A few weeks ago there was some back and forth between Armenians and Azerbaijanis about whether Russia would come to Armenia's defense in the case of a war over Nagorno Karabakh. Well, now a top Russian general has weighed in, and he sounds pretty certain that Russia would get involved. General Andrei Tretyak, the Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the Defense Ministry, discussed the Russian military's future plans with some analysts, and this is from Dmitry Gorenburg's account:
In a discussion on the situation in Karabakh, General Tretyak agreed with a participant’s assessment that the possibility of conflict in that region is high, but argued that it is gradually decreasing as a result of Russian efforts to reduce tension in the region. He disagreed with the suggestion that Russia’s relationship with Armenia is eroding and made clear that Russia will carry out its promises to that country. No one should see Russia’s refusal to intervene in Kyrgyzstan last summer as a precedent for Karabakh, as that was a very different situation.
Hmm, that can't make too many folks in Baku feel too confident. Tretyak also weighed in on Central Asia, and suggested that the Collective Security Treaty Organization could help fill the security vacuum that will be created by the U.S. leaving Afghanistan. And he seems to acknowledge that the CSTO kind of dropped the ball on Kyrgyzstan last year, when it did nothing to stop the pogroms that took place there in what many saw as the first big test of the collective security group:
He also felt that what he saw as the inevitable US withdrawal from the region will have a negative effect on stability.
Armenia's announcement this month that it was tripling its troop commitment to Afghanistan raised some eyebrows. It has no NATO aspirations, and has largely thrown in its strategic lot with Russia, as evidenced by the agreement it recently signed allowing a large, decades-long Russian military presence in the country.
But the newest trend in Eurasian geopolitics is multi-vectored foreign policy (i.e., trying to balance relations between various big powers rather than becoming dependent on a single one), pioneered by Kazakhstan but now increasingly deliberately employed across the region. And that means that even faithfully pro-Moscow states like Armenia have to hedge their bets a little. Thus, Armenia's contribution of two extra platoons (81 soldiers) to help guard the airport in Mazar-e-Sharif, bringing its troop contribution to a total of about 130. As Deputy Defense Minister David Tonoyan told Mediamax:
First of all, this step is based on Armenia's interests in accordance with the multi-layer and initiative foreign policy of our country, and demonstrates our particular place in the world order after the "cold war".
And he played down suggestions that cooperating with NATO in Afghanistan was somehow incompatible with Armenia's membership in the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, emphasizing the CSTO's cooperation with ISAF in Afghanistan:
Would the Collective Security Treaty Organization come to Armenia's aid in the event of a war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh? It's a question that has been the matter of speculation for some time. And last week Armenia's defense minister said yes, the CSTO would support Armenia. Via AFP:
“Given Armenia’s membership in the CSTO, we can count on an appropriate response and the support of our allies in the organization, who have specific responsibilities to each other and the ability to react adequately to potential aggression,” Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian told a security conference in Yerevan.
Of course, what "an appropriate response" entails could be very much up to interpretation. And much depends on whether the war would involve only Karabakh -- which is de jure part of Azerbaijan -- or Armenia. If the former, the CSTO would be less likely to get involved, since it wouldn't involve an attack on a member nation. In a piece called "Kazakhstan dashes Armenia's collective security hopes," News.az quotes a couple of Kazakh security experts saying making that point:
“If a military conflict began in Nagorno-Karabakh, this would not be an attack by Azerbaijan on Armenia”, [Murat] Laumulin [senior fellow at the Kazakh president's Strategic Research Institute] said. "This issue is Azerbaijan’s internal affair, because Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan’s administrative territory....”
The director for analysis and consulting at Kazakhstan’s Institute of Political Solutions, Rustam Burnashev, shares Laumulin's view.
He said that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict was an internal Azerbaijani affair: “What's most important is how much Armenia itself would raise this issue and how much Azerbaijan would bring it before the international community."
When it comes to human rights, the Armenian government needs to get the concept of proportionality right, believes the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg.
After visiting Yerevan this January and hearing grievances from the country's highly polarized political camps and civil society groups, Hammarberg penned a report, released yesterday, that targeted a range of human rights problems -- from police brutality to restricted civil liberties -- characterized by the adjective "disproportionate."
Taming opposition-minded media? Putting up hurdles to gatherings of government critics? Attempting to control civil society groups? Disproportionate, disproportionate, disproportionate!
The powers that be in Armenia promised to consider Hammarberg’s instructions, but getting the proper sense of proportionality may prove tricky. The commissioner characterized the use of police force in the deadly 2008 clashes as “on the whole” proportionate, but with disproportionate elements.
So, where to draw the line? Is it okay to have a fistfight until somebody picks up a bottle? Defining "disproportionate" might be a good place to start.
For the second year thousands of flowers are gathered by volunteers at the Tsitsernakaberd memorial in Yerevan following the ceremony commemorating the victims of mass killings by Ottoman Turks almost 100 years ago. Petals from many of the flowers were gathered and wrapped to be used to make postcards, while the rest are used to fertilize the trees in the area.
Anahit Hayrapetyan is a freelance photojournalist based in Yerevan.
The Georgian parliament has annulled a deal allowing Russia to transit military cargo to its base in Armenia via Georgia. This is just formalizing the de facto situation -- transit via Georgia to the Russian base in Gyumri was already halted, de facto, after the war in 2008 over South Ossetia. From Civil.ge:
Georgian Parliament unanimously endorsed on April 19 government’s proposal to annul a five-year agreement with Russia setting out procedures for transit of Russian military personnel and cargo to Armenia via Georgia.
The agreement on transit of military personnel and cargo, giving Russia access to its 102nd military base in Gyumri, Armenia through land and air via Georgia, was signed in March, 2006 in parallel with a separate agreement based on which Russia pulled out its military bases from Batumi and Akhalkalaki. The both of the agreements were ratified by the Georgian Parliament on April 13, 2006.
Equipment that Armenia is buying from/being given by Russia is still allowed to transit Georgia, as was highlighted by a 2010 diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks and published by Russkiy Reporter magazine, the transit had been of concern to Georgia for fear that some of the equipment being sent to Armenia is more than Armenia might need and could be instead destined for Russian forces in Armenia with the potential of being used against Georgia:
A playground in the 8th Russian District of Gyumri, Armenia, home to many Russian soldiers and their families.
Armenia's parliament has ratified an agreement with Russia to extend Moscow's access to its military base in Gyumri until 2044. The vote, while controversial among some opposition members, passed easily, with only one vote against.
The crux of the debate is whether it cedes too much power to Russia in exchange for protection against Turkey or, to a lesser extent, Azerbaijan. Russia played an ambiguous role in Armenia's war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh, and there are big questions about what role Russia would play if war broke out again. But the base at Gyumri is right on Armenia's border with Turkey, and acts as a reassurance for Armenians, who recall how Russia helped protect at least some Armenians from the World War I genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. When I was in Gyumri a few years ago I talked to people about the Russian base, and they were generally supportive. One told me: “No matter how strong our army is there are ten Turks for every Armenian. If the Turks come then the Russians are here right away, we don’t have to wait.” A cynic might argue that this attitude is just the fruit of Russian propaganda promoted by Armenian politicians who profit from deals with Russia, but I don't know.
The one parliamentarian to vote against ratification, Tigran Torosian, argued that it gave too much control to Moscow:
Torosian said Armenia will gain "absolutely nothing" from the deal and has only "greatly narrowed its room for maneuver on issues vital for the country.
"Unfortunately, from now on, many people in the West and the international community in general will think that Armenia has finally opted for a Russian orientation," Torosian told RFE/RL.
Hazing of young military conscripts continues to be a big problem in the Caucasus and Central Asia, according to the U.S. State Department, though reporting of the problem appears to vary widely from country to country.
The State Department's annual human rights report addresses a whole host of human rights issues, one of them being hazing/abuse in the military. According to the report, Armenia had 176 military personnel convicted of hazing in 2010, in Kazakhstan 162 service members were charged with hazing, while in Kyrgyzstan only one such case was reported. Exact numbers weren't provided for other countries, which suggests in part that officials in Armenia and Kazakhstan might be relatively upfront and transparent about their hazing issues than the other countries (Kyrgyzstan's number was provided by an NGO).
Though in some cases, the State Department did not report on military hazing when information did appear easily available. EurasiaNet, for example, has reported on hazing in Azerbaijan's military, including official statistics on hazing. There has also been reporting on hazing in the militaries in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. But the State Department barely mentions the issue of hazing in those countries, and doesn't even bring up the subject in its section on Georgia.
Anyway, some of the key excepts from the report below.
As Nagorno Karabakh's first civilian airport gets set to open on May 9, Azerbaijan is threatening to "annihilate" any Armenian planes that use it. Azerbaijan argues, of course, that Karabakh belongs to them and the Armenians who now occupy it do so illegally. The shoot-down threat is almost certainly an empty one: it would be an act of war, before Azerbaijan is apparently ready and done in a way that would get international sympathies strongly on the Armenian side.
But, assuming they were serious, could Azerbaijan do it? Azerbaijani military experts say they would use surface-to-air missiles like the S-125 or S-200, according to the news agency APA:
Air Defense Troops’ experts declare that they are able to carry out measures against each military and civil aircrafts flying to Azerbaijan’s Khankendi airport. If close location of Khankendi airport to the front-line is taken into consideration, Air Defense Troops can annihilate those aircrafts by using C-125 or C-200 complexes. At the same time, it is possible to destroy navigation system of those aircrafts by using modern radioelectronic methods, and annihilate them without using any force. According to the words of experts, at present, Azerbaijan’s air defense systems can control not only the flights over Nagorno Karabakh, but also all the flights over Armenia. Civil aircrafts fly especially at altitudes of 8-10 km, their speed is lower than the military ones. Moreover, aircrafts rising from Khankendi may be annihilated till the level of maximum altitude.
In the eyes of many in this part of the world, the West has a selective memory about the messy demise of the Soviet Union. While Georgia and Armenia largely ignored Gorbachev's big day, some in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan called for suing the octogenarian ex-comrade for presiding over the Soviet army's 1990 crackdown on Baku protesters and role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The bigger news for Azerbaijani media outlets was the failure of British police to honor a request from former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky to arrest Gorbachev for the deaths of peaceful demonstrators in Baku (1990), Tbilisi (1989) and Vilnius (1991). Saying that Gorby enjoys diplomatic immunity, a London court declined to issue an arrest warrant.