CIS in 2005

by Nathan Hamm on 1/6/2005

Writing for EurasiaNet, Stephen Blank predicts that in 2005, there will be greater EU and NATO engagement in Central Asia and the Caucasus, potentially resulting increased East-West rivalry, but definitely guaranteeing that the fight for democratic reform will continue.

But as Russia attempts to play its hand to greater effect in the Caucasus and Central Asia, the calls for democratic reform will only increase – first in the Caucasus, then, to a lesser extent, in Central Asia. An upsurge in domestic tensions in Azerbaijan and Armenia, where examples of misgovernment are rife, is plausible, while in Georgia, greater expectations will be placed on the Saakashvili government to deliver on its promises for reform.

Blank doesn’t make it entirely clear why Russia’s increased activity will result in calls for democratic reforms, which I assume he means will come from the publics of the states in the region. Because Russia at best turns a blind eye to and at worst encourages corruption and authoritarianism in its near abroad, closer involvement in the affairs of its neighbors will at least help to maintain an usustainable status quo.

Professor Blank also notes that competition between the Russia and the West in the CIS will probably lead to increased opportunities for conflict resolution.

Paradoxically, though, the increased rivalry between East and West for influence will come with enhanced opportunities for conflict resolution. The status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia appeared durable as long as there was no external pressure. As competition between Russia and the West potentially heats up, such conflicts could be used by both sides to demonstrate their usefulness as peace brokers, and, thereby, solidify their influence in the region.

I would certainly hope this happens.

One of the more positive outcomes of the increased friction between Russia and the West is that the EU has taken a much more active role in Eurasian affairs, especially in Georgia and Ukraine. Blank notes that Georgia’s Rose Revolution piqued Europe’s interest, and while I don’t think it has become as proactive as the United States in trying to transform the region, it certainly has become much moreso. The EU, for example, offered to send observers to Georgia to replace the OSCE monitors whose mission Russia shut down. It would be incredible not just for the region but also for transatlantic relations if the EU and US begin to more closely coordinate their efforts in the region (they seem chaotically complimentary most of the time to me).

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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