The life cycles of the four contested states of Eurasia reveal striking similarities in respect of their origins, current existence and possible future status. Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transdniestria and Nagorno Karabagh are moreover located in the space of the former Soviet Union but none are formally part of Russia. The foursome owed their contested statehood to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, taking up arms individually to break free from successor states they considered alien, unrepresentative and repressive. The post-Soviet states involved are Georgia (in the cases of Abkhazia and South Ossetia), Moldova (Transdniestria) and Azerbaijan (Nagorno Karabagh). For these reasons it makes sense to examine the Eurasian quartet — incidentally among the youngest of today’s contested states — as a group.

Deon Geldenhuys 

Part II Case Studies

Chapter 4: The Eurasian Quartet

Deon Geldenhuys

Professor of Politics, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Contested States In World PoliticsAbout the Author

DEON GELDENHUYS is a Professor of Politics at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. Specializing in International Relations, he has published several books, including Deviant Conduct in World Politics.

© Deon Geldenhuys 2009

First published in 2009 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN

Table of Contents




Secession and war

State-building and foreign relations

Alternative futures

South Ossetia

Statehood and war

Alternative futures


Towards the PMR

The patron and the peacemakers

State- and nation-building

Final status options

Nagorno Karabagh

Statehood and war

External involvement


Searching for a lasting settlement





The life cycles of the four contested states of Eurasia reveal striking similarities in respect of their origins, current existence and possible future status. Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transdniestria and Nagorno Karabagh are moreover located in the space of the former Soviet Union but none are formally part of Russia. The foursome owed their contested statehood to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, taking up arms individually to break free from successor states they considered alien, unrepresentative and repressive. The post-Soviet states involved are Georgia (in the cases of Abkhazia and South Ossetia), Moldova (Transdniestria) and Azerbaijan (Nagorno Karabagh). For these reasons it makes sense to examine the Eurasian quartet – incidentally among the youngest of today’s contested states – as a group.


The territory of Abkhazia, extending over roughly 8,600 km2 (slightly smaller than Cyprus), is located at the western end of Georgia and has a coastline on the Black Sea. In the north and northeast the Caucasus Mountains separate Abkhazia from Russia. Beyond these incontestable geographic markers, other basic features of Abkhazia’s existence are hotly disputed. The Abkhazians insisted that they had never chosen to become part of Georgia in the 20th century but were forced to do so when the Soviet Union’s borders were demarcated. They portrayed themselves as a distinct community with an ancient culture: their language differed from Georgian, being related to the Adyghe people of the Northwest Caucasus; whereas the Georgians followed the Christian Orthodox religion, Abkhazians were nominally Muslim; and they had an ancestral link to the Abkhazian territory based on three millennia of continuous occupation.1 Their struggles against foreign occupiers over the centuries have moreover forged Abkhazian self-identity and nationhood. The Georgian historical narrative by contrast emphasized that the rulers of Abkhazia had for generations until 1810 maintained nominal or effective union with kingdoms and princedoms of Georgia.2

The year 1810 marked Abkhazia’s absorption into the Russian Empire as a protectorate enjoying the status of a sovereign principality. Russia’s revocation of Abkhazia’s autonomy in 1864 sparked the first major Abkhazian revolt against the imperial power. Another occurred in 1877. Russia’s response to such challenges was severe repression combined with the expulsion of Abkhazians from their homeland. Between 120,000 and 200,000 of them fled to the Ottoman Empire.3 A new period of repression in Abkhazia began in the wake of the 1917 Russian revolution. Abkhazia joined the Union of United Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, which was in 1918 remade into the North Caucasian Republic with Abkhazia one of its constituent units. Shortly thereafter the Georgian Democratic Republic was proclaimed. Within weeks Georgia invaded Abkhazia and subjected it to harsh military rule until 1921.4

If the period 1918–21 kept reminding the Abkhazians of the horror of Georgian rule, the years 1921–31 were regarded as the source of their contemporary statehood. An independent Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia did indeed exist – but from only March to December 1921. Abkhazia possessed such trappings of statehood as its own flag and emblem and the right to adopt its own laws. The Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) even recognized the independence of Abkhazia, the two having equal status. At the close of 1921, however, Stalin compelled Abkhazia to join the Georgian SSR under the Union Agreement that provided for a confederal formula of sorts. It was an asymmetrical arrangement in that Abkhazia delegated some of its powers to Georgia and did not have membership of any regional or international organization separate from Georgia. Even so Abkhazia’s constitution of 1925 defined it as a sovereign state and subject of international law. That formal status could not prevent Abkhazia’s further demotion in 1931 to an autonomous republic within Georgia.5 Abkhazians still resent the latter move as forcible incorporation into Georgia on Stalin’s orders.

The ‘systematic assault on Abkhazian culture’ between the 1930s and the 1950s was another vivid memory that has kept shaping the community’s political preferences. A campaign driven by Josef Stalin (a Georgian) and Lavrenti Beria (also a Georgian who was Communist Party boss in Georgia in the 1930s and later KGB chief) aimed at obliterating the Abkhazians as a cultural community. The means included the forced exile of Abkhazians and the compulsory resettlement of Georgians, Armenians and Russians in Abkhazia, thereby reducing the ethnic Abkhazians’ share of Abkhazia’s population from 28 per cent in 1926 to 13 percent in 1950. All schools using Abkhazian as the medium of instruction were closed and Georgian made the compulsory language of teaching, Abkhazian-language radio broadcasts were stopped and Abkhazian newspapers and journals ceased publication. The process of ‘Georgianization’ even extended to the methodical assassination of virtually the entire political and intellectual elite of the Abkhazian community. Economic discrimination gave Abkhazia a smaller per capita share of the state budget and relatively lower capital investment than Georgia.6

Following the deaths of Stalin and Beria in 1953 the Georgianization campaign was reversed as the Abkhazian language was reintroduced into teaching, broadcasting and publishing. The new flexibility was seized by the Abkhazians to stage a number of protest rallies between the 1950s and the 1970s demanding Abkhazia’s exit from the Georgian SSR. That possibility was not entertained by either the Georgian or Soviet authorities, who sought to placate the Abkhazians through major capital investment in infrastructural projects and affirmative action programmes.7 The calculated beneficence failed in this purpose as Abkhazians’ demands for political reforms intensified, especially in the new political space opened up by President Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s. The Georgians likewise exploited the unprecedented degree of freedom extended by Moscow to push their own independence agenda. The scene was set for a serious clash of nationalisms.

Secession and war

The Georgian Supreme Soviet threw down the gauntlet in November 1989 by asserting Georgia’s sovereignty, including its right to secede from the Soviet Union. The announcement was based on the conviction that Georgia’s union with the USSR constituted an ‘annexation’ brought about by military force and occupation. In August 1990 the Abkhazian Supreme Soviet followed suit by declaring the territory’s sovereignty – a proclamation promptly ruled null and void by the Georgian legislature. The next step towards the looming showdown was the all-union referendum of March 1991 on the question of the Soviet Union’s continued existence. Whereas the Georgians boycotted the poll, just over half the Abkhazian electorate participated – and 98 per cent of them supported the retention of the USSR. Georgians took the verdict as confirmation of the Abkhazian complicity in Russia’s subversion of Georgia. Abkhazian voters, by contrast, feared that being part of an independent Georgia would leave them more vulnerable to persecution and even liquidation than before. By in effect supporting the Union Treaty, Abkhazians expressed a preference for staying in the Soviet Union – but leaving Georgia. This choice, the Abkhazians asserted, was permitted under the 1990 Soviet law on withdrawal from the USSR.8

A fortnight after the Soviet referendum, a Georgian national referendum was held to decide the issue of independence. This time Abkhazian voters opted for a boycott, but again 98 percent of those who voted supported ‘the restoration of the independence of Georgia’ based on the independence declaration of 1918.9 In April 1991 the Georgian Supreme Soviet duly proclaimed the republic’s independence. Not only was Abkhazia left stranded inside a Georgia that had unilaterally declared its independence, but the protective umbrella of the Soviet Union was folding up. The Abkhazians’ sense of foreboding was strengthened after the newly installed military rulers in Tbilisi in 1992 announced the reintroduction of Georgia’s 1921 constitution. Concerned that this move would result in the abolition of Abkhazia’s autonomous status, the Abkhazian Supreme Soviet proposed a federal or confederal link with Georgia. Eliciting no response from Tbilisi, the Abkhazian legislature in mid-1992 reintroduced its 1925 constitution, in effect declaring Abkhazia a sovereign entity no longer part of Georgia.10

The mounting tensions culminated in open warfare when Georgian troops invaded Abkhazia in August 1992. They soon took the capital Sukhumi, where the invaders made a point of attacking government buildings and major cultural centres. The Georgians also destroyed infrastructure and private property over a wide front, plundered farms and plantations and killed about 5,000 people.11 Thanks to Russian military assistance and the involvement of mercenaries from a shadowy militarized political organization called the Confederation of the Peoples of the Caucasus, Abkhazian forces managed to turn the tide and recapture lost territory. By the end of 1993 the war was effectively over, but it was only in May 1994 that the two sides signed a peace agreement under UN auspices with Russian facilitation. Apart from a ceasefire, the accord provided for the separation of forces and the deployment of peacekeepers. The Commonwealth of Independent States Peacekeeping Forces (CISPKF), composed entirely of Russians, were deployed in a strip of territory between Georgia and Abkhazia in June 1994. The United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) was also created under the peace agreement and mandated by the Security Council to monitor the ceasefire and observe the operation of the peacekeepers.12 In addition Georgia and Abkhazia have since the end of 1993 engaged in negotiations under the Geneva Peace Process, producing a number of bilateral agreements on such matters as the return of refugees, the creation of a joint coordinating council between the two parties, and measures to stabilize conditions on the two sides of their de facto border. Chaired by the UN and again facilitated by Russia, the latter initiative included observers from the OSCE and the Group of Friends of the UN Secretary-General (comprising representatives from Russia, America, Britain, France and Germany).13 The UN’s ongoing engagement with the issue of Abkhazia since then has also taken the form of fact-finding missions to the territory, the Secretary-General’s appointment of a special envoy to Georgia, the provision of humanitarian aid by UN specialized agencies, and the Security Council’s adoption of a series of resolutions designed to end the conflict.14

Despite steps towards peace, the war of 1992–3 has left a lasting legacy of bitterness and mistrust between Georgia and its break-away region, thus bedeviling the search for a durable solution to the secessionist conflict. During the hostilities both sides committed atrocities such as ethnic cleansing and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Neither side has since investigated war crimes or crimes against humanity, thus adding to the mutual antagonism.15 For the Abkhazians the travails of the war reinforced their historical sense of vulnerability and persecution at the hands of the Georgians. By attacking their country, they believed, the Georgians had forfeited any moral right to rule Abkhazia.16 The territory’s future could therefore not be a continuation of the past. As Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba vowed in 1997, ‘we have no intention of giving up our independence’. Under ‘the alternative scenario’, as he called it, ‘there exists a real threat of annihilation for the Abkhazian race’.17

Ethnic Georgians also suffered grievously in the war: between 10,000 and 30,000 of them may have died and between 250,000 and 300,000 were forced out of Abkhazia, most of them seeking refuge in Georgia proper.18 This exodus more than halved Abkhazia’s pre-war population of approximately 525,000 (of whom roughly 45 percent were Georgians, 17 percent ethnic Abkhazians and the remainder comprising various other groups).19 While Abkhazia has since 1994 allowed about 45,000 ethnic Georgians to return to its Gali region (their main historical area of settlement), Sukhumi feared that a wholesale return of Georgian refugees would again reduce the ethnic Abkhazians to a tiny minority in their ‘own’ country.20

For the Georgians the war confirmed their suspicions that the conflict over Abkhazia was a direct consequence of Russia’s ambitions to retain hegemony in its ‘near abroad’ through a policy of divide and rule. As President Mikheil Saakashvili saw it, the conflicts in Abkhazia and also South Ossetia were political rather than ethnic in nature, imposed on Georgia by ‘post-Soviet forces, the remnants of the old Soviet imperial mentality’. Their purpose was ‘to seize control of at least some of the neighboring territories – Georgia was the most attractive to gobble up – or, at the very least, to create problems for Georgia’.21 Such a view by implication denied that the Abkhazians were pursuing a legitimate quest for self-determination, but were instead mere pawns in a strategy orchestrated in Moscow. This explains why Georgia tended to treat Abkhazia ‘as a subject to be disputed with Russia, not a negotiations partner in its own right’.22

State-building and foreign relations

The Abkhazians have since the war set about building a state they hoped would be worthy of international recognition – or at least attract recognition for being an enduring reality that cannot be ignored or wished away. The state-building project received a measure of external endorsement through the Declaration on Measures for a Political Settlement of the Georgian/Abkhazian Conflict signed between Abkhazia and Georgia in April 1994 in the wake of the war. Known as the Moscow Agreement, the accord allowed Abkhazia its own constitution and legislation ‘and appropriate State symbols, such as anthem, emblem and flag’.23 Towards the end of 1994 Abkhazia duly adopted a new constitution to replace the one inherited from its days as an autonomous republic of the Georgian SSR. Although the 1994 constitution declared that Abkhazia was a sovereign state, the government made it clear at the time that it was not proclaiming independence from Georgia. It seemed a case of claiming a right of full statehood, but deciding not to exercise it at that stage. In October 1999, however, Abkhazia held a referendum on independence in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. The magical 98 per cent of the electorate reportedly approved independent statehood, which was formally declared later that same month.24

The declaration of independence came shortly after the gravest crisis between Georgia and Abkhazia since the war of the early 1990s. In May 1998 the two countries fought their own six-day war provoked by an attack of Georgian guerrillas on an Abkhazian guard post. In the now familiar pattern fighting was followed by talking, with the parties first concluding a ceasefire treaty and then the Agreement on Peace and Guarantees for Preempting Armed Clashes. Neither party evidently sought an all-out war to the finish. That has not meant peace, however, because armed skirmishes between the two sides have flared up sporadically.25 The most serious situation of late occurred in July 2006 when Georgian military units were deployed in the Kodori Gorge, ostensibly to dislodge militias and restore Tbilisi’s writ over the area. Abkhazia was outraged, not least because the Moscow ceasefire agreement of 1994 had declared the Valley a demilitarized area, off limits to troops from both Georgia and Abkhazia.26

President Vladislav Ardzinba made diplomatic recognition of Abkhazia a primary goal after his re-election as head of state in October 1999. Not even Russia seemed keen to oblige, but left the door ajar. ‘Why can Albanians in Kosovo have independence, but South Ossetia and Abkhazia can’t?’ Russian President Vladimir Putin asked in 2006. ‘What’s the difference?’ International opinion, the Russians knew, was emphatically opposed to independence for Abkhazia. The UN Security Council in resolution 1752 of 13 April 2007 reaffirmed ‘the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders’. So solid was the international front on this issue that Sukhumi’s appeals to the UN to participate in Security Council sessions dealing with Abkhazia fell on deaf ears. Conventional wisdom held that Moscow’s ambivalent position on Abkhazia’s statehood was designed to give it a bargaining chip in dealing with Georgia, and possibly also a means of retribution against Western powers favouring Kosovo’s independence.27

To undermine whatever international legitimacy the Abkhazian government in Sukhumi may have enjoyed, Georgia set up a rival government in 1995. Initially based in Tbilisi, the so-called government of Abkhazia was in 2006 relocated to the Kodori Gorge, a part of Upper Abkhazia under Georgian control. Although it had the trappings of authority – a council of ministers, various ministries, a tax agency and a police force – the parallel government was nominally in control of only about 17 per cent of Abkhazian territory and its ‘subjects’ were Georgian refugees from Abkhazia. If the Sukhumi government was a client of Russia that based in the Kodori Gorge was a wholly owned subsidiary of Georgia.28

On the economic front Abkhazia had been severely weakened by the war of 1992–3 and the embargo imposed by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in January 1996 under pressure from Georgia.29 Previously one of the most prosperous regions of the Soviet Union, over 70 per cent of Abkhazia’s territory was affected by the hostilities. The trade embargo aggravated matters by retarding economic rehabilitation and development. The situation improved in 1999 when Russia suspended its trade sanctions against Abkhazia. Russia became not only Abkhazia’s main trading partner but provided an economic lifeline. In March 2005 the Abkhazian Prime Minister revealed that the country’s budget had in recent years existed on paper only; it could not have survived without subsidies from Moscow.30 Still, Abkhazia possessed some valuable economic assets. It was well endowed with natural resources (including oil, gas, coal and water), had a sound agricultural base, boasted modern deep-sea harbours, maintained good rail and road connections with Russia, and showed great tourism potential. These attributes could go some way in offsetting the economic restraints of a modest population size of between 160,000 and 220,000.31

There were also other aspects of empirical statehood that supported Abkhazia’s claims to independence. The government exercised effective control over its territory (save for the portion under Georgian rule), the entity displayed relative political stability, the different ethnic groups (Abkhazians, Armenians, Russians and Georgians) co-existed peacefully, and Abkhazia had proven its ability to defend itself.32 We should also take note of the entity’s democratic, multiparty political system, as witnessed in the keenly contested presidential election of 2004–5 that was won by opposition candidate Sergei Bagpash. As the Abkhazian Foreign Minister put it in March 2007, ‘our objective is to show everyone that we meet modern European standards’.33

What may not exactly qualify as a modern European standard, however, is Abkhazia’s integration with Russia. As President Ardzinba acknowledged, his country pursued a common defence and foreign policy with Russia, relied on Russian help to guard its state borders, used the Russian currency, accepted Russian pensions, and used its passports. The controversial issuing of Russian passports to Abkhazians has been underway since 2000. By 2006 over 80 per cent of the Abkhazian population had already received such documents. Georgia denounced what it called annexation by ‘passportization’ as illegal and a violation of its sovereignty. The Georgians were concerned that the presence of a large number of Russian passport-holders in Abkhazia would give Moscow a pretext to intervene in the name of protecting its citizens in the so-called near abroad. The Abkhazians by contrast took a pragmatic view of their use of Russian passports: Abkhazian passports were worthless for international travel and Abkhazians refused to use Georgian travel documents.34 Nor did the Abkhazian leadership see any irreconcilable conflict between existing links with Russia and closer ties with Europe. ‘Abkhazia is a part of Europe and we have the right to integrate into European society’, Foreign Minister Shamba proclaimed in early 2007. He even hinted at some kind of association with the European Union.35 Moscow, meanwhile, treated the Eurasian entities as states by allowing them to maintain resident missions in the capital, hold meetings on Russian soil and enjoy access to its leadership (including Putin).36

Next to the existential relationship with Russia, Abkhazia’s foreign policy has of necessity focused on ties with South Ossetia, Transdniestria and Nagorno Karabagh. Their presidents have held summit meetings and the foreign ministers have met on several occasions.37 Transdniestria and Abkhazia have established diplomatic relations38 while Abkhazia and South Ossetia in September 2002 signed a defense treaty for mutual protection against Georgian ‘aggression’ and followed it up with an agreement on cooperation in September 2005.39 The four entities were evidently keen to coordinate negotiating positions in talks with their former central governments in Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan, to support each other’s claims to full statehood, and to expand ties between their own governments, military establishments and business sectors.40 Their solidarity was expressed in the Declaration on Principles of Peaceful and Fair Settlement of Conflicts on the Territory of Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Signed in June 2007 by Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transdniestria and Nagorno Karabagh, the Declaration emphasized that conflicts should be resolved by peaceful means based on ‘respect to all sides’ and ‘unconditional recognition of the right of nations to self-determination’.41 The ties between the four contested states were institutionalized with the establishment in July 2006 of the Commonwealth for Democracy and Rights of Nations. The multilateral forum was founded by the presidents of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria, while Nagorno Karabagh was still contemplating involvement. An Inter-parliamentary Assembly for Democracy and Rights of Nations was subsequently established under the auspices of the Commonwealth and was open to parliaments of the four contested states and from confirmed states.42 Finally, Abkhazia was the only one of the four Eurasian contested states whose name appeared on the membership roster of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO).

Abkhazia’s life in international limbo took on a new character in August 2008 when it, along with South Ossetia, was granted de jure recognition by Russia. This followed in the wake of Georgia’s reckless armed incursion into South Ossetia (see below). Russia’s move was strongly condemned by NATO, the EU and individual Western powers, which vowed to respect Georgia’s territorial integrity. Georgia, outraged by Russia’s recognition of the two secessionist enclaves’ purported statehood, showed no intention of releasing its rebellious regions into independence.

Alternative futures

In ruling circles and at grass-roots level in Abkhazia, by contrast, sovereign statehood commanded overwhelming support.43 As President Bagpash reiterated in December 2006, it was ‘an objective reality’ that Abkhazia and Georgia ‘cannot exist within the borders of a single country’.44 This ‘reality’, Foreign Minister Shamba explained in a statement addressed to the UN in April 2007, was based on ‘a consistent policy of Georgian leaders aimed at actual genocide of the Abkhazian ethnos’ during the communist era. In the same appeal the Foreign Minister also justified independence for Abkhazia and the other Eurasian contested states as ‘a logical conclusion’ of the still incomplete process of creating new states in the wake of the implosion of the Soviet Union.45 Their shared fate was highlighted again in June 2007 when the presidents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia appealed to the UN to place them in line for international recognition after Kosovo because they have ‘just as strong grounds to demand independence as Kosovo’.46 Earlier, Bagpash claimed that ‘if Kosovo is recognised, Abkhazia will be recognised in the course of three days. I am absolutely sure of that’.47

While over-optimistic about the timing, Bagpash’s prophesy was fulfilled six months after Kosovo’s second unilateral declaration of independence in February 2008 and its prompt recognition by scores of Western countries. Recognition by Russia meant that Abkhazia and South Ossetia could add patron recognition to the peer recognition with which they had to be content until then. While no doubt a diplomatic breakthrough for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, they may well discover that the proverbial swallow of Russian recognition does not make a diplomatic summer of collective recognition. Given Georgia’s rejection of statehood for the two entities and Western backing for this position, it is unlikely that many countries would follow Russia’s example. If confirmed statehood continues to elude Abkhazia and assuming that the status quo of contested statehood is untenable over the long run, what other status options may be available?

Abkhazian leaders have repeatedly spoken in favor of ‘associate membership’ of the Russian Federation and the territory’s parliament addressed a similar proposal to Moscow.48 Advocates of this option evidently did not have full integration with Russia in mind. The Abkhazian Foreign Minister in 2006 likened it to the arrangement between the US and the Marshall Islands.49 That the envisaged associated status would be reconcilable with Abkhazia’s sovereignty is further borne out by Sukhumi’s appeals to Moscow for the recognition of Abkhazian statehood.50 We are thus dealing with associated statehood voluntarily entered into by two sovereign states and recognized in international law. Georgia has rejected an associate relationship between Abkhazia and Russia with the same vigor as it has opposed independence for the entity.

Georgia’s position on the future of Abkhazia was shared by the international community. The UN has repeatedly endorsed the principles enumerated in the so-called Boden Document, compiled in 2001 by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Georgia. Entitled Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competencies between Tbilisi and Sukhumi, the document envisioned Abkhazia as a so-called sovereign entity within the state of Georgia, with the division of competencies determined by means of a ‘federal agreement’. By advocating a federal formula, the Boden Document tried to strike a balance between the principles of national self-determination and territorial integrity. Georgia welcomed the proposals, whereas Abkhazia dismissed them out of hand.51

Adamant that Abkhazia was historically and legally an integral part of Georgia, President Saakashvili even set 2009 as the target date for effecting reintegration.52 He referred to his preferred formula variously as a ‘new, joint-state model of ethnic and civil cooperation’53 and ‘autonomous development and real self-government’ for Abkhazia.54 In March 2008 Saakashvili made a more elaborate offer of ‘unlimited autonomy, wide federalism and very serious representation in the central governmental bodies of Georgia’, all under international guarantees. The package included a new post of vice president for an Abkhazian; an Abkhazian right to veto national laws affecting their constitutional status and the preservation of their language and culture; Russian involvement in mediating conflicts, and a joint Georgian-Abkhazian-controlled free economic zone.55

Before there could be any positive movement on Saakashvili’s bold settlement plan, a new crisis broke. It did not concern Abkhazia in the first instance; the entity served as the stage on which a new showdown between Georgia and its Western backers on the one hand and Russia on the other was played out. Incensed by NATO’s commitment to Georgia’s future membership and by Kosovo’s Western-supported independence, Russia retaliated by intensifying its manipulation of the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In March 2008 Russia formally withdrew from the 1996 CIS accord on measures to regulate the Abkhazian conflict. One of the measures involved sanctions against Abkhazia, which Russia had already suspended in 1999. In April Putin announced Russia would strengthen official ties with Abkhazia. Moscow’s next step up the escalation leader was to deploy more troops in Abkhazia, ostensibly in accordance with its peacekeeping mandate – but without Georgia’s approval.56 For good measure the Kremlin warned that it was ready to use military force to protect its ‘citizens’ in Abkhazia (and South Ossetia) should hostilities break out.57 Georgia had meanwhile been making its own military preparations for a possible confrontation with Moscow. By June 2008 this escalation ‘brought Georgia and Russia closer to war than ever before’, the International Crisis Group warned.58

Two months later war indeed broke out between Russia and Georgia, but it was fought over South Ossetia, not Abkhazia. Still, Abkhazia seized the opportunity to drive Georgian troops out of the Kodori Gorge and so – according to Abkhazian thinking – pre-empt a repetition of the South Ossetian war in Abkhazia itself.59 Abkhazia also benefited from Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia by gaining de jure recognition from Russia, as did South Ossetia. This patron recognition may encourage Abkhazia to persevere in its quest for confirmed statehood, or at least encourage it to soldier on in contested statehood. Either way, Georgia’s misadventure has probably set back the prospects for a negotiated settlement in Abkhazia.

South Ossetia

Although covering only 3,900 km2, South Ossetia’s small geographic area is by no means the weakest element of its claim to statehood. Size-wise South Ossetia is after all comparable to Cape Verde and much larger than Luxembourg. However, the location and settlement of the territory render claims to statehood rather problematic. Situated on the southern side of the Caucasus, along Georgia’s northern border, South Ossetia is surrounded on the east, west and south by Georgia proper and it also borders on Russia’s North Ossetian Autonomous Republic. There are thus two Ossetian entities, one in Russia and the other formally part of Georgia. How and when the Ossetian territories were settled, especially the southern portion, is still disputed by Georgians and Ossetians. The Ossetians maintained that both the North and South constituted their historical homeland. Descendants from the Alanian and Scythian tribes of Persia, the Ossetians migrated to the Caucasus over 5,000 years ago. Initially settling in what is now North Ossetia, the Ossetians were later forced to flee south by the invading Mongols. This has prompted the Georgian view that the Ossetians were late arrivals and hence ‘guests’ in the Georgian-settled South. Be that as it may, one cannot refute the Ossetians’ claim that they constituted a distinct cultural group of which their Indo-European language (related to Pushtu and Farsi) was a prime marker.60

The facts about local events of the last two centuries are less contentious, but partisan interpretations are still the order of the day. A watershed occurrence was the incorporation of present-day South Ossetia and Georgia into the Russian Empire at the turn of the 19th century. Unlike other peoples of the region, the Ossetians did not resist Russian expansion into the Caucasus; instead, the Ossetians often fought alongside the invaders. This earned them the reputation of loyal citizens of the Russian Empire, but others despised the Ossetians as stooges of the imperialistic Russians.61 Following the dissolution of the Empire in 1918, South Ossetia became part of the short-lived Menshevik Georgian Democratic Republic. It was an unhappy union, with the Ossetians staging several rebellions against Georgian rule between 1918 and 1921 and agitating for an independent country of their own. The authorities in Tbilisi used military force to crush the uprising, killing as many as 5,000 Ossetians. In 1921 the Red Army seized control of Georgia and installed the Soviet Georgian government, which in turn created the South Ossetian Autonomous Region the following year. The northern kin entity also underwent several status make-overs. In 1918 it joined the Terek Soviet Republic but after the Red Army conquered the region in 1920 North Ossetia was included in the new Mountain Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic as an okrug (a nationality given a measure of administrative autonomy). In 1924 the territory was reorganized as the North Ossetian Autonomous Region and in 1936 became the North Ossetian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.62

For most of the Soviet period relations between Georgia’s South Ossetians and ethnic Georgians were peaceful, but tensions remained latent. Georgians tended to regard South Ossetia as an artificial creation of the Russians and they also resented the South Ossetians for allegedly being advantaged over ethnic Georgians in fields such as employment. Ossetians in the South for their part felt oppressed by not having an autonomous republic on par with their kin in North Ossetia. But given their modest numbers, the South Ossetians were hardly capable of serious mischiefmaking against the might of the Soviet state.63

Statehood and war

The Gorbachev era and the unraveling of the Soviet Union gave the South Ossetians the political space to assert their claims to an enhanced status. In 1989 the South Ossetian regional council proposed to the Georgian Supreme Soviet that the Autonomous Region be elevated to an autonomous republic. Tbilisi was outraged. Tensions were meanwhile also building up over the language issue, with the Georgian Supreme Soviet in 1989 proclaiming Georgian as the principal language countrywide. This prompted the South Ossetians to declare their native tongue an official language in the autonomous area. Towards the end of 1989 rising tensions between the two communities spilled over into serious violence and casualties, prompting the deployment of Soviet troops to restore peace.64 The political temperature rose in mid-1990 when the Supreme Soviet of Georgia decided to ban regional parties in the run-up to a parliamentary election. Seeing this as a ploy to disqualify the South Ossetian Popular Front (created in 1988) from the electoral contest, the Ossetians resorted to the drastic step of proclaiming ‘sovereignty’ in September 1990. In line with the loose Soviet usage of the term, sovereignty in this case did not mean independent statehood, but secession from Georgia while remaining part and parcel of the Soviet Union. The South Ossetians boycotted the national election of October 1990, instead holding their own. The incoming Georgian government raised the ante by declaring the South Ossetian election result null and void, abolishing South Ossetia’s autonomous regional status, imposing a state of emergency in the area and installing a Georgian military officer as mayor of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital. Still, a referendum in the city in early 1992 produced a huge majority in favor of breaking away from Georgia and integrating with Russia. The South Ossetian regional council took a similar vote towards the end of that year, heralding the birth of the self-proclaimed state of South Ossetia.65

By then South Ossetia was consumed by war, which began in January 1991 when thousands of Georgian troops entered Tskhinvali. In 1992 Russian forces joined the fray in support of South Ossetia. The war took a high toll, with approximately 1,000 people killed, thousands more Ossetians fleeing the South, about 10,000 Georgians and persons of mixed ethnicity displaced from South Ossetia to Georgia proper, and another 5,000 people internally displaced within South Ossetia. There was also extensive damage to homes and infrastructure. The atrocities committed by both sides and the impunity that the perpetrators enjoyed would poison the atmosphere for years to come.66

The international character of the conflict was underlined when a ceasefire agreement was signed in Sochi (Russia) in June 1992 – between Georgian and Russian leaders. The Sochi Agreement provided for the establishment of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) comprising representatives from Georgia, Russia, North and South Ossetia plus participation from the OSCE. The Commission’s mandate included supervising the peace accord, undertaking economic reconstruction in the so-called zone of conflict (defined as a circle of 15 km radius from the middle of Tskhinvali), and facilitating the return of refugees and internally displaced people. The Sochi Agreement also led to the creation of trilateral Joint Peacekeeping Forces composed of units from Georgia, Russia and Ossetia (in practice mainly the South), operating under Russian command. Among its tasks were the restoration of peace and the maintenance of law and order in the zone of conflict and the security corridor (a 14 km strip of land on both sides of the border of the former South Ossetia Autonomous Region).67 The peace process set in motion in 1992 subsequently produced a variety of functional agreements, especially at the JCC level. To help create a climate necessary for resolving the fundamental political conflicts, the Memorandum on Measures to Ensure Security and Reinforce Mutual Confidence between the Parties to the Georgian-Ossetian Conflict was signed in 1996. In 2000 Georgia and South Ossetia, with the assistance of the OSCE and EU, agreed to establish a Joint Law Enforcement Coordination Body.68 Meanwhile, in 1999, the parties commenced negotiations on a political settlement69 – a process that has still not produced a final settlement.

As in Abkhazia, Russia’s footprint was huge in South Ossetia. The rebel territory could from the outset count on Moscow’s political backing and as guarantor of its security. Russian military and secret service personnel were said to occupy senior positions in the de facto government.70 Russia also provided direct financial and technical assistance to rebuild the devastated territory as well as humanitarian relief after the war. (Georgia by contrast provided little if any aid to South Ossetia.) Russia has been South Ossetia’s benefactor in other ways too, including the payment of pensions to South Ossetians with Russian citizenship, granting the inhabitants Russian passports, and allowing the territory to use the Russian rouble. By 2004 nearly 90 per cent of the Ossetians in the South were by official accounts Russian citizens, whether by birth or through ‘passportization’.71 The people of South Ossetia were probably motivated by more than the familiar pragmatic considerations of a passport worth the name and an insurance policy against Georgian aggression; integration with Russia was a popular option among them.

Echoing his views on the Abkhazian conflict, Georgian President Saakashvili maintained that the ‘crisis in South Ossetia is not a problem between Georgians and Ossetians. This is a problem between Georgia and Russia’.72 Russia had indeed become an active participant in the South Ossetian conflict by providing secessionists with arms, equipment, military training and manpower in the shape of Russian mercenaries. In Georgia’s eyes Russia was trying to annex South Ossetia by stealth, as it was allegedly doing in Abkhazia too.73

Despite the mistrust between Georgia and Russia, the Sochi peace accord held up remarkably well until the situation in South Ossetia turned ugly in 2003–4. The ostensible cause of the renewed tension was a major antismuggling operation launched by Georgian forces in and around South Ossetia in December 2003. Tbilisi reasoned that smuggling sustained the revolt in South Ossetia by holding personal benefits for the rebel leadership and providing them with the means to buy the loyalty of the populace. By stamping out smuggling, Georgia believed, it would snuff out the secession. The South Ossetians, by contrast, saw the operation as a prelude to military action against them and began preparing for such an eventuality. The zone of conflict became remilitarized. Tbilisi combined its anti-smuggling campaign with another measure to curb secessionist fervour in South Ossetia. This was a ‘humanitarian offensive’ aimed at changing South Ossetian hearts and minds. By introducing social, economic and cultural projects for their benefit, Georgia hoped to win the South Ossetians’ favor and turn them against the government of President Eduard Kokoity. Already aggrieved by hardship induced by Georgia’s clamp-down on smuggling, the South Ossetians were not taken in by Tbilisi’s charm offensive. The unilateral nature and opportunistic impulse of the initiative instead hardened both elite and popular feelings against Georgia. Such sentiments may have helped the pro-Kokoity party win two-thirds of the seats in a parliamentary election in May 2004.74 All the while tensions between the two sides kept rising.

Armed hostilities broke out at the end of July 2004, and continued sporadically for three weeks before both sides abided by a ceasefire agreement. This time casualties were modest. In November 2004 Kokoity met Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in Sochi where they agreed to demilitarize the zone of conflict. However, since 2004 ‘not a day has passed without shooting or more serious incidents in the conflict zone’, the International Crisis Group reported in June 2007.75 Worse was to follow a year later.

The OSCE and EU, meanwhile, remained engaged in promoting a peaceful settlement between Georgia and South Ossetia and in improving the situation on the ground for the inhabitants of the region.76 The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has in turn done sterling work with its special project for the rehabilitation of the Tskhinvali region, which included the restoration of basic infrastructure.77 Even Georgia and Russia entered into agreements on economic reconstruction of the conflict zone.78 In June 2006 an international donors’ conference in Brussels raised nearly 8 million euro to finance the rehabilitation of that zone.79 It should be stressed that none of the foreign-sponsored initiatives were designed to prepare South Ossetia for independent statehood, but were all aimed at the integrated development of Georgia as a single unit. This tied in with the world community’s firm rejection of independence for South Ossetia and commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.80

If the foreign rehabilitation projects improved the climate for seeking peace in South Ossetia, political actions undermined the gains. In November 2006 the secessionist authorities in Tskhinvali staged an independence referendum alongside the presidential election. It produced the anticipated result, namely a near unanimous ‘yes’ to the question: ‘Do you agree that the Republic of South Ossetia preserve its current status as an independent state and be recognized by the international community?’81 Like the 1992 referendum, that of 2006 was not endorsed by Georgia or the international community. The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, depicted the vote as a free and democratic expression of the will of the South Ossetians and urged the world community to take account of the referendum results.82

In a decidedly provocative move Saakashvili set up a rival government to that of South Ossetian President Kokoity – a stratagem the Georgian leader also employed in Abkhazia.83 Following an ‘alternative presidential election’ in November 2006, coinciding with that held by the rulers in Tskhinvali, Dmitry Sanakoev was installed as President of the Alternative Government of South Ossetia. Both Sanakoev and his Prime Minister had previously served in the secessionist government based in Tskhinvali, but in their new guise they pledged allegiance to Georgia and its territorial integrity. As Sanakoev put it, the future of the South Ossetian people was ‘only in a democratic and stable Georgia’.84 The parallel presidential poll was accompanied by a referendum in which voters were asked to pronounce on the start of negotiations with Tbilisi on a federal arrangement for Georgia. Over 90 percent supported the idea. In April 2007 the rival government’s name was changed to the Temporary Administration Unit for South Ossetia, following Tbilisi’s decision to accord it official status. Based in the ethnic Georgian village of Kurta in a Georgian-administered part of South Ossetia, the alternative government’s power base lay among the 20,000 to

25,000 inhabitants (of whom only 8,000 were said to be ethnic Ossetians).85 The Sanakoev government has been branded as traitors and puppets by Kokoity’s government, which threatened to pull out of the peace process as long as Georgia continued to promote the rival government of South Ossetia.86

A far more brazen act occurred in August 2008 when Georgian forces invaded South Ossetia in an effort to regain control of the wayward territory. Saakashvili miscalculated badly, either with regard to Russian resistance or Western assistance.87 Responding with a massive counteroffensive, Russia not only drove Georgian troops out of South Ossetia but also attacked targets in Georgia proper. Western powers did nothing to prevent Georgian forces suffering a humiliating defeat in the five-day war.88 Civilians bore the brunt of the hostilities: between one and two thousand of them may have been killed in South Ossetia and up to half of the enclave’s population had reportedly fled into North Ossetia. The capital Tskhinvali experienced massive destruction.89

An EU-brokered ceasefire, accepted by Georgia and Russia, provided for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia but left Russian forces in effective control of South Ossetia. Provision was also made for international talks over ‘security and stability modalities’ in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The agreement made no reference to the preservation of Georgia’s territorial integrity.90 This omission suited Russia, whose EU Ambassador made the derisive remark that ‘territorial integrity had become a virtual notion regarding Georgia’.91 Less than a fortnight after signing the truce with Georgia, Russia recognized the statehood of South Ossetia (and Abkhazia). President Dmitry Medvedev justified this decision on the same grounds as Russia’s military response to Georgia’s invasion: ‘The most important thing was to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe to save the lives of people for whom we are responsible, because most of them they are Russian citizens’.92 Whereas Georgia had chosen ‘genocide’ in pursuit of its political agenda in the break-away territory, Medvedev claimed, ‘Russia stopped the extermination’ through its military action and subsequent diplomatic recognition.93 By portraying its military campaign as one of humanitarian intervention, Russia was invoking the kind of justification NATO had offered for its military offensive in former Yugoslavia ten years earlier. The Russian Parliament’s insistence on the right of self-determination for the threatened peoples of South Ossetia and Georgia likewise echoed Western justifications for recognizing Kosovo.94 Medvedev indeed related Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Western recognition of Kosovo in early 2008. Ignoring Russia’s warnings, Medvedev said, Western states had rushed to recognize Kosovo’s ‘illegal declaration of independence’ from Serbia. ‘We argued consistently that it would be impossible, after that, to tell the Abkhazians and Ossetians (and dozens of other groups around the world) that what was good for the Kosovo Albanians was not good for them’, the Russian President proclaimed.95 This might be interpreted as a hint that Russia would drop its opposition to Kosovo’s independence if Western powers recognized the statehood of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.96

The EU, NATO, France, Britain, Germany and the US were quick to denounce Russia’s recognition of the two contested states.97 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice vowed that America would use its veto power in the Security Council to make sure that any move to gain wider recognition for the two presumptive states at the UN ‘simply will be dead on arrival’.98

Alternative futures

Russia’s formal recognition of the statehood of South Ossetia has by no means settled the issue of its final political status. Although Medvedev urged other countries to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states,99 it is doubtful whether many would follow suit. This would leave South Ossetia in international limbo, although slightly less isolated than before. The formalization of its ties with Russia may nonetheless make the entity less receptive than previously to engage in serious talks with Georgia on resolving the conflict over its political destination. The trauma South Ossetians endured because of Georgia’s ill-considered invasion will probably also harden feelings against any early settlement with their original state.

Apart from a lack of international recognition, the sustainability of independent statehood for South Ossetia can be questioned on other grounds too. After the war of 1991–2 the authorities of South Ossetia had control over the districts of Tskhinvali, Java, Znauri and parts of Akhalgori, leaving the rest of Akhalgori and several ethnic Georgian villages in the Tskhinvali district to the Georgian central government. Tskhinvali and Java were the only large towns in South Ossetia. Add to this that South Ossetia’s resident population had dropped from nearly 100,000 in the late 1980s to as low as 65,000 after the war (with even fewer Ossetians remaining in Georgia proper).100 The patchwork of settlement and fragmentation of authority, together with the smallness of the population, already cast doubt on the justifiability of a final status for South Ossetia offering anything more than local autonomy. The case for separate statehood has certainly not been helped by South Ossetia’s puny economy that was predominantly agricultural with some industry around the capital. Trapped in a frozen conflict, South Ossetia has very limited scope for normal economic interaction with the outside world. Georgia has since the war maintained a de facto embargo against South Ossetia – in contravention of the Sochi Agreement – thereby reducing their formal economic ties to a minimum. Trade with Russia was by contrast extensive. The Roki tunnel, linking South Ossetia with the Russian Federation via North Ossetia, was one of the former’s main economic assets; Tskhinvali reportedly generated up to one-third of its budget by levying customs duties on freight traffic using the tunnel. Given the constraints on legitimate free trade, South Ossetia has not surprisingly developed an illicit shadow economy in which smuggling, drug trafficking, counterfeiting of money, illegal arms trading and kidnapping thrived. Due to disagreements between South Ossetia and Georgia over customs control, smuggling proceeded largely unhindered. Law enforcement officers from the two sides as well as Russian customs officials and peacekeeping troops were thought to participate in the illegal business dealings.101

In due course its contested statehood and the attendant deprivations may compel South Ossetia and its Russian patron to seek alternatives to the status quo through negotiations with Georgia. What options might then be explored?

The Saakashvili government has been firmly committed to the reintegration of both South Ossetia (which Tbilisi called the Tskhinvali region and considered part of the Georgian province of Shida Kartli) and Abkhazia into Georgia. Saakashvili even promised that South Ossetia, like Abkhazia, would be reunified with Georgia by the time of the presidential election in 2009.102 Saakashvili’s political formula for South Ossetia resembled that proposed for Abkhazia. In January 2005 he offered South Ossetia ‘a distinctly broader form of autonomy than it had in Soviet times and than North Ossetia has in the Russian Federation’. The plan provided for an executive branch and legislature to deal with culture, education, social and economic policy, public order and local self-governance, and a three-year transition to the proposed autonomous status.103 International opinion, expressed through the UN, OSCE and EU, also favored this future for South Ossetia. President Kokoity, however, rejected the autonomy proposal.104 Tskhinvali likewise dismissed a plan Saakashvili put forward in April 2007 to create ‘appropriate conditions’ for a peaceful settlement in South Ossetia. The Georgian President envisaged the establishment of a transitional administrative unit to cooperate with Tbilisi in promoting the economic rehabilitation of South Ossetia, ensuring the representation of all interests and determining the area’s final status. That status, according to Saakashvili’s proposal, would involve ‘European-style autonomy… guaranteeing political self-governance and preservation of national identity and cultural rights of ethnic Ossetians’.105

Supported by their kinsfolk in the North (numbering about 700,000), the South Ossetians maintained that their nation had been divided unjustly and against their will between the Georgian and Russian republics during the Soviet period – hence denying them their right of self-determination as a people. Comparing their situation to the division between East and West Germany and North and South Korea, the Ossetians claimed a right to reunite, seeing this as a (delayed) expression of self-determination. ‘It is high time to stop dividing Ossetia into North and South. There is one big and unified Ossetia’, Kokoity asserted in 2004.106 It is no coincidence that Putin drew the same analogy between the two Ossetias and the two Germanies.107 A reunited Ossetia – that might be called ‘Alania’, the ancient name used by the Ossetian people – would remain part of the Russian Federation; there has been no serious talk in either the South or the North, much less in Moscow, of an independent greater Ossetian state. Indeed, Kokoity was openly committed to the unification of North and South Ossetia within the Russian Federation.108 In mid-2006 Kokoity announced his government’s intention of requesting the Russian Constitutional Court that Russia annex his statelet because ‘South Ossetia joined the Russian Empire together with North Ossetia as an indivisible entity and never left Russia’.109

A related alternative would be for South Ossetia to be absorbed into Russia as a distinct unit, separate from the North. In the early 1990s, when the South Ossetian legislature was still dominated by representatives from the Soviet period, this was indeed the Ossentians’ preferred destination. One consideration that might still favor the option is that the Caucasus Mountains present a formidable natural barrier to North-South unification.110

Despite all its support for South Ossetia, Moscow has not consented to the territory’s integration into the Russian Federation. In response to an inquiry about the legality of incorporation, the Russian Constitutional Court in June 2004 declared that discussions about South Ossetia had to be held with Georgia – to which the territory belonged – on Tbilisi’s initiative.111 If Moscow abided by this ruling, it could not incorporate South Ossetia unilaterally. It is in any case uncertain that Russia wishes to absorb the entity. Instead, Russia may simply be exploiting the contested statehood of South Ossetia (like Abkhazia’s) to gain leverage over Georgia. The unresolved conflicts over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Moscow may be hoping, would obstruct Georgia’s accession to NATO and the alliance’s further encroachment into the space of the former Soviet Union. Still, Moscow had a vested interest in the stability and political leanings of South Ossetia because of the entity’s strategic location on the border of Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region.112


A resolution of the conflict over Transdniestria, the International Crisis Group reported in 2004, ‘is vital to remove a potential source of chaos on the periphery of the expanding European Union, to implement an important part of the post-Cold War settlement, and to make Moldova itself a more viable state’.113 How did Transdniestria, a secessionist region inside Moldova, become such a troublesome entity in Eurasia?

Because the conflict between Transdniestria and Moldova ‘is not laden with deep disputes over history’114 (in contrast with Abkhazia and South Ossetia), we need not trace the evolution of the Moldovan state further back than the Treaty of Bucharest that ended the Russo-Turkish war of 1806–12. Under the peace accord the part of Moldova located between the Prut and Dniestr rivers was annexed by Russia and became known as Bessarabia. The area west of the Prut River joined Romania in 1859. Bessarabia was initially given considerable autonomy in the Russian Empire and ethnic Moldovans constituted nearly 90 percent of the region’s population. In the mid-19th century, however, Russia abolished Bessarabia’s local autonomy, replaced the Romanian language (used by Moldovans) with Russian in all legal proceedings, began the active assimilation of Moldovans and encouraged the settlement of Russians and other ethnic groups in Bessarabia. By the turn of the century the Moldovans’ numbers had been reduced by nearly 40 percent, even though they remained the region’s largest ethnic group.115 The First World War and the Russian revolution gave pan-Romanian nationalists in Bessarabia the political space to assert their claims to self-determination in the shape of integration with Romania. A national assembly was formed, which in December 1917 voted to establish the independent Moldovan Democratic Republic of Bessarabia. Extending from the Prut to the Dniestr River, the new entity did not include today’s Transdniestria. In March 1918 the infant Republic of Bessarabia united with Romania.116

Russia, however, would not acquiesce in the loss of Bessarabia. To highlight their title to the territory, Soviet authorities in 1924 formed the Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (MASSR) by combining Transdniestria with an area in present-day Ukraine. Ethnic Moldovans comprised only about 30 per cent of the MASSR’s total population; Ukrainians accounted for nearly half. The Soviet Union used the MASSR as a base for propaganda and subversion against Romanian-controlled Bessarabia. By holding up the Soviet Union’s economic and technological superiority, Moscow hoped to lure Bessarabians back to where they supposedly belonged. While this use of soft power combined with subversion failed to have the desired effect, great power politics gave Moscow the prize it coveted, albeit only briefly. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 cleared the way for the USSR to demand – with Nazi Germany’s blessing – that Romania immediately surrender Bessarabia. This duly happened in July 1940 when the Soviet Union annexed Bessarabia and formed it into the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic together with the western part of the MASSR. The very next year the status quo ante was restored when the Romanian army seized control of Bessarabia, courtesy of its German ally. The area of Transdniestria was merely occupied by the Romanians, whereas the remainder of Bessarabia was formally reabsorbed into Romania. As the tide of war changed the Soviet Army in 1944 recaptured Bessarabia, which was promptly combined with components of the former MASSR to constitute the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova.117 This would remain Moldova’s political home for the next four decades.

Restored to the Soviet fold, Moldova underwent rapid industrialization and extensive Russification after the Second World War. Between 1944 and 1959 as many as 300,000 Russian-speakers were settled in Moldova, mostly in the more developed Transdniestria and the larger cities on the right bank of the Dniestr River. The influx coincided with the expulsion of over 500,000 Moldovans to other parts of the Soviet Union and the death of another 200,000 during the great famine of 1946–7 (induced by forced collectivization). The Russification policy went hand in hand with the Soviet leadership’s encouragement of the formation of a distinct Russian-oriented Moldovan nation, separate from the Romanians. To this end Russian was restored to the language of public life, higher education and inter-ethnic communication, while Romanian was relegated to a kitchen tongue. Romanian, officially called Moldovan, had to be written in Cyrillic script (as opposed to the conventional Latin) and Soviet scholars fabricated the notion that Romanian was fundamentally different from Moldovan so as to provide the foundation for a separate non-Romanian Moldovan nation.118

Transdniestria occupied a prominent place in the economic, social and political life of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova. Home to heavy industry and enterprises of the Soviet military-industrial complex, Transdniestria had a concentration of imported Russian workers and hence became more urbanized and Russified than Bessarabia. Transdniestria also had a reputation as a major source for the recruitment of the ruling elite. Russians or Russified Moldovans from Transdniestria dominated state and party structures and occupied the commanding heights of the Moldovan economy.119 This oligarchical arrangement was bound to cause severe friction. As in several other former Soviet republics, the political liberalization of the Gorbachev period provided an outlet for the pent-up frustrations of Moldova’s aggrieved non-Russian communities – and set in motion a train of events that prompted a backlash from Transdniestria.

Towards the PMR

Towards the late 1980s informal pro-reform groups began emerging in Moldova. They pressed for greater cultural and linguistic freedom in Moldova and an end to Soviet policies of Russification. In May 1989 a range of reformist associations joined together in the Popular Front, which soon became the main Moldovan opposition movement. Its agitation was a major factor behind the decision of the Moldovan Supreme Soviet in August 1989 to make Moldovan (based on the Latin alphabet) the state language.120 The push for reform also extended to the replacement of old cadres in the spirit of ‘perestroika’, thereby opening up state and party positions to Romanian-speakers. This process accelerated after the Popular Front’s strong showing in the first competitive election for the Supreme Soviet of Moldova in March 1990 and its inclusion in the new government composed almost exclusively of ethnic Moldovans. By 1991 ethnic Moldovans held nearly 90 per cent of leadership posts in the government and public service. Soviet Russification had given way to ‘Moldovanization’ of power structures as a consequence of democratization and the language law of 1989. These developments together with the Moldovan government’s pronounced pro-Romanian agenda and its outspoken support for unification with Romania, caused intense resentment among Moldova’s other ethnic groups who feared discrimination and marginalization in the face of resurgent Moldovan nationalism. Above all, they dreaded the prospect of Moldova again (this time with Transdniestria included) becoming part of Romania.121

The strongest objections came from the Russian community, who resorted to a ‘reactive nationalism’.122 The backlash was centred on Transdniestria with its large concentration of Russian-speakers who, together with ethnic Ukrainians, comprised 55 per cent of the region’s population. In Transdniestria identification with the Soviet Union was greater than elsewhere in Moldova. Transdniestria had moreover never formed part of Romania. It is then understandable that the negative consequences of the shifting balance of power to Romanian-speakers was felt most acutely in Transdniestria, especially by the economic and political elite.123 Several organizations were formed to protect the interests of Russians (and their Ukrainian and Bulgarian allies) in Transdniestria in particular. The leading movement among them was the Union of Workers Collectives, ‘in essence a top-down, pro-Soviet and chauvinist Russian organisation’.124

Established in 1989, the Union of Workers Collectives championed a policy of gradual secession from Moldova. It began with a referendum on territorial autonomy in the capital Tiraspol in January 1990 and culminated in September 1990 in the proclamation of the Dniestrian Moldovan Socialist Soviet Republic as a constituent unit of the Soviet Union. The final countdown to a violent showdown had begun. The authorities in the central capital Chisinau made the next move by declaring Moldova independent in August 1991. In September Transdniestria adopted its constitution based on independence from Moldova, and began military mobilization. Igor Smirnov was elected as the first President of the renamed Pridnestrovyan Moldovan Republic (PMR or Transdniestria) in December 1991 in a dual poll in which the electorate also approved the entity’s independence.125 Transdniestria’s armed forces immediately launched a ‘creeping putsch’ by attacking local structures of the Moldovan state such as police stations and local authorities. The process escalated into full-scale war between the forces of Transdniestria and Moldova in the spring of 1992. The Russian 14th Army stationed in Transdniestria – the most powerful military force in all of Moldova – intervened in the hostilities in June 1992 and helped to end the fighting that cost over 1,000 human lives and produced some 100,000 refugees.126

The ceasefire agreement of July 1992 was signed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Moldovan counterpart Mircea Snegur. In terms of the agreement Transdniestria would enjoy a special status and was guaranteed the right of self-determination if Moldova changed its statehood. Provision was also made for the creation of a security zone in which peacekeeping forces consisting of Russian, Moldovan and Transdniestrian troops were deployed. A tripartite Joint Control Committee (JCC) was formed to observe the peacekeepers and maintain order in the zone of conflict.127

The patron and the peacemakers

The peace arrangements confirmed Russia’s role as the de facto guarantor of Transdniestria’s security and contested statehood. Russian Vice-President Alexander Rutskoi visited Transdniestria in April 1992, in the midst of a state of emergency and without officially informing Chisinau, to express his support for the secessionist cause.128 After the war of 1992 Russian forces remained involved in Transdniestria through their participation in peacekeeping and in the shape of the 14th Army. In 1994 Russia and Moldova reached an agreement on the withdrawal of the 14th Army within three years, but Moscow cunningly managed to extend the period indefinitely on the basis of a technicality. Russia nonetheless reduced its troop strength to 2,600 by 1999, leaving a force that was not particularly significant in military terms yet large enough to reassure the Transdniestrians.129 Russia refused to pull its remaining troops out of Transdniestria until a political settlement on the territory’s future had been reached.130 The continued presence of Russian peacekeepers and the 14th Army ‘effectively froze the status quo’ of de facto PMR independence. At the same time the Russians provided a protective shield behind which Transdniestria could develop state-like structures.131 A positive result of this situation has been the absence of largescale violence between Moldovan and PMR forces since 1992.132

Another of Russia’s roles in the PMR has been that of major economic partner-cum-benefactor. In 1992 a Transdniestrian cash settlement facility was created with the Russian Central Bank allowing Transdniestrian companies to bypass the National Bank of Moldova for international financial transactions. Generous Russian grants, credits and energy subsidies were also forthcoming, along with material aid ranging from natural resources to food. Ties between the two countries were formalized in a range of economic, scientific-technical and cultural agreements.133 Special reference should be made to the tangible support provided through the military establishment. The Russian military-industrial sector continued the Sovietera link with Transdniestria as a site for armament production. The PMR’s armed forces had in their formative years drawn heavily on Russian material, logistical, administrative and training support, and scores of demobilized Russian soldiers joined the wannabe state’s military.134 Another familiar but controversial link that bound Russia also to the PMR, was the extension of Russian citizenship.135

It would be a mistake to infer that the PMR was a mere pawn of Russia. Instead, it was ‘a self-aware political entity with its own interests that it has the ability to advance through lobbying, economic opportunism, political posturing, and creative negotiating’.136 It can, however, do so only if Russia provided the necessary political space and economic and military backing. Such was the PMR’s dependence on Russia that Moscow could indeed pull the plug on the secessionist entity’s flirtation with statehood and force it back into the Moldovan fold.

What explains Russia’s political, economic and military support for Transdniestria? Russia regarded Moldova as belonging to its sphere of geopolitical interest, which meant that it should integrate into the CIS rather than join West European political and economic structures. Although Moldova’s communist-led government had previously been pro-Moscow, the two sides’ relations have soured and Chisinau has in recent years expressed an interest in joining the EU.137 Moscow viewed such a prospect with the same disfavor as that of Moldova uniting with Romania – itself an EU member since 2007. The threat of Russian support for an independent PMR was therefore ‘useful whenever Moldova strays too far’. Conversely, Moscow’s help in resolving the Transdniestria issue was dangled as a reward for Moldova’s compliance with Russia’s wishes. The PMR can, of course, provide Moscow with leverage against Chisinau only as long as the territory remained de jure part of Moldova.138 Russia might have calculated that Transdniestria, along with the three other statelets of Eurasia, could offer it pulling power in another area too: by threatening to support the quartet’s bid for confirmed statehood, Russia could try to deter Western backing for the independence of Kosovo.139 If true, the ploy failed because scores of Western states have recognized Kosovo’s self-proclaimed independence of February 2008 – without Russian retaliation. An entirely different factor that could have weighed with Russian decision-makers is that influential figures among the Russian elite may have been deriving material benefit from involvement in Transdniestria’s shadow economy and were therefore keen to retain the status quo.140

Apart from patron and protector of Transdniestria, Russia has also been acting as a mediator in an international diplomatic initiative to resolve the conflict over the break-away entity’s final status. Its two partners have been Ukraine and the OSCE.141 The latter opened a long-term mission in Chisinau in 1993 to assist Moldova and Transdniestria in pursuing a negotiated lasting political settlement. According to the mission’s brief, this would be done within defined parameters: ‘consolidating the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova along with an understanding about a special status for the Trans-Dniestr region’.142 This mandate neatly encapsulated not only the OSCE’s position on the terms of a settlement but that of the international community: independence for Transdniestria was out of the question, but the region could not simply be integrated into a unitary Moldova either; Transdniestria’s historical background and socioeconomic features had to be considered.143 Elements of this approach found expression in a 1997 agreement between Moldova and the PMR, brokered by Russia. The accord, called On the Basis for the Normalization of Relations between the Republic of Moldova and Transdniestria, stipulated that the parties would seek to establish ‘state-legal relations’ within the framework of a common state inside the borders of the former Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic.144

Although not from the outset actively involved in the settlement negotiations, the EU committed itself to cooperate with the mediators in resolving the Transdniestrian conflict. In 2005 the negotiating format expanded to ‘5+2’ talks when the original five parties (Moldova, the PMR and the comediators Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE) were joined by the EU and America as observers.145 By then the EU had already decided that Transdniestrian leaders were ‘primarily responsible for the lack of cooperation to promote a political settlement’ and consequently in early 2003 imposed a travel ban on President Smirnov, his two sons and 14 other members of the ruling circle. EU associated states (meaning aspirant members) and the US followed suit with similar visa restrictions.146

State- and nation-building

Efforts at peacemaking have not held up Transdniestria’s state-building project. Shortly after the war of 1992 it already displayed accouterments of an independent state, including its own constitution, coat of arms, anthem, flag, national bank and currency, border posts, customs service and postage stamps. In the absence of international recognition these were ‘important psychological symbols that denoted statehood to many Transdniestrians’ – and probably complicated the search for a peaceful end to the stand-off between Chisinau and Tiraspol. Indeed, Transdniestria insisted that a final deal could only be struck between two sovereign states by way of a treaty.147 As for its political order, the PMR received a ‘non-free’ grading from Freedom House in its 2007 Freedom in the World Report.148 This corresponded with another reliable assessment that the country ‘is controlled by an authoritarian regime with a well-functioning security service that limits political pluralism essentially to the anti-reform, pro-Transdniestrian and Soviet-nostalgic part of the political spectrum’.149 Smirnov’s uninterrupted tenure as President since 1991 (with re-elections in 1996, 2001 and 2006) only reinforced the repressive nature of the regime. State-building has also been accompanied by nation-building, with the PMR leadership trying to fashion a Transdniestrian identity as the basis for statehood. Its core was ‘Russo-centric’, with genuflexions in the direction of multi-ethnicity and multi-lingualism. (About one-third of the Transdniestrian population were ethnic Moldovans, a slightly larger group than either the Russians or Ukrainians.)150 On the international relations front, Transdniestria’s links with its fellow contested states of Eurasia have been noted earlier in this chapter.

The Transdniestrian economy has been functioning reasonably well, ‘or at least little worse than their Moldovan counterparts’. Although it has a relatively small market with only 630,000 inhabitants (comparable to Montenegro but much smaller than Moldova’s 4.2 million people) occupying an area of 4,163 km2 (marginally bigger than Cape Verde), Transdniestria’s economy was extremely open. Roughly half its exports went to CIS countries, with Russia, Ukraine and Moldova its three largest trading partners. The PMR has successfully diversified its trade to Western states (including Germany and Greece) and others. Its exports consisted mainly of steel and metal products, mineral products, machines, equipment, textiles and foodstuffs.151

Like its counterparts in Eurasia, Transdniestria also had an illicit parallel economy. Its geographic location – a long sliver of land sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine – placed the PMR at the core of large smuggling rings that connected the Ukrainian ports of Odessa and Illichivsk with markets in Ukraine, Moldova and elsewhere. The beneficiaries included Transdniestrian, Ukranian, Russian and Moldovan government officials, business enterprises and of course criminal organizations, all of whom feared the loss of their ill-gotten gains if Transdniestria became internationally ‘respectable’ by abandoning its contested statehood. Apart from illegal (contraband) trade in products that were also traded legally, such as fuel, cigarettes, liquor and other standard goods, there was extensive trafficking in drugs, arms and human beings as well as money laundering.152

Final status options

The PMR has certainly tried to act the part of an independent state and its Foreign Minister in June 2007 spoke hopefully of ‘Kosovo’s inevitable independence’ setting ‘a precedent for unrecognized post-Soviet republics’.153 Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia raised expectations in Tiraspol that it was only a matter of time before Transdniestria received the same treatment from Moscow.154 Yet the PMR leadership has long been prepared for other outcomes too – a prudent approach given the implacable opposition of Moldova and the wider international community to independence for Transdniestria.

In a referendum in September 2006 the customary 97 percent of the territory’s electorate voted for independence from Moldova and free association with Russia.155 Association with the Russian Federation is problematic, however, because of Moldovan and international opposition. Even Russia’s position has been ambivalent. On the one hand Moscow has long defended the territory’s de facto independence, acknowledged Smirnov as ‘President of Transdniestria’, and declared the 2006 referendum a democratic expression of the popular will of the people of the PMR. On the other hand Russia has never formally recognized the PMR and has supported peace proposals that did not allow for independent statehood.156

All parties involved in the settlement initiative seemed to agree that Transdniestria’s future lay with Moldova – even Transdniestria itself. In 1997 the two main adversaries signed a memorandum entitled Bases for Normalization of Relations between the Republic of Moldova and Transdniestria, which called for the creation of a ‘common state’ between them.157 A more elaborate proposal, known as the Kiev Document, followed in 2002. Here the external mediators for the first time introduced the notion of a federal state in which state-territorial units (especially Transdniestria) would exercise authority over a defined range of matters.158 Although subsequent negotiations on the Kiev plan became deadlocked, the proposal at least paved the way for the signing of the Protocol on Establishing a Mechanism for the Drafting and Approval of the Constitution of the Federal State by Moldova and Transdniestria in March 2003. It provided inter alia for the creation of a Joint Constitutional Commission, which in due course began exploring various constitutional models.159 Since then status negotiations have focused on the rights and competencies that might be accorded to Transdniestria in a constitutional arrangement providing for power-sharing and minority protection.160 On occasion Tiraspol has insisted on a loose confederal arrangement between two sovereign states.161 While this position might be a ploy to formalize the status quo, it could alternatively serve as a halfway station to a federal dispensation. Chisinau, in turn, favored autonomy for Transdniestria within Moldova, granted by law rather under a treaty between sovereign states.162 Whatever political settlement is eventually reached, it may require an international guarantee to win the trust of Moldova and Transdniestria. The OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, the EU and the US are the obvious candidates to guarantee a final settlement.163

In the meantime, the lack of mutual trust has been one of the main obstacles to progress in the search for a settlement. Another stumbling block has been that Moldova, for all its insistence on the reintegration of Transdniestria, has not offered an attractive ‘home’ for the rebel territory. Although freer than the PMR, Moldova has a communist-led government that controlled much of the media and the country was by far the poorest in Europe with a stagnant economy and rampant inflation.164 In a promising development Smirnov and Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin met in April 2008 for the first time in seven years. They agreed to explore joint projects between their countries, ostensibly to build confidence.165 It was a timely move: the Russo-Georgian war over South Ossetia four months later showed that Eurasia’s so-called frozen conflicts ‘are volcanoes that can erupt at any time’, Voronin warned.166

Nagorno Karabagh

History and geography have also in our final Eurasian case study combined to shape a contemporary contested state. Nagorno Karabagh (literally translated as ‘mountainous black garden’) is an ancient Armenian-inhabited territory that had in different periods formed part of Armenia. From the 14th to the 18th centuries Nagorno Karabagh was ruled by autonomous Armenian princely dynasties on behalf of the Persian Empire, which was then in control of the area. In 1805 Nagorno Karabagh was annexed by Russia and after the revolution of 1917 became part of the Soviet Union.167 Due to Soviet machinations Nagorno Karabagh was joined to and became completely enclosed by the territory of Azerbaijan. In the dying days of the Soviet Union both made a bid for independence: Azerbaijan immediately became a confirmed state, whereas Nagorno Karabagh was condemned to contested statehood on the grounds that it was legally part of Azerbaijan.

Given their origins, the fate of Karabagh’s population has all along been tied closely to that of their kin in Armenia proper. Two tragedies that befell the Armenians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries influence the larger community’s political outlook to this day. It was a period when the Armenian nation, divided between the Russian and Turkish empires, began developing a national consciousness that straddled the imperial divide. In 1894–6 up to 200,000 Armenians living in the Anatolian region of the Ottoman Empire were massacred on the orders of the Turkish Sultan. Barely 20 years later, while the First World War was raging, the Ottoman leadership began another round of genocide against their Armenian subjects, this time exterminating between 1 and 1.5 million of them.168

Meanwhile, in 1917 the peoples of Transcaucasia had concluded an armistice with the Ottoman Empire, giving Nagorno Karabagh with its 330,000 inhabitants (90 percent of them ethnic Armenians) de facto independence. A formal declaration to this effect was issued by the First Congress of Karabagh Armenians in the then capital Shushi in August 1918. At this time, with the new communist order in Russia in its infancy, Armenia and Azerbaijan also enjoyed brief spells of independence. Towards the end of 1918 the Ottoman army invaded Shushi ‘to arrest, pillage, and massacre’ until Constantinople’s surrender to the Allies forced the Turks to withdraw from Karabagh.169 Barely a year after the proclamation of Nagorno Karabagh’s independence, its rulers entered into a provisional treaty with neighboring Azerbaijan. In the wake of the massacre of 20,000 Armenians in Shushi in March 1920, in which Azerbaijanis participated, the Karabagh Assembly nullified the treaty and instead proclaimed union with Armenia. For only a few days towards the end of 1920 the Sovietinstalled government of Azerbaijan recognized Nagorno Karabagh as part of Armenia, before reversing its decision.170

Between 1918 and 1920 Nagorno Karabagh possessed some typical attributes of statehood, although it was not admitted to the League of Nations. Instead, the world body acknowledged the disputed status of Karabagh, refusing to recognize Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the territory. (Neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan joined the League during their short spell of independence.)171 In 1920 both Armenia and Azerbaijan became ‘Sovietized’, that is, fully absorbed into the new Soviet empire as Soviet Socialist Republics. The next year Nagorno Karabagh was formally declared part of Soviet Azerbaijan by the Caucasus Bureau of the Communist Party, followed in 1923 by the creation of the Nagorno Karabagh Autonomous Oblast – entrusted with broad autonomy – within Azerbaijan.172 In deciding the status of Karabagh, the Soviet central authorities were influenced by what would nowadays be called matters of high politics that outweighed the manifest preferences of the inhabitants of the territory and their claims to self-determination. In March 1921 the Soviet Union signed a treaty with the new Republic of Turkey, successor to the Ottoman Empire, in terms of which Nagorno Karabagh would become a subordinate entity inside the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. In this way the Soviet rulers hoped to placate the Muslims of Azerbaijan, appease Turkey (whose support for Azerbaijan predated the Soviet era) and so enhance security along Soviet Russia’s southern flank. Although the government of Soviet Armenia challenged this move in June 1921 by declaring Karabagh an integral part of its territory, the die had been cast.173

In an attempt to separate the two Armenian communities, the Azerbaijanis – with Moscow’s blessing – created an artificial buffer between Nagorno Karabagh and Armenia in the shape of the Lachin and Kelbajar districts.174 This imposed physical separation – which made Karabagh an enclave inside Azerbaijan – added insult to the injury Armenians suffered as a result of Karabagh’s incorporation into Azerbaijan. A further source of grievance among Karabagh Armenians was that their share of the territory’s population fell from 95 percent to 75 percent during the seven decades of Soviet rule. This was due to Baku’s deliberate promotion of Azerbaijani settlement in Karabagh as part of a policy of ‘cultural de-Armenization’ of the region. Azerbaijan furthermore neglected the economic needs of the territory.175 Local Soviet leaderships in both Nagorno Karabagh and Armenia periodically petitioned Moscow to reconsider the status of the contested territory and the late 1960s even witnessed mass protests in Karabagh over the status issue.176

Statehood and war

As in the other Eurasian territories featured in this chapter, the onset of perestroika and glasnost during Mikhail Gorbachev’s tenure as Soviet President unleashed pent-up frustrations and aspirations in Nagorno Karabagh (and Armenia) too. In January 1988 some 80,000 Armenians from Armenia proper and Karabagh signed a petition requesting Moscow to transfer the enclave to Armenia. A month later the Nagorno Karabagh Supreme Soviet voted to unite with Armenia, which in June 1988 agreed to the territory’s incorporation. Azerbaijan, not unexpectedly, rejected any such move.177 The next step in the march towards secession came in December 1989 when the Supreme Soviets of Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh passed a joint resolution supporting their reunification. Without rescinding this resolution, the Karabagh regional council in September 1991 made a provisional declaration of the independence of the Nagorno Karabagh ‘Republic’ from Azerbaijan, not the Soviet Union. This decision came hard on the heels of Azerbaijan’s own declaration of independence. In November 1991 the new state of Azerbaijan revoked Karabagh’s autonomous status and followed it up with dissolving Karabagh as a separate territorial entity within Azerbaijan in January 1992.178 These were largely symbolic gestures by Baku, having no effect on the rebel territory’s breakaway bid. In a referendum in December 1991 the voters of Nagorno Karabagh had overwhelmingly endorsed independence and based on this verdict a formal declaration of independence was issued from Stepanakert, capital of Nagorno Karabagh, in January 1992. This time it was not merely independence from Azerbaijan that was being proclaimed, but ‘real’ independence as the Soviet Union had by then ceased to exist.179

At the heart of the ongoing dispute over the status of Nagorno Karabagh – and hence the principal reason for its contested statehood – is the unresolved conflict between on the one hand the demand for self-determination clearly expressed by the vast majority of inhabitants of the territory, and on the other Azerbaijan’s unambiguous insistence on the preservation of its territorial integrity. Each side therefore based its claims on fundamental principles of international law which, as in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria, collided head-on. Azerbaijan took the view that self-determination did not allow for unilateral secession and could thus not occur at the expense of its territorial unity. The Armenians in Karabagh and Armenia proper maintained that the contested territory had as much right to separate from Azerbaijan as the latter had for seceding from the Soviet Union. The legal grounds were said to be the 1990 Soviet law on withdrawal from the USSR. Armenian nationalists moreover pointed out that when Azerbaijan proclaimed its independence in 1991 it claimed to be the legal successor of the short-lived Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918–20) – an entity whose sovereignty over Karabagh had never been recognized by the League of Nations. By this logic the Armenians of Karabagh had in 1991 exercised their right of self-determination over land that had never fallen under the jurisdiction of an independent Azerbaijan. As such Nagorno Karabagh ‘did not secede from an existing independent state and has never been part of the post-Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan’.180

Human rights concerns also weighed heavily with the Armenians of Nagorno Karabagh, as they typically do with separatist communities. Their grievances dated back to the Soviet era, when the Azerbaijani government had made life a misery for the Karabagh Armenians through socio-economic discrimination and political oppression. When the Armenians of Karabagh sought to achieve self-determination by peaceful means in the final years of the Soviet Union, the Azerbaijan authorities responded with brute force or were at least complicit in acts of violence against Armenians. The first major incident in February 1988 involved the massacre of Armenians in Sumgait, the third-largest city in Azerbaijan. Country-wide anti-Armenian riots occurred the following November and in January 1990 another massacre of Armenians took place in the Azerbaijani capital Baku. Operation Ring in 1991–2, a joint military operation by Soviet and Azerbaijani forces, involved the deportation of Armenians from 24 villages in and around Karabagh.181 In the eyes of the Armenians in Karabagh and Armenia proper these events proved that Baku was bent on cleansing Armenians from all of Azerbaijan, even through acts of extermination – thus conjuring up images of the genocide of 1915. Indeed, most of the 400,000 Armenians living in Azerbaijan fled the country. To be fair, there was also a reverse exodus: 170,000 Azerbaijanis living in Armenia were forced out to Azerbaijan. In August 1990 Azerbaijani forces backed by Soviet troops also drove between 150,000 and 200,000 Armenian villagers out of the northern part of Nagorno Karabagh.182

The actual war in Nagorno Karabagh began in December 1991 with an Azerbaijani offensive that included the bombardment of Stepanakert. A second major offensive in the summer of 1992 left roughly half of Karabagh’s territory under Azerbaijan’s military occupation. The Armenians’ counterattack, lasting from October 1992 to September 1993, saw them regain control of most of Karabagh and also occupy 5,500 km2 of Azerbaijani territory. The Azerbaijanis have in turn remained in control of the entire Shahumian district claimed by Karabagh and parts of two others, amounting to 750 km2 or 15 per cent of what has traditionally been Karabagh land. The formal ceasefire of May 1994 – brokered by Russia in cooperation with the OSCE – ‘froze’ this division of the spoils.183 As usual the human toll of the conflict was high, not least because both sides transgressed the laws of war. By the end of the hostilities in 1994, an estimated 25,000 people had been killed, among them 4,000 civilians, and up to one million were displaced, mostly Azerbaijanis. Among those uprooted were virtually the entire community of 40,000 Azerbaijanis in Karabagh and 90,000 Armenians from the territory.184

The ceasefire of 1994 did not provide for a separation of forces or demilitarization. Instead, thousands of troops from the two sides still confronted each other across the so-called line of contact. No peacekeepers have been deployed in Karabagh, leaving it the sole conflict area in the South Caucasus without a foreign peacekeeping mission.185 A further legacy of the period of intense conflict was the blockade Azerbaijan and Turkey had imposed against Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh in 1991. These two landlocked targets have suffered severe economic deprivation over the 17 years the blockade has been in effect.186 Although full-scale violence has not recurred since 1994, the underlying causes of the war – at the core of which was the final status of Nagorno Karabagh – have not been addressed. Karabagh therefore deserves the epithet of another ‘frozen conflict’ in Eurasia.

External involvement

The ‘freeze’ has not meant an absence of peace initiatives. Already during the war of the early 1990s the OSCE assumed the role of principal mediator. A dozen member states of the OSCE subsequently constituted the Minsk Group that was mandated to ensure the continuation of the ceasefire and to initiate negotiations on a peaceful settlement in Nagorno Karabagh. Co-chaired by Russia, France and the US, the Minsk Group included representatives from Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Minsk Group has since 2004 facilitated a new round of settlement negotiations known as the Prague Process.187 The UN has not been as directly involved as the OSCE in trying to resolve the Karabagh conflict, but the Security Council has laid down parameters for a settlement in four resolutions (822, 853, 874 and 884) adopted in 1993. Most critically, for our purposes, is that all the resolutions reaffirmed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and all other states in the region and the inviolability of international borders. Karabagh was thus by implication recognized as part of Azerbaijan. The series of resolutions furthermore demanded an end to ‘all hostilities and hostile acts’, called for the withdrawal of armed forces from occupied parts of Azerbaijan and supported the peace process launched by the OSCE. It is instructive that the four resolutions made no reference to the crippling economic blockade of Karabagh and Armenia. UN General Assembly resolutions 49/13 and 57/298 also referred to Nagorno Karabagh as a region of Azerbaijan. The EU, which has kept a low profile in the peace process, has likewise come out in support of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and stated explicitly that it did not recognize the independence of Nagorno Karabagh.188

The two major ‘external’ parties to the Nagorno Karabagh conflict were of course Armenia and Azerbaijan. The former was Karabagh’s kin and patron state, providing an economic lifeline in the form of an annual ‘inter-state loan’ that covered up to 80 percent of the break-away territory’s needs and sharing the same currency (the dram), and also supplying military hardware and manpower. In short, Armenia was the guarantor of Nagorno-Karabagh’s contested statehood. Their domestic politics were probably more intertwined than those of the other Eurasian contested states and their respective patrons: Robert Kocharian, the President of Nagorno Karabagh from 1994 to 1997, became Prime Minister of Armenia in the latter year and President in 1998.189 Azerbaijan was by contrast Karabagh’s bête noire, the parent state insisting on the return of its prodigal offspring. In playing the role of veto state Azerbaijan could rely on the unanimous support of the international community, which also rejected confirmed independence for the contested state. Despite the divide between them, Armenia and Azerbaijan have under the Prague Process engaged in several rounds of settlement talks on Karabagh, involving their presidents and foreign ministers. Since signing the ceasefire of 1994, Nagorno Karabagh has been treated as a party to the conflict and accordingly participated in settlement talks.190

Because the conflict over Nagorno Karabagh was being played out in the space of the former Soviet Union, Moscow featured prominently in this Eurasian situation too. Its role has at times been ambiguous; during the war, for instance, Moscow provided both Azerbaijan and Armenia with weapons. Since then Russia has been actively involved in the multilateral peace effort, favoring an autonomous status for Karabagh within an unfragmented Azerbaijan. Determined to remain the dominant power in the Caucasus, Russia demanded a hand in shaping the course of events in its near abroad. Karabagh, like Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, served as a buffer between Russia and the two regional powers of Iran and Turkey. Moscow was furthermore keenly aware of Azerbaijan’s growing importance as a producer of oil and gas, all the more reason to keep the country within Russia’s sphere of influence. The Karabagh conflict offered Moscow useful leverage over Azerbaijan, like the other Eurasian conflicts gave Russia the whip hand over Georgia and Moldova. The presence of Russian troops in Armenia was probably aimed at deterring an Azerbaijan attack on Nagorno Karabagh. All in all, Russia was evidently ‘the ultimate arbiter’ of the Karabagh situation among the countries of the Minsk Group.191 The US, also active in the settlement initiative, has likewise followed a rather ambivalent approach to the Karabagh conflict. Washington ‘tends to give preferential aid treatment to the Armenians, while providing preferential political treatment to Azerbaijan’. While America subscribed to the preservation of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and rejected Karabagh’s claims to statehood, it allowed the territory’s President to visit Washington in 1999, where he met with State Department officials.192 Turkey, another important external power, has consistently and unambiguously supported Azerbaijan in its struggle to regain control of Nagorno Karabagh. Ankara has provided Baku with diplomatic, economic and military support and has been Azerbaijan’s partner in the economic blockade of Armenia and Karabagh.193


In common with other contested entities, Nagorno Karabagh has made a concerted effort to build a working state. It has managed to create a democratic order characterized by a multiparty system with free and competitive elections at national and local levels and the protection of minority rights (only about 5 per cent of the current population were not ethnic Armenians). The incumbent President, Bako Sahakyan, replaced Arkady Gukasyan in October 2007 following the fourth presidential election since 1995.194 In an earlier exercise in electoral politics in December 2006, 99 per cent of voters approved a draft constitution in which the Republic of Nagorno Karabagh was described as a sovereign, democratic state.195 Karabagh possessed the usual range of state institutions catering for security and welfare functions, including armed forces that have shown their mettle during the war of the early 1990s. The official welfare services have, however, been hamstrung by the parlous state of Nagorno Karabagh’s economy – in part the result of the Turkish-Azerbaijani blockade.196 On the whole Karabagh has a government that has since the end of the war in 1994 been in effective control of its territory of about 4,400 km2 (slightly larger than Transdniestria) and of its population of roughly 150,000 (somewhat smaller than that of Sao Tomé and Principe). In these respects Nagorno Karabagh met three of the basic requirements of statehood. As regards a capacity to engage in foreign relations, Karabagh has participated in multilateral settlement talks over the territory’s future. In earlier sections of this chapter we recorded that Nagorno Karabagh has been involved in formal relations with Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria. These links included the foursome’s adoption in 2007 of a declaration on principles for peaceful conflict resolution with their central states, and Karabagh’s observer status in the Commonwealth for Democracy and Rights of Nations. In addition Karabagh reportedly maintained representative offices in Russia, Armenia, the US, France, Australia and Lebanon.197 Karabagh’s greatest international handicap is of course that it is not recognized by a single confirmed state – not even by Armenia, which feared that such a move would complicate its own foreign relations.198

Searching for a lasting settlement

Although the Karabagh conflict may be called ‘frozen’, it is far from quiet, not to mention over. ‘Today there is neither war nor peace’, the International Crisis Group reported in 2005. With ceasefire violations increasing and soldiers and civilians from both sides continuing to die on the line of contact, the Group warned, ‘there is a real risk of new large-scale fighting’. Since then sporadic military skirmishes have occurred. It should also be borne in mind that Azerbaijan has reserved the right to use force to restore its territorial integrity.199 These factors underline the need for a lasting political settlement. What are the conceivable ways out of the conflict?

There is again a range of familiar possibilities. At the one ‘extreme’ the central state – in this instance, Azerbaijan – was adamant that the contested entity was an integral part of its territory. Azerbaijan would remain a unitary republic, as its constitution proclaimed, without any devolution or sharing of power to accommodate the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno Karabagh.200 At the other end of the spectrum we find an equally vehement demand for Nagorno Karabagh’s independence. It was an article of faith among Armenians that Azerbaijan had through acts of omission and commission over many decades forfeited any moral right to rule over Armenians, and that the latter have in turn acquired the remedial right to form their own state – in which they had constituted the majority population since time immemorial – separate from Azerbaijan.201 Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov put the choice in stark terms in 1988: ‘For Azerbaijan the issue of Karabagh is a matter of ambition, for the Armenians of Karabagh it is a matter of life or death’.202 Precisely because of existential considerations Karabagh’s Armenians claimed independent statehood.

Rare yet authoritative external backing for Karabagh’s right of independence has come from the Public International Law and Policy Group, a non-governmental organization consisting mainly of public international lawyers and foreign relations experts. In a report on Nagorno Karabagh released in 2000,203 the Group argued that the territory qualified for self-determination and the accompanying right of independence in terms of criteria laid down in international law. First, the Armenians of Karabagh constituted a group entitled to self-determination. They met the objective requirement of cultural distinctiveness from Azerbaijanis in terms of history, language, culture and religion and had long been a separate territorial entity (known by the ancient name Artsakh). Second, Nagorno Karabagh has a just claim to remedial self-determination because of Azerbaijan’s dismal human rights record in the entity during the Soviet era and thereafter. The prospects for observing human rights and allowing the people of Nagorno Karabagh to pursue their economic, social and cultural development under Azerbaijani rule – even with local autonomy – were therefore poor. Under these conditions the entity’s claim to self-determination through independence ‘may supersede Azerbaijan’s claim to territorial integrity’, the Group maintained. Nagorno Karabagh in the third place complied with all the traditional requirements of statehood set out in the Montevideo Convention. We touched on these aspects when considering the territory’s state-building project above. Finally, the Public International Law and Policy Group argued that Karabagh’s right of independence was consistent with the so-called balancing-of-factors approach. It meant that a de jure divorce between Nagorno Karabagh and Azerbaijan would have little adverse effect on the latter. Azerbaijan would lose a mere 2 percent of its overall population and would not surrender any of its oil fields or have important roads or waterways severed. A negotiated exchange of occupied territories could enhance the security of both Azerbaijan and Karabagh, while an end to further conflict would benefit the entire region. The Group concluded that ‘international law provides a firm basis for Nagorno Karabagh’s pursuit of independence from Azerbaijan’. It is only fair to add that contradictory readings of international law found no legal grounds for Karabagh’s claims to statehood.204

Two forms of independent statehood have been advanced for Karabagh. The one is conventional, unfettered independence and the other is conditional independence of the kind proposed for Kosovo. For Karabagh, independence could be conditioned on the prohibition of future unification with Armenia and the guarantee of the rights of non-Armenian communities in Karabagh.205 The most elaborate formula for the territory’s qualified independence has emanated from the Public International Law and Policy Group.206 Drawing on precedents created in peace processes in Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, East Timor and the Middle East, among others, the Group proposed an ‘intermediate sovereignty/earned recognition approach’ for Nagorno Karabagh. It would consist of two phases. The first, styled ‘intermediate sovereignty’, would extend over three to five years and include a measure of ‘sovereignty’ allowing for special relationships with neighboring states and participation in international organizations, the protection of human and minority rights, and international monitoring of the interim arrangements. In the second period an international mechanism would be used ‘to determine whether Nagorno Karabagh had earned international recognition based upon its performance during the interim period of de facto independence’. The wishes of the people of Nagorno Karabagh would be determined through a referendum on independence. While Nagorno Karabagh and Armenia were likely to support this approach, Azerbaijan was bound to reject any blueprint for Karabagh’s independence.

Nagorno Karabagh’s incorporation into the Soviet Union was formally requested by the Chairman of the Karabagh Supreme Soviet in 1991, but Moscow did not deign to reply. This option seems to have disappeared altogether from the debate about Nagorno Karabagh’s final status.207 Both Stepanakert and Yerevan have also favored unification between Armenia and Karabagh as a possible free choice of the people of the territory. Lately, however, independence has become the preferred option for both of them. Baku, by contrast, remained as opposed to the incorporation of Karabagh into Armenia as it was to the territory’s independence.208

Several other status solutions for Nagorno Karabagh, between the mutually exclusive alternatives of incorporation into a unitary Azerbaijan and independence, have been put forward by various parties and interested observers. Predictably an autonomous Karabagh within Azerbaijan is one of them.209 Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev has held out this possibility. ‘Our greatest concessions are security guarantees for Nagorno-Karabagh Armenians and our readiness to grant the highest degree of autonomy that exists in the world’, he declared in 2005.210 In similar vein the Minsk Group had in 1997 proposed that Karabagh should become ‘a state and a territorial formation within the confines of Azerbaijan’, enjoying significant guarantees, rights and privileges.211 Karabagh’s rulers were, however, adamant that Soviet history had shown conclusively that Azerbaijan’s offer of broad autonomy was an unworkable option as it allowed a minimal degree of rights while maximizing the territory’s vulnerability and insecurity vis-à-vis Baku.212 In this view Karabagh has been supported by Armenia, which maintained that Karabagh cannot be ‘vertically subordinated’ to Baku. Armenia has furthermore insisted that a final settlement should include security guarantees for the population of Karabagh and provide a permanent territorial link between the territory and Armenia.213

The creation of a confederation within Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized pre-war borders was mooted by the Minsk Group in 1998 under the rather confusing designation of a ‘common state’ comprising Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabagh. Under this formula Karabagh, ‘a statal and territorial entity in a form of a Republic’, would have extensive powers to conduct its internal affairs and maintain its basic political integrity. Baku would, however, represent Nagorno Karabagh in the UN.214 Whereas Karabagh President Gukasyan favored such a ‘horizontal or confederative relationship’ with Azerbaijan, the latter rejected it.215

An alternative to contested statehood that we considered in Chapter 3, namely a protectorate, has also been suggested for Nagorno Karabagh. In this instance, the call has been for a dual Azerbaijani-Armenian protectorate over the contested territory.216 None of the major parties to the dispute have given the idea any serious support.

A land-for-status plan comes in different forms. One proposal is that Azerbaijan would recognize Nagorno Karabagh’s de jure statehood in exchange for the return of its districts occupied by Karabagh.217 Under another version Azerbaijan would renounce all claims to Karabagh in exchange for land in Armenia. The latter would involve the strategic Meghri region that would give Azerbaijan a land link with its non-contiguous entity of Nakhichevan (located inside Armenia) and with Turkey.218 A further possibility is that Nagorno Karabagh would remain part of Azerbaijan but that Armenia would gain land access to the enclave by means of a corridor in the Lachin Strip. This would supposedly bring commercial and cultural benefits to the two Armenian communities. In return for the ‘concession’, Armenia would be required to transfer its southern province to Azerbaijan to allow the latter territorial access to Nakhichevan and Turkey and so realize the ideal of a pan-Turkic link between the three. While Azerbaijan would probably oppose the first proposal, Karabagh and Armenia are certain to reject the other two.219


Abkhazia, Nagorno Karabagh, South Ossetia and Transdniestria represent a microcosm of contested statehood: their life cycles – in terms of origins, current situation and future prospects – display the typical ingredients of this status. They took the secessionist route to statehood, opting for unilateral declarations of independence in the face of violent resistance from their central states. Having existed for between nine and 17 years, the four Eurasian entities have proven their de facto statehood. Although becoming well entrenched, they still suffered serious recognition deficits. Russia’s de jure recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is unlikely to end the pair’s contested statehood.

The incendiary potential of the protracted political stalemate over the four wannabe states’ final status has drawn major powers and international organizations into the search for peaceful settlements of the inappropriately named frozen conflicts. Proposed solutions cover the familiar spectrum from de jure independence to the restoration of the status quo ante. In between numerous so-called third-way options have been tabled, including federalism, associated statehood and confederalism. All these try to accommodate current realities on the ground, and reconcile the bedrock principles of the territorial integrity of states and peoples’ right of self-determination. Another option that enjoyed considerable support in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was incorporation into Russia. However, the lack of consensus among the parties concerned over acceptable final solutions suggests that Abkhazia, Nagorno Karabagh, South Ossetia and Transdniestria will not exit life in international limbo any time soon.


  1. ICG (International Crisis Group), Abkhazia Today, Europe Report No. 176, 15 September 2006, p.3; Edward Mihalkanin, ‘The Abkhazians: A national minority in their own homeland’, in Tozun Bahcheli et al, De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty, Routledge, London, 2004, p.144.
  2. Natalie Sabanadze, ‘International Involvement in the South Caucasus’, ECMI Working Paper No. 15, February 2002, Flensburg, p.11.
  3. ICG, Abkhazia Today, p.4; UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization), Abkhazia, 6 August 1991,, p.1; Edward Mihalkanin, p.144.
  4. ICG, Abkhazia Today, p.4.
  5. ICG, Abkhazia Today, p.4; UNPO, Abkhazia, pp.1–2; Natalie Sabanadze, p.12; Oliver Wolleh, A Difficult Encounter – The Informal Georgian-Abkhazian Dialogue Process, Berghof Report, No. 12, September 2006 (Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management, Berlin), p.11.
  6. Oliver Wolleh, p.11; Edward Mihalkanin, p.145.
  7. Edward Mihalkanin, p.146.
  8. Edward Mihalkanin, p.147; ICG, Abkhazia Today, p.5.
  9. Quoted by Edward Mihalkanin, p.147.
  10. ICG, Abkhazia Today, pp.4–5; Oliver Wolleh, p.15.
  11. Radio Free Europe, Caucasus Report, 22 April 2005, pp.5–6, reports/Caucasus-report/2005/04/12-080405.asp
  12. Edward Mihalkanin, pp.148–9; ICG, Abkhazia Today, pp.5–6.
  13. ICG, Abkhazia Today, pp.6–7; Edward Mihalkanin, pp.150–2.
  14. Natalie Sabanadze, pp.13–14.
  15. ICG, Abkhazia Today, p.6; Oliver Wolleh, p.16.
  16. ICG, Abkhazia Today, p.5.
  17. Quoted by Edward Mihalkanin, p.149.
  18. Human Rights Watch, Georgia/Abkhazia: Violations of the Laws of War and Russia’s Role in the Conflict, Helsinki, March 1995,
  19. Oliver Wolleh, p.17.
  20. ICG, Abkhazia Today, pp.19, 26; Natalie Sabanadze, p.13.
  21. Quoted in ICG, Abkhazia Today, p.7.
  22. ICG, Abkhazia Today, p.26.
  23. Internet source, mhtml:file://F:\CASE%20STUDIES?Georgia1.mht.
  24. UNPO, ‘Act of state independence of the Republic of Abkhazia’, 11 October 1999,
  25. Edward Mihalkanin, pp.151–3.
  26. UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: Visit by new UN Envoy’, 1 September 2006,; UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: “Spiral of tension” continues’, 12 January 2007,
  27. UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: UN reports progress’, 25 January 2007,
  28. ICG, Abkhazia Today, pp.21–2.
  29. ICG, Abkhazia Today, p.8; Oliver Wolleh, p.18.
  30. Radio Free Europe, Caucasus Report, pp.5–6.
  31. Edward Mihalkanin, pp.154–5; ICG, Abkhazia Today, pp.8–17; UNPO, ‘Abkhazia signs treaty with Pridnestrovie’, 26 December 2006,; Oliver Wolleh, p.17.
  32. ICG, Abkhazia Today, pp.8, 12; UNPO, ‘Abkhazia signs treaty with Pridnestrovie’.
  33. Quoted in BBCNEWS, ‘Breakaway Abkhazia votes in poll’, 4 March 2007,
  34. Edward Mihalkanin, p.153; ICG, Abkhazia Today, pp.8–10.
  35. UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: EU explores options’, 24 January 2007,
  36. Vladimir Socor, ‘A “parallel CIS” in democratic packaging’, Eurasia Daily Monitor, 19 September 2005 (The Jamestown Foundation), edm/article.php?article_id=2370236; Nicu Popescu, ‘“Outsourcing” de facto statehood: Russia and the secessionist entities in Georgia and Moldova’, CEPS Policy Brief (Centre for European Policy Studies), No. 109, July 2006, p.5; ICG CrisisWatch, ‘Georgia’, 1 December 2003, index.cfm?action=cw…; UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: Leader says independence inevitable’, 23 October 2006,; UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: Leaders meet to discuss cooperation’, 17 November 2006, article.php?id=5858.
  37. Dov Lynch, Engaging Eurasia’s Separatist States: Unresolved Conflicts and De Facto States, United States Institute of Peace Press, Washington DC, 2004, p.3.
  38. UNPO, ‘Abkhazia signs treaty with Pridnestrovie’.
  39. Edward Mihalkanin, p.153; UNPO, ‘Abkhazia and South Ossetia signed an agreement on cooperation’, 20 September 2005,
  40. Charles King, ‘Eurasia’s nonstate states’, East European Constitutional Review, Vol. 10(4), Fall 2001, http:/, pp.4–5; UNPO, ‘Abkhazia signs treaty with Pridnestrovie’.
  41. Net, ‘Unrecognized states adopt declaration on principles of conflict settlement’, 18 June 2007,
  42. The Tiraspol Times, 17 March 2007, warns_of_threat…; UNPO, ‘Abkhazia signs treaty with Pridnestrovie’.
  43. ICG, Abkhazia Today, p.1.
  44. UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: Russian Duma calls for recognition’, 10 December 2006,
  45. UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: Appeal to UN Security Council’, 15 April 2007, http:// A case for independence was also made by Thomas Kunze & Henri Bohnet, ‘Zwischen Europa und Russland’, KASAuslandsinformationen, No. 1/07, February 2007.
  46. UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: Kosovo’s independence will help’, 5 June 2007,
  47. Quoted by Nicu Popescu, ‘“Outsourcing” de facto statehood’, p.7.
  48. Edward Mihalkanin, p.153; UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: FC draws statement on Abkhazian, Ossetian independence referenda’, 22 December 2006,
  49. ICG, Abkhazia Today, p.8.
  50. UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: Leader says independence inevitable’, 23 October 2006,
  51. Oliver Wolleh, p.19; UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: UN adopts resolution with focus on Kodori’, 18 October 2006,; Eurasia Daily Monitor, ‘Moscow kills Boden Paper, threatens to terminate UNOMIG in Georgia’, 7 February 2006, 2370748.
  52. ICG CrisisWatch, ‘Georgia’, 1 June 2004, index.cfm?action=cw…; ICG, Abkhazia Today, pp.2, 21.
  53. Quoted in ICG, Abkhazia Today, p.2.
  54. UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: Georgia promises autonomy’, 28 May 2007, http://www.; UNPO, ‘Abkhazia and Georgia debate “South-Tirol model”’, 13 April 2005, 2320.
  55. ICG, Georgia and Russia: Clashing over Abkhazia, Europe Report No. 193, 5 June 2008, p.18.
  56. ICG, Georgia and Russia: pp.i, ii, 2, 13–16.
  57. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 30 April 2008.
  58. ICG, Georgia and Russia: p.23.
  59. George Hewitt, ‘Abkhazia and South Ossetia: heart of conflict, key to solution’, Democracy News Analysis, 19 August 2008, p.5,
  60. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, Europe Report, No. 159, 26 November 2004, p.2;, ‘South Ossetia’, military/world/war/south-ossetia.htm.
  61. BBCNEWS, ‘Regions and territories: South Ossetia’, 4 March 2007, http://news.
  62. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, p.3; Caucasus Foundation, ‘South Ossetia’,
  63. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, p.3.
  64. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, p.3; BBCNEWS, ‘Regions and territories’.
  65. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, p.3.
  66. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, pp.3, 6–7.
  67. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, pp.4–5; Dov Lynch, Engaging Eurasia’s Separatist States, pp.115–16.
  68. Dov Lynch, Engaging Eurasia’s Separatist States, p.116.
  69. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, p.5.
  70. ICG, Georgia’s South Ossetia Conflict: Make Haste Slowly, Europe Report, No. 183, 7 June 2007, pp.9, 13.
  71. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, pp.7–8, 18.
  72. Quoted in ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, p.16.
  73. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, p.16; ICG CrisisWatch, ‘Georgia’, 1 October 2005,
  74. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, pp.11–14; ICG, Georgia’s South Ossetia Conflict, pp.22–3.
  75. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, p.14; ICG, Georgia’s South Ossetia Conflict, p.17.
  76. ICG, Georgia’s South Ossetia Conflict, p.20.
  77. Natalie Sabanadze, pp.16–17.
  78. ICG, Georgia’s South Ossetia Conflict, p.20.
  79. ICG CrisisWatch, ‘Georgia’, 1 July 2006,…
  80. See, for instance, Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, ‘Statement of the European Union on South Ossetia, Georgia’, 12 July 2007,…
  81. Quoted in ICG, Georgia’s South Ossetia Conflict, p.3.
  82. Wikipedia, ‘South Ossetia’, 2007, pp.2, 5; BBCNEWS, ‘Regions and territories’.
  83. ICG, Georgia’s South Ossetia Conflict, p.5.
  84. Quoted in ICG, Georgia’s South Ossetia Conflict, p.8.
  85. ICG, Georgia’s South Ossetia Conflict, pp.1, 3.
  86. ICG CrisisWatch, ‘Georgia’, 1 June 2006, index.cfm?action=cw…
  87. Tony Iltis, ‘Behind the war on South Ossetia’, Green Left, 16 August 2008, p.2; George Hewitt, ‘Abkhazia and South Ossetia: heart of conflict, key to solution’, Open Democracy News Analysis, 19 August 2008, p.5,
  88. ‘Georgia declares “state of war” over South Ossetia’,, 9 August 2008,; ‘Georgia: Russia enters into “war” in South Ossetia’,, 9 August 2008, Georgia-Russia-en…
  89. ‘Georgia declares “state of war” over South Ossetia’; ‘Georgia: Russia enters into “war” in South Ossetia’.
  90. Tony Iltis, ‘Georgia and Russia declare ceasefire’,, http://www.; BBCNEWS, ‘Russia signs up to Georgia truce’, 16 August 2008,; ‘Sarkozy under fire over “foggy” Georgia peace plan’, EurActiv, 29 August 2008,…
  91. ‘Sarkozy under fire over “foggy” Georgia peace plan’.
  92. BBCNEWS, ‘Russia recognises Georgian rebels’, 26 August 2008, http://newsvote.
  93. ‘Russia recognizes South Ossetia and Abkhazia to save people’s lives’, Pravda, 26 August 2008,
  94. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 26 August 2008.
  95. ‘Medvedev defends his stance on Georgia’, France 24, 27 August 2008,…
  96. Tony Iltis, p.3.
  97. ‘Russia recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while the West condemns it’, RTTNews, 26 August 2008,; ‘Russia faces Western pressure over Georgia’, Reuters, 26 August 2008,
  98. ‘Medvedev endorses Georgia break-up’,, 26 August 2008,…
  99. ‘Russia recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while the West condemns it’.
  100. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, pp.4, 6, 8; Kafkas Vakfi;, ‘South Ossetia’, 2007, war/south-ossetia.htm.
  101. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, pp.9–11; ICG, Georgia’s South Ossetia Conflict, p.16.
  102. ICG CrisisWatch, ‘Georgia’, 1 June 2004, index.cfm?…; BBCNEWS, ‘Regions and territories’.
  103. ICG, Georgia’s South Ossetia Conflict, p.11.
  104. Time, 7 February 2005.
  105. Quoted in ICG, Georgia’s South Ossetia Conflict, p.8; Institute for War and Peace Reporting, ‘Georgia devises new plan for South Ossetia’, 6 April 2007,
  106. Quoted in ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, p.8.
  107. Ge, ‘Putin speaks of S. Ossetia, Abkhazia’, 11 October 2006,
  108. BBCNEWS, ‘Regions and territories’; The Christian Science Monitor, 5 June 2006.
  109. Quoted in The Christian Science Monitor, 5 June 2006.
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  111. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, p.17.
  112. ICG, Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, p.9.
  113. ICG, Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria, Europe Report, No. 157, 17 June 2004, p.i.
  114. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, Europe Report, No. 147, 12 August 2003, p.1.
  115. Steven D Roper, ‘From frozen conflict to frozen agreement: The unrecognized state of Transdniestria’, in Tozun Bahcheli et al, p.103; ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.2.
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  117. Steven D Roper, pp.104–5; ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.2.
  118. Steven D Roper, p.105; ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.2.
  119. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.2.
  120. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, pp.2–3; Steven D Roper, pp.105–6.
  121. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.3; Steven D Roper, pp.102, 106–7; Thomas Kunze & Henri Bohnet, p.6.
  122. William Crowther’s expression, quoted in ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.3.
  123. Steven D Roper, pp.106–7.
  124. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.3.
  125. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.3; Steven D Roper, p.107; ICG, Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria, p.1.
  126. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, pp.3–4;, 2007,…
  127. Steven D Roper, p.110.
  128. Steven D Roper, p.108.
  129. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.4; Steven D Roper, pp.111–12.
  130. ICG, Moldova’s Uncertain Future, Europe Report, No. 175, 17 August 2006, p.3.
  131. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.4.
  132. ICG, Moldova’s Uncertain Future, p.1.
  133. ICG, Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria, pp.4, 8, 17; ICG, Moldova’s Uncertain Future, p.4.
  134. ICG, Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria, p.8; Charles King, ‘The benefits of ethnic war’, p.539.
  135. ICG, Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria, p.17.
  136. ICG, Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria, p.27.
  137. The Economist, 12 March 2005; ICG, Moldova’s Uncertain Future, p.12.
  138. ICG, Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria, pp.i, 1–4.
  139. The Economist, 5 August 2006.
  140. ICG, Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria, pp.i, 1.
  141. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, pp.7–9.
  142. Quoted in ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.7.
  143. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.7.
  144. Dov Lynch, Engaging Eurasia’s Separatist States, pp.112–13.
  145. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.1; Thomas Kunze & Henri Bohnet, p.7; ICG, Moldova’s Uncertain Future, p.2.
  146. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, pp.10–11.
  147. Steven D Roper, pp.110–11; ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.5.
  149. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.27.
  150. ICG, Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria, p.13.
  151. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.5; ICG, Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria, p.14.
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  153. UNPO, ‘Abkhazia: Call for peaceful settlement of territorial conflicts’, 18 June 2007,
  154. 154            Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 28 August 2008.
  155. Thomas Kunze & Henri Bohnet, p.6.
  156. ICG, Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria, pp.3, 19; ICG, Moldova’s Uncertain Future, pp.19–20; ICG CrisisWatch, ‘Moldova’, 1 October 2006,…
  157. ICG, Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria, p.6.
  158. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, pp.1, 8; Steven D Roper, pp.114–15.
  159. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, pp.10–13.
  160. ICG, Moldova: No Quick Fix, p.24.
  161. ICG, Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria, p.17.
  162. Steven D Roper, p.115.
  163. ICG, Moldova’s Uncertain Future, p.20.
  164. ICG, Moldova’s Uncertain Future, pp.11–13, 17.
  165. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 15 April 2008.
  166. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 28 August 2008.
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  170. The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, p.5.
  171. The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, p.5.
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  174. The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, p.5.
  175. Gerard Chaliand, ‘Preface’, in Levon Chorbajian et al, pp.xi–xii; Alexei Zverev, p.2.
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  177. Levon Chorbajian, ‘Introduction’, pp.7–8; ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, Europe Report, No. 167, 11 October 2005, pp.3–4; Dov Lynch, Managing Separatist States, p.18.
  178. The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, p.8; Levon Chorbajian, ‘Introduction’, p.2.
  179. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, p.4; The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, pp.7–10.
  180. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, pp.4–5.
  181. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, p.6; The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, pp.7–8; Alexei Zverev, p.8.
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  183. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, p.7; Gerard Chaliand, p.xii–xv; Levon Chorbajian, ‘Introduction’, pp.3, 13; Maria R Freire, ‘The search for innovative procedures: The OSCE approach to conflicts in the former Soviet area’, in Howard M Hensel (ed.), Sovereignty and the Global Community: The Quest for Order in the International System, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2004, p.205.
  184. Levon Chorbajian, ‘Introduction’, p.2; ICG Report, ‘Nagorno-Karabagh: Risking war’, 14 November 2007, from the executive summary,; ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, p.7; ICG, ‘Conflict history: Nagorno-Karabagh (Azerbaijan)’, September 2004,…; The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, p.8.
  185. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, p.7; Natalie Sabanadze, p.9.
  186. The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, p.1; Levon Chorbajian, ‘Introduction’, pp.16, 18–19; Alexei Zverev, p.11.
  187. Richard Giragosian, The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Nagorno Karabagh Conflict: A Compilation of Analyses, Washington, July 2000,; ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, pp.8–9; ICG Report, ‘Nagorno-Karabagh: Risking war’.
  188. Nicu Popescu, ‘The European Union and the conflicts in the South Caucasus’, Caucaz europnews, 1 August 2007, contenu.php?id=291.
  189. Dov Lynch, Managing Eurasia’s Separatist States, p.18; The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, p.11.
  190. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, pp.2, 10. Also see ICG CrisisWatch, ‘Nagorno-Karabagh’, for regularly updated information.
  191. The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, pp.16–17; Gerard Chaliand, p.xv; Levon Chorbajian, ‘Introduction’, p.32, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 28 August 2008.
  192. The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, pp.17–18; Levon Chorbajian, ‘Introduction’, p.31.
  193. The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, pp.18–19; Levon Chorbajian, ‘Introduction’, pp.33–4.
  194. The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, pp.11, 37; BBCNEWS, ‘N Karabagh elects separatist head’, 20 July 2007, go/pr/fr_/2/hi/europe/6908092.stm.
  195. ICG, Sabine Freizer, ‘Nagorno-Karabagh: Between vote and reality’, 14 December 2006,
  196. Alexei Zverev, p.17.
  197. The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, p.36.
  198. Alexei Zverev, p.10.
  199. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, pp.1, 15.
  200. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, pp.12–13; Dov Lynch, Engaging Eurasia’s Separatist States: Unresolved Conflicts and De Facto States, United States Institute of Peace Press, Washington DC, 2004, p.117.
  201. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, p.6; Gerard Chaliand, ‘Preface’, in Levon Chorbajian et al, The Caucasian Knot, p.xiv.
  202. Quoted by Levon Chorbajian, ‘Introduction’, p.1.
  203. The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, pp.34–7.
  204. See, for example, Azerbaijan International, ‘The Nagorno-Karabagh question’, Winter 1998 (6.4), articles…
  205. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, pp.12–14.
  206. The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, pp.2, 38–59.
  207. Alexei Zverev, p.10.
  208. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, pp.12, 14.
  209. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, p.13.
  210. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, p.13.
  211. Quoted in ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, p.13; Richard Giragosian, p.10.
  212. Richard Giragosian, p.11.
  213. Richard Giragosian, p.11; Radio Free Europe, Caucasus Report, 8 April 2005, p.3,
  214. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, pp.13, 15; The Nagorno Karabagh Crisis: A Blueprint for Resolution, pp.15–16.
  215. Quoted by Richard Giragosian, p.10.
  216. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, p.13.
  217. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, p.21.
  218. ICG, Nagorno-Karabagh: A Plan for Peace, pp.13–14.
  219. Levon Chorbajian, ‘Introduction’, pp.29–30.

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