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The UN and Ukraine: year-long war spreads global fallout

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A school in Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine, is destroyed after heavy shelling. © UNICEF/Kristina Pashkina

As well as causing untold suffering for the people of Ukraine, the consequences of Russia’s invasion of the country have spread far beyond the two nations, fuelling alarming cost increases and product shortages, and creating food shortages around the world. The UN has led efforts to manage the huge humanitarian crisis resulting from the war and to find a path to peace.Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, tens of thousands of people have been killed and maimed on Ukrainian soil, many Ukrainian cities have been reduced to rubble, and their inhabitants forced to flee; UN investigations have found evidence of war crimes.

Throughout the year, UN staff have continued to provide humanitarian assistance, despite fleeing to bomb shelters at the sounds of air raid warnings, and facing cuts to electricity and heating, along with the Ukrainian population.

The conflict has also had an outsized impact on the rest of the world; Ukraine has long been called the ‘world’s breadbasket’, because of its prodigious ability to produce grain. As fighting raged, exports were slashed, causing a spike in global prices, and increasing the risk of food insecurity and starvation, before a UN-led initiative, backed by Turkey, helped to get grain supplies flowing again.

‘Give peace a chance’

From the very first hours of the war, UN Secretary General António Guterres warned of dire consequences for the entire world.

At the request of Ukraine, on February 23, 2022, at exactly 9:30 PM New York time, an emergency meeting of the Security Council began at UN Headquarters. The Secretary-General spoke first, saying “rumours and signs” indicated that an attack on Ukraine was inevitable. From the head of the Council’s iconic horseshoe-shaped table, he addressed the President of Russia directly, urging him to stop his troops from attacking Ukraine, and to “give peace a chance.”

But 20 minutes later, with the meeting still underway, the morning of February 24 had already arrived on the European continent, and Vladimir Putin announced the start of a “special military operation”. The invasion had begun.

Emerging from this late-night meeting of the Security Council to speak to reporters, the Secretary General again addressed President Putin: “In the name of humanity bring your troops back to Russia. In the name of humanity do not start what may be the most devastating war since the start of the century”.

UN humanitarian agencies working in Ukraine quickly shifted into high gear and reported almost immediately that the elderly and women with young children were fleeing. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 50 thousand people left Ukraine less than 48 hours after the invasion, and this was just the beginning of what was to become the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.

Withdraw troops immediately: UN General Assembly

On March 2, during an emergency special session, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution demanding that “the Russian Federation immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all its armed forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”

The measure was supported by 141 UN members with 35 abstentions, and with five delegations – Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Eritrea – voting against.

On March 24, during the newly resumed emergency special session, the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution “Humanitarian Consequences of Aggression against Ukraine”, which contained a demand for Russia to immediately stop hostilities in Ukraine, and end attacks on the civilian population and civilian infrastructure. The General Assembly called for an end to the blockade of Ukrainian cities, in particular Mariupol.

This resolution was supported by 140 states. Five delegations – Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Eritrea – opposed it and 38 abstained.

However, while resolutions of the General Assembly carry significant political weight and moral authority, these calls remained unheeded and later that same month, the UN received reports of civilian killings in Bucha and other areas in the suburbs of Kyiv, of the bombing of Kharkov, and the destruction of Mariupol.

UN chief’s shuttle diplomacy

Whilst condemning the Russian invasion as a clear violation of the UN Charter, Mr. Guterres acted as an intermediary, visiting both Russian and Ukraine at the end of April, meeting President Putin in Moscow, and President Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

As a result of the agreements reached during the visits of António Guterres to Moscow and Kyiv, the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) managed to carry out two operations to evacuate civilians from the territory of the Azovstal steel plant, and from other areas of the city of Mariupol.

The Secretary-General’s direct involvement in talks also paved the way for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, one of the few areas in which Russia and Ukraine have been able to reach agreement.

The initiative came about in response to the sharp increase in prices for food and fertilizers around the world: Russia and Ukraine are the main suppliers of these products to world markets, and their ability to export was significantly curtailed once hostilities began.

With the mediation of the UN and Türkiye, and the personal involvement of Mr. Guterres, a procedure to allow safe passage of ships carrying grain and other food products across the Black Sea was agreed.

The deal allowed Ukraine to resume exports of grain, other food products, and fertilizers. The products are sent through a safe maritime humanitarian corridor from three key Ukrainian ports: Chornomorsk, Odesa and Yuzhne.

Since the agreement was concluded in July, some 21.9 million metric tons of grains and foodstuffs have been exported, and the initiative has been credited with helping to calm global food prices, which reached vertiginous highs in March 2022. Following the implementation of the Initiative, prices began to fall and, by March 2023, had fallen some 18 per cent from their peak a year earlier. 

Nuclear safety threatened

Soon after the invasion, Russian troops seized the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and took control of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).

Three other nuclear power plants – Rivne, Khmelnitsky and the South-Ukrainian nuclear power plants – also operate in Ukraine; in March, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed alarm over the safe operation of these facilities and declared its intention to send inspectors to all stations.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi personally headed a mission to Chernobyl, and then, as shelling continued in the area, he and his team went to Zaporizhzhia, assigning several international inspectors to stay and monitor the situation.

Mr. Grossi warned the members of the Security Council, that any damage to Zaporizhzhia – which is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – or any other nuclear facility in Ukraine, could lead to a catastrophe, not only around the plant itself, but throughout the wider region; the warnings brought back memories of the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, when radioactive fallout from the destroyed plant’s reactor spread as far as 500 kilometres from the site.

Today, Zaporizhzhia is operated by Ukrainian personnel, working under Russian control. The IAEA inspectors stationed at the plant regularly report on the situation, and the head of the IAEA continues to lead negotiations on creating a security zone around the plant.

Teams of IAEA nuclear safety and security experts are also stationed at Ukraine’s other nuclear power plants (NPPs) and at the Chernobyl site. “With our experts’ presence at Ukraine’s nuclear power facilities and at the Chernobyl site, we are intensifying and deepening our technical activities to help prevent a nuclear accident during the terrible and tragic war in Ukraine,” Director General Grossi said in January 2023, after the IAEA flag was hoisted at the Rivne Plant, as a symbol of the Agency’s presence.

A humanitarian disaster

From the very beginning of the war, staff from several UN agencies have been actively working to alleviate the resulting humanitarian disaster, in collaboration with hundreds of humanitarian partners, most of whom are on the front lines.

Relief efforts have reached close to 16 million people – nearly a third of the population – with lifesaving and life-sustaining humanitarian assistance. This has included cash transfers to almost 6 million people, and vital supplies such as food, water, medicine, hygiene kits, and winter supplies, delivered by thousands of convoys to war-torn communities, and to those who had fled to safer areas.

During the winter, many Ukrainian towns were cut off from electricity by Russian attacks against critical infrastructure. The UN worked around the clock, delivering generators to critical facilities across the country, mainly to hospitals and shelters, to make sure essential services could continue, and people would be protected against the cold of the winter. The UN also provided material and carried out repairs so that people whose homes had been damaged could live with dignity.

A year into the war, some communities are having to cope with the total destruction of their way of life and the towns where they used to live; that’s according to Johannes Fromholt of the UN Migration Agency (IOM), who recently spoke to UN News from Kurakhove, a town near the frontline, in Donetsk Oblast.

“We see heavy fighting, which has intensified even in the past week. Some towns in this area are 80 to 90 per cent damaged, some even more. You could say they don’t even exist anymore. Even on the way to Kurakhove, a missile strike occurred in a nearby city, which killed three people and injured 12.”

Millions of Ukrainians were forced to leave their homes. Many of them have become internal migrants and millions are scattered throughout Europe. Employees of the UN children’s agency (UNICEF), the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), and other UN agencies work at checkpoints and in host countries, assisting with the registration, settling and protection of refugees.

Appeals for billions in aid

None of the humanitarian work would have been possible without the unprecedented support of donors. In 2022, the international community raised $3.8 billion for Ukraine, most of it channelled directly through the hundreds of organizations which were part of our Humanitarian Flash Appeal. The Organization itself allocated $20 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) on the day Russia invaded Ukraine and, less than a month later, another $40 million was sent to Ukraine.

For 2023, the UN is seeking $5.6 billion for Ukraine: $3.6 billion to provide over 11 million people – out of nearly 18 million in need – with humanitarian aid, and $1.7 billion to help Ukrainian refugees in 10 host countries: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

Today, the efforts of UN system agencies are focused on providing warm shelters for displaced people, delivering aid to newly accessible areas, facilitating mine clearance, and providing humanitarian and psychological assistance to all those in need.

The Ukrainian authorities, including with the support of the UN, are creating warming points throughout the country where people can warm up, charge their phones, drink hot drinks, and receive first aid. In Ukraine, these centres are called “points of invincibility”, where people not only keep warm, but also help each other, support, and comfort.

Speaking to UN News on the one-year anniversary of the war, Denise Brown, the senior UN official in Ukraine, said that, despite the risk of injury or death, UN staff continue to bring aid to the most hard-hit regions of the country.

Investigating war crimes and human rights abuses

In the first few days of the invasion, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council established an Independent International Commission of Inquiry, to investigate alleged human rights abuses and  violations in Ukraine.

Its members, after conducting investigations in the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, came to the conclusion that war crimes were committed in these regions of Ukraine in February and March 2022, when they were under the control of Russian forces: city blocks were razed to the ground, and civilians were executed, tortured and raped. The age of victims of sexual rape ranged from 4 to 82 years.

The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened its own investigation into crimes committed in Ukraine in March, sending a team of analysts, forensic experts, anthropologists, and lawyers to visit the sites of mass atrocities.

At the same time, as part of Ukraine’s claim against Russia under the Genocide Convention, the International Court of Justice issued a ruling, obliging Russia to immediately “suspend the military operations it launched on February 24, 2022 on the territory of Ukraine.”

‘Military solutions will not end this war’

After a full year of war, and with no end to the conflict in sight, the General Assembly and Security Council met in late February2023, echoing the calls for peace made a year ago.

In the General Assembly Hall, an emergency special session resumed to consider a new draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, a demand that Russia leave Ukraine, and emphasizing the need for accountability for serious crimes and justice for all victims.

“Let this anniversary and the anguish of millions before our eyes over the last year serve as a reminder to all of us here in this Hall that military solutions will not end this war,” said Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi. “Too many lives, livelihoods, families and communities have been lost. Russia can end its aggression and the war it has unleashed. Russia must end this hell of bloodshed.”

141 Member States voted in favour and seven against – Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, Russia and Syria. Among the 32 abstentions were China, India and Pakistan.

On the day of the anniversary, 24 February 2023, a ministerial-level meeting was held in the Security Council, which has held 40 debates on the conflict since it began.

Addressing the council António Guterres called for urgent action, reminding ministers that “life is a living hell for the people of Ukraine”.

“The guns are talking now, but in the end we all know that the path of diplomacy and accountability is the road to a just and sustainable peace, in line with the UN Charter and international law,” the Secretary-General said.

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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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