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Growing Miscalculations of Parties with No clear End-State Describes One Year of Russia Ukraine War

A man photographs an apartment building that was heavily damaged during escalating conflict, in Kyiv, Ukraine. © UNICEF/Anton Skyba for The Globe and Mail
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As the war in Ukraine completes one year, both sides put up a brave front, reiterating their resolve to carry on, blaming the other side for the conflict, and engaging in greater miscalculations with a hope that a little extra push can put them in a stronger position to dictate terms to the other side. However, chasing such a mirage increases the risk of an unprecedented escalation by ignoring serious warnings from both sides. After a surprise stopover in Kiev announcing $460 million in military aid, President Joe Biden made a strong pitch in Poland for Ukraine support despite the commotion caused by ongoing Russia-China military drill in South Africa during the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine. This was in response to the President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he would suspend participation in New START, the only remaining major nuclear arms control treaty with the US, in his annual state of the nation address on February 21.

As US led NATO fighting proxy war on shoulders of Zelensky, announced sending battle tanks, long range offensive weapons, the sensitivity to risk of nuclear escalation is not hidden, as President Biden said no to fighter jets and asked Russia to respect the last of nuclear pact with US. The NATO is divided on fighter aircraft support, additional sanctions, swift inclusion Ukraine into EU, leave aside NATO’s bid, which first led to Zelensky’s showdown with Putin. Even with NATO’s information campaign reiterating Ukraine’s victory, attaining an end state as it existed before February 24th, 2022, must be considered nothing less than a pipe dream for Ukraine.

Russians have picked up momentum in the Eastern region to speed up their gains before tanks and other offensive weapons arrive in Ukraine, besides Stalingrad vows on 80th Anniversary of victory, with a gentle reminder that response to tanks may well be in other domains. With heavy burden of economic cost and casualties Russia too is struggling with its desired end state for conflict termination. It makes all strategists think – Is West taking Russian warnings as bluff or a cornered Russia may press the wrong nuclear button, if NATO continues to take Putin for granted and goes ahead meeting Zelensky’s unending wish list?

The Stark Realities

The big power contestation in Ukraine has few stark realities which both sides are hesitating to accept. Firstly, Russia with largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles under Putin will not get annihilated/decisively defeated without using any of these weapons. Secondly, US will not risk annihilation of Washington/New York to save Zelensky/Poland. Thirdly Russia will not be able to annihilate Ukraine supported by NATOs without a serious break down internally, and holding on to captured territory without locals’ support will be a long-term challenge. Fourthly Europe will not be more secure and prosperous, as it was before February 2022, as it did not pay heed to Russian security concerns and fell prey to American design of cutting off its dependency on Russia.

While the kinetic, contact, hybrid war between Russia and Ukraine continues, the US-led NATO is waging an undeclared, non-kinetic, non-contact war against Russia in the economic, information, diplomatic, and political spheres, making them de-facto parties to the conflict that is unlikely to have a victor. With no clear understanding of the ultimate goal that either side intends to achieve to put an end to the war, the dimensions of war are growing to encompass targeting dual-use key infrastructure, the energy grid, covert operations, an expanded information war, and a psychological offensive.

Russian Calculations and Strategy   

In context of realities mentioned above, Russian calculation is based on premise that NATO will stop short of nuclear escalation; hence nuclear references have credible deterrence value, as NATO hasn’t openly admitted its direct involvement, notwithstanding its experts operating in Ukraine under the garb of volunteers/contractors. Russian calculation of freezing Europe in winters has outlived its currency as Europe has finally survived existing winter with reduced energy supply from Russia. Heavy casualties of men and material, economic setback due to sanctions, and inadequate inflow of war material from outside has taken its toll in last one year, straining its surge capability of defence production to sustain war. Surely Russia seems to have miscalculated/under-estimated Ukraine’s resolve to defend itself and NATO’s resolve to support Ukraine so far.

The fresh supply of weapons can adversely impact its ongoing operations; hence Russian strategy to speed up the offensive by capturing important communication hubs like Bakhmut, before newly promised tanks, armoured vehicles, air defence equipment and Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) with longer ranges (US $2.2 billion worth) are effective in battlefield, makes sense. Russia is nowhere close to achieving its strategic aim of liberating entire Donbass Region and southern Ukraine to join up with Transnistria to landlock Ukraine, however consolidating to retain its gains with renewed offensive, efforts to improve its territorial disposition for better end state on conflict termination, seems to be a practical approach for Russia.

From the Russian point of view, Ukraine’s energy grid and essential services are as much legitimate targets as the Russian bridge to Crimea or Nordstream pipelines are; hence, standoff attacks on it will continue to be more impactful than casualty prone close combat operations in pro-Ukrainian areas.

Russia knows its limitations in economic, diplomatic, information warfare, and political warfare, which are heavily skewed in favour of US led NATO and Ukraine and the collective conventional might of NATO is stronger than its residual combat power; hence, option to use nuclear weapons, in case of existential threat will continue to be a powerful tool to prevent NATO entering into contact war with Russia in future too.

US led NATO: Calculations and Strategy

The Munich Conference earlier this month revealed that NATO is caught in a quagmire wherein it would like the war to be confined to Ukraine, for which it has no choice but to support it ‘for as long as it takes’. It can’t afford any spillover of war to any NATO country, as that will imply existential threat to Russia leading it to an awkward choice of nuclear catastrophe or selectively shying away from NATO’s security obligations to affected member as USA may not be ready to risk Washington/New York to save Poland/Ukraine. NATO therefore echoes that Russia must not win; hence, boosting Ukraine’s will to continue fighting by creating a hope of winning an unwinnable war seems to be their calculation with a willing Zelensky to do so.

NATO is incrementally upgrading the military support to Ukraine as per wish list of Zelensky up to the point of weakening Russia to the extent that it doesn’t remain in a position to attack any NATO member in conventional domain, despite leakages due to corruption in Ukraine. The fact that NATO hasn’t responded to ‘Wings for Freedom’ request of Zelensky is a case in point. The argument of supplying offensive weapons for defending purposes to Ukraine is unlikely to be bought by Russia, which will view it as an escalation. NATO, however seems to be testing Putin’s patience with a calculation that he too may shy away from escalating it to nuclear dimension, resulting in greater staying power for Zelensky.

US led NATO’s calculation of crumbling meagre $2 trillion economy of Russia against collective $30 trillion economic might of NATO through crippling sanctions hasn’t worked. Russia has not only endured sanctions, but as per IMF, Russia is expected to grow by 2.1 percent in 2024, in comparison to one percent of US and 1.6 percent of EU and negative growth of UK. It goes to prove that resource rich Russia will find buyers for its raw materials irrespective of sanctions. The biggest hypocrisy is that US and EU continue to buy more nuclear fuel from Russia in last one year announcing stricter sanctions to impress Zelensky! The idea of isolating Russia has met only limited success is evident from growing Russia-China-Iran-North Korea nexus and ongoing joint Russia, China and South Africa military drill leaving NATO sulking.

Purely From US point of view, it has achieved some of its objectives. Nordstream 1 and 2 has been successfully knocked off, if Seymor Hersh has to be believed and Russia’s influence over the EU is decreasing. EU is compelled to keep purchasing its expensive oil and military equipment from US and major contracts to rebuild Ukraine are likely lucrative gains.  In context of waging ‘Shadow War’, the suffering of the Ukrainian people become conceptually irrelevant for US in winning without fighting, if interpreted as per writings of Sean McFate. The gains however are not without long term cost to US. The global race to adopt trading methodology independent of dollars is growing fastest ever. BRICS is looking for common currency and its expansion like SCO.

EU’s over reliance on US for security since 2nd World War has left it with no choice but to give up its economic and energy interests to seek security shelter of US. Some states like Hungary have expressed their opposition to providing Ukraine with unending material support. Reeling under unprecedented inflation, burdened with millions of refugees, the EU will have to raise its defence budget besides surrendering some sovereign decisions to the US, to counter unfriendly Russia in the long run.

Options before Ukraine?

Ukraine, under martial law since beginning of war, has no choice but to continue fighting as any compromise will jeopardize Zelensky’s survival, who is overly obligated to carry out Washington’s plan into action. The cumulative aid over $100 billion poured into Ukraine and the rhetoric of Ukraine winning this war has emboldened Zelensky, giving him an unrealistic hope of defeating Russia to get back his entire territory; hence, he refuses to talk to Putin.

Having lost more than15% of its territory in this war, displaced more than 6 million people internally, sent nearly 8 million refugees outside, suffered significant casualties, destroyed half of its energy infrastructure, regaining lost territory from the Russians, who are seen to be digging in for a protracted war is not realistic irrespective of the military resources provided by NATO, because if Russia found it difficult to make decisive progress with similar resources in built up area of Ukraine, it can be no different for Ukraine.

Is China making a Wild Card Entry into the War?

USA is speculating Chinese military hardware support to Russia in view of ‘Strategic Partnership with no limit’. It is also relevant in context of Sino-Russian footprints in Arctic region and North Atlantic Ocean. It has threatened China for sanctions. China, however is unlikely to compromise its largest consumer market in US and EU; hence, will make its own choice. It’s mocking US as morally not qualified to issue order, after sending billions of dollars’ worth in aid to fuel this war and its history of invasions in Iraq and Libya. It is also keeping USA guessing by offering a peace proposal, which it knows that US/Ukraine will never agree. China has sent Wang Yi to Russia to keep the concern of US alive to any possible agreements.

Way Ahead

A hard slogging tug of war in otherwise stalemate situation in Ukraine will continue with each side hoping better gains to secure better position for talks, putting a brave front despite suffering war fatigue.

Globally the people want the war to end, as it is hurting everyone by inflationary pressures, unprecedented energy and food crisis, especially those who have no relation with this war. Russia is speeding its offensive before additional arsenal makes its task of achieving strategic objectives even more difficult. On the other side, the political hierarchy of US led NATO finds ongoing proxy war, without sharing any burden of body bags, as a convenient option to weaken Russia and keep the war restricted to Ukraine.

NATO seems inclined to let Finland join it to secure its northern flank, even if Sweden’s bid is blocked by Turkey. Russia, therefore might end up with extension of direct land border with NATO by over 1000 Km with Finland joining it as the final end state, an outcome which it wanted to avoid.

NATO’s military backing of Ukraine may not secure victory, but it might lead it to long-term changes in its territorial boundary, an endless proxy war, and consistent long-term Russian threat. President Zelensky has no choice but to continue fighting the war, with western propaganda depicting him as the undisputed winner, as long as the US desires. Pentagon professionals know that ultimately Ukraine will have to make some compromises to its territorial integrity, as its not possible to fully evict Russians from there, but NATO will like to delay such outcome till as late as possible. 

The author is a veteran Infantry General with 40 years experience in international fields and UN. A globally acknowledged strategic & military writer/analyst; he is currently the Chief Instructor of USI of India, the oldest Indian Think-tank in India.

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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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