Azerbaijan releases 15 Armenian POWs in exchange for mine maps through Georgia-U.S. brokered deal
NATO Brussels Summit and Georgia
Russia withdraws from “Open Skies Treaty"
Recent policy developments
NATO’s Brussels Summit Communiqué reiterates that Georgia will become a member, and supports Georgia’s right to decide its own future free from outside interference
On June 14, 2021, NATO hosted its annual summit in Brussels, in which member state leaders discussed issues critical to the security of the Alliance. Following the discussions, the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting issued the Brussels SummitCommuniqué. Among other things, the document includes statements regarding Russia’s occupation of Georgia and Tbilisi’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
In the Communiqué, NATO members expressed their support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia (together with Ukraine and Republic of Moldova) within its internationally recognized borders. In this regard, the Alliance called on Russia, “to reverse its recognition of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia as independent states; to implement the EU-mediated 2008 ceasefire agreement; to end its militarisation of these regions and attempts to forcibly annex them from the rest of Georgia through the continued construction of border-like obstacles; and to cease the human rights violations, arbitrary detentions, and harassment of Georgian citizens.”
Regarding Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, the Alliance reiterated the decision made at the 2008 Bucharest Summit that Georgia will become a member of the Alliance with the Membership Action Plan (MAP) as an integral part of the process, stating “we reaffirm all elements of that decision, as well as subsequent decisions, including that each partner will be judged on its own merits.” The Communiqué underscored that NATO stands firm in its support for “Georgia’s right to decide its own future and foreign policy course free from outside interference”. In addition, NATO welcomed the recent EU mediated political agreement and encouraged all sides to fully implement it, as it “paves the way for the important reforms which will help Georgia, an aspirant country, progress in its preparations towards membership”.
Together with drawing attention to “Georgia’s substantial contributions to NATO operations, which demonstrate its commitment and capability to contribute to Euro-Atlantic security”, NATO commended “the significant progress on reforms which Georgia has made and must continue to make, and which have helped Georgia strengthen its defence capabilities and interoperability with the Alliance.” The Communiqué reiterated that “Georgia’s relationship with the Alliance contains all the practical tools to prepare for eventual membership”.
Azerbaijan releases 15 Armenian POWs in exchange for mine maps through Georgia-U.S. brokered deal
15 Armenian POWs were released by Azerbaijan on June 12 in exchange for Armenia providing “maps of 97,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in the Aghdam region,”according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan. “We appreciate the support of the Georgian government headed by the Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili for the implementation of this humanitarian action,” said the Ministry in the official statement, while “especially noting” the mediating role of the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker, President of the European Council Charles Michel and the Swedish Chairmanship of the OSCE “for their contribution to the process.”
"Our brothers returned to their families thanks to the efforts of Georgia's Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, our Georgian brothers as well as our partners from the US and EU," Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyantold journalists.
It is noteworthy that, unlike in previous similar events, the Russian Federation was not involved in the latest POW-related negotiations.
The humanitarian action was alsowelcomed by the U.S. Department of State, which expressed gratitude for Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili‘s involvement in the process and underscored “the essential role Georgia played in facilitating these steps, which bring the people of the region closer to the peaceful and prosperous future they deserve.”
The President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili praised Georgia’s role in the process,stating “Georgia is back on its historic mediator role, US and EU are back in the Caucasus, building confidenc[e] is the path to lasting peace.”
Both Azerbaijani and Armenian forcesplanted mines in the early 1990s. Seven Azerbaijani troops and 18 civilians havedied and 110 more have been wounded by landmines in and near Nagorno-Karabakh since the cease-fire, the Azerbaijani government has said. Recently, three Azerbaijani citizens, among them two journalists, have beenkilled by landmines in Azerbaijan's Kalbajar district. More Armenian POWs aresaid to remain detained by Azerbaijan.
Russia withdraws from “Open Skies Treaty”
On June 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that formalises Russia's exit from the Open Skies arms control treaty, a pact that allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries.
Russia pulled out of the treaty after the Biden Administration informed Moscow in April 2021 that they would not rejoin the accord. The U.S. announced its decision to abandon the agreement on May 21, 2020 due to Russia’s “flagrant and continuous violation” of the treaty, including by refusing to allow “observation flights within a 10-kilometer corridor” along its border with occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia. On May 23, 2020 Georgian MFA Davit Zalkaliani issued a press statement, noting “In 2010, Russia imposed restrictions on flights in a 10-kilometer corridor off the boundaries of occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, claiming these were now independent countries and not parties to the Treaty. This constitutes a violation of the norms of international law, wrong interpretation of the treaty and non-compliance with its obligations.”
On May 26, 2020 the Russian MFA held a press conference where, while commenting on US decisions to leave the OST, the spokesperson stated that “having recognized them [Abkhazia and South Ossetia] as independent states, Russia had to comply with the provisions of the Treaty stipulating that the flight path of an observation aircraft shall not be closer than 10 kilometers from the border with an adjacent State that is not a State Party.” Georgian MFA dubbed the statement as “cynical” and accused Russia of trying to exploit the agreement “for political gain.”
Monitoring of disinformation cases
Fabricated quotes attributed to Turkish Ambassador to Georgia. A photo circulated on social media depicting the Turkish ambassador to Georgia was accompanied by the following quote: “either Namakhvani HPP will be built… or we will end the Georgian nation.” Namakhvani HPP construction is made by the Turkish company ENKA, which has caused controversial debate and massive protests in Georgia. The Embassy of Turkey in Georgia confirmed to Myth Detector that Ambassador Fatma Ceren Yazgan did not make such a statement on Namakhvani HPP. In the group “ჩვენ გვიყვარს საქართველო” (We Love Georgia), where the falsified quote first appeared, “Myth Detector” has detected two more fabricated statements, one attributed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and another ascribed to Varlam Goletiani, the leader of anti-Namakhvani protests
Pro-Kremlin News Front spreads disinformation about the Ombudsman of Georgia. Disinformation campaign against Public Defender Nino Lomjaria intensified from pro-Kremlin and anti-liberal groups after Lonjaria demanded entry into the Ninotsminda orphanage following the alleged cases of violent treatment of minors. On June 5, pro-Kremlin media outlet News Front published disinformation claiming that Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria is involved in a network of pedophilia and child organ trafficking. Other posts, including Lomjaria’s falsified quote, which has been debunked by Myth Detector in the past, were spreading on Facebook as a part of discreditation campaign against the Public Defender. See more details in the article here.
Pro-Kremlin media manipulates the UNICEF discussion paper about children. On June 2, the pro-Kremlin media outlet ‘Georgia and the World’ published an article, referencing Russian Tsargrad TV, that claimed that the document released by UNICEF covering the rights of children in a digital world reads that it is unclear whether viewing pornography harms children. Moreover, the journalist of Tsagrad TV noted that children were allowed to view sex scenes as part of the study. Myth Detector has fact-checked the information and revealed
that UNICEF’s discussion paper does not question the harm that pornographic material has on children, it rather underlines that the nature and extent of the harm vary. The methodology of the survey that is cited in UNICEF’s document did not involve children in the exposure to pornography, they asked the children about their past experience in order to assess their attitudes and determine the harm.
NAMING AND SHAMING
Former PM’s contradictory statements on corruption and his ties with the business elite in Georgia
On May 31, Giorgi Gakharia, Georgia’s former Prime Minister and a chairman of the new political party “For Georgia”, met with the representatives of Georgian media outlets and answered their questions regarding the events that occurred during his tenure as Prime Minister. Special attention was drawn to the systemic corruption risks and the people involved in these processes, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s cousin Ucha Mamatsashvili, former Chief Prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze, and a controversial businessman, the main inspirer and initiator of improved Sino-Georgian relations, Vano Chkhartishvili. In response to one question regarding corruption, Gakharia responded: "Weak institutions contribute to the emergence of systemic corruption risks in the country. These people, as influential groups, may have some power of influence over institutions". However, during his term as Prime Minister of Georgia, he denied the existence of massive systemic corruption cases in Georgia. Moreover, on a question whether he had closed the doors to the people listed or not, he answered that he had not closed the doors to everyone, but conceded that he had to some. Gakharia’s response leads us back to the exclusive information aired by TV outlet ‘Mtavari Arkhi’ on March 20, two months before establishing his political party. According to their sources, Vano Chkhartishvili was working with Giorgi Gakharia to create the new pseudo-opposition party. Gakharia’s party members refused to comment
on this directly, while Chkhartishvili himself called the information “absurd”.
Civil society organizations' initiatives
On June 4 MDF and the Critical Mass LLC (TCM) hosted a joint webinar titled “Contaminated Trust: Public Health Disinformation and its Societal Impacts in Georgia”. The panelists introduced the research findings of TCM’s new report on the impact of Russian disinformation targeting health, and the real-world impact that it may have on human lives in Georgia as well as the MDF’s report ‘Infodemic in Georgia’. The speakers discussed Kremlin Information Operations, Facebook’s Policy targeting Covid-19 Misinformation and the Georgian Government’s Strategic Communication during the Global Pandemic. The recording of the webinar is available at the following link: https://bit.ly/3wwHfZ6.