The South Caucasus has inherited deeply ingrained historical narratives of being a pawn in games of geopolitical intrigue, from the Persian-Russian wars of the early 19th century, to the region’s forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1921, to the Russia-Georgia War of 2008. In today’s Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, issues of national identity, territorial control, and geopolitical alignment remain unresolved while contemporary great powers still seek to advance their interests in the region. It is therefore unsurprising that leaders frequently invoke hostile foreign powers as an explanation for national and personal insecurities.
It is difficult to know whether the surrounding great powers in fact actively meddle in nearby smaller states in games of international intrigue. But we do know that the idea of external meddling in these states is a major theme in domestic politics and that it follows a common script: Side A accuses side B of being in league with a malevolent outside power, while side B accuses side A of contriving threats and staging provocations to mask its own failings. The result is a mainstream politics of conspiracy, in which people are encouraged to believe that the adversaries of their favored leader are intent on selling out the country’s interests. This dynamic complicates managing foreign relations by infusing ordinary decisions with the weight of national survival, enables politicians to evade accountability for bad behavior, and, by delegitimizing political rivals, forecloses debate about serious issues. [...]