Strategic Analysis Caucasus Brief

Bi-weekly review (04. 8. – 20. 8. 2023)

Tomáš Baranec


Tatev, Armenia. Photo:

Armenia and Iran renew “Gas for electricity” deal until 2030

Yerevan and Teheran signed an agreement to extend the term of the “natural gas for electricity” program by four years and increase its volumes on August 10. Armenian Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure Gnel Sanosian congratulated the parties on extending the agreement, emphasising that it is “one of the best manifestations of Armenian-Iranian friendly relations.” “The extension of the agreement is a profitable deal for both countries. With the extension of this agreement, it is possible to increase gas imports and electricity exports, which will definitely have a positive effect on the economic development of both countries,” he said, according to an official press release.

In his turn, Majid Chegeni, Deputy Minister of Oil of Iran and Director of the Islamic Republic’s National Gas Company, reportedly stressed that the new agreement will “give a new impetus to the development of Armenian-Iranian relations.” According to Iranian media, the preliminary agreement to extend the gas-for-electricity swap deal was worked out during Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s visit to Tehran in November last year.

Since 2009, Armenia has been importing natural gas from Iran, turning it into electricity at a local thermal power plant, and supplying it back to Iran. The surplus of electricity obtained from one cubic meter of natural gas has remained in Armenia. Under this scheme, the term of the agreement was to expire in 2026. With the agreement signed today, the period has been extended until 2030. However, specific figures regarding the volumes of supplies are not mentioned in official reports.

Officials say the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline has the capacity to transfer over one billion cubic meters of natural gas to Armenia every year.



Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo:

EU observers came under fire on Azerbaijan border, officials report

The European Union’s border monitoring mission in Armenia (EUMA) on August 15 confirmed that there had been gunfire in the area of one of its patrols along the border with Azerbaijan. “We confirm that an EU monitoring mission patrol was present at the shooting incident in our area of responsibility,” EU Mission in Armenia announced on X, formerly known as Twitter. The post, which corrected a previous statement saying no EUMA patrol had been a target of the shooting, also said no mission member had been hurt.

 The statement came after Armenia said Azerbaijan’s military had opened fire on the observers monitoring the border between the two countries. Azerbaijan denied responsibility for the incident. The Armenian Defense Ministry said the shooting occurred as EU observers patrolled the village of Verin Shorzha, about 6 kilometers from the border. It also said there were no casualties.

Azerbaijan said the claims amounted to disinformation and that Baku had been told before the patrols. “The units of the Azerbaijani Army have been informed about the visits of the mission, so the incident reported by the Armenian Defense Ministry is theoretically and practically impossible,” the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said.

According to Politico, the confirmation came only after the EU mission categorically denied the Armenian claim, going as far as to publish a graphic branding the information “false.” The EU mission retracted the message shortly afterward. A spokesperson from the EU’s External Action Service declined to comment, referring the matter to the mission’s local press office, which did not immediately respond to requests for clarification.


Icheri, Azerbaijan. Photo:

UN held an emergency meeting on Azerbaijan’s blockade of the road from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenia and Azerbaijan clashed at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on August 16 over the plight of the 120,000 people in the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh. At the council meeting, many countries urged Azerbaijan to immediately reopen the so-called Lachin corridor, pointing to orders from the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest tribunal, and all 15 nations urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to find a diplomatic solution to their nearly 30-year conflict.

The Security Council did not issue any statement. Still, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who chaired the meeting, told the Associated Press afterward that “there were strong statements in the council from everyone that the Lachin Corridor needed to be reopened.” That was “the main accomplishment,” she said.

Dmitry Polyansky, the First Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the UN, called to consider the issue of using the Aghdam-Khankendi/Stepanakert road. He expressed his concern about blocking the corridor in the UN Security Council. Russia advised Yerevan to solve the problems with Baku and not to bring the issue to the platform of the UN Security Council.

Turkey’s representative, in his turn, said: “Turkey is worried about Armenia’s attempt to bring groundless accusations against Baku in front of the UN Security Council. Turkey declares that Azerbaijan can do what it wants on its sovereign territory and states that the separatists are not negotiating with Baku.”

On the other hand, France strongly condemned the blockade and demanded the immediate opening of the Lachin corridor. France’s Permanent Representative to the UN said: “Paris calls for free movement along the Lachin Corridor. We are against the use of force. Azerbaijan has completely closed the corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia for more than eight months. This quarantine is without any legal reason.” “Other impartial humanitarian relief must also be allowed to reach civilians who need it, and a sustainable solution for safe and regular transit of people and goods must be found,” he said.

A group of UN experts expressed stated on August 7, expressing alarm over Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade of the Lachin Corridor, which they said had led to a dire humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh. “By lifting the blockade, the [Azerbaijani] authorities can alleviate the suffering of thousands of people in Nagorno-Karabakh and allow for the unimpeded flow of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population,” the experts said. “It is essential to ensure all individuals’ safety, dignity, and well-being during this critical time.”

A senior UN official Edem Wosornu told the United Nations Security Council on August 16 that the delivery of humanitarian relief to Nagorno-Karabakh by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) must be allowed to resume through any available routes. According to Wosornu, ICRC is doing everything it can but can only cover the most urgent needs.

Azerbaijan denies blockading Nagorno-Karabakh and offers an alternative route for supplies via Agdam, which is situated east of the region and controlled by Baku. However, Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto government has rejected that offer, saying Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin Corridor is a violation of the Moscow-brokered 2020 cease-fire agreement that placed the 5-kilometer-wide strip of land under the control of Russian peacekeepers.

  • RFE/RL, “UN Security Council Holds Emergency Meeting On Nagorno-Karabakh”,

  • LEDERER Edith M., AP, “Armenia and Azerbaijan clash over the plight of 120,000 people in Nagorno-Karabakh facing food crisis”,

  • Caucasus Watch, “What Happened in UN Security Council Meeting on Karabakh Humanitarian Crisis?“,

First death from starvation reported in blockade-struck Nagorno-Karabakh

A case of death from starvation was recorded in de facto Nagorno-Karabakh on August 15 evening local time, as reported by the de facto Office of the Human Rights Defender. According to local de facto authorities, Hovhannisyan, a 40-year-old resident of Stepanakert (aze. Khankendi), died due to chronic malnutrition and protein deficiency. “There was also a case of the death of an unborn child due to the impossibility of an ambulance arriving – there was no fuel,” the Armenian human rights defender also said in a report.

In reaction to the tragedy, a group of local residents held a protest in front of the military base of Russian peacekeepers stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh. They stated that “all deaths will remain on Putin’s conscience.”

  • PETROSYAN Syuzanna,, “Man dies of hunger in Karabakh”,
  • JAM News, “Man dies of hunger in Karabakh”,


The Chronicles of Georgia. Photo:

The government faces scrutiny over disaster response

As the death toll of a mudslide in the Ratcha region of Georgia rose to 28, critics say authorities could have done more to keep the casualty count lower. The natural disaster occurred on August 3, when a torrent of mud and debris swept through the Buba River Valley and Shovi resort area, levelling summer cottages, roads, bridges and other structures in its path. As of August 20, 28 bodies have been recovered, with another five people still missing. The episode marked Georgia’s most serious natural disaster since a 1991 earthquake in the same Ratcha Region.

As Eurasianet reported, preliminary findings published by environmental authorities on August 6 characterised the disaster as a glacial mudslide triggered by the convergence of multiple “natural, geological, and hydrometeorological events.” According to authorities, the underlying cause of the tragedy was climate change and global warming: rapid glacier erosion, along with heavy rains, played a crucial role in triggering an avalanche and subsequent glacier collapse that initiated a mudslide.

„The mudflow must have reached the “cottage area” within 8–10 minutes“, read the agency’s report, carrying down 5 million cubic metres of soil.

The agency rejected speculation that the glacial river Buba was clogged near its headwater days before the mudflow. The government report argues that “predicting the exact time for the formation of this type of event is practically impossible across the world.” Nevertheless, the government has received criticism for their lack of preparedness and the initial response to the disaster. Survivors have said they had not received any alerts or evacuation directives before the mudslide hit Shovi, triggering criticism over the government’s lack of detection mechanisms.

As OC Media reminds us, Georgia’s National Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy for 2017–2022 outlined creating an early warning system as a priority, while the National Environmental Agency ranked Shovi among areas at high risk of natural disasters as early as 2021.

As part of their 2021 elections programme, the ruling Georgian Dream party also promised to establish up to 150 automatic monitoring stations and early warning systems in gorges that are vulnerable to natural disasters. “An early warning SMS system will be implemented, which would alert subscribers present in dangerous areas about dangers or potential dangers”, the government programme said.

Georgian Dream similarly promised in 2018 to establish a warning system throughout Georgia within two or three years at the time — a promise that came as a response to the flooding of the River Nenskra in Svaneti.

  • GABRITCHIDZE Nini,, “Georgia: Government faces scrutiny over disaster response”,

  • KINCHA Shota, OC Media, “Georgia mourns victims of Shovi mudslide as questions raised if deaths were avoidable”,

  •, “Landslide in Racha: Live Blog”,

  • JAM News, “Georgian society dissatisfied with the reaction of the authorities to the tragedy in Shovi”,

Georgia bans re-export of Western-imported cars to Russia and Belarus

Georgia’s Finance Ministry on August 2 said the exporting and re-exporting of US cars to Russia and Belarus was banned as of August 1. The same decision regarding vehicles exported from the European Union took effect on July 26. The ministry said the decision was made as part of the 11th package of sanctions against Russia linked to its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

 But the new restrictions are not expected to significantly affect the trend. “Currently, the share of cars that go from Georgia to Russia is just under 5.5%,” Sandro Bitsadze, a representative of Caucasus Auto Import, a Georgian automotive market giant, told media on August 3. While the new curbs may lead to a price drop on cars in Georgia, Bitsadze says they “cannot strike a big blow to the market.”

 In the first six months of 2023, Russia was the fifth-largest importer of motor cars from Georgia after Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, buying 3,786 cars from Georgia with a total trade volume of up to 52 million USD (a surge compared to 1,254 vehicles worth 14 million USD during the same period last year).

In Belarus, on the other hand, only 129 cars worth 2.5 million USD were exported in the first six months of this year, compared to 16 cars worth 442,000 USD during the same period last year.

The re-export of imported cars, including used and renovated ones, has been a rapidly growing business in Georgia for years. The country has become a regional hub of the industry, drawing customers from former Soviet countries and Eastern Europe. Motorcars were Georgia’s top export product in the first half of 2023, with the total export value more than tripling compared to the same period in 2022, accounting for almost a third of the country’s total exports. According to the ministry, from January to July, some 51,000 cars worth 930 million USD were re-exported from Georgia, including 3,786 units to Russia worth an estimated 52 million USD.

But as Eurasianet reports, observers have been worried about the significant jump elsewhere, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia. All these countries are members of the Eurasian Economic Union, a Russia-led bloc with a single, integrated customs system. Compared to the same period last year, the number of cars exported from Georgia to Armenia grew about five times in the first half of 2023, to Kazakhstan – nearly four times, and to Kyrgyzstan – 2.5 times. The growth rate for these countries is even more significant in terms of the total cost of exported cars.

 These data have led various analysts to suspect that at least some of these cars end up in Russia. If such further re-exporting does take place, it’s unclear whether it will get Georgia in trouble with the West. But so far, no additional restrictions seem to be introduced in that regard.


Tallulah Falls, Georgia. Photo:

Ministry of Culture under increasing pressure for appointments of political loyalists

More than 200 people working in cinema – directors, actors, scriptwriters, cameramen, film studios, etc. – signed a statement boycotting the Georgian National Film Center. This came after the Minister of Culture, Tea Tsulukiani, controversially reorganised the Center and appointed her loyal cadre to direct it, reports

“As a sign of protest, we will no longer participate in the competitions and projects announced by the seized film centre; we refuse to be members of the competition commissions because we do not want to become a formal participant in the process that leads to the destruction of modern Georgian cinema, culture, and science,” – reads the statement.

Since the first days of the protest, the cinematographers have been demanding a change in the procedure for appointing the director of the film centre. “We believe that the director of the cinema centre should be elected only through a transparent and public process by professionals of the field and not be appointed by a unilateral decision of the minister. Only under the conditions of a democratically elected leader will the Film Center be able to ensure the freedom of speech, expression, and creativity of Georgian filmmakers,” they stated.

As RFE/RL wrote in July, the Culture Ministry, which oversees the film centre, has been replacing its leadership with political loyalists with little experience in the film world, who have been feuding with the remaining staff.

The tension boiled over in July after the ministry announced another staff reshuffle. When the film centre published a Facebook post expressing concern about its independence in June, it was later deleted. Staff then reported that they had lost access to the Facebook page.

Meanwhile, in mid-August, Tsulukiani appointed an MP from the ruling party as the new director of the Writers’ House of Georgia, a state-supported but historically independent literary association.

The announcement that Ketevan Dumbadze would be taking on the role was met with criticism from writers and other cultural figures, who accused the ruling Georgian Dream party of attempting to exert control and pressure in Georgia’s cultural spheres. “Georgian Dream has just added another headquarters to their party offices”, stated prominent Georgian writer Lasha Bughadze.

Dumbadze, who has a background in literary translation, publishing, and journalism, has been the deputy chair of the Parliamentary Committee for Culture since March 2021, rarely making any political waves during her tenure. She is expected to assume the role on September 4 after stepping down as an MP.

Other Georgian writers also greeted the news with resentment, alleging that the new head of the organisation was being installed by the ruling political party to subdue and censor Georgian literary life and quash any political criticism.

Despite being an entity financed and overseen by the ministry, the Writers’ House, established in the early 20th century, was long considered to contrast with the Union of Writers. This institution was under the tight control of the Soviet government. For decades, the Union of Writers was the only available route to publication and employment for writers, preventing writers from reaching an audience if their ideas did not cohere with the ruling ideology. Dumbadze herself worked at the Union of Writers for ten years from 1983, writes OC Media.

  • KINCHA Shota, OC Media, “Ruling party member to head Georgia’s Writers’ House”,
  •, “200 Georgian Filmmakers Boycott the National Film Center”,
  • KUCERA Joshua, RFE/RL, Georgian Film, Celebrated Abroad, Under Fire At Home,

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