Canadian expert: EU interested in S. Caucasus for its own security reasons
    Caliber.Az interview with Robert M. Cutler

    INTERVIEWS  21 February 2023 - 11:13

    Huseyn Safarov

    EU will never be the main player in the South Caucasus if only because Russia will not withdraw from the region, says Robert M. Cutler, a researcher at the Canadian Institute of International Affairs.

    The political scientist expressed such a categorical opinion in his conversation with Caliber.Az.

    "The Russian FSB [Federal Security Service] ensures the security of most of Armenia's international border. A third Russian military base is being built on the territory of the country in the Tovuz direction under the guise of a border checkpoint. Not to mention the Russian military in Gyumri. So, it is unlikely that Yerevan will ask Russia to withdraw its troops from Armenia.

    The same can be said about Georgia: despite the weakening of Russia's clout and ability to project power in the region, there are currently no signs or indications of the withdrawal of Russian armed forces from either Abkhazia or the Tskhinvali region.

    As for Azerbaijan, it cannot be ruled out that at the end of the five-year period, Russian peacekeepers will be forced to leave the territory where they are currently stationed. As we know, both Baku and Yerevan have to agree to renew or extend this period. But by and large, it is unlikely that anything will force Russia to 'withdraw' from the South Caucasus. The only thing that has changed recently is that Moscow now has to share its influence in the region not only with Türkiye but also with Iran," Cutler believes.

    At the same time, the Canadian political scientist does not preclude that the EU can play a positive role in our region.

    "The EU has the potential to become one of the main actors in the peace process in the South Caucasus. However, for this to really happen, the process needs to be set in motion and started. And at the moment the EU cannot resolve any of the fundamental military-strategic issues, although, on the other hand, it was under the auspices of European Council President Charles Michel that some progress was made in facilitating dialogue between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, which initiated further consultations and political declarations. However, the EU will never be the main actor in the region determining the direction of events, but it can play a useful role in the background," our interlocutor is confident.

    At the same time, Cutler stresses that the EU has invested a lot of time and effort in the South Caucasus, first through the European Neighbourhood Policy and later through the Eastern Partnership.

    "Today, the EU wants to show that its 'soft power' makes it relevant in the world. There is also, at a certain level, a genuine desire to contribute to the humanitarian improvement of people's lives through peacebuilding.

    As for the main objectives of the EU, these are what the Swiss-American international relations expert Arnold Wolfers called the 'middle goals' many years ago. That is, that the aim is to shape the structure of the international system. In the case of EU policy towards the South Caucasus, this goal became more balanced after the 44-day war. The EU has acknowledged the bankruptcy of the OSCE Minsk Group and therefore seeks to play an autonomous role. Its primary objectives in the region are geostrategic stability and human development, as it sees these as creating the conditions for EU security: the need to prevent the threat of instability spilling over from the South Caucasus and damaging Europe's security.

    But what the EU is unable to do is contain or counter the influence of the military and strategic 'hard power' projected into the South Caucasus by Russia, Iran, or Türkiye. It has therefore limited its main task to the aforementioned 'middle goals'. There is simply nothing more than the EU as an international organisation can do. Although the interest of EU member states in the South Caucasus may vary," the expert believes.

    In conclusion, Cutler suggested that the signing of a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia was becoming less and less likely as time went on: "Of course it is possible, but obstacles are still there. You never really know what Pashinyan will do or say because Armenia's domestic politics are sharply divided and subordinate to large political forces not only within the country but also from outside. Furthermore, the document should be coordinated with the process of normalisation of inter-state relations not only between Armenia and Azerbaijan but also between Armenia and Türkiye."


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