YEREVAN, Armenia — Crowds lined the streets of Yerevan hours before Nancy Pelosi’s fleet of seven slick black cars pulled into the center of the Armenian capital on Sunday.
Waving American flags, thousands of people turned out to catch a glimpse of the speaker of the House of Representatives as she paid a historic visit to the Caucasian nation, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official to do so since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Those U.S. flags carried a significant political message about the country’s political allegiances. For years, Armenia chose to be a key strategic ally of the Kremlin, but many are now increasingly questioning whether Moscow can act as guarantor of the nation’s security against the superior firepower of neighboring Azerbaijan, which launched a massive artillery bombardment on Tuesday. Since then 135 Armenians and 77 Azeris have died in a conflict that looks at risk of breaking through a fragile ceasefire.
With Russian President Vladimir Putin mired in a war that is rapidly turning against him in Ukraine, Yerevan is finding that its appeals for help from a Moscow-led security grouping, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, are falling on deaf ears. That’s a pivotal strategic problem as the enemy in Azerbaijan is lavishly supported by Turkey, a regional military heavyweight that Yerevan associates with the genocide of the Armenian people during World War I.
10 people were detained in Yerevan on the case of clashes between police and protesters at the intersection of Demirchyan and Proshyan streets, the press service of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Armenia informed NEWS.am.
On 3 June, there was a clash between law enforcers and supporters of the Resistance Movement at the intersection of Demirchyan and Proshyan streets. The law enforcers used stun grenades against the protesters. In addition, 15 people were brought as defendants. They were charged with organizing mass riots.
Ten of them were placed under arrest as a preventive measure. Four more persons were taken to a non-custodial measure. Apart from the 15 people in question, one more citizen was detained. A petition for his arrest has been filed. The preliminary investigation is continuing.
Russia has introduced sanctions against 398 members of the U.S. Congress in retaliation against punitive measures announced by Washington over Ukraine.
More sanctions are planned, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on April 13 in a statement quoted by Interfax.
“Taking into account the sanctions the U.S. is constantly introducing, further announcements of Russian countermeasures are planned in the near future,” the Foreign Ministry said in the statement.
The sanctions include entry bans on the lawmakers affected.
In a separate statement, the Foreign Ministry said that it had introduced sanctions against 87 members of the Senate of Canada and said more measures will be announced soon due to Ottawa’s “short-sighted” policies.
The ministry said the moves follow sanctions announced by Washington last month against 328 members of the Russian Duma, or parliament.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to pro-Western Ukraine on February 24, the West slapped wide-ranging sanctions on Moscow, including the exclusion of several banks from the SWIFT messaging system, embargoes on Russian exports, new restrictions on investments, and asset freezes for government officials and their families.
Western countries have also announced the coordinated expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats suspected of spying.
Russia said it was expelling a senior Czech diplomat from the EU country’s embassy in Moscow in a retaliatory step.
Foreign ministers of the two countries meet in the first sit-down between the two top diplomats since 2009.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said that he held “productive and constructive” talks with his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan as they bid to mend ties after decades of animosity.
The two met on Saturday at a diplomatic forum in Antalya on Turkey’s southern coast. Ankara has had no diplomatic or commercial ties with Armenia since the 1990s but they held talks in January in a first attempt to restore links since a 2009 peace accord, which was never ratified.
Saturday’s meeting was the first sit-down meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers since 2009. They spoke briefly on the sidelines of an OSCE meeting in November last year.
“It was a very productive and constructive conversation,” Cavusoglu told reporters after the talks, which lasted 30 minutes. “We are making efforts for stability and peace.”
Speaking through a translator, Mirzoyan said: “We are continuing the process of normalising relations without preconditions … We are making efforts.”
The two countries are at odds over several issues, primarily the 1.5 million people Armenia says were killed in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor to modern Turkey.
Armenia says the 1915 killings constitute a genocide. Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World
War One, but contests the figures and denies killings were systematic or constitute genocide.
The two countries have said the January talks were “positive and constructive,” raising the prospect that ties could be restored and borders reopened.
Tensions flared during a 2020 war over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Turkey accused ethnic Armenian forces of occupying land belonging to Azerbaijan. Turkey has since called for a rapprochement, as it seeks greater regional influence.
The Biden administration is considering protecting certain Ukrainians living in the U.S. from deportation due to Russia’s military attack against Ukraine, two people familiar with the deliberations told CBS News Thursday.
The deportation relief could be authorized through a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas or a Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) order by President Biden, the sources said, requesting anonymity to discuss ongoing discussions.
U.S. immigration law authorizes the DHS secretary to offer TPS to immigrants in the U.S. if it is determined that their home countries are unable to safely accept deportees because of armed conflict, natural disasters, an epidemic or other “extraordinary” emergencies.
DED, a similar policy, also offers temporary deportation protections to immigrants from a specific country or region. But unlike TPS, it is authorized by the president. Both programs also allow beneficiaries to apply for work permits.
An estimated 355,000 Ukrainian immigrants reside in the U.S., according to government estimates. The Migration Policy Institute estimated Thursday that roughly 30,000 Ukrainians could be eligible for TPS or DED because they are neither U.S. citizens nor lawful permanent residents.
Potential beneficiaries could include Ukrainians with temporary U.S. visas, including students at American universities, as well as those without legal status. Both temporary deportation relief programs would not benefit new arrivals from Ukraine, where millions of refugees could be displaced due to the armed conflict with Russia, according to a U.S. assessment.
Asked earlier Thursday whether the administration would grant TPS to Ukrainians, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that would be a decision “made through an interagency process led by the Department of Homeland Security.”
“I don’t have any kind of prediction of that at this point in time,” Psaki said. Representatives for the White House and DHS said they did not have any policy announcements to make at this time.
“As is always the case, we continue to closely monitor conditions in various countries across the globe,” DHS said in a statement earlier Thursday.
Damage due to armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine in the Donetsk region under the control of pro-Russian separatists, eastern Ukraine on Feb. 28, 2022. Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
By NBC News
The International Criminal Court said Monday that it will open an investigation into whether Russia has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, hours after peace talks in Belarus ended without a clear resolution and shelling continued across Ukraine.
According to Ukrainian officials, Russia hit residential areas of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, with heavy shelling Monday, an apparent escalation of the Kremlin’s assault just as officials from both sides met for talks.
The Western response has been swift and unrelenting. Widening sanctions roiled the Russian economy Monday, forcing its currency, the ruble, to crater to a level around 30 percent against the U.S. dollar.
Follow our in-depth coverage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis here.
Zelenskyy: ‘Fair negotiations can only happen when one side is not shooting at the other’
“Fair negotiations can only happen when one side is not shooting at the other one during the exact time the negotiations are happening,” he said in a translation of a video message posted via the Telegram communications app Monday night.
During Monday’s diplomatic effort requested by Zeleskyy, Russian forces were accused of inciting Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.
Moscow said both sides had “heard” each other at Monday’s meeting.
Zelenskyy read off the names of dead soldiers to punctuate his condemnation of Russia’s onslaught. The leader asked the world to help close off airspace to Russian air offensives.
“The evil, that is armed with missiles, bombs, and artillery, must be stopped immediately, destroyed economically, to show that humanity can defend itself,” Zelenskyy said.
The neighbours are at odds over various issues, primarily the 1915 mass killings of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Published On 14 Jan 202214 Jan 2022
Envoys from Turkey and Armenia will hold the first round of talks aimed at normalising ties in Moscow on Friday, in a move Armenia expects will lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations and reopening borders after decades of animosity.
Turkey and Armenia have had no diplomatic or commercial ties for 30 years and the talks are the first attempt to restore links since a 2009 peace accord. That deal was never ratified and ties have remained tense.
The neighbours are at odds about various issues, primarily the 1915 mass killing of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Armenia says the 1915 killings constitute a genocide. Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War I, but contests the figures and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated or constitute a genocide.
During the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Ankara supported Azerbaijan and accused ethnic Armenian forces of occupying Azeri territory. Turkey began calling for a rapprochement after the conflict, as it sought greater influence in the region.
Russia’s TASS news agency cited Armenia’s foreign ministry as saying on Thursday that Yerevan expected the latest talks to lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of frontiers closed since 1993.
With borders closed, Turkey and Armenia have no direct trade routes. Indirect trade has risen marginally since 2013 but was just $3.8m in 2021, according to official Turkish data.
Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow with Carnegie Europe, said in November opening borders and renovating railways between Turkey and Armenia would have economic benefits for Yerevan, as the routes could be used by traders from Turkey, Russia, Armenia, Iran and Azerbaijan.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last year the two countries would also start charter flights between Istanbul and Yerevan under the rapprochement, but that Turkey would coordinate all steps with Azerbaijan.
The flights are set to begin in early February.
No easy breakthrough
Despite strong backing for normalisation from the United States, which hosts a large Armenian diaspora and angered Turkey last year by calling the 1915 killings a genocide, analysts say the talks would be complicated.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday Armenia needed to form good ties with Azerbaijan for the normalisation effort to yield results.
Emre Peker, a London-based director at Eurasia Group, said a cautious approach focusing on quick deliverables was expected on both sides because of the old sensitivities, adding the role of Russia, which brokered the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire and is the dominant actor in the region, would be key.
“Talks are likely to pave the way for more discussions in the coming months. But delivering a comprehensive, long-term pact will prove difficult due to the multifaceted nature of the talks and domestic political constraints in both countries,” he said.
“The bigger challenge will come from the question of historic reconciliation.”
The fate of talks will depend on “Ankara’s recognition that it must right-size its ambitions”, he said.
The crowd was probably smaller than Mikheil Saakashvili would have hoped. On the evening of October 4, hundreds, not thousands, of people gathered outside a prison in Georgia to demand the release of the country’s controversial former president.
Three days earlier, on October 1, Saakashvili had returned from Ukraine hoping to make a political comeback in his homeland by leading the opposition movement to victory in crucial elections.
It didn’t work. Just hours after he posted videos on Facebook saying he had returned to the country, Saakashvili was arrested and incarcerated in Rustavi, a small city 25 kilometers southeast of the capital, Tbilisi. And in nationwide local elections held the next day, the United National Movement (ENM), the party Saakashvili founded, was outpolled decisively by the ruling Georgian Dream party.
The relatively small crowd outside the prison in Rustavi suggests that Saakashvili’s popularity in his homeland is not what it once was, analysts say.
“Saakashvili underestimates how much Georgia has moved on since he left. He has 20 or 30 percent support, but a larger percentage of people opposes him or are indifferent,” said Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, in an interview with RFE/RL.
“He thinks of himself as a savior who can trigger another Rose Revolution but I don’t think the Georgian public is interested in that, to be honest,” de Waal said, referring to the 2003 protest movement that swept aside the corrupt Soviet-era elite and brought Saakashvili to power.
As president, Saakashvili was first credited with pushing through much-needed reforms, triggering praise in the West, but rumblings of discontent grew among those Georgians impacted by his changes. Over time, the charismatic and polarizing Saakashvili accumulated many critics, who faulted him for his increasingly autocratic style of rule.
Saakashvili left Georgia in 2014 and became a Ukrainian citizen, where he served as governor of the Odesa region before falling out with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. He was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship in 2017, and, after a series of standoffs with the authorities, was finally deported to Poland in 2018.
In 2018, a court in Georgia sentenced Saakashvili to six years in prison for abuse of power, after he was accused of trying to cover up evidence relating to the beating of an opposition lawmaker. He also faces several other charges stemming from his 2004-13 presidency, including the violent dispersal of a protest and a raid on a television station started by a political rival.
While Saakashvili’s motivations for returning are unclear, some observers have speculated that the former president sensed his chances of a political comeback were greater than ever.
The October 2 elections were viewed as a referendum on the ruling Georgian Dream party, whose popularity has dipped recently. Georgia was plunged into political turmoil last year after opposition parties said elections won by the ruling party were rigged. The country has recently been rocked by a wiretapping scandal, which appears to show the widescale and long-running state surveillance of prominent journalists, clergymen, and public officials.
“Georgia hasn’t had a weaker government in the nine years since Saakashvili left power,” said Egor Kuroptev, director of the Free Russia Foundation in the South Caucasus. “[The government is] the weakest, and, in principle, not very legitimate — not in terms of elections, but their own record of action. It’s been nothing but scandal and chaos, unfortunately,” he told Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
And while the ruling party appears to have scored a convincing victory, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili said that Saakashvili’s arrival had helped the opposition and accounted for Georgian Dream losing support. The ruling party’s mayoral candidates failed to surpass the required 50 percent threshold in the key cities of Tbilisi, Batumi, Kutaisi, Poti, and Rustavi and runoffs are scheduled for October 30.
Georgia’s ruling authorities have so far given little indication that Saakashvili will be treated leniently. Gharibashvili said on October 3 that Saakashvili, who dismisses the charges against him as politically motivated, would serve his full term of six years in prison. President Salome Zurabishvili, a former ally who was Saakashvili’s first foreign minister, has said that she will not consider offering him a pardon.
How much jail time Saakashvili will actually serve is unclear, but Kuroptev says that he will, at the latest, be freed when parliamentary elections are held in 2024. “Of course, he has no guarantees when he will be released from prison. Will it be in two days or two years?” Kuroptev told Current Time.
“I would, however, argue with those who contend he will serve the full six years because there will anyhow be a change of power in 2024,” he said. “But that is the maximum [time he will serve] as the situation in the country is far from simple.”
Supporters outside the prison in Rustavi have said they will continue their protests in the coming days, while Saakashvili himself has vowed to continue a hunger strike he reportedly started after his arrest.
But if those tactics prove to be ineffective, Saakashvili may be reliant on outside actors to secure his freedom.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who restored his Ukrainian citizenship back in 2019, has vowed to work for the release of Saakashvili, who since May 2020 has headed the president’s executive committee of the National Reforms Council, a body tasked with overseeing reforms in the corruption-ridden country.
What exactly Zelenskiy will be able to achieve, though, is unclear, argues Kornely Kakachia, director of the Tbilisi-based Georgian Institute of Politics. Ultimately, Zelenskiy, will be careful not to harm ties with Tbilisi, a key backer for Kyiv, he said.
The U.S. State Department said on October 4 that Washington was paying close attention to developments in Georgia and urged the government in Tbilisi to ensure Saakashvili is treated fairly.
Kakachia said that there will likely be more red flags for the West after statements by the Georgian prime minister that “more articles,” or criminal charges, will be added to Saakashvili’s case if “he does not behave.”
“These types of statements should not be coming from the prime minister but the judiciary,” Kakachia told RFE/RL.
The options Western countries may have are likely limited, de Waal says. “This is a nightmare for Georgia’s Western partners. They are doing everything they can to get Georgia out of this bizarre political polarization and move on to a pragmatic, real political agenda, but it’s gotten a whole lot worse,” de Waal said, adding that Gharibashvili was likely to ignore Western appeals.
“Georgian Dream doesn’t listen to the West in its war on Saakashvili,” de Waal said, noting that earlier this year Tbilisi refused an $89 million EU loan that was conditioned on judicial reform and upholding a power-sharing agreement that Brussels had brokered.
Tony WesolowskyTony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.WesolowskyA@rferl.org
YEREVAN — Armenian President Armen Sarkisian appointed acting Prime Minister Nikola Pashinian to the post of prime minister on August 2, the first day of the parliament’s new term following an election six weeks ago.
Sarkisian signed the relevant decree after the ruling Civil Contract party nominated Pashinian to the post as lawmakers started the inaugural session.
Pashinian has 15 days to win approval for a cabinet from parliament.
His Civil Contract party holds 71 of the legislature’s 101 seats since snap elections in June prompted by a crisis following a truce in intense fighting with neighboring Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and nearby districts.
The 44-day eruption of a decades-long unresolved war with Azerbaijan over the breakaway Azerbaijani territory concluded with a Moscow-brokered truce in November that cemented Azerbaijani control over regions that had been controlled by ethnic Armenians for almost 30 years.
Street protests broke out in which Pashinian’s opponents blamed him for the loss of control over the territories to the bigger and better-equipped Azerbaijani military.
Pashinian and his supporters have said former leaders of the country, including ex-Presidents Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian, were also responsible for the war’s outcome.
While fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalated into a full-scale war, both local and international media reported about Turkish-backed mercenaries from Syria being transported to Azerbaijan. Up till now, most reports relied on the testimonies of soldiers and sources in Syria. But on October 3, a video showing Arabic-speaking men listening to the chants of the Turkish-backed Sultan Murad division has been geolocated to theAzerbaijani Horadiz military base.
Evidence shows mercenaries are being transported from Gaziantep to Baku
The first reports about mercenaries from Northern Syria in Azerbaijan appeared back in July when Armenia and Azerbaijan clashed near the Tavush/Tovuz borderline. Turkey and Azerbaijan both denied the information. In September, reports became more frequent, and as the situation escalated, videos and photos of alleged mercenaries appeared on social media.
On September 22, journalist Lindsey Snell published a photo that showed alleged mercenaries being transported to Azerbaijan. Days later, journalist Youri van der Weide tweeted about a military A400M aircraft flying on September 22 from the Turkish city of Gaziantep (near the Syrian border) to Ankara. The interior of the A400M is similar to the one in the photo published by Snell.
Russian Novaya Gazeta recreated the route of the mercenaries from Syria to Azerbaijan based on the evidence of a local source. NG writes that fighters are first sent to the Turkish border town of Killis, where they change uniforms. Then they are taken to Gaziantep airport to fly to Baku via Istanbul. The flight passes the airspace of Georgia (note that Georgia temporarily prohibited the transport of military cargo through its airspace on October 3).
Soon, many other photos claiming to show mercenaries in Azerbaijan appeared on social media. Men in those photos are wearing the military uniform of the State Border Service of Azerbaijan. This was pointed out by Washington-based analyst Emil Sanamyan (here and here) and Baku-based journalist Khadija Ismayilova (however, Ismayilova claimed that proves nothing, as those could be real Azerbaijani soldiers).
The uniforms on the photos indeed look similar to the one that Border Service uses. Moreover, the round sign on the jacket’s arm can be seen on both Border Service and mercenaries’ photos.
Mercenaries filmed themselves in the Azerbaijani military base
Another piece of visual evidence of Turkey-backed mercenaries in Azerbaijan is a video with Arabic-speaking men dancing and listening to Sultan Murad Brigade chants.
The video was soon geolocated to be in Horadiz – a town not far from the line of contact where an Azerbaijani military base is located. The geolocation was done both by Armenian Razminfo and by German conflict analyst Julian Röpcke.
Third-party countries also report the presence of mercenaries in Azerbaijan. French President Emmanuel Macron said that France has reliable information about jihadist groups being transported through Turkish Gaziantep to the warzone in Artsakh/Nagorno Karabakh. Additionally, the United States warned its citizens not to travel to Azerbaijan due to “COVID-19 and terrorism concerns.”
Most sources agree that militants from the Sultan Murad division are fighting for Azerbaijan
Most reports agree that the Sultan Murad division has been recruiting mercenaries. Named after 16th century Ottoman Sultan Murad II, the division is part of Syrian Turkmen Brigades – groups of Turkmen and Turkish militants that fight against the state army of Syria. The Sultan Murad division is also part of the so-called Syrian National Army (SNA, known also as the Free Syrian Army), which is a unity of different armed groups supported by Turkey. Turkey supplies weapons and provides military training to SNA.
Not all mercenaries in Azerbaijan are professional fighters
It should be noted that while mercenaries are recruited by armed groups and include long-term militants, not all people transported from Syria to Azerbaijan are professional soldiers. Some are regular civilians that signed up as mercenaries driven by poverty: years of war have crashed the Syrian economy. For example, The Guardian spoke to a tailor displaced from Aleppo to Azaz, who said he cannot make living practicing his craft and had to sign up as a mercenary.
Information about the amount of the mercenaries’ salary varies from 1,000 to 2,500 USD which is significantly higher than what those men could make in Northern Syria. Novaya Gazeta writes that Turkey promises not only a high salary but also Turkish citizenship for mercenaries and their family members, as well as 30,000 USD to the family in case of the fighter’s death.