Freedom From Dependence

How to resolve the issue of disputed territories both within Russia and under Russian protectorate?

Reforum published this policy paper a year ago. Now, in connection with Russian aggression against Ukraine (by the named reason of the status of DPR and LPR), the topic of “gray zones” has become even more relevant. You can find the English version here.

2021 marks 30 years since the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ceased to exist, both legally and practically. There was a long period of major events that took place in quick succession during the late 20th century and beginning of the 21st. Yet, the USSR’s political fallout remains very relevant today: we can see it in the architecture of our cities, our mindsets, and the political style that has made a comeback in Russia. The USSR provoked a number of national and territorial conflicts that have yet to be resolved. The status of several states (or quasi-states) in the European part of the former Soviet Union are still in dispute.

At first glance, it might seem controversial to describe these conflicts as part of the Soviet legacy – after all, the Armenia-Azerbaijani or Georgia-Ossetian territorial disputes had spilled over into armed conflict even before the formation of the USSR, while calls for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to separate from Ukraine were not really a serious matter until after nearly fifteen years of Ukrainian independence. Nonetheless, these longstanding conflicts have only grown more pressing as a result of the Soviet Union’s haphazard (or rather, meticulously fine-tuned) national policy, while new conflicts have been possible based on the remnants of Soviet thinking and nostalgia for the “good old days”.

In this report, we will use the term “disputed territory” to describe the political entities within the internationally-recognized borders of a post-Soviet state, which, in violation of international laws, have broken away from that state, proclaimed their new status, and actually received official recognition or practical support from another country (or small group of countries). Do we have to spell out the common denominator of the Russian Federation as the main (or only) country providing any practical (and in some cases, diplomatic) support for these disputed separatist territories? Generally speaking, the that practical support from other countries is negligible (with the exception of Nagorno-Karabakh).

The existence of disputed territories in the former USSR’s vast area is not new to modern Europe. After all, there is divided Cyprus, Ireland, and the Balkans are still smoldering… What is unprecedented is the number of territorial disputes all involving the same country. Does Russia somehow benefit from these unresolved conflicts and unrecognized states on its borders?

More in full version in PDF.