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The agreement was reached to stop the Azerbaijan’s Anti-TerrorOperation in Karabakh: quo vadis?

nagorno karabakh nagorno karabakh

Image source: Azerbaijan Ministry of Defence

On September 19, 2023, the enduring and deeply entrenched issue of Karabakh, which has been a source of contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union, once more gained prominence due to the recent anti-terror measures in the area. Thus, the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Azerbaijan has issued a statement elucidating the viewpoint, objectives, and continued endeavors concerning the anti-terror operation of Azerbaijan against the legitimate military targets of Armenia in the region. This anti-terror operation in the Karabakh region has thrust this issue back into the international spotlight, raising questions about the road ahead and the challenges that lie forward in achieving a stable resolution.

Therefore, to grasp the essence of Azerbaijan’s anti-terror operation, examining the events and interactions between the conflicting parties following the Second Karabakh War of 2020 is essential. The Second Karabakh War, known as “the Patriotic War,” resulted in Azerbaijan regaining control of territories that had been occupied by Armenia since the early 1990s. Azerbaijan’s triumph was attributed to a combination of factors, including political determination, military superiority, and diplomatic support from Türkiye, as well as Armenian underestimation of Azerbaijan’s military buildup, the lingering optimism in Armenia stemming from the First Karabakh War, Armenia’s inadequate defense infrastructure developed during three decades of occupation, and, notably, Armenia’s diplomatic shortcomings in engaging major powers, especially Russia, in the conflict.

The War marked a significant shift in the regional power dynamic, but it was only the beginning of a long and challenging process towards peace. Thus, in the wake of the Second Karabakh War, the region has grappled with the complex task of finding a path to lasting peace.

Since the end of the War, despite various ups and downs, as well as political and military confrontations, the parties to the conflict engaged in a peace negotiation. President Ilham Aliyev constantly reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s determination for achieving the long-awaited peace with Armenia. Consequently, Azerbaijan has demonstrated a clear and logical stance on peace negotiations process, which is in line with the norms and principles of international law and could serve as a sole basis for signing peace treaty. The negotiations for signing a peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia have been moving quite slowly due to irrelevant demands from the Armenian side, including about the so-called rights and securities of the Armenian population in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. The issue of reintegration of Armenian residents living in Karabakh has been a main sticking point during the negotiation process. The Armenian community in Karabakh has been hesitant to engage in direct negotiations in Baku, instead preferring meetings mediated by international mediators, which has added another layer of intricacy to an already complex negotiation process. However, the stance of Azerbaijan is clear that the Karabakh issue is no longer on the international agenda since Armenia recognized Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the region.

In this regard, Hikmet Hajiyev, the Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of Azerbaijan, emphasized that protecting the individual rights and safety of Armenian residents living in Karabakh is exclusively an internal matter for Azerbaijan. Baku has no intention of engaging in discussions concerning its sovereignty with any external parties, including Armenia. As a subsequent action, the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan extended an invitation to representatives of the Armenian community in Karabakh on March 13, 2023, for a second meeting. This meeting aims to address ongoing communication efforts regarding reintegration and the execution of infrastructure projects in Karabakh.

However, Karabakh Armenians declined the invitation to meet in Baku and instead expressed their preference for a meeting in Karabakh under the mediation of Russian peacekeepers. On March 27, 2023, Baku extended another invitation to the Armenians in Karabakh to discuss the reintegration and implementation of infrastructure projects in Karabakh. Nevertheless, the Armenian side once more rejected the prospect of direct negotiations with Azerbaijan in Baku, insisting on a negotiation format that is internationally recognized when engaging with Baku.

In addition to refusing to engage in talks with Baku, they persist in maintaining unlawful armed groups from Armenia within the internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan. In this regard, Azerbaijan has repeatedly stated that the continuation of the existence of units of the armed forces of Armenia in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, contrary to the provisions of the Trilateral Statement dated November 10, 2020, is a serious threat to regional peace and security. The only way to achieve peace and stability in the region is unconditional and complete withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and the dissolution of the puppet regime.

However, reports of systematic shelling of Azerbaijani positions, continued landmines in Azerbaijani territories, and the fortification of battle positions by Armenia’s armed forces have heightened tensions. Instances of reconnaissance-subversion acts, such as planting mines in previously cleared areas by Armenians, pose serious threats to civilians and military personnel alike.

Thus, in response to these concerns, Azerbaijan initiated a local anti-terror operation in the Karabakh region on September 19, 2023. According to the statement of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the objectives of the anti-terror operation include ensuring the provisions of the Trilateral Statement, signed on November 10, 2020, “suppress large-scale provocations in the Karabakh economic region, to disarm and secure the withdrawal of formations of Armenia’s armed forces from our territories, neutralize their military infrastructure, provide the safety of the civilian population returned to the territories liberated from occupation, the civilians involved in construction and restoration work and our military personnel, and ultimately restore the constitutional order of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”

Ministry of Defense has also emphasized that “Azerbaijan Army Units did not target the civilian population and civil infrastructure facilities, only legitimate military targets were destroyed by using high-precision weapons…  The protection and security of administrative, social, educational, medical, religious, and other facilities will be organized in line with the laws of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the norms of international humanitarian law. Women, children, elderly people, as well as people with disabilities and the sick will be rendered necessary medical aid and other assistance. They will be provided with drinking water and food.”

In addition, official Baku declared that the Azerbaijan side is ready for a meeting in Yevlakh with the representatives of the Armenian residents living in Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. However, the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan stated that in order to stop anti-terror operations, “the illegal Armenian military formations must raise the white flag, all the weapons must be handed over, and the illegal regime must be dissolved.”

In light of these statements by official Baku, it is imperative to mention that Azerbaijan maintains a balanced perspective and a commitment to constructive dialogue. The region’s residents deserve nothing less than a peaceful and prosperous future. Hence, reintegration of Armenians living in certain parts of the Karabakh region into the Azerbaijani society is also a high agenda of Baku. President Aliyev repeatedly said that the Armenian minority living in Karabakh being Azerbaijani citizens could participate in construction and restoration projects of the region and that Baku was ready to create conditions for them in the places and villages where they would live. But, in order to be integrated into the Azerbaijani society, the Armenian minority in the Karabakh region must first give up separatist aspirations, given Azerbaijan’s obvious goodwill reflected in post-war developments. The path to peace may be fraught with obstacles, but with genuine commitment and cooperation on post-conflict regional agenda, a prosperous future for the region lies within the recognition of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

Therefore, with the aim of compelling separatist factions to abandon their political aspirations and facilitate the attainment of a stable and prosperous future, comprehensive anti-terror measures persisted on the date of September 20, 2023. Meanwhile, at the onset of the same day, the Azerbaijani authorities reiterated their statement to the Armenian armed forces contingents stationed within the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, urging them to disarm and capitulate. It was explicitly conveyed that the suspension of anti-terror measures would exclusively follow compliance with this condition. In light of the contemporary developments, an accord has been achieved to halt local anti-terror measures in the Karabakh region. Thus, the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Azerbaijan stated that considering the appeal by the representatives of the Armenian residents living in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, conveyed by the Russian peacekeeping contingent, an agreement has been reached as of 13:00, 20 September 2023, to stop the antiterror measures under the following terms:

–  The formations of Armenia’s armed forces stationed in the Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan and illegal armed groups lay down their arms, withdraw from their battle positions and military outposts and are subjected to complete disarmament.

– Simultaneously, all the ammunition and heavy military equipment is handed over.

–  Conducting the abovementioned process in coordination with the Russian peacekeeping contingent is ensured.

photo: © UNICEF/Vincent Tremeau

Amidst the complexity of traditional and non-traditional security threats resulting from the Russia-Ukraine war, the dynamics of immigrant flows in various European countries have become a crucial issue that needs further examination. The ultimate implication of the military power struggle between these two countries has led to a high intensity of civilian migration as a means of self-preservation. According to UNHCR data (2023), approximately 8,255,288 Ukrainian refugees are dispersed in various European countries, including Poland. Historically, Poland has been one of the European countries reluctant to accept refugee groups.

Poland’s resistance to the influx of refugees can be identified since 2015 as a consequence of the Syrian and Libyan Civil Wars. In the name of civilian security and regional stability, the Polish government firmly rejects these refugees as a precautionary measure. Poland’s constructed policy scheme demonstrates that domestic security stability is a crucial issue that needs to be accommodated first rather than prioritising humanitarian principles. Based on this track record, Poland can refuse the entry of Ukrainian refugees. However, this possibility is not the dominant strategy.

Consciously resisting the high intensity of Ukrainian refugee inflow may disrupt Poland’s image since Poland has frequently imposed blockades on refugee groups in recent years. For example, the consequences of Poland’s blockade of refugee entry in 2015 resulted in the European Union Court of Justice prosecuting Poland for its non-compliance with legal regulations. As a result, there is a possibility of implementing severe sanctions, both formally and socially, by the European Union and even globally against Poland. If similar policies are implemented, the negative impression that has grown and developed against Poland since 2015 will accumulate and affect Poland’s image disruption in the constellation of international relations. Moreover, the European Union has formally applied the Temporary Protection Policy Directive for Ukrainian refugees until March 2024. Consequently, European Union member states are responsible for accepting and treating Ukrainian refugees as their civilians.

Conceptually, Poland’s option to accept Ukrainian refugee groups results from the calculation of loss aversion—an actor’s tendency to minimise losses rather than focus on gains. In other words, although blocking the entry of Ukrainian refugee groups may be an anticipatory approach to the double burden that the Polish government needs to bear, the potential losses from such a blockade would be more painful—possible social and legal formal sanctions by the European Union and even globally. Therefore, the Polish government should choose the latter option among the options of blockade or open acceptance of Ukrainian refugees. However, accepting refugees without anticipating the influx may lead to various negative implications, especially regarding domestic security stability. Hence, the Polish government needs to formulate different strategic policies so that the influx of Ukrainian refugees becomes an opportunity to enhance Poland’s utility.

Poland has at least 1.3 million Ukrainian refugees. In order to accommodate the high intensity of the refugee population, various policies can be implemented. Through the narrative framework of enhancing image and legitimacy, the Polish government can persuade multiple multinational companies to provide financial support to meet the needs of Ukrainian refugees through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. Amid scepticism from various parties that view CSR programs as mere abstract rhetoric, the involvement of multinational companies in Poland becomes an opportunity to improve their reputation and gain public trust. This collaboration scheme has positive significance for the Polish government, global companies, and Ukrainian refugees. Contextually, the burden on the Polish government to accommodate Ukrainian refugees becomes lighter due to financial penetration from multinational companies. At the same time, CSR funding for refugees becomes a strategic instrument to frame a positive image of international companies. Thus, the accessibility of refugee rights can be fulfilled through various aids—avoiding destitution.

Not only limited to providing access to facilities and infrastructure, the Polish government and various companies also need to provide a labour ecosystem for refugees. Conceptually, the narrative attribution of job opportunities for Ukrainian refugees and an intensified persuasive approach can shape the preferences of productive-aged refugees to work. Therefore, the empowerment of Ukrainian refugee groups is crucial.

With such policies, the Polish government can minimise the level of dependency of Ukrainian refugee groups on state aid. It cannot be denied that the Polish government has provided job opportunities to Ukrainian refugees. However, these refugees dominate low-skilled labour jobs. Accumulatively, as much as 56% of Ukrainian refugees are women with higher education backgrounds. This data indicates that the opportunity to amplify the quality of the workforce in Poland is significant, leading to an increase in effectiveness and efficiency in the national economic development scheme. Therefore, empowerment in the form of skill training and cultural adaptation becomes a crucial agenda that needs to be actualised, considering the presence of cultural relativism. Moreover, through relevant institutions, the Polish government needs to map the employment situation of Ukrainian refugees in their home country as a benchmark for the government to provide contextually relevant job opportunities.

Instead of becoming a double burden that could shake domestic stability, offering strategic policies based on humanitarian principles is a momentum for the Polish government to enhance its utility at the international level. These strategic policies form the basis of framing a positive image of Poland regarding the government’s altruism in responding to the implications of the Russia-Ukraine war. Simultaneously, framing such a positive image will discount the negative image of Poland that has grown and developed in recent years due to its resistance to refugee groups from the Middle East. Furthermore, the decision to accept Ukrainian refugees with various strategic policies manifests the practice of tit-for-tat.

Image source: azernews

Illegal elections organized by separatist Armenians on September 9, 2023 in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region, where Russian peacekeeping troops are temporarily stationed, have added a new level of tension in the region. The fact that these sham elections took place at a time when Azerbaijan and the international community were putting forward demands and proposals for the reintegration of Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijan caused a serious reaction. The elections were held by the separatists in an effort to win support from outside, but they instead increased international support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.

The Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a call, requesting that these false elections be condemned. States including the United States, UK, Ukraine , Uzbekistan, Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Hungary, as well as international organizations such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the European Union (EU), the Organization of Turkic States (OST), responded to this request by not recognizing the elections and supporting the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The Turkish Foreign Minister stated that “these sham elections are a gross violation of international law, including UN Security Council resolutions and OSCE principles.” According to the foreign ministry of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Uzbekistan strongly supports Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,  condemns any interference in its internal affairs, and does not recognize the so-called presidential elections in Karabakh. While commenting on the so-called “presidential elections,” Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, recalled Security Council resolutions affirming Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the call for its complete respect.

Meanwhile, State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller stated at a press conference that the US does not recognize Karabakh as “an independent and sovereign state,” and hence does not accept the results of the so-called presidential election. “So-called “presidential elections” in Khankendi have no legal ground,” Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejcinovic Burić said on social media platform 9, 2023.

While everyone was waiting for the reaction of Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, he said that there was nothing to congratulate.

Following these sham elections, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin declared that Nikol Pashinyan closed the issue by acknowledging Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and stating that the integration of Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijan should go smoothly. This statement from the leader of a state, that is a strategic ally of Armenia, has peacekeepers in Karabakh, and has dominated the South Caucasus for the previous 200 years on the principle of divide and rule, was critical. The fact that Russia officially proposed to transfer Armenia Kalbajar and Lachin districts, as well as the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, to Armenia while Karabakh was under occupation signified that the situation was now acknowledged even by Russia.

The international community’s reaction to sham elections reflected both the requirement of international law and the demand of the diplomatic negotiations that have been ongoing for the past three years. Azerbaijan’s demands in this direction have been acknowledged internationally throughout the continuing diplomatic negotiations. One of the primary objectives of the three-year-long negotiations has been the elimination of the illegal structure that still exists in Karabakh, as well as the Karabakh Armenians’ preference for the integration process with Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijani side had offered meeting aimed at integrating Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijan and resolving their economic and social problems. In fact, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev appointed an Azerbaijani MP born in Karabakh as a representative to meet with Karabakh Armenians in February 2023. The first meeting took place on March 1, 2023, in the town of Khojaly, with the assistance of Russian peacekeepers. Later, Azerbaijan invited them to Baku, but they declined, expecting that Russia would “save” them.

In the following months, the need for the integration of Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijan was strongly supported at meetings between the two countries’ foreign ministers in Arlington in May and Moscow in July as well as at meetings between the leaders in Brussels in June. Indeed, the parties agreed to meet at Yevlakh during the Moscow meeting, but the Armenians of Karabakh gave up at the last minute. It is also important to remember that there are Armenians in Karabakh who desire to have dialogue with Azerbaijan. But they were taken into custody. Ruben Vardanyan, a radical separatist who was brought to Karabakh from Russia, in one of the video interviews he gave suggested that individuals who engage in dialogue with Azerbaijan without the “government’s” consent should be shot. Following the illegal elections, several Armenian experts predict that there would be internal conflict in the region due to disagreements between separatists.

As a result, by staging sham elections, the separatist Armenians in Karabakh actually achieved the opposite goal, and support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity grew on a global scale. In fact, the process leading to the signing of a final peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia can be accelerated by the integration of Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijan. International actors who want the region to return to true peace and normalcy must now actively help the reintegration process.

However, the efforts to achieve peace and normalcy in the region are being blocked by Armenia’s and Karabakh’s separatists’ marginal demands, which are rejected by both Azerbaijan and the international community. The reality of the 30-year occupation has changed since 2020, but unfortunately neither Armenia nor the separatists in Karabakh want to acknowledge this.


Authors: David Akopyan, Hrair Balian

The conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh and Syria have distinct root causes and regional contexts. However, they share the common thread of authoritarian leaders using brutal force to subjugate opposing civilians through a siege strategy aimed at starvation. The UN response in Syria could serve as model to end the siege in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Over the past nine months, the people in Nagorno-Karabakh, as was the case for years in besieged parts of Syria, have endured a siege blocking essential provisions such as medicine, food, and various other necessities required for daily life. A notable difference between the conflicts in Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh is the international community’s response and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) role.

In the case of Syria, the UNSC has been proactive in addressing the humanitarian crisis and has made significant efforts to facilitate aid to those in need, including UNSC resolutions and other initiatives aimed at providing humanitarian assistance to the affected population. Additionally, Western governments have imposed sanctions on President Assad and other Syrians.

In the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the UNSC has held two non-conclusive sessions in recent months, with a substantially less engaged stance. Furthermore, President Aliyev of Azerbaijan, unlike Assad, has managed to maintain cordial political and economic relations with the United States and the European Union, presenting himself as a supplier of hydrocarbons to Europe. His relations with Western leaders, as well as his participation in international events like Davos and Munich security conferences, have allowed Aliyev to position his regime more favorably than the one in Damascus, despite similar sieges imposed on civilians.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict escalated in the early 1990s with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Armenians in the enclave declaring independence to safeguard their right to life. A ceasefire was maintained from 1994 through September 2020, when Azerbaijan, with support from Turkey and Israel, initiated a war and ultimately defeated the Armenian forces. In November, Russia brokered a trilateral agreement, enabling Azerbaijan to reclaim part of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Importantly, the agreement ensured that the remaining part of Nagorno-Karabakh maintained a lifeline with Armenia through the 5 km Lachin Corridor, with Russian peacekeepers to oversee unimpeded access.

However, the dynamics in the region shifted following the war in Ukraine, which distracted Russia from the Caucasus. Azerbaijan seized the opportunity in December to address the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict more forcefully, ignoring the Russian peacekeepers and imposing a blockade on the Lachin Corridor. The aim is to pressure the Armenian population to submit to Azerbaijani rule either by starvation or an eventual military push, resulting in the ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the Syrian civil war, a substantial portion of the country came under opposition control early in the uprising. In response, the government imposed sieges on rebel-controlled areas, aiming to compel the populations there into submission without access to essential supplies. The strategy resulted in immense suffering for millions of civilians.

To alleviate the humanitarian crisis, the UNSC adopted resolution 2139 (2014) that approved cross-border aid delivery from Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan through border crossings not controlled by the Syrian government. Subsequent resolutions extended the practice. The Syrian government vehemently opposed these resolutions, but its staunch ally, Russia supported them until July 2023. These resolutions, urged by the global humanitarian aid community, were crucial in providing life-saving aid to millions of Syrians who were facing starvation and deprivation due to the conflict and siege.

The primary goal of the UNSC arrangement for Syria was to ensure that aid reached families in need in the safest, most direct, and efficient manner, free from political considerations or agendas. Throughout this effort, UN humanitarian agencies appealed to UNSC members to authorize cross-border assistance, recognizing the urgency of the humanitarian needs. Simultaneously, attempts were made to establish access to northwest Syria from government-controlled areas (cross-line). The aim was to expand the range of channels for humanitarian assistance and to optimize humanitarian access to reach as many affected populations as possible. This dual approach provided essential aid to those in need while navigating complex political and logistical challenges.

The government in Damascus advocated for aid to be funneled through its own cross-line channels, including the Syrian Red Crescent. The population in besieged enclaves took an unequivocal stance that they would, under no circumstances, accept aid from or through the Damascus regime. Their lack of trust and profound skepticism in the Assad government’s intentions were so entrenched that they preferred to face hunger rather than receive assistance from the Assad regime.

Following long negotiations, a cross-line delivery system for humanitarian aid was established as a complement to the main cross-border operations. Importantly, this new approach entrusted UN agencies with the complete management of the aid supply chain, while the Syrian government was denied any role in inspecting the crossings. This arrangement was designed to address the humanitarian needs of the affected population while upholding their preferences and concerns regarding aid distribution. It also aimed to maintain the impartiality and neutrality of humanitarian assistance in the complex and sensitive context of the Syrian conflict.

Much like the circumstances witnessed in Syria’s opposition-controlled territories, a parallel situation has arisen in Nagorno-Karabakh. Over the past nine months, Azerbaijan has blockaded the Lachin Corridor, which crosses the internationally recognized border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and which served as the primary supply route to Nagorno-Karabakh.

In lieu of lifting the blockade of the Lachin Corridor, Azerbaijan has proposed to deliver humanitarian assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh via a road from the Azerbaijani city of Agdam, east of Nagorno-Karabakh. However, after 33 years of violent conflict with Azerbaijan, the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh are convinced, not without reason, that the authorities of Azerbaijan will manipulate the humanitarian deliveries from Agdam to pressure them into submission.

On 9 September, reports heralded a deal to lift the Lachin Corridor blockade in exchange for the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities allowing aid to come in from Agdam. However, the optimistic reports proved premature, highlighting the need for urgent action. Eventually on the 13th, a single truck with aid from the Russian Red Cross made it to Nagorno-Karabakh, using the Agdam road. Predictably, the Lachin Corridor remained blocked. As EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell said, “the Lachin Corridor must be reopened now. Other roads, such as Agdam, can be opened as part of the solution, but not an alternative.”

For a more sustainable solution, the UNSC could be seized to propose a solution using both the Lachin and Agdam routes for humanitarian deliveries, both under UN monitoring. Mirroring the cross-border mechanisms for Syria, the Lachin Corridor could be reopened to serve as the primary route for the unrestricted delivery of goods to Nagorno-Karabakh in accordance with the International Court of Justice rulings of February and July 2023. At the same time, a portion of international aid could be directed through the Agdam route, but exclusively under the control of the UN, mirroring the cross-line humanitarian aid delivery through Damascus in the Syrian case.

Azerbaijan must not be allowed to exploit the Agdam option and perpetuate the current closure of the Lachin Corridor. If the concern is aid inspections, Azerbaijan could do so through remote mechanisms using modern electronic technology to ensure that the Lachin Corridor is not exploited for non-humanitarian purposes.

For the UNSC, this cross-border/cross-line proposal is not entirely novel or unfamiliar. In the nine years since the adoption of the Syria resolution, the language and purpose of such resolutions have become common knowledge among UNSC members.

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