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Security and Stability in the South Caucasus: experts gathered to discuss Russia’s influence, objectives and challenges in the region

Published on Friday, 17 July 2020

On July 15, CMI in cooperation with the European Policy Centre (EPC) organised a Policy Discussion on the topic of Russia and the South Caucasus. The event was organised as part of a series of expert discussions on security and stability in the South Caucasus region.

Panelists during the event on July 15, jointly moderated by Amanda Paul, EPC Senior Analyst and Roxana Cristescu, CMI Director for European Affairs and Head of Eurasia Programme.

The event benefited from the expert insights of Neil Melvin (Royal United Services Institute), Taline Papazian (Armenia Peace Initiative), Tengiz Pkhaladze (ICGS and Georgian Institute of Public Affairs), Stanislav Pritchin (Chatham House and Valdai Club Discussion) and Zaur Shiriyev (International Crisis Group).

Bringing views from the South Caucasus, Moscow and Western Europe, the event tackled a wide range of issues including: Russia’s objectives and influence in the South Caucasus; Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia’s respective bilateral relations with Russia; the role of other international actors; and prospects for advancing stability in the region. Speakers also addressed Russia’s policy priorities in the wider Black and Caspian Sea regions.

Russia’s wider sphere of interest and influence

In introduction, Stanislav Pritchin reminded that “there is a historical and geographical proximity between Russia and the South Caucasus region, which led over time to a high degree of interdependence”. With this in mind, Neil Melvin added that “Russia has increasingly seen the South Caucasus region as a pivot through which it can present itself as a key player in the Black Sea, Eastern Mediterranean and Caspian Sea regions. Therefore, the South Caucasus is part of a more extensive Southern strategy of Russia, aiming at projecting power beyond the region”.

Perspectives from the South Caucasus

One should not underestimate the heterogeneity of the three countries which have different strategies and foreign policy priorities. Tengiz Pkhaladze reminded that “regrettably the South Caucasus remains a geographical concept not a political one. All three countries are looking at different directions”. Yet the three countries do share common interests such as “national sovereignty and development”.  

With regards to the unresolved conflicts in the South Caucasus region, Pkhaladze added that “Russian policy of privileged interests remains a significant challenge for Georgia. A solution could be found only through the active engagement of the international community in the de-occupation and conflict resolution processes”.

In that regard, Taline Papazian emphasized that “security is the main pillar of the strategic relation between Armenia and Russia, who acts as a deterrence factor vis à vis Turkey. In the last two years, as Armenia is reshuffling its domestic policies substantially, that relationship is getting more textured and tilts towards an actual double-way street”.

Zaur Shiriyev noted in turn that “Russian interest and Russian influence are two different things. In the case of Azerbaijan, while there is a clear Russian interest, there is much less Russian influence”.

The event also enabled to briefly reflect on the role of Russia in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Taline Papazian highlighted that “the pandemic is likely to leave an imprint on the perceptions vis-à-vis Russia’s approach to the region”. The range of the COVID-19 crisis’ consequences on the regional dynamics is still to be seen, but “the issue of repatriation of Azerbaijani citizens currently living in Russia, leading to incidents at the border in Dagestan, has already become a pressing issue for the two countries” noted Zaur Shiriyev.

It is important to note that the Policy Discussion took place at a time of worrisome developments across the entire region, whereby a lot of uncertainty remains. In spite of regional and international actors looking inward as a consequence of the global pandemic, it is crucial to maintain channels of communication in relation to security and stability issues.

This Policy Discussion was organised as part of a long-term cooperation between CMI and the EPC aimed at facilitating discussions between different actors from Europe’s neighbourhood and the Brussels-based EU community and experts.

For more information on previous event of the series see here.