The landscapes of the so-called unrecognized states in the former Soviet Union have been changing in recent years, as a result of significant shifts both in several former Soviet states, as well as in Russia’s own foreign policy. Today, these conflicts – tied as they are to the ‘leftovers’ of the breakup of the USSR – are anything but frozen.
The Case of Kosovo
The case of Kosovo is neither wholly unique nor universal as a model of conflict resolution. Rather, it should push us to reevaluate the situations that have developed in the conflict zones that arose after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the USSR. It should also lead us to seek new political solutions to these conflicts, designed not to gain fleeting geopolitical advantages, but to strengthen regional stability and security. Is such a shift in thinking likely? If we assume that governments make decisions only when forced to do so by the pressures of current events, it probably is not. However, if we allow that governments are capable of acting to achieve positive goals, then the answer just might be affirmative.
A Useless Precedent
Today’s international community has at its command only the tools of ‘freezing’ conflicts between separatists and their former rulers. Indeed, this is inevitable, given that the world refuses to accept the legitimacy of changes to the internationally recognized borders of sovereign states. The fears of those who insist on the sanctity of that principle are understandable: once we recognize that restive provinces can achieve independence through violence, we only encourage radicals to carve out sovereign ‘principalities’ on the territories under their control. But the negative consequences of such unwavering adherence to the status quo are no less evident: the globe is dotted with a strong of territories in a constant state of neither war, nor peace.
A Dead End for Georgia and Abkhazia
The Georgian-Abkhazian conflict seems as intractable today as it did 12 years ago, when the signing of the Moscow agreement froze the results of the 1992—1993 war in place. There are no evident compromises that could even hypothetically appease both sides. Moreover, unlike in the Balkans, where the U.S. and the E.U. had a military, political and economic monopoly and could push through their own plan for resolution, the global forces at play in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict are more or less evenly matched. As a result, from the international policy perspective there is no resolution to the conflict in sight.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia: Independence or Survival?
Most researchers analyzing post-Soviet conflicts approach them as parts of broader geopolitical struggles. The dynamics of the conflicts themselves and the internal politics of separatist entities often remain out of view. Meanwhile, the separatist entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been able to maintain their de facto independence from Georgia for more than 10 years. Despite their small size, their demographic problems, the fragility of existing institutions, weak power, and political, economic and geographic isolation, they have survived and strengthened their resolve to separate from Georgia. These developments are underpinned by a number of factors, including a set of ideas that form the foundation of movements for independence.
Moldova’s European Choice
In refusing to sign the Kozak Memorandum and choosing instead to align itself with Western partners, Chisinau hoped to kick-start the Trans-Dnistrian conflict resolution process onto a favorable (from its point of view) direction. However, as developments have shown, widening the participation of the negotiations and internationalizing the conflict resolution mechanisms were not terribly effective. The European Union’s support is primarily symbolic, and not one significant issue has been resolved under the new format of negotiations. It was these deflated hopes in the E.U. and Ukraine and, most importantly, serious economic dependence on Russia that forced Vladimir Voronin to revise his foreign policy.
Russia’s Military Peacekeeping
The peacekeeping missions that Russia undertook after the bloody internal conflicts in Trans-Dnistria and Abkhazia are, of course, not exactly traditional. First and foremost, this is because the peacekeeping mission was handed down to troops who had been in the conflict zone while the conflict was actually under way. In one way or another, these units of the Soviet Army, which came under Russian jurisdiction already in the midst of the conflicts, were involved in the civil wars. Combatants received weapons from their arsenals, and soldiers periodically either took part in battle, or attempted to stop the fighting of their own volition.
Islam and Politics in Russia
The rebirth of Islam in Russia over the past two decades has had contradictory effects. Most importantly, we are faced today with a new reality: a ‘new’ Islam and new Muslims. Despite its loyalty to the state, Islam will never again be fully under state control. It is theologically and ideologically pluralistic, and elements have grown up within it that are in opposition to the authorities. It is closely tied into the global Ummah. Looking forward, the greatest unknown is whether or not it will be possible to avoid social instability. If the answer is no, instability is highly likely to provoke a general radicalization of Islam, a steep rise in religiously labeled political activism, and the consolidation of Islamists throughout Russia and, eventually, Eurasia.
The Power of Poland’s Radicals
The rise to power of radicals was, to a large extent, circumstantial. It was helped along by the absolute bankruptcy of the left wing due to corruption scandals, the fall-out among the moderate party and their disappearance from the political scene, and the opportunism and radicalization of the liberals from the Civic Platform. But it is important to note that this was also an echo of the transformation. This was the payback delivered to Poland’s ‘Perestroika’ by those segments of society who suffered the greatest losses and who were less prepared for freedom than others. This includes the elderly, the poorly educated, and the residents of villages and small provincial towns. From this point of view, these sorts of processes pose a threat to other post-communist countries as well.