Archive for category South Caucasus

EU-Armenia: high-level, but low-profile

An Armenian acquaintance recently noted that Armenia is apparently the only Eastern Partnership (EaP) country that is really satisfied with the policy – all the other partners want either more, or less from the EU. Of course this highlights Armenia’s limited (or realistic) ambitions vis-a-vis the EU. But also the fact that Armenia, instead of constantly complaining that the EU is not doing enough (like Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia often do), pragmatically tries to benefit from what is on offer from the EU.

At the beginning of this year Armenia became the first country of the Eastern neighbourhood where the EU deployed a mission of eight advisers across a whole set of state institutions. Because the project was considered a success the EU is about to send an additional six persons. Read the rest of this entry »

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EU’s failure in Georgia

In light of the Tagliavini report, it is perhaps worth discussing in greater details EU’s performance in Georgia’s conflicts as well. We all know that both Georgia and Russia (with South Ossetia) are responsible for escalating the game around the conflicts zones and ruthlessly rushing into a downward spiral of militarisation of the conflicts zones, particularly after Kosovo’s declaration of independence and Georgia’s perceived moves towards NATO in the first half of 2008. But EU failures are also worth discussing. The report only refers to them en passant:”over the years there was a gradual increase in European involvement in Georgia, which may be called forthcoming in terms of economic aid, politically friendly on the bilateral side, cooperative but cautious on contentious political issues and … mostly distanced [from] sensitive security issues. A good case in point was the European reluctance to take over the Border Monitoring Mission on the Caucasus range facing Russia, after Russia had vetoed the hitherto OSCE engagement in 2004.”

Behind this carefully calibrated phrase lies the story of EU’s failure to engage in conflict-resolution. Read the rest of this entry »

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Russian and EU power of attraction

(MORE updates…) Here is an interesting opinion poll (Eurasia Monitor) where post-Soviet publics are asked whether they prefer integration into the EU, union of Russia/Belarus/Ukraine/Kazakhstan or independence without integration with any such entities. The results broadly confirm some of the findings from our recent ECFR report on Russian and European neighbourhood policies which argues that EU soft power in the region is not uncotested.

Among the more interesting results are (see page 35 of this opinion poll):

  • Georgia comes first in pro-EU sentiment  with 36% being in favour of integration with the EU. But it also comes first in pro-independence sentiment with 48% (not willing to join any integrationist blocks). Unsurprisingly only 3% want integration into a Russian-led Union. Read the rest of this entry »

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The end of “de facto states”

For years the secessionist entities of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria have been refered to as “de facto states” and the conflicts around them – “frozen conflicts” (see previous posts on South Ossetia and Abkhazia). There has been a wide consensus that the term “frozen conflicts” is a misnomer. The conflicts have never been frozen, their settlement was. But the evolving realities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are making the term “de facto states” also increasingly obsolete.

Scott Pegg launched the debate on de facto states with a book published over a decade ago. He referred mainly to North Cyprus, Taiwan, Somaliland, and Tamil Eelam. Dov Lynch took the debate into the post-Soviet space with his book on the “Engaging Eurasia’s Separatist States: Unresolved Conflicts and De Facto States”. The argument in both books is that secessionist regions which control a more or less well-defined territory, population and have a set of state-like institutions can be termed as “de facto states”. They are unrecognised, but de facto independent.

The truth is of course more complicated because most “de facto” states have always relied on various levels of external support to ensure their security and/or economic development (think of Taiwan, North Cyprus or Abkhazia). So the term has always been relative. Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria have outsourced a large chunk of their de facto independence to Russia: Read the rest of this entry »

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A Swedish-led listening tour of the East

The Swedish EU presidency, which starts on 1 July 2009, is getting a lot of advice on what to do during its presidency. But here is one idea more idea for the Swedish EU presidency (contained in our recent ECFR report on the Eastern neighbourhood). The Swedish Presidency should convene a “listening tour” of the Eastern neighbourhood – a Troika visit by the Swedish foreign minister, Javier Solana, the Commissioner for External Relations, and the future Spanish EU presidency to each of the six Eastern neighbours of the EU: Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia). Here is why such a tour is needed and why the Swedish presidency is the best actor to initiate it.

To begin with, the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague, judged by its attendance list, was a near-failure. If the objective of the Eastern partnership was to relaunch the neighbourhood policy and raise its political profile, its start was not impressive. The Swedish presidency-led “listening tour” would help relaunch politically the neighbourhood policy in the East. It would repair some of the political damage done by the unimpressive Eastern partnership summit in May 2009. But the purpose of such a tour should not only be symbolic. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ikea and the Abkhaz paradox

As promissed, more impressions from my recent trip to Sukhumi. In Abkhazia, the economic imperative of rebuilding the region and attracting investments (predominantly Russian) clashes with its political project of staying more or less independent. Abkhazia might face the following paradox: until August 2008 Abkhazia was de facto independent but unrecognised; now it is recognised (by Russia and Nicaragua only), but not de facto independent anymore. The closure of the UNOMIG mission (anounced today) will also leave Abkhazia more internationally isolated than ever before.


Compared to my previous visit there in March 2006, now Sukhumi was livelier. There are more renovated buildings, more expensive cars, more people on the promenade by the sea, and the cafés are fuller. This is both a sign of some economic progress, but also the fact that summer is always livelier than the rest of the year (because of the tourists).

In the hotel I stayed (Ritsa) – very central and right by the sea – there were three wi-fi networks in the range of my laptop. The local GSM operator “Aquaphone” boasts with its 3G network. On one of the formerly abandoned piers in Sukhumi – a café was opened that serves sushi (and where the local authorities took Solana and Lavrov on their recent visits to Abkhazia). I even saw a yellow Hummer (!) (I also saw another one in Tbilisi –apparently that is trendy). A recent spat between the Georgian government and Benetton is also telling. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the meanings of “war”

Wars are defining moments in the life of states and nations. Throughout history wars often gave birth to nations, or caused the disappearance of states. Most nations had fought many wars, but almost every nation has one war to which they refer to as “the war”. For a German, Greek or Serb the term “before the war” means entirely different things and different periods.

I just spent a few days in Abkhazia and Tbilisi. I will write more about the trip in the following days. But it was interesting to see that the word “war” refers to different historical events. For the Georgians the phrase “after the war” means “after the August 2008 war”. Read the rest of this entry »

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New priorities in Georgia and Moldova

As Moldova and Georgia are plunging into political crisis, increasing polarisation, and growing tensions between the government and opposition EU’s priorities in these countries suddenly look different than a few months ago. This is clearly captured by what the EU special representatives (EUSR) to these countries are doing. If EU special representatives for South Caucasus and Moldova were appointed (in 2003 and 2005 respectively) to deal primarily with secessionist conflicts, now they have to deal primarily with domestic political crises.

When Georgia plunged into crisis in November 2007, Peter Semneby, EUSR for South Caucasus, flew immediately to Tbilisi and sought to diffuse the crisis by mediating between government and opposition. As the opposition launched again a series to rallies to unseat president Saakashvili less than two months ago, Peter Semneby is trying again to diffuse the crisis through mediation. Read the rest of this entry »

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EU’s Borders and Neighbours

Jan Zielonka argued in his book “Europe as Empire” that Europe is becoming a neo-medieval empire with ‘overlapping authorities, divided sovereignty, diversified institutional arrangements, and multiple identities’ with ‘fuzzy cultural, economic and political borders between the enlarged Union and its new neighbours further east and south east’. Indeed, the medieval parallel is useful in thinking about Europe’s borders, but a more accurate comparison is probably to think about medieval fortresses, not borders.

Exporting border controls

A fortress has multiple lines of defence – a dungeon as the hard nucleus and defensive walls, but also external fortifications such as ditches or earthworks (see a formidable fortress, left). The EU has been developing a similarly multilayered system of border management and protection with elements of outside fortifications. With the Schengen area as the dungeon, non-Schengen EU member states such as Romania and Bulgaria (and the other new EU states until December 2007) already separated from the outside world by a strong visa wall, the EU has started to build outside fortifications. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Eastern Partnership

Here is an interview on the Eastern Partnership for Arminfo, a news agency from Armenia, 28.03.2009.

Arminfo: The EU has recently approved the Eastern Partnership program. What is the value of this initiative for the countries included in it?

NP: The Eastern Partnership could help these countries reform, and through such reforms they could strengthen their independence and statehood. The Eastern neighbourhood is very crisis-prone as recent wars, territorial conflicts, political tensions and gas-supply disruptions have proved. The Eastern partnership will try to help EU’s neighbours overcome some of these crises. Read the rest of this entry »

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