Trump, change and the new level of militarization in the South Caucasus

Thursday, December 08, 2016

After Donald J. Trump has become a president-elect of the United States of America there has been an ongoing debate about largely anything connected to that fact and not least about the President's vision of the U.S. foreign policy. While there is no lack of arguments from different experts, most of them agree that the change is coming to that particular area of the functioning of the state.
The differences in opinions expressed usually cover details of what may actually change. Max Boot even argues in his recent article that Mr. Trump's foreign policy might not be that different from that of Mr. Obama's by nature, however quite different in style. If Obama wanted to withdraw from the world very carefully, Trump may not be so subtle and gentle to the existing order and that may lead to the post-American age sooner than later.

True enough also for the South Caucasus, where eight years of the Obama administration have brought a clear sense of withdrawal of the U.S. from the region both in terms of its geopolitical influence and its general presence as a global power. Today, countries of the region, as well as the vast majority of other states in the world are trying to evaluate the consequences of the recent U.S. elections and predict what that would mean for the policy of the U.S. towards their small but very strategically located region, surrounded by bigger states such as Russia, Iran and Turkey.

As the U.S. presidential transition period is progressing, the states of the South Caucasus are watching and analyzing the transition through the prism of their own interests. A recent announcement of the Ambassador of the United States and Co-Chair of the Minsk Group of OSCE James Warlick on his Twitter account that he would be stepping down from his position and leaving the State Department has made all the regional news' headlines in the South Caucasus. This news generated a lot of interest due to the fact that James Warlick is an American representative in the Minsk Group that is charged with the meditation and resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan with two other Co-Chairs from France and Russia. Moreover, at the same time news hit that Ambassador Warlick will join the Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners law firm. He himself described this company as "...Russia's largest and most prestigious law firm" in a tweet, that he apparently later deleted.

Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners law firm (or EPA&P) has been established in 1993 with offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and associated office in London. It specializes in representation of foreign companies in Russia and Russian companies abroad. Reportedly it is also quite connected to the Russian government and businesses. The soon-to-be-former U.S. diplomat is planning to join this law firm as a partner.

Ambassador Warlick has taken the position of the Co-Chair of the Minsk Group in September 2013 and will remain in this position until the end of this year. His appointment was made during the second term of the Obama administration and if the position he is going to take after should be viewed as any indicator, the attitude of Obama’s foreign policy advisors towards the main security threat in the South Caucasus becomes quite clear.

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has reaffirmed its position as the main security threat in the South Caucasus region after the recent escalation in April 2016. That escalation led to both the short-lived re-intensification of negotiations process in this conflict and the arms race between Armenia and Azerbaijan reaching new levels with Armenia having demonstrated that it acquired 9K720 "Iskander" (known in NATO terminology as SS-26 Stone) mobile short-range ballistic missile systems from Russia in September 2016. The acquisition of such sophisticated and modern weaponry by one of the sides of this unstable conflict brings on the pressure to the other side to keep up and procure equal capabilities both in terms of offense and defense. 9K720 are capable of a very accurate targeting on the distance of up to 500 km (approx. 311 miles). In comparison, the distance between capitals of Armenia and Azerbaijan is around 400 km.

Acquisition of missile systems by Armenia followed the aforementioned re-intensification of negotiations. This dynamics in negotiation process have been very visible during the summer and then gradually went down right after Armenia have demonstrated the systems in the beginning of fall. Another feature of the said summer was the crisis that Yerevan have lived through with hostage situation and "Sasna Tsrer" terrorist group. The pattern clearly indicates that there was a possibility of the processes around Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to develop in more peaceful way. Instead, Armenia chose to move on with show of strength and incite even more serious arms race, simultaneously backing off in negotiations.

Hence, after the two consecutive terms of the Obama administration, the peak year of 2016 resulted in both the unprecedented military escalation and gradually new levels of arms race in the South Caucasus - a general outcome of a foreign policy that aims at withdrawing from the world and pivoting towards isolationism. If Trump's administration is to continue within the same general direction in the U.S. foreign policy, it is quite possible that the processes of militarization and intensification of the hostilities in the region will pick up a new pace with the more aggressive withdrawal policies of the new administration. The South Caucasus may see post-American era much sooner than many other regions in the world.

This may be very harmful to the U.S. interests due to the fact that South Caucasus is seen as a region that plays an important part in energy security of Europe that is provided by Azerbaijan via Georgia and Turkey. The instability that could be brought by the militarization and hostilities in the region may harm this important energy security framework. In this context the region awaits the appointment of a new Secretary of State in Trump's administration and that of a new U.S. Co-Chair of the Minsk Group as to indicate how things are likely to develop for the region.

The election of Mr. Trump as the next President of the U.S. has truly brought a lot of change. There is a chance that if Mr. Trump appoints such people to the aforementioned positions that will be quite aware of risk factors for South Caucasus and will be able to adopt a realistic view on current processes and in retrospective, the described dangerous trend can be stopped or even reversed. The negative stance of Mr. Trump on lobbying organizations is another factor that may prevent the Armenian-American lobby from intervening into U.S. foreign policy shaping process. So change may turn out good after all.

Kamal Makili-Aliyev
Doctor habilitatus of Laws

         Modern Diplomacy


Time for the objective stance of EU on Nagorno-Karabakh

Monday, November 07, 2016

The EU-Azerbaijan relations have seen a progressive development throughout the years. Economic relations have seen a lot of growth in terms of hydrocarbons trade and major energy projects. Political side of relations is also steadily developing with EU and Azerbaijan working on the framework agreements on strategic partnerships that will indicate the high levels of relations. Readiness of EU to work on major projects with Azerbaijan, liberalized visa regime and blooming bilateral relations with most of the EU-states are the indicators of the high level of interaction of sides,  common interests and values.

Since Azerbaijan have regained its independence in 1991 it is facing a protracted armed conflict with neighboring Armenia around Nagorno-Karabakh that have led to disastrous consequences for the region in terms of humanitarian catastrophe of around 1 million of Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs that were forced to leave their homes. The aggression of the Republic of Armenia and its occupation of internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan are undisputable and have been recently confirmed by the judgment of European Court of Human Rights in Chiragov and others v. Armenia case. Yes, the European international judicial body with a very high global authority and regard.

Despite the unsubstantiated arguments of Armenians that Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenian population constitutes "peoples", that these "peoples" have voted on the referendum in accordance with Soviet legislation and international norms, that these "peoples" have right to self-determination, the European Court of Human Rights acting within the norms of international law have passed a proper judgment. Of course there are no "peoples of Nagorno-Karabakh" and there have never been such "peoples". Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are the national minority on the territory of Azerbaijan and that minority have expelled all the Azerbaijanis not only from former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast' but from the seven adjacent regions of Azerbaijan, which is clear from the aforementioned judgment. National minorities do not have a right to self-determination in broader sense - so there is no right to secession for them. Otherwise any minority in any country would be able to establish a new state.

Not a single country or entity from the 15 former states of Soviet Union have used Soviet legislation to leave the Union or have fulfilled all the legal criteria for that. Instead the Union dissolved at the end of 1991 and all the former Soviet Republics were recognized in accordance with the principle uti possidetis juris in the same borders as they have had them in USSR's administrative boundaries. Nagorno-Karabakh have been an integral part of Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, that in its own turn, was an integral part of Soviet Union. Nagorno-Karabakh was not a historical part of Armenia. In XIX century Karabakh khanate have been incorporated into Imperial Russia and later was a part of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic for a short period of time, when that Republic became a part of Soviet Union. Due to the fact that this territory had a Armenian minority living there compactly, in 1923 the decision was taken by the Soviet authorities to grant the mountainous part of Karabakh status of Autonomous Oblast'. It has to be pointed out that the same was not done for the Azerbaijani minority leaving compactly in Zangezur of Armenia. Those Azerbaijanis have been expelled during war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1990-s and constitute main bulk of refugees from Armenia. Thus all the arguments about Nagorno-Karabakh "never being part of Azerbaijan" are quite false. Even XIX century documented accounts of UK Foreign Office indicate Karabakh as part of country of Azerbaijan inside of Imperial Russia.

Despite all that, EU instead of adopting an objective stance on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and condemn the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia, have chosen to stay "neutral" and sacrifice the objectivity for the good relations with both sides of the conflict. Such approach does not reflect neither the level of cooperation, nor the developments in relations between EU and Azerbaijan. It has also jeopardized the view that EU is governed by the democratic values, international law and objectivity. Being neutral and being objective are not the same. It is high time for EU to show objectivity and openly condemn the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by aggressor and show support for the just position of Azerbaijan in accordance with international law.

Kamal Makili-Aliyev
Doctor habilitatus of Laws

        EurActiv Blog


War or peace: Armenia’s dead end

Monday, August 15, 2016

The game of chess is a very popular sport and entertainment in both Azerbaijan and Armenia. In Armenia, it is even a compulsory subject in primary and secondary schools. Yet, despite the fact that this game is so well mastered at a national level, Armenia finds itself in a very difficult position on the chessboard of regional politics in the South Caucasus, especially after the escalation in the area of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in April 2016.

With two out of its four borders with neighbouring countries closed and with no direct railway connection with Russia – the largest country in the South Caucasus neighbourhood, Armenia is by definition in a difficult geographical position. But the two closed borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey are solely the result of Armenia’s own actions. Military aggression and the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions of Azerbaijan led to the closure of these borders more than 20 years ago. Despite the recognition of these territories as belonging to Azerbaijan and condemnation of the aggression by the international community, Armenia is continuing its occupation while pretending to want peaceful negotiations.

It is this kind of policy from Armenia that has meant the protracted efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict peacefully have so far failed to bear fruit. The military escalation in April 2016 served as a reminder that this conflict is a very real threat to regional and international security. It attracted a lot of media attention and generated a political momentum for the larger powers to return their attention to the issue. What is more interesting is that Armenia’s post-escalation situation can be described in chess terms as Zugzwang. This is when a chess player finds themselves in the position that will be worsened by any possible move.

The April 2016 escalation clearly revealed the military capabilities of Azerbaijan, which delivered an asymmetrical response to the artillery shelling of its civilian population that lives along the front between the Armenian and Azerbaijani armies. This was the first time that Azerbaijan used its military power in a counter-offensive with the aim of pushing back Armenian artillery positions and securing its civilian populations. That operation was successful. Azerbaijan was even able to liberate some of its internationally-recognised territory. This was not the kind of mythical “failed blitzkrieg” that some analysts tried to paint it as. Had this been the case, the operation would be directed at very different geographical positions and would not have targeted artillery positions. Rather, it would be concentrated on “drilling in” deep into the hostile territory to establish positions there.

One of the results of April 2016 escalation was the end of the myth of the ‘impregnable’ Armenian defence on the line of contact. It showed that Armenia will be unable to hold its military positions on the occupied territories should Azerbaijan choose to use Article 51 of the UN Charter and exercise its inherent right to self-defence to liberate the occupied territories using force. The moves now available to Armenia can only weaken its position. Going into the military standoff with Azerbaijan and choosing war will only lead to bloodshed that will end with Armenia’s military defeat. This would deprive the country of the scarce resources it still has. On the other hand, choosing peace and still trying to maintain control over the occupied territories of Azerbaijan through the continued pretence of peaceful negotiations will worsen Armenia’s already dreadful economic situation and may weaken its internal situation to the point of making it an altogether failed state.

It is clear that whichever move Armenia chooses, be it war or peace, its situation will only deteriorate. On the other hand, withdrawal from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan may give Armenia the chance to abandon its hopeless chess game and bring peace and economic development to the region.
Kamal Makili-Aliyev
Doctor habilitatus of Laws



New book: "Essays on International Security and Geopolitics"

Monday, June 20, 2016

My new book that embodies the collection of articles published during my first five years of work as an analyst in the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The digital version can be found here.

Kamal Makili-Aliyev
Doctor habilitatus of Laws


Pakistan-Azerbaijan Economic and Defence Cooperation

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My joint article with a Pakistani colleague called Pakistan-Azerbaijan Economic and Defense Cooperation that we wrote on the topics of bilateral cooperation between our countries can be found here.

Kamal Makili-Aliyev
Doctor habilitatus of Laws


Nagorno-Karabakh Isn't Disputed Territory — It's Occupied

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

It is actually very simple. Contrary to the statements made in the mass media when it covers the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, this mountainous region of Azerbaijan is not disputed in any way. It is occupied. So says the international law and recently that same opinion follows from the ruling of the international judicial body - European Court of Human Rights.

Despite the allegations of Armenia (that have in fact occupied sovereign territory of Azerbaijan) that the remaining ethnically Armenian population of the region has exercised the right to self-determination, it has been proven false again and again. For once, Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh are not "people" in the meaning of UN Charter to enjoy such a right. Armenians have already exercised that right in Armenia, where they have an internationally recognized state. Thus, making them a national minority on the territory of Azerbaijan and not some kind of "Nagorno-Karabakh people". Otherwise, Armenians would have a right to self-determination in U.S., Russia, France and other countries where they have  large communities, creating a horde of small states. This is simply illogical.

No state have recognized the separatist entity in Nagorno-Karabakh, including Armenia. No state have recognized Armenian claims on this region as well. So basically there is no dispute on the attribution of the region.

The European Court of Human Rights have actually engraved all of the above into the international jurisprudence.  On 16 June 2015 Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights have come up with two judgments on the reciprocal cases Chiragov and Others v. Armenia and Sargsyan v. Azerbaijan.

Both cases seemed to have very close and even balanced judgments and  that Court intended not to stir political side of the question. However, closer examination shows that this is far from reality and it was impossible for the Court to escape some very serious issues related to the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh.

For example, in Chiragov v. Armenia case, Court addresses the separatist entity "Nagorno-Karabakh Republic" specifically in brackets to show that it is not in any way recognized officially. It also establishes the fact that there are no Azerbaijanis left in the occupied territories of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast' as well as in the adjacent seven regions. Thus, basically acknowledging that Armenians were able to carry out complete ethnic cleansing on those territories. Those ethnic cleansings resulted in around 750.000 internally displaced persons living in Azerbaijan now and additional 250.000 refugees of Azerbaijani origin expelled from Armenia itself.

Moreover, the Court recognizes Armenian military and financial control over so-called "Nagorno-Karabakh Republic" and comes to the opinion that Armenia has "effective" control in Nagorno-Karabakh. Thus, Armenia have been found in violation of the corresponding articles in the aforementioned case. Precisely due to the effective control it has over Nagorno-Karabakh.
So if one state has an "effective control" over the recognized territory of the other state there cannot be any doubt of the occupation. Therefore there cannot be any dispute over the attribution of the Nagorno-Karabakh region per se. Occupation of someone's sovereign territory does not make that territory disputed in anyway.

The conflict itself being a territorial can be resolved. Even ethnic complication can be lifted given the right attitude towards the resolution. The rights of the Armenian minority to culture, language and religion can be guaranteed without violation of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Armenians can be equal citizens of Azerbaijan enjoying minority rights and largest possible autonomy there is. Azerbaijan have already expressed this proposal many times through its government.

Interestingly, mass media is somehow following up on twisting the real discourse and disregarding all of the international legal data on the subject. Basically trying to be "neutral" when reporting on the conflict. However, neutrality does not in any way mean objectivity. And objectivity is what the image of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict really lacks today. So the discourse that mass media shapes now,  instead of playing in favor of conflict resolution actually helps the hostilities escalate.

If mass media will continue to shape its "neutral" discourse and will not begin to lean on the facts, it will only embolden the Armenia's position of staying on their grounds of occupation, lack of will for resolution, preservation of status quo and destructive stance on violence as opposed to the compromise that would allow Armenia to ensure the rights of its minority in Azerbaijan as true caring kin-state.

Bryant McGill very sharply pointed out that: "Where wise actions are the fruit of life, wise discourse is the pollination". In order for the resolution of the conflict to bring some fruits, the discourse should first of all turn to the wise one. While the Nagorno-Karabakh is not a disputed region of Azerbaijan, the discourse around it should become the subject to a very profound change.

Kamal Makili-Aliyev
Doctor habilitatus of Laws
        The National Interest