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Caucasus Concise Summer Dossier: Ten developments on Europe's south-east flank over the last six weeks
24 August 2016

This report was prepared by the editorial team of Caucasus Concise, in collaboration with commonspace.eu

August is often called the "silly season" by the European media. It is the time when politicians (and in many countries pretty much everyone else) are on holiday, when news stories dry up, and when journalists, desperate to fill the columns of their newspapers, or the airtime of their television stations, resort to writing on trivial issues, often blowing their importance out of all proportion.

In one region of Europe however - in the south-east corner where Europe meets Asia and the middle east, this may end up being remembered as a defining summer, when politics changed and alliances shifted.

As European politicians and bureaucrats, suntanned and soothed, return to their desks over the next days, they are going to have to do a lot of reading to catch-up on what has been happening.

Caucasus Concise has prepared a summer dossier on ten important summer developments that will hugely impact the future in Europe's south-east.

Download this report here 

 

(1) Turkey's very peculiar coup

15 July is often the day when most Europeans go on holiday. For Turks however, this year's 15 July will always be remembered as the day when a failed coup, clumsily but ruthlessly executed, was crushed by the sheer force of public will. It was a defining moment for modern Turkey.

Turkey had military coups in the past and none were elegant affairs. In the first one in 1960, the top elected leadership of the country led by Prime Minister Adnan Menderez were executed. In 1971 many left wing politicians were also executed after the coup in that year, and in 1981 tens of thousands of Turks were imprisoned, many dying in prison as a result of torture and abuse.

Yet as many Turkish commentators remarked, in none of those coups did the soldiers fire on unarmed civilians, and on no occasion was the Turkish parliament bombed whilst in session.

The previous coups were instigated by the high command of the Turkish armed forces, and the civilian governments that they had overthrown had little chance for success if they resisted. What unfolded in Turkey on 15 July was a very different story. The coup leaders were not the high command, although some were also implicated, but supporters of a very specific religious sect that had infiltrated the Turkish state right across the board, and at all levels. The Gulenist "Hizmet Movement" was known to be influential in Turkey, especially in the judiciary and in the education sector. There were even reports that they had supporters in the police force. But few realised the extent to which it had also infiltrated the armed forces - the guardians of Turkey's secular republic, and many thought, its last bastion.

The July coup failed because of a number of reasons - news of it reportedly leaked hours before it was due, and so it lost the element of surprise; the most senior members of the military high command refused to join the coup, even when presented with a fait accompli; and the security forces loyal to the government managed to sustain the first attacks, regroup and counterattack. But these factors could still have not been enough to stop the coup had it not been also for the fact that the Turkish people decided to resist.

And here the turning point was the moment that President Recip Tayip Erdogan spoke to the nation using facetime, and the airtime of CNN Turk. Erdogan's mesmerising hold, on at least a section of the Turkish public, was enough to bring people out on the streets in their thousands, determined to resist. The coup plotters were faced with the possibility of a bloodbath shown on live television, and on a scale that even they could not sustain. The coup collapsed, and with it the old Turkey, where the army was sacrosanct, where generals could not be dismissed except by other generals, and where politicians could claim they were in government but often felt they were not really in power.

The putschists broke many taboos. They bombed the Turkish parliament when it was in session; they shot soldiers who refused to kill their civilian brothers; they imprisoned the military command, disobeying orders and breaking oaths of loyalty. They may not have realised that by doing so they were also breaking other taboos that had helped to define the Turkish Republic throughout its 96 years of existence.

(2) Turkish metamorphosis

Most people agree that Turkey has changed for ever after 15 July, but there are different views about what it has changed into. The reason perhaps is that this metamorphosis is far from over.

Shortly after the coup attempt the government declared a state of emergency, not because it was afraid of the people. Instead it called on the people, even after it was clear the coup had collapsed, to come out on the streets and protect Turkish democracy. They did, in their hundreds of thousands and stayed there for weeks. Many were supporters of the ruling AK party - but not all.

One of the most important consequences of what happened on the night of the coup, and subsequently, is that the Turkish political elite showed remarkable unity and solidarity. The usually factitious arguments between the AKP and its two main opposition forces, the secularist CHP and the nationalist MHP were put aside. The opposition was clearly against the coup from the moment it started, and that meant that it had moral authority and could share in the glory of its defeat. Government and opposition leaders met to discuss the future, and even addressed joint rallies together. For a moment at least the arguments of the past have been put aside. How this will play out long-term is yet to be seen. Some say it is short lived. Yet even if it is, this moment of unity will always remain important and it enters Turkish political folklore.

President Erdogan and his AK party government have launched a huge purge of the Turkish Army, civil service, education sector and business in order to clean them of elements of Gulenist influence. Tens of thousands of people have been imprisoned or fired from their jobs. It is very unlikely that all of them are Gulenist supporters, and even if they were most of them would not have had a clue about the coup. Erdogan therefore now is faced with a choice. Either to push for maximum retribution, and risk appearing as the ungallant victor, out for vendetta on his political enemies, or weed out the leaders and let the rest try to rebuild their lives in the new Turkey.

One sector however has already experienced profound changes, unthinkable until before the summer. The Turkish armed forces are today a shadow of what they were before 15 July. A massive reform is on-going that will see them coming for the first time under civilian control. The military schools, long thought as the factories of future coup leaders, have been unceremoniously closed down and united in a national defence university. The army has been told to move its tanks far away from urban centres. But most of all the pedestal on which the Turkish army has stood so far in Turkish society has collapsed.

One other unlikely victim is Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, the founder and architect of the modern Turkish republic. Of course no one has criticised Ataturk and his pictures still hangs on the walls in all offices and classrooms. Yet Ataturk now has a competitor. Recip Tayip Erdogan's popularity before the coup was somewhat wobbly. Not anymore. Most Turks, even if they don't like him, admired his courage, stamina and chutzpah. For many Turks this is the beginning of the second republic, and Erdogan is its founder.

Of course in all this drama Turkey's other problems remain. The Kurdish issue remains as violent and costly as ever. The pro-Kurdish opposition party in parliament, HDP, has been kept out from most of the consultations that took place between the different political forces, even if they also came out clearly and early against the coup. Solving the Kurdish problem can be Erdogan's biggest achievement if he wants, but can end up being his biggest mistake if he does not at least try. Turkey's economy, whilst resilient and full of potential, has suffered from the many recent shocks. The hotels on the Antalya sea coast this summer were either mostly empty, or simply closed down, as the disputes with Russia and the perception of terrorist threat kept away both the Russian and the European tourists.

That terrorist threat remains serious, and keeps hitting Turkey in different places. As US Vice President Joe Biden flew into Ankara on 24 August to try to patch up relations with Turkey, after accusations that the CIA was somehow implicated in the 15 July coup, Turkish tanks and special forces were on the move again, this time across the Syrian border in an effort one suspects, to create a cordon sanitaire within Syria, from where ISIL and its allies are excluded.

All Turks seem to agree on one thing. Turkey is never going to be the same as it was before 15 July. However very few venture to speculate how it is going to look like in the next months, let alone the next years. The metamorphosis is ongoing. We need to wait and see.

(3) Putin's push south



One of the first people on the phone to president Recip Tayip Erdogan, after the July 15 coup in Turkey, was Russian President Vladimir Putin. This may seem strange given that relations between the countries were strained to breaking point at the end of last year when the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian jet fighter close to the Turkish Syrian border. The Turks insisted the plane had violated their airspace, but Putin asked for an apology.

This problem threatened to derail a lot of grandiose projects that the two countries had been working on, including a north-south energy pipeline, a Russian nuclear facility in Turkey, not to mention big plans in the field of trade, construction and tourism.

Whilst Putin stood his ground, he also understood that Turkey was a prized gain and he was ready to swallow his pride to get relations back on a sound footing. Over the last months informal and indirect diplomatic channels, including through President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and President Aliev of Azerbaijan kept the line of communications between Russia and Turkey open, until the two sides could find a choice of words - ambiguous enough for Erdogan to say, and for Putin to accept - without either loosing face. This had already been done prior to 15 July, but the coup offered an opportunity for Putin to reach out to Erdogan in the very sensitive days immediately after the coup, in a way that European and US leaders failed to do. It worked. Erdogan was full of praise for Putin for his timely solidarity.

Over the hot summer months President Putin put a lot of time and energy in managing Russia's relations to the countries to the South, particularly Turkey and Iran, Azerbaijan and Armenia. During a particularly intensive 72 hours between 8 -10 August, Putin met separately with the four presidents in meetings in Baku, St Petersburg and Moscow.

In case somebody missed the importance of these meetings, the Russian President held meetings of his National Security Council, immediately before leaving for Baku on 8 August and again at the end of the marathon on the 11 August. On both occasions the agenda included Putin's discussions with the four leaders.

It is possible that Putin's meetings marathon may have simply happened by coincidence - certainly some of the meetings were planned well in advance. Yet there is no doubt that over the summer President Putin saw a window of opportunity for Russia to assert its influence in a part of the world that it always considered its backyard, and in which it has for a long time sought a monopoly. The pragmatic Mr Putin never misses a chance, and this summer was no exception.

(4) Turkish-Russian Relations reinvented



President Erdogan arrived in St Petersburg on 9 August - his first trip abroad since the 15 July coup attempt. The visit would have been seen as important in any circumstance, but the events of the previous three weeks made it even more dramatic. It was seen by the world media as a meeting of the tough guys, but both men were on their best behaviour.

In remarks made to the media at the Constantine Palace in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, President Putin said Russia "was against all kinds of coup attempts." "I would like to remind you of our principled attitude. We are against all attempts that are against the constitution. I hope under your management the Turkish people will overcome this problem".

The Turkish president said he appreciated his Russian counterpart's support following the defeated July 15 coup. "Your call after the coup attempt made us happy," he told Putin.

The Russian president also said despite the tumultuous times of Turkey's internal politics, Erdogan's visit was "a sign of normalizing ties". "The restoration of bilateral ties would benefit both Turkey and Russia," Putin said. Erdogan agreed with Putin and said Turkish-Russian solidarity would also help in resolving regional issues."Our region has political expectations of Turkey and Russia," Erdogan said. "Turkey-Russia ties have entered into a very different and positive phase," Erdogan said.

With that out of the way the two sides sat down for two sessions of meetings - Syria needed a session of its own since the position of the two sides remains very different. Everything else was condensed into the other session. Both sides emerged from the meeting claiming full harmony and agreement.

Western countries, still licking their wounds after having been chastised for not reacting strongly or swiftly enough after the 15 July events reacted cautiously to the new Turkish-Russian rapprochement.

On the same day of Erdogan's visit to St Petersburg, the German newspaper Bild carried an interview with theGerman Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier who welcomed the recent rapprochement between Turkey and Russia, dismissing media reports claiming Ankara was distancing itself from NATO.

"It is good that after the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey last year, now there is a rapprochement," Steinmeier told Bild on Tuesday. He said closer dialogue between regional powers was important to find a political solution to Syria's civil war. "There won't be a solution to the civil war in Syria without Moscow, and without Iran, Saudi Arabia or Turkey," he said.

Steinmeier argued that, contrary to various comments in Western media, Turkey's closer dialogue with Russia would not undermine ties with NATO: "I don't believe that relations between the two countries would become so close that Russia could provide Turkey with an alternative to the security partnership of NATO," he said. "Turkey is an important NATO partner, and it must remain so," he added.

The following day, London's Financial Times summed up the western challenge,

"The EU and US should make no concessions in its dealings with Turkey. They should condemn any abuse of the rule of law; and insist that Ankara supplies evidence to support demands for Mr Gulen's extradition. They should also recognise the challenges Turkey faces at home and on its borders.

Many western governments were slow to condemn the coup: this has alienated even those Turks who oppose Mr Erdogan, and it has fuelled suspicions of western backing for the coup. It would help to be far more explicit in acknowledging that Turkey would be in a far worse position now if the rebel generals had succeeded".

(5) The Baku trilateral, and how Putin tried to kill two birds with one stone



Russia's relations with Iran and those with Azerbaijan are very complicated, but in different sorts of way. A trilateral summit: Russia-Iran-Azerbaijan was therefore never going to be a simple affair. Yet on 8 August the three leaders met in the Azerbaijani capital and duly signed the Baku declaration that is meant to be a charter for future co-operation between them.

This could only be possible because the sides agreed to focus primarily on economic issues, and in particular on building a 7200-kilometre North-South Transport Corridor which is expected to provide a faster and more efficient trade connectivity between Europe and the Gulf Region, and South and South East Asia.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Iran's President Hassan Rohani and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliev in their statement also agreed to cooperate on natural gas industry. They said they will specifically work together over the transfer of technology as well as the shipment and delivery of gas.

Putin, Rohani and Aliev also voiced support for efforts to connect the power grids of their respective countries which they said would contribute to the sustainable development of the region.

The significance of close banking cooperation to attract investments and bring in new technologies for development projects was also highlighted in the trilateral talks.

The final declaration also highlighted the importance of joint efforts in the fight against terrorism and the three sides agreed to develop a trilateral mechanism.

Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia are all Caspian Sea littoral countries, together with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The declaration makes a vague reference to the current disputes regarding the status of the Sea and the delineation of territorial waters and economic zones between the five littoral countries
Speaking at a press conference at the end of the summit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the five countries Presidents will meet soon in Kazakhstan, and at the Baku summit it was agreed to continue working to prepare this meeting.

Russian President Vladimir said before leaving for Baku that the transport corridor "aims to provide the best possible opportunities for transporting transit cargo from India, Iran, and the Persian Gulf states to Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and further to northern and western Europe".

Putin stayed in Baku for only a few hours, during which he also had separate meetings with President Aliev and President Rohani.

Aliev has expectations from Putin on Nagorno-Karabakh. Very little was said after the Putin-Aliev meeting but for the moment Russia can only raise hopes, hoping to be able to deliver later.

It was presumably in his bilateral meeting with Rohani that Putin sealed a deal that would enable Russian aircraft to use an Iranian base in Hamadan in western Iran to launch attacks against anti Assad forces in Syria. However, within days the Russians had leaked the news, causing considerable embarrassment to Rohani and his government.

The use of Iranian military bases by a foreign power is an extremely sensitive issue for the Iranian leadership which has for decades based its legitimacy on its claim of success in ridding Iran of foreign domination. The matter provoked criticism in the Iranian parliament where several MPs said that it violated the Iranian constitution which specifically bans the use of Iranian territory by the military of foreign powers.Tehran is wary of being seen as a part of Moscow's strategic plans, especially at a time when it has started healing its relations with western countries. Russian insensitivity would therefore have not been appreciated.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman quickly specified that Tehran and Moscow have not signed a document on using the Iranian air base to fly sorties over Syria. "Russia made a request to use Iran's territory to battle against terrorists in Syria, and because the two countries share some common grounds in areas like fighting terrorism, they got our temporary permission for that," Bahram Qassemi told reporters.

However, as The Tehran Times pointed out, that this was the first time a foreign power had used an Iranian base since World War II.In the meantime, Interfax news agency on August 22 quoted Russia's ambassador to Tehran, Levan Dzhagaryan, as confirming that all of Moscow's warplanes have been withdrawn from Iran.

Earlier, Iran's Defence Minister criticized Russia for publicizing its use of the Iranian base for attacks in Syria, saying it was "kind of show off and ungentlemanly". According to Radio Free Europe, Iran state TV quoted General Hossein Dehghan on August 22 as saying that the "Russians seek to show that they are a superpower."

The warm handshake of the Baku Declaration of two weeks before was momentarily forgotten.

(6) Drama at an Armenian police station shakes up a lethargic political scene



On Saturday 16 July, with the attention of the world media firmly focused on events in Turkey, a group of armed men from an organisation calling itself "SasnaTsrer" attacked a police station in the Armenian capital Yerevan. A police officer was killed in the attack and several injured. Other policemen were held hostage. The men demanded the release of some prisoners, and for the resignation of the government. Initially there was some confusion as to who the men were, and what they wanted. The Armenian authorities described the incident as a criminal operation and said it would not negotiate with them. However,it soon transpired that the men who attacked the police station were veterans from the war Armenia fought with Azerbaijan in the 1990s over Nagorno-Karabakh, and the demands of the attackers related to this issue. In the present Armenian reality that changed the equation.

Whilst the Armenian government hesitated, popular support for those inside the Erebuni police station grew as days passed. Erebuni became a focal point for those who have some issue or other with the current Armenian authorities, and of these there are these days many.

By the second week of the impasse the Armenian government felt it was losing the initiative and tried to break up the protests outside the police station. Several people were injured, and it seems that journalists were specifically targeted, even though some of them were representing pro government media outlets. This made the situation worse for the Armenian government.

Then the standoff finished as abruptly as it started. The group inside the police station declared that they had achieved their aim of waking up the Armenian people from their inertia and that it was now the duty of others to carry on the struggle. As they were dragged off to prison the feeling in Yerevan was that indeed something had changed in Armenian politics.

A day later President Serzh Sargsyan, who had kept a remarkable low key throughout the crisis convened a meeting in his office of the "great and the good" of Armenian society. He declared the outcome a victory, said that he would never give in to violent pressure and that it was not the way to implement change, but significantly also admitted there were errors in the way the crisis was handled, and also promised significant changes ahead, including a more consensual approach to politics. There is as yet little sign of that happening, but the unsustainability of the current political culture in Armenia is now widely recognised and some action is going to be necessary unless a repeat of Erebuni is to happen, sooner rather than later.

(7) Russia and Armenia



It looked a bit as if it was an afterthought. After the meetings of Putin with Aliev and Rohani in Baku, and with Erdogan in St Petersburg, President Serzh Sargsyan arrived in Moscow on 10 August for a meeting with the Russian president, organised hastily, and at the request of the Armenian side. Yet this meeting was still necessary for both sides. Putin is aware of the danger that anything he does, especially as he continuous to work his charm with Azerbaijan, can destabilise President Sargsyan's already fragile political hold in Armenia. On his side Sargsyan needed to ensure that Armenia, already excluded from regional processes by Turkey and Azerbaijan, will not also be seen excluded by Russia.

In public, Sargsyan got what he sought. Putin endorsed his handling of the Erebuni crisis. But more significantly he reassured Sargsyan, and a very unsettled Armenian public back home, that Russia was not interested in pushing for some Karabakh settlement that was unacceptable to either of the sides.

In a press conference after the meeting with Sargsyan Putin said that Russia was interested in decreasing tensions in relations between its neighbours. "We will continue doing all we can to help undo the Karabakh knot in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group and through direct contacts with Yerevan and Baku. We hope that Armenia and Azerbaijan will be able to settle their disagreements through compromise - without winners and losers."

Answering a question from an Armenian journalist the Russian President added:

"I believe that both Armenia and Azerbaijan really want to find a way out of this situation in order to live in peace and harmony, to cooperate, and to grow their respective economies. Armenia is also interested in removing all infrastructural and economic restrictions in order to develop its economy, improve life for its people, and consolidate the Armenian state. This is our goal, the goal of a settlement. And the goal is to achieve these results.

Azerbaijan has similar goals. My recent contacts with President Aliev in Baku bear this out. However, it is necessary to find approaches and arrangements where, as I mentioned, no one feels like a winner or a loser. There must be a solution developed by the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan that is accepted by the societies of both countries. That is the most important thing. Russia, as well as other countries of the Minsk Group, could act as a guarantor, and adopt corresponding UNSC resolutions, if necessary."

President Putin dismissed criticism that Russia was fuelling the conflict by selling large amounts of weapons to Azerbaijan. He said,

"As for the weapons, we have a programme on this with Armenia. Armenia is a CSTO member and our ally. We have certain mutual obligations, and Russia has always kept its obligations, has always fulfilled them.

In today's arms market, any country can buy almost any weapon. A country such as Azerbaijan, an oil-producing country of almost 10 million people with a fast-growing economy, as well as sufficiently large gold and currency reserves can, of course, buy weapons anywhere it likes. You see? Anywhere.

However, I would rather not focus on the military side of things now. If we want to resolve this problem, we should use peaceful means."

Suitably reassured, President Sargsyan left for Rio to watch the Olympic games, and for a well deserved holiday.

(8) The Karabakh Knot and Lavrov's ideas



One issue that hovered in the background throughout the various diplomatic gatherings over the summer was Karabakh, and Russian plans to push for a settlement based on what have been described as "Lavrov's ideas".

Yet in formal statements and reports of discussions one could not find a single word that was different from most things that have been said in the last decade.

It was left to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to make the most explicit statement - restating the positions of the past rather than plans for the future. Speaking after the end of the Erebuni crisis Sargsyan said:

"I would like to speak about another issue, which we have spoken about on many occasions. It is about the Karabakh issue and so called 'surrender of lands'. My personal statements with regard to our clear-cut position on that are probably numberless. I repeat once again: there will be no unilateral concessions in the resolution of the NK issue. Never. Nagorno Karabakh will never be part of Azerbaijan. Never. I repeat once again:it is out of question. I have given my entire adult life to this. To get to the solution acceptable for my nation, I have always been ready to sacrifice any position, and also my life. It is like that today; it will be like that tomorrow."

Suggestions that Turkey may get involved in the Karabakh conflict resolution process, muted during Erdogan's visit to St Petersburg, were similarly flatly dismissed by Armenian officials, who categorically said that the only way Turkey could help was by not interfering at all.

But there seems to have been one hard lesson that has started to be learnt about the Karabakh conflict and its settlement by the leadership in Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is that the sides need to start preparing their respective domestic constituencies for compromise. No one is yet ready to say what those compromises will look like, but one can detect that there has been a shift of gear, although it is not yet clear the extent to which the sides are ready to go.

An example was an an interview with Radio Free Europe on 15 August with the President of the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Bako Sahakyan in which he stated that the resolution of any conflict, especially one as complex as the Karabakh issue, is possible only on the basis of mutual concessions.

"Reasonable, correct and equivalent concessions are needed," Sahakyan noted, adding that "we are ready for compromises if they don't violate the security of our country and do not serve a convenient occasion for the adversary to initiate a new attack against us."

Despite the fact that these comments resulted in a lot of negative reactions on social media websites from among Armenian readers, the fact they were said indicates a new appreciation of reality that was hitherto missing.

(9) Azerbaijan's constitutional referendum



On 19 July the Azerbaijani Presidential administration announced that it was pushing forward a raft of constitutional changes that among other things creates the post of First Vice president, and other Vice presidents, extends the term of office of the president from five to seven years and reduces the age limit for holding the office of president and be elected to parliament. The constitutional changes came as a surprise to many observers, and triggered speculation as to what was the reason for the changes. Many also feel that the government has wittingly or unwittingly created a tense atmosphere.

There has been strong criticism of the Azerbaijani government ahead of the referendum. Many civil rights groups have condemned the arrest over the last few days of a number of political figures and activists. Many link the arrests directly to the referendum.

Condemnation in the international community was particularly vocal following the arrest of the Executive Secretary of the opposition "REAL" Movement, NatigJafarli, as well as the arrests of other activists.

British Minister for Europe and the Americas, Sir Alan Duncan, in a statement called on Azerbaijan to abide by its international commitments, and to improve its record, on human rights and the rule of law. A similar call came from the United States Department of State, Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner who urged the Azerbaijani government "to release these and other activists incarcerated in connection with exercising their fundamental freedoms, to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens."

"We urge the Azerbaijani government to allow an open and public dialogue about the direction of the country, particularly in the run-up to the planned September 26 constitutional amendment referendum", Mark Toner said in his statement.

There is no sign yet that Baku is listening. Many are questioning Baku's end game for the constitutional changes. The current Azerbaijani leadership prefers to move in small incremental steps and tries to avoid sudden dramatic moves. Things will become clearer once the referendum is out of the way.

(10) Georgia's summer election campaign proceeds calmly and peacefully

In the midst of weeks of turmoil and intrigue over the summer, unprecedented even for a region that has its fair share of both, one country has stood out. On 8 June quietly and without fuss, Georgia launched its electoral campaign ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for 8 October. In the past Georgian elections were marked by tension and violence. One, in 2003 ended up in revolution.

But Georgia has gone a long way since, and instead of being in constant upheaval it is at the moment experiencing a period of uncharacteristic stability. On 1 July the Association Agreement between Georgia and the EU formally entered into force, having been ratified by the parliaments of the 28 member states, by the European parliament, and of course by the Georgian Parliament as well.

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili reaffirmed Georgia's commitment to the process of European integration, despite recent developments following the Brexit referendum vote in the United Kingdom. "Europe is my vision; Georgia in Europe is our citizens' mission", Kvirikashvili said. Speaking to some four hundred participants from the EU and the region at a conference in Batumi, the Georgian leader said now is not a time for Europe to turn inward. The EU should use Georgia's enthusiasm for EU membership as an example of all that is good about the European project. Europe is our past, and it is also our future, the Georgian Prime Minister added.

Kvirikashvili said Georgia is making steady progress in the implementation of the recently signed Association Agreement with the EU, citing important reforms in the legal and judiciary sectors that have been recently introduced.

Kvirikashvili leads the Georgian Dream party that has been in government in Georgia since its landslide victory in the 2012 elections. Many in Georgia see him as a safe pair of hands, an efficient manager but with enough political skills to steer the country through various domestic and international tests ahead.

In the coming electionsthe Georgian Dream government will however have to see off a spirited challenge on both its flanks. The United National Movement, led from a distance by former president MikheilSaakashvili, remains a solid political force, well organised and resourced, but unable to break out of its traditional base; on the other hand a number of parties are trying to secure the support of the more conservative parts of society, for who the changes and reforms of recent years have been unpalatable. They range from parties with close ties to the Orthodox Church, to others with close ties to the Kremlin. Many see them as the wild card in the coming election.

There is one thing that comes out clearly from what so far has been a remarkably peaceful and calm election campaign. The Georgian people do not want to go back to the past, and the parties that will emerge successful are likely to be the ones offering a better vision for the future.

This round-up of events over the summer in and around the south-eastern region of Europe, including the Caucasus region was compiled by the staff of Caucasus Concise, a collaborative project in association with commonspace.eu.

Download this report here

For further information please contact Caucasus Concise, 3rd Floor, 35 Square deMeeus, Brussels 1000, Belgium

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