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12.9.14

Russia’s Next Land Grab

Brenda Shaffer (1)
Notes by "Armeniaca"
 
We have posted this fine piece of "political art" posing as political science only because The New York Times allowed itself to forget that a "newspaper of record" must have facts checked before running something, including giving away op-ed space to a lobbyist for a foreign country. Therefore, we took that task upon ourselves. Neither the First Amendment nor a Ph.D. degree should validate freedom to blatant lies. This article was published three days after the same newspaper ran an important report on foreign influence over American think tanks on its front page, including the following comment: "The government of Azerbaijan hired a Washington-based public relations and lobbying firm in 2012 with the explicit purpose of expanding its relationships with think tanks here to try to reinforce public opinion in the United States and to make it clear that this Central Asian nation is an important security partner. It is a campaign that produced real results" (The New York Times, September 7, 2014). Is the purpose of this piece anything different?

Ukraine isn’t the only place where Russia is stirring up trouble. Since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Moscow has routinely supported secessionists in bordering states, to coerce those states into accepting its dictates. Its latest such effort is unfolding in the South Caucasus.
In recent weeks, Moscow seems to have been aggravating a longstanding conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan while playing peacemaking overlord to both. In the first week of August, as many as 40 Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers were reported killed in heavy fighting near their border, just before a summit meeting convened by Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin.
The South Caucasus may seem remote, but the region borders Russia, Iran and Turkey, and commands a vital pipeline route for oil and natural gas to flow from Central Asia to Europe without passing through Russia. Western officials cannot afford to let another part of the region be digested by Moscow — as they did when Russia separated South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia, just to the north, in a brief war in 2008, and when it seized Crimea from Ukraine this year.
Conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not new. From 1992 to 1994, war raged over which former Soviet republic would control (2) the autonomous area of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region with a large Christian Armenian population of about 90,000 (3) within the borders of largely Muslim Azerbaijan. The conflict has often been framed as “ethnic,” but Moscow has fed the antagonisms. That war ended with an Armenian military force, highly integrated with Russia’s military, in charge of the zone.(4) The war had killed 30,000 people and made another million refugees.(5)
Even today, Armenia controls nearly 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory, comprising most of Nagorno-Karabakh and several surrounding regions. (6) Despite a cease-fire agreement since 1994, hostilities occasionally flare, and Russian troops run Armenia’s air defenses.(7) Moscow also controls key elements of Armenia’s economy and infrastructure.
More to the point, Russia has found ways to keep the conflict alive. Three times in the 1990s, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed peace agreements, but Russia found ways to derail Armenia’s participation. (In 1999, for example, a disgruntled journalist suspected of having been aided by Moscow assassinated Armenia’s prime minister, speaker of Parliament and other government officials.) (8)
An unresolved conflict — a “frozen conflict,” Russia calls it — gives Russian forces an excuse to enter the region and coerce both sides. Once Russian forces are in place, neither side can cooperate closely with the West without fear of retribution from Moscow.
The latest violence preceded a summit meeting on Aug. 10 in Sochi, Russia, at which Mr. Putin sought an agreement on deploying additional Russian “peacekeepers” between Armenia and Azerbaijan.(9) On July 31, Armenians began a coordinated, surprise attack in three locations. Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham H. Aliyev, and defense minister were outside their country during the attack and Mr. Aliyev had not yet agreed to attend the summit meeting. But the Armenian president, Serzh A. Sargsyan, had agreed to; it’s unlikely that his military would have initiated such a provocation without coordinating with Russia. (10) (The meeting went on, without concrete results.)
Before the meeting, Moscow had been tightening its grip on the South Caucasus, with Armenia’s tacit support. Last fall, Armenia’s government gave up its ambitions to sign a partnership agreement with the European Union and announced that it would join Moscow’s customs union instead.
But astonishingly, American officials reacted to the current fighting by saying they “welcome” the Russian-sponsored summit meeting. Has Washington learned nothing from Georgia and Ukraine? To prevent escalation of the Caucasus conflict, and deny Mr. Putin the pretext for a new land grab, President Obama should invite the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia to Washington and show that America has not abandoned the South Caucasus. This would encourage the leaders to resist Russia’s pressure. The United Nations General Assembly session, which opens next week, seems like an excellent moment for such a demonstration of support.
Washington should put the blame on Russia and resist any so-called conflict resolution that leads to deployment of additional Russian troops in the region.
Finally, the West needs a strategy to prevent Moscow from grabbing another bordering region. Nagorno-Karabakh, however remote, is the next front in Russia’s efforts to rebuild its lost empire. Letting the South Caucasus lose its sovereignty to Russia would strike a deadly blow to America’s already diminished ability to seek and maintain alliances in the former Soviet Union and beyond.

"The New York Times," September 9, 2014
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(1) "Brenda Shaffer is a professor of political science at the University of Haifa and a visiting researcher at Georgetown" (New York Times). 
Undisclosed: "She was the former Research Director of the Caspian Studies Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and is currently a faculty member at the University of Haifa in the School of Political Science, and a visiting professor at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy and at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C." (Wikipedia). 
More undisclosed: "Harvard's Caspian Studies Program receives a lot of money from both the oil companies and from some of the governments... As I had previously reported, the Caspian Studies Program (CSP) was launched in 1999 with a $1 million grant from the United States‒Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce (USACC) and a consortium of companies led by ExxonMobil and Chevron Corporation. The program's other funders include Amerada Hess Corporation, ConocoPhillips, Unocal, and Glencore International" (Ken Silverstein, "Academics for Hire," Harper's Magazine, May 2006). 
Fully undisclosed: "Another speaker Brenda Shaffer, an American-Israeli scholar, well-known Azeri government lobbyist, had an extremely different view.
“We have a lot of criticism about Azerbaijan, but there are other countries that cause real concerns,” she said adding those who draft the election statement at the State Department should “make sure where their steps are leading to”, while the people in Azerbaijan “credit the leadership of Aliyev for peace, stability and economic development.”
For Shaffer, if Azeri leadership were anti-government, it “would be easy to join the Customs Union, not to open transfer gate for US military to Afghanistan” and contribute to the European energy security.
Speaking about the election campaign, she pointed out the television debates, adding that the main oppositional leader Jamil Hasanli “was even able to attack the President’s family in a way that you can’t see in any of the European countries…”
As for the country’s democracy path, the speaker added, even Azerbaijan’s oppositional leaders “wouldn’t like their country to turn into Arab uprising ones.”
Shaffer’s comments were supported by the Azerbaijani Embassy representatives and their supporters in the audience who raised multiple questions, such as why the west “wasn’t objective” on its election criticism in Azerbaijan while dismissing the bigger issues that the country is dealing with, as well as ignoring the Armenian election, which has more violations, etc. Another question raised was why the debate on Azerbaijan “is so emotional in DC.”"
(http://www.azeritimes.com/2013/10/13/azeri-lobbyists-failed-to-convince-dc-audience-in-election-fairness/)
(2) The claim that Armenia and Azerbaijan went into war is false. The war was between Azerbaijan and the self-defense forces of Mountainous Karabagh.
(3) The figure of 90,000 is false. The Armenian population of the Mountainous Karabagh Autonomous Region, according to the Soviet census of 1989, was 145,450. The Armenian population of the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh, according to the local census of 2005, is 137,380.
(4) The claim that Armenian military is "highly integrated with Russian military" is false. There is only a Russian-Armenian joint border guard on the Armenian-Turkish border, according to the CIS treaty. There are no Russian forces either in Karabagh or on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
(5) The figure of one million refugees because of the war is false. "The population of the 7 rayons of Azerbaijan not belonging to the Nagorno-Karabach AO (Kalbajar, Lachin, Gubadly, Zangilan, Jabrail, Fuzuli and Aghdam) but now for the most part under control of the Nagorno-Karabach Republic, was 371,441 in 1979, including 363,588 Azerbaijanis and only a small Armenian minority (1,405 or only 0.4%). As the number of Azerbaijanis in the territory under control of the Nagorno-Karabach Republic is now negligible, it can be estimated that as a result of the Nagorno-Karabach War approximately 400,000 Azerbaijanis have left the area" (Wikipedia). If Professor Shaffer has been kind enough to include Armenians, then the wave of Armenian refugees was generated before the war and due to the Azerbaijani pogroms of 1988-1990 (Sumgait, Kirovabad, Baku, and surrounding areas of Karabagh).
(6) The 20 per cent claim is false. Karabagh declared its independence from the Soviet Union on September 2, 1991; Azerbaijan did the same on October 18, 1991. The territory of Azerbaijan, minus the former Mountainous Karabagh Autonomous Region, is 82,262 sq. km (86,600 - 4,338). The seven Azerbaijani regions under the control of Karabagh forces amount to 7,634 sq. km, less than 10 per cent of 82,262. Even putting together the 7 regions plus the Autonomous Regions, the amount of 11,972 sq. km. is still less than 15 per cent of Azerbaijani territory.
(7) Unproven claim.
(8) The chairman of the Parliament, Karen Demirdjian, was the first secretary of the Armenian Communist Party from 1975-1988 and was well-known for pro-Russian sympathies. The burden of the proof of "suspected of having been aided by Moscow" remains on the author.
(9) Unreported by any of the sides.
(10) There is no proof that Armenia broke the ceasefire on July 31.

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