“For several years, a network of non-governmental organizations and its connections within the Council of Europe has led a merciless propaganda campaign against Azerbaijan to benefit Armenia.”
This is the opening to an explosive report on Armenia, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Azerbaijan, and the occupied territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, published Monday by the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center (ESISC), a non-partisan NGO operating out of Brussels. The report, which is already making waves in PACE, has the potential to completely upend the status quo in that body and its approach to Armenia’s occupation of a fifth of Azerbaijan.
ESISC is, historically, a well-regarded NGO interested in internal and external security threats in Europe (especially but not exclusively terrorism); its Twitter feed is a live-news update on unsettling developments and violence throughout the EU. It appears to have turned its formidable intelligence operations to corruption. The report is — in a little-noticed line — described as the first of a two-part series on corruption in PACE.
The tale begins with an allegation almost amusing in its paucity: That a Ukrainian MP was offered one bottle of 40 year-old cognac, worth roughly 1400 euros, by members of Armenia’s PACE delegation to scrub references to Armenia’s illegal occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh from a report on freedom of the press and international law. Allegedly, when he turned down this handsome offer, the sweet talk turned to intimidation, threats of violence, and allegations of partiality because of alleged Azerbaijani ancestry.
Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. According to ESISC, the plot begins at PACE in 2012 and quickly coheres into an anti-Azerbaijan campaign of both organized votes and disinformation aimed at discrediting Baku in an otherwise nominally impartial venue.
The allegations are not subtle. Named in the report are Christophe Strässer, a Socialist German MP whose report on alleged human rights abuses in Azerbaijan was voted down by a supermajority of PACE; Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among other international NGOs; and George Soros, among other named personalities. The report envisions the entire affair, launched five years ago (and perhaps more), as an effort to discredit Azerbaijan and build up Armenia, both in PACE and without. The alleged plot extends into a multimedia and lobbying blitz by Soros-backed individuals and their fellow travelers throughout Europe, part of a dedicated effort to keep Armenia’s illegal acts under wraps.
It is no exaggeration to say that the report, if true, casts a pall over the functioning of an entity designed to promote clean governance in the former Soviet Union. It suggests that European MPs of a certain stripe run the gamut from corrupt to gullible to both; and that this entire effort — which if true could not have remained in the dark — is merely seen as a continuation of the status quo. It also provides a plausible explanation for why PACE, which is about the rule of law, has worked so hard to deny the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh — a denial no other major NGO would even contemplate.
Azerbaijani MP and PACE member Elkhan Suleymanov, who has been battling to have Armenia’s occupation of much of Azerbaijan recognized and eventually reversed by the international community, has fired the first blow since this report became public. In an open letter to all members of PACE, he called for a housekeeping and an accounting:
“My country and I were at the receiving end of these attacks and anti-Azerbaijani collusion,” Suleymanov said, detailing in his letter how a “patchwork of fact and fantasy spread well-prepared slander all over the international media, unfortunately causing irreparable damage to PACE.”In particular, he pointed out a Milan court decision, which decided not to bring any charges against Italian politician Luca Volonté, who had been investigated for allegedly accepting bribes by Azerbaijan.
“All PACE members without exception should respect the Rule of Law, which includes respecting the clear decision by the Milan court, which dropped all charges of corruption,” Suleymanov demanded.
Suleymanov concluded by noting that “deliberately spreading false rumors of corruption is strongly undermining global credibility of the Assembly towards the outside world and new rules should urgently be adopted.”
What happens next remains uncertain. As noted earlier, this is merely the first in a multi-part series on endemic corruption; the second part may be even more explosive. The allegations, at any rate, remain unproven — but they are sufficiently grave that if the Council of Europe actually values its reputation and the willingness of its member states to participate, then they must be investigated, beginning immediately.
With Russia seeking to export autocracy the world over, this is the very worst time for PACE to stumble. If influence-peddling has become the norm there, it must be stamped out — or Russia’s hand will be freer than ever.