1. The non-paper defines Eastern Europe and South Caucasus as a single region. In doing so, we do not ignore multiple dissimilarities that exist between the two sub-regions, but rather intend to underline their common characteristics as an in-between region (located between geopolitical centres) in the system of international relations. At the same time, we realise that ideally systemic analysis of Eastern Europe and South Caucasus should be broadened so that to encompass, at least, the whole of Eurasia.
2. Eastern Europe and South Caucasus have entered a period of geopolitical turbulence with unknown prospects. Conflict potential between Russia and the West continues to build up. A new regional (and global) model of international relations and security could end the turbulence, but the parameters of such a model remain unidentifiable.
3. Following the structure and logic of the conference “The Future of Eastern Europe and South Caucasus: at the intersection of foreign policy, security and business”, the main body of the non-paper is based on a SWOT- matrix. First, it deals with intra-regional Strengths and Weaknesses, and then it discusses externally-driven Opportunities and Threats.
4. A sense and awareness of own sovereignty continues to strengthen gradually in the countries of the region.
5. States in the region search for objective national interests. However, elite consensus about what constitutes the national interests has not been fully established, and the very concept of national interests is often exploited for political and propaganda purposes.
6. Governments in Eastern Europe and South Caucasus demonstrate political will to diversify their foreign policies and economic relations with a view to overcoming mono-dependencies.
7. The region is attractive to consolidating macro-projects. For instance, to Chinese initiatives within the framework of the New Silk Road, including the 16+1 format. This reflects geoeconomic factors, logistic opportunities, and the actual policies of the countries in the region.
8. Several regional platforms and formats (such as the Eastern Partnership or post-Soviet organisations) have been developed that (can) facilitate exchange of experience and best practices and where consolidating projects can be/are designed and implemented.
9. The countries in the region are obtaining opportunities to establish strong economic positions in sectoral niches on regional and global markets (for instance, in the development and implementation of niche technologies). However, this requires synergies between high-quality and flexible state governance and effective SMEs.
10. The region has the resource of large diasporas. In some countries, diasporas have already become a core factor of development (both internal and in the system of international relations), and in others their potential is yet to be fulfilled.
11. Most countries of the region have ‘toxic’ relations either with one another or with a big power. This aggravates the problem of low trust inside the region.
12. The region lacks a comprehensive agenda.
13. Territorial conflicts remain the main source of instability. The conflict in the Donbas has no short/medium-term solution. The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has escalated. Poorly controlled processes are observed in Abkhazia.
14. Elites and populations of the region feel increasingly unprotected. There is a lack of understanding of where regional trajectories are heading. Against this background, public opinion becomes an easy target for propaganda and manipulation.
15. Civilisational and geopolitical confrontation breaks societies apart.
16. The situation is further aggravated by the problems of unfinished nation-building and post-Soviet transformations, insufficiently developed and structured elites, weak institutions, corruption, poor legal culture, poverty and social inequality, technological backwardness, brain drain, and monopolised and inefficient economies. Bad policies on national minorities and insufficiently developed civil societies also add to the problem.
17. Foreign investments and trade have been falling in the region. In spite of existing political will for diversification, economic and political mono-dependencies remain problematic. Importantly, dependencies have not only a quantitative dimension but also a perceptional one at societal and elite levels.
18. Relatively weak education systems and unattractive regional universities pose a problem that is often ignored. As a result of it, students from Eastern Europe and South Caucasus prefer to study in other parts of Europe and the world, which undermines chances of developing a regional identity and intra-regional professional contacts among future generations.
19. Unlike during the Cold War, there is no fundamental conflict between Russia and the West today. In the economic realm, they have multiple common interests. Certain common threats (for example, terrorism and ISIS) can also become factors of geopolitical de-escalation.
20. Any feasible points of contact and cooperation inside the region and also with external actors will contribute to the security and development of the countries in the region. States in Eastern Europe and South Caucasus have opportunities to pursue and expand various forms of cooperation with Russia, the EU, and other actors (China, Turkey, Iran, USA, etc.). They can make use of multilateral and bilateral tracks.
21. Economy is a priority sphere. On the multilateral level, cooperation between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union could bring potential opportunities, even though attempts to start a dialogue between the two have been futile so far. Prospects for such cooperation are often seen outside the region as a zero-sum game, which generally contradicts the foreign policy thinking (rationality) of in-between countries.
22. Attempts to lower geopolitical tensions by means of tactical and targeted agreements only (for example, a new version of the CFE Treaty) do not produce wanted results. Overall political understanding by all sides is needed. At the same time, such understanding can become reality only as a result of long and persistent endeavours aimed at developing confidence- building measures (including an adaptation of the Vienna Document), establishing consultation mechanisms (for example, on the level of military experts), and introducing arms control policies (new mechanisms could be suggested). This ‘vicious circle’ is further aggravated by the fact that many in the West perceive potential tactical agreements with Russia as a way to legitimise the post-Crimean status quo.
23. The future of integration processes causes concerns. Multiple contradictions undermine post-Soviet integration projects. The prospects of European integration also look unclear for the countries in the region. In particular, to what extent is the EU ready to take the lead in resolving regional problems? As a matter of fact, the EU’s internal challenges weaken its attention to the Eastern Partnership.
24. Lack of ideas for all-European and global cooperation is another hurdle on the way to easing geopolitical tensions. The fundamental problem has to do with the sides’ different interpretation of the sources of the escalation. In the West, Russia’s behaviour – in particular, the violation of basic international rules by Moscow – is seen as the cause of today’s turbulence. And in Russia, the problem is thought to originate from the fact that no equal and inclusive institutions of international relations and security were established after the end of the Cold War.
25. Various terms and concepts from the Cold War times are now back to the international relations vocabulary and shape and frame expectations. At the same time, current regional and global challenges look potentially more dangerous than during the Cold War. It is far more difficult to forecast future developments against the background of blurring rules, institutions, and balance of interests in international relations.
26. The military infrastructure of Russia and NATO is building up on the region’s borders, which inevitably launches the spiral of the ‘security dilemma’.
27. The possibility of military and hybrid power being used against the countries in the region is a growing threat. New threats to the South Caucasus are coming from the Middle East.
28. Against the background of Russia-West confrontation in the information sphere, economic relations and contacts between people are getting politicised.