As of late March, British embassies in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia have been accepting project bids as part of the UK's $1.5 billion (£1 billion) Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) for the region.
The British government says that the CSSF, which is encouraging a range of different projects targeted at civil society or governments in the region aims to "reduce the potential for violent conflict in the South Caucasus region by investing in upstream conflict prevention and by creating an environment that is more conducive to the resolution of conflicts."
The programs will aim to inform either government officials or the general population about the values of cooperation when dealing with international disputes.
'Change in Status Quo'
Despite the noble rhetoric from the British government there are concerns within that this attempt at "conflict prevention" will only attract projects that serve to expand Britain's sphere of influence to the South Caucasus.
In summer 2012, Wash DC-based NGO held events for young residents of the North Caucasus. Tsarnaev allegedly attended. http://t.co/qfuzt0U3Ao— Mukha Kaloev (@Mukha_Kaloev) April 29, 2013
Of particular concern was the UK's guideline for funding, which stated that projects should "seek to deliver a concrete change in the status quo that is sustainable in the long-term," which suggests that many current situations in the South Caucasus, which may be disputed, need to be changed.
Furthermore, given the UK's ongoing differences with Russia, it is thought that this project could be seen as projecting British values and opinions, which have been highly critical of Moscow in the wake of the crisis in Ukraine.
Concerns About Long-term Planning
The CSSF, which is now controlled and managed by the UK government's National Security Council (NSC), has been established to replace the former 'Conflict Pool' project, which had formerly been involved in conflict prevention programs in the region.
Despite the change, a joint statement released by conflict prevention NGOs International Alert, Conciliation Resources and Safer World has raised concerns about whether the new approach may just be reacting to recent events, rather than working towards long-term goals:
"With this shift there may be a risk of pursuing short-term interventions which could undermine longer-term peace and stability if 'national security' is defined too narrowly.
"While rapid response is crucial and can prevent violence from breaking out or escalating, it will be important to ensure that in addition to this, the UK continues and scales up investment in longer-term interventions to address the causes of conflict before violence breaks out."
Despite an improvement in relations between Russia and Georgia in recent years, the two countries still have a number of disputes, stemming from the breakup of the former Soviet Union and the 2008 war, which triggered public anger on both sides of the conflict.
David Cameron to waste £20m of UK taxpayers money on propaganda "aid" to Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia— Ian56 (@Ian56789) March 20, 2015
There are fears that given the British government's condemnation of Russia over the Ukraine crisis, any further British influence in the region may stoke some anti-Russia sentiments and ultimately lead to more aggression.
'Scrutiny' of Projects Needed
Amid the concerns about the UK's new CSSF and conflict prevention efforts in the South Caucasus, NGOs have called for increased controls and scrutiny to be placed on any approved projects to ensure they are compatible with strategies aimed at building stability in contentious or politically volatile regions.
"As additional departments become involved in project delivery under the CSSF, it will be extremely important to be clear about how activities are promoting this vision," a statement from International Alert, Conciliation Resources and Safer World read.
The groups have also called for more parliamentary debates on conflict prevention strategies and for ministerial departments to publicly release information showing how projects carried out under the CSSF can contribute towards conflict prevention.