Reconciliation is difficult, but not impossible

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Last week, the Partnership for Peace (PfP) Consortium Study Group on  Stability in the South Caucasus (SG RSSC) held its 18th workshop in Reichenau/ Austria.  The workshop which was organized by the Consortium together along with the Austrian Ministry of Defense and the Dialogue of Civilizations Research institute brings together analysts from across the South Caucasus, as well as international scholars who work on the diverse and charged region.

Established in 2002, this study group is a “track-two diplomacy” tool with an objective to stimulate confidence-building through dialogue among representatives of the volatile region, and to jointly develop solutions for the multiple problems the region is beset with.

The workshop in Reichenau left no doubt that the whole South Caucasus region is currently going through difficult times, with new challenges looming on the horizon. The year 2018 has been marked by turmoil in the whole region; the “Velvet Revolution” in Armenia, the elections in Azerbaijan and Georgia, or Syria’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, are examples of recent events which may have significant consequences for developments in the region in the years to come.

The participants came to the conclusion that the future of the region will be to a significant extent determined by the evolution of relations between external powers involved in the region, most notably Russia and the West. At the same time, developments in the South Caucasus will continue to affect security in Europe and the wider OSCE area. It is therefore essential to analyse events in the South Caucasus as interconnected and in the context of the wider geopolitical context.

In his keynote speech, co-founder of the DOC Research Institute, Prof. Peter W. Schulze reiterated this interdependence between regional stability in the South Caucasus and security in the wider European region. He discussed the regional political changes in the South Caucasus against the backdrop of the erosion of the current world order and the changing roles of great powers which might have potentially long-term consequences for the region itself.

Throughout the workshop, it was made clear that despite the complexity of the situation in the region and the difficultly to implement sustainable and broadly accepted solutions to the ‘frozen conflicts’ in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia or South Ossetia, it is critical to continue efforts of reconciliation through dialogue.

It was pointed out that not only must external powers and international organizations undertake efforts to find solutions for the multiple problems of the South Caucasus, but that the countries in the region themselves remain actively engaged into the negotiation processes. Furthermore, the importance of youth in the peace-making process was highlighted. The transformation of the current order which is underway – with a demise of the hegemonic role of the United States, rising tensions between the US and Russia as well as China, and the political shockwave that is sweeping through Europe, as its main characteristics – will have far-reaching consequences for the dynamics in the South Caucasus, Schulze emphasized.

As with previous workshops of the PfP Consortium Study Group, the 18th workshop in Reichenau resulted in policy recommendations that will be distributed among more than 800 decision makers in Europe, the United States, NATO, the EU External Action Service, and OSCE, as well as to national and local governmental and nongovernmental institutions. In addition, the workshop proceedings will be published for global distribution in the PfP Study Group Information Series supported by the Austrian National Defence Academy.