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.
Fighting has erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan around the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Both sides have blamed each other; Armenia claims the alleged Azerbaijan attack is a declaration of war.
The two sides resumed open conflict again on Monday morning with the use of heavy artillery. Outbreaks of violence had continued through the night, according to the Armenian Defense Ministry spokesperson Shushan Stepanyan.
“During night battles continued with different intensity. Early in morning, Azerbaijan resumed its offensive operations, using artillery, armored vehicles, TOS heavy artillery system,” Stepanyan wrote on Twitter.
Armenian forces reportedly attacked the town of Terter with heavy artillery, according to the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense.
At least 31 people — both civilians and military — have died in fighting that erupted on Sunday between Azerbaijani forces and Armenian rebels in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, officials said.
Separatists reported 15 further military casualties on Monday. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, announced the death of six civilians, with at least 19 more injured in the violence.
Fear of new war
The worst violence in the region since 2016 has raised the prospect of a new war in an area that has been simmering for decades.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a televised address that Azerbaijan’s “authoritarian regime has once again declared war on the Armenian people.”
“We are on the brink of a full-scale war in the South Caucasus, which might have unpredictable consequences,” he added. “We are ready for this war.”
Both countries declared martial law. The president of Azerbaijan declared a partial military mobilization in the country as part of a presidential decree on Monday morning. Armenia began a general mobilization on Sunday.
Pashinyan also spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Putin expressing “serious concern” over the escalation. Russia maintains a military base in Armenia, and is seen as an ally to Yerevan. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are former Soviet republics.
Turkey, meanwhile, is considered an ally of Azerbaijan, and has been vociferously criticizing the Armenian government.
In a statement posted on Twitter following a phone call with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the Armenian people to stand against leaders who he said were “dragging them to catastrophe,” before adding that Ankara’s solidarity with Baku would “increasingly continue.”
Armenia’s Defense Ministry accused Azerbaijan of launching a bombing campaign against civilian targets. Yerevan said the military responded by shooting down four of Azerbaijan’s military helicopters, as well as 15 drones and 10 tanks, a claim Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry denied.
“The entire responsibility for this lies with the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan,” insisted an Armenian Defense Ministry spokesperson.
Azerbaijan, meanwhile, accused Armenian forces of launching “deliberate and targeted” attacks on Nagorno-Karabakh.
“There are reports of dead and wounded among civilians and military servicemen,” Azerbaijan’s president said.By the afternoon, Azerbaijan claimed to have taken several villages in the region. “We have liberated six villages — five in Fizuli district and one in Jebrail district,” a ministry spokesman told AFP.
Iran has offered to mediate between the two sides. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Tehran was following the violence in the south Caucasus with great concern, news agency ISNA reported.
“We call on both sides to exercise restraint, end the conflict immediately and resume negotiations,” he said, while offering Tehran’s support in working towards a resolution.
This image, from footage released by the Armenian Defense Ministry, purportedly shows Armenian army tanks destroying vehicles belonging to Azerbaijan
Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said the city of Stepanakert has been shelled and urged residents to get to safety. Numerous houses in villages have been destroyed, with injuries reported.
The breakaway region immediately declared “martial law and total military mobilization,” Karabakh’s president Araik Harutyunyan told an emergency parliament session. He said that those liable for military service had been called up for duty.
European Council President Charles Michel said the renewed violence was “of most serious concern” and called for an end to the fighting.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also urged a return to diplomatic channels.
“I call on both parties to the conflict to immediately cease all fighting and especially the shelling of villages and towns,” he said, according to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin.
Months of tension
Silvia Stöber, a journalist and expert on the Caucasus region, told DW that both sides had been preparing for an escalation like this for months.
She blamed the deteriorating economic situation in both countries for the flare-up but said international involvement probably played a role.
“The leadership of Azerbaijan may feel more motivated to escalate the whole situation” due to increased support from its ally Turkey, while the importing of Russian arms into Armenia means that it “looks like a conflict that [will go] further,” Stöber added.
During his noon blessing from St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis asked both sides to make “concrete gestures of goodwill and brotherhood” in order to resolve their differences without the use of force.
Violence first erupted in the region when ethnic Armenians seized Karabakh from Azerbaijan in the 1990s. An estimated 30,000 people were killed during the war.
A ceasefire, which was signed in 1994, largely put an end to the full-scale conflict, but peace talks mediated by France, Russia and the United States collapsed in 2010.
Azerbaijan has made repeated threats to take back the region by force. Although the region declared independence, it is heavily reliant on Armenian support and Armenia has stated that it would defend the territory militarily.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has lambasted the U.S., Russian and French mediators trying to broker a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and said the most recent Armenian-Azerbaijani talks were fruitless.
In an interview with Azerbaijani television aired on Tuesday, Aliyev denounced the mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group for reiterating last week that “there is no military solution to the conflict.”
“Their main point is that the problem cannot be solved militarily,” he said. “Who said that? We expect more serious, clear and targeted statements from the mediators.”
“In essence, no negotiations are held right now,” claimed Aliyev. “The video conferences of the [Armenian and Azerbaijani] foreign ministers are meaningless and are only leaving the impression that the Minsk Group exists.”
“As I have said before, we will not negotiate for the sake of negotiating and we want substantive negotiations without any change in their format. In that case, we will participate in them. Otherwise, I see no need for pointless negotiations.”
Foreign Ministers Zohrab Mnatsakanian and Elmar Mammadyarov as well as the three mediators most recently talked via video link on June 30. They reported no progress towards a Karabakh settlement.
In a joint statement issued right after the talks, the Minsk Group co-chairs said they urged the conflicting parties to “take additional steps to strengthen the ceasefire and to prepare the populations for peace.” They also said the two ministers agreed to hold another video conference in July and to meet in person “as soon as possible.”
Yerevan and Baku traded bitter recriminations both before and during the latest round of peace talks. Speaking at a June 25 meeting with Azerbaijani army officers, Aliyev described Armenia’s post-Soviet history as “shameful,” saying that his country’s arch-foe was for decades ruled by “criminals and thieves.” He also said that the 2018 popular protests that brought Nikol Pashinian to power were not a democratic revolution.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry hit back at Aliyev, saying that he leads one of the world’s most corrupt and repressive regimes which feels threatened by “democratic changes taking place in Armenia.”
Azerbaijan Launches Military Offensive Against Armenia Despite Global Ceasefire Appeal, Incites Pro-War Protests in Baku Calling for “Death to Armenians”
On July 12, at around 12:30 pm, the servicemen of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces attempted to violate the RA state border in the direction of Tavush region with an UAZ-model vehicle. After the warning of the Armenian side, the Azerbaijani servicemen left the UAZ-model vehicle and returned to their positions.
At 1:45 pm, the Azerbaijani servicemen repeated their attempt to take the border position of the Armenian armed forces, using artillery fire, but were suppressed by the Armenian side and pushed back, suffering losses.
In the evening, the Azerbaijani side resumed firing from the 82 mm mortar and tank in the direction of the same position. The shootings continued at regular intervals throughout the night.
All the attempts of the opponent were targeted by the units of the Armenian Armed Forces and neutralized.
On the morning of July 13, the opponent resumed provocative actions, continuing to shell in the direction of the Armenian positions. The RA Armed Forces subdivisions gave an adequate response.
The Armenian side did not suffer any losses.
Armenian Defense Minister David Tonoyan is in constant contact with the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk. The Minister of Defense has informed that the personnel and command of the Armenian army are instructed to still remain restrained and in case of provocations by the opponent in the direction of the Armenian borders, to respond as needed, even to take new favorable positions.
The Armenian Armed Forces are not firing on the Azerbaijani settlements. Only the engineering infrastructure and technical means of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces are targeted.
The Azerbaijani military-political leadership will bear all the responsibility for the losses on the Azerbaijani side and for the consequences of the intensification of the situation.
YEREVAN—Gagik Tsarukyan, Armenia’s wealthiest businessman and leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party, has been formally charged with corruption and bribery. According to his lawyer, Emin Khachatryan, late on Tuesday night, the National Security Service (NSS) filed a motion with the Yerevan Municipal Court to detain Tsarukyan under Article 154.2 of Armenia’s criminal code which deals with political bribery.
This development comes hours after the National Assembly voted to revoke Tsarukyan’s immunity from prosecution—which he was entitled to as a parliamentarian—upon the request of Prosecutor-General Artur Davtyan. In his speech to lawmakers, Davtyan accused Tsarukyan of creating and leading “an organized group that bought more than 17,000 votes for his Prosperous Armenia Party during parliamentary elections held in April 2017.” Alleged evidence of these claims was found in the businessman’s mansion in an early-morning raid on Sunday. Investigators purportedly uncovered piles of handwritten and signed letters from Tsarukyan’s known deputies formally pledging to provide him with a desired amount of votes by any means necessary for the 2017 parliamentary election. According to Davtyan, the documents even included voter names, passport numbers and the amount of bribes provided.
As Parliament debated the motion, employees of Tsarukyan’s various business interests attempted to block Yerevan’s Acharyan Street which leads to the tycoon’s mansion using buses and trucks registered to his Multi Group holding company. However, a video posted online depicted passersby removing those vehicles from the road. Another group of Tsarukyan supporters was detained by police in front of the National Assembly for violating the ban on mass gatherings under the State of Emergency.
Parliament passed the motion in a secret ballot on Tuesday with 87 of the 137 MPs voting in favor. Judging by the figures, Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia legislators abstained from voting.
Tsarukyan has dismissed the accusations as a politically motivated retaliation against his recent public calls for the government’s resignation over what he claims was poor handling of the ongoing pandemic. “Going against Tsarukyan marks the end of your Revolution,” Tsarukyan declared on the debate floor, addressing himself in the third person. Parliamentary Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan responded that he is guaranteed a fair trial under Armenia’s constitution.
Several extra-parliamentary opposition parties joined the two parliamentary opposition factions in condemning the charges on Tsarukyan as ‘politically motivated.’ In a written statement, the Bright Armenia Party claimed to “strongly condemn” the criminal prosecutions “resulting from political expediency and carried out through a selective enforcement of the law.” This statement was echoed by the now-ousted Republican Party communiqué which called for the “resignation of the impotent government of Nikol Pashinyan” for his alleged authoritarian behavior. Incidentally, the Republican Party itself successfully silenced a similar bout of public descent by Tsarukyan through threats of auditing and corruption charges a mere five years earlier.
The raid and ensuing charges have sparked vigorous debate among analysts and the public alike over the state of the country’s transitional justice and anti-corruption efforts. While there is widespread consensus that the charges are valid, some have questioned whether Pashinyan’s government was employing intimidation tactics against political opponents not unlike those used by the previous regime.
Tsarukyan, who is widely accused of using his close relationship with former president Robert Kocharyan (who is currently in pre-trial detention himself) to amass millions in assets and wrest control over a vast business empire, became somewhat of an oddity as one of the few oligarchs to survive the Velvet Revolution as a political force. The oligarch-turned-politician had managed to cultivate an image of an uneasy, yet mutually beneficial alliance with the Pashinyan government, begging the question as to whether Pashinyan simply cracked down on him when he turned into a political liability.
While the timing for these charges may seem on the nose, Dr. Nerses Kopalyan, a political science professor at the University of Nevada postulates that such a causation/correlation argument “makes no chronological sense.” Tsarukyan and his various business dealings have been subject to a series of separate investigations long before this apparent public spat with the Pashinyan government. Tsarukyan’s holding company Multi Group has been audited by both tax and health and safety inspectors on several occasions. His personal bodyguard, Edward Babayan, was arrested on assault charges in July of 2018. Multi Group CEO Sedrak Arustamyan was arrested on multiple charges including bribery, tax evasion and money laundering relating to the construction of the North South Highway. Vahagn Gevorgyan, the mayor of the commuter-town of Abovyan (widely considered to be Tsarukyan’s seat of power) is also facing charges for allowing Multi Group to illegally privatize municipal property for condo development.
The charges do not coincide with the first time Tsarukyan publicly criticized the authorities either. While his party initially made overtures to the new government, they took part in an attempt to impede a motion for snap elections back in 2018, in which they eventually won just over eight percent of the popular vote. Since then, Tsarukyan has publicly derided the new government for its refusal to extend tariff protection to his failing businesses, accusing it of mismanaging the economy and fostering an unhealthy business climate. He also recently refused to pay his own employees’ wages when the government announced lockdowns at the start of the ongoing pandemic.
Tsarukyan is not the first public figure associated with the former government to paint himself as the victim of political repression for criticizing the new authorities. Other notable figures to make the same assertions include Mikayel Minasyan (former President Serge Sarkisian’s self-exiled son-in-law), Gagik Khachaturyan, Ruben Hayrapetyan and other oligarchs widely accused of using their ties to the previous government for self-enrichment.
Political analyst Richard Giragosian described Sunday’s raid on Tsarukyan’s compound and subsequent arrest as a strategic “determination to show an end to the previous culture of impunity that prevailed under the old government for many wealthy businessmen that entered politics.” The events of the previous week have also, in Giragosian’s view, exposed Tsarukyan as having “no real power base of his own” beyond those financially dependent on him. This view was echoed by CivilNet’s Tatul Hakobyan who characterized Tsarukyan as “playing the wrong hand and paying dearly for it.”
In Parliament on Wednesday, Prosperous Armenia MPs announced that they would call for a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as a constitutional appeal to the ban on public demonstrations during the State of Emergency. The other parliamentary opposition party, Bright Armenia, signaled that it might join in this motion.