- The Russian foreign ministry has taken the step of summoning the ambassador from its long-standing ally, Armenia, in protest against several recent developments, signaling tensions that are putting strain on their close relations.
- In an official statement, the ministry pointed to what it described as a series of unfriendly actions by the Armenian leadership in recent days.
- The joint military exercises in question are set to commence on Monday, involving around 175 Armenian troops and 85 U.S. troops, with a focus on peacekeeping operations.
The Russian foreign ministry on Friday summoned the ambassador from longtime ally Armenia to protest upcoming joint military exercises with the United States and other complaints, highlighting growing tensions that are straining traditionally close relations.
“The leadership of Armenia has taken a series of unfriendly steps in recent days,” the ministry said in a statement, citing the exercises that will begin Monday, Armenia’s provision of humanitarian aid to Ukraine and its moves to ratify the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court, which this year indicted President Vladimir Putin for war crimes connected to the deportation of children from Ukraine.
The ministry also complained of remarks by the chairman of Armenia’s parliament that it regarded as insulting to ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who is noted for her harsh comments about other countries.
About 175 Armenian troops and 85 from the United States will start exercises on Monday focusing on peacekeeping operations.
Landlocked Armenia has close military ties with Russia, including hosting a Russian military base and participating in the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization alliance.
However, Armenia has become increasingly disillusioned with Russia since the 2020 war with Azerbaijan. The armistice that ended the war called for a Russian peacekeeping force to ensure passage on the road leading from Armenia to the Nagorno-Karabakh ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.
But Azerbaijan has blocked that road, called the Lachin Corridor, since late December and Armenia repeatedly has complained that Russian peacekeepers are doing nothing to open it. The road’s blockage has led to significant food shortages in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenia this year refused to allow CSTO exercises on its territory and it declined to send troops to bloc exercises in Belarus.
The self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh – internationally recognized as Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region – is facing probably the most difficult period in its 32-year history. Baku seems determined, one way or another, to establish full control over the territory where ethnic Armenians make up the majority of the population, although they refuse to reintegrate into Azerbaijan.
On September 2, 1991, a joint session of the Councils of People’s Deputies of the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and Shahumyan region – at the time both territories being part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic – proclaimed the Republic of Artsakh. To this day, not a single UN member, including Armenia, has recognized Artsakh (the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh) as an independent state.
“After all, Karabakh is Azerbaijan. Does everyone recognize this? Everyone recognizes. Does anyone say it’s not? No”, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said on July 23, talking about the humanitarian situation in the region that is still under the Armenian de facto control.
Reports suggest that a humanitarian disaster is unfolding in Nagorno-Karabakh. After establishing control over the Lachin Corridor – the only land link between Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh – in April 2023, Azerbaijan has cut off all shipments of food, fuel, and other critical supplies to the region from Armenia. As a result, according to local sources, the Karabakh Armenians are facing “mass starvation and total hunger”. Baku, however, denies such claims.
“The allegations on the humanitarian situation in the region are completely unfounded”, said Jeyhun Bayramov, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister, on July 25.
Baku offered to supply Nagorno-Karabakh via a crossing at the nearby Azerbaijani city of Aghdam. But the Armenians reportedly refuse take food from Azerbaijan, and have blocked the road leading from Aghdam to Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital of Stepanakert. The authorities in Baku insist that their refusal to accept aid from Azerbaijan demonstrates that the claims on the humanitarian situation are “political blackmail”.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, on the other hand, argues that Azerbaijan has “illegally blocked the Lachin Corridor”, and that it “should have no control” over the road. Various foreign powers, including Russia, have called on Baku to immediately re-open the Lachin corridor to humanitarian, commercial, and passenger traffic. Quite aware that no major global actor is willing to jeopardize its relations with energy-rich Azerbaijan over the Karabakh Armenians, Aliyev is unlikely to be ready to make any concessions to those he perceives as separatists.
“Why should goods to Karabakh be delivered from another country? This is illogical”, Azerbaijani leader stressed.
Baku sees the crisis in the region as an internal matter, and aims to absorb the ethnic Armenian-controlled territory into Azerbaijan. Karabakh Armenians, however, fear that that they have no future in Azerbaijan, emphasizing that “any status for Artsakh within Azerbaijan would be tantamount to ethnic cleansing”.
That is why they have repeatedly called for a UN-mandated peacekeeping mission to be deployed to the region as a “security guarantee”. In other words, the UN troops would likely replace some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers, who have been stationed in Karabakh since November 2020, which is when Armenia and Azerbaijan signed the Moscow-brokered ceasefire deal that ended the 44-day war the two nations fought over the mountainous region.
Under the 2020 agreement, Russia is supposed to ensure road transport between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, but the Kremlin proved unable to prevent Azerbaijan from blocking the Lachin Corridor. That is why many Armenians want the Russian troops out of the region, and that is one thing they have in common with Azerbaijanis. Baku is impatiently waiting for 2025, which is when the Russian peacekeepers’ mandate expires, and is unlikely to be willing to allow any other foreign mission in Karabakh.
Meanwhile, Baku is expected to continue pressuring Karabakh Armenians to either integrate into Azerbaijani society, or to leave the region. For Azerbaijani policy makers, the current crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh is a win-win situation. Some 120,000 Karabakh Armenians would not represent a serious threat to Azerbaijan – a country of around 10 million people – although there is no doubt that many in Baku would also be quite happy without them.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh’s president Arayik Harutyunyan resigned on September 1 as a result of what he described as “unstable geopolitical situation” and “Artsakh’s internal political and social environment”.
Along with his resignation, Harutyunyan also dismissed Gurgen Nersisyan as state minister, which is the second-highest-ranking executive position in Nagorno-Karabakh. In other words, they seem to have decided to abandon the sinking ship.
Although it is still unclear what effect the change in leadership will have on the situation in the region, there is no doubt that the conditions the Karabakh Armenians are living in will not improve in the foreseeable future, if it all. Sooner or later, Azerbaijan may attempt to break up the blockade of the Aghdam–Stepanakert road, even though such a move could lead to an escalation of the conflict.
But even with Armenia’s help, the self-proclaimed Artsakh Defense Army has zero chance against the Azerbaijani Armed Forces – one of the strongest militaries in the post-Soviet space. Quite aware of that, Pashinyan will almost certainly seek to avoid any large-scale confrontation with Azerbaijan. Instead, he may try to find a way to de facto abandon Nagorno-Karabakh, although in such a way that would allow him to safe face.
Image: EUMAs monitor within Armenia looking at Azerbaijan’s military checkpoint on the Lachin corridor and the blocked humanitarian convoy of trucks that was sent to Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) by EU Mission in Armenia (EUMA), an entity of the European-Commission
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The secret report about Ukraine reached British intelligence in February. It said that the Russians knew the Ukrainians were “hostile to them and their ideas”, and that the Ukrainians wanted to know what foreign support they would receive. The spy who wrote the report continued: “I pointed out to him [the Ukrainian source] that no power would intervene against Russia now, and that the Russians . . . would never permit the Ukraine to separate itself entirely from Russia.”
Remarkably, that was written in 1922, a century before Moscow launched its full scale-invasion of Ukraine. It is also just one of the many revealing anecdotes that make Calder Walton’s book Spies such an engrossing history of the century-long intelligence war between the US, Britain and Russia. The book gains extra, grim relevance today given Russia’s assault on Ukraine and the unfolding cold war with China.
Walton is a British barrister, author and distinguished historian, currently at Harvard, who previously spent several years in MI5’s archives as a researcher for the official history of the UK’s domestic secret service. His own book ranges across continents and decades, from the 1917 Bolshevik revolution to the second world war, from proxy conflicts in the developing world to present-day Russian and Chinese cyberwarfare. Some of the material was declassified as recently as 2022. Interviews with intelligence officers add further actualité.
China and its spies, Walton writes, have become like the ‘Soviet Union on steroids’
What lessons does Walton learn from a hundred years of rival spookery? The biggest is how often the west failed to realise it was in a spy war at all — a failing as true of a century ago as today.
The cold war started long before 1947, when the phrase was coined by Bernard Baruch, a financier and adviser to several US presidents. As early as the 1920s, Lenin’s secret police, the Cheka, had more than 100,000 agents at home and a dedicated unit to co-ordinate operations abroad. In contrast, MI5’s counter-espionage unit had five officers. The US was little better. In 1929, secretary of state Henry Stimson had closed the government’s code-breaking department because “gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”
Nor did cold war espionage end in 1991 with the Soviet Union’s collapse. If anything, Russian spying became “more aggressive”, Walton writes. In 2003, three years after Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent and spy chief, became president, an estimated 2.5 per cent of Kremlin staff had a security background. By 2019, that number had reached an incredible 77 per cent.
Western countries acted as if they were unaware of the threat. Even as the Kremlin and its special services became, in Walton’s words, “the hooligans of international relations”, using all the tools of KGB trade craft — espionage, deep-cover illegals, money-laundering, assassinations, disinformation and other active measures — the west was looking elsewhere.
It believed the cold war with Russia was over. Then, after the terrorist attacks of September 2001, western countries diverted the bulk of their security resources into counter-terrorism. By 2006, just 4 per cent of the work done by GCHQ, Britain’s cyber intelligence spy agency, was concerned with hostile foreign nations. By comparison, at the height of the cold war, 70 per cent of its work had focused on the Soviet bloc.
Spies contains valuable lessons for the present. As with the Soviet Union and Putin’s Russia, the US and its allies have been slow to recognise China’s threat. Its economic weight makes the country more challenging and potentially dangerous than the Soviet Union. Beijing, like Moscow, has also engaged in massive technological transfer from the west, or “spying and buying” as Walton calls it.
In 2021, the FBI opened a China-related investigation every 12 hours. This year, the British parliament’s intelligence committee warned that China’s spy services were the largest in the world. China and its spies, Walton writes, have become like the “Soviet Union on steroids”. Western intelligence is now “chasing a horse that has already bolted the stables”. He warns that it will be hard for the US and its allies to catch up.
Walton’s agents sometimes suffer from a needless spooned-on glamour that can spoil the book’s many sharply etched profiles: the word “handsome” appears 11 times, “debonair” twice, even “dashing” gets an outing. But his central conclusion is crisp and authoritative. Western countries insist they do not want a cold war with China. Yet as history shows, “western powers can be in a Cold War irrespective of whether they seek one and before they recognise it”.
Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West by Calder Walton Abacus £25, 640 pages
John Paul Rathbone is the FT’s security and defence editor
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The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will hold hearings on the situation in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region.
The hearing will be held on September 14, News.Az reports citing the website of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations at the US Department of State Louis Bono and Acting Assistant Secretary at Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs of the US Department of State Yuri Kim are expected to deliver speeches at the hearing.
At around 5:30 pm Moscow time on August 23, the Embraer Legacy 600 private business jet took to the skies. Launching from an airport near the Russian capital, the 13-seater plane, which has a white body and blue tail, has been linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the brutal Russian mercenary outfit Wagner Group.
At 5:46 pm, once the plane was clear of Moscow—an area where location-tracking GPS signals are frequently blocked—receivers belonging to flight-tracking network Flightradar24 started picking up signals from the Embraer Legacy. For the next 34 minutes, Prigozhin’s plane was sending out data about its altitude, speed, and autopilot settings that allowed its movements to be tracked.
During this time, the Embraer Legacy appeared to be fine. It reached a cruising altitude of 28,000 feet before briefly climbing to 30,000 feet, and it was traveling at around a ground speed of around 513 knots. Its flight path headed northwest, away from Moscow and in the direction of Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg.
At 6:19 pm, around 30 seconds before the plane stopped transmitting data altogether, it plunged 8,000 feet toward the ground. Its last recorded altitude was 19,725, as it flew by the Kuzhenkino village in the Tver Region. The descent was “dramatic,” according to Flightradar’s analysis.
Since the plane smashed into the earth, killing all those onboard, Russian aviation services, Telegram channels linked to Wagner, and the country’s state-controlled media have reported that Prigozhin was listed as a passenger. The country’s aviation agency named the Wagner boss among 10 people on the plane, along with other senior Wagner members, including cofounder Dmitri Utkin and three crew members.
Officials, according to Russian state media, are investigating the crash and what may have caused it, and have reportedly recovered the bodies. It has been widely speculated that the plane could have been shot down by Russian air defenses, perhaps in response to Prigozhin’s attempted coup two months ago. No evidence to back this up has been presented yet, with Russian president Vladimir Putin saying he has sent his condolences to the families of the dead and investigations are looking into what happened. (One anonymous Western intelligence official told The New York Times that they believe Prigozhin was on the plane. Meanwhile, US president Joe Biden has said there is “not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind.“)
Thanks to Russia’s heavy censorship and propaganda machines, the verifiable truth of what happened to the Embraer Legacy may never be known, experts say.
Amid the dramatic and unfolding incident, there has been a void of official information and a swirl of unconfirmed theories. However, the event highlights how powerful Russia’s grip on its information space is: The country controls its media, has banned independent outlets, and tightly censors the internet and online services available in the country. The episode also continues to show how useful even small amounts of open source information—such as photos or videos posted to social media and open source data, such as flight information—can be in establishing what may have happened. Open source intelligence, known as OSINT, is already being inspected by researchers.
FlightRadar is one of a tiny number of sources of verifiable information about the fate of the Embraer Legacy 600 and, by extension, those onboard the plane. Since the plane stopped transmitting data, one video has emerged on social media showing a plane in pieces dramatically falling toward Earth.
OSINT investigators have confirmed that this happened around the Tver region, the plane’s last known location, by comparing landmarks in the video, such as trees and metal pylons, with existing photos of the location. Another video of the crash site reportedly shows parts of the wreckage matching previous images of Prigozhin’s Embraer Legacy 600. (However, one false video posted to X, the platform previously known as Twitter, has been viewed around a million times.)
Elise Thomas, an investigator at the Centre for Information Resilience, a nonprofit that conducts open source research to expose human rights abuses and counter disinformation, says that within hours the FlightRadar data and confirmed videos from the site gave people a glimpse of what may have happened. “But at the end of the day, we are probably going to be dependent on Russian sources at some level,” she says. These could include Russian government agencies or Telegram channels, which may not be trustworthy. “In some ways, maybe the most likely outcome here is that we just never know the absolute truth of what happened,” she says.
Getting factual information out of Russia isn’t easy—and it has become harder since the country’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022. “The information space has been tightening over time,” says Natalia Krapiva, tech-legal counsel at digital rights nonprofit Access Now. Over the past decade, Krapiva says, the Kremlin has passed laws and taken other measures to control the internet, censor what people can access, throttle the media, and outlaw independent reporting.
Almost all independent media in Russia has been “banned, blocked” or declared “foreign agents” since February of last year, according to media freedom organization Reporters Without Borders. “Those that survive have belonged to allies of the Kremlin for a few years, or they are forced to strict self-censorship, because of banned subjects and terms,” it says in its 2023 annual ranking. Freedom House, an organization that tracks threats to democracy and freedom, ranks Russia as one of the worst countries for online freedoms.
On top of this, Russia has for years run disinformation campaigns and appeared to lie about public incidents at home and abroad. Prigozhin ran the notorious Internet Research Agency, which created reams of fake news and meddled in the 2016 US elections. Two Russian agents who walked into the UK in 2018 and poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia later appeared on Russian state television and claimed that they were simply in the country to visit the British city of Salisbury to see its cathedral. And Russian officials changed their story multiple times around the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014, which killed 298 people—reams of open source evidence were presented by investigative journalism unit Bellingcat.
When it comes to Prigozhin and the crash, Russia’s informal network of so-called military bloggers is also involved. In the void of official information about Russia’s war, these military correspondents have appeared on Telegram, in some cases pushing their updates to more than a million people. These accounts are largely pro-Russia, although they often have different allegiances that further muddy the waters. “Some of these people were working for Prigozhin,” says Thomas. “Some of them we know have links to the FSB or GRU,” referring to Russia’s intelligence services. “Some of them probably have links to the Russian security services that we don’t know about.”
These channels have pushed a range of theories about the crash, claiming to have confirmed that Prigozhin is dead and suggesting that they would “march” on Moscow. There have also been reports on possible causes of the crash. According to Meduza, the widely read independent Russian news source, suggestions are being circulated on Telegram that investigators suspect a bomb could have been attached to the plane and that law enforcement may have a suspect in mind. Neither claim has been officially confirmed, Meduza notes.
“Looking at the information that is either available or not available is not enough,” says Tanya Lokot, an associate professor in digital media and society at Dublin City University who researches internet and media freedom. Lokot says it’s essential to consider the context of any information published from official Russian sources or in Telegram channels. For instance, she says, it is important to scrutinize why certain information—such as a list of names—may have been released at a particular time.
Lokot says it is also important to understand the motives of whoever is in control of this kind of information and how and when they decide to release it, as that helps shape a bigger narrative. “How they are presenting this incident and the fallout from this incident is really important to understand because it helps us also understand how they’re trying to control the information space to make sure that it fits their broader strategic narrative,” she says. “The desired at least strategic narrative is the Russian state wants to show that it remains in control of the situation, whatever that situation is.”
For right or wrong, Ukrainian tycoon Ihor Kolomoyskiy has come to epitomize for many in Washington and Brussels the endemic corruption that has held Ukraine back economically and politically since its independence more than three decades ago.
The 60-year-old businessman, who is blacklisted by the United States, has over the years sent armed men to take over companies, threatened officials, cheated state-owned companies, and bought off parliamentarians to stall crucial Western-backed reforms, among other brazen acts. “He is really numero uno in terms of doing active damage. He is the one protecting corrupt interests against the reform tide,” John Herbst, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told RFE/RL. But Kolomoyskiy’s Teflon-like ability to escape criminal consequences for decades may have come to an end on September 2, when he was arrested in Ukraine on suspicion of fraud and money laundering in relation to a state-owned company and handed a 60-day, pretrial detention. The dramatic jailing of Kolomoyskiy, once the nation’s third-richest man according to Forbes, is the latest in a series of high-profile arrests in Ukraine over the past year as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tries to portray himself as an anti-corruption crusader.
While Ukrainian leaders have for decades promised to tackle corruption with little to show for all their talk, the issue has grown in urgency since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Kolomoyskiy arrives at the courtroom in Kyiv on September 2. “This is a signal that in the fight against corruption, the state is ready to take action against very influential people from big business in Ukraine,” a Kyiv-based analyst said.
Ukrainian citizens, suffering from the deprivation of war, are showing little patience for graft. Meanwhile, some politicians in the West are trying to use Ukraine’s reputation as endemically corrupt as an excuse to curtail crucial military aid. For both Ukrainians and their Western allies, no other arrest could send such a strong signal that Ukraine is determined to fight corruption than that of Kolomoyskiy.
“He is the most well-known name in Ukraine and abroad to showcase the fight against corruption,” Tetiana Shevchuk, a lawyer with the Anti-Corruption Action Center, a Kyiv-based NGO, told RFE/RL.
It was always toxic for Zelenskiy that the oligarch closest to him was being investigated by the United States.”
In an interview with Current Time — the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA — Vladimir Fesenko, a Kyiv-based political analyst, said his arrest was “a demonstration that there are no untouchables.” Ukraine is scheduled to hold elections in the spring of 2024 and, while the war could push it back indefinitely, the spate of corruption-related arrests will undoubtedly bolster Zelenskiy’s ratings.
For those politicians in Washington who back aid to Ukraine, Kolomoyskiy’s arrest is a “wonderful talking point,” Herbst said.
Congress is currently debating whether to approve President Joe Biden’s $40 billion emergency spending bill, more than half of which will go toward crucial military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine as it tries to drive Russian forces out of its territory. A vocal minority of Republicans have balked at giving so much aid to Ukraine, often highlighting the country’s notorious reputation for corruption despite notable improvements in anti-graft reform and investigations.
Kolomoyskiy is arguably the most notorious of the Ukrainian tycoons who emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union’s collapse and snapped up former state assets at rock-bottom prices, sometimes deploying extralegal or violent methods.
Kolomoyskiy, the former governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, poses for a photo in his office in Dnipro in May 2014.
A native of Dnipro, a major industrial city in southeastern Ukraine, Kolomoyskiy has owned banks, energy firms, metals companies, airlines, and one of the nation’s most influential television channels. Over the years, as they consolidated their assets, many of the original tycoons tried to clean up their image, stepping back from bare-knuckle tactics. Kolomoyskiy, for the most part, did not, experts say. Until Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, those tycoons wielded immense power behind the scenes, using their wealth and media assets to win the loyalty of politicians, judges, and parliamentarians and push policies that benefited their companies. Kolomoyskiy’s television station backed Zelenskiy’s presidential election campaign in 2019 and is credited with helping the political novice win in a landslide against the incumbent, President Petro Poroshenko.
It raised alarm at home and abroad that Zelenskiy might be beholden to Kolomoyskiy, especially after he tapped the tycoon’s former lawyer as his chief of staff. Foreign executives working in Ukraine feared it represented “a return to the old ways of doing business,” according to a 2019 U.S. Embassy cable. Zelenskiy continued to be dogged by suspicion even after he passed legislation hurting Kolomoyskiy’s interests.
The pressure on Zelenskiy to publicly distance himself from the notorious tycoon only grew after the FBI announced in August 2020 that it was investigating Kolomoyskiy for allegedly embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars from his Ukrainian bank and using the proceeds to purchase commercial real estate in the United States. Seven months later, the U.S. State Department blacklisted Kolomoyskiy for corruption and undermining democracy at home, in what many experts viewed as a signal to Zelenskiy to bring him to heel.
“It was always toxic for Zelenskiy that the oligarch closest to him was being investigated by the United States,” Shevchuk said.
In 2021, Zelenskiy signed into law an “anti-oligarch” bill that essentially gives tycoons a tough choice: either refrain from politics or sell your media assets. However, the bill was criticized by experts at home and abroad as a “populist” measure that could be abused to target political opponents or their backers. The bill was part of a broader campaign that Zelenskiy called “de-oligarchization,” or the curtailing of tycoons’ power.
Then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (left) meets with Kolomoyskiy in Kyiv in March 2015. One analyst says that Kolomoyskiy’s ties to current President Volodymyr Zelenskiy have been exaggerated. He didn’t so much support Zelenskiy as he sought the ouster of Poroshenko.
In a 2021 report, Andrew Wilson, a Ukraine expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the “key test” of Zelenskiy’s campaign to rein in tycoons would be how he handled Kolomoyskiy.
“The Ukrainian government had to pursue [Kolomoyskiy] to demonstrate its reformist credentials to the U.S.,” he wrote at the time. As Zelenskiy pursued his campaign, Kolomoyskiy appeared to carry on as usual. Former U.S. Ambassador Herbst told RFE/RL that “it was Kolomoyskiy who seemed to act as if he could do what he wants.” The tycoon continued his fight to recover Privatbank, the nation’s largest lender, which was taken over by the state in 2016 after the central bank said it was on the verge of bankruptcy. The West, which has given billions of dollars over the years in financial aid to Ukraine, vehemently opposed any move to return Privatbank to Kolomoyskiy.
Kolomoyskiy was also making new enemies. According to Forbes’ sources, Zelenskiy’s administration was angered that Kolomoyskiy did not step up enough in the early phases of the 2022 war to help the government financially. The tycoon did play a large role in helping Ukraine defend its territories in 2014-15 when Russian fighters first tried seizing land.
Five months after the start of Russia’s 2022 invasion, rumors spread that Zelenskiy had revoked Kolomoyskiy’s Ukrainian citizenship, though there has never been confirmation from either side. As Ukraine does not extradite its own citizens, such a move potentially opens the door to Kolomoyskiy’s extradition to the United States should the FBI ever file criminal charges.
Analyst Fesenko said that Kolomoyskiy’s ties to Zelenskiy had always been exaggerated. He didn’t so much support Zelenskiy as he sought the ouster of his nemesis, Poroshenko, he said. In a clear reference to Kolomoyskiy’s arrest, Zelenskiy thanked Ukrainian law enforcement for bringing cases to court “that have been hindered for decades.” While Kolomoyskiy’s arrest sends a strong message, there are still voices who doubt the sincerity of Zelenskiy’s commitment to the anti-corruption cause. Western officials have long viewed the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office, the security services (SBU), and the courts as mired in corruption and incapable of going after high-profile figures. No tycoons had ever been convicted by a Ukrainian court. In exchange for much-needed financial aid following Ukraine’s 2014 revolution, the West required Kyiv to create independent anti-corruption bodies.
But rather than being seen as onboard with those initiatives, Zelenskiy set off alarm bells in the West with what appeared to be attempts to control these new, supposedly independent institutions. After failing to put his preferred choices at the helm of the anti-corruption bodies, two weeks ago, Zelenskiy proposed equating large-scale graft to treason. That would allow the SBU, which is overseen by the presidential administration, to take over cases from the anti-corruption bodies, experts said. The president’s plan was met with pushback from activists and officials at home and abroad.
In a possible sign of Washington’s concern about the proposed legislation of equating graft with treason, U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan met at the White House on September 1 with the heads of the anti-corruption institutions to discuss “safeguarding [their] autonomy.”
The following day, Kolomoyskiy was detained by the SBU.
A placard depicting Kolomoyskiy and then-presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Lviv in February 2019. It reads: “Servant of Oligarch, Doll of Oligarch.” Kolomoyskiy’s television station is credited with helping the political novice win in a landslide against incumbent Petro Poroshenko.
The Ukrainian anti-corruption investigative body NABU, which had been investigating Kolomoyskiy since 2019, announced on September 7 that Kolomoyskiy was a suspect in a case involving alleged embezzlement at Privatbank. Fesenko said he expects to soon see more examples of this type of competition between the independent, anti-corruption institutions and the SBU over high-profile corruption cases. As for Kolomoyskiy’s future, analysts are hesitant to predict what will happen next. Herbst said Kolomoyskiy is “not the type of personality who backs down.”
And Fesenko said the tycoon has the resources and the lawyers to drag out the case in Ukraine for a long time.
“The topic of Kolomoisky is not closed. I think this is just the beginning of this [television] series,” he said.
On July 6, Albanian President Bayram Begai visited Azerbaijan and engaged in discussions with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev on bilateral political relations, joint activities in international organizations, trade, economic matters and investment opportunities (Kaspi.az; Report.az, July 8). These talks underlined Baku’s increased attention to deepening its partnerships with countries in the Balkans. In the case of Albanian-Azerbaijani relations, Aliyev declared, “I would call these relations excellent.”
In recent years, official visits between Azerbaijan and the countries in the region have been steadily intensifying (President.az, July 7). For example, during the 2022 Francophonie Summit, Albania blocked a special resolution that included a clause that Baku characterized as “anti-Azerbaijan.” Interestingly, despite internal conflicts and disagreements in the Balkans, Azerbaijan has managed to establish balanced and rapidly developing relations with each country in the region. Recently, the Azerbaijani president embarked on visits to Albania and Serbia, and, on April 13, he made a trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina (Azertag, November 24, 2022; see EDM, April 24). These visits built on past progress made by Azerbaijan during official talks in Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia and Romania in the latter part of 2022, as well as meetings with the prime ministers of Croatia and Montenegro during the World Economic Forum in January 2023. Equally important are the recent visits of the Albanian, Bulgarian and Romanian presidents as well as Serbian prime minister to Baku (Report.az, April 25).
In 2011, Azerbaijan was selected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council from Eastern Europe for a two-year term; currently, Albania is fulfilling this role, and this shared designation in and of itself gives special meaning to the two countries’ diplomatic relations (News.un.org, October 24, 2011). Azerbaijan opened its embassy in Albania in 2022, and in a reciprocal gesture, Albania plans to open its embassy in Baku sometime in 2023 (President.az, July 7).
Beyond Albania, in 2022, Azerbaijan and Serbia signed a memorandum on strategic partnership and cooperation. Earlier, in 2021, they signed an agreement on military-technical cooperation (Azertag, November 24, 2022). Additionally, during Aliyev’s visit to Bulgaria in 2015, a joint declaration on strategic partnership was signed, establishing the Azerbaijan-Bulgaria Strategic Dialogue (Musavat.com, accessed August 17).
In recent years, the expansion of relations between Azerbaijan and the Balkan countries has been influenced not only by traditional factors but also by increasing regional tensions, especially Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine and the recent disputes of Albania and Azerbaijan with Iran. Their growing closeness is additionally influenced by geography, shared interests and security concerns, as well as a common history under Soviet influence. For Azerbaijan, the region is significant as it provides access to the Black, Aegean and Adriatic seas. While not having direct access, Azerbaijan benefits from export and transit opportunities through ports in Georgia and Turkey, enabling the transportation of its goods to Balkan countries. Additionally, critical transit corridors from Asia to Europe pass through Azerbaijan further enhancing its pivotal role (1news.az, December 23, 2022).
Indeed, Baku plays a key role in helping the Balkans states diversify their energy sources. Particularly, amid the war in Ukraine, Moscow’s threats to Europe’s energy security have elevated the importance of alternative sources. The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which transports Azerbaijani natural gas to Europe, passes through the Balkans via Greece and Albania. In 2022, Azerbaijan supplied 1 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas from only its Shah Deniz field to Bulgaria through the TAP via the Greece-Bulgaria gas interconnector (Musavat.com, accessed August 17). Currently, Azerbaijani gas is being transported to Albania, also through the TAP. The primary goal is to eventually transport this gas from the Adriatic to Italy. Additionally, using Albania as a transit point, other Balkan countries can receive gas from Azerbaijan, as they have expressed interest in expanding the transit of hydrocarbons.
New perspectives in energy cooperation between Azerbaijan and the countries in the region have become ever-more relevant since Baku began utilizing the Greece-Bulgaria gas interconnector in 2022. Azerbaijani gas supplied via this interconnector will enter the Romanian market sometime this year. Moreover, efforts are underway to connect Serbia to the overall system through an additional interconnector. Albania’s gasification campaign, including the establishment of gas pipelines and supporting infrastructure, is being carried out through investments from Baku and the involvement of Azerbaijani companies (President.az, July 7). In this, the realization of the Ionian-Adriatic Pipeline will create opportunities to transport Azerbaijan’s energy resources deeper into Europe (Azertag, April 13).
In April 2023, a memorandum of understanding was signed in Sofia between Bulgartransgaz (Bulgaria), Transgaz (Romania), FGSZ (Hungary), Eustream (Slovakia) and the State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan to promote cooperation on energy matters (President.az, April 25). The memorandum outlines joint development and use of the Southern Gas Corridor, with energy resources being delivered through the enhanced transmission systems of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.
Furthermore, in July 2022, Azerbaijan and the European Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Strategic Partnership in Energy. According to the document, plans are in place to double Azerbaijan’s gas supply to European markets by 2027. In 2021, Azerbaijan exported 8 bcm of natural gas to Europe. This year, the target is set at 12 bcm (525.az, April 27).
With Europe’s green energy policies, Azerbaijan and the Balkan countries have initiated collaboration in this direction as well (see EDM, March 21). As part of this effort, a working group was formed this year to lay a 1,195-kilometer electricity cable along the bottom of the Caspian to connect Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania and Hungary. Currently, Azerbaijan’s export capacity is around 1,000 megawatts (MW). However, Baku is engaged in several projects that will increase Azerbaijan’s green energy export capacity by an additional 700 MW in the coming months (Renewables.az, January 11). Furthermore, Azerbaijan has signed contracts and memorandums of understanding to produce more than 25 gigawatts (GW) of recovered energy. The estimated potential for recovered energy in Azerbaijan is around 200 GW, with 157 GW located in the Caspian. Overall, Europe has been designated as the primary destination for Azerbaijan’s green energy exports, with the first recipients being the Balkan countries (Azertag, April 26).
In recent years, Baku’s relations with the Balkan states have experienced dynamic growth, characterized by reciprocal visits that have significantly expanded diplomatic ties and strengthened transportation connections. For Azerbaijan, the Balkan region serves as a strategic gateway to European markets for its energy resources. The countries of the region in turn have actively collaborated with Azerbaijan, particularly in aligning with Europe’s shift toward green energy. This cooperation has not only facilitated improved energy security in the Balkans by reducing over-reliance on only a couple external suppliers but has also fostered increased investments and the further development of key infrastructure projects. As this cooperation continues to deepen, it will play a central role in easing and increasing the delivery of goods and energy resources from Asia to Europe, to the mutual benefit of Baku and its Balkan partners.
YEREVAN, AUGUST 31, ARMENPRESS. The Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has responded to the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova who claimed that the situation in the Lachin corridor is a consequence of the fact that referring to the Alma-Ata Declaration, in Prague, October 2022 Armenia recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.
The Armenian foreign ministry said that Zakharova’s comments cause “confusion and disappointment.”
Below is the full statement by Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ani Badalyan.
“Another comment by the official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia of similar content claiming that the situation unfolded in the Lachin corridor is a consequence of the fact that referring to the Alma-Ata Declaration, in Prague, October 2022 Armenia recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, and after that, the task of the Russian peacekeepers became the possible influence on the issues of rights and security of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, causes confusion and disappointment.
We are compelled to recall the following, already well-known chronology and important circumstances.
- The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has never been a territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In essence, it has always been and remains an issue of the rights and security of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
- In August 2022, Armenia agreed to Russia’s draft proposal on the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, according to which the discussion of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh was supposed to be postponed for an indefinite period. Azerbaijan rejected the proposal, simultaneously announcing (as it did on August 31 in Brussels) that it is not going to discuss anything related to Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, and days later, on September 13, it launched military aggression against the sovereign territory of Armenia.
- Russia not only did not pursue its proposal after Azerbaijan’s refusal, but also showed absolute indifference to the aggression against the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia, leaving Armenia’s official letter to support the Republic of Armenia on the basis of the bilateral legal framework unanswered. Moreover, Russia conditioned the lack of stating the fact of the attack on Armenia and the resulting inaction under the false excuse that the interstate border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not delimited. By this approach it either intentionally or not supports the obviously false and extremely dangerous thesis which claims that there is no border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, therefore, attacking the border and the invasion into the territory of Armenia are difficult to verify. With the same mindset, Armenia’s similar application in the framework of the CSTO did not receive a proper response either.
- Under these conditions, on October 6, 2022, in Prague, Armenia and Azerbaijan reaffirmed their loyalty to the Alma-Ata Declaration, which was signed back in 1991 by the former Soviet republics, including Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, who recognized each other’s territorial integrity along the former administrative borders of the Soviet states. Therefore, nothing new was decided in Prague: as of October 2022, the Alma-Ata Declaration had been in force for about 31 years. The agreements in Prague did not change anything in the text of the Trilateral statement of November 9, 2020, either. The only novelty was that, based on the results of the Prague meeting, the EU decided to deploy a monitoring mission on the Armenian side of the interstate border between Armenia and Azerbaijan to contribute to the stability at the border.
- The Russian Federation recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan multiple times, including after the signing of the Trilateral statement of November 9, 2020, and the most recent and perhaps most significant one: it stated that it recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in the document on establishing strategic relations with Azerbaijan.
- On December 12, 2022, the Lachin corridor was blocked, under the false pretext of protests organized by the authorities of Azerbaijan in the area of the control of the Russian peacekeeping contingent. Already in April 2023, in the presence of Russian peacekeepers, Azerbaijan installed an illegal checkpoint in the Lachin corridor. Although these actions were a clear and gross violation of the Trilateral statement, the Russian Federation took no counteractions. Instead, Russian peacekeepers on June 15, 2023, actively supported the attempt to raise the Azerbaijani flag on the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia, which is outside the scope of their mission and geographical area of responsibility. This was immediately followed by the total blockade of the Lachin corridor, bringing the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh closer to a true humanitarian catastrophe.
- In the conditions of such arbitrariness in the presence of Russian peacekeepers, the Azerbaijani side resorts to steps such as the abduction of residents of Nagorno-Karabakh at the illegal checkpoint in the Lachin corridor: the case of abduction of Vagif Khachatryan on July 29, followed by the case of three students on August 28.
- Unfortunately, such practices of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh are nothing new. On December 11, 2020, the violation of the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh, the illegal occupation of Khtsaberd and Hin Tagher villages, the capture and transfer of 60 Armenian servicemen to Baku took place in Nagorno-Karabakh with the presence and permission of representatives of the Russian peacekeeping contingent. At that time, the agreements of October 6, 2022, were not reached. The same applies to the events of Parukh on March 24, 2022, and Saribab on August 1, 2022, when Azerbaijan again violated the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh. The logical continuation of this are the shootings by Azerbaijani armed forces in the presence of Russian peacekeepers towards people carrying out agricultural works, one of which ended with the killing of a tractor driver from Martakert; the intimidation of the Nagorno-Karabakh population with night lights and loudspeakers again in the presence of Russian peacekeepers; the thousands of violations of the ceasefire regime by the Azerbaijani armed forces again in the presence of Russian peacekeepers.
We advise the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry to refrain from maneuvering the circumstances of the situation and thereby further complicating it in the absence of actions from Russian peacekeepers towards the prevention of the blockade of the Lachin corridor or its opening afterwards.
We also reiterate that the Republic of Armenia is faithful to its commitment towards establishing stability in the region on the basis of mutual recognition of territorial integrity and borders. At the same time, we consider imperative for lasting peace the reopening of the Lachin corridor in accordance with the Trilateral statement of November 9, 2020, and in line with the Orders of the International Court of Justice, the prevention of a humanitarian catastrophe in Nagorno-Karabakh and addressing of all existing problems through the Baku-Stepanakert dialogue under international auspices.”
According to an October 2022 Pew survey, “88% of US adults say that marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use.” While marijuana legalization is gaining more and more cultural acceptance, effectively regulating drugs has long flummoxed policy and lawmakers. Some are even starting to have second thoughts, especially when it comes to how to practically enforce legal sales. In fact, voters in Oklahoma – one of the nation’s leading weed markets –overwhelmingly rejected recreational legalization earlier this year, even though voters backed medical marijuana legalization by a double-digit margin in 2018. Those who argue “Yes” for marijuana legalization say legalization creates more problems for our legal system because it requires extra enforcement to crack down on already robust illegal markets to make way for new, regulated, and legal markets. Additionally, competition from illegal weed markets is undercutting legal sales, which means the expected revenue stream from a legalized industry is far lower than expected. Those who argue “No” say legalization can reduce the burden on law enforcement and criminal justice systems, allowing resources to be redirected to more pressing issues. They also highlight marijuana’s medical benefits, such as for pain management and treatment of certain health conditions, which have made a difference in people’s lives.
With this context, it’s time to debate — and reconsider — “Is Legalizing Marijuana A Mistake?”
Arguing Yes: Paul J. Larkin, Jr, Senior Legal Research Fellow in the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation and Teresa Haley, senior policy advisor at the Foundation for Drug Policy Solution
Arguing No: Toi Hutchinson, CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project; former member of the Illinois Senate, and Cat Packer, Director of Drug Markets and Legal Regulation at Drug Policy Alliance
Emmy award-winning journalist John Donvan moderates
Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Catch up quickly with the stories from Central and Eastern Europe that matter.
Russia’s war on Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky this week appointed Rustem Umerov, a Crimean native with extensive business and political experience who has chaired Ukraine’s commission monitoring international financial and military aid to the country’s war effort, as the country’s new defence minister. He replaces Oleksiy Reznikov.
Umerov, a Crimean Tatar, will be the first Muslim to hold the position. Observers say his elevation to the post signals Kyiv’s seriousness about retaking the Crimean peninsula—where Russia has persecuted Crimean Tatars since illegally annexing the region in 2014.
The defence ministry “needs new approaches,” Zelensky said in dismissing Reznikov, whose ministry has been plagued by corruption allegations. Reznikov himself hasn’t been implicated, but the controversy has tainted the ministry amid intensifying anti-corruption measures as the country seeks to join the European Union.
Ukraine on Monday said that Russian debris fell on Romanian territory after an attack, which was vigorously denied by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
However, on Wednesday, Iohannis was forced to ride back after debris from a Russian drone was found on Romanian territory near the Danube river. Iohannis called it “a serious violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Romania.”
Russia has been bombarding Ukrainian ports on the banks of the Danube since President Vladimir Putin pulled out of the Black Sea grain deal, with missiles and drones frequently landing near Romania.
As a NATO member, Romania is protected under article 5 of the military alliance’s treaties, which says that an attack on one member will be considered an attack on all members. Iohannis said the country is “on alert” and in contact with NATO allies.
At a meeting with the European Commission on Wednesday, EU ambassadors from 22 of the 27 member states either openly opposed the idea of extending the restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports or remained deeply sceptical.
Ukrainian grain products—wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds—are banned from the markets of Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia under a deal struck with the European Commission earlier this year to protect their farmers from an influx of cheaper produce from their war-torn neighbour.
The restrictions are due to expire on September 15, but the front-line five have been advocating for their extension until at least the end of the year.
While many countries recognised the difficulties faced by the five countries, they have asked the Commission to propose alternative measures and believe a decision to extend the import restrictions would be “purely political”, with Poland’s forthcoming general election looming over the discussion.
Ukraine will be armed with depleted uranium anti-tank rounds that can aid its troops in piercing Russian tanks, the Pentagon has said, as Russia warns of “very sad consequences”.
The controversial 120mm anti-tanks shells will be used to boost the performance of 31 M1A1 Abram tanks the US will also give Ukraine. Opponents of the weapons, such as the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, say the dust created by such weapons can be breathed in, while munitions which miss their target can poison groundwater and soil.
While US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kyiv in a show of the United States’ continued support, a Russian attack on a crowded market in eastern Ukraine’s Kostiantynivka city on Wednesday killed at least 17 people and wounded 32 more. Ukrainian drones heading to three Russian cities including Moscow, Rostov-on-Don and the Bryansk region, were shot down overnight.
Ferenc Liszt International Airport, Budapest
Other news from the region
Hungary’s government has submitted a formal offer to buy a majority stake in Budapest Airport in a transaction that could be valued at about four billion euros, potentially ending years of wrangling over the hub’s fate. An earlier bid put forward by a consortium led by the Hungarian government in 2021 collapsed due to the challenging economic environment the government was in at the time. The airport is currently operated by AviAlliance, a Germany-based airport management company.
French food giant Danone will invest 230 million zloty (50 million euros) to create a plant producing medical nutrition products in the city of Opole in southern Poland. The investment will expand a facility already run by the firm to allow it to produce food for people with special dietary needs, creating 50 additional jobs. The move comes after Danone’s acquisition of Polish medical nutrition company Promedica earlier this year.
The ruling Georgian Dream party has initiated an impeachment inquiry targeting Georgia’s president, Salome Zourabichvili, an independent, for her visit to Europe to promote the country’s EU accession without permission from the Prime Minister’s Office. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili’s administration, which supports maintaining closer ties with Russia and China than Zourabichvili does, said her trip amounted to contempt of the nation’s supreme law.
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has vowed to ban the international community’s envoy, Christian Schmidt, from entering Bosnia and Herzegovina‘s Serbian entity, Republika Srpska. The announcement came just days after prosecutors charged Dodik for passing laws that would allow him to bypass or ignore decisions made by Schmidt, who is tasked with overseeing the civilian aspects of the Dayton agreement that ended Bosnia’s bloody civil war in the 1990s.
In an open letter dated September 6, dozens of major international and Czech companies called on Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS/ECR) to legalise same-sex marriage so that their employees can live and work in Czechia without discrimination and prejudice. Same-sex couples in the country may currently enter civil unions but not marriages and cannot adopt children, and the companies argued unequal conditions cause unnecessary expenses.
Hundreds of people protested on Monday in the capital of North Macedonia, Skopje, over allegations that patients at the state Oncology Clinic missed life-saving treatment because staff were stealing expensive drugs to sell on the black market. The organisers of the protest demanded that the last three health ministers take responsibility because they allege that the abuses have been going on for some time.
Armenia said on Wednesday that it would host a joint military exercise with the United States next week, at a time of rising military tension with neighbouring Azerbaijan and open friction in its relationship with Russia. The Armenian Defence Ministry said the purpose of the Sept. 11-20 “Eagle Partner 2023″ exercise—in which 85 US soldiers and 175 Armenians will take part—was to prepare its forces to take part in international peacekeeping missions, but a Kremlin spokesperson still said news of the small exercise “causes concern”.
Following the mass seizure of weapons and ammunition from a house in the Serb-majority town of Zvecan in northern Kosovo on Tuesday, Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla reported he received a death threat from the ethnic Serb Northern Brigade, classified as a terrorist organisation by Prishtina. The commander of NATO-led troops in Kosovo said the region remains “highly volatile” even though the security situation has calmed since a major outburst of violence in May.
Main photo: Rustem Umerov following parliamentary confirmation of his appointment as Ukraine’s defence minister. (Official Twitter/X account).
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