The massive street protests that have taken place in Belarus recently are only the tip of the iceberg of what we can expect to see in the coming months and years. Although, of course, the situation in the country bears little resemblance to the endless crises in Belgium and Italy, which are capable of existing perfectly well without a central government for decades. Belarus is slowly sinking under the weight of a political crisis that is affecting the very foundations of the social system and which may take some time to resolve, since the political establishment essentially controls all spheres of society. If the political system crumbles, governance in the country will effectively grind to a halt, and it will be a long and painful process to get the motor running once again.
Some have called the events in Belarus a colour revolution, likening it to the Euromaidan protests that took place in Ukraine in 2013–2014. And while there are clearly parallels between the two, it would perhaps be more accurate to say, as some commentators have, that the crisis more closely resembles a kind of “belated” perestroika. The ideas that have formed the cornerstone of Belarus’ foreign policy since 2014 — that it is a “security donor” in Eastern Europe and a “neutral state” — have come back to haunt the country’s leadership. Right now, the only thing stopping Belarus from becoming an “instability donor” is the continued political and economic support of Russia.
The Origins of the Crisis
At first glance, it would appear that the political crisis is a consequence of the supposedly botched presidential elections in August. But the elections only served as a trigger for the next phase of a crisis that had been unfolding for years, which involved people taking to the streets in their thousands. On the surface, there is an economic component to what is happening: the national economy is dominated by state enterprises, but their equipment is outdated and the country does not have the money for modernization.
In the 1990s, Belarus was able to avoid the most painful consequences of perestroika by buddying up to Russia. It set about building state capitalism with a “human face” (social benefits and guarantees) while at the same time relying on the Soviet industrial potential, the Russian market and economic support.
The Belarusian economy was effectively rebuilt from the ground up as a part of a single economic space with Russia. For example, Belarus has enjoyed a massive discount on Russian oil and gas over the past ten years compared to other importers, to the tune of approximately $70 billion, or 55 per cent of the state budget for that period . Belarus has exported over $110 billion worth of industrial and agricultural products to the Russian market over the past decade [2. ]Russia accounts for between one half and two-thirds of all foreign direct investment into the Belarusian economy.
The system as it is currently set up can survive another year, and some elements may even develop if it continues to have free access to Russian investment and the Russian market. But there is a deep contradiction at the heart of this model — while the Russian and Belarusian economies are de facto the same, their management systems are not, and their regulatory bases are drifting further and further apart.
This problem has proved to be a sticking point, with intensive negotiations on possible “road maps” for the Union State bringing little to no progress over the past two years. And where integration fails, disintegration gathers steam, which is exactly what we have been witnessing in recent years. At the same time, the industrial facilities of most Belarusian enterprises are becoming obsolete. Belarusian industry is in a race against time, and it is losing, with hundreds of thousands of workers set to lose their jobs. Soon it will be no more, to be followed by the social and educational infrastructure, and then the schools of engineering and mathematics (which have been “feeding” the fledgeling Belarusian IT cluster “for free”). The belief of some business leaders that Belarus will rise like a phoenix from the ashes to become an IT leader, abandoning ties with Russia and thus leaving the outmoded industrial sector in the past, is based on nothing but ideology.
The root of the crisis that is unfolding in Belarus lies in the fact that the government is becoming increasingly out of touch with society. The political institutions in the country have proved unable to internalize public activity, engage in a meaningful two-way conversation with the people and respond to the requests of a significant part of society. Hence the numerous “mistakes” of the authorities in recent years — symptoms of systemic failures. Actions that in certain conditions were seen as the norm and brought results are in others seen as mistakes and turn out to be counterproductive.
It is not enough to simply replace the people in charge. It will take years of hard work for Belarus to emerge from the crisis, and there is an extremely high risk that the political system could break down completely, which would have a devastating effect on the country’s economy — far worse than the economic troubles experienced by Ukraine since 2014.
Components of the Crisis
Let us try to reconstruct the main phases of the Belarus crisis (some of the events overlap).
Economic. The obsolescence of the country’s backbone industries and the lack of money to modernize them became a serious issue back in the 2000s. This forced the authorities to quietly dismantle the post-Soviet social safety net, which had always been a source of pride within the country. Few even batted an eyelid when the retirement age was increased. But it was a different story with the new tax on the officially unemployed (the so-called “decree on parasites”), which was met with a flurry of protests in 2017.
Social. The structure of Belarusian society has changed. The number of self-employed persons and small businesses in the country has increased, and urban culture and international contacts have developed — all at a far quicker pace than the state management systems in the public and social spheres have been able to adapt. The government still uses the same mass command and obedience methods in its youth policy and social mobilization that were developed some 20–30 years ago, or even during the Soviet period, despite their shortcomings. Assistant to the President of Belarus Nikolai Latyshonok has said that “about 20 to 30 per cent” of the population is dissatisfied with the Belarusian authorities. Considering that this is 20 to 30 per cent of registered voters, it translates into 1.5 to 2 million people, which is a huge number for Belarus.
Generational. Sociologists have noted a real transformation over the past ten years in the dominant attitudes and values of the “post-Soviet generation” as its representatives move into adulthood. The younger generations are far less supportive of the authorities and do not share their style or aesthetics. The generational gap in Belarus in 2014–2015 was almost identical to that of Moldova and Ukraine, and there is no reason to believe that the situation has improved since then.
Ideological. The economic backwardness of the country, coupled with the reduction in social guarantees and the change of generations has led to a crisis of ideology in Belarus. To fill the growing ideological vacuum, the Belarusian authorities have placed increasing importance on so-called “soft Belarusization”, attempting to supplement the ideological matrix of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic with new symbols and meanings, from the Belarusian People’s Republic and “millennial statehood” to traditional Belarusian embroidered shirts and the restyling of the national emblem. But this did not have the desired effect of consolidating the country. Instead, it led to the erosion of guidelines within society and the state apparatus. The attempt to present the question of “Minsk or Mensk” (Belarusian versus Russian), which is irrelevant for the majority of Belarusian citizens as the main “nerve” of the election campaign, turned out to be a failure, causing mistrust among the government’s supporters. The nationalists, with the support of the ramified structure of Western NGOs that had been growing in the country over the course of the last 20 years and had penetrated the government bodies, seized the ideological initiative.
Foreign Policy. The Belarusian leadership tried to mitigate the growing systemic problems inside the country by pursuing an active foreign policy, but this tactic backfired. The balanced diplomacy of the Belarusian government between 2014 and 2016 allowed it to extract certain diplomatic and economic dividends from the Ukrainian crisis. But there would soon be a price to pay, with the contradictions inside the country starting to worsen and the goal of the state apparatus to pursue multi-vector development turning into an exercise in distancing itself from Russia and flirting with the “Russian threat.” All of this served to disorient and destroy the electoral base within the country. And the only thing that the Belarusian authorities have to show from this policy of the past four to five years is growing isolation from the country’s only ally — Russia.
These trends intertwine and reinforce one another, showing that the crisis in Belarus is much more than “just” a colour revolution, which is merely a symptom of a much more serious illness.
Perestroika does not mean that the existing system is wrong, completely bankrupt and without hope — it is by no means destined to collapse. Despite the crisis, the Belarusian system has a number of undeniable advantages, including the relatively low level of social stratification, well-developed social services, a quality education system and industrial expertise. The Belarusian “model” developed back in the 2000s and the politics we see today are not the same thing. Similar to the Soviet perestroika era, the way in which the authorities have handled the crisis is the main reason it is getting worse.
The Economic Dimension of the Crisis
The economic crisis is a result of the failure of the post-Soviet model of the Belarusian economy. The only thing left is either Balticization (but without access to the sea), in which case the country would lose its heavy industry and suffer the mass emigration of its “surplus” population, or optimization and modernization with the help of outside investors.
The European Union is Belarus’ second-largest foreign trade partner and, according to EU statistics, purchases 4 billion Euros’ worth of goods from the country per year. Belarus’ main exports are timber, mineral products (oil and oil products made using Russian oil purchased at heavily discounted prices) and base metals. Raw materials and semi-finished products make up over 80 per cent of Belarus’ exports to the European Union. Strikes at large Belarusian enterprises may lead to a drop in the supply of metals, oil products and potash fertilizers to the European Union.
These losses will hardly make a dent in the European economy and can be replaced using other suppliers. Belarus, however, will suffer, although the damage will not be critical, as the European Union accounted for approximately 20 per cent of the country’s foreign trade in 2019. The potash markets are now growing, which is primarily thanks to Asia.
Belarus could suffer greatly if the European Union refuses to import oil products, but this is unlikely to happen. Belarusian oil refineries will probably become unprofitable if the high cost of European logistics forces them to purchase oil elsewhere, at global prices.
Losing the Russian market, which accounts for half of Belarus’ trade turnover, would be an unmitigated disaster for the country’s economy. What is more, Russia’s imports include machinery with high added value. If the political crisis in Belarus results in forces coming to power that want to withdraw from the political and economic integration agreements that the country has with Russia, then this will lead to the destruction of Belarusian industry, and hundreds of thousands of highly qualified specialists will lose their jobs.
Many large state-owned enterprises in Belarus perform social functions — excessive hiring prevents unemployment from skyrocketing and alleviates social tensions. A similar situation exists in many industrialized countries. What complicates the issue in Belarus is the lack of a safety buffer, as well as sufficient internal resources, to maintain and develop such a system. Any radical market reform will invariably lead to an explosion of public anger.
Multi-Vectorality and Belarusization
Belarus officially set a course for a multi-vector approach in the 2000s, writing it into key legislative and regulatory acts 15 years ago. Experts and officials in Belarus have repeatedly stated that small countries must naturally pursue a balanced foreign policy, even though all of its Western neighbours have chosen the opposite strategy of “joining together” and bloc discipline.
The Ukrainian crisis only intensified this trend, with the Belarusian authorities trying to draw attention away from its domestic problems by pursuing a multi-vectored and largely symbolic policy. This was motivated first of all by the desire to gain economic bonuses by playing on the contradictions between Russia and the West, and secondly by the need to distract the Belarusian people from the social problems in the country and bolster the legitimacy of the authorities, adopting the nationalist agenda and framing it as “soft Belarusization.”
The increased pace of multi-vectorality had the opposite effect. Belarusian exports to the European Union fell by 9.4 per cent as of year-end 2019 to below the 2010–2011 figures. Russia still accounts for approximately half of Belarus’ foreign trade, but it has begun to move gradually towards import substitution amid troubles in the integration process.
Competitive growth on the Russian domestic market is both an objective and natural process. The only way to restrain this process or further boost advantages enjoyed by Belarusian producers is through specific political action and inter-state economic projects. But this has become impossible due to the gradual nullification of geopolitical guarantees that has taken place as Minsk’s multi-vectored policies have developed.
The idea of Belarus as a “security donor” in Eastern Europe was designed to help the country build its foreign policy around being a mediator between Russia and the West, without taking sides. But it turned out that the building had been built on sand, and now the Chancellor of Austria (a neutral country) has called for negotiations on the Ukrainian crisis to be moved from Minsk to Vienna.
Most have come to the conclusion in recent months that the Belarusian authorities have “lost the information space” — a consequence of new media and the appearance of various messenger services. However, it would seem that ideology is responsible for this loss, rather than a poor grasp of modern technology. And the “informational neutrality” declared in the 2019 Concept of Information Security of Belarus was the icing on the cake of this long-term trend. The document effectively tied the government’s hands in terms of putting up resistance to opposition forces and foreign NGOs inside the country.
The void that had appeared was slowly being filled with the concept of “sacrifice” taking root in the country (Belarus has taken part in the wars of others and suffered as a result of its neighbours “in both the West and the East). A big part in this process was played by Western funds, supported by a part of the Belarusian state apparatus. This directly contradicted the ideological foundations of the victory in World War II. Belarus’ Independence Day continues to be celebrated on July 3 — the same day that Minsk was liberated from the Nazis in 1944. For most millennials, however, Victory Day is nothing more than a national holiday that does not conjure up any particular feelings of patriotism. This is because there is a lack of modern meaning that young people can identify with, a dearth of ways to get them involved.
The obsession during the election campaign with the virtual “Russian threat” — something that even the nationalists did not believe — was thus no accident. Rather, it was a logical development of the government’s multi-vector strategy. This is the same path that the Baltic states have already travelled, moving from a “bridge between East and West” to “neutral countries,” then “frontline states” and, finally, “bastions against Russia.”
There are many layers to the crisis that is currently unfolding in Belarus, and political or economic instruments alone are not up to the task of dragging the country out of the mess it now finds itself in — public institutions and governance methods need to be brought into the present day. Even if Russia decides to prop up the Belarusian economy, which it is doing right now, this will not resolve all the differences that have built up over the years. All the more so because nothing is being done to revise the country’s multi-vectoral doctrine. At the same time that President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko is accusing the United States of interfering in its domestic affairs, Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei can be heard thanking the Department of State for “supporting the sovereignty of Belarus.”
If the Belarusian leadership cannot manoeuvre itself out of the situation by making qualitative changes, then the situation will become hopeless sooner rather than later. Continuing the policy of recent years will only make things worse, and will inevitably result in the current authorities losing their grip on power.
The main question now is how Belarus will emerge from the crisis — through gradual and deliberate transformations or by scrapping the system altogether and dealing with the severe consequences that that would entail. In any case, it will be very different from what happened with Ukraine, as we are not talking about access to fertile soil and sea routes; the domestic market and the demographic resources are far smaller.
The only viable way to make the reform as painless as possible is to remove the obstacles to the development of the Belarusian economy through its large industrial and economic complex, which would provide a safety net for the most vulnerable social groups, as well as investments for big business. However, the only country that would even entertain the idea of such an agreement is Russia.
Meaningful constitutional reform is taking shape, a political transition that aims to adapt the system of governance to modern realities. But it is not enough. The mass demonstrations that we see today are reminiscent of the “singing revolutions” that took place in the Baltic states in 1990–1991. Just like the popular fronts in these countries broke out of the control of the communist party and the KGB, the opposition forces in Belarus today, inspired by the official Belarusization, are turning against the authorities. The second step in these revolutions involved a change of leadership, the strengthening of the nationalists, reorientation to the West, the introduction of the concept of “non-citizens” for ethnic Russians living in the Baltics, etc.
This does not mean that Belarus is doomed to follow the same path, as its ties with Russia run far deeper. The Russian side is doing everything in its power to preserve stability in Belarus, keep external influence at bay, and hold on to the special relationship it has with its Belarusian friends. But the risks are exceptionally high. The situation in Belarus is not static and could take a turn for the worse at any moment. Alexander Lukashenko still has time to make the most important decision of his life.
Author’s calculations based on data from the National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus, the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation and Gazprom.
Author’s calculations based on data from the Federal Customs Service of Russia.
From our partner RIAC
Armenia After the Parliamentary Elections
On June 20, snap parliamentary elections will be held in Armenia. The move will ease tensions in the country but will fail to end political divisions and solve structural troubles such as poor economic situation, weak judiciary, and the fragile army.
The decision to hold elections followed months of protests when all the former presidents of Armenia, the current president Armen Sarkissian, leadership of the Armenian Church and large parts of the top leadership of the armed forces acted in concert to oppose the Pashinyan government. They all blame him for the country’s unexpected defeat in the war with Azerbaijan in 2020, as a result of which Yerevan had to cede most of the Azerbaijani territory it has occupied since the 1990s, including parts of the mostly Armenian populated Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pashinyan, a protagonist of the 2018 Velvet Revolution, enjoyed widespread popularity in the first two years of his rule. However, expectations for fundamental changes proved to be too high given Armenia’s weak state institutions, polarized political culture, and corruption. Additionally, those who appeared in the government with Pashinyan mostly came from Armenia’s civil society, which meant they had only limited policy development experience.
The year 2020 was associated with some tectonic upheavals in Armenia. The human toll and economic troubles from the pandemic coupled with the war with Azerbaijan, questioned Pashinyan’s competence. His position was undermined both at home and abroad. Still, no clear alternative to Pashinyan exists, which makes observers believe that a long-term solution to the country’s woes is not forthcoming.
According to the poll by the International Republican Institute, Pashinyan’s “My Step” faction remains the country’s most popular political party with 33% support. Second is “Prosperous Armenia,” the faction led by former President Kocharian. Both have 3%, while the former ruling Republican Party has only 1%. The figures show Pashinyan is still wanted, but political apathy is also on the surge when nearly 44% of Armenians do not support any party and 45% of the population disagrees with the general direction the country heading into. This suggests that in the longer run there is political vacuum, space for a new political force to emerge.
Elections will be competitive, but Pashinyan is likely to win. After all, despite all of his mistakes, Armenia’s military losses are a result of a slow degradation of Armenia’s military potential before his coming to power and the general change in the balance of power, namely, Azerbaijan’s rapid growth as a military power; the latter’s exponential military ties with Turkey, and Russia’s opportunistic behavior during the 2020 war.
New elections may well ease tensions, but the structural problems facing Armenian politics will remain. Deeper flaws, such as a lack of accountability, a lack of an independent judiciary, and a weak parliament, will negatively affect any new government. Additionally, Armenian politics remains highly polarized and personalized, which limits the room for real political changes in the fabric of the country’s management. Long-standing problems with corruption, unemployment, emigration and an ineffective economy will remain.
The parties participating in the Armenian elections are not debating foreign policy. If since 1991 the country’s foreign policy course was always discussed, these elections mark a break with this tradition. Following the war, without the presence of Russia in the country, Yerevan would be unable to defend itself, which gives the elections an external dimension.
And here Russia’s position matters as it is in a fortunate position to favor both sides of the aisle. Russia does not need to fully support the overtly pro-Kremlin candidate, because in reality every plausible ruling entity in Armenia will become increasingly dependent on Moscow. Take, for example, “Bright Armenia” headed by Edmond Marukyan. The party is known for its moderately pro-European attitude. However, after the 44-day war – Marukyan called for the creation of a second Russian military base in the country.
Thus, Russia is in a perfect position. With one masterful blow in November 2020, Moscow physically placed itself in the only territorial conflict in the South Caucasus, where it previously had no direct influence. With its peacekeepers in Karabakh, and Armenian army and the general public demoralized and confused after the 2020 fiasco, Russia is Armenia’s only hope. As argued above, this becomes increasingly clear for the entire political spectrum of Armenia’s political elite.
Thus, the election results will not entail major changes in foreign policy. Nevertheless, the results will be of great importance for the Armenian-Russian relations and Armenia’s geopolitical maneuvering. The political parties are now itching in favor of closer ties with Russia, which could change the very fabric of bilateral relations. Russia can insist on deeper integration of Armenia into its favorite economic organization – Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Better trading conditions for Russian companies could be sought and more modern Russian weapons could be supplied in return.
The plausible deeper amalgamation could set a scene for a new integration pattern between Russia and the neighbors in the former Soviet space. Deeper ties with Armenia would also mean that Russia could be able to play Armenia and Azerbaijan against each other. This Russian approach is not new, but this time its intensity will be much greater. In four years, Russia will have to officially extend its peacekeeping mission in Azerbaijan. However, the Russian military presence worries the political minds of Baku. The desire to annul the Russian peacekeeping agreement will grow, and the Kremlin will have to play a smart game.
Some concessions from Baku may be effective, but other political and military messages may work. At times, Russia will indicate to Baku that in case of its peacekeepers’ withdrawal, a much better trained and equipped Armenian army, bristling with high-tech Russian weapons, would prepare for a military campaign. Other ways to persuade Azerbaijan to a prolonged Russian presence might not work.
Regardless of who wins the upcoming election, the structural troubles besetting Armenia will remain in place. A weak judiciary, military and the parliament will hinder the prospects for a quick solution to the traumas the country has been through since early 2020. The political landscape will remain viciously personalized, which would preclude potential cooperation between the parties to limit internal political pressure. Though Armenians nowadays think little about the country’s foreign policy, critical changes will take place – dependence on Russia will only grow because of the lack of options. Multi-vector policy attempts will cease to be made or will not bring any practical results.
Author’s note: first published in caucasuswatch
Relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union
The crises, revolutions, and wars of the first half of the 20th century led to serious geopolitical upheavals, economic crises, and serious violations of social justice. Formally formed after the end of World War II in 1945, liberal economic organizations such as the United Nations, GATT and the European Union focused on the formation of liberal internationalism in international relations and the transition to a global system of government (Dower & Williams, 2002). The failure of the liberal steps taken by the League of Nations in 1920 led to major economic crises in the second half of the 20th century. As a result of these economic crises, the end of socialism in international relations with the USSR in the 1990s, the emergence of independent states and liberal internationalism’s efforts to reach a global level reshaped both geopolitical positions in international relations and global economic forces and the system of international relations (Christopher S. Browning, 2013). After the degradation of the left ideology with the USSR, the emergence of independent states moving towards liberal values made the role of international organizations formed in the post-World War II period even more important. This article also provides information on the liberal relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan, which gained independence in the 1990s and the European Union.
General introduction to relations between Azerbaijan and European Union
The wave of democratization that began in 1974 began to radically change international relations. This democratization mainly covered the former USSR states; namely, the former communist states, geographically. After leaving the USSR, these states entered a very difficult process of democratization. Because for many years they lived in a totalitarian political system, as well as in a communist-planned economy. This directly prevented their transition to liberal multi-party democracy as well as to the “laissez faire” capitalist economy. Because, initially, the reforms were carried out with instructions from abroad. (namely, with instructions from global organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, etc.). Second, these countries did not have a strong economic base that would suddenly transition to market capitalism. Third, a culture of respect for individual freedoms was not ingrained in the policies of these states (Heywood, 2013). Therefore, after the collapse of the USSR, the newly independent states began to work closely with the European Union to accelerate the transition to globalization and democratization. Azerbaijan, one of these states, also became an active participant in international relations and international politics in 1991, building its relations with the West and the European Union on the principles of mutually beneficial cooperation, good neighborliness and peaceful coexistence.
The prospects of Azerbaijan’s relations with the European Union were mainly based on internal and external factors. Unlike other countries in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan’s relations with the European Union are mainly in support of economic and political reforms, the establishment of the East-West transport and communication corridor, infrastructure development, etc. (SAM, Main directions of Foreign Policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2017). Azerbaijan’s strategic transit position in the South Caucasus region, its location at the crossroads of land and air routes between Europe and Asia, and its role as a major distribution hub in Eurasia are of great importance to the European Union (Azerbaijan’s gas policy: challenges and dilemmas, 2009). One of the main tools for the European Union to interact with the countries of the South Caucasus was the European Neighborhood Policy. The inclusion of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the ENP program in 2004 enabled Azerbaijan to implement many of its economic, political, legal and administrative reforms within the ENP, and for this purpose Azerbaijan received financial and technical support from the European Union (SAM, Main directions of Foreign Policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2017). It should be noted that in addition to the European Neighborhood Policy program in its relations with the European Union, the Azerbaijani state joined the Eastern Partnership project at the 2009 summit in Prague. As the Eastern Partnership is an initiative of Poland and Sweden to improve relations with the CIS countries within the framework of the European Union’s neighborhood policy, it initially played a very important role in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy (EEAS – European External Action Service, 2018).
However, neither the European Neighborhood Policy nor the Eastern Partnership promised security guarantees for Azerbaijan’s foreign policy in the next stages of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, so Azerbaijan did not sign the Association Agreement and began negotiations with the EU for a new comprehensive agreement such as the Strategic Partnership Agreement (Shahin Abbasov, Jan18, 2011). Because in the foreign policy of Azerbaijan, there were economic and political reasons for not signing the Association Agreement of the European Union. Initially, the Association Agreement was not successful on the example of Azerbaijan. Because both sides had different requirements and needs. Secondly, this agreement was of no economic or political benefit to official Baku. However, Azerbaijan has been pursuing numerous projects with the European Union since the 1990s in many areas (energy, transport, education, culture, agriculture, regional development, economic, political and institutional reforms). As oil and gas from the Caspian Basin play an important role in ensuring the EU’s energy security, the European Union itself understands the geopolitical realities of Azerbaijan and acts accordingly (Elkhan Suleymanov. EU-Azerbaijan relations, 2011). Azerbaijan has existed with the European Union not only in the energy and economic spheres, but also in the social and political spheres. However, the relations within this framework have gradually weakened and lost their value. Although the European Union has taken an open position on Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, IDPs, Armenia’s occupation policy and existing UN resolutions, and has even adopted declarations, these principles have subsequently weakened. The first reason is that since both Azerbaijan and Armenia are parties to the Eastern Partnership, the European Union’s inaction in the conflict has affected the activities of the Eastern Partnership. In addition, although Azerbaijan itself is a modern and secular country, it often faced double standards of the European Union.
Historical and legal basis of Azerbaijan-EU relations
After gaining independence in 1991, Azerbaijan began to take an active part in building relations with Western countries and in international politics on the basis of the protection of statehood and national interests, as well as the principles of mutually beneficial cooperation, good neighborliness and peaceful coexistence. The fundamental requirements of state-building after the collapse of the USSR created a good basis for building relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union member states at both bilateral and multilateral levels. Due to its geographical proximity, important geostrategic location, availability of significant energy resources, Azerbaijanis a country of traditional interest to European countries (Sadigov R. The South Caucasus factor in the Eastern policy of the European Union. Politicale.ü.fddissertation, Baku, 2011, p.52). In general, in the first years of independence, the prospects of Azerbaijan’s relations with the European Union were based on internal and external factors. Internal factors included the continuation of reforms in the political, economic and social life of Azerbaijan to achieve the standards of the European Union, the full liberalization of the domestic market, production and services, and the completion of the country’s democratic transformation. External factors included the settlement of the conflicts in the South Caucasus, including the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, joint cooperation between the countries of the region, security cooperation, the formation of a unified legislative, executive and judicial authorities in all three countries (Mammadov N, p.285). In general, the Republic of Azerbaijan declared in 1993 that Azerbaijan was interested in establishing relations with the EU. By signing the “Partnership and Cooperation Agreement” with the European Union, Azerbaijan began official relations with the EU. The European Union sent its first representative to Azerbaijan in 1998, and in 2000 the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the EU was opened in Brussels. The Representation of the EU Commission in the Republic of Azerbaijan has been operating in Baku since February 4, 2008. This body was later renamed the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Azerbaijan. The appointment of the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus on 7 July 2003 was a step towards increasing the organization’s activity in the region (Ahmadov E, p. 227).
The European Union has developed a “Technical Assistance to the CIS” program to provide financial assistance to countries belonging to the new group of democracies, such as Azerbaijan, to implement democratic reforms, create a market economy, develop interstate trade and transport relations and improve the customs system. In 1992-2006, more than 414 million euros in humanitarian, technical and food assistance was provided to Azerbaijan within the framework of the EU’s TACIS and other assistance programs (E. Ahmadov, 241). In addition, serious steps have been taken between Azerbaijan and the European Union in the field of human rights and politics. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Azerbaijan was signed in Luxembourg on 22 April 1993, providing for cooperation in trade, investment, economy, legislation, culture, immigration and the prevention of illicit trade and laying the legal basis for bilateral relations. This agreement can be considered as one of the most successful pages in foreign policy, as it is the legal basis for expanding relations between Azerbaijan and EU institutions. The EU-Azerbaijan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement entered into force in 1999 after ratification by the Azerbaijani Parliament.
European Neighborhood Policy
One of the main tools for the European Union to interact with the countries of the South Caucasus was the European Neighborhood Policy. In 2004, the Republic of Azerbaijan was included in the ENP program. The central element of the ENP is the Action Plan agreed between the EU and each partner country, which sets out a number of short- and medium-term priorities for the country. The “Azerbaijan-EU Action Plan” was adopted at the meeting of the Azerbaijan-EU Cooperation Council held on November 14, 2006 in Brussels (E. Ahmadov, p. 240). The action plan identifies a number of priority areas of cooperation between the European Union and Azerbaijan. These are: mainly the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; strengthening democracy; strengthening the protection of the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms; improving the business and investment climate; improving the work of the customs service; support for balanced and sustainable economic development; improvement of economic legislation and administrative practice; Deepening energy and transport cooperation between the European Union and Azerbaijan; strengthening cooperation in the fields of justice, freedom and security, including border issues; strengthening regional cooperation (Mammadov N. Foreign policy: realities and vision for the future. Baku: QANUN, 2013, p.212).The cooperation carried out within the ENP allows Azerbaijan to establish economic relations with EU countries, establish preferential trade and credit regimes, labor, market relations and migration, fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, promote investment, attract new financial sources, etc. opened up opportunities such as (N. Mammadov, p. 287).
The Eastern Partnership initiative was launched by Poland and Sweden at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on 26 May 2008. The initiative covers Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. A joint declaration was adopted at the EaP Summit in Prague on May 7, 2009, and the EaP officially began operations. The EaP intends to raise relations between the European Union and the member countries of the program to a higher level, to continue and expand existing cooperation in bilateral and multilateral formats. Azerbaijan also joined the Eastern Partnership program at the 2009 summit in Prague. The EaP program was a different framework from the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Thus, in order to establish closer ties with each partner country within the EU, the signing of new association agreements instead of existing partnership and cooperation agreements within the bilateral format, the establishment of a Deep and Detailed Free Trade Zone with a partner country in the WTO, as well as gradual visa requirements. liberalization, deeper cooperation to strengthen the energy security of partner countries and the EU, etc. planned. In other words, the EaP program did not promise the prospect of EU membership, but only a free trade agreement and associative political cooperation with this body, which provided for deep economic integration. However, neither the ENP nor the EaP did not sign the Association Agreement and began negotiations with the EU for a new comprehensive agreement, such as the Strategic Partnership Agreement, as Azerbaijan did not promise EU membership or any security guarantees. Because both the ENP and the EaP were programs that reflected the interests of the EU and the political and economic interests of the partner countries. On the other hand, the signing of the Association Agreement was not economically attractive for Azerbaijan. Because Azerbaijanis not a member of the World Trade Organization, which is one of the main requirements for signing the “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement”. On the other hand, the Association Agreement would not give a significant vote to Azerbaijan within the EU Customs Union. In addition, membership in the association would not reduce the share of oil and gas exports, which account for more than 90% of Azerbaijan’s exports, in the short and medium term. In general, Azerbaijan views the entry into any customs zone from three perspectives: political independence, economic efficiency and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
In addition, the European Union must accept that both sides have different requirements and needs. Therefore, before the EA Summit in Riga in 2015, Azerbaijan submitted a proposed document on the Strategic Partnership Agreement to the EU. Azerbaijan, like Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, did not sign the Association Agreement, so it preferred to sign an agreement that has a separate legal force and reflects the national interests of the country. On 14 November 2016, the EU Council of Ministers mandated the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to begin negotiations on behalf of the EU member states on the signing of an agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan. It should be noted that the new agreement will replace the 1999 TES and will be a new large-scale agreement with a legal obligation. Unlike other framework documents, the STS will address the common problems and goals facing Azerbaijan and the EU and will create a new basis for mutually beneficial cooperation and political dialogue between the two sides. The STS is a practical example of the “difference” approach outlined in the context of pursuing Azerbaijan’s interests in relations with the EU and in the updated version of the ENP (SAM, Main Directions of Foreign Policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, pp. 324-326, 2017).
Fundamental Reform Can Secure Armenia’s Long-Term Future
In the past year, the world has changed an unfathomable amount; every country has faced new challenges in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recession. The new global situation presents not only challenges but also the opportunity to think about new ideas, to work out how our energy and focus can be used to create a better future for individuals across the world.
Armenia is one country that has faced existential crisis in the past year; the pandemic, the economic crisis and of course the war in Artsakh. The war has exacerbated socio-economic issues, aggravated social division and resulted in ongoing political instability –all factors that have raised questions about Armenia’s future as a nation and on the global stage. Despite the pain of the last year, it has also given us the opportunity to reflect and rethink our model for fundamental reform in Armenia.
I have long argued that for Armenia to be truly successful, we need to unite and focus on the country’s future. We have a historic responsibility to our ancestors, those who faced persecution, to heal from the past and build a successful country for our children. By building on our unique identity and historic experiences, we can use them to guide our future. However, first we must face up to serious questions on how we would like Armenia to look in twenty to thirty years’ time.
Currently, lack of opportunity is causing Armenians to vote with their feet and leave the country, with an estimated 200,000 intending to leave Armenia this year. To stop this, we must together provide a future of opportunity and belief in success stemming from a change in mindset.
I do not believe that all of the problems we face can be solved by the Armenian state. Instead, both the Armenian authorities and the diaspora should leave political disputes aside in order to consolidate and, alongside international specialists and humanitarian organisations, assist in the building of new institutions, good governance and the development of the country. Engaging with international partners is critical to raising standards and finding effective solutions.
So far, attempts at developing Armenia have been blighted by a failure to unite and mobilise both the nation and diaspora. It is not an easy task, currently there are roughly 10 million Armenians living in over 100 nations. However, we must transform the relationship to one of interdependence and trust.
Until now, members of the diaspora have largely been viewed as a source of charitable aid – this causes disconnect and indifference. Instead of charity, which I believe is detrimental to Armenia’s future as it prevents organic, conducive reforms, the diaspora should invest in long-term projects with meaningful impacts. I believe a shared vision and hope for Armenia can be created through collaboration and the implementation of impact investment. However, a strong Armenian diaspora must become more aware of their responsibility in helping the Armenian nation develop, and by updating and strengthening their institutions, enhance and ensure the preservation of Armenian worldwide heritage.
Commitment and shared responsibility will encourage desire for success and provide a crux for wider development. A blend of commercial, social and philanthropic projects will help build a better more sustainable future for Armenia. Multi-purpose anchor projects – breakthrough projects used to serve the interests of the nation and its people – will help societal evolution. Anchor projects in the education, technological, scientific and tourism sectors will serve as a way to unite a fragmented nation, by drawing people together through communication and exchange of ideas. Long-term investment and visionare necessary, as social impact investments slowly manifest themselves over 20-25 years. Therefore, close working relationships are essential, investors need to want to be part of the conversation and want to see the projects evolve to impact the wider community.
Re-establishing Armenia as a hub of excellence in education would not only aid development and attract investment, it would attract others to the country. Investment into educational projects is investing in Armenia’s future, and promotes talent, trust, collaboration and multiculturalism –in doing so educational projects have wide-ranging personal, local and global impact. Armenia has already shown it has the potential for success in the educational sphere; with the Tumo Centre, American University in Armenia, Russian-Armenian University, French University and United World Colleges movement all having centres in Armenia. We must utilise the opportunities we have for the implementation of further educational projects.
Additionally, investment into the science and technological space would have wide reaching effect. The development of science and technology is both tangible and lucrative.It will also drive explosive growth in the health, environment and knowledge economies. The FAST Foundation is leading the way in innovation in Armenia, numerous projects support budding scientists, technologists and innovators in Armenia and the global stage. It will amplify and empower scientific advancement in the country, aiming to position Armenia as the technical and scientific hub of the region.
By fostering a competitive economy in Armenia, we can attract further foreign direct investment and also immigration. Additionally, we need to encourage good governance by developing effective and accountable governmental and societal institutions, which commit to excellence and professionalism. Impact investment and the championing of good governance will create an attractive Armenia, where not only Armenians want to live, but also the diaspora, international students and businessmen and women. This would bolster demographic security by dampening the desire for emigration and creating the social and economic atmosphere needed to raise the birth rate in the country. A growing population would mean a larger workforce, which would allow Armenia to become a self-sufficient global player, one that can build regional and global alliances.
Whilst our geographical location at the crossroads of civilisations brings many benefits, we also face regional security threats, which was painfully evident during last year’s 44-day war. In order to bolster Armenia’s position regionally, we must first acknowledge our security situation and construct a more effective and forward-looking defence system. This will take a shift in thinking and a significant increase in spending, but more modern military thinking is needed to protect our borders and people. A reinforced and innovative security system will allow us to look forward and act to guarantee Artsakh’s physical freedom and security.
Armenia faces many challenges, but it also has a number of strengths and competitive advantages – which we must use; not only do the diaspora provide resources and experience of other systems, we are bilingual nation and a nation located at the cross-roads of four civilisations. Armenia’s geography between the Middle East, Europe and the Caucasus means we can take advantage ofa working relationship with the European Union through the Eastern Partnership whilst being a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia in particular is interested in Armenia being competitive, and at the same time is the right ally to ensure regional security.
If we build on these advantages and focus on inter-dependency and responsibility, Armenians and the Armenian diaspora, in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian institutions, can build a successful country. By developing on a local level, we can look to eradicate inequality and push for a fairer more open society, one that is beneficial for all Armenians.
A strong Armenia with modern institutions and a well-educated society will improve the country’s position regionally and on a global scale; allowing Armenia to become a bridge between cultures and organisations.
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