The surge of third powers in the post-Soviet space is propelled by the twin engines of rising demand for alternatives to Russia and the West, and growing supply of new ambitious economic and political regional players. The overall effect of these trends is to offer most post-Soviet states an increasing array of foreign, economic, and political options, and a wider and more stable foundation for much-coveted multi-vectoral foreign policies in which they can more often say no, if they want to—to both Moscow and Western capitals.
Central Asia currently resembles parts of the Middle East before the Arab Spring. In contrast to other parts of the post-Soviet space, where Russian and EU interests are in direct competition, the region has the potential to be a place of cooperation in the name of common goals.
To ensure its national security, Russia needs a comprehensive strategy in the South Caucasus region.
Precisely because the conflict with Georgia now has a lower profile than Ukraine, the EU and Russia might start exploring ways to minimize the risk of confrontation and even test approaches for accommodation. Using the provisions of the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement signed with Georgia EU can underscore its commitment to human rights and propose technical solutions that would improve the lives of residents in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in terms of access to education, healthcare, and freedom of movement and trade.
Moscow has never pulled the strings in the Karabakh conflict, but it remains the most influential outside actor. A Karabakh peace process will remain “Project Minimum” for Russia, the United States, and France, unless its key actors, local and international, decide to rethink their strategic priorities.
The power vacuum caused by the Maidan protests of 2014 allowed marginal political figures in the Donbas to capitalize on longtime discontent with the omnipotent Party of Regions and its local bosses. Almost none of the former regional leaders managed to find a place in the new political reality, but their authoritarian model left a useful blueprint for the new leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.
Moldova may appear to choose a geopolitical direction in the 2018 elections. A victory for the Socialists will be interpreted as a win for Moscow. Conversely, victory for either Plahotniuc’s or Sandu and Nastase’s followers will be trumpeted as a win for pro-Western forces. In either case, it is unlikely that the 2018 election will alter the fundamental divisions and balance in the Moldovan population. Only real reform, economic growth, and an end to the endemic corruption are likely to change that enduring reality.
Tashkent is trying to get across the message to its neighbors that economic prosperity is the key to everything, and that this goal is worth forgetting other petty grievances and putting major problematic issues on hold. By proposing the development of unified approaches to the joint exploitation of transboundary rivers, the integration of the national economies of countries in the region, and the development of cross-border trade, Uzbekistan hopes that it can fashion a new format of cooperation with Central Asia’s other republics.
There are signs that the EU and Russia are managing their relations better in their common neighborhood. Neither has achieved its ambitions in countries such as Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Although a “grand bargain” is not possible at the moment, the two sides have a common interest in halting a deterioration in relations.
The establishment of independent Ukrainian and Belarusian statehood facilitates the development of Russia’s own national project, which is oriented towards the future, rather than towards the restoration of the past. Its key foreign policy feature is real sovereignty and the freedom of geopolitical maneuvering.