Friday, August 15, 2014

Azerbaijan Strengthens Its Cooperation With NATO

By Leyla Aslanova

As Azerbaijan begins its fourth Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) cycle with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), tensions are on the rise with its neighbor Armenia over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Karabakh, occupied by Armenian forces. The latest serious armed confrontations began on July 30, 2014 (see EDM, August 7)—the most serious violence since the ceasefire agreement was reached in May 1994. The increase in violent clashes could spark a new wide-scale conflict in the region. But it also suggests that Russia may be intentionally inciting provocations by ordering Armenia to make trouble in Karabakh to help further President Vladimir Putin’s regional ambitions.

Beginning in June 2014, Russian media, led by Moskovskiy Komsomolets, intentionally disseminated information about Armenia’s possible plans to launch a war against Azerbaijan and attack Nakhchivan (Moskovskiy Komsomolets, June 11). While this story did not receive much attention at the time, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and ongoing involvement in the separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine brought renewed concern, highlighting the dangers inherent in the Karabakh conflict. Prominent experts have since written on the importance of finding a resolution to the Karabakh conflict and have specifically pointed to the similarities between the occupations of both Crimea and Karabakh (see, for example, Thomas de Waal, “Nagorno-Karabakh: Crimea’s doppelganger,” Open Democracy, July 13). It is becoming ever more apparent that Moscow is pushing Yerevan to reignite the Karabakh conflict as a means to contain Baku’s cautious approach of the West and to block the Euro-Atlantic community’s attempts to boost their influence in the South Caucasus—which Russia considers to be within its sphere of influence.

In May 2014, United States Senator Bob Corker (R­-TN) proposed the Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014,” which not only includes stricter sanctions against Russia but also offers major non-NATO ally status for Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. Furthermore, the bill increases armed forces cooperation between the US and Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Azerbaijan (see EDM, August 4). Notably, however, the proposed legislation’s named partnerships exclude Armenia, most likely due to Yerevan’s recent policy reorientation completely away from Europe. Firstly, Armenia is Russia’s long term ally and is committed to its military alliance with Moscow; in particular, Armenia hosts a Russian base with 4,000 soldiers (see EDM, September 11, 2013). Secondly, on March 27, Armenia was among 11 countries that voted against the United Nations General Assembly resolution that declared the Crimean referendum invalid (UN, March 27)

Azerbaijan, on the other hand, has developed closer relations with NATO over the years as a part of the Individual Partnership Action Plan process. The country’s third IPAP cycle is currently being assessed, and the two sides are finalizing the draft of Azerbaijan’s fourth IPAP cycle for the period of 2014–2015 (, August 5). During the conference “NATO Wales Summit: Forecasts and Perspectives,” held in Baku on August 5, the British ambassador to Azerbaijan, Irfan Siddiq, raised specific areas of cooperation between the North Atlantic Alliance and Azerbaijan that need to be emphasized in the new IPAP. These included the development of a dynamic action plan for preparedness and response to new types of threats as well as increasing the defense capability of NATO member countries and the Alliance’s readiness to respond to existing threats (, August 5).

On August 7–8, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov held meetings at NATO Headquarters in Brussels concerning the negotiations over the new IPAP document (, August 5). With the renewed fourth IPAP cycle, NATO is more likely to try to boost its cooperation with Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea. And NATO’s upcoming Wales summit in September 2014 also suggests prospects for increased cooperation to ensure security and stability in the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea regions. Moscow is likely to vehemently oppose any NATO presence in the Caspian, as Russia already pressed the other Caspian littoral states—Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran—not to allow any outside military forces to enter their shared body of water (see EDM, May 5). Nevertheless, in his speech during the August 5 Baku conference on the NATO Wales summit, Romanian ambassador to Azerbaijan Daniel Cristian stressed that European Union countries are ready to support the expansion of relations between Azerbaijan and the Euro-Atlantic institutions (, August 5).

As such initiatives by the North Atlantic Alliance toward Baku grow in frequency, the unintended consequences will be the increase in provocations by Yerevan along the Azerbaijani-Armenian border. Therefore, the renewed skirmishes over Karabakh serve as yet another reason for international powers and institutions to act and to reject Russia’s imperialistic ambitions in the region, which stand in the way of peacebuilding and the establishment of security across the South Caucasus.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Karabakh Fighting Intensifies Lezgin Separatism in Azerbaijan

By Paul Goble

New violence between Baku and Yerevan over the occupied territories (see EDM, August 7) has sparked a new wave of separatism among the Lezgins of Azerbaijan. This ethnic community calculates that the violence gives it a new chance to gain autonomy via Moscow’s efforts to gain additional leverage over Baku without having the situation in Dagestan blow up in its face.

Azerbaijan today is more ethnically homogeneous than at any point in its history, if one excludes the territories occupied by Armenia, but it does have two significant ethnic minorities, the Talysh in the south and the Lezgins in the North.  The former, an Iranian group of about 100,000, has not been a major problem for Baku over the last decade.  But the latter, which  includes as many as 350,000 in northern Azerbaijan and another 400,000 on the other side of the Azerbaijani-Russian border, is something else. As one commentator notes, while the Talysh have to deal with Baku “one on one, behind the back [of the Lezgins] stands Russia” (, August 8).

The Lezgins in Azerbaijan have long complained about Azerbaijani discrimination, and the Lezgins in Dagestan have equally long complained about Baku’s efforts to promote its influence northward.  In both cases, Moscow has used the Lezgins against Baku when it has perceived Azerbaijan to be weak or when Moscow is seeking additional leverage to force Azerbaijan not to attack Russia’s ally Armenia or to follow Moscow’s line on other issues.

In 1993, a group of Lezgins attacked an Azerbaijani border post, and a year later, they organized a terrorist attack in the Baku metro.  Now, as one commentator has noted, “considering the Ukrainian events, the unification of Crimea to Russia, and the recognition of the latter by South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Lezgin nationalists at any moment may ask themselves the question: if the Abkhazians, Ossetians, and Crimeans with the support of Russia and the Karabakh people with that of Armenia could separate, then why cannot the Lezgins do the same by having asked Russia for help?” (, August 8).

Anton Yevstratov, a Russian political scientist and historian, points out that “Lezgins living on the territory of Dagestan are a problem not just for Baku. They are also one for Moscow” because they have sought to gain greater autonomy within Dagestan, the most ethnically diverse non-Russian republic in the Russian Federation.  And when they have not achieved the support they hoped for from Moscow, the Lezgins have not been shy about turning to radical groups elsewhere in the North Caucasus. In fact, in the early 1990s, the Sadval Movement regularly cooperated with Dzhokhar Dudayev’s Chechnya. Thus, the Lezgins can be a two-edged sword (, July 31).

Nonetheless, Moscow seems prepared to use it against Baku now, to remind the Azerbaijan authorities that they could face a two- or even three-front war if they seek to reclaim the occupied territories by force. At the same time, however, the Lezgins might act on their own, which could end by causing as many headaches for Moscow as for Baku.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Building up Igor Strelkov’s Myth: A Call to Arms for Russian Nationalists

By Sofia Yasen

The Russian publishing house Knizhnyy Mir recently released a book about Igor Girkin (a.k.a. Strelkov), the military leader of the pro-Russia separatist forces in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (, accessed August 4). The title of the book is Igor Strelkov—The Horror of the Banderovite Junta. Defense of Donbas (Igor Strelkov—uzhas banderovskoy khunty. Oborona Donbasa). Even though part of the book is advertised as including direct excerpts from Strelkov’s dairy, which he allegedly kept during the fighting in Slovyansk, the veracity of this text is unclear. Mikhail Polikarpov, who claims to have known Igor Strelkov for a long time, wrote the rest of the book.

Polikarpov provides no clear confirmation that he is, indeed, using Strelkov’s own words. In one place he claims to quote posts by a blogger with the online pseudonym of Kotych, who is said to be an alter ego of Strelkov. In places where Kotych’s cited text appears to deviate from Strelkov’s normal style, Polikarpov emphasizes the possibility that Strelkov’s account may have been hacked. Interestingly, one of the interviews with Strelkov that is found in the book asserts that he visited Kyiv during the Euromaidan street protests against the Viktor Yanukovych government.

Any questions as to whether the author tried to verify the information he presents in his book lose all meaning the deeper the reader progresses in the text. It quickly becomes apparent that Polikarpov’s book is not meant to provide unbiased information but, rather, is clear propaganda. Within the first few pages, it praises the Russian “volunteer” soldiers who, in the early 1990s, fought for the separatist Moldovan region of Transnistria, which the author identifies as the first independent element of “Novorossiya” (“New Russia”— Moscow’s political project to create a pro-Russia separatist region, mainly out of territories carved out of southeastern Ukraine).

Largely unknown prior to the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine, Strelkov—an avid war reenactor and former Federal Security Service (FSB) operative—obtained real battle experience in Transnistria, Bosnia, Chechnya and Dagestan (see EDM, July 21). Igor Strelkov portrays him as an exemplar for his methods of warfare in the Ukraine, and in one section even elevates Strelkov to that of a modern day Alexander Suvorov, referring to the famous Russian military commander who served under Catherine the Great. On the other hand, the book describes the leaders of the Kyiv government as “pro-Western agents.” Polikarpov also openly disparages Ukraine’s armed forces. In discussing the Ukrainian soldiers, the author exclusively refers to Strelkov’s purported online posts, which are written in a mocking tone and accuse the Ukrainian troops of drunkenness, unprofessionalism and murders of innocent civilians.

The book heavily reflects extreme Russian nationalist views. For one thing, it claims that the Ukrainian language is artificial. Furthermore, the word “Ukrainians” rarely appears in the text at all, which instead utilizes such ethnic slurs as “Ukry,” “Ukropy” or “Khokhly.” One of the concluding sections in the book dwells on the alleged ideological weakness of the people from eastern Ukraine. The author concludes that Russians have an obligation to help eastern Ukrainians return to a normal life in a big Russian family.

Igor Strelkov finishes by presenting interviews with Strelkov and his close associates, who portray him as a brave officer, idealist, monarchist and a new hero of our time, who is believed to be the only person able to bring about a wave of renewal to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The book also includes demands for Putin to send Russian armed forces into eastern Ukraine to support the pro-Russia rebels, who, according to the author, are desperately waiting for Russian help.

It is worth noting that Igor Strelkov is only one of several new pro-Kremlin and anti-Ukrainian books that were released this year by the publisher Knizhnyy Mir. Among them are such books as, Novorossiya: Risen From the Ashes (, accessed August 4), Crimea Is Forever With Russia ( accessed August 4), Neo-Nazis & Euromaidan: From Democracy to Dictatorship (, accessed August 4), etc. Each book has its own target audience. For example, Neo-Nazis & Euromaidan was translated into English and, according to Voice of Russia, was presented to the public in Belgium one day after President Petro Poroshenko signed Ukraine’s Association Agreement and free trade pact with the European Union (Voice of Russia, June 29).

Polikarpov’s book on Igor Strelkov was initially released in 2,000 copies, suggesting that the author does not expect it to be read by the wider Russian audience. But a large audience was likely not his goal. Rather, the romanticization of the Russian “volunteers” participating in various conflicts across the post-Soviet area, with which Igor Strelkov opens, as well as the descriptions of Strelkov’s struggle to find new volunteers for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas, might conceal a hidden intention.  

The author leaves the reader with no doubts that the new Russian “hero,” Strelkov—a man brave enough to stand up to “American-Ukrainian Fascists”—will find a bigger number of the followers soon. Such a conclusion makes it clear that the main goal of the book is not only to guide the narrative on the Ukraine conflict, but also to become a call to those Russian nationalists and/or veterans, who still have not joined the armed struggle over eastern Ukraine. They are, thus, the main audience for Igor Strelkov, and they are Strelkov’s best hope. Consequently, the book illustrates the critical importance of informational war to the Russian side in the Ukraine conflict.