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Stephen Blank: 1/05/05

A EurasiaNet Commentary

Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and the European Union’s decision to begin membership negotiations with Turkey will have far-reaching repercussions for members of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 2005. Both of these events will lead to a greater engagement by both the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Sharper East-West rivalry may be the result, but this engagement will also ensure that the struggle for democratic change will not abate.

Though it received less press attention than the uprising in Kyiv, the starting point for this process begins with the EU’s December 17 decision to start membership talks with Ankara. The move came more than one year after Georgia’s 2004 Rose Revolution – an event that considerably increased the EU’s interest in the region.

After Russia vetoed prolonging the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s border monitoring mission in Georgia, for instance, the EU offered, on December 30, to send in its own monitors. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s reform drive triggered an outpouring of millions in humanitarian and financial aid from the organization, contradicting earlier observations that the EU has no interest in the South Caucasus.

Talks with Turkey could play a key role in furthering this engagement. It is likely that Ankara will attempt to raise awareness in Brussels about the potential security threats to Europe that stem from the Caucasus’ unresolved conflicts. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. With the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline scheduled to occur in 2005, Europe’s incentive for clearing up territorial disputes will only increase. Turkey could use this situation to emphasize its own possibilities as a peace broker.

That, in turn, could make the reforms enacted by Turkey since 2002 in its bid for EU membership a model for the region. When countries in the Caucasus look at Turkey, they will see a country that has democratized its political process, instituted greater civilian control over the military and undergone a robust economic revival.

But Turkey is not the only example for the Caucasus. The recent pro-democracy uprising in Kyiv can only further the cause of reform. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Already, a connection between Ukraine and the Caucasus has been made with the partnership on display between President-elect Viktor Yushchenko and Saakashvili.

Unlike Turkey, however, the Ukrainian democratic reform drive will encounter harsh resistance from Russia. Yushchenko’s government will try to enhance Ukraine’s ability to meet the requirements for closer ties with both NATO and the EU — associations that could completely rework security and diplomatic relationships across the CIS.

Russia, already rebuffed in Georgia and Ukraine, will put up a strong resistance against any such transformation. Moscow’s criticism of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s human and civil rights monitoring activities is already one tactic put to use in this battle – and one that secured the prompt support of certain CIS member states. Additional examples of such maneuvers should be expected in 2005.

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.

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.

Editor’s Note: Stephen Blank is a professor at the US Army War College. The views expressed this article do not in any way represent the views of the US Army, Defense Department or the US Government.

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