Friday, April 29, 2011

Euronest PA to be launched on 3 May

The first Constituent meeting of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly is scheduled to take place on Tuesday 3 May 2011.

Despite various attempts to launch this assembly, the political situation in Belarus, and as a consequece of that, their participation in this assembly, delayed this launch for more than a year.

Nevertheless, both the members of the European Parliament and the members from the 5 Eastern countries, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine understood the importance of launching this parliamentary assembly and worked together towards reaching a compromise which would pave the way to initiate this project.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and the Speakers of Parliaments of the Eastern Partners will open the session.

During this meeting, the Constituent Act and the Rules of Procedure wil be signed. In addition, there will be the election of the Bureau of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly and the adoption of the decision on setting up four parliamentary committees and two working groups.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

OSCE Mission to Moldova supports prosecution service reform

The role of prosecutors and reform of prosecution services were discussed today at a roundtable event held by the OSCE Mission to Moldova in co-operation with the General Prosecutor’s Office.

Prosecutors from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, whose countries’ prosecution services have successfully completed the transition to European norms, were invited to share their experience and best practices with their counterparts and experts from Moldova.

“The project does not aim at providing a single model for reform - rather, Moldovan officials can learn about the experiences of the Baltic states when confronting the same problems, to see what worked and what didn’t work, without reinventing the wheel,” said Ambassador Philip Remler, the Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova.

Prosecutor General Valeriu Zubco and Parliamentary Advocate Anatol Munteanu participated in the event, together with representatives of the Parliament, the government and civil society.

Today’s event is part of a larger project to support the prosecution service. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the OSCE Mission to Moldova and the General Prosecutor of the Republic of Moldova in March.

Source: OSCE. Published on 20 April 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs issue statement

The Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Ambassadors Bernard Fassier of France, Robert Bradtke of the United States, and Igor Popov of the Russian Federation, released the following statement:

"The Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Ambassadors Bernard Fassier of France, Robert Bradtke of the United States, and Igor Popov of the Russian Federation) traveled April 11-14 to Yerevan, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Baku. Joined by Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson in Office (PRCiO), the Co-Chairs met separately with Armenian President Serge Sargsian, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and the de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh. In their meetings, the Co-Chairs discussed next steps for reaching agreement on the Basic Principles. It is the strong view of the Co-Chairs that the time has arrived to finalize and endorse the Basic Principles and move to the drafting of a peace agreement.

On April 13, the Co-Chairs crossed the Line of Contact (LOC) by foot, before continuing to Baku. As with their crossing of the LOC in September 2010, this was intended to demonstrate the importance of maintaining and strengthening the 1994 ceasefire and that the LOC should not become a permanent barrier to contacts among neighboring peoples, as well as to reaffirm the Co-Chairs' need to visit any areas affected by the conflict. In conjunction with the crossing of the LOC, the Co-Chairs also visited part of the region southwest of the city of Terter. In addition, the Co-Chairs visited the village of Orta Karvend, accompanying the PRCiO in monitoring the area where the reported March 8 incident occurred.

Building on the March 5 joint statement made in Sochi by the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the Russian Federation, the Co-Chairs also presented to the sides a draft mechanism for investigation of incidents along the front lines with the participation of all sides. The Co-Chairs will continue to work with the parties to create as soon as possible a transparent and objective investigation process, with the goal of enhancing confidence, decreasing the risk of miscalculation, and saving lives.

The Co-Chairs expressed their concern that the planned opening of an airport in Nagorno-Karabakh could lead to further increased tensions. They cautioned that the operation of flights to and from this airport could not be used to support any claim of a change in the current status of Nagorno-Karabakh under international law. The Co-Chairs urged the sides to reach an understanding in keeping with international conventions and agreements, as well as current practice between Armenia and Azerbaijan for flights over their territory. The Co-Chairs welcomed assurances from the sides that they will reject any threat or attack against civil aircraft, pursue the matter through diplomatic steps, and refrain from politicizing the issue.

The Co-Chairs will travel to Washington in late April for consultations with senior United States government officials, and to discuss the status of progress towards a peace settlement."

Source: OSCE. Published on 14 April 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Minsk Bombing Has Everyone Asking: Who Could Benefit?

With the investigation of Belarus's deadly subway tragedy still in the early stages, it is impossible to say who might have been responsible for the rush-hour attack that left 12 dead and more than 200 injured.

But everyone is asking the question that Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka posed to his security advisers at an emergency meeting hours after the blast: Who stands to gain from the terrorism and bloodshed?

Lukashenka said he wouldn't "rule out that this 'gift' was from abroad," but added, "we must also look inside."

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Internet and blogosphere are nearly unanimous in their opinion: the main beneficiary of this tragedy is likely to be Lukashenka himself, who can use the security crisis as a pretext for any number of political moves.

In recent weeks, the government has been shaken by a profound economic crisis and forced to ask Russia for up to $3 billion in emergency stabilization funding as the public has been queuing to buy up hard currency and durable goods. The latest security crisis could be used -- as similar ones in the past have -- to crack down on the opposition or to justify austerity measures.

Investigators have confirmed that the explosive packed the force of 5 to 7 kilograms of TNT and was detonated by remote control, indicating a fairly high level of preparation and sophistication.

Vladimir Lutsenko, a colonel with Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), is certain -- "100 percent" -- that the Minsk bombing was the work of international Islamist terrorism targeting peaceful civilians.

"When they murder innocent women and children on the streets of a peaceful city, everyone is terrified and everyone is hurt," Lutsenko says. "They blow up mosques in Iraq and Pakistan. They blow up apartment blocks in Moscow. They blow up skyscrapers in America."

Lutsenko adds that speculation that the explosion was organized either by the Belarusian authorities or by the country's weak and fragmented political opposition is "stupid."

"They said the same thing about Moscow -- that the FSB is blowing up Russia, that Putin blew up the homes of civilians in order to come to power," Lutsenko says. "We've heard this nonsense before and I won't be surprised if we hear it now, too."

The Official Response

But despite Lutsenko's certitude, Belarus has no history of Islamist terrorism. In 2005, a bomb in Vitebsk injured 40 people. An unknown anti-Lukashenka group reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, but no one has been convicted. In July 2008, an explosion injured about 50 people at an Independence Day concert attended by Lukashenka. That attack was never solved either, despite a massive investigation led by a high-profile investigator.

Belarusian political scientist Yury Chavusau recalls those incidents and predicts a familiar response this time from authorities.

"I still remember the explosion in Vitebsk in 2005," Chavusau says. "Like the July 3 [2008] explosion, it was accompanied by, you might say, thorough, mass arrests of representatives of the opposition. Therefore you can suppose that -- regardless of the strength or weakness of the security structures -- the reaction to this terrorist act and the activities of the investigation will be similar -- irrationally massive. They simply don't know any other way, our security forces."

In fact, police have announced the detention of "several" people in connection with the latest attack. In addition, police press secretary Alyaksandr Lastovsky warned the media not to spread "stupid rumors" or foment panic in society. He warned that the police have the power to "make the strictest warnings to those who make up rumors or spread them."

Redistributing Influence?

Belarusian state media have given the incident blanket coverage, focusing on the solidarity being shown by the nation and showing images of ordinary citizens helping one another in the time of crisis.

In addition to using the security crisis to defuse discontent prompted by Belarus's fiercely disputed presidential election in December 2010 or the current economic panic, Lukashenka could use the opportunity -- as he did following the 2008 bombings -- to reorganize his security team.

"I think there could be a redistribution of influence within the ruling elite, and it isn't certain that this redistribution will be to the advantage of the security structures," analyst Chavusov says. "They have become too strong in recent times and the regime is too dependent on them."

Removing key security officials who carried out the postelection crackdown on the opposition could even help Lukashenka mend his fences somewhat with the West, which has imposed sanctions on Belarus over this issue.

By RFE/RL. Published on 12 April 2011
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Group of States against Corruption publishes report on Armenia

The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) today published its Third Round Evaluation Report on Armenia in which it finds that further amendments to the Criminal Code are necessary to comply with Council of Europe standards. GRECO also calls for a strengthening of the supervision over the funding of political parties and election campaigns.

Regarding the criminalisation of corruption [theme I], GRECO welcomes the 2008 amendments to the Criminal Code, but finds that in order to fully comply with the standards of the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption the legal provisions need to be further amended to ensure – among other things – that the mere request for a bribe can be prosecuted, that all persons who work in the private sector are covered and that Armenia can prosecute all corruption offences committed by its citizens abroad. The main challenge lies with the effective application of legislation. In this context, Armenia is strongly urged to take further measures to increase understanding amongst practitioners of the legal provisions and of the level of proof required in bribery cases.

Concerning transparency of party funding [theme II], GRECO acknowledges that a reform process aimed at improving accountability and transparency of political finances is currently underway. Armenia is encouraged to address in this context the various deficiencies identified in the Law on Political Parties and Election Code, such as the fact that caps on private donations and expenses only apply during election campaigns, the lack of regulation of donations in kind and the lack of transparency of the funding of election campaigns at local level. In addition, it must be ensured that all violations of the rules can be punished and that the sanctions foreseen for these violations are proportionate. Above all, it is of pivotal importance to strengthen supervision over the funding of political parties and election campaigns: it should be ensured that an independent monitoring mechanism is in place and that it has the authority and financial and human resources to investigate infringements of the rules on political financing.

In the report GRECO addresses 19 recommendations to Armenia. The implementation of these will be assessed by GRECO in the second half of 2012, through its specific compliance procedure.

Source: Council of Europe. Strasbourg, 11 April 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

Crackdown on independent media in Belarus

Statement by the spokesperson of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton on the crackdown on independent media in Belarus

The spokesperson of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, issued the following statement today:

“The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is deeply concerned by news of the detention of Mr. Andrzej Poczobut, a correspondent for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, during his journey to the EU Delegation to Belarus in Minsk.

This is yet another example of ongoing human rights violations conducted by the authorities in Belarus since the presidential elections on 19 December 2010. The EU strongly condemns all harassment, arrests, and intimidation of representatives of the Belarusian independent media as well as violations of the fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the media.

The EU calls upon the Belarusian authorities to end at once the prosecution of independent journalists for slander or other politically-motivated charges. The EU also urges the Belarusian authorities to cooperate fully with the OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media.”

Press release: Brussels, 10 April 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011

Commissioner Štefan Füle on the European Neighbourhood Policy Review

Štefan Füle European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Address to the European Parliament on the European Neighbourhood Policy Review European Parliament Plenary Session Strasbourg, 6 April 2011

European Parliament Plenary Session

Strasbourg, 6 April 2011

President, Honourable Members,

I am delighted to have this opportunity for an exchange of views with you on the European Neighbourhood Policy. In the context of the current events in the southern Mediterranean, redeveloping this policy could not be more important.

In fact over the past nine months the Commission has undertaken a review of the Policy, and I want to take this chance also to thank you for your input to the consultation – which took responses from partner countries, EU Member States, academics and civil society groups.

I have read both the Mário David report on the South and the Marek Siwiec report on the East, and find them each significant and useful. I am pleased that our thoughts are along the same lines.

You will have noticed that the results of our previous discussions on Neighbourhood Policy are already reflected in the Communication on a Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity of 8 March. Now we are preparing for the wider Communication on the results of the Review, which is due to be published in May.

A key outcome of the Review is a new emphasis on differentiation of the Neighbourhood Policy according to the needs and wishes of each partner country. While the Policy will continue to offer engagement to all partners, every neighbour is different and has different aspirations.

Some partner countries want to progress as far as they can towards the European Union – indeed as far as accession. But others prefer to make the most of other benefits of the Neighbourhood Policy. So it will deliver "more for more" in a specific and differentiated way – alongside stronger political steering of our relationships with our partners.

Nevertheless, as both Mr. David and Mr. Siwiec recommend in their reports, our shared values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights will be at the heart of the revised Neighbourhood Policy for all partner countries.

They should find their expression in stronger joint commitments to elements indispensable to democratisation: I am thinking in particular of free and fair elections, freedom of expression and association, judicial independence, the fight against corruption, and security sector reform.

Also as highlighted in both reports, the revised Neighbourhood Policy will recognise and act on the importance of civil society. Non-governmental organisations have the expertise and experience to deliver democratic and market-oriented reforms from the bottom up, based on shared values.

A thriving civil society gets citizens involved and helps to hold governments to account. So the European Union will complement its relations with governments with much closer engagement with civil society. This is also important at a regional and sub-regional level – where, for example, the Eastern Partnership's Civil Society Forum has been making good progress.

The forthcoming Communication will offer more detail on the approach towards the two sub-regions of our Neighbourhood. It will spell out how we see the Eastern Partnership developing further in the wake of the Summit under the Polish Presidency.

In the South, the Union for the Mediterranean has the potential to make a real difference – but frankly it has not yet done so and must be revitalised. Its promise lies in developing concrete economic projects with a focus on employment, innovation and growth. The UfM’s Secretariat is best placed to act as a catalyst and bring together states, International Financial Institutions and private companies to work on such economic projects.

I would like to mention briefly three other elements brought to light by the Review, which will be key to the revised Neighbourhood Policy.

First, the role of trade and economic integration to help advance stability and prosperity in partner countries. The most significant vehicle to achieve this is the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

A successful DCFTA has transformative power – regulatory reforms made by a partner country are anchored through trade.

Next, the need for improved mobility between partner countries and the European Union – since there is no better way to promote European values than through sharing experiences person to person. The Neighbourhood Policy will seek improvements to mobility, without losing sight of security.

Finally, the desire expressed in the consultation by many partner countries for greater political engagement with the European Union. Closer and more substantial political dialogue across all areas of our relationships will help us resolve difficult issues in a spirit of mutual confidence.

Thank you for your time. I look forward very much to the coming debate and will take on board your views.

Source: Press Release RAPID

Thursday, April 7, 2011

On The Verge Of Economic Disaster, Minsk Turns To Moscow

With an economy teetering on the brink of collapse and a nervous population standing in hours-long lines to buy foreign currency or gold, Minsk is going hat in hand to Moscow seeking relief.

The open question is: What price will Russia demand for bailing out Belarus and its authoritarian leader, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka?

Russia has long been pushing Minsk to sell off key state assets including oil refineries, chemical plants, oil and gas pipelines, and machinery plants. In addition, Moscow has been calling for Belarus to open its markets to Russian goods, tearing down barriers that exist despite the fact that the two countries are members of a unified customs zone.

"It is a matter of the privatization of shares, the entrance of Russian capital into Belarus, and the opening of markets to Russian products," notes Yevgeny Minchenko, director of Russia's International Institute of Political Expertise.

Belarus has run through 20 percent of its hard-currency reserves since the beginning of the year and implemented a partial currency devaluation at the end of March. Long lines are forming at exchange booths that are rapidly running out of dollars and euros.

Panicky Belarusians are meanwhile buying up cars, gold, and nonperishable staples like sugar, tea, and coffee as they desperately seek to retain the value of their savings as fears of further devaluations mount.

Moscow's Terms

On March 31, Belarus presented Moscow a plan to stabilize the economy that envisions $2 billion in credits from the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec) and $1 billion from Russia. It also proposes a tightened monetary policy, structural and tax reforms, and reduced state spending.

However, Moscow has been slow to react. Deputy Finance Minister Dmitry Pankin told Interfax on April 5 that Russia had made "no promises" and that Moscow was studying the proposed macroeconomic reforms.

Belarusian economist Syarhey Chaly tells RFE/RL's Belarus Service that no serious restructuring can be carried out so quickly and the talks must really be focused on other matters.

"It's obvious that there are conditions, but they aren't being publicly discussed. Most likely, the conditions are very concrete," Chaly says. "Because we are in a very bad situation and have painted ourselves into a corner, Russia can demand practically anything it wants."

Russia's hand is further strengthened because Lukashenka may have miscalculated in his normally wily geopolitical balancing act, political scientist Minchenko says. "There is no possibility to play the game that Lukashenka loves to play," he says, "weaving between Russia, the West, China, and Latin America."

No Room To Maneuver

Prior to Belarus's December presidential election, the European Union offered Lukashenka a $4.2 billion aid package if the poll was conducted fairly. Not only was the election held in poor esteem by outside monitors, but Lukashenka also launched a brutal crackdown on the political opposition in the wake of the poll. The EU aid offer was withdrawn and the West began imposing fresh sanctions.

In addition, the bad economic situation was brought to the current crisis by populist measures Lukashenka adopted in the run-up to the vote. In particular, he raised salaries in the country's enormous public sector at a time when Russia was raising the rates it charges Belarus for oil and gas.

The current crisis will likely force Lukashenka to roll back those promises and could prompt a devaluation of the national currency by as much as 40 percent.

After years of oppression and marginalization -- as well as the postelection crackdown -- the political opposition in Belarus is hobbled and in a poor position to capitalize on the growing public discontent. But the panic puts additional pressure on Lukashenka to come to terms with Moscow quickly.

By RFE/RL. Published on 6 April 2011
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Restrictive measures against certain officials of Belarus

Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union on the alignment of certain third countries with the Council implementing Decision 2011/174/CFSP implementing Decision 2010/639/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against certain officials of Belarus

On 21 March 2011, the Council adopted Council Decision 2011/174/CFSP1. The Council Decision amends the list of individuals subject to restrictive measures in Belarus. This declaration is made to announce that the following countries have declared that they share the objectives of Council Decision 2011/174/CFSP: The Candidate Countries Croatia*, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro* and Iceland+, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania,Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and the EFTA countries Liechtenstein and Norway,members of the European Economic Area.

They will ensure that their national policies conform to this Council Decision.

The European Union takes note of this commitment and welcomes it.

Published on 22.03.2011 in the Official Journal of the European Union no. L 76, p. 72

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nagorno-Karabakh Tries To Make A Mark In Washington

From the outside, it looks more like a dentist's office than an embassy. In reality, it is neither.

But a glance at the website of Nagorno-Karabakh's office in Washington, D.C., would suggest that inside this unremarkable, flagless building a few blocks from the White House exists something that at least resembles an embassy.

The website includes a "country profile," a list of "national holidays," information on the region's government and economics, and a section with instructions on how to obtain a visa.

Robert Avetisyan, whose styles himself the permanent representative of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to the United States, explains, "We implement all the procedures and we render the same assistance and render the same services as an embassy does."

Avetisyan, however, does not hold a diplomatic passport. And Nagorno-Karabakh is not a country.

Indeed, with a largely Armenian population on the one hand, and legal ties to Azerbaijan on the other, the region's long-term status is far from settled.

Unrecognized, But With An Office

Nagorno-Karabakh was the site of a bitter six-year war between Armenia and Azerbaijan from 1988-94 that saw tens of thousands killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. The mountainous territory unilaterally declared independence in 1991 and has enjoyed de facto autonomy since a cease-fire was declared in 1994.

But landlocked and isolated, it remains largely dependent on Armenia. Nagorno-Karabakh is even represented by Armenia in the Minsk Process, the international -- and largely inert -- attempt to resolve the dispute.

But the de facto government in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh's capital, has established its Washington office in an effort to raise its profile in the hope that proximity to levers of power might sway the debate on the territory's status.

"In the views of major actors and in the eyes of the international community, 'territorial dispute' is a negative thing," Avetisyan says. "And there could be more or less a negative stance towards this issue. But if it's people who are fighting for their freedom and trying to finalize the decolonization process of the Soviet Union, it's an absolutely different story."

Avetisyan says one of his office's primary duties is to maintain the website, which along with embassy-like sections also contains detailed accounts -- from his side's perspective -- of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

'Misleading The U.S. Public'

Yerevan claims that Nagorno-Karabakh is a historically Armenian territory called Artsakh. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, when both Armenia and Azerbaijan gained independence, Yerevan and Stepanakert have argued that the territory has a right to self-determination.

Baku, on the other hand, claims that the territory is historically Azerbaijani and maintains that any attempt to detach Nagorno-Karbakh violates its territorial integrity.

Azerbaijan's embassy in Washington says that the office is "misleading the U.S. public" by spreading Armenian "propaganda" and presenting itself as an official representative of a territory that has no sovereignty.

The office's website directs would-be visitors to the territory to contact the Nagorno-Karabakh office in Armenia, which it says issues visas.

Nasimi Aghayev, a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Embassy, says that in the eyes of Baku, that direction amounts to promoting illegal activity.

"Because the Nagorno-Karabakh region is an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan, those who want to travel there should respect the laws of Azerbaijan," Aghayev says. "And Azerbaijan has made it clear that traveling to Nagorno-Karabakh without permission by the authorities of the Republic of Azerbaijan is illegal and inadmissible."

Avetisyan also sends a monthly newsletter to influential Washington think tanks and produces a bimonthly general newsletter, which he says is read by "thousands" in the Armenian diaspora.

Front For Armenian Lobby?

Together with the Embassy of Armenia, his office helped organize an event last September at the U.S. Capitol commemorating of the 19th anniversary of Nagorno-Karabakh's self-proclaimed independence. The Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues co-sponsored the event, which was attended by Senator Mark Kirk (Republican-Illinois), the caucus's co-chair.

Due to its strong ties to Armenian-American organizations, however, Avetisyan must regularly counter those who say that his office is simply a front for Washington's influential Armenian lobby.

Indeed, his two rooms are provided free of charge by the Armenian Assembly of America, a lobbying group that shares a floor of the building. The office appears among a long list of lobbying groups registered under the Justice Department's Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Until recently, the cost of running the office was defrayed by Armenian-American groups, although Avetisyan says expenses are now completely covered by Nagorno-Karabakh's de facto government.

But Avetisyan, who freely admits that the support he receives from Armenian groups is "priceless," remains reluctant to accept the "lobby" description.

"It depends on what we call [a] 'lobby.' If we promote the interests of a state, if we promote the interests of ordinary people, if we promote peace, then yes," he says, "if that can be considered a lobby."

Abkhazia 'More Of A Player'

Whatever it's called, analysts say the clout the Armenian lobby enjoys in Washington has been indispensible for Nagorno-Karabakh's representative office.

Thomas de Waal, an expert on the Caucasus at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank, notes that there might be better arguments to justify an office representing Abkhazia, a breakaway region in Georgia, than Nagorno-Karabakh.

"If you compare Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh, for example, Abkhazia is larger, it has stronger institutions, it has an opposition, it has a media, and a stronger civil society than Nagorno-Karabakh," de Waal says. "So objectively speaking, Abkhazia is more of a player in the region than Karabakh. So there's an inconsistency there when you compare the two on the ground, [but] it all really comes down to Washington politics rather than local realities."

Georgia, of course, is one of the United States' staunchest allies.

De Waal says, however, that Nagorno-Karabakh remains largely isolated from the outside world and struggles to have its voice heard "thanks to the efforts of Azerbaijan."

What he calls the office's "positive role" is that it represents the voice of "a rather ignored party in a very important regional conflict."

Whether a distinct voice, a proxy for Yerevan's interests, or something in between, Avetisyan admits that he is not getting the attention he envisioned for his office.

His contacts are mainly with lawmakers already attuned to Armenian interests, and chances to speak with State Department officials are few and far between. But he says his office will continue on its mission.

Avetisyan is also not the only Nagorno-Karabakh representative abroad. The territory's government has offices in Australia, France, Germany, Lebanon, and Russia, as well as in Armenia.

By Richard Solash. Published on 29 March 2011
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Friday, April 1, 2011

East-Invest programme aimed towards Eastern Partnership countries to be launched in Brussels

East-Invest programme, the new regional tool for the economic development of the Eastern Partnership region, will be launched on March 31st 2011 by the 85 partners of this EU-funded project during a conference in Brussels.

The Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Stefan Füle describes this programme as “one of several concrete programs that will accompany and support the Eastern Partnership Countries on the road of economic transformation towards economic integration with the EU".

85 partners of the project, including business support organisation from EU and Eastern Partnership Countries will adopt the work plan of activities that will be presented during the conference.

The main objective of this meeting is to promote and offer the audience an insight into the overall working background, the different project activities that will be implemented and the provisional time frame.

East-Invest, a € 8.75 million project, is a new regional investment and trade facilitation initiative for the economic development focussing on support to small and medium size enterprises from Eastern Partnership region.

The main objectives of the East-Invest are to develop business networking and multiply exchanges between public and private organisations from European Union and Eastern Partnership region through:

•Encouraging public-private dialogue and promoting consultation of private sector in decision making;

•Facilitating exchange of best-practices and supporting creation of partnerships between EU and Eastern Partnership companies;

•Developing the capacity of Eastern Partnership SME support organisations.

More information:

Press Release: RAPID. Brussels, 31 March 2011