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The Myths and Phenomenology of the War in Ukraine

Image source:, Serhii Myhalchuk
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At the outset, I am aware that the world is immersed in Russophobia and anti-Putin sentiment, and a negative view of Ukraine and Zelensky is sacrilegious. To be fair though, not that Russia and Putin are flawless, I am writing this article with a different slant, believing that the democratic world doesn’t believe in ancient sacral kingship where kings are deified as God and speaking about their frivolities or weaknesses is a crime.    

The war in Ukraine has a long history behind it, but it could have been avoided.  And saying that Russia just invaded Ukraine, out of the blue, as a gateway to invade the rest of Europe and worsen the present global pandemic economy is naïve and deceitful. Why? Because it takes two to tango.

 The Myths

We sapiens are fond of creating myths, especially subcultural and subgroup myths. We institutionalize these, impose them upon our immediate group members, propagate them to others, and eventually attempt to impose them as the universal norm of human life and existence.  This is true not just in religion but also in economics and politics. In the process of globally venerating our institutionalized myths we clash with others, and the clashes are, at times, deadly and destructive.

The war in Ukraine is just another example of this deadly clash. Critically ironic is the belief that death and destruction can bring progress and prosperity. After World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the so-called Western World has positioned itself as the universal norm for the bright future of human civilization. And that future hinges on the American model of capitalism as the only means for economic global prosperity, and the American paradigm of polarized partisan-based democracy to ensure global order and peace. Did the myths of American capitalism and partisan democracy spark the war in Ukraine?

The Phenomenology   

Laying aside the larger historical contexts of the Cold War and the fear of the lingering ghost of the Soviet Empire, let’s trace the immediate contributing factors of the war in Ukraine. 

Russia believed that US-NATO is prepping Ukraine to destabilize Russia, so Russia built up its forces across Ukraine’s borders. Putin wanted to be legally assured that Ukraine won’t join NATO, but Zelensky, most likely with Biden’s assent, said no. In turn, Zelensky aggressively positioned Ukraine as a soon-to-be part of NATO. He did that despite the years of the required process that Biden forgot and Zelensky was not cognizant of. And behind the scene, though, both men zealously wanted to rebrand themselves. Biden wanted to prove to the Americans and the world that he is a tough and charismatic guy (more than Trump but like Obama) and still able to make it to the second term. Zelensky wanted recognition on the global stage and fantasized about being equal with Putin, Biden, and other leaders of major European powers.

It was madness that after plunging into war with the NATO factor, Zelensky just declared that Ukraine is not seeking NATO membership anymore. This could have been enough to end the war and Russia could have already lost its raison d’etre for invasion. And if Putin continued the invasion without the raison d’etre, he could have even lost the friendship of China, Belarus, and other neutral countries like Turkey, India, South Africa, or Israel. But then another madness crept in.  Zelensky demanded more weapons and support for the war. He just wanted escalation instead of de-escalation to avoid the destruction of his country and saved the lives of his people. And pride, a delusion of grandeur, and zealousness for war persisted even one year later.  And Biden supports it despite cautions from both Republicans and Democrats. Can’t the world see the psyche behind the continued war in Ukraine? By the way, the US also needs to remember its flaw in the making of Saddam Hussein.

Acting along the way with guts and charisma, Zelensky later realized he could also fantasize about a superpower Ukraine able to defeat Russia by demanding indisputable military empowerment from NATO countries. To his credit, he did play his role well getting military freebies (that even countries like Canada struggle to acquire, upgrade, and maintain), so he could build Ukraine into a global military superpower to compete with Russia—for free.    

So, at the outset, the conflict escalated into what Russia regarded as a preemptive incursion. At its early stage, Biden could have intervened by emphasizing that US-NATO will not arm Ukraine or destabilize Russia on condition of Russia’s immediate withdrawal from the looming incursion. But Biden seemed to care less or does know what was going on, and even impulsively aggravated the conflict by positioning US-NATO as Russia’s staunch enemy that’s ready to fight in Ukraine. Stoltenberg either just cannot say no to the US, or even find a purpose in the conflict as an opportunity to emphasize the relevance of NATO despite the long bygone era of the Cold War. In short, the conflict quickly evolved not into a war that no one wants to prevent or de-escalate. Indeed, as the Pope affirmed the war was either provoked or not prevented.

From the incessant economic pressures against Russia and Russians to the military empowerment of Ukraine and the worldwide propagation of anti-Russian sentiment, Zelensky became more enamored of defeating Russia and Putin. Despite Ukraine’s grave economic status and lack of military capabilities, he imagined himself as an ordinary Ukrainian actor turned into a famed David able to defeat the feared European goliath.  And much to the dismay of Putin, Zelensky and the Ukraine military, trained and empowered by US-NATO has become an enemy that’s hard to quickly defeat. 

Amid the war, Biden, and most NATO leaders seem to enjoy the play of power and the game of death in defeating the ghost of the long-gone Soviet Empire.  But while watching the show they also missed deciphering the gradual opening of their common pandora box. Yes, the war highlighted the economic, political, and military influence and power of the US and the West. But it also reinforced the need for alternative regional alliances that despise the whims, wishes, and will of the West and disdain a unipolar global control and governance. More so with the leadership of the unpredictable bipartisan-based American political and economic foreign policies and practices. 

So, what’s the US-NATO ultimate goal behind this war? The speedy victory over Russia? A grand finale of the solid and sole domination of America in Europe, then the world, including China, India, and Arab countries, among others? And afterward, just forget Ukraine and the Ukrainians, like what they did to Iraq and the Iraqis, Afghanistan and Afghanis, and Syria and Syrians, as well as others?  

Despite Putin’s expressions of willingness for a peaceful resolution, it appears that Biden (probably struggling with aging consciousness and rationality), Zelensky (still obsessed with more grandeurs than what he already has, if not having other self-interests), Scholz (still figuring out what to do), and Stoltenberg (just acting as the usual American yes man)—do not have an exit strategy. Do they just want to impose an authoritarian and unilateral condition on Russia? In this sense, there’s no negotiation or amicable agreement. Or do they just want the final destruction of Ukraine and Russia?

Even the US Republican congressman Paul Gosar and senator JD Vance both pointed out that Biden’s policy in Ukraine is escalation, not de-escalation. Last year thirty Democrat Representatives urged Biden for a diplomatic solution. But it seems Biden is not fully aware of the depths of the deaths and sufferings of the Ukrainian people, and can’t see the potential for further destruction of Ukraine. 

Could the conflict evolve into war had it been in the context of Trump’s USA (despite his arrogance and rudeness) and Merkel’s Germany? Or in Obama’s Nobel Peace America, and Clinton’s economic growth-centered USA?  These are all theoretical questions, but the fact is, with the Western-spoiled Zelensky on the global center stage demanding more powerful freebies—it’s just escalation and more death and destruction.  I thought more civilized societies are passionate about a more peaceful, constructive, and fair approach to international relations.

Ukrainians’ hope is not on more weapons of destruction but on an amicable resolution to the conflict turned to war. There is no glory, peace, or prosperity in further escalation of the war. Restoration, reconstruction, and rebuilding of lives and society is a long process. First, there should be peace in Ukraine, then regional peace. Ukraine still needs to detoxify itself and build its national integrity. But globally assisted by positive and constructive societies—it can be done.

Ukrainians should realize that winning the war is not just about more fighting, more weapons, totally defeating the enemy, or just being carried away by a leader’s delusion. They need to reflect on the fate of Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. And learn lessons from Japan, China, South Korea, and even Vietnam. 

The war in Ukraine is not a world war but could have global consequences if not fairly and wisely resolved. The hope is for other leaders with a deeper sense of awareness and reason to stand up and intervene. 

The Losers

The biggest losers in this war are the Ukrainian people. How can they rebuild their lives and their country? Many of them escaped war and felt lucky to start a new life in a foreign land. But Ukraine is devastated, and political leaders want some more. Like other corrupt countries, after a national disaster (human-made or natural) reconstruction never happens. The beneficiaries of aid are always those in power. Corruption and financial opportunism are generational, and can’t be cleaned in a few days of a superficial show. It takes a generation of positive authoritarian governments to clean a country, rebuild it, and usher in an honorable and equitable grandeur.

Russians are also casualties of this war. The world ignores, and even rejoices in, Russian military, economic, political, and cultural sufferings. We forget that Russians are human beings also. They did fight against the cruel Nazis and in fact, also contributed to the end of World War II in the Pacific.

The Characters

Indeed, Zelensky was able to fulfill his dream of becoming a recognized world leader. With his acts, he can demand expensive freebies that even more economically advanced countries like Canada struggle to acquire, maintain, and update. Of course, at times parents would sacrifice themselves to appease their spoiled brat, but sacrificing one’s family for another family’s (not immediate or extended) demanding kid to fight others in a conflict he provoked and never wants to end, is lunacy.   

No other contemporary political leader can rally global support and equip his country for free like Zelensky. He can lure and play the USA, most NATO countries, and the EU.  He can lure the US Congress to stand in a united ovation that other American presidents were wanting. But how long can such a grandeur last? With a country loaded with corruption (how far does it go), when the war has reached its life cycle and ends, will he still enjoy the glory, or be forgotten? When one’s character in a play is done and the play itself is over, the character becomes unnecessary and slowly drifts into oblivion. Then a new play with new characters emerged, then a cycle of hype and loss of relevance continue. Hype does not last forever.

Scholz has been flip-flopping, making Germany a flip-flop. As the leading European and EU power, he seems lost. Gone are the days of the humble yet decisive and strong Merkel. Both Scholz and Macron could have brokered diplomatic resolutions before the incursion but now, both seem lost also if not disinterested, apathetic, or disabled to make a breakthrough for global peace and recovery.  As I mentioned earlier, Stoltenberg has his predicaments.   

Biden, though, has proven that he can still rally the USA and the world against Russia to fight the ghost of the Cold War. Is he taking active, rational, and strategic roles in resolving the conflict that turned into war? Or just passively watching and concurring whatever it is. His predecessors could have played a more active and positive role.

We all know that America has very powerful military, political, economic, scientific, and technological capabilities. What we don’t know, with its internal degradation seeping in, is what will be its future? Will it still be the leader of global peace, democracy, and socio-economic recovery? Will the war in Ukraine be a litmus test on how creatively and constructively or pathetically and destructively America handles global conflict? Will it be great to see America done with a stale persona and imbibing fresh, more creative, and constructive leadership?  

Back to the Myths

By significant ratio, problems of crime and economic disparity in the US and its American European kins are much greater than that in Singapore, China, Japan, Qatar, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Brunei, or Nordic countries. Further, the national infrastructure development and citizens’ equitable quality of life are more progressive in people-centered authoritarian countries than in North America and its kins. So, the myth that Western or American-style capitalism and democracy are the only universal norm for global peace and progress is ironic.  

Furthermore, by now, the global society should have realized that a world controlled by a unipolar myth is and will be retrogressive. Diversity is an inherent human quality that brings creativity and constructive endeavors. And inclusion amidst diversity does not mean uniformity but being positively connected to a constructive human collage. With each niche contributing to the creative advancement of the quality of human life and civilization.

Naïve and theoretical? Yes, in the sense that our world is loaded with all sorts of conflicting self-interests, mostly short-term, as common in the West where societal governance is always tied up with partisan, individual, and lobbyist interests. But not in countries where the focus is more truly on the national people’s well-being and future, and this the West cannot accept or even hate because it collides with its ideological myths.

Critical myths are playing with life and death in Ukraine. One of these myths is the notion that for Europe (and the world) to be safe, free, and prosperous it needs to follow the American model of political and economic ideology. Another is that by annihilating the enemy (probably too exaggerating) or defeating it without any compromise and mutual considerations, through massive military power, Europe (and the world) can have peace and prosperity. It seems though that many are fond of this approach, and thus are more zealous of war than conflict resolution. 

Unless we address these myths, the fondness for the escalation of war can never subside, until all that’s left are ruins and more deaths. Only those who profit from the war want it to continue. Those of us who are ordinary people, just want global peace and economic recovery so we can again afford a place to live and foods to eat and move on to rebuild our broken lives. And perhaps someday travel to once-troubled places to see its new beauty and reflect on the lessons learned from humane intervention.    


The conflict in Ukraine was provoked and allowed to turn into a war. It’s the consequence of American-NATO’s proactive and offensive positioning to expand, and eventually dominate Europe. It’s the outcome of Russia’s reactive and defensive action to the perceived American-NATO threat to contain its regional capability. The politics of the war, heightened by the power play of wishful political actors, spread and pervaded our already Pandemic-stricken world. While others are still wondering, most are lured spontaneously.  Unlike World War II, the war in Ukraine is not a necessary evil. 

Our global community need to deeply consider, not who the villain and the heroes are, for all involved have villains and heroes. But on how can the world finally exit from this war that worsens our global economy and life, amid us, ordinary people, already critically struggling to have our ends meet? Doesn’t a ray of peace and recovery give us all hope to restart our life beyond the Pandemic, inflation, job losses, recession, deaths, and many other difficulties? It’s time for the world to begin a new life.

Alan Delotavo, Ph.D. (University of Pretoria), is a freelance writer and researcher from Canada. He was an assistant professor in social science and a former clergyman before becoming secular. He has a background in interdisciplinary anthropological studies, religion, and ethics and has presented scholarly papers at international conferences. Alan is presently focusing on alternative socio-political analysis and societal rebranding.

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Eastern Europe

Education: Armenia’s Path to Stronger Economic Growth

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Better education and a stronger innovation drive are crucial for achieving higher rates of economic growth and prosperity in any country. Countries that prioritize improvements in education – from the pre-primary to the university level – and innovation are better positioned to adapt to economic change and help raise the living standards for their people.

Education equips individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute to the economy, with the ability to learn – and unlearn – continuously. Innovation involves the creation of new products, processes, and services that expand the capacity of enterprises and economies. In fact, the most innovative countries tend to be the most successful economically.

Take the case of Estonia. In 1993, Estonia’s GDP per capita was a modest about $6,480. In comparison, Japan’s was $24,000. Fast forward 30 years. Estonia’s GDP per capita was equal to that of Japan in 2022, at nearly $43,000. Estonia now boasts the highest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) scores in math, science and reading in Europe. A similar ‘miracle’ happened in Korea, a country that moved from developing country status to an advanced economy in just one generation. How can countries replicate Estonia’s or Korea’s success and achieve faster economic growth and standards of living that are like to those of high-income countries?

Through education and innovation.

Here in Armenia, education has been a priority since the country’s independence in 1991. The government has made efforts to increase the number of schools, provide free education for primary and secondary schools, and promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. As a result, Armenia has a high literacy rate of over 99% and over 60% of adults have completed at least secondary education.

Yet, the education system is not producing the needed outcomes. Children born in Armenia today will be only 58% as productive during their lives as they could have been if they had received quality health and education services available. Armenian children are expected to complete 11.3 years of schooling. This decreases to 8 years if the quality of education is factored in. Pre-primary school and secondary school enrollment is low compared to peer countries in Europe and Central Asia (ECA). It is the quality of education that is the most pressing concern. Armenia’s TIMSS mathematics score – a standardized test for children in grade 4 – is one of the lowest in the region. The quality of tertiary education is below the ECA average: it is nearly 30% lower than Georgia, and half as low as the new EU member states. These outcomes are not surprising, given that public spending on education is just under 2.7% of GDP in Armenia, which is half that of the EU.

The World Bank is helping Armenia improve its education system, including through the Education Improvement Project, which is enhancing the conditions for learning across educational levels by extending preschool coverage, providing laboratory equipment, informing curriculum revisions, and improving the relevance and quality of higher education institutions. The many outcomes of the project include new preschools in rural communities, training of preschool teachers, and grants to higher education institutions through the Competitive Innovation Fund. Under the EU4Innovation Trust Fund, the World Bank is also helping improve the quality of STEM education. By September this year, Armenia will have a fully revised STEM curriculum for middle and high schools (grades 5 to 12), improved learning materials, school-based STEM laboratories and as well as enhanced student-centered instructional methodologies/teaching methods.

Education is essential but alone is not sufficient to drive economic growth. How knowledge is applied by firms, researchers and workers through innovation is critical. In Armenia, there is a disconnect between education, research, and the link to entrepreneurs and markets. For example, academic research in Armenia is dominated by the National Academy of Sciences which comprises more than 30 separate research institutes. None of these institutes are formally integrated with any teaching university in the country. There is also a proliferation of universities in Armenia, with 26 public (state) and 33 private universities; many of the latter, in name only. In Denmark, a country with almost twice the population, there are only eight state-recognized and funded universities offering research-based education.

Consolidating the universities in Armenia, merging them with the research institutes, and focusing government attention on accreditation could help address some of these challenges. It is also essential to reform the university admission process to incentivize talented high schoolers to apply. The government could also support the commercialization of research. In many advanced economies, universities are prodigious producers of knowledge and basic research output, and the private sector, the user of this research, is very vibrant. Without practical application, research may have little impact on the country’s growth potential.

Extensive work by the World Bank shows that human capital is at the core of efforts to strengthen innovation and technology adoption. In Armenia, as in many other countries, human capital is one of the main binding constraints to growth.

While the government has taken significant steps and has initiated important reforms to promote both education and innovation, more is needed to realize their potential. By making a greater investment in education and innovation, Armenia can build a knowledge-based economy that can help the country deliver a development miracle and elevate standards of living to those of high-income countries. The dialogue at the recent panel discussion on “Growth, Education, and Innovation” could help policymakers in their efforts to transform education and innovation in Armenia.

This op-ed was originally published in via World Bank

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Eastern Europe

The dilemma of China’s role as Mediator in the case of Ukraine

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Photo credit: Ju Peng/Xinhua

Since the full-scale Russo-Ukrainian war unfolding after 24 February 2022, China has maintained so-called neutral stance on the conflict, passively calling for a peaceful resolution. But on the anniversary of Russian invasion, Beijing popped up with concrete suggestions on how to end the war: China claimed its readiness to participate in peaceful adjustment.

Beijing’s peacemaking attitude and Xi Jinping’s legitimacy as Mediator were acknowledged by Putin during Xi’s visit to Moscow and the rumors about the following soon phone call between Xi and Zelensky spread, however, it is arguable whether Kyiv is truly ready to welcome China as the broker. The US, in turn, treated Beijing’s position skeptically.   

This piece elaborates on how China became Global Mediator of the 21st century and why now Ukraine is reluctant to accept Beijing’s brokering.

For starters, China is a realist actor across the domain of international relations. Kissinger states that Chinese leaders are making profound foreign policy decisions only when they do not lack the means to achieve the goals [Kissinger, 2010], hereby Xi knew that Beijing’s possible mediation between Moscow and Kyiv during first months of the war would not be realizable. The sides were not sincerely ready for a truce, neither Russia, occupied territories and continued advancements in Donbas, nor preparing counteroffensive Ukraine, backed by vast Western support.

Moreover, from realism perspective, peace achievement lies in accepting and adapting to the irresistible existence of powers involved in security competition [Mearsheimer, 2001] and peacemaking is most likely when there is no hegemon [Morgenthau, 1946].

China adhered tenaciously to aforementioned realist position by declaring that “the security of the country should not be pursued at the expense of others”, obviously referring to NATO’s strengthening and Russian lament about bloc’s eastward expansion. But such Xi’s mediation ceasefire proposition in the heat of the war would be found senseless by Ukraine and the USA, which were publicly committed to peace restoration by beating Russia on the battlefield and reestablishing liberal world order led by predominant power – the U.S.

Beijing had to prepare before ascending as Mediator between Kyiv and Moscow.

Firstly, China gained legitimacy as a global security provider. Ukraine fights for its land, but Washington made a geostrategic mistake by being directly involved in a confrontation with Russia: by imposing enormous economic sanctions on Moscow, tolerating Nord Stream pipeline sabotage and trying to end the Russo-Ukrainian war only by military means, not diplomacy.

While China proposes negotiations, the U.S. is only committed to the war continuation.

As a result, the USA lost worldwide recognized status as the sole provider of economic prosperity and global security; the unipolar liberal world order ideology became an American tool for maintaining the U.S. leadership and Western dominance at any price, despite the economic losses of others.

Therefore, some states, especially from the Global South, did not support American efforts to isolate Russia, perceiving Washington’s strategy as destabilizing. Instead, they opted for cooperation with China as an alternative planetary center within the uprising multipolar world order model; Beijing met the demand by launching Global Security Initiative, posing itself as a stabilizing Mediator.

Secondly, Beijing successfully proved its new status. China became broker between Iran and Saudi Arabia, helping two longstanding Middle East rivals to achieve reconciliation as well as détente, giving them solid security guarantees. Tehran and Riyadh restored relations without Washington’s participation and pleasingly deepened economic interaction with China.

Thirdly, concerning the Russo-Ukrainian war, Xi Jinping can become Mediator and repeat the historical brokering successes of pacification Russia achieved by such famous statesmen like Otto Bismarck and Theodore Roosevelt.

German “iron” chancellor, apologist of realpolitik, frequently played role of mediator among leading European nations in the 19th century, balancing their interests within spheres of influence. Balkans became one of such great states’ competition arenas, where Austria and Russia struggled to gain control over newborn Bulgaria and influence in the region. The war between them was prevented because Bismarck sagaciously established “League of Three Emperors”, through which mediated disputes between two empires, therefore he was known as “honest broker”.

American president contributed to halting the war between Russia and Japan in 1905. His wise brokering helped states to sign the Treaty of Portsmouth. Serving as mediator for combatants, Roosevelt induced two countries to make concessions on the most intense issues regarding reparations and territorial disputes, thereby sides reached peace.   

But while Putin acknowledges Xi as broker, Zelensky probably does not, due to Ukrainian survival dilemma – if Kyiv accepts China as a Mediator, it loses Western vital support.

Thus, there are three reasons why Ukraine is not enthusiastic about Beijing’s brokering, at least publicly.  

First, Zelensky has his own, approved by the West, peace plan. He wants Xi to take part in Kyiv’s “peace formula.” It assumes restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and Russian troops withdrawal from occupied territories. Chinese “peace position”, on the contrary, suggests the immediate ceasefire and peace talks launch: frozen conflict, not total Ukrainian victory. Moreover, it does not stipulate the matter of Ukraine’s territorial restoration.  

Secondly, Ukraine is diplomatically, politically, militarily and economically dependent on the West, i.e. the USA. China, successfully mediating between Moscow and Kyiv, is the worst-case scenario for America, because intensifies Beijing’s global influence at the expanse of the U.S., which has different from Chinese stance on Russo-Ukraine war ending issue. The USA wants to preserve its worldwide leadership. Consequently, Washington will reduce its vital aid to Ukraine if China is chosen as broker. Kyiv needs to consider the stabilization puzzle, given the significantly suffered from the war economy.

Thirdly, Ukrainian ruling elite, opinion leaders and society are ideologically inclined as well as biased to accept West as only one party, which can help Ukraine to stop the war. NATO is seen as the sole security guarantees provider. Besides, there are many West-funded organizations and media outlets in Kyiv, influencing public narratives within Ukrainian society. So, even if Zelensky accepts mediation, economic support and post-war restoration plan from China, elites in Kyiv and Ukrainian society will oppose him, challenging his legitimacy. Zelensky risks repeating former president Yanukovych fate.

To sum up, it should be stated that China’s role as global security provider is inevitable, Beijing will continue to use its economic leverage to reconcile many conflicting rivals in the world. Thus, Beijing mediation option may be considered by Ukraine in the near future, but not today.

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Eastern Europe

Erosion of Russia’s Hegemonic Stability in the South Caucasus and Transition to Risky Instability



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In early nineteenth century, following the wars with Persian and Ottoman empires, Russia completed the invasion of the South Caucasus. The region that hosts present day Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia remained under the control of Moscow until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, though the three countries were independent for a brief period after the World War I. Suppressing the independence movements in these countries along with the other parts of Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Moscow also acted as security provider in the region. In this role, Russia subdued conflicts between the subjects of the empire and also countered the intervention of external powers into “its” territories. This created a stability in the South Caucasus, as in other parts of the empire, dubbed by the theories of international relations as “hegemonic stability”.

In early 1990s, the Soviet Union collapsed and, subsequently, most of the newly independent states in the territories of the former empire ushered into inter- and intra-state conflicts. In the South Caucasus, Russia sought to manipulate and ultimately benefit from these flashpoints in order to preserve its influence over the region. Moscow’s support to Abkhaz separatists in Georgia and Armenia’s occupation of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan in early 1990s helped the Kremlin recover its control over three countries of the South Caucasus. This translated into resurgence of Russia-dominated security order in the region in the post-soviet period but with more assertive independent states that sought to boost their sovereignty while minimizing Russia’s hegemony.

Armenia joined the Russia-led security and economic integration with a full membership at the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Azerbaijan, on the other hand, managed to build neutral and multilateral foreign policy and succeeded to resist Russia’s pressure thanks to economic independence of the country. The only country of the region, Georgia, that sought to escape Russian orbit and join the Eura-Atlantic political and military structures faced insurmountable obstacles on this path and remained in-between. Russia’s occupation of two regions of Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) in 2008 has served for the Kremlin as the Sword of Damocles over Tbilisi’s foreign policy.

The post-Soviet hegemonic stability in the South Caucasus has been, therefore, more volatile compared to earlier periods. The occasional military escalations between Baku and Yerevan along with the war in Georgia (2008) manifested such sporadic disruptions of the regional security order.  However, in both cases, Russia succeeded to act as hegemon by recovering ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan and putting a de-fact veto on Georgia’s foreign policy.

Even during the full-scale military operations between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020, known as the Second Karabakh War, Russia appeared as the only mediator with enough authority to bring the sides to ceasefire. Deploying its troops to the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan under the name of peacekeepers, Russia managed to complete its mission of deploying its troops on the soil of each of the three countries of the region.

Hence, in the post-Soviet period, Moscow managed mostly to preserve the security order in the region under hegemony of Russia. The Kremlin, however, has had to swallow growing security ties between Azerbaijan and Turkiye, but reacted more calmly to these ties as Baku demonstrated deference to Russia’s core national interests and concerns in the region.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow’s dominance established over the South Caucasus in early nineteenth century came under jeopardy for the third time after the post-WWI and early years of the post-Soviet periods. Facing an unexpected military debacle in Ukraine and massive economic troubles at home, Russia encounters challenges against its dominance in the South Caucasus, the region that has overarching geopolitical significance for Moscow.

This time the challenge to Russian power originates in Armenia and Azerbaijan, as Georgia avoids provoking Moscow and seemingly drifts away from its pro-Western aspirations. On the one hand, Azerbaijan criticizes Russia’s support to the separatist regime in the Karabakh region, tries to end the mission of the peacekeeping contingent, deepens its strategic alliance with Turkiye, increases its contributions to the energy security of Europe, and relies more on the EU’s mediation in the peace process with Armenia. On the other hand, Armenia defies Russia’s authority by distancing itself from Russia’s military bloc, builds closer relations with the European countries and the United States and invited a mission of the EU to monitor the security situation along Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan. The Kremlin reacted rather furiously to these developments and blamed the West on attempts to squeeze Russia out of the South Caucasus.

To the disappointment of Moscow, this signifies a decline in Russia’s dominance over the region, although it is now premature to say how this process will go on and whether this will end up with Russia’s withdrawal from the South Caucasus. The decline of Russian influence over the region creates a period which can be seen through the lens of the power-transition theory of international relations. According to this conceptual framework, the decline of the dominant power might lead to a conflict or war with the rising power as the latter becomes more assertive seeking to challenge the dominance of the declining power. This can be observed also as the emergence of a power vacuum in the respective region which other powerful state(s) might try to fill in which again leads to a conflict or war between the dominant power and rising power(s).

The present situation in the South Caucasus, thus, resembles the period described by the power transition theory. Other external powers, including Iran, Turkiye, the EU and United States try to benefit from Russia’s diminishing influence over the region and increases their power. Particularly, for Iran, the “encroachment” of the external players into the South Caucasus is inadmissible. The Russia-Ukraine war complicated the regional geopolitics for Iran as the European Union (EU) and United States have increased their influence in the South Caucasus by boosting their mediating role in the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process, effectively sidelining Russia therein and deploying a monitoring mission to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border in the aftermath of Prague summit (October 6). Against this background, increasingly closer relations between Israel and Azerbaijan and the emerging possibility of the formation of Israel-Turkiye-Azerbaijan trilateral cooperation platform further enrage the Iranian authorities.

Tehran is determined to use military and other instruments to fill in the power vacuum emerges in the region in the wake of Russia’s decline. In this endeavor Iran effectively enjoys the support of Armenia whose leaders try to use the Iranian card against their common enemies of Azerbaijan and Turkiye. The recently growing ties between Armenia and Iran have provided Tehran a useful chance to get into the South Caucasus more assertively and form a de-facto alliance against the two Turkic states. Towards this end, Yerevan and Tehran are clearly building up their cooperation in various spheres, including military and economy. Apart from aiming to boost bilateral trade turnover from $700 million to $3 billion, Iran is also discussing supplying combat drones to Armenia.

That said, the hegemony Russia acquired over the South Caucasus in early nineteenth century is fading and with it the security order it built in the region is rapidly eroding. This process might be accompanied by violent conflicts and wars amongst different regional and external actors. For now, the major security threat to the regional stability is Iran and the alliance it builds with Armenia.

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