Letter From the Editors
The geopolitical compass seemed to be out of whack this week as alignments throughout the post-Soviet space continued to shift in unexpected directions. To begin with, the US has renewed its interest in Central Asia, which seems open to entertaining its approaches. In fact, the C5+1 diplomatic platform, which includes the five Central Asian countries and the US, just held its first presidential summit during the UN General Assembly in New York. According to political analyst Ainur Kurmanov, Washington became more interested in the region “when the ‘counteroffensive’ in Ukraine stalled.” Naturally, there are economic and trade benefits to an invigorated US-Central Asia alliance, but, Kurmanov says, “The maximum goal***is to turn Central Asia into a hostile foothold for Russia and China.” And the US is so intent on pursuing these goals that it is willing to ignore pesky issues like democratic freedoms and human rights.
Expert Andrei Serenko predicts: “The US’s new game in Central Asia will obviously be reinforced by American activity in Afghanistan as well.” To this end, the US has recently been meeting with exiled Afghan politicians in Turkey and maintains a dialogue with moderate members of the Taliban through Qatari mediators. Russia is also involved in attempts to influence the Afghan regime as part of the Moscow format of consultations. As Izvestia reports, format members are concerned that Afghanistan is not fulfilling its pledges in relation to inclusivity, the fight against terrorism or women’s rights.
Meanwhile, to the west, the South Caucasus is grappling with the post-Karabakh reality and the fate of Armenian Karabakh refugees. Azerbaijan’s assertion that it welcomes all Karabakh Armenians to integrate into Azerbaijani society was belied by Ruben Vardanyan’s statement that the region’s entire population is at risk. Vardanyan himself wasn’t immune to danger, either – he was arrested by Azerbaijan’s border service as he tried to cross into Armenia. And while not under arrest, Armenian leader Nikol Pashinyan is not in much better shape. He must now determine how to stay in power while losing the support of everyday Armenians, for whom Karabakh remains a charged emotional issue. And he’ll also have to figure out how to find west on his compass now that Russia, Armenia’s traditional guarantor, appears to have backed away from the situation.
As Vladimir Solovyov explains, the dissolution of Karabakh does not solve all the problems between Azerbaijan and Armenia. These matters include border demarcation, Azerbaijan’s exclaves and a final peace treaty, any of which may give Russia a chance to swoop back into the region. As Yelena Gorbachova writes in Ekspert, “Sooner or later, Russia will certainly come up with a plan on how to protect its interests there.”
That sounds ominous, for sure, especially with Joseph Epstein reporting on rumors that the Kremlin has sent “thousands” of Wagner fighters to Armenia to orchestrate a coup there. But the example of Belarus, which invited Wagner fighters into its fold after Prigozhin’s aborted coup in June, provides some hope that this won’t happen. According to NG, Wagnerites are still present in the country, but “they no longer represent an independent force.” While members of the opposition insist that Belarus has been occupied by Russia, expert Aleksandr Klaskovsky has a different take, saying that “the fact that statehood has not yet been lost is an important plus for the future of change.”
Amid all this geopolitical drama, it’s easy to forget about the struggles of average people. While many want to cancel anything and everything Russian entirely, Sergei Lagodinsky, the only Russian-born member of the European Parliament, tells Republic that this is a bad idea. According to him, the political priorities should be “to limit Russia’s enrichment as a state, not individual opposition-minded citizens” seeking help in the EU. World leaders should heed his advice: If they can focus more on the plights of individuals, then perhaps they won’t need a compass to navigate this world anymore.