who rolled out the red carpet to her. But in Tbilisi, the governing party started impeachment proceedings against her. They are likely to fail because the government is not able to muster the necessary votes needed in the parliament. Some simply dismiss the summer shenanigans as part of the usual South Caucasus political fare. Unfortunately, there is more to it than that, and the restless summer may be the harbinger of a very difficult autumn.
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Commentary: Step by step

Commentary: Step by step

On Saturday, 15 July, the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan once again met in Brussels, under the auspices of the president of the European Council Charles Michel, to discuss the future of the relations between their two countries after years of war and conflict. Those who hoped for a dramatic breakthrough in the past in the process of Armenia - Azerbaijan normalisation, may have been disappointed at how slow the process moved. Yet progress is being made, and yesterday, speaking after the meeting in Brussels, European Council president Charles Michel summed it up, saying "We are going through one of the most comprehensive and vigorous stages of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan". Those who still think that peace is a "moment" are mistaken. It is a process that needs to develop step by step. The meeting in Brussels this weekend was certainly a step in the right direction.
Di Maio arrives in the Gulf on first trip as special envoy of the EU for the GCC
European Union diplomacy is often criticised for not giving enough attention to the countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). In a signal that things are about to change, in June it appointed its first Special Representative for the region. The EU has a number of these Special Representatives, know as EUSRs, usually dealing with regions or topics that cannot be addressed through the bilateral delegations that the EU has in most countries of the world. But the announcement that the EU was going to appoint former Italian Prime Minister, Luigi Di Maio, as its first EUSR for the Gulf countries came as a bit of a surprise. Too senior, some said; too much political baggage from his time in Italian politics, said others. But after a brief moment of hesitation the 27 member states finally agreed Di Maio's candidature. This week he finally arrived in the Gulf on his first visit in this role, ahead of an important EU-GCC foreign ministers meeting expected to take place in Oman in October. “I think that the world is changing and there are new partnerships to build,” Di Maio said during an interview on Thursday with the Saudi newspaper Arab News, that touched on topics ranging from the Russia-Ukraine conflict to the economic empowerment of women and young people in the Kingdom.
dennis2020 Fri, 07/14/2023 - 06:22
Editor's choice
Editorial
Editorial: the end-game in Karabakh

Editorial: the end-game in Karabakh

Another summit between Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan, and Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev will take place later this month in Brussels, facilitated by the president of the European Council Charles Michel. The region is currently abuzz with diplomatic activity as the international community urges the sides to bring their negotiations to a successful conclusion. At the end of June in Washington DC the foreign ministers of the two countries met under the auspices of US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. A read out of the meeting indicates that progress was made but substantial disagreements on key issues, such as the future of the Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh, remain also. It is likely that some tough discussions will take place over the summer. Time is now against those who want a peaceful solution. The momentum for peace in Baku and Yerevan is already fragile, and unless a breakthrough can be registered, even maintaining this momentum will become very difficult. The summer brings with it several challenges. Reducing incidents on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border and in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone most surely now be a priority. Serious negotiations should not be taking place with violence in the background. Instead building up the momentum for peace through various track 1.5 and track 2 initiatives is hugely important.
Editor's choice
Editorial
Editorial: the next few weeks will define the South Caucasus for a decade

Editorial: the next few weeks will define the South Caucasus for a decade

In the chancelleries of Europe diplomats are preparing to go on their annual summer holidays. There are a number of files they would like to neatly close before they do so. The South Caucasus is one of them, writes commonspace.eu in this editorial. "Hard luck. There is no chance that any of the major issues facing the region can be brought to a conclusion yet, and it promises to be a long summer full of surprises. But on a number of issues an end game is approaching. The region is in one of those defining moments which everyone agrees will have a deep and long term impact on the future. People are hoping for the best, but worried about the worst. First, there is Georgia. By October, it should be clear if the country will get candidate status for EU membership, a hugely symbolic step that would make the possibility of Georgia becoming an EU member state within a decade a reality for the first time [...] Then there is the business of war or peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both sides appear not convinced its going to be either one or the other. The foreign ministers of the two countries are meeting in Washington this week under the watchful eye of Antony Blinken. They may register progress, but it is unlikely to be enough."
Commentary: EU reaches out to Central Asia’s “Cinderella”
"Whilst this week’s EU-Tajikistan meeting can be dismissed as another piece of EU bureaucracy at play, for Tajikistan this mechanism is also a lifeline to the wider world," writes commonspace.eu in this commentary. "Tajikistan has a lot of potential, in terms of natural resources, tourism and connectivity which remains untapped. It has in the last couple of years made various overtures to the EU indicating a willingness to engage more. It is right that this week the EU has sent a message that it is interested too." Following an EU-Tajikistan meeting on Monday (26 June), a statement said that “the participants reviewed their cooperation, including economic and trade relations, issues related to the security of energy supply, and connectivity both within Central Asia and between Central Asia and Europe. The two sides assessed progress in implementing the outcomes of both the EU-Central Asia Sustainable Connectivity Conference, and the EU-Central Asia Economic Forum [...] During their discussions, the two sides also touched on matters of regional and international interest, including the situation in Afghanistan and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The EU encouraged Tajikistan’s engagement with Central Asia’s neighbouring countries and welcomed its constructive role for broader cooperation within the Central Asia region and beyond.”
patrickn97 Wed, 06/28/2023 - 10:11
Editor's choice
Editorial
Editorial: Baku and Stepanakert need to talk; now is the time for Azerbaijan to show magnanimity and generosity

Editorial: Baku and Stepanakert need to talk; now is the time for Azerbaijan to show magnanimity and generosity

"The question that remains unanswered is if there are Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh who are determined enough not to want to live in an Azerbaijani state that they will resist violently. Such thinking may exist, probably only amongst marginal groups, but nothing will come out of it unless it is abetted by the Government of Armenia, and/or by Russia, or in a less tangible way by radical groups within the Armenian diaspora. The latter can provide some money and possibly some human resources, but do not have the logistical capacity necessary for anything more than isolated incidents," writes commonspace.eu in this editorial. "Whilst a detailed future vision for Karabakh may have to wait until the negotiations are more advanced, now is the time for Baku to send positive signals. By tightening the noose around Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijan has forced the issue, so time is no longer on its side." 
Editorial: the European Union’s footprint in the Gulf remains faded

This editorial was first published in our newsletter Arabia Concise. If you would like to subscribe to Arabia Concise, or any other of our newsletter, please click here.

patrickn97 Tue, 06/20/2023 - 12:55
Editor's choice
Editorial
Editorial: Give Georgia EU candidate status before the end of the year

Editorial: Give Georgia EU candidate status before the end of the year

"These are difficult times for Georgia, for Europe, and for the whole world. Yet from every crisis, an opportunity arises. The Ukraine crisis has created conditions that open Georgia’s door for EU membership. Regardless of the rather unorthodox path this endeavour has taken, future generations of both Georgians and Europeans will look back at this historic moment, and say that the right thing was done," writes commonspace.eu in this editorial. "But before that, there is much work to be done. Candidate status will only be the beginning of a long, laborious and difficult process. And as a priority, the EU needs to develop a much more sophisticated communication strategy for dealing with Georgia and the Georgian people. It's useless preaching values or stating hard truths unless you can explain them in the way that your audience can understand them. Those that wanted to drive a wedge between Georgia and the EU have played on this weakness. If Georgia becomes a candidate country, dealing with this issue will become easier to deliver, even if achieving the objective will still be difficult."