Strategic Analysis Caucasus Brief
Bi-weekly review (20. 9. 2021 – 03. 10. 2021)
Copper Mine, Alaverdi, Armenia. Photo: Karen Faljan/ Shutterstock.com
Former Armenian Minister of Defence Davit Tonoyan charged with embezzlement
Davit Tonoyan, the former Minister of Defence of Armenia, was arrested for abuse of power and embezzling a large amount of money from the Ministry. The alleged accomplice in the scheme was Davit Galstyan, a former advisor to Tonoyan, informed the OC Media.
According to Armenia’s National Security Service, Tonoyan and Galstyan embezzled about 4.7 million USD from the Ministry of Defence between 2018 and 2020. Tonoyan’s arrest was confirmed by the NSS on September 29.
Nicknamed “Patron Davo” (Bullet Davo), Tonoyan’s alleged accomplice, Davit Galstyan owns several companies that have supplied the Armenian Ministry of Defence with weapons and ammunition. The alleged embezzlement concerns the 2018 sale of artillery shells, supposedly produced in 1983–1986, to the Armenian military.
According to the NSS, Galstyan used “deception” and the “hiding the technical-tactical characteristics” to instead deliver shells produced in 1977. These shells then allegedly failed to perform during the war.
Shortly after, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Stepan Galstyan has also been detained as part of a criminal investigation.
Davit Galstyan was appointed as an advisor to Tonoyan in 2019 and charged with defrauding the Defence Ministry in February 2021. Tonoyan led the Defence Ministry from 2018 and was sacked after the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war in November 2020.
- AVETISYAN Ani, „OC Media, Armenia’s former Defence Minister arrested, charged with embezzlement“, https://oc-media.org/armenias-former-defence-minister-arrested-charged-with-embezzlement/
- panorama.am, „Deputy chief of Armenian military’s General Staff detained“, https://www.panorama.am/en/news/2021/10/02/deputy-chief-army/2575421
Criminal case filed for insulting comment under Armenia PM’s photo on Facebook
The law enforcement agencies of Armenia have filed a criminal case for writing an insulting comment under Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s photo on Facebook, the Police press service reported.
“A criminal case has been initiated under [Criminal Code] Article 137.1: ‘Making serious insult to a person due to his public activities,’” the Police said.
According to the recently adopted amendments to Armenia’s Criminal Code, the use of obscene language in public has been criminalised, with more severe penalties reserved for those who direct such language at public officials. The maximum fine is 3,000,000 Dram (6,000 USD) or two years in prison, writes the OC Media.
The amendments were criticised by local and international rights organisations. A coalition of local media watchdogs condemned them as “unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression” while Marc Behrendt, director for Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House, said that the amendments would “stifle free expression and threaten the financial viability of media outlets in the country”.
According to a recent Freedom House report, in 2020 Armenia dropped four points in its ranking on internet freedom.
- AVETISYAN Ani, OC Media, „Criminal case opened for ‘insulting’ Facebook comment on Pashinyan photo“, https://oc-media.org/criminal-case-opened-for-insulting-facebook-comment-on-pashinyan-photo/
- News.am, „Criminal case filed for writing insulting comment under Armenia PM’s photo on Facebook“, https://news.am/eng/news/664150.html
For additional information, see:
- AVETISYAN Ani, OC Media, „New policies threaten Armenia’s press freedom“, https://oc-media.org/features/new-policies-threaten-armenias-press-freedom/
Russian shareholder donates 25% of Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine to Armenian Government
The government of Armenia has accepted 25% of shares of the Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine as a donation from the shareholder. A Russian company has bought a majority stake in Armenia’s largest mining enterprise and immediately ceded part of it to the Armenian government, explains azatutyun.am.
The GeoProMining group and the government announced the deals in a joint statement issued on October 1 more than two months after law-enforcement officers raided the offices of the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC) in a crackdown promised by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
The statement said a GeoProMining subsidiary acquired 60 per cent of ZCMC on Thursday and then “granted” a quarter of that stake to the Armenian government.
“The granted 25 per cent of the shares constitute 15 per cent of the equity of ZCMC that will consequently belong to the Republic of Armenia,” it said.
“We intend to expand cooperation with the Government of Armenia,” the GeoProMining owner, Russian billionaire Roman Trotsenko, was quoted as saying.
The statement gave no clear reason for Trotsenko’s lavish donation to the government. Nor it did specify from whom the Russian company purchased the majority stake in ZCMC.
The Armenian mining giant employing some 4,000 people is based in Kajaran, a small town in southeastern Syunik province. A German metals group, Cronimet, officially owned 75 per cent of its stock for many years. The rest of the company belonged to two obscure Armenian firms.
- www.azatutyun.am, „Armenian Mining Giant Changes Hands“, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31488318.html
- www.armenpress.am, shareholder donates 25% of Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine to Armenian Government“, https://www.armenpress.am/eng/news/1064534/
General Gennady Anashkin appointed as the new commander of Russian peacekeepers
Lieutenant-General Gennady Anashkin was appointed the new commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The first commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh was Rustam Muradov. His mission was completed recently, and he was briefly replaced by Major General Mikhail Kosobokov. Now the baton passes to Gennady Anashkin.
On September 25. Muradov, Kosobokov and Anashkin were received by Armenian Defense Minister Arshak Karapetyan. During the meeting, the current deputy commander of the Southern Military District of Russia, lieutenant general Rustam Muradov introduced the newly appointed Kosobokov.
Gennady Vladimirovich Anashkin was born in 1968 in Kuibyshev (now Samara). In 1987 he was drafted into the army, served in Germany. Later he graduated from the Ryazan Higher Airborne Command School. Since 1998, he served in the 116th separate paratrooper battalion, commander of a company.
From December 1999 to August 2000, Anashkin served in the former Yugoslavia, where he commanded an airborne battalion as part of the peacekeeping forces in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Anashkin graduated from the Combined Arms Academy of the Russian Armed Forces in 2003. He was on business trips in Chechnya during the first and second Chechen wars.
Since June 2007, he headed the 104th Guards Airborne Assault Regiment (76th Guards Airborne Assault Division). The group under the command of Anashkin took part in hostilities in 2008 in South Ossetia.
With the decree of the President of the Russian Federation on September 5, 2008, Gennady Anashkin was awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation for courage and heroism shown in the implementation of military service during combat actions on the territory of South Ossetia and Georgia. At that time, he was the commander of the 104th Guard Air-Assault Regiment.
According to the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office, in March 2014, the commander of the 31st Separate Guard Air-Assault Brigade, with over 50 servicemen under his command, surrounded and blocked A3320 (36th separate brigade of coastal defence of Ukraine’s naval forces) in Crimea.
- horizonweekly.ca, „General Gennady Anashkin appointed commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Artsakh“, https://horizonweekly.ca/en/general-gennady-anashkin-appointed-commander-of-the-russian-peacekeeping-forces-in-artsakh/
- turan.az, „Peacekeepers in Karabakh will have a new commander: Kosobokov will be appointed to higher position“, https://www.turan.az/ext/news/2021/9/free/politics_news/en/8039.htm/001
- mediamax.am, „5 facts about the new commander of Russian peacekeeping forces in Artsakh“, https://mediamax.am/en/news/parzabanum/44728/
The US Congress demands Baku to release all Armenian POW’s
On September 23, the House of Representatives of the US Congress demanded Azerbaijan to immediately release all Armenian servicemen and civilians who continued to remain in captivity after the end of the second Karabakh war.
As the JAM news writes, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the law presented by Congressmen Adam Schiff, Tony Cardenas and Brad Sherman. It says that all Armenian prisoners who continue to be held in Azerbaijan must be returned in accordance with the requirements of international law and the Geneva Conventions.
“Despite its obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the statement of November 9 [document on the cessation of hostilities in Karabakh, signed by the heads of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia ], the Azerbaijani government continues to detain about 200 Armenian prisoners of war and other detainees, distorting the status of these people to justify their being in captivity”, reads the document, published on the website of the House of Representatives.
The document also calls for the investigation of the use of white phosphorus, cluster bombs and other prohibited ammunition against the Karabakh population, as well as the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters to participate in military operations on the side of Azerbaijan.
- JAM News, „US Congress demands Azerbaijan to release all Armenian prisoners of war“, https://jam-news.net/us-congress-demands-azerbaijan-to-release-all-armenian-prisoners-of-war/
- Caucasian Knot, „US Congress demands from Baku to release Armenian prisoners“, https://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/56820/
The ruling party wins local elections despite allegations of intimidation and vote-buying
With the votes counted from 99% of polling stations, the ruling Georgian Dream party was leading in the local elections with 47% of the proportional vote nationwide. This puts them over the symbolic 43% threshold widely seen as a measure of their rule, informed the OC Media.
Preliminary results published by the Central Election Commission some 11 hours after polls closed showed the Georgian Dream party securing 48.56% of votes nationwide, followed by UNM with 31.23% and ex-PM Giorgi Gakharia’s For Georgia party in a distant third with 6.87%. The preliminary results for Tbilisi, the capital, shows GD receiving 40.64%, UNM – 29.38%, For Georgia – 8.49%.
According to the Central Election Commission’s preliminary data as of 15:00, the ruling Georgian Dream candidates secured victory in 44 out of 59 municipality mayoral races (not including five self-governing cities), while runoffs are expected in 15 municipalities.
In 12 out of 15 runoffs, Georgian Dream candidates will face United National Movement mayoral hopefuls, with the UNM candidates leading races in the first round in Senaki, Zugdidi and Khelvachauri municipalities. In Tsageri, the ruling party candidate will face For Georgia’s mayoral hopeful, while in Tianeti and Ozurgeti municipalities, GD hopefuls will compete with incumbents, Tamaz Mechiauri from Tamaz Mechiauri for United Georgia party, and independent Konstantine Sharashenidze, respectively. Besides, runoffs are expected in five self-governing cities, including the capital city of Tbilisi, as well as Kutaisi, Batumi, Rustavi and Poti.
OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights declared elections to be competitive and technically well administered but marred by widespread allegations of electoral violations, vote-buying, and an unlevel playing field, as well as intimidation and pressure. US Embassy in Georgia provided a similar assessment.
- OC Media, „Preliminary results give Georgian Dream victory in local elections“, https://oc-media.org/preliminary-results-give-georgian-dream-victory-in-local-elections/
- Civil.ge, „Preliminary National Results: GD (48.56%), UNM (31.23%) For Georgia (6.87%)“, https://civil.ge/archives/445596
- Civil.ge, „Preliminary Results for Municipality Mayors: GD Winning 44, Runoffs in 15“, https://civil.ge/archives/445646
- OSCE, „Local elections in Georgia competitive and well run, but marred by allegations of pressure on voters, vote-buying and an unlevel playing field, international observers say“, https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/georgia/499471
- US Embassy in Georgia, „US Embassy Statement on 2021 Georgian Municipal Elections“, https://ge.usembassy.gov/u-s-embassy-statement-on-2021-georgian-municipal-elections/#.YVqD3eKG3qQ.twitter
Moscow, Tskhinvali sign dual citizenship deal
On September 20, de facto Foreign minister of South Ossetia Dmitry Medoev and Moscow envoy to the region Marat Kulakhmetov have signed the agreement allowing dual citizenship to citizens of South Ossetia.
The document, greenlighted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in August, allows citizens of one party to acquire the citizenship of the other without renouncing their papers, as well as introduces simplified procedures for South Ossetians to obtain Russian nationality.
Besides, the deal allows dual citizens to enjoy rights to social security, education and medical care as per the legislation of their permanent residence. But also, Tskhinvali or Moscow can opt to provide these benefits to a dual citizen even if the person resides in the territory of the other party, writes the Civil.ge.
- Civil.ge, „Moscow, Tskhinvali Sign Dual Citizenship Deal“, https://civil.ge/archives/441171
Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili detained in Georgia
The former President Mikheil Saakashvili was arrested in Georgia on October 1, just one day before the crucial local elections, informs the OC Media.
During a press briefing on Friday evening, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili announced that the authorities had arrested the third Georgian President and honorary chair of the opposition United National Movement party (UNM) and that he had been transported to prison.
Saakashvili has been convicted in absentia on several counts of abuse of power in Georgia, including ordering an attack on political opponent Valeri Gelashvili and illegally promising a pardon to law enforcement officers implicated in a 2006 murder of Sandro Girgvliani.
Saakashvili announced his return to the homeland on September 27, following multiple similar yet broken promises since leaving the country in 2013.
While Georgian authorities vowed to detain him as soon as he set foot on Georgian soil, Saakashvili published an image of a ticket he had booked — set to land on Saturday evening — as proof of his impending arrival.
However, late on October 1, Saakashvili released a live video allegedly from Georgia’s coastal city of Batumi and said that he is already in Georgia ahead of tomorrow’s municipal elections. In the video, Saakashvili has urged the public to vote for the United National Movement (UNM) in the elections and if not the UNM, then some other, smaller, “real opposition parties” and not for the Georgian Dream ruling party (GD) or ex-PM Giorgi Gakharia’s For Georgia party.
He said that he would not appear in public until election day was over and called on Georgians to take to the streets on October 3.
Meanwhile, The Georgian Interior Ministry claimed that Saakashvili has not crossed the Georgian border and that Ukraine has also confirmed that the Georgian ex-president has not left the country. The ruling Georgian Dream party says that Saakashvili’s Batumi video is “fake”, while the UNM claims Saakashvili really returned and that he will appear in public tomorrow.
The ruling GD MP Mamuka Mdinaradze added later that the country’s former president Mikheil Saakashvili was in the Ukrainian resort town of Truskavets and not in Batumi, Georgia, as Saakashvili claimed.
After Saakashvili’s detention, the Georgian Ministry of interior swiftly changed its narrative. It claimed the detention was planned in advance. The operation has been carried out secretly to avoid public confrontation and the possible escalations”, the ministry representative Mamuka Tchelidze said at today’s news briefing. He said Saakashvili was detained at an apartment in the district of Gldani-Nadzaladevi in Tbilisi “in precise and efficient time”. The owner of the apartment where Saakashvili was staying has also been detained for covering the crime.
Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili thanked his Ukrainian counterpart for “fruitful cooperation” in the detention of Saakashvili, who holds Ukrainian citizenship. On the other hand, Sergii Nykyforov, President Zelenskyy’s press secretary, wrote on Facebook that the Ukrainian President “is concerned about the news and the tone of statements bursting in Georgia about the possible development of the situation.” Nykyforov said Ukraine addresses the Georgian side “to clarify all circumstances and reasons for such a step relative to the Ukrainian citizen.”
The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine has later summoned the Georgian Ambassador in Kyiv over the detention of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi, said Oleg Nikolenko, Ukrainian MFA spokesperson.
- KINCHA Shota, OC Media, „Saakashvili arrested in Georgia on the eve of the election“, https://oc-media.org/saakashvili-arrested-in-georgia-on-eve-of-election/
- Agenda.ge, „Ex-president Saakashvili says he is already in Georgia, urges people to take to streets after elections“, https://agenda.ge/en/news/2021/2885
- Agenda.ge, „Interior Ministry: Saakashvili hasn’t crossed into Georgia, Ukraine also confirms“, https://agenda.ge/en/news/2021/2896
- Agenda.ge, „Ruling party MP: Saakashvili is in the Ukrainian resort town of Truskavets, not in Batumi“, https://agenda.ge/en/news/2021/2898
- Agenda.ge, „Interior ministry releases new details about ex-president Saakashvili’s detention“, https://agenda.ge/en/news/2021/2925
- Civil.ge, „Ukraine Summons Georgian Ambassador Over Saakashvili’s Detention“, https://civil.ge/archives/444899
Construction of Georgia’s Namakhvani hydropower plant cancelled
Istanbul-based ENKA Insaat notified the Government of Georgia on September 20 to terminate the Namakhvani HPP project contract, citing the breaches of contract and force majeure.
The decision does not mean the Namakhvani HPP project is automatically cancelled, as the Government of Georgia could still look for other investors to continue the construction.
As Civil.ge, writes, it was not immediately clear which force majeure condition triggered ENKA’s decision. The 2019 contract listed over a dozen force majeure circumstances, including any public protest that would hinder the project construction for more than 21 days within any six months period as one of many force majeure conditions.
The news came after almost 11 months of permanent protests in the western Imereti Region, where the energy project was planned, and days after protest leaders announced they were pulling out of mediation under the European Energy Community.
Critics of the project, including several major opposition parties, have claimed that the environmental impacts and potential safety of the project had not been adequately studied and that it threatened the valley’s unique local ecosystem. The government has dismissed such claims insisting that the proper due diligence had been done.
Davit Chipashvili from the Tbilisi-based Green Alternative, an environmental group opposed to the project, said the grassroots movement against Namakhvani had “played a decisive role” in the cancellation. “In fact, we expected this [decision] because Enka was not involved in the mediation anyway. When the mediation started in June, Enka refused to participate or even state their position, and this was a serious signal”, Chipashvili told the OC Media.
- OC Media, “Construction of Georgia’s Namakhvani hydropower plant cancelled“, https://oc-media.org/construction-of-georgias-namakhvani-hydropower-plant-cancelled
- Civil.ge, ENKA „Terminates Namakhvani HPP Contract with Georgia“, https://civil.ge/archives/441824
Georgia to borrow 100 mln USD from Asian Development Bank shortly after refusing the EU loan
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced on September 21 the approval of a USD 100 million policy-based loans to support Georgia’s electricity transmission sector.
The loan, part of the Electricity Transmission Sector Reforms Program, aims to support the Joint-Stock Company Georgian State Electro system (GSE) and its subsidiary EnergoTrans to reduce their dependency on government funding and external borrowing.
As civil.ge reminds, the disbursement comes some three weeks after the Government of Georgia preemptively refused EUR 75 million loan of “highly favourable” terms from the EU, citing its wish to reduce foreign debt and to avoid “political insinuations.”
- Civil.ge, “ADB Approves USD 100 Mln Loan for Georgia“, https://civil.ge/archives/441612
Pre-election violence casts doubts about Georgian Government’s Commitment to Democratic Election Process
The brawl on September 21 at the UNM Dmanisi mayoral hopeful Giorgi Tatuashvili’s meeting with his supporters claimed several injured.
Tatuashvili, who is also the incumbent mayor, was elected in 2017 as a GD candidate. He, however, was fired from the party in 2020 over his support of Kakha Okriashvili, former ruling party MP who quit and joined the UNM-led Strength in Unity bloc for the 2020 parliamentary vote.
After the incident, MP Okriashvili, who was campaigning with Tatuashvili, claimed that 20 to 30 “aggressive” Georgian Dream supporters had attacked the gathering.
Police have later arrested the son of Georgian Dream’s local majoritarian candidate, Davit Dautashvili, for stabbing with a knife two United National Movement supporters. Dautashvili is charged with intentional infliction of grave injury and violence committed by a group of persons under Articles 117 and 126(1b) of the Criminal Code of Georgia, respectively. The offence carries a prison sentence of 3 to 6 years.
Georgian Dream Dmanisi majoritarian candidate for the local elections, Mikheil Dautashvili, accused MP Okriashvili of provoking the GD activists ahead of the incident. He added that he was being beaten unconscious during the brawl when his son, the detainee, interfered.
The GD candidate said his son voluntarily turned himself in. “He has to pay for the crime,” he noted but stressed that the detainee is “not completely healthy.”
GD PR Secretary MP Shalva Papuashvili dubbed the incident “a provocation” of the United National Movement but called on the ruling party’s supporters to exercise restraint.
The Incident did not go unnoticed in Washington. The US Embassy in Tbilisi said on September 22, “the violent, seemingly politically motivated attacks” in Dmanisi and Rustavi, along with “numerous reports of pressure and intimidation against opposition candidates and their supporters throughout the country, raises serious doubts about the government’s commitment to a safe, fair pre-election environment and a democratic election process.”
The US Embassy statement follows earlier critical remarks of the ruling party for its unwillingness to approve the Constitutional amendment aimed at ensuring broad, multi-party support for an impartial Prosecutor General as well as for wire-taping western diplomats.
- Civil.ge, „GD Candidate’s Son Arrested for Stabbing UNM Supporters“,h ttps://civil.ge/archives/441736
- Civil.ge, „US ‘Seriously Doubts’ Georgian Government’s Commitment to Democratic Election Process“, https://civil.ge/archives/442037
For additional information, see:
- US Embassy in Georgia, „US Embassy Statement on Parliament’s First Reading of Post-April 19 Agreement Constitutional Amendments“ https://ge.usembassy.gov/u-s-embassy-statement-on-parliaments-first-reading-of-post-april-19-agreement-constitutional-amendments/#.YTeYX11Qol0.twitter
- Civil.ge, „Reports: Georgian Security Spied on EU, US Ambassadors“, https://civil.ge/archives/440471