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November 30, 2020 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1539

Renowned Russian Academic Karaganov: Russia Needs To Endorse 'Neo-Isolationism,' Create A New 'National Ideology'

November 30, 2020 | By Anna Mahjar-Barducci
Russia, South Caucasus | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1539

Introduction

On October 10, 2020, prominent Russian academic Sergey Karaganov, also known as the "Russian Kissinger," was a guest of the program "Right To Know!" on Russia's state-run network TV Center (see Appendix).[1] During the program, Karaganov mainly addressed Russia's role in world affairs, Russia's identity vis-à-vis the West, and Russia's need for a new national ideology that can challenge the liberal order.[2]

Karaganov, who is a critic of the Western liberal world order, which he considers neither liberal nor free, pushes for Russia to defy this order and to become a promoter of sovereignty and traditional values. This report will review the topics covered by Karaganov during his appearance the show "Right To Know!" on Russia's state-run network TV Center.[3]


Sergey Karaganov (Source: Tvc.ru)

Temporary "Neo-Isolationism"

Talking about Russia's role in world affairs and wars unfolding on the Russian borders, Karaganov suggested that Russia should adopt "neo-isolationism." This strategy implies Russia's maximum isolation for the next two to four years, in order to strengthen the country from within. According to Karaganov, Russia should cut down all points of external vulnerability in the next couples of years and deal with the country's internal affairs, focusing on the economic revival and on the creation of a national ideology: "In the current world, which is losing stability before our eyes, any involvement is not an asset, but a liability. Any involvement! Even if it looks as though you are winning somewhere, these victories will be expensive, and they will not last. Therefore, the strategy for the next 2-4 years is to isolate ourselves as much as possible from the outside world and to focus on solving our problems. This is the only way now."

Karaganov added that, in today's world, the concept of "interdependence," which used to be considered a positive development factor, has become a factor of instability.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Concerning the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is unfolding in Russia's orbit, Karaganov stated that he is against sending Russia's peacekeepers to the area. "Those countries themselves left the Soviet Union, they distanced themselves from Russia. Now let them pay..." Karaganov stated.

He then stressed that the fact that the tsars got involved in Central Asia and Transcaucasia, and that the Bolsheviks continued their policy, does not mean that for Russia to continue this policy would be the right path. Karaganov said that Russia will not give up on its allies, i.e. Armenia, and on Azerbaijan, which Karaganov considers a "friendly" country..[4] Yet, he does not see much value for Russia in continuing to support the surrounding regions: "At least considering the current world situation, which is becoming like a boiling cauldron."

However, Karaganov added that if the territorial integrity of Russia's allies within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is being threatened, "others should feel how tough [Russia] can be." The current CSTO members are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, and Tajikistan. Afghanistan and Serbia hold observer status in the CSTO.

Turkey And Iran

Referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's expansionist policy, which is being witnessed also in Nagorno-Karabakh,[5] Karaganov asserted that it will ultimately "crumble," as it has in the past. Karagonov further hinted that neither Turkey nor Iran are Russia's allies but they are not foes either. [6] The best stance for Russia is therefore to stay away from any direct clash and instead let Turkey and Iran, which mutual mistrust and animosity are growing – confront each other. "Let the Turks deal directly with the Iranians. They don't like each other. And may God grant them happiness," Karaganov stated.

China's Influence In Central Asia

Referring to the possibility that China may compete with Russia in Central Asia, Karaganov asserted that Beijing does not represent a challenge. Despite the fact that China has an increased geopolitical interest in the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan, Karaganov stated that he is not perturbed about China's influence in that area: "I am not worried about China's strong influence in the mountains of Tajikistan. Maybe it will even stabilize the situation there. These are absolutely impoverished countries... If China will go there with force, then we will have fewer gastarbeiters [guest workers]. But China will not do that, they are afraid too. Plus, over there [in Tajikistan], there are harsh anti-Chinese sentiments."

NATO-Russia Relations

Talking about NATO, Karaganov stressed that it was Russia's "weakness" and "stupidity" that allowed the alliance to expand eastward more than the limits that had been set, clearly referring to NATO secretary-general Manfred Wörner's guarantees to Russia in 1990 that there would be no such expansion.[7] Karaganov then stated that Russia's NATO policy is wrong and should change. He described NATO as an "alliance of aggressive forces" responsible for "gang raping" Yugoslavia and adopting a hostile policy in Libya. This is why, he stressed, given the fact that NATO is an "aggressive alliance," Russia has every right to firmly restrain it.

Karaganov asserted that Russia does not need psychological warfare to defend itself, but rather a "psychological offense" against the West. According to Karaganov, Russia has been falsely accused of involvement in other countries' affairs, but the truth, he says, is that Russia is only defending itself. Nevertheless, Russia should stop expressing frustration, and stop trying to justify itself, because the West will not let it off. The West feels threatened because by reinforcing its military and political apparatuses and by modernizing its deterrence forces, Russia undermined the foundations of Western dominance. "They cannot forgive us for that. [Yet,] they need to get used to it," Karaganov stated.

U.S. Dominance Is Over

According to Karaganov, the West ultimately hates Russia, and now more than before, since it understands that it has lost momentum. For ten or 15 years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West felt like a winner, believing that the victory of liberal-democratic capitalism was final. However, according to Karaganov, the "end of history," predicted by Francis Fukuyama, has not materialized and the competition is not over, since Russia represents a new model of authoritarian semi-democratic capitalism, which can be more attractive than the liberal system, especially to the former Third World countries.[8]

Karaganov stressed that Russia freed the world from the "Western yoke," as it is giving countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and India the freedom to choose a different model and the freedom to choose their own path. Karaganov stated that Russia is a country of winners that defeated all hegemons, from Napoleon to Hitler, and now it is ending U.S. dominance. However, Karaganov remarked that Russia did not even have to fight the U.S., since the West created its own civilizational crisis. Furthermore, the West is losing the ability to pump the global GDP in its favor, something that it has enjoyed for 500 years. "We are the suppliers of freedom and peace," Karagonov affirmed. He then predicted that until a new balance is built, there will be no rapprochement between the West and Russia.

Russia's Eurasian Identity

Karaganov stressed that Russia's identity is Eurasian, with very strong Asian roots. According to Karaganov, given the West's civilizational crisis, Russia's Asian roots are its strengths. However, Karaganov acknowledged that Russia is also part of the European civilization and he underlined that Russia is the "healthy part" of it.

In an interview with the Russian publication Ogonyok in 2018, Karaganov talked about the inevitability of Russia's "turn towards the East." Karaganov said: "We must move, and move in the only direction possible to us for the time being – Eastwards. But this movement is not forced or involuntary; rather, it is a way home, to our unique Eurasian character... It is time to stop being ashamed of the fact that Russia is as much a successor of Genghis Khan's empire as China, which he also conquered and where his descendants ruled for centuries. This is our historical and genetic code, and it's time we stopped feeling ashamed that historically, we are committed to the authoritarian system of government and not to liberal democracy. If we were not authoritarian and centralized, we would not have existed in our current borders."[9]

A National Ideology To Challenge The Liberal Order

Concerning the development of a new national ideology, Karaganov emphasized that Russia needs a new "offensive ideology," that would restore "Russian courage" inside the country and be projected outside Russia. In order to do this, Russia should first of all stop expressing frustration with the West, and should instead look at the West with "a sufficient level of arrogance," since the U.S. and Europe are going through a "civilization crisis." "We can even look at [the West] with sympathy. We shouldn't be disgruntled or react to any of the stuff they throw at us."

Karagonov stressed that the West is going through a deep moral and psychological crisis. This crisis, which is affecting the whole world and partly even Russia, changed the concept of morality, due to the long absence of the need to fight for meaningful needs and values such as bread, the land, and the Motherland. For these reasons, Western-developed pseudo-ideologies (i.e., "climatism," "democratism," "feminism") and movements supporting these ideologies, such as Black Lives Matter, started to appear.

Karaganov stated that Russia needs to develop an ideology and enforce it in the country. No ideology can come from the people other than a destructive one. Karaganov said that the Communist idea died in the 1970s, and no other idea came to replace it. Now, it is time to develop an ideology than can give a meaning to man's existence and stands against the idea of an atomized society that can be easily influenced by pseudo-ideologies.

In general, the meaning of existence in religions and in civilizations has been: the family, the society, the country, and God, for those who believe. According to Karaganov, if a person is not guided by these postulates, he is not human. These basic principles are actually been fought against by the followers of pseudo-ideologies like climatism, democratism, feminism (not to be confused with women rights, as Karagonov underlined), and this is why the so-called "liberal" civilization is now crumbling: "Although the name [liberal] comes from the word 'freedom,' it is not a free civilization."

Conclusions

Renowned Russian contemporary political thinker Sergey Karaganov, former foreign policy advisor to Russia's Presidential Administration (2001-2013) and dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, is engaged in formulating a new ideology for Russia, which would challenge the West's liberal order. With the fall of the Soviet Union, liberal democracy lost its countervailing ideology, i.e., communism, and lead to the idea that the "end of history" was a fait accompli. However, according to Karaganov, the liberal order is crumbling and the creation of a new ideology would lead to the making of a new world order.

This new anti-liberal ideology that Karaganov would like Russia to have and to implement has been in the making for years. It is possible to state that the process of shaping this new ideology started officially with Putin's famous 2007 Munich speech, in which the Russian President challenged the unipolar world order. Putin said: "What is a unipolar world? However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day it refers to one type of situation, namely one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making... It is a world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within... I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today's world... What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilization."[10]

Concerning Karaganov's support for neo-isolationism and his stances on Nagorno-Karabakh, it is worth noting that a month after Karaganov's October 10, 2020 interview with TV Center, in which he recommended that Russia refrain from deploying a peace-keeping force to Nagorno-Karabakh, a Russia-brokered agreement on the termination of hostilities in the conflict zone was signed, involving the deployment of Russian peacekeepers to the "contact line" between the two opposing sides. Through this agreement Russia gained military presence in the area, prevented a full Turkish victory, and brought Armenia, which plans to expand its ties with the EU, closer to Moscow.[11] However, these gains came with costs and risks.[12]

It is also worth noting that Karaganov supports a temporary neo-isolationism, from two to four years, at least until Russia strengthens itself economically and ideologically. Thus, neo-isolationism does not contrast Karaganov's fundamental view of Russia as the centerpiece of Eurasia.

*Anna Mahjar Barducci is Director of the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project.

APPENDIX – Excerpts Of The Transcript Of Sergey Karaganov's Participation To The Program "Right To Know!" On Russia's State-Run Network TV Center, On October 10, 2020


"Right To Know!" (Source: Tvc.ru)

"The Strategy For The Next 2-4 Years Is To Isolate Ourselves As Much As Possible"

Karaganov: "'Dirty hands of the CIA' are not behind all of the conflicts at our borders. Some arise from within due to the failure of local elites. [Now,] the situation is more complicated: because of the economic downturn that is just beginning to unfold in the world, many states and systems will crumble. My advice for us is simple: neo-isolationism.

"This means cutting down all points of external vulnerability as much as possible and dealing with our own internal affairs: economic revival and creation of an ideology. In the current world, which is losing stability before our eyes, any involvement is not an asset, but a liability. Any involvement! Even if it looks as though you are winning somewhere, these victories will be expensive, and they will not last. Therefore, the strategy for the next 2-4 years is to isolate ourselves as much as possible from the outside world and to focus on solving our problems. This is the only way now.

"Other countries will face the same problems that we are dealing with: they will have to solve small and large problems at home and on the periphery. But in order to take care of our issues, we need a strong decision of our country's leadership and elites."

"We Need A New Offensive Ideology"

Karaganov: "We need a new offensive ideology that would restore the Russian drive inside [the country] and then would be projected on the outside. We have a huge number of ideas on the table, which we are not using.

"One of Russia's goals is to stop expressing dissatisfaction with the West. We must look at them with a sufficient level of arrogance; they are going through a civilization crisis. We can even look at them with sympathy. We shouldn't be disgruntled or react to any of the stuff they throw at us.

"Erdoğan does not really want to be isolated. China, having chosen back in the day to become a fortress-country, did not win, but lost. Now it will build up armaments, strengthen its internal market and then, on this basis, it will begin to expand. And Turkey with its external expansion will surely crumble, as it has happened before. The Americans are already pursuing the policy of neo-isolationism, but they are much more involved in the world. It is more difficult and painful for them to cut their ties than it is for us. We are not as dependent on external relations.

"Interdependence, which yesterday was considered to be a positive development factor, is now becoming a factor of instability. Obama came [to office] with a similar strategy but was prevented from developing it by people from today's Clinton's inner circle. And now they are saying the same thing: being involved in the world is vulnerability and passivity."

The Karabakh Conflict Should Not Lead To Moscow's Deep Involvement; Those Countries Distanced Themselves From Russia, Now Let Them Pay

Karaganov: "Active diplomacy is still an option. But it shouldn't lead to our deep involvement... I would be utterly against sending our peacekeepers there. Those countries themselves left the Soviet Union, they distanced themselves from Russia. Now let them pay... But if we are talking about the territorial integrity of our allies within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), others should feel how tough we can be."

There Are Two Countries That Play A Key Role For Russia: Belarus And Kazakhstan

Karaganov: "If we follow the example of Mr. Lukashenko, we will certainly feel the weight of our decisions. He really held his office for too long, became tiresome. In addition, he is culturally alien to the very urban population that took to the streets. If we don't learn from the Belarusian lessons, then we will get problems without any outside interference. I will not make TV recommendations to our senior management. They have a mind of their own.

"I hope that in the winter there will be a constitutional process [in Belarus], there will be new elections, and [I hope] that Russia, without interfering in the internal affairs of a fraternal country... will help another person to come to power. And one doesn't need to change people there, overall there is quite a strong Pro-Russian elite [in Belarus].

"There are two countries. Maybe a little more than that ... that play an absolutely key role for us: Belarus and Kazakhstan. They are a special case."

"We Will Not Give Up Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) And Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) [In Ukraine]"

Karaganov: "Of course, we will not give up Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) and Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), although our excessive fascination, which we once had with them, may have been a mistake. Officially, we should not prevent their integration into Ukraine. But really, from my point of view, after everything [Ukraine] has done to them, they'll never go back. Fortunately, I am not a statesman, I don't have any responsibility, so [coming to] the question of recognition of the unrecognized republics – my answer is 'Yes.'"

"We Will Not Give Up On Our Allies... [However] I Personally Don't See Much Value In Some Of The Surrounding Regions"

About Mistakes Of The Tsars And Of The Southern Neighbors

Karaganov: "The fact that the tsars got involved in Central Asia, Transcaucasia and that the Bolsheviks continued their policy... I'm saying absolutely unpopular things – these were heavily subsidized regions of Russia. Now they are impoverished. Of course, we will not give up on our allies (Armenia)... But one needs to understand that not everything in our history was absolutely right. I personally don't see much value in some of the surrounding regions. At least considering the current world situation, which is becoming like a 'boiling cauldron.'"

"If Someone Pushes Russia Away, Playing The Card Of The United States' Protection... Well, Make My Day"

Russian journalist Gevorg Mirzayan:"But if we leave, won't the United States and China come to Central Asia?"

TV Center Host Dmitry Kulikov: "Why did we go there and do nothing? Since 2014, I have had the feeling that I work in an intensive care unit. There are shouts from everywhere: 'We are losing them!' We are losing Ukraine, Belarus, and now Transcaucasia... What does it mean – if we leave? For thirty years we have had no control over the local elites. It is only the opinion of couch experts who write what we should control."

Karaganov: "Of course, we're not interested in seeing everything go up in flames there. Although there will be fires... But the neighboring countries have chosen their independence, their own way. Let them pay for it. Armenians in Russia are our citizens. There are more than two million of them, we love them, and we will definitely protect them, and those who will come too [seeking refuge in Russia].

"And if someone pushes Russia away, playing the card of the United States' protection ... Well, make my day. Go on! Let's see what happens. If someone seeks protection from China – let them do it, for God's sake. I am not worried about China's strong influence in the mountains of Tajikistan. Maybe it will even stabilize the situation there. These are absolutely impoverished countries... If China goes there with force, then we will have fewer migrant workers. But China won't do that, they are afraid too. Plus, over there [in Tajikistan], there are harsh anti-Chinese sentiments."

Russia Doesn't Need Psychological Defense, Russia Needs To Conduct Psychological Offense

Karaganov: "[Psychological warfare] is being conducted by everyone. We are also conducting it. I didn't like it very much, and I criticized my highly respected colleagues from the Ministry of Defense, because a round table I participated in was called 'Psychological defense.' No, gentlemen, we need to conduct a psychological offense.

"Stop expressing dissatisfaction. We are falsely accused of being involved everywhere, but we're only defending ourselves. If we only express dissatisfaction and make excuses, no one will forgive us. Simply because, by reinforcing our military and political [apparatuses] and by modernizing [our] deterrence forces, we have undermined the foundations of the Western dominance. They can't forgive us for that. They need to get used to it."

"Our Weakness And Stupidity Have Allowed NATO To Expand Beyond The Limits That Could Be Set"

Karaganov: "Our weakness and stupidity have allowed them to expand beyond the limits that could be set. I believe that our NATO policy is wrong. We must tell them who they really are: after the gang rape of Yugoslavia, after the Libyan aggression, this is an alliance of aggressive forces. We must say: guys, you are members of an aggressive alliance, which we have every right to firmly restrain."

"Germany Is In The Process Of Finding Its New Domestic Face"

Karaganov: "Germany is in the process of finding its new domestic face. But God forbid it should embark on the path of a tough foreign policy. Then we will have to remind [it] that Russian nobility and forgiveness are not unconditional..."

"We Have Always Been Disliked, First Of All, Because We Are Big And Strong"

Karaganov: "We have always been disliked, first of all, because we are big and strong. Now this has been magnified many times by the fact that we have undermined the foundations of their dominance. A powerful sense of resentment. For 10-15 years in a row, the West has felt like a winner. And then, all of a sudden, everything fell down. I even understand them to some extent. But why should we seek their love? Let's love each other."

Russia Has No Partner In The EU

Karaganov: "Many things have happened between us. But the main thing is that the European Union is now incapacitated. We have no one to negotiate with. They can impose some kind of sanctions ... But that's it. [Let's say] that after 4 years, it will be possible to negotiate on something with them. Doing it right now makes no sense. There is no partner."

Russia Is Eurasian And Is The Healthy Part Of The European Civilization

Karaganov: "Our neighbors are in a civilization crisis. We are a peculiar and different part of that civilization. We are Eurasian [civilization], we have very strong Asian roots. And this may be our strength right now. But, to a large extent, we are also part of the European civilization. It has turned out that we are the healthy part of it, while they are not ... They will not forgive us for this. Until a new balance is built, there will be no rapprochement. Diplomats must talk. Traders [must] trade if it's profitable. But there should be an understanding that excessive technological dependence on anyone becomes a vulnerability."

"The Situation With Navalny May Become Clear"

Karaganov: "They do not want to impose massive sanctions, realizing that it is very dangerous for the internal unity of the European Union. Let's wait a bit longer. The situation with Navalny may become clear. It's too murky [now]. I cannot give an unambiguous assessment of what really happened there. I just do not know. In any case, it will also be possible to impose [our] sanctions... against some general. I feel sorry for them... There are good generals in France..."

We Are Closer To War Now Than At Any Other Time In History

Karaganov: "Without nuclear weapons, [a war] would have broken out long ago. We are closer to war now than at any other time in history. The chance of war is very high. There are five or six places where it can break out. Even some minor crisis [can cause it]. If Turkey interferes in Transcaucasia, it can become the source of a gigantic war. But, unfortunately, I don't see any way to reach an agreement yet. There is a struggle – not for new rules, but for footholds, which we will eventually use to fight. If the five meet, that's good [the OSCE Minsk Group (France, US, Russia), Armenia and Azerbaijan]. At least it will relieve the tension a little.

"The whole system is in motion. Plus, a huge economic crisis has hit, which will bring about the fall of governments and the change of political systems. In the most 'democratic' ones, authoritarian elements will grow stronger. Authoritarian governments will be replaced by even more authoritarian ones... We are in a stormy situation. One might say, [we are in] a military situation, only that there is no war."

"We Freed The World From The Western Yoke"

Karaganov: "First, we freed the world from the Western yoke – from the military superiority that it had for 500 years, on which its political, economic and cultural power was built. True, back then we were part of the West, so this defeat is to some extent ours... Once again, we are a nation of liberators: we are now giving Malaysia, Indonesia, and India the freedom to choose their path... We are a nation of winners. We defeated all the hegemons. Through a great effort [we defeated] the Chingizids..."

"We Defeated Karl XII, Napoleon, Hitler, And Now We Are Ending The U.S. Dominance"

Karaganov: "...We defeated Karl XII [of Sweden], then Napoleon, then Hitler. And now, gentlemen, we are ending the U.S. dominance. We did not fight against them, we defended ourselves. They're in a crisis. [The crisis] started by itself because the West is losing the ability to pump the global GDP in its favor, something that it has enjoyed for 500 years. We are the suppliers of freedom and peace. I can sketch out five more similar ideas for you..."

" Let The Turks Deal Directly With The Iranians"

Karaganov: "Let the Turks deal directly with the Iranians. They don't like each other. And may God grant them happiness..."

"Azerbaijan Is Our Neighbor And A Friendly Power"

What if Turkey tries something?

Karaganov: "God forbid. Azerbaijan is our neighbor and a friendly power..."

"Due To The Long Absence Of The Need To Fight For Bread, For Land, For The Motherland, Morality Began To Change"

Karaganov: "We must tell the truth, avoid lies ourselves, and sometimes we even say too much. It must be remembered that lies are the result of their deep resentment due to the civilization crisis. Throughout the world and a little in our country, due to the long absence of the need to fight for bread, for land, for the Motherland, morality began to change. Pseudo-ideologies have appeared – climatism, democratism, feminism (not to be confused with women's rights), BLM and further down the list ... This is a deep moral and psychological crisis of a significant part of humanity. One needs to shut oneself off from it. And put forward a viable ideology so that we don't fall under it [the crisis]."

Russia Needs To Develop And Spread A "National Ideology"

Karaganov: "This is our work, which we do not do: developing a national ideology and spreading it. For a long time, we lied to ourselves [by saying] that it would come from the people. No ideology, other than a destructive one, has ever come from the masses. I have great complaints about this towards myself, towards you and towards the country's leadership. The Communist idea died in the 1970s, and no other idea has come to replace it. Lack of faith, pessimism... And we crumbled.

"It is necessary to offer and impose absolutely obvious things of super-humane [nature]. What is the meaning of the man's existence? Can he only serve himself? Then we get an atomized society. He can [also] be carried away by pseudo-ideologies. But in general, the meaning of the man's existence, in all religions and civilizations – except for those that are falling or that have fallen – is to serve the family, the society, the country, the World and God, if he believes in Him. And if a person is not guided by these postulates, he is not a human being. He should not be sent to prison, but he does not deserve respect and self-respect. These simple things exist in all religions and in all civilizations. Except for the [civilization] that is crumbling now; someone calls it the liberal one. Although the name comes from the word 'freedom', it is not a free civilization."

 

[1] Sergey Karaganov is former foreign policy advisor to Russia's Presidential Administration (2001-2013) and the dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs at the National Research University Higher School of Economics.

[3] Karaganov.ru/news/551; Tvc.ru/channel/brand/id/1756/show/episodes/episode_id/67974

[6] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No.1471, Russia Has No Allies, September 3, 2019.

[8] Eng.globalaffairs.ru/articles/a-new-epoch-of-confrontation, accessed November 30, 2020.

[10] En.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/24034, February 10, 2007

[12] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 242, What Next For Turkey And Russia In Nagorno-Karabakh?, November 23, 2020.

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