At the Intersection: EBRD’s Yerevan Conference and Armenia’s Geopolitical Evolution

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By Joseph Shahbazian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

In a convergence of geopolitical tides and economic discourse, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) orchestrated a seminal conference in Yerevan, Armenia from May 14 to 16. Against the backdrop of the partial removal of Russian troops from Armenian territory, this gathering served as a crucible for probing the intricate interplay between neoliberal economic doctrine, globalization imperatives, and the geopolitical chessboard of the South Caucasus region.

The EBRD, an institution ostensibly dedicated to fostering post-Soviet economies towards market-oriented reforms, found itself at a crossroads as delegates from across the globe convened to scrutinize its role in shaping economic development. While the bank has long espoused the virtues of neoliberal policies — deregulation, privatization, and marketization — the partial withdrawal of Russian troops cast a sobering light on the geopolitical undercurrents that inform its operations.

The EBRD, serving as a vanguard of neoliberal orthodoxy, has long championed these policies as pathways to economic prosperity and global integration. However, the event in Armenian territory provides a stark reminder of the geopolitical dimensions that underpin the EBRD’s operations.

Armenia, with its tumultuous history of Soviet influence and geopolitical maneuvering, provided a poignant backdrop for these deliberations. For decades, the presence of Russian troops on Armenian soil had been emblematic of the country’s strategic alignment with Moscow, a relationship that intersected with its economic trajectory in profound ways. As the troops withdrew, questions abounded about Armenia’s geopolitical recalibration and the implications for its relationship with regional power dynamics.

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At the heart of the conference was a critical examination of neoliberalism — an economic ideology that has underpinned the EBRD’s operations since its inception. While proponents tout neoliberal policies as catalysts for economic growth and global integration, critics highlight their role in exacerbating inequalities and vulnerabilities, particularly in transitioning economies like Armenia. The withdrawal of Russian troops served as a catalyst for reevaluating the balance between economic imperatives and geopolitical exigencies.

Moreover, the conference provided a platform for grappling with the complexities of globalization — a phenomenon propelled by institutions like the EBRD. While globalization promises economic interdependence and cross-border investment, its consequences are often unevenly distributed, with marginalized communities bearing the brunt of economic dislocation. As Armenia contemplates its place in the global economy, the current events in the country raised questions about the country’s vulnerability to geopolitical shocks and the need for a more nuanced approach to economic development.

As the conference unfolded, divergent perspectives emerged on the path forward for Armenia. Some viewed the partial removal of Russian troops as an opportunity for the country to assert its sovereignty and diversify its economic partnerships. Others expressed concerns about Armenia’s geopolitical isolation and the potential repercussions for its economic stability. Against this backdrop, the EBRD found itself at a crossroads, grappling with the tension between its neoliberal mandate and the geopolitical realities of the region.

In the crucible of Yerevan, amidst the convergence of economic discourse and geopolitical realities, the EBRD conference served as a microcosm of the challenges facing Armenia and other transitioning economies.

As the country navigates the shifting sands of geopolitics and globalization, a landscape fraught with uncertainty, the lessons gleaned from the conference will serve as a testament to the interconnectedness of economic and geopolitical forces — forces that will shape the country’s future trajectory in ways both profound and unpredictable.

In this instance, the EBRD is extending a 236-million-euro loan to Armenia to fund various projects. However, it’s important to highlight that many of the EBRD’s ventures have earned a reputation as exemplars of “what can go wrong.” This case is no exception. Historically, EBRD projects have often proceeded without sufficient preparation to mitigate adverse effects on local communities, leading to significant environmental and social repercussions.

(Prof. Joseph Shahbazian is a physicist, medical engineer, author and inventor who lives in the Boston area and is the cofounder of the Shahbazian Foundation.)

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