The countries of the South Caucasus have very different interdependent relations with the European Union (EU), Russia, Turkey, the United States (US) and Iran. Tensions between the EU-US and Russia over Ukraine are further entrenching these interdependent relations and hampering development in the South Caucasus. How can Brussels increase its engagement in this important region in order to reduce Russian dominance and bolster security and democracy?
President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan has been re-elected after scoring 90 per cent of votes at the Uzbek general elections held on 29 March 2015. Like all the previous polls, this was a carefully orchestrated, ‘no-surprises’ election. Since becoming the country’s first president in 1990, Karimov has mastered the art of creating a Façade democracy. Several cosmetic changes have been implemented in recent years, all designed to pretend to comply with international norms and standards, but in practice ridding the political system of all meaning. Meanwhile, a cloud hangs over the country’s economic prospects.
The 2007 EU Strategy for Central Asia is currently being reviewed. The EU has been successful in bolstering relations with Central Asian governments, but the overall picture of the EU’s engagement is one of limited to no impact. The region has become more unstable; democracy is seen by the regimes as a threat to their survival; and human rights have been backsliding.
The South Caucasus is a broken region characterised by local tensions and conflicting influences of large regional actors – the European Union, Russia and Turkey. The EU remains highly attractive to South Caucasus societies but its technocratic and government-focused policies have failed with Armenia and Azerbaijan, while reform in Georgia remains fragile. Furthermore, the region remains volatile due to the high potential for domestic instability; inflammable protracted conflicts; and Russia’s heavy influence.
On 29-30 October, the 5th EU-Kyrgyzstan Civil Society Seminar (CSS) was held in Osh in south Kyrgyzstan. This year’s topic was the ‘Prevention of Torture’, which is one of the priorities of the EU’s human rights policy in Central Asia, and is particularly relevant in the case of Kyrgyzstan after the 2010 ethnic violence.
EU neighbourhood policies have produced few results in the tumultuous South and have been derailed both by Russia’s assertiveness and by very uneven local commitment in the East. A thorough review of the EU’s approach should be a top priority of the new EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and neighbourhood commissioner Johannes Hahn.