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Craig Oliphant

Senior Adviser

Craig Oliphant is a Senior Adviser at the Foreign Policy Centre, in London. He also works in the non-governmental sector, at the NGO Peaceful Change Initiative, where he focuses on protracted conflicts in the Black Sea region, including in the South Caucasus and Ukraine. Until 2011 his career was in the British diplomatic service and he was Head of Eastern Research Group at the FCO dealing with Russia and Eastern Europe. Other posts held at NATO and the OSCE (in the 1990s), where he was latterly Senior Adviser to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, from 1996-99. Until recently, Craig was also Vice-President of the Council of Europe's Advisory Committee (FCNM), working on national minorities in Europe (2014-18). He is a Trustee and Board Member of the John Smith Trust. He was awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours in June 2011.

Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 4636 [post_author] => 9 [post_date] => 2020-05-12 09:00:54 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-05-12 09:00:54 [post_content] => In conflict affected and vulnerable regions around the world the impact from and reactions to Covid-19 are differentiated. Different countries find themselves at varying stages of the pandemic. The situation is variable according to the contexts of each country and how hard the virus is hitting. In contrast to identified virus hotspots, the number of infections and mortalities in some places are still relatively low. The one thing so far that has been consistent and regrettably noteworthy - with the exception of the 4th May online Summit to pledge funds for development of a coronavirus vaccine, but without the participation of US or Russia  - is the lack of a concerted or coordinated international  response. Some countries are in a particularly vulnerable position because of inadequate healthcare provisions where existing medical facilities and capacities risk being overwhelmed if or when the pandemic really takes hold locally. In traditional donor countries, including the UK which is currently among the hardest hit by Covid-19, pressing needs internally stemming from the crisis and urgent funding allocations for resources to deal with the pandemic and economic fallout, could - as pressures build on budgets - risk squeezing out available funding for overseas aid (ODA). For now, there is no explicit indication from London that such a false choice between internal and external priorities should be made. The UK has a strong record as a development and peacebuilding aid donor, including through its Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF), and it has played a leading soft power role internationally. The propositions hitherto around internal and external have managed to steer clear of 'either/or' and stay with 'both/and' - and thereby to promote the 'win/win' dimension of foreign aid in serving the interests and promoting the values of the UK. While there may inevitably have to be some re-calibration on allocations post-Covid, and possibly some adjustments to the work of the Department for International Development (DfID), it will send an important signal if the arguments of those in Whitehall keen to adhere to a commitment to 0.7% spending of national income (GNI) on external aid are able to prevail, and in what is sure to be a highly turbulent and uncertain period ahead. It is a period when, given all the challenges, the clamour of voices in certain circles - and not least the tabloid press - is set to grow to prioritise funding for domestic needs. These are key questions now for the medium and longer term. Already the percentage of what is (and will be) a diminished GDP in the UK, as in all countries worldwide, make for less spending in real terms for external projects. The essential issue about maintaining focused external aid spending, as part of a range of bilateral and multilateral inputs towards targeted vulnerable countries,  is that it is seeking to promote stability in these regions, enhance development, reduce migration - all part of key UK national interests. Based on what has already impacted hard on so many countries across the globe, it is clear the pandemic will have a sweeping range of effects. While there is a sense in which everything is changing, Covid-19 is also likely to accentuate and exacerbate existing trends that have long been underway.  For example, conflict prevention norms and management mechanisms are already eroding. The pandemic, which is likely to include another (anticipated) wave in the autumn, may further accelerate this effect as governments unfortunately put less emphasis on international cooperation in the prevailing circumstances. Current pressing challenges Governance institutions in heavily affected countries will be placed under enormous pressure in terms of the health systems, education systems, food supply chains, law enforcement, and border control. There is concern that in some cases this will impact on regime stability. National governments that are perceived to mount a less than effective response may lose legitimacy, whereas local governance actors and non-state actors who are able to support at least some basic needs may find their legitimacy increased.  Some governments may have to move to real-time budgeting which will increase uncertainty. Corruption in several aid-targeted countries is likely to increase as urgent medical needs and scarce supplies provide ample opportunities for graft, extortionate pricing and fraud. Sociopolitical cohesion may also be placed under severe strain in many contexts as the health crisis affects socioeconomic groups differently along the following axes: rich-poor; urban-rural; region-region; citizen-migrant. This is likely to sharpen socio-political divides, and may be exacerbated by the prolonged need for social distancing. Social distancing will have a devastating impact on the personal economy of many people in many countries. And, quite apart from the mortality rates from the pandemic, a chilling toll is already evident that will leave millions jobless. Economic inequality and rising unemployment are likely to interact with Covid-19 fallout in multiple and complex ways. That hits vulnerable communities hardest, and in particular refugees and displaced people, and increased fragility accentuates existing risks in conflict-affected or otherwise failing states. Covid-19 and the pandemic responses are predicted to interact with climate change and other natural disasters (e.g. the locust outbreak in East Africa) to create famine-like conditions in up to 30 countries, with Africa particularly adversely affected. In many areas, priorities centre around basic needs such as food security. Across the world we are seeing an expanded use of executive power and restrictions of human rights. Many countries have or are likely to adopt expanded state surveillance as part of their Covid-19 response. In countries where freedom of expression was already threatened, Covid-19 has become yet another front in repression. Overall the space for critique and holding governments to account is narrowing in many countries.[1] However, in many countries in urgent need of aid, civil society has been critical in mobilising a response to the pandemic, which may have increased its popular legitimacy. A number of countries have already postponed elections (a long and rolling list). Others still are experiencing a shifting balance of power between military and civilian authorities as the military gets involved in enforcing lockdowns. There are concerns at a number of levels. Firstly, that states may be slow to lift autocratic measures even as the threat of the virus tails off. Secondly, that in the medium term populations will accept more autocratic approaches as a necessary safeguard against the threat of the virus (as part of the ‘new normal’). The question about whether autocracy or liberal democracy is a better system in the face of a crisis like this is dismissed by some as a false line of inquiry.  But it is likely, nevertheless, to be part of the narrative for some time – and influenced by a strong perception bias, and partly shaped too through the tools of misinformation and disinformation by those seeking to promote autocratic government agendas. Balancing domestic and external priorities As already highlighted, there is a need to ensure that a preoccupation with major internal/domestic priorities does not preclude (now or going forward) an important role too for external assistance, particularly to help vulnerable regions and communities dotted round the globe. The portfolio and network of NGOs traditionally funded by donors like the British government needs to be encouraged and supported to work with their extensive networks,  in Covid-relevant ways. What ‘Covid-relevant’ actually means in specific and differentiated contexts still needs to be fully defined. Recovery from disaster is likely to be a key focus, with an emphasis primarily in terms of economic recovery and health support. However, there needs also to be some push-back to ensure that conflict prevention and peacebuilding, human rights and other long-standing structural priorities do not get completely squeezed out. The Covid crisis will self-evidently be the main lens or prism through which national and international donors look to engage with external projects for the near and medium term.  A focus on prevention and preparation, on relevant capacity-building, sharing know-how & skills will all be essential - and including through drawing on adaptive and flexible use of existing NGO platforms and local networks. Donors will be in response ('fire-fighting') mode for some months and the emerging strategy will be developed somewhat “on the hoof". However, ultimately positive outcomes in this struggle will only come if politicians can also prioritise global interests, at the same time as ensuring national needs are met. It bears reiterating, once more, that there will be a key need for investment in prevention and preparation, as well as in know-how and skills capacity. The importance of the local level In all of this, it is crucial to keep a focus on the local level and on inclusive approaches and practices. NGO partners in different contexts are starting to play active roles in the response locally - be it in sensitising communities to the virus and public information in the absence of state capacity or trust in state information. There are some concerns that states are using the opportunity for securitised responses and restrictions on civic space. The scope for NGOs to do work with local partners and networks is much more limited. That is primarily because of the inability to travel and as the emphasis has been placed on providing online support remotely, strategising with partners, doing analysis and looking for innovative ways to adapt. Some remote mediation has been possible to keep dialogue processes moving. How should the UK Government position its external assistance to help prevent and tackle Covid-19, and its effects?  As governments across the world have been involved in intense crisis response internally, while also planning on next steps, different institutions are taking a while to properly coordinate and develop a coherence to plans. As a donor, the UK Government should look to:
  • Understand that where state capacity is lacking or the state is not trusted - the case in many conflict-affected contexts - intermediaries in civil society are going to make the difference to the course of the virus. It is vital to support them - both with resources and politically. And to recognise that it is often women and young people who are the ones playing vital roles - their voices need to be amplified (rather than further marginalised) in the response planning and analysis.
  • Talk to the sector as regularly as possible to gather information and ideas (but to coordinate internally so as not to overload people or duplicate tasks).
  • Not "Covid-ise" all programming.  Covid is, of course, a threat multiplier - and even more so points to the need to avoid cutting the links of existing NGO cooperation with local partners and networks in conflict-affected areas. Work at that level needs to continue - and that can be done in many contexts. It can help too to mitigate the effects of Covid as and when it hits further into some vulnerable regions. Clearly, conventional conflict resolution and prevention work have to adapt, and some new responses need to be developed.
Something that demands urgent attention, and in a situation where most of the world's children have been out of school, is the need for a massive effort and commitment to focus on the impact of this crisis on education. A particular concern must be in sustaining external support for this in the world's poorest countries and especially in refugee/IDP communities, and at a time when there is and will be significant pressure on budgets and an understandable preoccupation with health systems and on boosting economies. There is a clear risk that education slips down the world's priority list. Furthermore, donors need to redouble efforts to support youth-led initiatives as part of externally-funded projects since they will be the ones bearing the burden and cost of fallout from Covid-19 for years to come.[2] Overall, and notwithstanding the severity and depth of this global crisis and its accompanying competing demands, the UK (like other responsible donors) can & should play such an important part if it is guided, among others, by these four-fold considerations. Firstly, that conflict prevention and peacebuilding does not get side-lined in the global humanitarian response. All indications are that conflict will be exacerbated or new conflicts arise. Secondly, that conflict and gender-sensitivity are at the heart and core of humanitarian and development response and support for the most marginalised and vulnerable. Thirdly, that the UK at a global level is championing multilateral and collaborative responses to the pandemic.  And, fourthly, that the UK does not pull back on its commitment to overseas aid when we are into recovery. That would be a false economy.[3] More broadly, and finally, there is an overriding need to look for ways to use this momentous crisis also as a historic opportunity too - to promote systemic change. Let us hope that Covid-19 serves ultimately as a wake-up call for humanity.  And that the world, in shifting to a 'new normal', cannot go back to business as usual after this.   [1] The latest data from V-Dem on ‘pandemic backsliding’ suggests that 48 countries have a high risk of democratic declines during the Covid-19 pandemic and 34 countries are at medium risk.  https://www.v-dem.net/en/our-work/research-projects/pandemic-backsliding/.  FPC Research Fellow Dr. Beata Martin-Rozumiłowicz has suggested that it is important to look at the impact that the Covid-19 is having on democratic practice in her recent FPC Briefing: How to Maintain Integrity of Elections during the Covid-19 Pandemic. [2] The points in this paragraph flow from the input of FPC Advisory Council Member Stephen Twigg [3] The points in this paragraph are developed from the input of Dr Teresa Dumasy and colleagues at Conciliation Resources Photo from UN Photo- Flags of member nations flying at United Nations Headquarters. 30/Dec/2005. UN Photo/Joao Araujo Pinto. [post_title] => The impact of Covid-19: A case for maintaining external aid commitments and international cooperation [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-impact-of-covid-19-a-case-for-maintaining-external-aid-commitments-and-international-cooperation [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-12 09:22:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-12 09:22:28 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=4636 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 2842 [post_author] => 9 [post_date] => 2018-08-07 10:49:57 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-07 10:49:57 [post_content] => Current developments in Armenia, following the April 2018 revolution ('Velvet Revolution') and advent to power of Nikol Pashinian,  seem to  prompt a mix of optimism and caution. On the upside,  while what unfolded in April was dramatic and unexpected,   it was  peaceful change,  and literally without a single shot being fired. As things stand,  there is a lot of goodwill towards Nikol Pashinian and his new coalition government. And local popular support for him personally is genuine. There is certainly a need for significant change in the country - and in particular for urban renewal.  There is a need to modernise the agricultural sector - and to diversify energy supplies.  There are opportunity areas within the country (R&D 'hub' in Yerevan) - and a space to watch is what happens or continues to happen with talented Armenian youth abroad.  To what extent are those who left the country looking to return? On the other hand,  there is a massive amount of work to be done. And challenges to be faced,  including key vested interests to he grappled with.  And Armenia is not going to get the kind of trade and investment it requires unless there is clarity on reforms going forward. Also on the sobering side, the new government (the Cabinet line-up formed in mid-May 2018)   has come to power without much preparation.   The new Armenian Government is a coalition made up of members of the 'Civil Contract Party' and the 'Way Out' bloc (Yelik);  plus Dashnaktsutyun and 'Prosperous Armenia'.   The new Foreign Minister (Zohrab Mnatsakanyan) and Defence Minister (David Tononyan) are two well-regarded professional officials who have both previously served as deputy ministers in their respective ministries.  These and other ministries have to contend, though, with severe shortages in civil service personnel and funding. The new government faces a very complex situation.  It inherits a legacy where nearly 30% of the country's population live below the poverty line.  Armenia is not in a great position security-wise or from the economic standpoint.   But expectations are now high - and  time is not necessarily on the side of the new government.   So it is constrained too to look for tangible outcomes.. One aspect of 'tangible outcomes' is that some eye-catching arrests are starting to happen,  despite the early pledge when Pashinian  took over power that there would be  'no vendettas'.   The most notable of the arrests was that of former president Robert Kocharyan who was remanded in custody for 2 months from 27 July.   That is in connection with the brutal clampdown against protesters on 1st March 2008, as part of a 20-day state of emergency declared in that period to tackle large-scale unrest and demonstrations against the elections that brought Serzh Sargsyan to power. This arrest,  along with a similar move against  (among others) the former Chief of Staff of the Armenian armed forces, General Yuriy Khachaturov,  who is the Secretary General of the CSTO,   has prompted an expectedly jaundiced reaction in Moscow.   In public remarks at the beginning of August,  Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov said this "looks like a vendetta", pointedly using the word for actions that Pashinian a few months ago had pledged to steer clear of (EADaily, 1st August 2018).   The reaction of Russia to recent changes in Armenia has thus far been subdued - but it will be a key space to watch in the coming weeks as the tone of commentaries sharpen on the 'Kocharyan affair' - 'Delo Kocharyana'. (See also below on Russian reactions). New elections? The current expectation is  that snap elections are likely to  be called at the end of 2018 or by Spring 2019.  In that sense the situation is already one of a 'pre-election' buildup. Nikol Pashinian has a tight-rope to negotiate. He naturally wants to demonstrate some tangible outcomes.  But he is is also keen  to avoid making clear-cut decisions one way or the other so as not to (unnecessarily) alienate the electorate. On forthcoming elections,  a Commission has been formed - in a welcome move  - including main political groups & parties in the parliament to discuss possible changes in legislative provisions and the electoral law.  Agreement has already been reached to put forward a proposal removing the 'majoritarian' system or component (for individual candidates in a first-past-the-post system) which favoured the previous ruling RPA (Republican Party of Armenia) - and replace it entirely with proportional (party) lists alone. Other key issues are still under discussion,  including  the vexed question of party funding or 'charitable' donations which was an 'open sesame' for oligarchs to "buy" and control things in the past.   The problem area here is that "Prosperous Armenia" - and its tycoon leader Gagik Tsariukian - is part of the current coalition and his automatic approach is one of continuing to engage in familiar  practices of buying support locally through largesse and other 'charitable' initiatives.   So that is likely to be one point of tension within the coalition looking ahead..  But, overall, a key marker on the near-term horizon for domestic politics is going to be the substance and amendments to the Election Law. Initial achievements: Among some of the initial achievements - and these are still early days - the new political leadership is taking measures to tackle corruption in many areas - taxation, customs, police, education, health.   Oligarchs have been "invited" to pay the taxes they avoided in the past, partly through cosy agreements made with the Sargsyan regime. [In the first 2-3 months since the April Revolution,  more than $40mn USD were raised additionally into the budget through this drive on unpaid taxes].  Also,  criminal cases have been opened against  Sargsyan acolytes including his extended family on a range of charges of embezzlement, corruption. The medium to longer term challenges are considerable.   And the demands of the immediate term, as alluded, constrain room for manoeuvre.  But expectations remain high. The medium/longer term demands, once the euphoria fades away,  centre on maintaining and further building trust among the wider public towards the government, including ministries, agencies and other structures. The old adage remains as true as ever:  'trust takes months & years to build but can be lost in a moment'.  As part of this there is the slow, incremental process of ensuring that policies are the result of politics and technocratic competence rather than oligarchic rule. In a nutshell,  the key long-term challenge will be "regaining" a state which over the past 2 decades or more was treated by the  RPA and the oligarchs linked to it as their private property or private 'network state'  - and without adversely affecting the country's defence capability. The situation is likely to continue being very fluid for the months ahead as it has been since the early part of the year. In one sense,  it can be said that  the 'Revolution' has already morphed through 4 shifting phases or objectives:  -Get rid of Serzh Sargsyan;  -Get rid of the RPA;  - Hold Free & Fair elections;  and (now, looking ahead)  -Win those free & fair elections. Regional context - more of the same? On foreign policy and regional implications,  Nikol  Pashinian has sought to convey since coming to power that internal changes in Armenia do not affect geopolitics  i.e. the substance of the country's external relations remains as is.   Despite saying different things in opposition,   he has underlined that Armenia will remain in the CSTO,  the Eurasian Economic Union (EES), Customs Union and CIS. His first visit abroad after becoming prime minister was to Russia (the EES summit in Sochi) in mid-May.  And then to Moscow in mid-June for a bilateral meeting with President Putin.   In mid-July he was in Brussels, partly to attend the EAPC (Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council) at summit level as part of the NATO Summit on 11th/12th July.   The main message he delivered in Brussels is that Armenia is no longer a corrupt, oligarchic, undemocratic state failing to represent the will of the people.     And his strong card  in his approach is the 'legitimacy' factor.  He has enough support from the people who will stand behind him,  at least in the short to medium term as he charts the waters ahead. Russia's approach: As mentioned above,  Moscow's stance over the coming months is going to be a very important factor - and a crucial space to watch. Thus far,  until the arrest and detention in custody of Robert Kocharyan,  the approach had been fairly restrained. But it is clearly looking for a number of assurances behind the scenes.   And the 'levers' that Moscow has at its disposal are many, whether in the energy sphere, 'strategic assets',  and the whole issue of arms supplies.   One overarching concern that persists comes back to the familiar mindset of Kremlin views:  namely,  that  street protests do not or should not ultimately be seen to win out . In that connection,  former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili's reported remarks on 2 August [Mediamax.am],  in which he reiterated an earlier claim from April taking some credit  for the revolution in Armenia, are (at best) unhelpful in this connection, and really only serve to aggravate perceptions and stir sharp reactions.    There are those furthermore who might, for example, draw comparisons between Nikol Pashinian and the Russian opposition activist Aleksandr Navalny.  While there are more differences than similarities,  nevertheless some uncomfortable (for Moscow) general parallels do exist in terms of two anti-corruption campaigners, who spent time in prison, and resonate with the public mood.. NK prospects: Finally, on Nagorno Karabakh (NK),  the conventional wisdom given regional constraints is there is unlikely to be any read-across or opening from changes in Armenia for the NK situation.  On the one hand Nikol Pashinian has made two important statements in recent weeks:  Firstly,  that he is ready to talk peace with Azerbaijan on Armenia's behalf,  not NK's simply because he does not represent the people living  there who have their own institutions.   And, secondly, that there should be peaceful messages and signals coming from Baku in order to consider a compromise settlement or resolution.   That is because the current militaristic approach will only constitute a broader threat to peace in the region.. However,  President Ilham Aliev made Baku's position  clear in remarks on 2 August.  He was dismissive of the idea of a new initiative of talks, involving Stepanakert.  He said Baku wants peace - but it also wants its territory back.  And until that territory is returned "there will be no peace" (Turan, 2 August 2018). Based on that stance,  and the limited room for manoeuvre for the new government in Yerevan ahead of expected elections,  it is hard to see any early prospect  for progress in talks.   But it may not be beyond the realms of feasibility to achieve at least some easing in the aggressive rhetoric and a ratcheting down in militaristic pressure (from Baku).  An area that could or should be explored is the scope for reinstating a senior-level 'hotline' between Baku and Yerevan.   That might be something to watch, and not least  perhaps  in the context of President Aliev's visit to Moscow, scheduled for 1st September.  Then again,  there is always the disconnect between 'western' analysis of what should or might happen - and local patterns of behaviour in the Caucasus which do not always conform to what might seem a desirable or logical way forward. [post_title] => Armenia - further changes and challenges ahead in 2018 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => armenia-further-changes-and-challenges-ahead-in-2018 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-13 15:34:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-13 15:34:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=2842 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 2612 [post_author] => 9 [post_date] => 2018-05-21 14:00:05 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-21 14:00:05 [post_content] => The next Geneva International Discussions (GID) meeting focused on conflict in Georgia is due to take place on 19-20th June 2018, the 44th round in a process running since 2008 and co-chaired by the EU, OSCE, and UN. Nearly 10 years on from the five-day Georgia-Russia war in summer 2008 it might be a timely moment to take stock of the EU’s approach towards unresolved conflicts in Georgia and in the other Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries similarly affected. From a British perspective too, and in the current context of Brexit, a consideration of these particular issues should be accompanied with a degree of concern at what a possible departure from collective efforts in this sphere might mean. Unresolved conflicts in Europe's east beset 5 out of 6 EU neighbourhood partner countries (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Ukraine, with Belarus as the notable exception). Most of these conflicts go back to eruptions over 25 years ago, as in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Nagorny Karabakh, and Transnistria. The situation in Donbas in eastern Ukraine, for its part, has now rumbled on for over 4 years - a period which, particularly since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, has marked a paradigm shift in European capitals’ relations with Moscow. As in all conflicts, there are different levels at which these standoffs play out – the local, the inter-state, and the geopolitical level. Today, geopolitics is squeezing everything, and strategic challenges trump local concerns, reducing the space for dialogue and other initiatives at the local level. That said, the geopolitical dimension of challenges does not fully, and cannot be allowed to, derail efforts for what can be done locally. The local is strategic - and what happens at the lower level can at times have strategic significance. Stability and security in the neighbourhood region are crucial and depend on a number of factors which, self-evidently, go beyond the protracted conflicts themselves.  They are not least about what kind of Russia, what kind of Europe we are looking for. In the countries where unresolved conflicts persist there is a need, by the same token, for the international community to stay the course and guard against tendencies in western capitals towards ‘Ukraine fatigue’ or ‘Georgia fatigue’. In terms of the EU’s approach, and in a situation where the challenges have grown, and the long-haul nature of the standoffs underscored,  there needs to be a realistic and sober assessment of what can (and cannot) be achieved in conflict resolution terms.  Indeed, it is probably more appropriate to speak of 'conflict management'.  For years, in fairness, many EU diplomats and NGO practitioners have been focused and careful on managing expectations, while trying to work within the 'art of the possible'.  Most on the policy and practitioner side, reflecting also what is known in and on the region, would say there is unlikely to be any clear resolution, and certainly not any time soon.  The modus operandi has been shaped by working within the confines and constraints of trying to 'nudge' things - and in a context where local partners are routinely being squeezed and pressured.  The civil society sector (CSO), on the one hand, is a key motor for engagement - but that is also in conditions wherein a number of countries  CSO representatives can be extremely vulnerable and subject to harassment. Faced with these problems, the EU is hampered by a persistent reality: It is not the sum of its parts.   And that applies in particular to its approach towards conflict management & resolution in the neighbourhood, which could well explore more scope for 'synergies' of different mechanisms, opportunities (where these occur) for leverage and conditionality, and including through effective multilateralism. Any assessment of 'successes' and 'shortcomings’ on EU policies in this sphere needs to factor in that the pros and cons are heavily qualified, and involve many grey areas,  which are covered briefly below. Conflict dynamics Firstly, a word or two about conflict dynamics.  Differentiation here is important. Each conflict is unique. The lapse of years has tended to widen that differentiation - and each conflict is ‘stuck in its own way’, and at different levels.  A truism that pertains is that the 'status quo' is not static but is evolving all the time. It is not helped either by the fact that one side or the other tries to focus only on one level and play down ('airbrush' out) other layers of the standoff. There are palpably different narratives across the divides about what has happened in the region. And none of that should at all mask some of the generic features of these situations (‘all conflicts are conflicts’) and there are lessons to learn and share from different contexts and different layers. It is worth reminding ourselves, in more detail, of timescales across a calibrated spectrum of developments. 2008 was a watershed year, on Georgia; and 2013/2014 a big wake-up call for EU on Ukraine. And there are many lessons - good and bad - to draw out from that on EU policy and practice. It is probably true to speak of a partial success for EU in a crisis management role in 2008 - and there has been notably no further major eruption on the ground since then. Elsewhere in the South Caucasus, on Nagorno Karabakh, it has been a different story, as seen in April 2016 with, what became known as the ‘4-day war’. The Non-Recognition but Engagement policy (NREP) was adopted in Brussels as long ago as December 2009, which itself was 15-16 years on from the 'hot phase' of the conflicts, in Georgia/Abkhazia, Georgia/South Ossetia, and elsewhere in the eastern neighbourhood).  And 2019, in its own way, will mark a decade since NREP was introduced, and over a quarter of century since the initial ceasefires from the early 1990s. That reflection on timescales prompts a question: Is it valid still to say that time is of the essence - or is time no longer on the side of those trying to work for resolution? During that period, and over the past 10 years in particular, the drift and absorption of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into the Russian Federation has been happening incrementally, and not least through securitisation, and 'borderisation' – the installation of barbed-wire and other impediments to mark off boundary lines of separation. NREP Non-Recognition but Engagement consists of 2 parts – ‘non-recognition’ and ‘engagement’ - which are mutually re-inforceable and inseparable.  The two key pillars of, firstly, a firm commitment to Georgian territorial integrity and non-Recognition of Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence; and secondly to the need to engage with the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. NREP itself begs a question:  ‘Engage, yes, but engage with whom?’ There are no easy answers in disparate situations, and with context-specific approaches. In the Georgian/Abkhaz context, the engagement the EU is talking about in the region has different strands: There is the engagement the EU has directly with the Abkhaz - civil society AND the authorities; (and there is the task of convincing the Georgians that that is in their interests too). There is also the engagement the EU tries to facilitate between the Georgians and Abkhaz; (and the EU needs to convince the Abkhaz that that is in their interests).    And overall the EU needs to reassure the Georgians that the more engagement there is does not erode the principle of non-recognition. A valid further question, though, comes to the fore: Should there be more scope for direct and structured dialogue with Sukhumi? The EU has shown through its track-record of involvement it can engage but not recognise.  Indeed, it gets full marks for non-recognition; but ‘barely satisfactory’ - or certainly on the low side - for engagement. The main constraint has been the 'red lines' set out in the metropolitan capitals in the region, and notably in Baku and Tbilisi. In the latter case, and over 8 years on from the inception of NREP, and given the empirical evidence on the EU's approach, there is still an argument to be won:   To what extent, can the Georgian government be persuaded to cut some slack and allow for flexibility and creative approaches?  Do they understand that NREP - and status-neutral options - are not slippery slopes towards 'creeping recognition' or designed to sell Georgia down the river. It is crucially an issue of trust. If engagement is to be allowed to happen and take root it does not need to be smothered by non-recognition at every turn. The Georgian stance is, of course,  shared by other governments embroiled in separatist disputes e.g. Azerbaijan, Moldova, Ukraine that international engagement in Abkhazia could lead to 'creeping recognition' or 'de facto sovereignty' in which a territory builds up a kind of state capacity that somehow makes it eligible for de jure recognition]. Freedom of movement & travel are important, and particularly for young people, for study opportunities abroad. Flexible and pragmatic approaches are required, to help on de-isolation, and indeed a more concerted policy from EU member states, around mobility for people from the unrecognised entities. And there needs to be some fresh thinking on information policy to promote EU messages to local people, and in the quest to help shift attitudes and mind-set. Track I engagement On Georgia, the EU has been an important player, as mentioned, at the level of the Geneva International Discussions (GID). Together with the other two co-chairs (OSCE and UN) the EU has done a virtuous job since autumn 2008, and in a process that will mark its tenth anniversary later this year. The regional nature of the format, however, leaves the various sides in their ‘comfort zone.’ Furthermore, it is difficult to see how any breakthrough can be achieved under current arrangements. As already alluded, the GID process is a conflict management (crisis management) mechanism rather than a conflict resolution one. There are limitations on what the EU can do, but the humanitarian working group has managed to address some issues pragmatically. And the two IPRM formats (Incident Prevention and Reduction Mechanism), meeting in Ergneti and Gali respectively since Feb 2009 (the latter underwent an enforced 4-year hiatus, until 2016), have each been useful for facilitated, and ostensibly 'status-neutral', interaction across the divides on local, practical issues (e.g. detention, kidnapping, missing persons, ecology, irrigation). On Nagorny Karabakh, the EU is involved mainly at the civil society level.  The EU has funded the European Partnership on NK (I, II & III) - and with a mixed track-record.  What more could the EU do on NK, when it does not participate in the Track I process, unless one includes the role of France as a co-chair, and ‘wearing an EU hat? Recent political changes in Yerevan have underlined once again the fluidity of developments in the region. For its part, Nagorny Karabakh - alongside the situation in Ukraine- is the most dangerous of the conflicts in the ENP region. If scope emerges for the EU to play a more active part, one way might be to not get too hung up around format. The key issue, as ever, is one of political will- and also the role and stance of regional players. So how do things stand on relative successes and shortcomings on EU policy in this area – or is it more appropriate to talk of 'grey areas'? ‘Qualified Pluses’ In general, the EU 'brand' remains a genuine long-term pole of attraction for people in the neighbourhood (although with different perceptions in the breakaway areas).  Most want to integrate with the EU in some form or other, however imperfectly, or at least have access to what it offers and stands for. Integration with the EU has proceeded patchily at best, but has still been a powerful impetus for internal governance reform, rule of law, and the mobilisation of civil societies.  But, overall, something of a mixed success. On Moldova and Transnistria, there has been some modest success. The EU is to be commended for seeing a window of opportunity and doing the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) deal.  And the OSCE got it right by plugging away at a few achievable things, which have now created a much better climate. This is a rare but decent example, in current circumstances, of some effective multilateralism at work. It is worth noting that there is a big difference on DCFTA incentive for Transnistria, as opposed to the situation in Abkhazia. Tiraspol has a lot of 'trade' with the EU, whereas the Abkhaz do not. In short,  the EUBAM/Association Agreement package has helped to stabilise the (Moldova/Transnistria) divide, by breaking down barriers and establishing common interests, despite the fact that it has not (yet) reconciled the sides. The EUSR envoy role, with the network of advisers, has provided useful and practical focus of efforts.  That has been seen, not least, in collaboration with other co-chairs in the GID process, and albeit working on seemingly intractable situations.  And one lesson has been that the humanitarian agenda is always very close to the security agenda. The EUMM (EU Monitoring Mission) and EUBAM (European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine) in another context, have been relatively effective, within the confines of their respective mandates.  And these provide some evidence that 'small can be beautiful'. Funding:  Since 2008 alone, the EU has funded projects worth over €42m in Abkhazia and on projects involving Abkhaz partners. But the visibility of the EU has remained low, as these projects have been implemented by other partners, and notably UNDP. On NREP, important to note that the Georgian Law on Occupied Territories (LOOT) copied quite a lot of the ideas - and albeit inserted a number of key red lines. The LOOT reflected a debate between the Georgian leadership at the time of its adoption (October 2009) - and it is legislation still in place and untouched today. That in itself posed a challenge. Yes, the EU should respect the principles of the Georgian strategy; but also be distinct from it. On Ukraine, the 2014-18 period is the focus of another forthcoming essay. This brief overview will leave aside the handling of EU policy on Ukraine in the build-up to the EU Summit in November 2013. It is worth stressing, though, that in 2004 the EU with others played an important mediating role that helped to defuse the political crisis in Ukraine at that time. We tend to overlook the extent to which that could easily have ended up in a bloodbath. The Association Agreement (AA) has since been a reform anchor, even if reforms have advanced with difficulty.  [On the debit side, and a broader fallout point:  what unfolded in Ukraine in 2014 has naturally prompted very serious concerns, as viewed from the perspective of other conflict contexts in the region. While it is seen as a sui generis situation, there is the tacit acknowledgement in most quarters that the conflict in Ukraine has added a further layer of complexity to resolving other, already fairly intractable, conflict situations]. Relative Minuses There is no getting away from the fact that there are divergent views within the EU about the significance of the Eastern Neighbourhood. Some member states have tended to prioritise relations with Russia; others prioritise the southern neighbourhood; and there are those who attach primary importance to Ukraine but give less consideration to other parts of the region. That has undermined some of the focus. A self-evident point - and a crucial problem and constraint - is that the EU's Russia policy has consistently been all over the place -- variously, unrealistic, excessively sanguine and deeply divided. It is perhaps true to say that in the past year or more there has been more cohesion than before.  But certainly, without a clear, coherent and consistent view of Russia, its policy towards the region and the fundamental incompatibility of core Russian/EU interests in the region, the EU will continue to struggle to deal with the Kremlin as effectively as it should. Geopolitics, as mentioned, are squeezing the space even further against practical peacebuilding efforts. So, despite what we are trying to promote, the factors conspire to edge things towards entrenched separation and increased reliance on the 'patron' states. It also has the effect of increasing the consolidation of the entity. The Association Agreement template is extraordinarily ambitious yet it, firstly, does not offer the carrot of membership and, secondly, makes available only limited financial/technical assistance relative to the scale of the reform task facing signatory-countries. Also, the EU continues to be singularly ineffective in selling the AA concept to local constituencies-government, business, society. Given the complexities, the assessment overall is necessarily a blurred one and there are many ‘Grey Areas’. Here, in conclusion, are just two of many:
  • The EUSRs who inherited NREP had their work cut out for them in trying as practitioners to implement NREP.  It can lead to the conundrum ('going in circles') where a EUSR has to ask permission of Abkhaz before the (EUSR) does something. Then there are Georgian constraints. And, on the latter, a health initiative from EU side ran up against familiar objections in Tbilisi, along with the lines of ‘No way,  that is tantamount to capacity-building, you can't do that’. And indeed the Georgian stance has been that they do not want to see health-care enhanced in Abkhazia - as that will lessen dependency on coming to Georgia).     From the other perspective, in Sukhumi, a similarly dispiriting approach has been noted:   The education initiative promoted by the EU was depicted as attempts at 'brainwashing' or trying to prompt a 'brain-drain'. These issues are supposed to be finessed partly by adopting a 'status neutral' approach, which can be a useful tool. However, the term also prompts a key question whether status neutrality can really exist. It can only happen if sides are willing to set aside the issue of status.
  • On the de-isolation issue, there is still a siege mentality that grips people. But many of these issues (e.g. freedom of movement) should be seen as a humanitarian issue rather than through the human rights lens, as such. It requires pragmatic, political approaches - and the EU should use all the tools it has available to promote flexible approaches with the authorities concerned.
Finally, and on a broader point in conclusion, the EU is well positioned  to promote sharing of experience and expertise, through more effective multilateralism. That includes better co-ordination among EU member states themselves and within & between EU structures, bilateral dialogue with key regional actors and engagement with other multilateral and intergovernmental organisations.  The EU should focus on what it already does well rather than get drawn into areas where it risks treading on others' toes. The UK should think long and hard, not least, about ways it will seek to support collective efforts in this important sphere post-Brexit, and (where it can) to help to build synergies for these efforts from the outside, and partly through continued funding of CSO (Track II and Track III) initiatives. That is not to suggest there will be anything less than concerted British backing for a coordinated approach.  But it needs to be given due priority at a time of many other (self-inflicted) competing demands. [post_title] => FPC Briefing - Assessing successes and shortcomings in the EU's approach to conflict resolution in the Eastern Partnership region [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => assessing-successes-and-shortcomings-in-the-eus-approach-to-conflict-resolution-in-the-eastern-partnership-region [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-13 15:51:56 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-13 15:51:56 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=2612 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 51 [post_author] => 9 [post_date] => 2017-01-14 14:44:42 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-14 14:44:42 [post_content] =>

There are perhaps two key myths about Ukraine that need to be challenged and pushed back on:

  1. Firstly, that 2013 saw a sudden turn by Ukraine towards the EU, and marked a departure from what came before. Kyiv was focused under different presidents on its EU aspirations. The catalyst for Maidan in November 2013 was the decision by President Yanukovich (under pressure) to opt not to sign the Association Agreement.
  2. The second myth is that Donbas was the "powerhouse of Ukraine's economy. In fact, that role fell to Kyiv and Dnipro. Donbas had increasingly become the rustbelt of Ukraine.
At one stage, when conflict erupted in 2014, there was a view that this might be a short-term crisis, and that it would be dealt with quite quickly. From the perspective of early 2017, and nearly 3 years on from the start of the conflict, that view has now been firmly dispelled and people understand that they are in this situation for the long term. While movement at the political level and in the Track I process (the intergovernmental Minsk process and Normandy format) has been at a glacial pace[fn 1], that should not be allowed to derail attempts for a practical focus on the many complications and challenges at the local level and in various communities, particularly in government controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Since the outbreak of the conflict, the biggest impediment to peacebuilding in Ukraine has been and remains security – or rather lack of it. There has to be a 'Contact Line' as there are still some in the breakaway areas (the 'Donetsk People's Republic' ['DNR'], and Luhansk People's Republic, ['LNR']) who aspire to taking the city of Mariupol, for example, the working port on the north coast of the Sea of Azov. Ceasefire violations, as monitored by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM), continue unabated in the vicinity of the Contact Line on a daily[fn 2] basis despite the Minsk-I and Minsk-II ceasefire agreements in place, from September 2014 and February 2015, respectively. NGOs and local networks are right to focus on practical possibilities at the local level. That is not to ignore the political level. But there are other mechanisms, as alluded, for exploring what can or (more to the point) what cannot be done at the political level. Gridlock still persists at the Track I level and shows no signs of shifting from that.
There is a crucial need for dialogue at different levels - and in many respects it is sensible not to label the work undertaken as 'dialogue'.
Basic humanitarian[fn 3] aid is needed to help make lives more tolerable. The scale and diversity of Ukraine is such that the approach adopted by international NGOs working with local partners has to be nuanced, inclusive but differentiated. The same approach cannot be employed in different oblasts in the east. And even within for example Donetsk Oblast, in Government-controlled areas, it would be wise and make sense to adopt a differentiated and tailored approach[fn 4] between communities, whether urban or rural and whether in the north or south of the oblast'. There is a crucial need for dialogue at different levels - and in many respects it is sensible not to label the work undertaken as 'dialogue'. Rather as practical engagement, 'experience-sharing', finding local solutions, and so forth. IDPs represent an essential constituency to work with in the crisis that has unfolded. IDPs are all over Ukraine so there is a lot of interaction, both good and less good. But that is the beginnings of a building block and an important platform for developing practical initiatives that can have an impact and make a change for the better to people's lives. On the theme of differentiation, the constituency of IDPs themselves are a multifaceted and numerous grouping (1.7 million) - whether including registered or unregistered IDPs, whether[fn 5] they are ethnic Ukrainians, Russians or minorities, whether from a gender perspective, and whether vulnerable, unemployed and elderly, or robust, resourceful and earning a satisfactory wage, as opposed to being dependent on a paltry pension or allowances. Inclusive and tailored NGO approaches need to have a good baseline of preparatory research for the insights that provides into the areas and communities these focus on.

Dialogue & Breakthroughs.

Two key points are worth highlighting. Firstly, the context in which dialogue (or however named) occurs will be evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. The process is only likely to be incremental - or indeed for long periods even static - but highly unlikely to see breakthroughs. And, secondly, the longer it takes the harder it becomes. There are long-standing differences and distrust between Kyiv and Donbas. The problem is that 'dialogue' as such can only take you so far. It will not get around the geopolitical brake. It is a truism in protracted conflicts that engagement in itself will not resolve conflicts. Another truism is that for resolution there, crucially, has to be political will. So, the question for donors is what beyond humanitarian aid is there to invest in a situation where no resolution is in sight - and the situation is strategically stuck? Ukraine wants its sovereignty. Russia wants to limit that sovereignty. Where is the middle ground? Furthermore, on the issue of Donbas, who wants it? Is it perhaps the case in all of this that Donbas is the 'unwanted child'. Kyiv might want the territory back - but not necessarily the people, lest that leads to undermining the cohesion of the state. Moscow does not want the long-term drain on its budget - but it wants to maximise the 'leverage' that such an unresolved situation provides in weakening Kyiv's position. [caption id="attachment_109" align="alignnone" width="640"]Ukraine's Prime Minister Groysman speaks during an interview in Kiev Ukraine's Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kiev, Ukraine, June 3, 2016.[/caption] There are those that say that Kyiv's problems would really only begin in the event of a settlement (however unlikely that looks at present) which delivers back 'DNR' and 'LNR' to the fold. The most likely outlook is that the situation stays unresolved and the one relative certainty is that Ukraine is never going to get Crimea back. But if Kyiv does decide it wants Donbas back it really needs to focus on people rather than turf, and on hearts and minds. That said, one can understand Kyiv's dilemma. The country has been invaded and reintegrating the rest of the country - not to mention other key challenges such as decentralisation, judicial reforms, the drive against corruption, economic problems, among others - all tend to take priority over the situation in Donbas. A process that has been underway since mid-2014 is the OSCE-led National Dialogue initiative. In one sense, it has been doing some valuable work, in the context of constitutional reform and to promote social cohesion and tolerance amid an ongoing crisis. But, on the other hand, it has not really been sufficiently invested from the official side and has been dependent on certain proactive individuals. Kyiv could more actively take ownership of the National Dialogue and try to make Donbas a more important component of that. The 'red line' may indeed remain a reluctance to get into a dialogue with Moscow's 'proxies' in DNR and LNR. An important point to keep centre focus in all of this is there is no - and should be no - equivalence. Ukraine has been invaded. It did not start this conflict. Whatever mistakes Kyiv has made it is entitled to make those mistakes within its own territory. And, as in all situations (protracted conflicts), there are grievances. Local voices need to be heard. And that should be the governing principle or steer for NGO engagement with local partners i.e. to try and ensure that local voices are heard, that local concerns and perspectives are shared. There are those who say the situation in Ukraine will not be solved until Ukraine decides what kind of country it wants to be. The more salient point to add here is that that point will not come until Moscow is prepared to start backing a political settlement. How the Kremlin views and works with the advent to power of Donald Trump in the White House, and indeed Washington's stance on the issue of Ukraine, is likely to have a key bearing on how the situation unfolds for Kyiv in 2017 and beyond. In terms of the role of external actors - and the broader role of the international community - the case of Moldova and the long-standing separatist issue of Transnistria, notionally less complicated than the Ukraine context, provides a sobering example. In 2016, under the German Chairmanship-in-Office, the OSCE decided to focus on small steps on Transnistria to nudge things forward in a constructive direction. But it concluded it could not get anywhere because Chisinau[fn 6] does not have a national strategy for resolving this conflict and there is still no political will, and arguably less so under the new pro-Moscow President Igor Dodon, elected in November 2016. However, a lot of money has been spent on practical local-level projects - with still nothing to show at the higher (political) level

It helps to look elsewhere.

Looking at other protracted conflicts in the eastern neighbourhood, there are many parallels between for example South Ossetia, the breakaway region in Georgia, particularly in its 1990s and early noughties context, and the situation now in Donbas. That can be seen, for example, in the number of mixed marriages (families of mixed ethnicities), and the extent of 'trade' across the 'border'. In the South Ossetia context the Ergneti market was a vital safety valve and an organic peacebuilding project, until former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili closed it in 2004. Things sadly moved on in a very negative direction after the five-day Russia-Georgia war over South Ossetia in 2008 which has led to an incremental Russian-led 'shut-down' on South Ossetia. But the generic lesson to be drawn from the earlier South Ossetia experience is that any projects focused on keeping 'borders' or dividing lines open need to be actively supported – and that could yet be a way forward to be explored more in the Ukraine context. [post_title] => Reflections on the situation in eastern Ukraine-a 2017 perspective [post_excerpt] => In January 2017 Craig Oliphant set out the predicted challenges for the year ahead in relation to the crisis in Eastern Ukraine. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => reflections-on-the-situation-in-eastern-ukraine-a-2017-perspective [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-13 16:28:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-13 16:28:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://localhost/?p=51 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 964 [post_author] => 9 [post_date] => 2015-06-28 23:41:02 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-06-28 23:41:02 [post_content] => FPC Senior Research Associate Craig Oliphant examines the strategic, economic and political challenges Russia faces dealing with the states of Central Asia. He explores the impact of the Ukraine crisis on the relationship between Russia and Central Asia and examines the growing influence of China in the region and what it means for Moscow’s long-term role. [post_title] => FPC Briefing: Russia’s changing role in Central Asia - the post-Ukraine context, and implications [post_excerpt] => FPC Senior Research Associate Craig Oliphant examines the strategic, economic and political challenges Russia faces dealing with the states of Central Asia. He explores the impact of the Ukraine crisis on the relationship between Russia and Central Asia and examines the growing influence of China in the region and what it means for Moscow’s long-term role. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => fpc-briefing-russias-changing-role-in-central-asia-the-post-ukraine-context-and-implications [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-14 16:38:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-14 16:38:53 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.clearhonestdesign.com/fpc-briefing-russias-changing-role-in-central-asia-the-post-ukraine-context-and-implications/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) )
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