By Richard Weitz (03/04/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Despite the drawdown of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Central Asia, and a preoccupation with developments in East Asia and the Middle East, the Obama administration continues to affirm support for promoting the economic integration of South and Central Asia through its New Silk Road initiative. Launched soon after the administration assumed office, the policy seeks to promote regional trade and transit, improve customs and border flows, and deepen business and popular ties among these countries in order to promote peace and prosperity. But the administration must take urgent action to renew the project and achieve its worthy objectives.
By Stephen Blank (06/18/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Presumably to fend off mounting criticism of U.S. policy, Ambassador James Warlick, the U.S. Representative to the Minsk Process on Nagorno-Karabakh, recently gave a series of speeches and interviews outlining U.S. policy on the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict. Warlick outlined U.S. support for the six principles that he said had already been agreed upon by all parties, and concluded that the main obstacle to resolving the conflict lay in the failure until now of the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments to make the hard decision for peace over domestic opposition. Warlick’s remarks reflect the Obama Administration’s failure to grasp what is at stake in the Caucasus or to take conflict resolution there sufficiently seriously.
By Eka Janashia (the 03/05/2014 of the CACI Analyst)
Georgia's Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili met with U.S. President Barack Obama during his negotiations with Vice President Joe Biden at the White House on February 24. President Obama joined the meeting for about 20 minutes. The parties discussed the U.S.-Georgia strategic partnership, the prospects for Georgia’s integration with the EU and NATO, the necessity of continuing reforms in Georgia, as well as the perspective of closer U.S.-Georgia trade relations.
Georgia's Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze said that the PM’s meeting with President Obama was pre-planned but not announced upon the request of White House. After the meeting, Gharibashvili said that “Georgia is moving actually to a new stage of relations with the United States.”
Both Obama’s readiness to meet with the Georgian PM and Garibashvili’s statements that the US is Georgia's “number one ally” can be taken to reflect recent developments in Ukraine.
President Obama and Vice President Biden praised Georgia for conducting its first peaceful, democratic transition of power, but also urged PM to cooperate with all of Georgia’s leaders and civil society to enhance the rule of law and consolidate Georgia’s democratic accomplishments.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made the same points in a meeting with Gharibashvili on February 26: “We urge all Georgians to unite in looking forward and to leave the past in the past,” he said at the fourth plenary session of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission.
Kerry stated that the bilateral “strategic partnership is stronger than ever” and proclaimed a plan to provide Georgia with "additional assistance" to help its European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations - specifically through visa-free travel with the EU - and to mitigate the heavy outcomes caused by the process of "borderization" in the occupied territories (see the 02/10/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst).
On February 25, at an event hosted by the Washington-based think-tank Atlantic Council, PM Gharibashvili said that six years ago at the NATO Summit in Bucharest, Georgia obtained the outstanding promise that it would become a member of the alliance. The pledge was reiterated at the 2012 Chicago summit when NATO underlined the importance of conducting free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections in Georgia. At the upcoming Summit in the UK in September, NATO should grant Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP) as a reward for fulfilling this task properly, Gharibashvili stressed.
He also called on the EU to open a membership perspective for the successful Eastern Partnership’s countries. “It is obvious that unless the European Union gives a clear promise of membership to the successful countries of the Eastern Partnership, crises similar to Ukraine will happen again and again,” he said. Gharibashvili then recalled that February 25 was the 93rd anniversary of the Bolshevik occupation of Tbilisi and urged that all efforts should be made to eschew such a tragedy in the 21st century.
The Georgian Dream ruling coalition as well as the opposition United National Movement party assessed the PM’s U.S. trip positively.
There are several reasons to assess Gharibashvili's U.S. visit positively, as it reflects a deepening institutionalization of the U.S. - Georgia Strategic Partnership. At the same time, U.S. statements make clear that reconciliation between Georgia's political forces and looking forward rather than dwelling on the past is essential to augment more political support from the U.S.
The U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership draws upon the charter signed by the two countries in January, 2009, to deal with the priority areas of democracy; defense and security; trade and economy; people-to-people and cultural exchanges. In 2012, then Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili requested a U.S.-Georgia free trade agreement (FTA) and President Obama promised to explore the possibilities for such an agreement. At the recent meeting with the Georgian PM, the U.S. president suggested that the two countries should boost trade and deepen economic cooperation. In this context, the Georgian PM met with the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to discuss the issue in detail.
However, the most important issue raised during the tour was that, given Ukraine’s’ ongoing tensions with Moscow, Washington might become more motivated to again raise the issue with other NATO members of granting Georgia a MAP. Meanwhile, the declaration of "additional assistance" for Georgia to smooth the progress of European integration also represents a tangible outcome of the visit.
On the other hand, the course of events in Ukraine may push Tbilisi to revise its normalization policy with Russia. Georgia's new government has never previously made such clear and principled statements on this issue as it did during the U.S. trip. In addition, Tbilisi was quick to welcome the formation of a new government in Ukraine and strongly condemned the developments taking place in Crimea. “The distribution of [Russian] passports, reinforcing military infrastructure and units by Russia on the territory of another state, as well as the decision to protect with armed forces the ‘interests of compatriots’ living in Ukraine, represent flagrant interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state,” president Giorgi Margvelashvili’s statement reads.
Meanwhile, parliamentary speaker David Usuphashvili called on the international community not to allow a new conflict in Europe and apply all measures to avert a possible aggression.
On March 3, Georgia's Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze had a telephone conversation with her acting Ukrainian counterpart, Andriy Deschytsya. They discussed the Crimean crises and agreed on the necessity of providing Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova an explicit perspective of EU membership.
By Mina Muradova (the 03/05/2014 of the CACI Analyst)
Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova, well-known for her reporting on high-level corruption, is again under prosecution charged with spying for the U.S.. The U.S. Embassy has expressed its “deep disturbance” by “the ongoing, targeted harassment” of Ismayilova and described as “absurd” claims that she was passing along intelligence information to two American officials who met Ismayilova in late January.
Ismayilova works with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and hosts a daily analytical talk-show on Radio Azadliq, an RFE/RL channel in Azerbaijani. According to OCCRP, her award-winning investigations uncovered high-level corruption in Azerbaijan, including lucrative business deals of the Azerbaijani president’s family members, hidden interests of the president’s siblings in national contracts and mismanagement in the state financing sector.
In early 2012, she was targeted by a smear campaign in which an explicit video appeared on the Internet containing intimate and illegally obtained images of the journalist. In 2012 the Zeit Stiftung and Fritt Ord Foundation awarded Ismayilova with the Gerd Bucerius Free Press of Eastern Europe Award, while the Washington-based International Women Media Foundation gave her the Courage of Journalism Award.
The campaign intensified in August 2013 before the October Presidential elections when a new video appeared on the Internet and on February 13, Haqqani.az, a pro-governmental website, accused Ismayilova of passing information discrediting Azerbaijan’s opposition members to two congressional staffers who allegedly gather intelligence in Baku. The article was picked up by other pro-government media and amplified by parliamentarians, who demanded an investigation of Ismayilova and referred to RFE/RL as a "spy network of the U.S. in Azerbaijan."
The situation escalated when Ismayilova posted a scan on her Facebook page that appears to be evidence that the Ministry of National Security (MNS) hires an informer inside opposition circles. “On Feb 16 following the statements by government and pro-government media propaganda that I am involved in espionage, I posted on FB the picture - the scan of a so-called report leaked to me by a former employee of MNS,” Ismayilova said in her Facebook statement under the headline “Prosecutor is calling - Ministry of National Security is in trouble”. According to Ismayilova, the paper was an “alleged report by an MNS employee to his chief about the guaranteed cooperation with one member of a small opposition party.”
Stipulating terms and threatening blackmail, the document suggests an active government effort to infiltrate the political opposition. The paper reads that the informer receives 600 AZN as a monthly fee from the MNS Internal Intelligence Department for informing and creating conflicts within the opposition. Besides, the paper alleged that the MNS has additional means for pressuring the informant in the form of intimate videos.
“If the prosecutor's office opens this case, it means that the document is authentic and that the MNS has been spying on the private lives of opposition members and blackmailing them with the video,” - Ismayilova said in her Facebook statement.
On February 18, Ismayilova was summoned as a witness to the Prosecutor’s Office within an investigation into the leaking of state secrets. The U.S. Embassy dismissed the espionage charges and stated that "congressional staff delegations routinely visit Azerbaijan to meet with embassy staff, Azerbaijani officials, and civil society representatives. They do so to better inform our government’s legislative efforts regarding Azerbaijan and the rest of the region."
Ismayilova confirms that she had a routine meeting with congressional staffers, but nothing more. She noted that the Prosecutor’s Office was focusing "mainly on my dinner in Baku's Art-Garden restaurant with two visiting U.S. Senate staffers in late January. The prosecutor told me that they have information that I allegedly passed some kind of state secrets to the visiting Americans. I said that it is impossible, since I don't have any state secrets in my possession. This is an absurd allegation."
Ismayilova was charged under Article 284 of Azerbaijan’s criminal court for “revealing a state secret”.
This case was officially initiated after a Member of Parliament from the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party, Jeyhun Osmanli, submitted an audio recording to prosecutors that he claimed to have secretly in a Baku restaurant, when Ismayilova was talking to “foreign nationals.” On his Facebook page, Osmanli declared that “betrayal of the Motherland will not be forgiven.” Eldar Sultanov, a spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s Office, confirmed that Osmanli provided prosecutors with the audio recording of Ismayilova’s conversation in the restaurant. “This audio recording is under thorough investigation and a relevant decision will be taken,” he said.
On February 22, another RFE/RL journalist, Yafez Hasanov, posted on Facebook that he had received death threats over his critical reporting on human rights violations in Nakhchivan and appealed to the Interior Minister and General Prosecutor provide him with necessary security measures.
In an open letter, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) called on the Government of Azerbaijan to stop its harassment of all journalists and to respect freedom of the media, a commitment it has undertaken. Cardin noted that this harassment is a part of an “unfortunate string of politically-motivated arrests of Azerbaijani’s who are exercising their rights to free speech.” He termed the list of those jailed on criminal charges in the period prior to the 2013 presidential election, as “troubling.”
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.