Strategic Analysis Caucasus Brief

 Bi-weekly review (17.7. – 31.7. 2022)
Tomáš Baranec


National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia. Photo: Ruslan Harutyunov/

Armenia to withdraw its units from de-facto Nagorno Karabakh

Armenia plans to withdraw units of its armed forces currently deployed in de-facto Nagorno Karabakh within the next two months, declared the head of Armenia’s Security Council, Armen Grigoryan.

“During the war, a number of units from the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia went to help the Defense Army of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Grigoryan said on July 19. “After the establishment of the ceasefire, they are returning to the Republic of Armenia. This process is nearing completion and will end in September.”

He added that while conscript soldiers from Armenia will no longer be deployed to the de facto Nagorno Karabakh for military service, conscripts from the de facto Nagorno Karabakh Defense Army will continue to serve in the region.

Grigoryan downplayed the risks of withdrawal: “The [Russian] peacekeepers are of key importance in guaranteeing the security of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.” He called a recent Azerbaijani incursion into Parukh (which Azerbaijanis spell Farrukh) “a gross violation of the 2020” ceasefire.

As reminds us, in the 2020 Russia-brokered ceasefire signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, Armenia agreed to withdraw its forces from lands internationally recognised as belonging to Azerbaijan, as Russia deployed 2,000 peacekeepers.

Military officials had indicated in late June that the withdrawal would soon conclude. Colonel Sahak Sahakyan, the chairman of the Lottery Commission, which oversees the draft, told journalists on June 28 that Armenia would not send conscripts to Karabakh anymore. “Our last conscripted soldiers for the summer of 2020 will be discharged by August 30. We will no longer send conscripts to Artsakh,” Sahakyan said, using the Armenian name for Karabakh.

Azerbaijan has increased pressure in recent weeks on Armenia to complete the pullout. On July 15, ahead of a meeting between Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Tbilisi, President Ilham Aliyev again complained that Armenian troops were violating the ceasefire. “If Armenia doesn’t intend to withdraw from the territory of Azerbaijan, then it should let us know in clear terms, and Azerbaijan will consider further actions,” he said, as cited by “We are a victorious country, and we have restored our territorial integrity.”

Political scientist Tigran Grigoryan believes that the secretary of the Security Council made “very problematic and dangerous” statements, one of which “actually says that Aliyev was right all this time, and we were not,” reports JAM News.

Announcing the withdrawal of troops in September, the secretary of the Security Council negates the assertions of the Armenian side that since the end of the war, there have been no Armenian Armed Forces units in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“By the way, these assertions of the Armenian side were also confirmed in the reports of authoritative international organisations,” stresses Tigran Grigoryan. He claims there really are no units of the Armenian Armed Forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the conscripts drafted from Armenia will soon be demobilised. Political scientist regards the statement of the secretary of the Security Council as “extremely problematic and dangerous.” In his opinion, Armen Grigoryan “actually legitimises the destructive behaviour of Azerbaijan in the recent period”: “This is a real gift for Azerbaijan, whose propaganda machine is already actively distributing the interview. Not only does not this statement reduce the danger of war, but, as Nikol Pashinyan said, it legitimises the war. This statement actually says that Aliyev was right all this time, and we were not.”

Military service in Armenia is mandatory. Every male at the age of 18 is obliged to serve for two years. Before Armenia’s defeat in the 2020 war, many conscripts were sent to serve in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.

  • MEJLUMYAN Ani,, “Armenia pledges to complete Karabakh withdrawal this summer“,
  • JAM News, „‘Was Aliyev right?‘ On the withdrawal of the Armenian Armed Forces from Nagorno-Karabakh“, 
Still unclear if the Armenian opposition will return to the parliament

The Armenian opposition first announced a possible return to the parliament in September, while less than a week later, it announced the continuation of its boycott. Meanwhile, the ruling Civil Contract Party declared it wants to convince opposition MPs to return to parliament. 

On July 15, the Armenian government U-turned to expelling opposition MPs from the National Assembly. The ruling Civil Contract Party has backed down from a decision to begin stripping all but three opposition MPs of their seats over their „unjustified absences“ from parliament.

Ruben Rubinyan, the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament from the Civil Contract faction, explained that they instead wanted to convince opposition MPs to return to parliament. „They should come to the National Assembly with their heads hung in shame“, Rubinyan said, as cited by OC Media. He then added that the party could revisit the issue in September or October.

Opposition leader Ishkhan Saghatelyan in his turn announced on July 22 that Armenia’s political opposition would end its boycott of parliament in September and return to the National Assembly “with its own agenda”. Saghatelyan also condemned the possibility that the ruling Civil Contract party may try to expel opposition lawmakers from parliament in his interview with Yerkir Media, a news site closely affiliated with his party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). There would be a “full-fledged constitutional crisis” in the country if Civil Contract goes through with the move, he warned.

On July 29, however, Armenia’s two main opposition forces indicated once again that they would continue to boycott sessions of the National Assembly despite government threats to strip them of their parliament seats. Saghatelyan, dismissed the threats as “blackmail” when he addressed supporters demonstrating in Yerevan against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

“Once again, I must repeat what I have been saying for the last three months: if the opposition returns to the Parliament it will do so only with its own agenda formed by the people in this square,” said Saghatelyan. “That agenda is clear: Nikol’s departure and our efforts to counter threats to Armenia and Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and address vital issues facing them.” “The clique controlling the National Assembly cannot draw us into its treasonous conspiracies with threats to strip us of our [parliament mandates,]” he told the crowd.

The 35 members of the 107-seat parliament representing the opposition Hayastan and Pativ Unem alliances began the boycott in April in advance of their daily demonstrations demanding Pashinyan’s resignation. They failed to force him to step down before deciding in mid-June to scale back the protests sparked by Pashinyan’s apparent readiness to make significant concessions to Azerbaijan.

Saghatelyan admitted that many opposition supporters are now “disheartened” by the failure to achieve regime change. However, he said the opposition movement has succeeded in at least delaying a “new capitulation agreement” with Baku. “We need to regroup, mobilise our forces, wage a prolonged struggle and chase victory … There is still no alternative to our fight in the streets,” declared the opposition leader.

Armenian law says members of parliament can lose their seats if they skip, for “non-legitimate” reasons, more than half of the votes held during one six-month legislative session. The opposition lawmakers’ boycott has made them eligible for expulsion. The Constitutional Court would have to approve such a move.

Foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Tbilisi

The meeting was held on July 17, without tangible results.  Ararat Mirzoyan, the head of the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), has pointed out that the OSCE Minsk Group should take part in settling the Karabakh conflict. He also emphasised the importance of solving humanitarian problems, including the release of Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) and clearing the fates of the missing people.

Djeikhun Bairamov, his Azerbaijani colleague, has emphasised the need to fulfil all the points of the statements signed with the participation of Russia, including the withdrawal of Armenian troops, and he also called to clarify the fates of about 4000 missing Azerbaijanis.

According to political scientist Tigran Grigoryan, it is evident that at this stage, there is a serious crisis in the negotiation process. He sees the Mirzoyan-Bayramov meeting as “a step towards overcoming this crisis.” He believes that the meeting was organised on the initiative of the European Union. The political scientist does not consider it a coincidence that EU Special Representative Toivo Klaar visited the region a few days before the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. “Judging by the reports, there are no grounds for optimism, however”, Tigran Grigoryan stressed, commenting on the meeting in Tbilisi at the request of JAMnews. The political scientist believes that the rhetoric of Azerbaijan has become more aggressive and recalls that the other day Aliyev spoke about the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh and threatened Armenia again.

According to political observer Agshin Kerimov, the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, Jeyhun Bayramov and Ararat Mirzoyan, in Tbilisi took place on the initiative of the West. “Although this dialogue between the two ministers is regarded in the context of bilateral efforts, the statements of Western political circles made after this meeting show that the West is the secret initiator of bilateral discussions between Bayramov and Mirzoyan,” he said.

The expert said that the Tbilisi meeting would have a strong impact on the development of the dialogue in a bilateral format. It has already set a precedent for third-party mediation. “As for the topics that the ministers discussed, I think they should be viewed through the prism of Ilham Aliyev’s speech on the eve of the meeting in Tbilisi. Azerbaijan’s position was clearly presented there. The President of Azerbaijan focuses mainly on fulfilling the conditions of items 4 and 9 of the tripartite statement of November 10, 2020 – on the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from Karabakh and the opening of the Zangezur corridor. Apparently, these two directions can be considered the main points in the discussions between Azerbaijan and Armenia,” Kerimov said. The expert believes that “Azerbaijan speaks from a position of strength in the negotiations, and official Yerevan is trying to somehow present all this to its society as a more or less digestible version. It takes time, and the Armenian government is trying to pull itself together during this period”.

  • Caucasian Knot, “Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, outline their positions at meeting in Tbilisi”,
  • JAM News, “Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Tbilisi: comments from Baku and Yerevan“, /


Diri Baba Mausoleum, Azerbaijan. Photo: Eva Mont/

Azerbaijan and the EU agree to a strategic energy partnership

On July 18, Azerbaijan and the European Union signed a memorandum of understanding on a strategic partnership in the area of energy. The European Union is hailing a new energy agreement with Azerbaijan that could see the gas-rich Caspian nation double the flow of gas to Europe in five years, part of Brussels’ effort to reduce reliance on Russia.

 Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev said at a press briefing after the signing ceremony that this memorandum is a “roadmap” for future energy cooperation, also underscoring the importance of issues related to energy security. “The issues of energy security are more important today than ever before, and long-term, predictable and very reliable cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan in the energy sector is, of course, a major asset,” Aliyev said. “This year, we gave a start to the Azerbaijan-EU energy dialogue, which encompasses various avenues – oil, gas, renewable energy sources. We are interested in close cooperation with the EU in the field of energy,” he said.

For her part, von der Leyen said that with the new memorandum of understanding, the EU is “opening a new chapter in our energy cooperation with Azerbaijan, a key partner in our efforts to move away from Russian fossil fuels.” EU Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson confirmed that under the memorandum, Azerbaijan is “expected” to deliver an extra 4 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas to the EU this year (bringing the total to 12 bcm) and to increase transfers to “at least” 20 bcm by 2027.

 However, as warns, the agreement is not binding in its current form. The statement is further tempered in the final article, which says that nothing in the MoU “… should create any binding legal or financial obligations” and that the MoU “does not constitute an obligation to allocate funds.”

Also, it is not clear if Baku can provide such quantities of gas. The country has limited scope for increased production and has its own growing demand to meet, writes the news portal. Late last year, to prevent domestic shortages, Baku reached a swap agreement to import gas from Iran, which in return receives the same volume from Turkmenistan.

 BP, the operator of Azerbaijan’s biggest gas field, Shah Deniz, has warned that the field cannot supply all the gas needed to double exports to Europe, while other smaller fields under development are not expected to produce sufficient quantities. For many years officials have discussed Azerbaijan transiting gas from its Caspian neighbour Turkmenistan, which holds the world’s fourth-largest reserves. 

  • O’BYRNE David,, „Azerbaijan and EU agree to strategic energy partnership“,
  •, „Azerbaijan and EU sign memorandum on strategic partnership in energy“,
Post-war re-settlement starts in Zangilan

On July 19, police accompanied ten families (58 people) back to Aghali village in Zangilan, one of the districts in Karabakh that Azerbaijan lost to Armenian forces in the first war between the two sides in the early 1990s and regained in 2020. Overall, 41 families (about 200 people) will be resettled in the village this week, writes 

The first pilot project of Azerbaijan’s smart city and the smart village is implemented mainly on five components – the housing sector, production sector, social services, smart agriculture, and alternative energy. Initially, 200 individual houses are constructed with the use of innovative building materials. The engineering communications and heating systems in the houses are also created on the basis of smart technologies.

The ten displaced families, all originally from Aghali, had been living in government housing near Baku. State television AzTV reported that the first returnees were chosen from among those “living in the most difficult conditions” and that the allocation of houses was decided by lottery. The former IDPs will continue to receive some state support for three years. 

Earlier, speaking to a Sputnik report, a native of Zangilan said that “no matter how difficult the relocation is, the joy after 30 years of waiting and hoping should overcome all the difficulties. We have to go back there to start building a new life. This is our homeland, which was returned at the cost of the lives of our martyrs”.

In total, more than 43,000 natives of the Zangilan region were forced to leave their homes during the first Karabakh war. Over 90% have already expressed a desire to return to their native lands. Settlement in “liberated territories” should be carried out in 4 stages. The first stage is demining and damage assessment, and the second stage is the formation of infrastructure, as well as the creation of a special network to ensure access to utilities. The third stage is the construction of social and administrative buildings, and the fourth stage is the return and settlement of citizens to their ancestral homes.

The government designated Aghali as the first site for its much-touted “smart villages” concept, a showcase development that seeks to use digital connectivity, automation, and renewable energy to build thriving rural communities. Hajiyev also said that the residents who will settle in Agali “will be provided with high-quality houses equipped with smart technologies.” 

Government critics believe these devices will allow authorities to monitor and maintain a tight grip on the village. Ilgar Mammadov, chairman of the semi-opposition Republican Alternative Party, said during a visit to Aghali last month that local officials told him facial recognition cameras would monitor the village entrance. He called Aghali “a test of a new totalitarianism” and “a digital prison,” dismissing the government’s efforts to celebrate the “Big Return.” 

  • ISAYEV Heydar,, „Azerbaijan starts post-war re-settlement in Karabakh“,
  •, „Zangilan’s Aghali village natives on the border with Armenia back to lusted-after homes in nearly 30 years“,
  •, „Beginning of the Great return – Aghali village (ANALYTICS)“,


Ancient Jvari Monastery, Georgia. Photo: Mistervlad/Shutterstock

The Georgian government is escalating attacks on Western diplomats

The European Union and the United States have had to publicly defend their ambassadors in Tbilisi against a campaign of attacks by Georgia’s ruling party, reports  Although Georgia’s ruling party, the Georgian Dream, promises to fulfil the EU’s conditions for candidacy status, it has recently escalated its attacks on the envoys from the US and the EU to Tbilisi.

The US Ambassador Kelly Degnan has become embroiled in conspiracy theories about alleged attempts to drag Georgia into the war in Ukraine and accusations of interference in Georgia’s judiciary. Moreover, outgoing EU ambassador Carl Hartzell was sharply blamed, on his way out of the country, for not doing enough to help Georgia get into the bloc.

Irakli Kobakhidze, the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, told reporters that Hartzell “played only a negative role in the EU-Georgia relations.” Furthermore, Nikoloz Samkahradze, the head of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, added that Hartzell “could have worked better to help Georgia get [EU] candidate status.”

The apparently unprovoked jabs drew a response from Brussels, which had recently extended the deadline for Tbilisi to meet its conditions from the end of this year to later next year, writes “Blaming others for own unfulfilled ambitions only confirms the need to have more time to understand how EU works and that reforms are homework,” EU external affairs spokesperson Peter Stano tweeted on July 21 in his reaction. 

Meanwhile, a war of words between US Ambassador Kelly Degnan and the government escalated this month after over ten people formally left the ruling Georgian Dream party to, as they alleged, speak more candidly in public about a conspiracy to involve Georgia in war with Russia. 

On July 8, Degnan said she “couldn’t even finish reading “an appeal addressed to her by Mikheil Kavelashvii, one of three MPs who recently ‘left’ the ruling party. In the letter, Kavelashvili criticised Degnan for failing to distance herself from or condemn the opposition United National Movement party (UNM) and various government critics, including watchdog groups, the Georgian Public Defender, and President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian leaders, for their alleged wish to involve Georgia in a war with Russia.  Degnan described the letter as “full of lies and conspiracy theories “that “sounded really unhinged” to her. 

Kavelashvili is one of several members of parliament who recently split from the Georgian Dream majority, citing the need to speak the “truth” more openly. But the group is widely believed to still be acting on party orders to give voice to more hardline positions and conspiracy theories, notably that the West is somehow trying to drag Georgia into the Ukraine war.

“A question arises whether there was a meeting between Kelly Degnan and Bidzina Ivanishvili in the wake of the Ukraine war. Was he asked something, or is he being blackmailed on these grounds because this person is out [of politics], is not involved in anything?” deputy Mikheil Kavelashvili told reporters on July 19. 

Degnan denied the accusations. “I have not met with Mr Ivanishvili in quite some time,” she told reporters on July 21, adding that in none of the meetings she had had with him did she try to blackmail him. Later, on July 27, Degnan confirmed having met with Bidzina Ivanishvili but denied any discussion between them about Georgia involving itself in the war. Degnan said she met with ruling party founder Ivanishvili on March 21. Their meeting focused on the US-Georgia strategic partnership and American efforts to support the development of Georgia’s security, economy, and democracy.

“I’ll say it very clearly so that no one else has any questions — there was never any talk of Georgia’s participation in the Russian war against Ukraine, or blackmail, or actions related to a delay in transferring money to Mr Ivanishvili. You should address these questions to him or to those specific banks,” the ambassador said.

Ivanishvili, a billionaire who founded Georgian Dream before formally retiring from politics last year, is still widely believed to be the country’s informal ruler. Earlier this year, his associates reported that he had experienced mysterious obstacles in accessing his assets at the Swiss bank Credit Suisse, as well as in other business dealings in the US and Europe.

Detained former security chief blames government of rigging elections and links Ivanishvili to a kidnapping

On July 16, during the midnight raid, Georgian security forces arrested the former deputy head of Georgia’s State Security Service (SSG) Soso Gogashvili. The Prosecutor’s Office has charged Gogashvili with exceeding official powers, obtaining, storing, and disseminating personal data by using his position and illegally purchasing and possessing firearms. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.

As OC Media reminds us, Gogashvili was at the foundation of the SSG as a standalone agency, becoming its First Deputy Director several months after it was split from the Interior Ministry in 2014. He served as a deputy under SSG Director Vakhtang Gomelauri, Georgia’s Interior Minister, since September 2019. 

Gogashvili has been implicated in a number of government scandals, including the kidnapping of Afgan Mukhtarli from Tbilisi and the church cyanide plot

He was also reportedly involved in a controversial special operation in Georgia’s Pankisi Valley, during which 17-year-old local Temirlan Machalikashvili was shot dead.

The former Deputy Director of the SSG became a vocal critic of the government in 2020. Many pointed out that Gogashvili was arrested hours after he threatened to unveil a “scheme” to rig the 2021 local elections. After his arrest, Gogashvili vowed through his representatives to start publishing materials compromising the authorities within days. He alleged that those materials were “in safe hands “. 

On July 22, ISFED and Transparency International claimed that based on the study based on documents provided by Gogashvili, a large-scale scheme of mobilising votes in favour of the ruling party in illegal ways was identified. It is highly likely to prove the use of state agencies (including law enforcement agencies) for election/party purposes, reported both organisations. 

The information of non-governmental organisations and personal information about employees of budgetary organisations and other citizens were probably collected through these agencies, supposedly in order to put pressure on them in the future. “Besides, in exchange for support in the elections, citizens were provided with pre-requested benefits and other types of benefits through various state agencies.

The scale of the complete scheme allows us to assume that as a result of interfering in the election process with these methods, it was possible to mobilise votes in favour of the ruling party on a large scale. More specifically, the representatives of the ruling party, using the services of various state agencies, allegedly offered specific persons the cancellation of probation, early release from the penitentiary institution, reinstatement of suspended/confiscated driving rights, reduction of charges (requalification) in ongoing criminal cases, improvement of the conditions of serving a sentence, postponing of military conscription, etc.

On July 26, Gogashvili released a statement alleging the 2017 assault on ex-Deputy Interior Minister Gela Khvedelidze is linked to ex-PM and ruling Georgian Dream party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, and that he also ordered the kidnapping of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli.

Gogashvili alleged that Khvedelidze had been beaten for “insulting Bidzina [Ivanishvili] on the phone,” while Mukhtarli was kidnapped by SSG “thugs.” He also claimed that evidence of both incidents was promptly deleted. The former deputy head of the SSG said that his own arrest was an example of “another illegal command of Bidzina Ivanishvili performed blindly” by the current Minister of Internal Affairs Vakhtang Gomelauri, and the Head of the SSG, Grigol Liluashvili. 

Mukhtarli responded to Gogashvili’s statement in a Facebook post the same day and said he would urge the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia to question Gogashvili in relation to his kidnapping. Mukhtarli went missing in Tbilisi on May 29, 2017. The journalist somehow ended up in Baku, Azerbaijan, soon after, where authorities sentenced him to six years in prison on charges of illegal border crossing, smuggling money, and police disobedience. He was released after spending some two years in jail and claimed in 2021 that not only had Ivanishvili known about plans to kidnap him but that Tbilisi received a bribe of USD 3 million from the Azeri government for the abduction to take place.

Russia Seizes Large Part of Bichvinta in Occupied Abkhazia

According to the Bichvinta resort draught agreement, 115 hectares of sea space and 186 hectares of land are handed over to the Russian Federation for a 49-year lease. All buildings and structures of the former summer residence of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev will become the property of the Russian Federal Protective Service, reports Caucasus Watch.

This document became available to Abkhaz lawmakers in March 2022, when the Inter-Parliamentary Relations Committee accepted the agreement. Many believe that the transfer of control of the facility would result in the establishment of a Russian enclave in Abkhazia and the loss of regional sovereignty. The Abkhaz de-facto President argued that “the transfer of Bichvinta resort to Russia is a guarantee of Abkhazia’s security” and that “since Russia guarantees the protection of Abkhazia’s territories, the country’s authorities are simply obligated to commit an act of goodwill and hand over the buildings, lands, and marine waters.”

The issue of Bichvinta has caused wide-ranging debates in Tbilisi. The non-governmental organisation “Center for Social Justice” responded to the concerns related to the leasing of part of the Bichvinti resort. In a statement released on July 25, the organisation criticised the Georgian government for “not even issuing an official statement,” which would be a sign of actively bringing this issue to the attention of the international community and organisations, sending a diplomatic signal of dissatisfaction with Russia, and at the same time showing support for Abkhazian society.

Meanwhile, in reaction to the transfer, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili called the international community to react. “In Bichvinta, we are witnessing Russia’s annexation of Georgian territory,” said the Georgian President, urging the international community to react. “What we’re seeing in Bichvinta is a form of the annexation of Georgian territory by Russia. We see a strong popular reaction to the developments. This is the result of continued occupation. I strongly condemn this and call on the international community to strongly react to this,” the President tweeted.


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