Russia ‘winning Caucasus power struggle’

Russia ‘winning Caucasus power struggle’
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, is welcomed by Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, center, in Baku, Azerbaijan, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 02 February 2021

Russia ‘winning Caucasus power struggle’

Russia ‘winning Caucasus power struggle’
  • Joint center might be a repeat of previous cooperation models between Ankara and the Kremlin

ANKARA: The launch of a joint Turkish-Russian center to observe the cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh has raised questions in Turkey and among the international community regarding its effects on the Caucasus power struggle.

The joint center began operating on Jan. 30 and is tasked with supervising the cease-fire that was reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan last November following six weeks of intense fighting.
About 120 military personnel from Turkey and Russia, without unified command, will be deployed to the village of Qiyamedinli in Azerbaijan’s Aghjabadi district.
Drones will be used for the monitoring mission.
Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based expert on Russian politics, said that opening a monitoring center outside the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh does not mean that Turkey will have political leverage in the region.
“It is a ridiculous move just for domestic consumption. Ankara unintentionally gave Kremlin a new space to maneuver within Azeri territories. Turkey is not included in the official decision-making process under the ceasefire deal,” he told Arab News.
He added that it is imperative that Ankara normalizes relations with Armenia in order to be an active player in Southern Caucasus geopolitics.
“Turkish rulers might take some steps in this direction to please the new Biden administration in Turkey,” he said.
However, other experts have said that the joint center might be a repeat of previous cooperation models between Ankara and the Kremlin, with the same challenges and difficulties attached.
“Even though it seems that the Turkish-Russian joint monitoring center will not be playing a central role in Nagorno-Karabakh, it nevertheless symbolizes the fact that Russia has finally accepted Turkey as a regional partner for the resolution of conflicts in the Caucasus,” Emre Ersen, an expert on Turkey-Russia relations from Marmara University, told Arab News.
“For many years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow had been very reluctant to welcome a more active Turkish role in the region,” he added.
However, Ersen said Russian political leverage in the Caucasus has risen considerably following the cease-fire agreement, which was demonstrated in the latest meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin, his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Moscow.

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The joint center began operating on Jan. 30 and is tasked with supervising the cease-fire that was reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan last November following six weeks of intense fighting.

“The fact that the Turkish leaders were not present in that meeting could be viewed as a sign of Russia’s determination to maintain its status as the sole actor setting the rules of the game in the Caucasus,” he said.
But Ersen added that Turkey and Russia might also be attempting to implement their regional dialogue model in the Caucasus after launching similar mechanisms in Syria and Libya, which were aimed at limiting the role of the West in regional issues.
Ankara has long criticized OECD’s Minsk Group, led by Russia, the US and France, for failing to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through decades of mediation.
Rauf Mammadov, resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, said that the launch of the joint center is a “limited success” for Turkey.
“Despite Moscow’s resistance, Ankara managed to establish a military presence in the region. Although the joint center is located outside Nagorno-Karabakh, Ankara has laid the ground for a more assertive future role in the geography by co-opting its historic rival Moscow,” he told Arab News.
Mammadov added that the joint center is a compromise by Russia in the face of Turkey’s persistence to gain a more active role in the post-war settlement of the region.
“By partnering with Ankara in the region, Moscow acknowledges the former’s growing influence in the South Caucasus, especially in Azerbaijan. But at the same time, by locating the center outside Nagorno-Karabakh, the Kremlin is preserving its exclusive role as a leading judge of the warring sides’ issues within Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said.
Rumors are circulating surrounding Ankara’s readiness to normalize relations with Armenia and its willingness to open border crossings. The only barrier before the border closure — for nearly three decades — was the Armenian occupation of seven Azeri regions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh, an issue that was resolved in the Russia-brokered ceasefire.
Mammadov, as with Sezer, said that it is crucial that Turkey normalizes relations with Armenia in order to achieve a more prominent role in the region.
“Both countries may benefit from active diplomatic and economic ties, which would subsequently decrease Armenia’s dependence on Russia,” he said.
In 2009, the then-Turkish president Abdullah Gul and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian initiated so-called “soccer diplomacy,” by visiting matches played between their national teams, which resulted in historic protocols to re-establish diplomatic ties.
However, the novel move aimed at opening a new chapter in bilateral relations soon backfired following intense opposition among Turkish and Armenian nationalists.
Neil Hauer, an expert on Caucasus conflicts, said that Turkey has only made limited progress in its goals, since the new cease-fire monitoring center is unrelated to the tripartite agreement and provides no stipulations for Ankara to be involved in future negotiations.
“In this way, Turkey has made some progress in their regional goals — they now at least have a joint base with Russia for monitoring the cease-fire — but in the most fundamental way, they are no closer to being included in the negotiations over Karabakh and its status,” he told Arab News.
But for Russia, he added, the joint center is “certainly an achievement.”
Hauer said: “Turkey could always have opened a base in Azerbaijan by means of a bilateral agreement between Ankara and Baku, but Russia now has a military presence on both sides of the line of contact — both on the Karabakh Armenian side and on the Azeri side.
“This gives Russia even greater control over the conflict than the already dominating position they had following the entrance of 2,000 peacekeepers into Karabakh.
“The main outcome of this is that Russia now rules this conflict more than ever before.”


Israel announces completion of security barrier around Gaza

Israel announces completion of security barrier around Gaza
Updated 8 sec ago

Israel announces completion of security barrier around Gaza

Israel announces completion of security barrier around Gaza
  • The 65-kilometer barrier includes radar systems, maritime sensors and a network of underground sensors to detect militant tunnels
  • Israel has fought four wars with Hamas since it seized power in Gaza nearly 15 years ago, most recently in May
JERUSALEM: Israel on Tuesday announced the completion of an enhanced security barrier around the Gaza Strip designed.

The 65-kilometer (40-mile) barrier includes radar systems, maritime sensors and a network of underground sensors to detect militant tunnels.

Existing fencing was replaced with a 6-meter (6.5-yard) high “smart fence” with sensors and cameras.

Israel has fought four wars with Hamas since it seized power in Gaza nearly 15 years ago, most recently in May.

During a 2014 war, Palestinian fighters tunneled into Israel and clashed with Israeli troops.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced the completion of the barrier after more than three years of construction, saying it places an “iron wall” between Hamas and residents of southern Israel.

During May’s fighting, Hamas used a sophisticated tunnel system within Gaza but did not infiltrate fighters into Israel. The group fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel in 11 days, with large volleys that occasionally overwhelmed Israel’s sophisticated missile defenses.

Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes during the conflict and brought down several multistory buildings. The war killed over 250 people in Gaza, including at least 129 civilians, according to the UN, while 13 people died on the Israeli side.

Since Hamas seized power, Israel and Egypt have imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza that has severely restricted travel for the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents and strangled the economy.

Israel says the closures are needed to prevent Hamas from expanding its military capabilities, while the Palestinians and rights groups view it as a form of collective punishment.

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas organized violent mass protests along the frontier in order to pressure Israel to ease the blockade. More than 200 Palestinians were killed and thousands were wounded. An Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper.

Rights groups recently accused Israel of failing to hold its forces accountable for the deaths and serious injuries.

Israel says its forces prevented the mass infiltration of Hamas operatives. It says allegations of wrongdoing were fully investigated and soldiers were held to account.

Egypt will strive to help Africa recover from COVID-19: FM

Egypt will strive to help Africa recover from COVID-19: FM
Updated 07 December 2021

Egypt will strive to help Africa recover from COVID-19: FM

Egypt will strive to help Africa recover from COVID-19: FM
  • Egypt has started locally producing China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine in preparation for exporting surpluses to African countries
  • FM Shoukry handed a letter to Senegalese President Macky Sall from his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi that discussed ways to strengthen bilateral ties

CAIRO: Egypt will spare no effort to help African states recover from the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said at the seventh session of the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa.

Egypt has started locally producing China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine in preparation for exporting surpluses to African countries.

Shoukry said the pandemic has impeded efforts to achieve peace and stability on the continent, and has exacerbated humanitarian crises.

It has become impossible to deal with the pandemic solely as a global health crisis, as it has affected all aspects of life, he added. 

Shoukry highlighted issues that Africa should prioritize, including developing a common vision to address shortcomings in the continent’s medical infrastructure, such as dependence on foreign medicines and vaccines.

He also noted the importance of addressing the root causes of terrorism and armed conflicts in Africa by rebuilding societies that have suffered from the scourge of war and conflict.

He praised the selection of Senegal for the African Union presidency from February 2022, and expressed Cairo’s readiness to provide all forms of support to the country in light of Egypt’s experience as president of the bloc in 2019.

Shoukry handed a letter to Senegalese President Macky Sall from his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi that discussed ways to strengthen bilateral ties, as well as issues of common concern.


Egyptian, Russian navies launch joint exercise

Egyptian, Russian navies launch joint exercise
Updated 07 December 2021

Egyptian, Russian navies launch joint exercise

Egyptian, Russian navies launch joint exercise
  • Friendship Bridge 4 is part of Egypt’s plan to carry out joint military training with friendly countries

CAIRO: The Egyptian and Russian navies have launched the joint exercise Friendship Bridge 4, which will last for several days in the Mediterranean.

It began with a ceremony welcoming Russian forces at the Alexandria Naval Base in the presence of Lt. Gen. Ahmed Khaled Hassan Saeed, who delivered a speech in which he stressed the importance of cooperation between the two countries’ navies.

Friendship Bridge 4 is part of Egypt’s plan to carry out joint military training with friendly countries.

 Meanwhile, the armed forces of Egypt and Jordan concluded their joint exercise Aqaba-6. The training, which took place in Jordan, included a joint operation to eliminate an armed terrorist outpost inside a border village, and the interception of a merchant ship.


Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
Updated 07 December 2021

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
  • A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Tarek Bitar from questioning top officials

BEIRUT: The probe into last year’s deadly Beirut port blast has been cleared to resume after being suspended for more than a month on legal claims against its lead investigator, judge Tarek Bitar, a judicial source said.
A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Bitar from questioning top officials on Tuesday.
“They have reversed the decision that had led to the suspension of the probe and he can now resume his work for sure,” Nizar Saghieh, head of the Legal Agenda, a research and advocacy organization, told Reuters.
The resumption could be temporary should further legal complaints be filed, he said.
The investigation into the Aug. 4, 2020, blast that killed more than 215 people, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the city has made little headway amid pushback from powerful factions, some of whom lead smear campaigns and filed multiple suits against Bitar.
The leader of the Iranian-backed, armed Shiite Muslim political movement Hezbollah has repeatedly said he wanted Bitar removed from the case and the row over him has spilled over into government, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s cabinet unable to meet since Oct. 12.
Many Lebanese are angry that more than one year on from the blast no senior official has been held accountable for the country’s worst peace-time disaster as it slips into political and economic meltdown.
Bitar has sought to question senior politicians, including former ministers and members of parliament, since July but nearly all have spurned him.
He is the second judge to take charge of the investigation after a legal complaint against the partiality of his predecessor Fady Sawan saw him removed in February.


Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4
Updated 07 December 2021

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

BASRA: At least four people were killed and 20 wounded in an explosion in Iraq's southern city of Basra, police and hospital sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
Police are still investigating the cause of the blast, which took place in the city centre, near a main hospital. The explosion set fire to at least one vehicle and damaged a minibus.
One police source said that an initial investigation showed that a motorcycle rigged with explosives could have been the cause of the blast.