On the one hand, as in any war, leaders’ stubborn myths lead to more death and destruction as the war drags on. Coupled with the delusion of greatness in winning the war, they become insensitive to reason and a sense of humanity. Their only goal is to realize their fantasy world without sensible consideration of the actual reality and risks to human life and their countries. The belief that stirs passionate emotion of human bravado and aggressiveness creates a hype of mass followers. On the other hand, constructive propositions engendering a more sensible outcome result in a more tone-down emotional response with fewer mass advocates.
Let’s ponder the scenarios based on beliefs that either protract the war in Ukraine or resolve it.
Scenario One: The war as a showcase of personal accolades
The name of the game here is escalation. The new Western leaders come onto the stage to present their weapon donations to initiate larger donations. In turn, the charity earns them mass media hype accolades as donors of war and destruction. The more weapons they donate, the friendlier they are honored, and the deadlier the weapons they donate the more honorable they become. Will they also be all out singing hallelujah when the war finally turns uncontrollable and global?
Are naïve Western leaders impulsively jumping onto a bandwagon of escalation to star on a global stage, assuming their international war accolades, may bring them more votes back home for the continuity in office as they face criticism amidst their respective national crises? The belief that Russia and Putin must be defeated, by all means, and the opportunity has come through Zelensky, underlies the drive for robust and sustainable military empowerment of Ukraine. By the way, is Zelensky’s call for military upgrades to defeat Russia in Ukraine also include a hidden agenda for turning Ukraine into a superpower? Wild, powerful, and deadly escalation with no clear exit strategy is the game that Biden and NATO leaders bet on for peace. But don’t they see that more weapons equal more attacks? More attacks equal more death and destruction? Biden and NATO calculate that by escalating the war, they can utterly defeat Russia and establish their sole global military-political dominance. On the contrary, because of the escalation, now we see the solidifying of the paradigmatic Chinese-Russian alliance and the rise of a truly bipolar world. Other regional alliances are also germinating.
There are three possible outcomes of the escalation approach. One is very hot, courtesy of the extra-hot lunacy of leaders—it’s called global catastrophe! Another is hot, which can easily turn very hot, it’s called a regional catastrophe! The other two are sweet and sour. The sour—is the rise of a dysfunctional and multipolar world frozen in a cold war. The sweet though is—the emergence of a new harmonious multipolar world, with politically independent niches yet economically and culturally interconnected. Wake up, leaders! Whatever outcome your reason and sense of humanity passionately direct you—an exit strategy is needed. The sitz em liben will push you out if you don’t have one. And the escalators will lose and be denunciated!
Is US-NATO apprehensive that in the absence of conflict and war in Europe, they will become insignificant and also lose their multibillion-dollar military industry? Is Zelensky anxious that when the war is done, his and Ukraine’s celebrity status in the global state will also dissipate? Didn’t Russia in 2018, trimmed down its military budget signaling a focus other than war? By the way, with their kindred soul, are not Europeans better off resolving their conflicts with decency and diplomacy instead of acting as pawns of a foreign superpower? Or if needed, be mediated by a third party whom they respect and have mutual interests?
But what are the goals of the escalation? The utter destruction of Ukraine, then the absolute defeat of Russia, to pave the way for the sole dominance of US-NATO in Europe, then the world? For rational considerations, the US cannot govern the whole world. Its foreign policies and practices are partisan, lobbyist-influenced, and always changing depending on who is in power. It cannot even cope with its crucial national issues, more so coping with the whole gamut of global issues confronting the well-being and future of humanity. The conflict in Ukraine came to this tragic point because either it was irresponsibly allowed, or strategically encouraged, to escalate. Now that it has escalated to war only lunacy says escalation can bring peace. The key to peace is not escalation but de-escalation!
Scenario Two: The conscientization of war
The strategy here is to de-escalate the war through strategic arm support suspension, toning down the rhetoric of war, and engaging in intermediary diplomacy with the intention of a ceasefire. Realizing that more weapons do not resolve the conflict and bring peace, other world leaders with awakened reason and a sense of humanity, step onto the global podium to facilitate transforming the scenario of war into a scenario of sensible diplomacy. The goal is for both parties to de-escalate!
The suspension of weapons support can tone down Zelensky’s rhetoric of war and calm down Putin’s combat spirit. Besides, to attack further an unempowered Ukraine can backlash on Putin. And even Russians cannot celebrate a victory in a power-imbalanced war for that will be humiliating conquest. Imagine when new leaders of peace pop up and boldly promote the mutual reduction of weapons used in war, decreasing attacks, downsizing front lines, establishing a safe zone, allowing peace monitoring, then strategically moving toward a ceasefire. Ceasefire can offer both breathing spaces for all stakeholders to think rationally and sensibly. The war has taken a heavy toll on both parties. Earlier Putin already expressed his willingness to negotiate but Zelensky does not. It appears that Zelensky would like the world to believe that anyone wanting peace resolution is an enemy of Ukraine. Is the world hypnotized by him? The only hindrance to de-escalation and the peace process is ideological authoritarianism—that is, there is only one valid belief on the war in Ukraine. And that belief is based only on Zelensky’s story. Those who have a different view are hated and excommunicated. The world that hates dictatorship has fallen prey to it.
The refusal to de-escalate and engage in diplomacy made me wonder about some issues
related to Scenario One. Is Zelensky anxious that when the war ceased his and Ukraine’s celebrity status will also dissipate? Are Biden, Sunak, Scholz, and others oblivious to the risks of further death and destruction in the escalation of the war? Does von der Leyen of EC foresee Ukrainian economic prosperity through ammo supply? Or are the present leaders simply engrossed in self-serving interests other than the life and future of the Ukrainians?
Is Biden fascinated by imagined victory over Russia during his term? So he portrays himself like the senior Indiana Jones, daring and able-bodied to increase his popularity rating and sweeten his chance for re-election? Does he not realize that he and the US are not major players in resolving the conflict but have become mere avid followers of Zelensky’s passion for war? And are subjects of Zelensky’s unpleasant criticism if they disagree with him? If the world will explode Biden will go down in his history as the American president who allowed, encouraged, if not lured, to its horrible tragedies. Are Sunak, Scholz, and others also using the arms support reality shows to boost their public acceptance amidst their respective national predicaments? Only sensible leaders are open to the cessation of war unless driven by the paradox of glory out of the ruins. If Jimmy Carter is the president during this Russian-Ukraine conflict, I wonder how would he manage it. On the other, the crises in Ukraine offer the US and the West a grand moral opportunity to rebrand themselves as the broker of peace and prosperity in Europe and the world. A very positive and constructive rebranding of the US in our contemporary history that can be genuinely credited to Biden. The urgent issue is not about marketing the war, it’s about resolving it.
Isn’t de-escalation more helpful than escalation? US Republican congressman Paul Gosar and senator JD Vance think so. So were the thirty Democrat Representatives urging Biden last year for a diplomatic solution. The Chinese and the Hungarians have also been initiating peaceful and diplomatic solutions. De-escalation can lead to a ceasefire, and a ceasefire can allow breathing space for both sides to think rationally and sensibly and envision, instead of short-term glory, a long-term mutual progress. Enough of Zelensky delusion of greatness and Biden’s aging reason and sensibility. What the world needs now is a rational, sensible, and diplomatic solution to the conflict before it conflagrates further. The focus is not on who wins the war, as in childhood rivalries. It’s about serious matters of saving lives and countries, preventing regional and even global catastrophe, while also ensuring that there is still a brighter future left for the Ukrainians. The world has so much more life to offer for those who aspire to peace.
Scenario Three: Getting over it and focusing on the economic future
The objective here is to immediately end the war through a holistic diplomatic strategy and start economic recovery through regional and global partnerships.
At the outset, there were two pre-war scenarios for Ukraine. One, Ukraine being at the border of Russia is a strategic military locus for US-NATO. This made Ukraine a possible site of an Armageddon. The other, Ukraine has a huge agricultural land, is one the largest agricultural producers in the world, and is Europe’s breadbasket. This made Ukraine a potential economic power. Now at war, there are two choices of rhetoric Ukrainians can declare. One, “Let’s bomb and wipe them all out.” With a clenched fist and raised arms, Ukrainian warriors would declare this. But it’s easier said than done, it’s very risky, and a devastating fantasy. The other, “Let’s get over with war, and like Japan in WWII, pick up our broken pieces, rebuild our country, and show the world that Ukraine can be an economic powerhouse.” With a hand on their heart and eyes of hope looking up above, enterprising Ukrainian nation-builders (including farmers) would proclaim this. And it’s here where Ukrainians can see the outpouring of true friendship and real constructive partnership to give them hope for a better future.
Even before the war, Ukraine was tagged as the poorest country in Europe due to high corruption. And it is getting more bankrupt now. But aside from its leading agricultural status, it has rich mineral deposits and growing industries from chemical, aerospace, and shipbuilding. In 2012 Ukraine’s largest trading partner was Russia, then EU in 2015. However, Ukraine’s biggest import was also natural gas from Russia.
Shifting a to a similar, although grander past during the height of the Cold War, Khrushchev did visit the US and had a diplomatic meeting with Eisenhower. Brezhnev did have an amicable negotiation with both Nixon and Carter. Nixon and Brezhnev even constructively dealt with common interests and concerns like science and technology, education, culture, public health, and environment and signed a joint diplomatic Declaration of Basic Principles of Mutual Relations. They did it as leader-to-leader and as mature, sensible, and pragmatic persons. Now, can’t kin on their right mind and sense of humanity, do it? If awkward, probably a liaison team may do—a small team of figures representing countries and institutions that both parties respect, don’t want to antagonize, and are regarded as necessary partners for political stability and economic progress. The war in Ukraine needs to be mediated by a third party whose power both parties cannot ignore because it could threaten the integrity of their leadership personae.
A Personal Story
Years before migrating to Canada, while teaching social science in a state university, I was also appointed by the Board of Regents as Executive Assistant for External Affairs. For quite some time, the land dispute between the federal university and the provincial government protracted. Both parties were adamant about their respective beliefs of land ownership despite legal and historical ambiguities.
With my previous experience as clergy, I liaised between the two. Then I discovered that if the dispute is unsettled, the province will lose its substantial foreign aid to build the much-needed provincial sports gymnasium; and the university will lose its overseas donation for its research center aside from the risk of losing its cultural center. The province insisted that it owned the location of the university cultural center and the only available lot inside the campus for the research center, but the university disagreed. The university claimed ownership of the vacant swampy land adjacent to the campus identified as the site of the gymnasium, but the province objected.
When both parties realized their mutual needs, the rhetoric of animosity subsided, and discussions became sensible. Both parties agreed to stop the litigation, listened to each other, clarified ambiguities, and pragmatically focused on mutually meeting their essential needs. A fresh and optimistic solicitor general came to draft the terms and conditions. In the end, the province had the vacant swampy land and the university had the two lots. It was a grand exhilarating day witnessing the signing of the agreement.
Today stands the provincial gym, the site of many provincial, regional, and national sports events. And the research centers that pursue academic progress and development, and the cultural center, where many events (university, city and region) were held, became uncontestably owned by the university. Both ended up benefiting from the amicable and compromised agreement and even helping each other deal with common issues like preserving the university forest reserves to other mutually beneficial endeavors.
Immediate arm-race reduction, prompt de-escalation, and calculated end of hostilities, coupled with a mutual, amicable, and compromise agreement, plus binding mutual and multilateral commitments for infrastructural, economic, social, and cultural reconstruction (similar Japan-US cooperations after WWII)—to serve the greater purpose for the common good of their people and the region—is the noblest and most memorable thing to do for the war to end!
Education: Armenia’s Path to Stronger Economic Growth
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 Banks.am via World Bank
The dilemma of China’s role as Mediator in the case of Ukraine
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.
Erosion of Russia’s Hegemonic Stability in the South Caucasus and Transition to Risky Instability
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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