The Arab Spring as the End of an Era

25 march 2012

Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club.

Resume: The Arab Spring has entered its second year, and the course of events has vividly proved the predictions of analysts.

The Arab Spring has entered its second year, and the course of events has vividly proved the predictions of analysts. The process, which started quite accidentally in Tunisia in December 2010, has triggered fundamental changes. These changes will transform the political landscape of the Middle East and make people take a new look at the world. The era, which opened with the fall of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, is over, and a new era is unfolding before our eyes. The essence of the new era is yet unclear. There are more unknown than known variables in this equation for Russia and the rest of the world.

Pyotr Stegny, who has extensive experience of diplomatic work in the region, analyzes internal mechanisms that propelled the Arab Spring. In his opinion, the developments there were caused by a combination of internal processes, which had been brewing for a long time, and external factors, namely the campaign to promote democracy in the Greater Middle East. Started in the early 2000s by the U.S. administration, this campaign had yielded unexpected fruit. The author believes that the fate of Iran, where most diverse interests intersect, will be of major importance.

Vladimir Orlov suggests that Russia’s position on the Iranian issue be independent of the United States. This would benefit all and bring stability to the region. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen discusses a new phenomenon – the growth of ambitions and influence of Arab Gulf states, ranging from Saudi Arabia to small countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Ilter Turan writes about a new “rising star” in Middle Eastern and Eurasian geopolitics, namely Turkey. He admits that the Turkish leadership sometimes overestimates its possibilities, but he has no doubt that Ankara has the potential to sharply increase its international weight.

An aggravation of the situation over Iran, let alone throughout the Middle East, can hit the South Caucasus. A serious destabilization in Iran would have impacts, albeit in differing ways, on its two neighbors – Armenia and Azerbaijan. In a worst-case scenario, an Iranian campaign will come as an external shock that will upset the fragile balance in Nagorno-Karabakh. This is the oldest conflict in the former Soviet Union, dating back to the late 1980s, which was the first to start unsettling the huge country and which still is a source of huge risks.

Sergei Minasyan analyzes the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh through the prism of the classical theory of mutual deterrence and concludes that this is the best way to maintain peace in the region. Gulshan Pashayeva discusses a possible political settlement of the conflict, analyzing how Nagorno-Karabakh could exist within Azerbaijan. Peter Semneby, who was an EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus for five years, gives his forecast for the region’s future, drawing on his own experience. Nikolai Silayev offers a comparative analysis of what the three South Caucasian countries have achieved economically and politically over the twenty years of independence.

Many of the authors of this issue discuss the 20th anniversary of the “post-Soviet space” (this notion originated in 1992, when people in the former Soviet Union began to reconcile themselves to the fact of its breakup). Kirill Koktysh regrets that none of the former Soviet republics has been able to solve basic societal development problems which paved the way for the Soviet Union’s collapse. Murat Laumulin welcomes Moscow’s plans to start new integration projects, but he doubts that today’s Russia has enough ideological and moral appeal.

Yuri Drakokhrust analyzes the path traveled by Belarus. He describes this path as strange and unusual for Eastern Europe but still strengthening the national identity of Belarusians. Andrew Wilson holds that it is time for Ukraine to finally decide what it wants, as all of its external partners are tired of waiting for Kiev to sort out its desires. Vitaly Vorobyov writes about the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Of all institutions that have emerged in the former Soviet Union after its dissolution, the SCO has, perhaps, the largest potential for influencing world politics.

Timofei Bordachev introduces a new notion for analyzing international relations – societal power. He believes that in today’s multi-layered world the power and influence of a state depend not so much on objective parameters as on whether its policy meets the international system’s demand.

In our next issue, we will discuss Russia’s foreign policy and opportunities which the return of Vladimir Putin to power opens up for it.

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