Opinion, Analysis, Editorial, Interview, Commentary

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Opinions, analysis and editorial pieces, interviews and general commentary on issues and regions in and around Europe from our panel of regular experts and research associates, and guest writers and contributors.

Editor's choice
Opinion
Opinion: Are France and Azerbaijan drifting back to normal?

Opinion: Are France and Azerbaijan drifting back to normal?

Relations between France and Azerbaijan have been on a downward slope since the 44-day war in 2020, when Paris emerged as Armenia’s major international supporter, and the French parliament even voted, almost unanimously, for a resolution calling for the recognition of independence of the so-called “Republic of Artsakh”. Already during the war, Azerbaijani MFA claimed that Paris “ceased to be an honest broker”, and this position only hardened over time. Since then, the bilateral ties have been progressively deteriorating, especially after Azerbaijan’s military operation in Karabakh in September 2023: France became the country where calls to sanction Baku for its “ethnic cleansing” were the most vocal, while Azerbaijan started to attack Paris over its “neo-colonial” policies, targeting continued French sovereignty over several overseas territories, primarily New Caledonia whose independence movement has been active for decades.
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Editor's choice
Opinion
Opinion: Azerbaijan is not de-coupling from the West

Opinion: Azerbaijan is not de-coupling from the West

Over the past two years, since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Azerbaijan’s foreign and security policies have drawn varying interpretations from experts and political observers. "The delicate balancing act pursued by Baku between competing global powers while safeguarding the country’s national interests and restoring its territorial integrity has appeared as an intriguing case for the studies of international relations", writes Vasif Husseynov in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. "Amidst the evolving dynamics of regional geopolitics, Azerbaijan’s recent engagements with Western counterparts underscore its unwavering commitment to maintaining robust relations with the West. Despite the complexities of navigating relations with neighboring powers, Azerbaijan remains steadfast in its pursuit of multilateral or, as better known in the Azerbaijani  discourse, balanced approach in foreign policy", he argues.
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Opinion
Opinion: Pashinyan's Constitutional Gambit

Opinion: Pashinyan's Constitutional Gambit

Reforming the constitution of any nation is inherently challenging, but in Armenia it has always proven particularly controversial, writes Onnik James Krekorian in this op-ed for commonspace.eu "Speaking at the Ministry of Justice in January, Pashinyan not only emphasised the necessity of constitutional reform but even argued for a comprehensive overhaul rather than piecemeal amendments. The purpose, he said, in addition to possibly switching from majority to minority governmental system, was to make Armenia “more competitive and viable” in a new “geopolitical and regional situation.” The opposition instinctively interpreted those words as referring to his administration’s attempts to normalise relations with Azerbaijan. At the heart of these claims is a belief that the preamble in the current constitution referring to the 1990 Declaration of Independence, itself based on the 1989 decision on the “Reunification of the Armenian SSR and the Mountainous Region of Karabakh,” could be removed. The opposition claims that doing so would only be at the behest of Baku. Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan has not categorically denied the claim but does confirm that Azerbaijan continues to raise this issue in negotiations, interpreting the preamble as indisputable claims on its territory."
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Opinion
Opinion: Roadblock to peace: the geopolitical quagmire of the "Zangezur Corridor"

Opinion: Roadblock to peace: the geopolitical quagmire of the "Zangezur Corridor"

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1994 ceasefire agreement that put fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the Soviet-era mainly ethnic Armenian Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) on hold – or at least until it escalated into war in 2016 and more devastatingly in 2020. Despite the involvement of international mediators, peace remained elusive despite occasional claims to the contrary. The sides were said to have gotten close, but never enough to prevent tens of thousands dying in over three decades of conflict.
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Opinion
Opinion: The ICJ ruling on the “South Africa v. Israel” case is a step in the right direction, but not decisive enough

Opinion: The ICJ ruling on the “South Africa v. Israel” case is a step in the right direction, but not decisive enough

On Friday (26 January) the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague ruled on whether emergency measures are required until a final decision is taken on the South Africa’s genocide case against Israel. The judges ruled that Israel must act to stop genocide in Gaza and allow the flow of humanitarian aid and basic services. Although this verdict is legally binding on the parties involved and a step in the right direction, the ICJ lacks enforcement power. The Court needs the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) to enforce its decision through mechanisms such as sanctions or even military intervention, however, the UNSC is unlikely to do so given the United States’ traditional shielding of Israel through the veto power. Moreover, the Court did not demand a ceasefire that would require Israel to stop its operation in the Gaza Strip. This disappointed many who consider an immediate ceasefire by all parties as being essential in order to end the suffering on civilians.
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Opinion
Opinion: Committing to doing what it takes for Ukraine to achieve victory

Opinion: Committing to doing what it takes for Ukraine to achieve victory

2024 started with an unprecedented number of Russian drones and ballistic missiles raining down on Ukraine. In this op-ed published this week on various media outlets, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, argues that Ukraine prevailing against the Russian aggression is the best security guarantee for Europe and that a paradigm shift is needed from supporting Ukraine for 'as long as it takes' to committing to 'what it takes' for Ukraine to achieve victory. Borrell argues that we must intensify our efforts to win the race against time with Putin’s Russia. "We cannot allow him to prevail. Our own security is at stake. Should Putin’s strategy prove successful, it would embolden Russia and other autocracies to pursue their imperialist agendas. We must at any cost prevent a world where might makes right, where powerful countries change borders at will, and the weak fall prey to the strong. Allowing such a scenario would cast a long shadow over our future for decades to come. Ukraine prevailing against the Russian aggression is the best security guarantee for Europe. A Russia that learnt to stay within its borders will lessen pressure on its neighbours, ease Ukraine’s path to EU membership and allow Europe and the world to shift attention to the many other challenges that need solving. With our assistance, Ukraine can consign Russia’s imperial ambitions to the pages of history. This must guide our actions and thinking."
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Opinion
Opinion: Can BRICS be Armenia's salvation?

Opinion: Can BRICS be Armenia's salvation?

Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have become full members of BRICS as from 1 January. Iran's membership brought BRICS to Armenia's doorstep, making Yerevan an immediate neighbour of the group. Benyamin Poghosyan in this op-ed for commonspace.eu says that given that currently, Armenia is in the painstaking process of re-assessing and re-evaluating its foreign policy. Armenia should carefully look into ways to expand its cooperation with BRICS member states: "first of all in the economic area, inviting BRICS investments into the infrastructure and other projects in Armenia. Armenia is in active discussions with Iran, India, and UAE to bring their investments into Armenia, and there is potential to have Chinese involvement through the Belt and Road Initiative. The possibility of receiving funding from the BRICS New Development Bank for various projects, which can be implemented by BRICS member companies, should be studied too."
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Analysis
Unblocking the Caspian route for Turkmen gas

Unblocking the Caspian route for Turkmen gas

Turkmenistan, for decades considered one of the most closed countries in the world, is moving towards modest attempts at opening up its economy. Western sanctions against Russia which caused a gradual halt to energy supply from Russia to Europe and swelling Russian gas supplies to China, once Turkmenistan’s almost-exclusive client, made Ashgabat face a new reality that challenged its longstanding economic model, resulting in a significant deterioration of living standards and social discontent. Against this background, the country had to start considering options for diversifying its gas export geography and attracting foreign investment, writes Murad Muradov in this analysis prepared for commonspace.eu. The big question remains however whether the long-cherished idea of the Transcaspian pipeline, a link which would bring Turkmenistan’s gas to European markets, will finally come to fruition after many years of aborted attempts and uncertainty. This may be within reach sooner and faster than expected.
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Analysis
Analysis: an overview of the war economy in Yemen

Analysis: an overview of the war economy in Yemen

For many Yemenis, the continuous years of war have created a country without any clear destination. The country is grappling with overall economic collapse and millions are in need of emergency aid. In a country where major decisions are taken by external rather than local actors, weakness in the economy provided a ripe opportunity for actors to gain leverage and benefit from creating a war economy.
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Analysis
Briefing: intensive diplomatic efforts around the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process

Briefing: intensive diplomatic efforts around the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process

Intense diplomatic efforts over the last month are a good reflection of a sustained determination on the part of Armenia and Azerbaijan to bring their decades-old conflict to an end, and sign a peace agreement, writes commonspace.eu. Meetings between president Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and prime minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia were held in Brussels on 15 May, with the mediation of EU Council president Charles Michel. The three leaders met again on 1 June in Chisinau, this time also with the participation of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Aliyev and Pashinyan met, together with president Putin of Russia, in Moscow on 25 May. And on 4 June the leaders of both Armenia and Azerbaijan were in Ankara for the inauguration of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s new term in office, where they also met informally. The next formal meeting is now set to be held in July in Brussels. A lot is also going on behind the scenes with European and American envoys travelling in the region.
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Analysis
Analysis: Landmine contamination in Azerbaijan’s Aghdam region prevents tens of thousands of displaced persons from returning to their homes

Analysis: Landmine contamination in Azerbaijan’s Aghdam region prevents tens of thousands of displaced persons from returning to their homes

The dust of war from the decades-long conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has started to settle, and although peace remains elusive, there is hope across the region for a better future. No-one has waited for this moment more than the hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis who were displaced by the First Karabakh War in the early 1990s.
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Analysis
Briefing: Pashinyan ready to sign, not everyone in Stepanakert is happy, Baku hopeful but keeping up pressure

Briefing: Pashinyan ready to sign, not everyone in Stepanakert is happy, Baku hopeful but keeping up pressure

As Armenia and Azerbaijan edge closer to signing an agreement ending decades of conflict between them, the future of the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh remains one of the most crucial outstanding issues, writes commonspace.eu. Intense discussions and negotiations have been ongoing throughout May, with meetings in Washington, Brussels and Moscow involving the leaders of the two countries, their foreign ministers, and other senior officials. In a lengthy press conference on 22 May, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that he wants to reach an agreement "as soon as possible". The international community's perception of the negotiations is that Armenia and Azerbaijan should, without reservations, recognise each other's territorial integrity of 29,800 square kilometers and 86,600 square kilometers, respectively, said Pashinyan.
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Analysis
Kazakhstan looks back at a difficult 2022, determined to pursue change and reform in 2023

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.
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Analysis
Under the Pall of War: Implications of Russia's Invasion of Ukraine for Peace Processes in the South Caucasus

Under the Pall of War: Implications of Russia's Invasion of Ukraine for Peace Processes in the South Caucasus

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 shattered Europe’s security architecture, with far-reaching and unpredictable implications for conflicts in neighbouring regions where Russia plays a role. This discussion paper, just published by Conciliation Resources, focuses on the impacts of war in Ukraine on the peace processes of the South Caucasus, a region fractured by protracted conflicts dating back to the 1990s.
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Analysis
Analysis: Mohammed bin Zayed meets Putin in Moscow as Gulf states ponder the new world order

Analysis: Mohammed bin Zayed meets Putin in Moscow as Gulf states ponder the new world order

The president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), met in Moscow on Tuesday (11 October) with president Valdimir Putin of Russia. Putin warmly greeted his UAE guest at the Kostantinovsky Palace. The visit comes as Gulf states ponder about the new world order, Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the world order that had emerged at the end of the Cold War had clearly run out of steam. Russia and the West, instead of partners in the international system through membership of the G8, cooperation in space, and extensive arms control agreements, became first rivals, and, since February this year, enemies. China, whose rise over the last four decades as an economic power was first admired, has subsequently become a “systematic rival”. As it verges on superpower status it has become more assertive and less predictable. The US and its allies are seriously worried.  For the countries of the Gulf this new world order is uncharted waters. During the Cold War the Gulf was first a British lake, and later an American one. The American shield protected the Gulf states against intruders. When Iraq invaded Kuwait and occupied it in 1990, the US and its allies led the international community in a fightback, and Saddam Hussein was driven back across the border with a bloody nose. When he tried to rear his head again, the West finished him off. Then there was Iran. A huge American presence, with other allies in the wings, saw off Iranian ambitions in the region. It seemed that US-GCC relations were set in stone. Yet as the world reverted back to a multipolar state - the parameters of which are as yet undefined - it was only the naïve who thought that the GCC states will simply slide back to their old role of doing the USA's bidding in return for protection. Things in the Gulf have changed dramatically in the last six decades, and in the last decade in particular, in political terms the region is unrecognisable. In Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Doha and elsewhere the national interest has been re-defined. 
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Analysis
Analysis: Russia's "Wagner group" poses a threat to peace and security in the Sahel

Analysis: Russia's "Wagner group" poses a threat to peace and security in the Sahel

While the world’s attention is focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s presence in Africa, and particularly in Mali, increasingly represents a threat to international security, writes Camille Victor for commonspace.eu. Russia’s presence in Mali has generated considerable controversy since the end of 2021, with many Western powers denouncing the activities of the Russian “Wagner Group” paramilitary mercenaries in the country, accusing them of violating human rights and the rule of law. Indeed, while Mali had been cooperating closely with France in the fight against terrorism since 2013, the Malian junta that seized power in a coup in May 2021 has drastically changed its foreign policy, now turning to Moscow to help stabilise the security situation by employing the services of this shady Kremlin-linked private security group. Given that Mali’s security is currently in the hands of forces that not only fail to effectively counter an increasing terrorist threat, but also to fail to respect human rights and the rule of law, all the while facing zero accountability for their abuses, ensuring that the junta upholds its commitment to conduct democratic elections in 2024 must remain a priority. In the meantime, an integrated security risk management and peacebuilding strategy should include measures that encourage transparency and accountability for abuses and breaches to the rule of law committed by security forces, notably through strengthening civilian institutions and oversight mechanisms.
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Analysis
Analysis: Origins of the Houthi supremacist ideology

Analysis: Origins of the Houthi supremacist ideology

One of the several, often overlooked, challenges facing Yemen is the supremacist and divisive ideological basis of the Houthi movement. The movement’s ideology has rebellion and violence at its core, a recipe that can perpetuate crises within a society. In this analysis for commonspace.eu, Noman Ahmed and Mahmoud Shamsan shed light on the ideological fault lines that fuel the current conflict in Yemen, highlighting the nature of this ideology, which suggests that Ahl al-Bayt — descendants from the family of the Islamic Prophet — are, by divine decree, considered to be more deserving of the right to greater political and religious rule than other socio-political components. The analysis then looks into the background of the Houthis and argues that the ideology is a catalyst for conflict rather than peaceful political competition, and that so long as the Houthi political goal of Hashemite dominance remains unrealised, Houthi desire for conflict will not recede.
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Editorial
Approaching the end game for Armenia-Azerbaijan peace

Approaching the end game for Armenia-Azerbaijan peace

Nikol Pashinyan has taken Armenia on a long journey, and brought it close to peace with Azerbaijan. Few if any believed that he could achieve what has been done so far. It is true that Azerbaijani military superiority, the victory in 2020, and the puzzling events of September 2023, which saw the overnight collapse of the Armenian political project in Nagorno-Karabakh and the subsequent exodus of the entire Armenian population from the territory, in many ways pre-determined what is about to follow. But given the entrenched nationalist positions and hard-line narratives that have traditionally characterised Armenia’s political thinking, even these developments were not enough to guarantee peace. The last part of the journey had to be done in the minds of Armenians, and Pashinyan set about doing this with conviction and determination, challenging the narrative of a historical Armenia, that is only the imagination of the nationalist elites and advocating instead, "a real" Armenia with fixed border.
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Editorial
Editorial: COP29 in Baku needs to be also a summit of peace

Editorial: COP29 in Baku needs to be also a summit of peace

The nexus between “climate change, peace and security” has been at the centre of attention for many years. It is not only about how climate change is exacerbating environmental conditions, increasing the prospects for conflict on owning and sharing resources, and accentuating already existing problems, such as for example water shortage in the Sahel, but it is also about how conflicts are contributing directly to a worsening environmental situation, increasing the gravity of climate change. With major climatic incidents now a regular occurrence across the world, and from which no one is spared, minds have recently become more focused. At COP28 in Dubai in December 2023, the UAE took the initiative to bring the discussion within a COP context. Here again, there was no consensus, with Russia, China and some of the countries in the Global South resisting, But the UAE persisted, and found a way through which they could do three things: insert the theme in the proceedings of COP28; establish a dedicated day during the COP summit where the focus was peace, and push for the adoption, even if not by consensus of the “COP28 declaration on Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace“. This was a big achievement, but only a start. It is clear that what was achieved in Dubai needs to be consolidated and developed in Baku in November 2024. The Azerbaijan government, host of COP29 was initially reluctant to go too far in the inclusion of the peace agenda in COP29 but they have now warmed up to the idea. Over the weekend, the Presidential Foreign Policy Advisor, Hikmet Haciyev, spoke about the possibility of having a COP truce during the Baku summit. There are more than a hundred ongoing armed conflicts in the world. Securing a cease-fire in even one of them would be positive and welcome, but may be very difficult to achieve. A COP29 cease-fire may be an aspiration, but the focus should be on more tangible objectives, and particularly on building on what has been already achieved in COP28 This can include: Having the theme Climate Change, Peace and Security as a theme of COP29; More specifically in Baku the focus should be on water scarcity; food insecurity and landmine contamination and the linkage between conflict and environmental degradation • Having a dedicated day of peace in the COP29 programme, with the participation of the UN Secretary-General, and a gathering of Nobel Peace Price winners • Adopting a new declaration, building on the one agreed in Dubai in November, which would also have the possibility of signatories presenting packages that could be practical tools for moving forward some of the ideas contained in it. All this is doable. There are then other issues on which work needs to be done, but which are also achievable. Will COP29 be historic also because it would be the first time an Armenian leader visits Baku since the long conflict of the last three decades? Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan does not shy away from difficult decisions. He can very well see the value of this gesture, particularly since in Baku he will not only be welcomed by the leader of Azerbaijan, but by the biggest gathering of world leaders ever to gather in the South Caucasus. President Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan can co-host a special event at the dedicated Peace Day. Imagine the significance of that! All the ingredients exist to make COP29 in Baku a historic summit of peace and it should not be missed. But there is much work to be done yet, and the negativity of the malcontents needs to be overcome.
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Editorial
"COP28 Declaration on Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace" lays a solid foundation for future work

"COP28 Declaration on Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace" lays a solid foundation for future work

At the COP28 summit held in Dubai last November, for the first time a day dedicated to peace was marked, during which the "COP28 Declaration on Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace" was launched. The declaration, endorsed by more than a hundred countries and international organisations, highlights a commitment by the international community to act on the vital impact of climate change "in situations of fragility, conflict or severe humanitarian needs". The declaration lays a solid basis for future work on the nexus between climate change, peace and security. There is an increasing need for the international community to develop a shared and enhanced understanding that climate change and environmental degradation lead to spiralling instability and conflicts, and vice versa, as well as to human suffering, resource scarcity including water and food insecurity, internal displacement and forced migration, as was stated in a recent statement by the Council of the European Union. It is now necessary, on the basis of the "COP28 Declaration on Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace" for the international community, working with non-governmental stakeholders, to develop a road-map for future action. Work in this direction must be done ahead of the COP29 meeting in November in Baku.
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Editorial
Editorial: EU decision to grant Georgia "candidate status" overshadowed by controversy in Brussels over Ukraine

Editorial: EU decision to grant Georgia "candidate status" overshadowed by controversy in Brussels over Ukraine

If one had said it even as recently as 2021, that by the end of 2023 Georgia would be given "candidate status" for EU membership, hardly anyone would have believed it. Yet it happened yesterday, when the member states gathered in the European Council in Brussels took the historic decision to open accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova and grant candidate status to Georgia. The immediate impact of this decision will be minimal - some consider the step as more symbolic than tangible, but soon, the impact of the prospect of a South Caucasus country becoming an EU member will sink in, with huge implications. Of course, it is the events around Ukraine starting with the Russian invasion in February 2022, that changed all the certainties. And it was also Ukraine that dominated the news yesterday. The decision to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova will also have tremendous implications. Perhaps appropriately it was taken in somewhat dramatic circumstances, after Hungary tried to oppose it. Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, left the meeting of the European Council to enable the decision to be adopted unanimously by the remaining 26 member states. There remains a decision on the issue of a substantial aid package to Ukraine, which has been left for another meeting in January. What now for Georgia? In Georgia everyone is trying to take credit for the "candidate status" decision. Good thing because everyone can now feel to be a stakeholder in the journey that needs to follow. No doubt, in the style of Georgian politics, the journey will be  adventurous and sometimes hazardous. But the new status is good news for Georgia. It will help stabilise the political situation, and contribute towards economic success. The decision also brings the EU firmly in the South Caucasus. Those who very disingenuously in the last year or so have been talking about keeping the South Caucasus cosy in a 3 plus 3  format - ie with Russia, Iran and Turkey together with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, now need to think again. The South Caucasus is Europe and Europe should be a partner in its future. But that is for later. For today, it is congratulations Georgia, and to all those Georgians who for decades worked for this development to be possible.
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Editorial
Editorial: the end-game in Karabakh

Editorial: the end-game in Karabakh

Another summit between Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan, and Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev will take place later this month in Brussels, facilitated by the president of the European Council Charles Michel. The region is currently abuzz with diplomatic activity as the international community urges the sides to bring their negotiations to a successful conclusion. At the end of June in Washington DC the foreign ministers of the two countries met under the auspices of US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. A read out of the meeting indicates that progress was made but substantial disagreements on key issues, such as the future of the Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh, remain also. It is likely that some tough discussions will take place over the summer. Time is now against those who want a peaceful solution. The momentum for peace in Baku and Yerevan is already fragile, and unless a breakthrough can be registered, even maintaining this momentum will become very difficult. The summer brings with it several challenges. Reducing incidents on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border and in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone most surely now be a priority. Serious negotiations should not be taking place with violence in the background. Instead building up the momentum for peace through various track 1.5 and track 2 initiatives is hugely important.
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Editorial
Editorial: the next few weeks will define the South Caucasus for a decade

Editorial: the next few weeks will define the South Caucasus for a decade

In the chancelleries of Europe diplomats are preparing to go on their annual summer holidays. There are a number of files they would like to neatly close before they do so. The South Caucasus is one of them, writes commonspace.eu in this editorial. "Hard luck. There is no chance that any of the major issues facing the region can be brought to a conclusion yet, and it promises to be a long summer full of surprises. But on a number of issues an end game is approaching. The region is in one of those defining moments which everyone agrees will have a deep and long term impact on the future. People are hoping for the best, but worried about the worst. First, there is Georgia. By October, it should be clear if the country will get candidate status for EU membership, a hugely symbolic step that would make the possibility of Georgia becoming an EU member state within a decade a reality for the first time [...] Then there is the business of war or peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both sides appear not convinced its going to be either one or the other. The foreign ministers of the two countries are meeting in Washington this week under the watchful eye of Antony Blinken. They may register progress, but it is unlikely to be enough."
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Editorial
Editorial: Baku and Stepanakert need to talk; now is the time for Azerbaijan to show magnanimity and generosity

Editorial: Baku and Stepanakert need to talk; now is the time for Azerbaijan to show magnanimity and generosity

"The question that remains unanswered is if there are Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh who are determined enough not to want to live in an Azerbaijani state that they will resist violently. Such thinking may exist, probably only amongst marginal groups, but nothing will come out of it unless it is abetted by the Government of Armenia, and/or by Russia, or in a less tangible way by radical groups within the Armenian diaspora. The latter can provide some money and possibly some human resources, but do not have the logistical capacity necessary for anything more than isolated incidents," writes commonspace.eu in this editorial. "Whilst a detailed future vision for Karabakh may have to wait until the negotiations are more advanced, now is the time for Baku to send positive signals. By tightening the noose around Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijan has forced the issue, so time is no longer on its side." 
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Editorial
Editorial: Give Georgia EU candidate status before the end of the year

Editorial: Give Georgia EU candidate status before the end of the year

"These are difficult times for Georgia, for Europe, and for the whole world. Yet from every crisis, an opportunity arises. The Ukraine crisis has created conditions that open Georgia’s door for EU membership. Regardless of the rather unorthodox path this endeavour has taken, future generations of both Georgians and Europeans will look back at this historic moment, and say that the right thing was done," writes commonspace.eu in this editorial. "But before that, there is much work to be done. Candidate status will only be the beginning of a long, laborious and difficult process. And as a priority, the EU needs to develop a much more sophisticated communication strategy for dealing with Georgia and the Georgian people. It's useless preaching values or stating hard truths unless you can explain them in the way that your audience can understand them. Those that wanted to drive a wedge between Georgia and the EU have played on this weakness. If Georgia becomes a candidate country, dealing with this issue will become easier to deliver, even if achieving the objective will still be difficult."
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Editorial
Editorial: China moves in where angels fear to tread

Editorial: China moves in where angels fear to tread

It seems as if you cannot be respected as a superpower unless you burn your fingers trying to pacify Afghanistan, writes commonspace.eu in this editorial. The British in the heyday of the Raj, tried it in the 19th century; the Soviets tried it at the peak of their power in the 20th century, and the Americans had a go at a time when they were the only superpower, in the early 21st century. Now it seems it's China’s turn, and of course it is being done the Chinese way. There are no armies swarming across the Khyber Pass, nor forward military bases established across Central Asia. Instead, the Chinese are using their time tested tool – the Belt and Road Initiative. The first announcement came on 8 May following the 4th round of the Pakistan-China Strategic Dialogue in Islamabad with the participation of Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang and his Pakistani counterpart Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. In essence, the two sides agreed that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a part of the Belt and Road Initiative, will be extended into Afghanistan. At that meeting it was also agreed that both sides will “continue their humanitarian and economic assistance for the Afghan people and enhance development cooperation in Afghanistan”.
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Editorial
Editorial: Saudi Arabia injects new energy into a moribund Arab League

Editorial: Saudi Arabia injects new energy into a moribund Arab League

Following last week's Arab League summit in Jeddah, "it is expected that Saudi Arabia will continue to use its year-long chairmanship of the Arab League to reshape the institution, and more broadly to reconfigure pan Arab-affairs, of course with Saudi Arabia at the helm," writes commonspace.eu in this editorial. "For it is this new ambition of the Kingdom to become a leading regional and global player that has defined the summit, and will define its chairmanship of the Arab League over the next year." The summit formally healed some of the divisions of the last decade. Syria’s President Bashar al Assad attended, marking the full return of Syria into the Arab fold. There was a lot of talk of a new era of peace in the Middle East, and even Iran was now perceived as more of a partner rather than an enemy. Yet the summit gathered whilst a few miles away, across the waters of the Red Sea from Jeddah, a bloody civil war raged on in Sudan.
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Editorial
Editorial: light at the end of the tunnel for Armenia and Azerbaijan

Editorial: light at the end of the tunnel for Armenia and Azerbaijan

The European Union continues to play an instrumental part in helping Armenia and Azerbaijan to narrow the differences between them and move closer to signing a peace agreement normalising relations, writes commonspace.eu in this editorial.  On Sunday (14 May), European Council president Charles Michel, hosted Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Brussels for several hours of talks which Michel described as being “frank, open and result-oriented” and “focused on progress on the path towards Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization.” Michel said that “the leaders shared a common willingness for a South Caucasus at peace. I commend their respective efforts. Together, we reviewed all issues on our agenda.” commonspace.eu political editor commenting on the results of the 14 May Brussels meeting said that clearly the negotiations have reached a decisive stage. This is now not a discussion on abstract principles but on tangible and practical issues that will have an impact on the lives of Armenians and Azerbaijanis across the region.
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Interview
Samantha Smith's Group: the global volunteer movement uniting Ukrainians and Russians through English

Samantha Smith's Group: the global volunteer movement uniting Ukrainians and Russians through English

On 24 February 2022, in the town of Kostyantynivka in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk oblast, Anastasiia woke up at 4am to the sound of explosions. Not in her town, but about 30km away. When the first explosion hit she did not understand what was going on, but once the second explosion hit she rushed to her parents’ room and told them that the war had started. Originally conceived as a protest, Samantha Smith’s Group has evolved into a herculean effort run by a tight-knit, principled and dedicated group of individuals committed to making a very genuine difference to Ukrainians whose lives have been turned upside down by Russia’s invasion of their country. However, although the teachers come from all over the world, from Canada to New Zealand, from the UK to Costa Rica, as well as Ukraine and Belarus, the majority of volunteers teaching English to Ukrainians in Samantha Smith’s Group are actually from Russia.
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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."
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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."
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Interview
Art-Gene Turns Nineteen: In Conversation with Tamar Melikishvili

Art-Gene Turns Nineteen: In Conversation with Tamar Melikishvili

July 2022 saw the 19th edition of what has become a staple event in the Georgian cultural calendar. Founded in 2003 by artists Tamar Melikishvili and Giorgi Baramidze, musicians Zaza Korinteli and Niaz Diasamidze, sculptor Nika Anjaparidze, and photographer Maria Lanevski, the Art-Gene music and crafts festival has played a huge role in reviving Georgia’s now thriving traditional cultural scene since its dog days of the early 2000s. Looking forward to Art-Gene’s 20th anniversary next year, commonspace.eu’s Deputy Editor Patrick Norén spoke to Tamar Melikishvili about Art-Gene’s origins, ethos, community, and future. Melikshvili told commonspace.eu that ‘if a country keeps and loves its own culture, it will become very open and interested in the culture of other countries. The world is nice because we are so different, but we also make one big picture, like a painter. When I am working on the canvas, all of these different moods and colours become one symphony, and that is what makes the picture interesting.’
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Interview
Brian Mefford: "I had no doubts the Ukrainians will fight to defend their country"

Brian Mefford: "I had no doubts the Ukrainians will fight to defend their country"

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Brian Mefford, an American long time resident and expert of Ukraine, knew exactly what he needed to do. Shifting his office from Kyiv to Warsaw he started a humanitarian operation that has already helped tens of thousands of Ukrainians. In this interview with commonspace.eu Mefford reflects on the response of Ukrainians to the Russian invasion, the current humanitarian situation, and the prospects for Ukraine after the war. “I have seen enormous changes in Ukraine since I arrived in 1999.  Ukraine is dramatically more European and focused on a future with the West as a partner. If Ukraine makes the tough changes needed during the war to enter the EU, it will speed the process of integration. War time is the easiest time to make radical changes. As I often point out, Abraham Lincoln didn’t wait till after the American Civil War to free the slaves, he specifically did it during the war because after the war it might not have been possible”, he argues.
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Interview
Interview with the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the EU:  "We have very high hopes that the results of the referendum will have deep positive consequences for the future of our country"

Interview with the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the EU: "We have very high hopes that the results of the referendum will have deep positive consequences for the future of our country"

On Sunday, 5 June, the people of Kazakhstan voted overwhelmingly in favour of big changes to the country's constitution which envisage a redistribution of presidential powers to various other state organs and a system of checks and balances. The changes complement other ongoing political and economic reforms that have been initiated by president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev over the last three years. Commonspace.eu interviewed Ambassador Margulan Baimukhan, Head of the Mission of Kazakhstan to the EU about the importance of the constitutional changes, the role of Kazakhstan in Central Asia and the changes taking place in his country. "We have very high hopes that the results of the referendum will have deep positive consequences for the future of our country. It brings us one step closer to become a democratic state. Most importantly for me is that the referendum result paves the way for increasing the participation of the population in the governance of the country. It will nurture the culture of people in standing and defending their rights", the Ambassador said. Ambassador Baimukhan also spoke about the relations of his country with the European Union.  "The European Union was, is and will be at the forefront of our foreign policy agenda."
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Interview
Interview with Ukrainian politician and activist Hanna Hopko: "Russia will not break us"

Interview with Ukrainian politician and activist Hanna Hopko: "Russia will not break us"

One hundred days ago, on 24 February, Russia invaded Ukraine in an attempt to overthrow the country's democratic government and install a puppet regime. This objective failed, but the war goes on, especially in the Donbass region where heavy fighting is taking place. Commonspace.eu interviewed Hanna Hopko, a Ukrainian politician and activist, who previously served as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Ukrainian Parliament and is today at the forefront of several important humanitarian initiatives. Hopko  speaks about Ukraine's frustration with Europe's long standing failure to appreciate Ukraine properly. She speaks about the heroism of young Ukrainians who are fighting off current Russian aggression, and recalls the loss of some of her own friends who have died in battle or have been imprisoned. Hopko however remains optimistic about the future, referring to the Ukraine Recovery Plan that is already being prepared. She speaks about the country's hopes to be granted EU candidate status later this month: "Ukraine will not except any plan B. Only candidate status.  Our aspiration to apply to EU membership is a result of the long fight of Ukrainians for the right to be part of a free European family. It is based on our achievements in transformations of the country despite Russian continues efforts to break us." Read the interview in full.
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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.
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Interview
In an interview with commonspace.eu Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Paruyr Hovhannisyan describes EU-Armenia relations as "very diverse, multifaceted and dynamic"

In an interview with commonspace.eu Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Paruyr Hovhannisyan describes EU-Armenia relations as "very diverse, multifaceted and dynamic"

In November of last year Paruyr Hovhannisyan was appointed Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia with responsibility for relations with the European Union. This week he was in Brussels where he had meetings with officials from the EU institutions. Commonspace.eu spoke with the Deputy Foreign Minister on the current state of Armenia-EU relations and prospects for the future. Hovhannissian described relations as very diverse, multifaceted and dynamic.
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Interview
GEU Podcast: Giving EU citizens a voice on foreign policy – with Dr Dennis Sammut

GEU Podcast: Giving EU citizens a voice on foreign policy – with Dr Dennis Sammut

“I think what is important is that the issue of international affairs is understood not to be an elitist sphere but something that impacts the lives of everyone in one way or another; and as a result, discussions on foreign policy need to be extended to include the wider citizenry. This is a challenge going forward and an increasingly important one.” – Dr Dennis Sammut on the latest final episode of Global Europe Unpacked
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Interview
GEU Podcast: After Ukraine, can we still talk about soft power? - with Prof Jamie Shea

GEU Podcast: After Ukraine, can we still talk about soft power? - with Prof Jamie Shea

“EU soft power will still be a factor, but I think the EU now recognises that this works more with like-minded countries that aspire to join the EU... The notion that soft power works on countries with different political systems – I think that has been, if you like, the victim of the Ukrainian crisis” says Prof Jamie Shea in this episode of our Global Europe Unpacked podcast.
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Commentary
The fate of Central Asia may be decided on the steppes and in the forests of Ukraine

The fate of Central Asia may be decided on the steppes and in the forests of Ukraine

Vladimir Putin was sworn in for another six-year term as the President of Russia on Tuesday, 7 May. With Putin having been the undisputed leader of Russia for decades, continuity, one would have thought, was assured. Yet Putin himself, on Monday (13 May) speaking at a meeting of the Security Council spoke of “a new political cycle” in Russia. Some of the first decisions of the re-elected president give us a sense of what is to come. First, there was the surprise dismissal of Sergei Shoigu as Minister of Defence, and his transfer to be the Secretary of the Security Council. There had been speculation for some time that Shoigu’s time at the Ministry of Defence was up. But what was surprising was the appointment of Andrei Belousov, former Deputy Prime Minister – an efficient technocrat with an economic background to replace him. That the Russian Ministry of Defence has needed a shake-up for some time has been abundantly clear, but Andrei Belousov’s mission seems to be more ambitious than that: He is tasked with transforming the Russian Defence Ministry into a modern institution that can embrace new ideas and techniques, and that has enough flexibility to conduct the sort of hybrid warfare that is likely to be the order of the day going forward. So despite all of Putin’s bravados about the Russian nuclear arsenal, it seems he is putting his faith in a more innovative, agile, and versatile force. Then on Monday, 13 May, Putin held his first meeting of the Security Council since his inauguration. The Kremlin website only referred to one item out of apparently several that were discussed, namely relations with the post-Soviet Republics, a subject much close to the heart of the president. Putin reiterated that this was a priority in foreign policy. Putin said, “we should pay even more attention to this area in the new political cycle in Russia and discuss the way we will organise this work from all points of view, including organisational”. So it appears that there is new thinking in this sphere, details of which is not yet known.
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Commentary
From Blighty with love – UK charm offensive in Central Asia is well thought through

From Blighty with love – UK charm offensive in Central Asia is well thought through

UK Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, conducted a whirlwind tour of the five Central Asian countries and Mongolia in the last days, visiting countries that had never before been visited by a British Foreign Secretary. There is very little you can do on a trip like this when you are in a country for one day, sometimes for a few hours. But this visit was well prepared and was part of a well-thought-through British strategy to engage with Central Asia.
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Commentary
The new kid on the block – Azerbaijan’s new role in Central Asia

The new kid on the block – Azerbaijan’s new role in Central Asia

Those who know their political geography will tell you that there are five countries in Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. But in the last two years, a new kid has appeared on the block. Azerbaijan is not usually described as a Central Asian country: Caucasus or Caspian are more likely labels, but recently one could spot Azerbaijan in key summits and meetings of the Central Asian republics, including those with other blocs, such as the Gulf Co-operation Council. Two things are driving this process.
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Commentary: So Long! Farewell! Do Zvidaniya!

Commentary: So Long! Farewell! Do Zvidaniya!

The Russian Army has started leaving Nagorno-Karabakh. The military contingent of around two thousand troops deployed there with much fanfare in November 2020 started leaving unceremoniously on Wednesday (17 April) eighteen months before its scheduled departure. Many in 2020 believed that once in Karabakh the Russians will never leave. Having a strategic foothold there had been a major Russian objective for decades, and the Russian Army does not have a track record of leaving voluntarily from places where it is deployed. The deployment of the “Russian peacekeeping” contingent was one of the points agreed in the trilateral declaration of 10 November 2020 which ended the 44-day Karabakh War. With the Armenians in a state of disarray following a crushing military defeat the contingent was seen by the Armenian population of Karabakh as a redeeming presence. Russian troops were greeted with flowers, and very soon Russian language classes sprung up in Stepanakert. But, like many other things in Karabakh, it was a delusion. This Russian peacekeeping effort was not the same as that seen in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the 1990s. From the beginning, Azerbaijan insisted on strict rules for the deployment, and a clear understanding both of why they were there, as well as of the fact that this was a temporary mandate lasting only until November 2025.
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Commentary
Remain focused on peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan!

Remain focused on peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan!

On Friday, 5 April Prime Minister Pashinyan will meet in Brussels with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen. Excitement about this meeting in Yerevan is at a fever pitch. Azerbaijan has declared that this meeting is aimed against it, and asked that it be postponed. That will not happen but amongst more sober elements in Brussels and Washington, there is a realisation that misperception may lead to a more complicated situation. Blinken spoke to Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev on Wednesday (3 April) to try to reassure him – unsuccessfully it seems – but that was the right thing to do. From Friday’s meeting, Armenia will get comfort from some reassuring statements, and a handsome package of assistance. It will be a boost for Pashinyan, but that will not stop his critics in saying that what was received was not enough. Russia may become even more aggressive. Which is why the most important issue remains that of a peace agreement. This will enable a whole set of other developments, including the opening of borders, to come into play. Aliyev and Pashinyan must remain focused on finishing the job. And the first and most important task of the international community is to support them in this. Anything done or said that harms the prospects for peace, even if it is well-intentioned, should be avoided.
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Jittery Kremlin hits out at Central Asia NGOs

Jittery Kremlin hits out at Central Asia NGOs

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, speaking on the occasion of the Special Operations Forces Day at a meeting of the Board of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation in Moscow on 27 February, unleashed an attack against Central Asian NGOs, accusing them of "continuously increasing hostile activities against Russia", especially in the "creation of new initiatives and structures aimed at discrediting and countering the Russian presence in countries traditionally our friends". Shoigu said the situation in this region is "very delicate", recalling the contemporary threat of the Afghan Taliban and ISIS terrorists, to which he equates the works of non-governmental organizations. In his speech, Shoigu said "over 100 large pro-Western NGOs operate in these countries, which have more than 16 thousand representations and branches, which aim to weaken the technical-military, economic and cultural collaboration with the Russian Federation, against the background of the special military operation [Ukraine War], and we have to do something."   Central Asia is hardly the first place that comes to mind when it comes to civil society activism, but the process of opening up to the world, and the reforms being put in place across the region, has widened the space for NGO activity – even if only to a small extent. Enough it seems to worry the head of the Russian Defence Ministry who one would have thought would have other things to worry about at the moment. But Kremlin observers say that Shoigu’s outburst is a jittery reaction of a paranoic Kremlin that is obsessed by criticism at home or abroad, and sees everything as one big conspiracy. Reaction in Central Asia has been mixed but in Kazakhstan, where President Tokayev has set out a course for systematic reforms in the country, and where the government is looking at civil society as partners in this process, the reaction to Shoigu’s speech was negative, and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Roman Vasilenko, spoke out in defence of the NGOs in Kazakhstan. “As you know, support for the civil sector and support for NGOs are a top priority for the president, for the government and for the Ministry of Culture and Information, which is responsible for this area”, Vassilenko said on 29 February.
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Georgia's "supreme leader"

Georgia's "supreme leader"

An extraordinary congress of Georgia's ruling Georgian Dream party on Thursday formally agreed the nomination of Irakli Kobakhidze to the post of prime minister. He is expected to be endorsed by parliament tomorrow. After the Party Congress, which lasted about 16 minutes, Kobakhidze told journalists that all ministers would remain in office except for Defense Minister Junasher Burchuladze who is to be replaced by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Irakli Chikovani.  Irakli Garibashvili, the former Prime Minister of Georgia, resigned from his post on January 29, and today replaced Kobakhidze as the Chairman of the “Georgian Dream".  The swap is seen as another expression of the power wielded by Bidzina Ivanishvili who just before new year made a dramatic return to front-line Georgian politics. In a commentary which was first published on the electronic newsletter, Caucasus Concise on 1 February, commonspace.eu research team discusses the role of Ivanishvili as the "supreme leader" of Georgia. They argue that  "in democracies political leaders are accountable not only to the voters in elections, but also subject to scrutiny by parliament, the media and civil society. Bidzina Ivanishvili needs to be accessible to all these parts of the Georgian body politics. He needs to be able to explain policies, answer questions and accept the responsibility for decisions taken not only by him but also by his subordinates, for the Georgian Dream's government is Ivanishvili's government, and there is little doubt left about that."
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Commentary
The work of UNRWA must be sustained

The work of UNRWA must be sustained

Israeli accusations that staff of the UN Humanitarian agency UNRWA which works in Gaza, were involved in the 7 October attacks on Israel need to be taken seriously, and the UN leadership must flash out any bad apples amongst the many, and restore the reputation of the organisation for professionalism. But the knee-jerk reaction of several Western governments in suspending funding to UNRWA is unacceptable, especially given the dire situation of millions of Palestinians, made much worse by the recent war in Gaza. Stopping the work of UNRWA will make an already significant humanitarian disaster much worse. In this regard, countries like Norway and Spain are to be commended. They kept a cool head and reiterated their commitment and support to UNRWA, whilst others were more hasty in halting or suspending support for the agency. There are two problems here: financial and political. The financial aspect is solvable. Gulf states need to step in and compensate for any shortfall in UNRWA’s budget. Other countries need also to step up. But the bigger problem is political. The support of Western countries for UNRWA gives it the necessary prestige that allows its leadership to negotiate the stormy waters of the Middle East. This should not be lost. Countries like UK, Netherlands, Germany and Italy, need to quickly reconsider their position and restore the funding to UNRWA. UNRWA was established in 1948 as a temporary measure to provide relief to the Palestinian people. That seventy-five years later it is still needed more than ever is a testimony of the failure of the international community to do justice to the Palestinians. From the tragedy and suffering of the last five months a new reality must emerge that must necessarily include the creation of a viable Palestinian state. It is time for the EU and European countries in particular, but also the US, to think strategically and act firmly.
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Commentary: The four Cs that will characterise Armenia-Azerbaijan relations for the next decade

Commentary: The four Cs that will characterise Armenia-Azerbaijan relations for the next decade

Armenia and Azerbaijan have practically been in a state of war with each other ever since they emerged as independent countries following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Over the last three years they have been negotiating, sometimes with the help of others, sometimes on their own, to end the cycle of violence and usher in a new era of peace. So far they have failed to agree on the text of a peace agreement, but it is likely that eventually they will, possibly quite soon. However, even in the absence of a formal peace agreement Armenia-Azerbaijan relations are changing, and will continue to change to become much more nuanced than has been the case so far. A relationship that has so far been based on confrontation and containment is making way for one based on contact and co-operation. The process is unlikely to be very quick, or simple and easy. At least for another decade Armenia-Azerbaijan relations will continue to be a mix of all four elements: confrontation, containment, contact and co-operation. Managing this mix will be the challenge facing the leadership in the two countries. The international community must be ready to support this process tangibly and speedily.

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Opinion
Opinion: Russian withdrawal from Karabakh allows Azerbaijan to strengthen its ties with its Turkic "family"

Opinion: Russian withdrawal from Karabakh allows Azerbaijan to strengthen its ties with its Turkic "family"

The geopolitics of the South Caucasus is as unpredictable as ever. Even as recently as the beginning of April, few, if any, would have imagined that Russia may withdraw its peacekeeping contingent from the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan anytime soon. Many observers were even skeptical about the possibility of their withdrawal in November 2025 – the date which was stipulated in the November 2020 trilateral statement as the potential but not fixed date for the ending of the peacekeeping mission of Russia. This skepticism was grounded in the understanding that for Russia, Karabakh holds paramount importance in the broader context of the South Caucasus. In the wake of Russia’s unexpected withdrawal of its peacekeeping mission from the Karabakh region, the South Caucasus enters a new geopolitical dynamic. This historic development not only signifies Azerbaijan's attainment of complete sovereignty over its territories but also heralds the definitive end of the Karabakh conflict. President Ilham Aliyev's adept diplomatic maneuvers have secured Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and positioned Baku as a confident actor on the regional stage. The withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers marks a pivotal moment, shaping the future landscape of Azerbaijan-Russia relations and regional geopolitics. As Azerbaijan charts its course forward, its commitment to regional integration remains, however, steadfast, with a focus on strengthening ties within the Turkic world.
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Opinion
Opinion: Civil society should actively support Armenia-Azerbaijan border demarcation

Opinion: Civil society should actively support Armenia-Azerbaijan border demarcation

The announcement of the return of the four non-enclave villages of Baghanis Ayrim, Ashagi Askipara, Kheyrimli, and Gizilhajili comes as a welcome development. That is not to say that there won’t be problems as the physical process of delimitation/demarcation takes place, and military forces are replaced by border guards, and nor does it ignore the distinct lack of trust between Yerevan and Baku, but it does highlight the need for more focused work in order to build confidence between the sides. Pashinyan has already hinted at the idea of trade between the two communities at some point in an albeit distant future but this is also a region that has experienced significant cross-border incidents for over 30 years. The task won’t be simple, but civil society in both countries could and should play an important role alongside the work of the two governments.
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Commentary
Commentary: So Long! Farewell! Do Zvidaniya!

Commentary: So Long! Farewell! Do Zvidaniya!

The Russian Army has started leaving Nagorno-Karabakh. The military contingent of around two thousand troops deployed there with much fanfare in November 2020 started leaving unceremoniously on Wednesday (17 April) eighteen months before its scheduled departure. Many in 2020 believed that once in Karabakh the Russians will never leave. Having a strategic foothold there had been a major Russian objective for decades, and the Russian Army does not have a track record of leaving voluntarily from places where it is deployed. The deployment of the “Russian peacekeeping” contingent was one of the points agreed in the trilateral declaration of 10 November 2020 which ended the 44-day Karabakh War. With the Armenians in a state of disarray following a crushing military defeat the contingent was seen by the Armenian population of Karabakh as a redeeming presence. Russian troops were greeted with flowers, and very soon Russian language classes sprung up in Stepanakert. But, like many other things in Karabakh, it was a delusion. This Russian peacekeeping effort was not the same as that seen in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the 1990s. From the beginning, Azerbaijan insisted on strict rules for the deployment, and a clear understanding both of why they were there, as well as of the fact that this was a temporary mandate lasting only until November 2025.
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Opinion
Opinion: Historical versus real Armenia - Pashinyan's push for a new narrative

Opinion: Historical versus real Armenia - Pashinyan's push for a new narrative

Nikol Pashinyan is a populist. Whether on the domestic or international scene, it is difficult to consider him a statesman. Populism defines his words and permeates his actions. But in comparison with those leaders before him, he is also a rarity in Armenia’s post-independence history – he is a democratically elected leader.Nikol Pashinyan is a populist. Whether on the domestic or international scene, it is difficult to consider him a statesman. Populism defines his words and permeates his actions. But in comparison with those leaders before him, he is also a rarity in Armenia’s post-independence history – he is a democratically elected leader. Perhaps, if populism arguably contributed to the last war and the loss of Karabakh it could also be used to usher in a new era of peace and regional integration, coincidentally relegating nationalist narratives and mythologies of old to the annuls of history. It will also prove instrumental to maintaining Pashinyan's rule. In 2013 he already used the slogan of “Real Armenia” but at that time to rally for an Armenia without Serzh Sargsyan. In 2018 it succeeded.
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Commentary
Remain focused on peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan!

Remain focused on peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan!

On Friday, 5 April Prime Minister Pashinyan will meet in Brussels with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen. Excitement about this meeting in Yerevan is at a fever pitch. Azerbaijan has declared that this meeting is aimed against it, and asked that it be postponed. That will not happen but amongst more sober elements in Brussels and Washington, there is a realisation that misperception may lead to a more complicated situation. Blinken spoke to Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev on Wednesday (3 April) to try to reassure him – unsuccessfully it seems – but that was the right thing to do. From Friday’s meeting, Armenia will get comfort from some reassuring statements, and a handsome package of assistance. It will be a boost for Pashinyan, but that will not stop his critics in saying that what was received was not enough. Russia may become even more aggressive. Which is why the most important issue remains that of a peace agreement. This will enable a whole set of other developments, including the opening of borders, to come into play. Aliyev and Pashinyan must remain focused on finishing the job. And the first and most important task of the international community is to support them in this. Anything done or said that harms the prospects for peace, even if it is well-intentioned, should be avoided.