Video & Report: " Conflicts in the Post-Soviet space"

On April the 4th 2019, the International Institute for Peace organized together with the Forschungsstelle für Eurasische Studie der Universität Wien (EURAS) a panel discussion on the issue of the current conflicts in the post-soviet space. The panel discussion was moderated by Angela Kane, the Vice-President of the IIP and former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and featured by the participation of Alexander Dubowy, Scientific Coordinator, Research Center for Eurasian Studies, University of Vienna and Scientific Director of the Institute for Security Policy (ISP); Alexander Iskandaryan, Director of the Caucasus Institute Yerevan and Sergey Markedonov, Leading Researcher for the Center for Euro-Atlantic Security and MGIMO Institute for International Studies.

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After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 the Post-Soviet space continues to face various unresolved territorial conflicts such as Transnistria in Moldova. The South Caucasus region, which has important geopolitical relevance for the Russian Federation, sees conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and faces Armenia and Azerbaijan confronting in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. These conflicts affect people´s safety and are an obstacle to the social and economic development of the countries involved. Weak political structures and the strained relations between ethnic groups have caused conflicts, instability and political disagreement. In the unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the disputed territory of Nagorno- Karabakh is not recognized as a state, same as for Transnistria.  Russia recognized instead Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent republics only after the military conflict with Georgia in 2008.  The Post-soviet transition entailed a lot of challenges like the formation of national boundaries, but also political and economic issues that caused tensions in the society.

Alexander Iskandaryan underlined that these conflicts cannot be analyzed without taking into consideration the political reality of the surrounded areas. The involvement in this region by organizations and states such as Russia, the U.S, NATO or the EU exists because of the political-strategic importance of the area.  In his opinion, the process of the collapse of the Soviet Union is still ongoing and far from conclusion, despite the mainstream narration. The countries in the post-soviet space are still in a stage of nation-building. On this regard, the annexation of Crimea and the Donbass crisis demonstrated furthermore that the disintegration process has not completed yet.

In Soviet times it did not matter what nationalities were living in which region, because the area was one union. But after the breakup of the USSR problems related to national identity appeared. For example, the region of Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed territory with Armenian ethnic majority but internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Multiple armed conflicts caused thousands of casualties and due to the small size of the region, in almost every family there were fatalities. This makes the rapprochement very difficult. Nowadays Nagorno-Karabakh has its own political structures: elections, laws and army, but yet it is not recognized as a sovereign state.  The conflicts in the South Caucasus are not rational but rather emotional due to the nationalistic rhetoric and the presence of enclaves and minorities living in different countries. According to Iskandaryan discussions about these conflicts should be rationalized because in his opinion the self-determination of these nations is crucial.

Markedonov pointed out that every conflict in the post-soviet space has its own political and historical background and different terms of intensity. One cannot speak of only one crisis in the post-soviet area. He stated his opposition to the assumption to consider those conflicts as “frozen”. Even when there are no armed confrontations at the moment, the status quo is not satisfying for Georgia for example. Second, the position of Russia towards these conflicts is very different. In Nagorno-Karabakh, the West and Russia are willing to cooperate, similarly in Transnistria where the two parties are engaged in a dialogue. According to Markedonov Russia has no universal approach for these regions. For instance, South Ossetia held two times elections to become a part of Russia. Sometimes Russia is in favor of protection of territorial integrity and in other cases not.  The evolution of Russia´s behavior depends on three factors: domestic security and territorial integrity of Russia, bilateral agreements (Russia-Ukraine or Moldova) and the foreign policy of Russia. Last, he underlined that Russian approaches don´t have to be personalized,  not all decisions can be only attributed to Vladimir Putin.

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In the conflict resolution process, the interests of the de facto states may not be ignored, according to Alexander Dubowy. Over the last years, they developed institutions and political structures. In this sense, the positions and interests of these societies should be taken into account. The conflict resolution should also be based on inclusiveness and integration of the civil societies in the region. The establishment of dialogue forums is necessary so that the involvement of the civil society will bring more legitimacy for the process and more durable peace. Without a significant rapprochement between the West and Russia, this crisis cannot be resolved.  

Some of the issues addressed in the Q&A session were the following:

The national interest of Russia to resolve the existing conflicts: The resolution of the conflicts depends on the perceptions and interests of each country involved. Even when the Russian Federation is partly responsible for the status quo, the countries in question need to resolve by themselves their crisis.

Imperial elements in Russia´s policy: In Alexander Dubowy´s opinion, Russia is the main strategic stakeholder in the process. Iskandaryan pointed out that despite different rhetorics some of the actions and attitudes of the Russian Federation are quite similar to the politics of the USSR. Nevertheless, one should not forget that some countries in the Soviet space openly have nationalistic and imperialistic politics towards ethnic minorities, according to Dubowy. 

A similar project for the Post-Soviet space such as the EU: The dissolution of the Soviet Union is not completely concluded. Moreover, the EU is a unique project in which the recognition of states is essential.  After the dissolution has finished, there will be maybe another integrational project but not in the near future.

The breakup of the Soviet Union caused several conflicts which pose nowadays a number of challenges to many of the former member countries of the Soviet Union. These issues will be probably not resolved in the next few years.