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The South Caucasus Concert : Each playing its own tune
Jos Boonstra – The South Caucasus comprises the former Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and
Georgia. It lies at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and Asia and is subject to the often conflicting geopolitical influences of Russia, the European Union (EU), Turkey, and the United States (US). Iran might have an influential role in the region in the future. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are far from being helpless pawns in this geopolitical contest for influence and affiliation. Indeed to some degree they play these external actors off against each other.
Armenia looks north to Russia for support; Azerbaijan is wary of integration initiatives but close to Turkey; and Georgia’s objectives are fixed westwards towards the EU and US. Together these three countries and the five ‘external’ actors constitute a dense web of interdependent relationships that affects governance and values; security and conflict; and trade and energy.
Russia, however, is by the far the most dominant power as recent and on-going conflicts illustrate: Russia-Georgia war of August 2008 and the current war in Ukraine show very clearly that Russia is prepared to use force to safeguard its interests in neighbouring regions.
It will not tolerate closer EU and NATO relationships with former Soviet republics in the
South Caucasus. Meanwhile the political will to devote attention and resources to the South Caucasus is more modest in Ankara, Brussels and Washington, not least because of other pressing matters such as the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. Clearly not every region can be a top priority for the EU, US or Turkey. This paper argues, however, that more awareness and possibly cooperation are needed on the part of Ankara, Brussels and Washington to counter Russian influence and ensure stability. The South Caucasus is a highly combustible powder keg – especially the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – with the potential to have impacts well beyond its small mountainous area.
The EU will need to seek closer coordination with the US and develop practical ways to include Turkey more directly, also through the EaP structures. Brussels will need to devote ample attention to Russia and the South Caucasus in the current reviews it is undertaking.
As part of this exercise it could formulate a security road map of objectives and initiatives.
It should further fine-tune its efforts on democratisation and adhere to one standard for human rights, condemning all violations in neighbouring countries. Russia will argue that the EU and the US are conducting the South Caucasian concert while Brussels and Washington firmly believe the opposite is the case. The EU needs to make sure its tune is harmonious for all the peoples of the South Caucasus. [Full Document]