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Eastern Europe

South Caucasus in Flux and Russia’s Increased Influence in the Region

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As the US and EU experience major internal problems and China, Russia, Turkey and Iran become more cooperative on crucial Eurasian affairs, geopolitical reshuffle would result in a larger Russian economic and military influence in the South Caucasus region.

The geopolitical situation in and around the South Caucasus is in flux. This fits well into the global disorder we have been seeing over the past several years across the Eurasian landmass where the US has reversed its decades-long policy of specific alliances which in turn gave rise to various partnerships, namely between Russia and Turkey, Russia and China, Russia and Iran. Since the South Caucasus borders on most of this Eurasian powers, the changing geopolitical landscape has a direct influence on internal as well as foreign policy development of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Perhaps the most serious problem for the three countries is the nascent rapprochement between the West and Russia. Political statements as well as various practical moves show that there is a serious discussion going on in the EU on reinstating at least some parts of erstwhile relations with Moscow. Though Armenia and Azerbaijan are not openly seeking western integration, Yerevan and and Baku have always been interested in balancing Russian influence with more of the EU in the region. In the long run, Europe’s changed rhetoric towards Moscow would likely mean increased Russian influence in the South Caucasus and diminution of the three countries’ ability to navigate Russia’s actions.

This geopolitical change has already been visible in the rhetoric and practical steps of the South Caucasian countries. In Georgia, the government, very sensitive to reverberations among its western allies, has already initiated a political novelty. The first ever high level meeting between Georgian and Russian officials since Russian invasion in 2008 took place several weeks ago.

While many castigated the ruling party for re-establishing a high-level contact with the Russians, a larger geopolitical perspective has been missed: the need to secure its positions in an increasingly destabilized region drove Tbilisi to act at this specific moment. In Armenia and Azerbaijan there is a growing consensus among the political elites that EU/NATO expansion to the South Caucasus is effectively stalled and to hedge their positions it would rather be expedient to build more amicable relations with Moscow.

This trend in the South Caucasus also fits into a wider Eurasian context where various states now seek closer cooperation with Moscow or at least have lowered their anti-Russian sentiment. For example, in Ukraine the Ukrainian President’s made significant efforts to reach even partial progress in eastern Ukraine agreeing to holding elections in the eastern Ukraine. In Moldova western powers have cooperated with Moscow on removing the corrupt government of Vladimir Plahotniuc. In Central Asia, Uzbekistan is likely to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) thus reversing the odds of the integration project. Moreover, in Belarus Moscow, it seems, has reached a considerable progress over financial and juridical merger with Minsk by 2022. Thus there is a clear trend of Europe trying to stabilize its strained relations with Russia.

There are large destabilizers too. The war in Syria too would serve as a primary example as it can potentially affect the region’s three countries. Potential spread of terrorist fighters from Syrian prisons to the wider Eurasia is especially troubling for Georgia as many from its region, Pankisi Gorge, travelled to Syria-Iraq throughout the Syrian conflict. Similar fears exist in Azerbaijan, while in Armenia an influx of refugees of Armenian descent is expected.

Thus a long-term perspective for the South Caucasus is not positive. The region would be surrounded by geopolitically expansive Iran, Turkey and Russia. Moreover, Western stance would be diminished. Surely, Georgia would continue its pro-western path and economic, cultural and military cooperation with Europe and the US will increase, though the country will stay short of NATO/EU membership. In fact, a look at the map of the South Caucasus shows that it would be difficult for the West to get Georgia into NATO/EU in the current geopolitical context. Tbilisi is almost surrounded by Russian troops. Military bases in Abkhazia, Tskhinvali region and in Gyumri, Armenia, would serve as a strong disincentive for the West. Making a move in a militarily highly-congested region would require a much stronger and stable leadership in the West, similar to what we saw in the post-World War II period when US troops were facing the Soviet in various parts of the world, risking global warfare. From the Russian perspective militarization of the South Caucasus thus creates an insecure region that precludes an already hesitant West from active political and military involvement.

Considering major geopolitical trends in Russia-Turkey, Russia-West relations, it is likely that Azerbaijan will drift closer to Moscow. This might materialize into Baku actively seeking CSTO or EEU membership, which will constitute a major shift in the regional geopolitics as the country serves as a gateway to East-West economic corridor which connects the Caspian and Black Seas. Georgia is important strategically, but without Azerbaijan, western influence in the region would be diminished. Armenia as well will increase its strategic partnership with Russia both in military, security and economic spheres. Differences which surfaced between Yerevan and Moscow after the Velvet Revolution would mostly be minimized.

Thus in the coming years we are likely to see the South Caucasus with a much larger Russian influence and a decreased western role in economic, military and security issues.

Author’s note: first published in caucasuswatch.de

Emil Avdaliani specializes on former Soviet space and wider Eurasia with particular focus on Russia's internal and foreign policy, relations with Iran, China, the EU and the US. He teaches history and international relations at Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University (Georgia).

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Eastern Europe

Ukraine war: A new multipolar world is emerging

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Ukrainian defenders on the Leopard-2 tank at sunset. By Serhii Mykhalchuk image source: war.ukraine.ua

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 is undoubtedly one of the biggest geopolitical conflicts of the 21st century to date. What would be a regional issue in our analysis, turned into a global event with economic and geopolitical impacts that will last for decades to come. The uncritical analysis of the subject is the main obstacle to a real geopolitical comprehension of the ongoing process. Our goal is to make some considerations to fill these gaps.

               Russian demands about its geopolitical security have continuously been disregarded by either Washington or Brussels over the past three decades. On the contrary. Europeans and North Americans did their best to expand the European Union and NATO to Eastern Europe despite Moscow consistently expressing its dissatisfaction with such an advance.

               In fact, Russia has always represented a *geopolitical concern* to Washington due to its military and technological capacity inherited from the USSR. The “ideal” Russia for the West only occurred under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999) when the country made the transition to capitalism in a sudden and dramatic process, going through one of its most severe economic and social crises.

               Kyiv’s move towards the European Union and NATO accelerated Moscow’s determination to firmly secure, or at least make a concerted attempt to do so, the still unconcluded chapter after the end of the USSR: its geopolitical security, as well as Washington’s use of Ukraine as a future NATO military base posing a significant concern for Russia. The second invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 marked this second phase in our conception.

               Western perspective has a divergent viewpoint. Maintaining NATO created in the Cold War to face the threat of no longer existing in the post-Cold War scenario makes no sense. However, it makes sense when we think of the billions of dollars in sales of war material produced largely by the US to its European partners and the multi-million commissions involved for the middlemen. It is fundamental to keep Europe under Washington’s political and military domain. On the economic side, the expansion of the European Union over Eastern Europe followed the same logic: “By increasing the number of member states, the aim is to address the challenges faced by a problematic economic union that has been subject to internal questioning, culminating in the apex of Brexit in 2020

               Unlike the 2014 Crimean campaign when the Russian victory came relatively smoothly and quickly, the 2022 invasion may initially be considered, to say the least, disastrous. Moscow’s numerous errors in assessing the short- and long-term consequences of its subjugation strategy in Ukraine drew attention. The images of countless kilometers of trucks and military equipment along roads, the initial advance towards Kyiv, and various other parts of the country, followed by a withdrawal months later, exposed the flawed military calculations and the unforeseen consequences that ensued. This was despite Russia’s unquestionable military supremacy. The calculations were not well executed, leading to significant unforeseen consequences, despite Russia’s undisputed military dominance

               In the Western diplomatic area, the situation completely got out of Moscow’s control when the US had the perception that it could take advantage of the moment to weaken Vladimir Putin’s leadership, promote an “upgrade” in the criticized existence of NATO and facilitate a possible “regime change” through economic strangulation. But Washington and its allies also made some misjudgments. They underestimated the neutral stance of China and several other countries such as India and Brazil, in addition to several countries on the African continent, for example. And the worst: they also provided the beginning of the acceleration of the de-dollarization of the world economy with the economic sanctions against the Russians, uniting the objectives of several countries that already questioned the supremacy of the dollar as the dominant commercial transaction currency. A supremacy’s downfall could certainly take decades, but that seems to be already underway.

               We reiterate that the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict could never gain the international proportions that were generated from the action of the Washington-Brussels Axis. Their actions have directly impacted Europe, which bears the brunt of the consequences while the US benefits economically from Russian sanctions and Europeans suffer as much as Moscow from their effects.

               In the military field, Ukraine is only managing to be able to withstand the hardships of the war due to the full support given by NATO. Even as reports of the military prowess of Ukrainian soldiers were disseminated by Western media. Without that support, the war would probably have ended. On the other hand, despite the initial military mistakes, Moscow seems to have preferred a strategy aimed at the attrition of its enemy even knowing that time would somehow help Kyiv to receive more weapons from the Western military alliance and delay the finalization of its plans.

                It’s expected that this clash between NATO and Russia will bring about a permanent reordering in the power dynamics of geopolitical forces in the 21st century. The so-called “American Century” is being finalized by the rise of new and future powers such as China, whose global role is gaining strength. Beijing’s performance in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict demonstrates that its action is guided by long-term projects: collaboration in the weakening of the North American power to determine the “punishment” of its enemies through economic means, consolidating BRICS as a “global influencer”, the decrease of the dollar as an international currency and the support for a multipolar spectrum as the basis of the international system in the current century.

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Eastern Europe

Pakistan-Belarus Ties Set to Boost and Strengthen

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Image source: Pakistan MFA

The Republic of Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Russia to the east and northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Covering an area of 207,600 square kilometers and with a population of 9.2 million, Belarus is the 13th-largest and the 20th-most populous country in Europe. The country has a hemiboreal climate and is administratively divided into seven regions. Minsk is the capital and largest city. Belarus is a developing country, ranking 60th on the Human Development Index. The country has been a member of the United Nations since its founding and has joined the CIS, the CSTO, the EAEU, the OSCE, and the Non-Aligned Movement. It has shown no aspirations of joining the European Union but nevertheless maintains a bilateral relationship with the bloc and also participates in two EU projects, the Baku Initiative, and the Eastern Partnership. Its strategic location has been more prominent due to the Ukraine crisis and has become the focus of the Western world due to its close relations with Russia.

Belarus–Pakistan relations refers to the current and historical relationship between Belarus and Pakistan. Pakistan was one of the first countries to recognize Belarus after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Pakistan maintains an embassy in Minsk; Belarus maintains an embassy in Islamabad.

Pakistan and Belarus initiated joint ventures (JVs) in the textile, pharmaceutical, and lighting solution industries while sharing technological expertise with each other. Pakistan’s imports from Belarus stood at $42.65 million which mainly consisted of tractors (62.04%), artificial filament yarn (13.01%), and rubber tires (8.06%). Belarus has lauded Pakistan’s role and efforts in bringing peace and stability to the world by countering terrorism and offered his country’s full support in this fight.

On the invitation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan H.E. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus H.E. Mr. Sergei Aleinik visited Islamabad from May 30 – 31, 2023 on an official visit.

During the visit, Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif and the Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir, in addition to holding comprehensive delegation-level bilateral talks.

H.E. Mr. Sergei Aleinik also held meetings with the Minister of Economic Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan H.E. Sardar Ayaz Sadiq.

During their meeting, the two Foreign Ministers had a wide-ranging and substantive discussion on a variety of topics including political, economic, technological, cultural, educational, and multilateral cooperation in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual understanding. The two sides agreed to take practical measures to translate the mutual goodwill between the two governments and their peoples into tangible cooperation in different fields.

The Ministers expressed satisfaction with the friendly relations based on mutual respect, friendship, and trust established between the Republic of Belarus and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and highly appreciated the bilateral meetings and interaction at the highest and high levels that have taken place in recent years.

The Ministers appreciated the holding of the 6th Session of the Joint Belarusian-Pakistani Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation on January 12-13, 2023 in Minsk under the chairmanship of the Minister of Energy of the Republic of Belarus H.E. Viktor Karankevich and the Federal Minister of Energy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan H.E. Khurram Dastgir Khan.

The Ministers expressed their interest in strengthening cooperation within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the United Nations, and other International Organizations on matters of mutual interest, and reaffirmed their readiness to mutually support each other.

The Ministers noted the desire of both countries to expand the legal framework of bilateral relations and welcomed the signing of

the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Belarus and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on the Abolition of Visas for holders of Diplomatic and Service Passports as well as between the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, and the Belarus Institute of Strategic Research.

The Ministers intend to support business initiatives aimed at the development of trade and industrial cooperation between the two countries, among other things, through the participation in exhibitions and fair events in both countries, holding face-to-face and online negotiations, and business councils.

Taking into consideration, that February 3, 2024, will mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Belarus and Pakistan, the Ministers welcomed the intention to develop a plan of joint events dedicated to the anniversary of diplomatic relations.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus expressed his gratitude for the reception given to the Belarusian delegation and invited the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to visit the Republic of Belarus at a convenient time. The invitation was accepted with gratitude and the dates of the visit will be finalized through diplomatic channels.

Both countries are committed to supporting each other and benefiting from each other’s strengths. It is desired from both sides to enrich and strengthen the relations in all walks of life covering trade, economy, industry, science and technology, education, etc. Long lives Pak-Belarus friendship.

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Eastern Europe

Latvia risks to turn to a ghost state

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Latvia 2020 population was estimated at 1,886,198 people at mid year according to UN data.

At the beginning of 2022 population of Latvia accounted for 1 million 876 thousand people, which is 17.5 thousand people fewer than a year ago.

The current population of Latvia is 1,826,608 as of May 17, 2023, based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data.

For many years Latvia has suffered from a so-called “brain drain”, a phenomena when young highly trained and qualified people emigrate from the country. Since Latvia became a member of European Union and Schengen Area and when working in other countries became especially easy, the human capital flight from the country has intensified and reached high figures, when Latvia lost many residents due to emigration.

The number of young people continues to has decline sharply. At the beginning of 2022, there were 234,500 boys and girls aged 13 to 25 living in the country. This is 12.5% of all residents. Behind the reduction of this group is not only a decrease in the birth rate, falling living standards but also emigration. The young and talented people prefer not to stay here.

One new reason for youth to leave the country has appeared this year. Latvia reintroduces compulsory military service. The decision was made by the country’s parliament on April 5. Latvia has not had compulsory military service since 2007 when it was abolished.

From 2024 onward, the number of conscripts will increase. The plan is to call up 7,500 Latvians every year, starting in 2028. This will increase the size of the army from over 22,000 soldiers to 50,000, including territorial defense and reserves.

The Baltic nation feels threatened due to the war in Ukraine. But, new public surveys show that many young men are not convinced that compulsory military service is the right reaction. Only a small share of people back compulsory military service.

Young men are known for their rebellious ways. So, it’s hardly surprising that the Latvian government’s recent decision to reintroduce compulsory military service has not gone down particularly well with them.

Far fewer people wanted to become professional soldiers. There have not been any national opinion polls conducted on the topic recently. But a study in May 2022 found that more than 40% of Latvians opposed it. According to Maris Andzans, a professor at Riga Stradins University, who wrote in a February briefing for the Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis, support was lower among younger respondents, with only 34% in the 18-24 age group supportive of the idea.

In Latvia, there is also another segment of the population that doesn’t like the idea of military service. Some members of the country’s Russian-speaking minority are skeptical about what they perceive as the country’s pro-Western course. Russian-speakers make up about a quarter of Latvia’s 1.9 million-strong population. Joining the Latvian army to “fight against your own people” is not something they wanted to do. So many are planning to leave. So, a phenomena of “men drain” when young highly trained and qualified people emigrate from the country because of unwillingness to serve.

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