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Getting Out from "In-Between": Perspectives on the Regional Order in Post Soviet Europe and Eurasia


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At the core of the dispute between Russia and the West is the contest over the countries physically located between them: Ukraine first and foremost, but also Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. While the relationship between Russia and the West was far from ideal before 2014, it was the Ukraine crisis, particularly Moscows annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine, that fundamentally changed that relationship, ruling out any remaining hopes for partnership and effectively institutionalizing a confrontational dynamic. The contest over the in-between states (Figure 1.1) has taken a significant toll on these states themselves. The most extreme case is the war in Ukraine, in which over 10,000 have died; other regional conflicts have occurred in Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan, and the competition has also disrupted regional trade patterns and set back the process of reform and domestic transformation in these states. The status quo is thus far from optimal for all parties. Western policy debates regarding the future of the regional order are usually between advocates of further enlargement of Euro-Atlantic institutions, and their critics, who argue that enlargement caused the current crisis and should be called to a halt. This debate is increasingly divorced from the realities on the ground in Europe and Eurasia: a European Union (EU) engulfed in a multifaceted crisis; a United States looking to reduce commitments in Europe; an absence of political will in either the EU or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to offer full membership to the in-between states; in-between states that are in no condition to qualify for membership; and ongoing conflicts in the three most plausible membership aspirants, including a major war in Ukraine. However, the critics of enlargement offer no compelling alternative vision for regional integration, which makes their position untenable.



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