Sunday, October 30, 2011

Week 24-30 Oct.: Integration in the "Eurasia Union", a relative concept

The last week of October was marked by an intense activity in the field of EU-South Caucasus relations.
Both the Council and the Commission had their staff in the region, in the persons of the Special Representative and the EC director for Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia, Gunnar Wiegand.

The last reassured Armenian counterpart that the free-trade deal signed with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Tajikistan in the framework of CIS system will not hinder a possible Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with EU. This is in line with what Vladimir Putin suggested, in his well know article/manifesto "A new integration project for Eurasia: the future in making".

The point is he meaning of the concept of "integration".
In EU wording, integration means a common environment, or - recalling EU commissioner for Taxation and Custom Union Algiras Shemeta's speach ( convergence of legislation and procedures.
In the expectation of many observers and citizens of South Caucasus, EU integration means membership. Being integrated in EU would mean being a EU State.
In fact, membership implies integration, but not necessary vice versa.

It is a bit puzzling to understand what Putin means for integration. A part of the article published by Izvestija is dedicated to a comparison between the Eurasia project and the EU one. There are of course references to the Soviet legacy. The Soviet Union was, by the way, not an integrated system, but a single system.
So, in a scale from "a single system" to "reinforced agreements between states", where is the Eurasia Union located? And where the South Caucasus in the Eurasia Union?

Describing this Union, Putin defines it as a "supernational association" and an open project with unified standards and regulations for goods and services. It sounds like a pragmatic economic plan to coordinate and integrate different economies on the basis of a topic agenda.

Will this project attract the attention of the Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan?
For Georgia, ça va sans dire, no.
Armenia and Azerbaijan will probably decide step by step.
A lot will depend on how much this "Eurasia Union" is a feasible project.
And on what "integration" means.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Week 17-23 Oct.: Press the refresh button

It's weeks, if not two full months, that on daily basis Azerbaijani authorities blame "Armenians" of violaions of the cease-fire.
This week, in connection with military exercises in Karabakh, it was claimed a massive violation of 260 episodes dated back to the previous days.
Minsk Group mission is keeping the situation under observation, but clearly all these allegations, may they be proved to be baseless or not, are the evidence that something is going on.
If the exchange of fire is indeed daily and to mentioned extent, it means that the cease-fire is no longer working and that the situation is turning from a "frozen" conflict to a low intensity one.

In such a case, it could be the right moment to re-discuss the terms of the cease-fire and include in a new negotiation provisions about separation of forces and de-militarized areas. Due to conflicting regional interests, most probably talking about an international monitoring mission is rather premature. Anyway, the present tools to prevent an escalation of the conflict appear right now not enough, and it's high time to press the refresh button before it's really too late.

On the opposite, the cease-fire keeps working in Georgian disputed territories. Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism is effective. A positive example which shouldn't be ruled out for the Karabakh case, with all the needed variants.
On the 21st the most shaky IPRM - the Ossetian-Georgian one - took place and
"The participants discussed recent incidents and circumstances of detentions that took place at or close to the Administrative Boundary Line. Safety measures of agricultural workers in the adjacent areas were discussed in detail, as well as methods of facilitating freedom of movement. The participants touched upon issues of a humanitarian nature, such as the implementation of water and gas projects in the region." (

Refresh button for the Georgian opposition, as well?
After the failure of Alasania in being a popular alternative to Saakashvili, another name may emerge. And as in the case of Alasania, he's winning the attention of international media probably much more than of national ones. So far Bidzina Ivanishvili is gaining spaces in the domestic media in connection with his negotiations with opposition leaders (and the tense relations with the Labour Party). He is referred to as the billionaire, or the tycoon by Rustavi2. Not a promising start.
If he hopes to win the hearts and minds of Georgians by next year elections, he will need to do much more than just being returned his Georgian citizenship.

Monday, October 17, 2011

In Bishkek

The Central Asian Studies Institute (CASI) of American University of Central Asia, first annual international conference, "Twenty Years of Central Asian Independence: Shared Past, Separate

Monday, October 10, 2011

Week 3-9 Oct.: One step too far

XVII Session of the Geneva International Discussions, diplomatic visits and "presidential" revivals: and a bit above the lines.

As for the first, it was the last session with the participation of who was the engine of the Discussions, from the very beginning, the Special Representative for Crisis in Georgia appointed in 2008, Pierre Morel.
His successor, Philippe Lefort inherits a not easy task. The second working group is practically stuck and not all the parties are actively attending to its work. Moreover, the statement by the Georgian side is very assertive. It gives the impression that Tbilisi is really trying to push Russia in the corner. The references to the "terrorist acts undertaken by the Russian special services on the territory"( is somehow disturbing in the wording. The allegation is so severe that - before a proper investigation - no final assessment should be formulated.

Georgia found some encouragement by the words of French President Sarkozy, who toured the region. Welcome like a national hero, for having brooked the cease-fire, he held a speech in Liberty Square. Not all his statements may have met the expectations of his hosts, but one sentence immediately echoed everywhere: that Georgia "must be free to express its aspiration to move towards the European Union and to one day join it" and “As far as I am concerned, when I am in Tbilisi, I feel like I am in Europe.” Words with a different shade than the once pronounced usually by Brussels officials who usually refer to integration and not to membership. Words who will remain well impressed in the mind of the Georgian public and that are to create a lot of expectations.
In the meanwhile, Ankvab visited for the first time the Kremlin in his official role of new "President" of Abkhazia.

In Armenia, Levon Ter Petrosyan is in the streets again. A city of tents, which recalls the similar - unsuccessful - initiative undertaken more or less with the same modalities and with similar aims by Georgian opposition in 2009. Or by himself in 2008, but when it was to protest again election alleged frauds. And it ended up very badly.
A revival? with the claims of Kocharyan that he may go back to politics and run for presidency, it looks like a revival not of 2008, but of 1998.
I think that the point is not who will manage to get more votes, but how to drag Armenians to the ballot boxes, with the presidential mandate permanently bouncing among the same people...
Kocharyan suggests there' s a strong demand for his commitment. Well, it sound like a bold comment...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

In Moscow


Институт этнологии и антропологии РАН (Москва)
Франко-Российский исследовательский центр (Москва)
Российский государственный гуманитарный университет (Москва)
Ассоциация по изучению национальностей (Нью-Йорк)

Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAN (Moscow)
Centre d’études franco-russe (Moscow)
Russian State University for the Humanities (Moscow)
Association for the Study of Nationalities (New-York)