Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. I’m Asbed Bedrossian and together with Hovik Manucharyan, this week we’re going to talk about the following major topics:
● Saakashvili Back in Georgia
● Putin, Erdogan, in Sochi
● OSCE Minsk Group in Artsakh?
● Tonoyan, Galstyan, in Jail
● Hovik in Stepanakert
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
Benyamin Poghosyan, who is the Chairman of the Yerevan based think tank Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies, He was deputy director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the Ministry of Defense from 2010 to 2016 and the Vice President for Research, at the National Defense Research University from 2016 to 2019.
Dr. Pietro Shakarian, who is a Lecturer in History at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan. His research focuses on the history of Eastern Armenia and the Caucasus, especially Soviet Armenia during the era of Nikita Khrushchev’s Thaw.
After 8 years outside of Georgia, former president Mikheil Saakashvili returned to Tbilisi this past week, to mobilize his supporters to vote against the ruling party, Georgian Dream, in the upcoming municipal elections, which are seen as a prelude to the national elections.
Saakashvili was promptly arrested and jailed according to prime minister Irakli Garibashvili, and president Salome Zourabichvili said that she will not pardon the former president, who is accused of abuse of authority and sentenced to six years in jail.
● How does Saakashvili’s return and arrest figure within the context of Georgia’s domestic politics?
● Why do we pay so little attention to Georgia’s internal politics?
● Georgia’s internal politics seem as polarized as Armenia’s. Are there parallels between them?
● For Armenia Saakashvili’s arrest is just a result of Georgia’s politics. How does it matter to Armenia whether the Georgian Dream party, or the opposition United National Movement party were to come to power?
This past week, presidents Putin and Erdogan started to meet, to discuss a wide array of issues between their countries. Increasingly it is clear that Armenia and Artsakh are just one, maybe two of the horses in the foreign affairs horse-trading going on within the spectrum of conflicts between Russia and Turkey, from Libya, to Syria, to Ukraine, the Caucasus, Nagorno Karabakh, and to Afghanistan. That’s a 10,000 Km zone of… “partnerships” - as Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, called it.
What were the major topics the presidents discussed, and what are the potential outcomes of these discussions for us?
Much of the two leaders’ discussions are behind closed doors. What do you think we’re not hearing about?
● Putin noted the successful cooperation between Russia and Turkey in Syria and Libya. Erdogan noted that the joint steps of Russia and Turkey in Syria are of great importance, adding that peace in the region depends on the relations between the two countries.
● Only Putin referred to the situation in the Artsakh conflict zone, exclusively mentioning the following. "The Russian-Turkish ceasefire control center on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border is actively operating. "This cooperation is a serious guarantee that the parties will agree on further steps towards stability and reconciliation." None of the leaders used the name Nagorno Karabakh in their speech, nor specifically addressed the situation. The Turkish press had earlier reported that discussions would be held on the “Zangezur corridor”, but the Turkish side did not bring up the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.
● According to Erdogan, the first unit of the Russian nuclear power plant in Turkey will open in 2022.
● Erdogan spoke about the military-industrial sphere, the S-400 deal, saying that there were steps that had already been taken and that there was no way back.
● Peskov said that the Crimean issue will not be discussed, as it is not usually discussed, there is nothing to discuss with the Turkish side in terms of Crimea. The Turkish side brought up the Crimean issue.
There’s recent news that the OSCE Minsk Group is getting activated. Even Aliyev, despite mocking the organization in the past as ineffective, has said that he’s not against meeting Pashinyan if the OSCE Minsk Group organizes it. There is discussion that the group is planning a visit to the region which may also include a visit to Artsakh.
Aliyev has repeated ad nauseam that he has used force to solve the Karabakh issue. Additionally, last week in his address to the UN General Assembly, he asked member states to no longer use the term “Karabakh” because he said no such legal region exists anymore.
So we know that Aliyev is keen on modifying the mandate of the Minsk Group, and remove the issue of self-determination from it.
To what do we attribute this evolution in the negotiation process? Has Aliyev received signals from Pashinyan or the OSCE MG co-chairs, that the issue of self-determination is negotiable?
Sergey Lavrov recently made a statement on OSCE Minsk Group activity as well. In an interview to Tass, Lavrov mentioned nothing about the status of Artsakh, nor de-occupation of Hadrut or Lachin. Instead, he mentioned the need to return prisoners within the same sentence as the need for Armenia to provide mine maps. Lavrov further went on to state that the
"... main goal currently is to build a calm, peaceful and stable life, encourage the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities to reach the mutual trust that the region lacked for decades and make sure that issues related to the return of refugees and other everyday issues are resolved,"
What is Lavrov communicating? Which communities is he talking about and what’s the scope of the point on return of refugees? Does Lavrov mean only to Shushi or other areas of Artsakh, or outside of Artsakh?
On Thursday, The National Security Service announced that former defense minister David Tonoyan along with two other individuals had been arrested, charged with embezzlement related to purchases of faulty weapons to the tune of almost $5 million.
Others who have been named in this developing case are Davit Galstyan, who owns many companies that have sold weapons to the Armenian military over the years; Stepan Galstyan, a deputy chief of the General Staff; and according to the NSS there will be more arrests.
This story has been around for a year, and we’ve read about Davit Galstyan for even longer. Has new evidence come up to prompt these arrests? Is there a timing angle to this? Is there a political angle to this? Is there serious corruption underlying these dealings, or are they politically motivated?
The details of the case:
● Pashinian appointed Tonoyan as defense minister after coming to power in 2018. Ararat Mirzoyan hailed him as a “real professional” and “person of integrity” who will quickly modernize the army.
● Tonoyan was sacked 2 weeks after the 44-day war ended with Pashinyan’s complete capitulation. Senior Civil Contract members have tried to pin the loss on Tonoyan.
● When chief of the General Staff, Colonel-General Onik Gasparian, said that four days after the outbreak of the war he warned Armenia’s political leadership to urgently halt the war with Azerbaijan and end the hostilities. Pashinian subsequently denied Gasparian’s claim, but Tonoyan not only confirmed the warning issued by the army top brass but also said that it was agreed upon with him.
● There have been competing arms deals mediated by pro-Pashinyan MP and chair of the defense and national security parliamentary subcommittee, Andranik Kocharyan, which were stopped by Onik Gasparyan or Tonoyan.
Hovik Manucharyan reports about his visit to Artsakh and his experience there.
As always, we’re leaving many topics on the table with no time to discuss. Let me mention just a couple:
● Pashinyan’s cabinet approved the 2022 draft budget
● Iran is holding military exercises along its border with Azerbaijan. They are not happy with Baku, and they’re not mincing words in saying so!
● Freedom House has complained about Pashinyan’s government’s Degradation of Democratic norms.
● The Council of Europe has complained of the inadequacy of Pashinyan’s anti-corruption measures.
○ And of course, the Armenian government has hit back that they disagree with these complaints.
● Parliament has stalled on creating the Commission to investigate the 44-day war’s outcome.
● The handing over of the Zangezur Mining Complex from a former ruling class to the new ruling class
● And of course, we still don’t know what “rapprochement” the Armenian government wants to talk, with Turkey.
That was our Week in Review show, and we hope it helped you catch up with some of the issues in and around Armenia from this past week. As always, we invite your feedback and your suggestions. You can find us on most social media and podcast platforms, or our website Groong.org.
On behalf of everyone in this episode, we wish you a good week. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channels, Like our pages and follow us on social media. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Benyamin Poghosyan, Pietro Shakarian, Armenia, Artsakh, Nagorno Karabakh, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, David Tonoyan, Davit Galstyan, Stepan Galstyan, Andranik Kocharyan, South Caucasus, Turkey, Russia, OSCE, Minsk Group, Peace Negotiations, Military reform, Press Freedoms, Politics, Military Procurement, JCPOA, United States, Iran, Freedom House, Council of Europe,