A new sense of purpose in Central Asia as leaders seek better relations between their countries and with the rest of the world
For more than three decades after the collapse of the USSR the five Central Asia Republics continued to live largely in the shadow of Moscow.  Neighbouring China made headway, particularly in the economic sphere, largely with Moscow’s acquiescence, and there were a few moments when the west appeared to be making a mark on the region too, especially after the 9/11 attacks, when the US was allowed facilities to help with its invasion of Afghanistan. But this moment did not last long. On everything else that mattered, and for most of the time, Moscow continued to call the shots. The last five years have seen a seismic change in the region. A new generation of leaders are seeking better relations with the rest of the world: connectivity has become a buzzword, and there is a genuine effort to engage with the EU and the US, in most if not all the capitals. Ukraine, and the implications of the Russian invasion on future relations with all the post Soviet states, has focused minds, particularly in Tashkent and Astana.
patrickn97 Tue, 02/07/2023 - 17:32
Editor's choice
Opinion
Opinion: Sweden must re-evaluate its internal and external relations before NATO accession can become reality

Opinion: Sweden must re-evaluate its internal and external relations before NATO accession can become reality

Given the increasingly uncertain political climate in which Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson finds himself, Sweden requires an internal and external positional re-evaluation in order to finalise its accession to NATO, writes Alfred Stranne in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. Meanwhile, Sweden needs to understand the increasing anger coming from Ankara, which is severely hindering its progression towards becoming a member of the alliance. Meanwhile, Sweden must also look within NATO itself to seek support in reassuring Ankara that Sweden will be a significant security provider for the alliance, providing added benefits for Ankara as well. This would repair Sweden’s relations with Turkey and reassure Ankara that despite the ideological and religious differences between Kristersson and Erdogan, Sweden and Turkey have common interests in seeking regional peace and stability.

Focus on Central Asia

Kazakhstan looks back at a difficult 2022, determined to pursue change and reform in 2023
For the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, this year has probably been the most difficult one since its independence in 1991. Yet the country has emerged from it stronger. The process of reform initiated by President Kassym Jomart Tokayev appears to be gathering momentum, despite resistance from parts of the ruling elite still associated with the country’s first president Nursultan Nazarbayev. On Thursday, 29 December, Tokayev addressed the Kazakh Senate in the capital, Astana, where he summed up the year’s results. “This year, the country has been through a lot, but we managed to overcome all difficulties,” said the President. Tokayev paid particular attention to preserving stability and security, and paving the way for the dynamic development of the state is a priority for Kazakhstan. The reforms in all spheres will be continued into the following year. In early January Kazakhstan faced an unprecedented upheaval, initially triggered by price rises, but which soon got hijacked by elements close to the previous president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who were unhappy with the reforms being implemented, and most of all with the clampdown on corruption which had started to affect them. At this point Nazarbayev still held control over several leverages of power, including as Head of the Security Council and as President of the ruling party. The disturbances were contained but at considerable human and material costs.
dennis2020 Fri, 12/30/2022 - 07:07
Editor's choice
Monday Commentary
Monday Commentary: Why Central Asia matters

Monday Commentary: Why Central Asia matters

Very often, Central Asia is referred to as Russia’s back yard, even though today the region feels more like China’s front garden. But whilst the two “inseparable” friends, compete for influence and resources, the five Central Asian countries have set on a course to integrate themselves in global processes, break out of their geographic - and more importantly their geo-political constraints - and deliver better for their people. In this week's Monday Commentary on commonspace.eu, Dennis Sammut says that the Central Asian states have been reaching out to the EU and the US, whilst domestically some of them have embarked on deep reforms considered all but unimaginable until recently. The visit of European Council president Charles Michel to the region on 27-28 October marked a high point in a new phase in the relationship between the EU and Central Asia. In Kazakhstan, Michel not only met the Kazakh leadership, but also held a summit with the five Central Asian leaders in Astana, before travelling to Uzbekistan. For both the Central Asians and for the EU this is a watershed moment, and the beginning of a long journey. Europe’s approach to Central Asia needs to be respectful, both to the five countries themselves, and to their existing partners. Arrogance, even of the intellectual kind will simply backfire. But respect does not mean meekness. As a heavyweight in international relations, even if for the moment its economic weight dwarfs its political weight, the EU needs to approach Central Asia neither as a supplicant, nor as a benefactor, but simply as a reliable partner. Furthermore, this partnership needs to be diverse, multi-tiered and nuanced. It must take in relations with citizens, where Europe has much to offer both in terms of being a model, but also in terms of what it can share in areas such as education, innovation, youth welfare, women’s rights and diversity.

Voices - Opinion and analysis

Editor's choice
Interview
Nikoloz Samkharadze: "Georgia does not have any hidden agenda other than having peace and stability in the South Caucasus"

Nikoloz Samkharadze: "Georgia does not have any hidden agenda other than having peace and stability in the South Caucasus"

Prof. Dr. Nikoloz Samkharadze is the Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Georgia. On 21 November 2022, during his visit to The Hague, Prof. Dr. Samkharadze spoke to commonspace.eu about Georgia's Euro-Atlantic trajectory, the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process, Georgia's relations with Russia and Ukraine, and recent successes in Georgian rugby. On the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process, Prof. Dr. Samkharadze says, "Georgia has a very big asset in its hands, and this is trust and credibility in both the Azeri and Armenian capitals. Georgia is equally respected in Yerevan and in Baku, and equally trusted by Yerevan and Baku. And no other player around us, no big regional power, has the same trust and credibility. This is very important in the South Caucasus. As you know, we came up with the Peaceful Caucasus initiative, and this initiative is supported by both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Recently we have had very productive visits of high-level Armenian and Azerbaijani delegations in Georgia, and I believe that there is room for reaching a comprehensive peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We will do our most, we will facilitate, we will mediate, because it is in Georgia’s interests to finally have long-lasting peace and stability in the region. I believe that our partners in Yerevan and Baku also know that we don’t have any hidden agenda other than having peace and stability in the South Caucasus. So we will play a very active role despite the fact that some of our neighbours might not like our activity in that regard."
The free market in foreign policy on display as Xi meets the Arabs
It appears that the principles of the free market now dominate the international system, not only in areas of trade, but also in defence, security and foreign policy, writes Dennis Sammut in today's Monday Commentary on commonspace.eu. Bigger countries are wooing smaller countries, unashamedly displaying their goods, and dismissing those of others. China’s president Xi was in Saudi Arabia last week, to seal China’s new partnership with the Arabs. This week, it will Joe Biden’s turn to host African leaders at the White House. "For the moment small countries are making the most out of this new free market atmosphere in the international system. But they must also keep in mind that, as in the market, demand sometimes slumps abruptly. It is at this point countries will not need just customers, but also friends."
dennis2020 Mon, 12/12/2022 - 05:29
Editor's choice
News
Landmine Free South Caucasus by the end of the decade

Landmine Free South Caucasus by the end of the decade

The 2022 Landmine Free South Caucasus campaign is calling for the region of the South Caucasus to be cleared of landmines and other unexploded remnants of war by the end of the decade. In an appeal published to launch this year's campaign it is pointed out that the South Caucasus remains one of the areas most infected with contamination by landmines and other unexploded remnants of war in the world. Apart from the thousands of casualties caused directly or indirectly by landmines and other unexploded ordnance over the last three and a half decades, including several hundred in the last year, this contamination negatively impacts whole communities across the region, affecting their economic well-being, and exposing them to the constant threat of risk and danger. 30th November will this year be marked as a Day of Solidarity with the victims of landmines and other unexploded remnants of war in the South Caucasus. For the rest of the year and in the first half of 2023 the regional campaign Landmine Free South Caucasus will work to raise awareness of the impact of landmines and other remnants of war on individuals and communities across the region.
Editor's choice
Opinion
Opinion: Armenia and Azerbaijan have embarked on a long and arduous journey towards sustainable peace.

Opinion: Armenia and Azerbaijan have embarked on a long and arduous journey towards sustainable peace.

In this Joint Policy Discussion Paper, Ahmad Alili and Benyamin Poghosyan welcome the start of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan on a meaningful peace treaty. They warn however that, at all levels, trust between the two sides remains very low and that this will make the process difficult. They urge both sides to conduct the negotiations with a strong sense of realism, and to ensure that the speed of the negotiations is well calibrated.
Editor's choice
Interview
Opinion: "Our ambition in Kosovo is to transform our young and vibrant democracy into the most prosperous nation in the region"

Opinion: "Our ambition in Kosovo is to transform our young and vibrant democracy into the most prosperous nation in the region"

Recently, the Government of Kosovo submitted a formal application to join the Council of Europe as a full member. The international community remains divided on the issue of Kosovo's international recognition. Yet in the few years since its independence Kosovo has made great strides forward, and today has one of the most dynamic economies in the Western Balkans, a vibrant cultural life, and a solid track record on human rights and the fight against corruption. commonspace.eu interviewed the Ambassador of Kosovo to the Netherlands, Dren Doli, about the current state of play in relations between Kosovo and Serbia, and on the thorny issue of whether the recognition of Kosovo has emboldened secessionist movements elsewhere. Ambassador Doli said that "the tendency to use Kosovo as a model for other cases is a strategy to generalise the rules that guide the creation of states and inflict confusion, deflect the truth, and deny the significance of objective arguments that differentiate Kosovo from other cases". Doli told commonspace.eu that "Kosovo is one of the rare examples of successful democratic state-building supported by western democracies". Ambassador Doli said that the government of Kosovo is committed to further develop and improve its relations with Serbia and welcomes any initiative  by the EU and the US in this direction.
Editor's choice
Event
Joint Armenian-Azerbaijani expert group on confidence-building measures agrees to intensify efforts

Joint Armenian-Azerbaijani expert group on confidence-building measures agrees to intensify efforts

The Joint Armenian-Azerbaijani Liaison Group on Confidence-building measures in support of lasting peace in the South Caucasus (JOLIG), made up of 11 Armenian and Azerbaijani independent experts and opinion-shapers, met in Kachreti, Georgia on 27 and 28 June 2022 to review its activity, and agree on a strategy as to how its work on confidence-building measures can contribute to efforts aimed at bringing lasting peace in the South Caucasus. Participants discussed ongoing efforts aimed at establishing the right conditions for the normalisation of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan being undertaken by the governments of the two countries with the support of international players. They called on the leadership of the two countries to remain focused and committed to this mission. The group emphasised its belief that confidence-building measures are necessary to be implemented in the current state of Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, and were indispensable as the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan seek peaceful solutions to long lasting disputes and controversies between them.

Focus on Yemen

Focus on the South Caucasus

Editor's choice
Opinion
Opinion: Russian obstacles to the peace process are contributing to renewed tensions in the region

Opinion: Russian obstacles to the peace process are contributing to renewed tensions in the region

Statements made by Russian president Putin and foreign minister Lavrov since October have made Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan a target of nationalist groups in Armenia and its diaspora. The result has been Armenian procrastination in the pursuit of the peace process. These Russian attempts to derail the peace process led by the EU are adding to increased tensions in the region. In this op-ed for commonspace.eu, Vasif Huseynov says that "Baku is not planning to engage in extended negotiations with Armenia and its external patrons with no clear prospects for a successful conclusion. Azerbaijan can now more confidently counter the threats to its territorial integrity and its efforts to reintegrate the Karabakh region."
Editor's choice
Interview
Stepan Grigoryan: "The current Armenian government really wants peace"

Stepan Grigoryan: "The current Armenian government really wants peace"

Dr Stepan Grigoryan, the Chairman of the Board of the Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation, is a respected analyst and opinion-shaper in Yerevan who has over many years been a moderate voice in what has often been a toxic inter-Armenian debate on the prospects for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan and in the wider region. He spoke to commonspace.eu in Tbilisi on 22 October 2022 about the current state of the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process, recent events surrounding it, and prospects for the future. Speaking about the current political situation in Armenia Stepan Grigoryan said "We have a strong civil society, active NGOs and active experts, and they act like pillars of independence in Armenia. And this civil society also criticises Nikol Pashinyan, but they are trying to help him. Yes, I myself am sometimes not happy with what Nikol Pashinyan is doing, but I try to help him with my advice, with my publications, with my speeches. So in Armenia one should not only look at the political field - which is polarised - but civil society too. We shouldn’t think that we have an ideal government, they have made many mistakes, but they really want peace."
LINKS Europe

commonspace.eu  is an activity of LINKS Europe, an independent foundation based in The Hague, The Netherlands. We focus on issues related to European peace and security, Europe's neighbouring regions, including Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia; North Africa and the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. LINKS Europe is committed to contribute to a better future by increasing understanding of complex foreign policy issues, by promoting dialogue and confidence-building as tools for helping to resolve conflict, and by engaging citizens in the process of building peace and security on the basis of solidarity and mutual respect. Through commonspace.eu we aim to provide insights and analysis on different topics in our area of interest, and a platform for diverse opinions.

Read or download the 2022 Annual Review of LINKS Europe work, and our work programme for 2023 here