Post-Soviet ‘frozen conflicts’

A Ukrainian border post is seen through bullet holes in a truck's windscreen on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, 3 June. Photo: Reuters

A Ukrainian border post, viewed through bullet holes in a truck's windscreen. Lugansk, June 2014. [Reuters]

The number of post-Soviet frozen conflicts has only grown, as a result of the failure of international mediation to solve them. After Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria and Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it seems that eastern Ukraine also qualifies as a frozen conflict.

In international relations, a frozen conflict is a situation in which active armed conflict has been brought to an end, but no peace treaty or other political framework resolves the conflict to the satisfaction of the combatants. Therefore, the conflict can legally start again at any moment, creating an environment of insecurity and instability.

The term has also been used for other geographic regions, but most importantly with reference to the post-Soviet space. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, a number of conflicts arose in areas of some of the post-Soviet states, usually where the new international borders did not match the ethnic affiliations of local populations. This Links Dossier touches upon the post-Soviet frozen conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia and eastern Ukraine.

Generally, a frozen conflict means that as a result of a conflict which is not settled, certain post-Soviet states are unable to exercise sovereignty on part of its territory and that the respective part of the territory is controlled by rebels. Recognition of those rebel groups vary. In the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria and eastern Ukraine, no UN member state has given them recognition. In the case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, these territories of Georgia have been recognised by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru.

A frozen conflict means insecurity and instability, and the possibility that the conflict will start again. This has been precisely the case in Nagorno-Karabakh, where low-intensity combat has been commonplace and where a four-day war recently erupted, between 2 and 5 April 2016. Some analysts say that Nagorno-Karabakh does not really qualify for the term “frozen conflict”, because it’s an outright conflict, albeit with low intensity most of the time.

The majority of the countries in frozen conflict areas – Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine - have expressed the wish to become EU and NATO members in the longer term. By helping engineer frozen conflict zones and by perpetuating them, Russia has slowed down this rapprochement.  Armenia and Azerbaijan, who are technically at war because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, are a special case. Energy-rich Azerbaijan prefers to keep equal distance from major powers, while impoverished Armenia has put all its eggs in Russia’s basket.


Geography, history, population

Nagorno-Karabakh [Wikipedia]

Nagorno-Karabakh [Wikipedia]

Nagorno-Karabakh is a landlocked region in the South Caucasus, part of Azerbaijan, governed by the self-proclaimed “Nagorno Karabakh Republic”, which is largely dependent on Armenia. It has an area of 4,400 square kilometres and an estimated population of 140,000.

“Nagorno” means “upper” in Russian, while Karabakh means “black garden” in Azeri. The region was successfully ruled by Armenia, by invading Muslim Arabs and by the Persian Shah. Following the Russo-Persian war (1804-1813), Persia ceded the territory to the Russian empire.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Karabakh became part of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, but this soon dissolved into separate Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian states. Over the next two years (1918–1920), there were a series of short wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan over several regions, including Karabakh.

In April 1920, while the Azerbaijani army was locked in Karabakh fighting local Armenian forces, Azerbaijan was taken over by Bolsheviks.

In 1921, Armenia and Georgia were also taken over by the Bolsheviks who, in order to attract public support, promised they would allot Karabakh to Armenia, along with Nakhichevan and Zangezur (the strip of land separating Nakhchivan from Armenia proper). However, needing to placate Turkey, the Soviet Union agreed to a division under which Zangezur would fall under the control of Armenia, while Karabakh and Nakhichevan would be under the control of Azerbaijan.

With the Soviet Union firmly in control of the region, the conflict over its control died down for several decades. With the beginning of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, the question of Nagorno-Karabakh re-emerged. Accusing the Azerbaijani SSR government of conducting forced 'Azerification' of the region, the majority Armenian population, with ideological and material support from the Armenian SSR, started a movement to have the autonomous oblast transferred to the Armenian SSR. The oblast's borders were drawn to include Armenian villages and to exclude as much as possible Azerbaijani villages. The resulting district ensured an Armenian majority. In August 1987, Karabakh Armenians sent a petition to Moscow for union with Armenia, with tens of thousands of signatures.

On 20 February 1988, the Soviet of People's Deputies in Karabakh voted 110 to 17 to request the transfer of the region to Armenia. This unprecedented action by a regional Soviet brought out tens of thousands of demonstrations both in Stepanakert and Yerevan, but Moscow rejected the Armenians' demands. On 22 February, the first direct confrontation of the conflict occurred at Askeran, and people were killed on both sides.

On 29 November 1989, direct rule in Nagorno-Karabakh was ended and the region was returned to Azerbaijani administration.

The conflict

The struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated after both Armenia and Azerbaijan attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In the post-Soviet power vacuum, military action between Azerbaijan and Armenia was heavily influenced by the Russian military. Full-scale fighting erupted late in the winter of 1992. The Khojaly Massacre of 25-26 February 1992, when at least 161 ethnic Azeris from the town of Khojalj were killed by Armenian, and partly CIS forces, is considered to be the largest massacre in the course of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

By the end of 1993, the conflict had caused thousands of casualties and created hundreds of thousands of refugees on both sides. By the end of the war in 1994, the Armenians were in full control of most of the enclave and also held and currently control approximately 9% of Azerbaijan's territory outside the enclave. At that stage, for the first time during the conflict, the Azerbaijani government recognised Nagorno-Karabakh as a third party in the war, and started direct negotiations with the Karabakh authorities. As many as 230,000 Armenians from Azerbaijan and 800,000 Azeris from Armenia and Karabakh have been displaced as a result of the conflict A cease-fire was reached on 12 May 1994 through Russian negotiation.

There are currently an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 refugees from the Karabakh region living in Azerbaijan and another 200,000 to 300,000 in Armenia and Karabakh.

There have been reports, including by the OSCE, of Armenia moving population from the mainland to Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as directing several hundreds of Armenian Syrians fleeing the Syrian war, to Nagorno-Karabakh.

The truce and international development in conflict resolution

Negotiation and mediation efforts, primarily led by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, have failed to produce a permanent solution to the conflict. Russian-mediated peace talks have also not resulted in any concrete steps toward de-escalation.

Established in 1994, the Minsk Group continues to work for the creation of conditions in which such a conference can take place. The co-chairs of the Minsk Group are the ambassadors of the Russian Federation, of France and of the USA. The Minsk Group’s permanent members are Belarus, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland, and Turkey, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan. On a rotating basis, the OSCE Troika is a permanent member.

Four UN Security Council Resolutions have been passed during the Nagorno-Karabakh war. These resolutions have not invoked Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter sets out the UN Security Council's powers to maintain peace. It allows the Council to "determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and to take military and nonmilitary action to "restore international peace and security".

A four-day war was fought between 2 and 5 April leaving over two dozen soldiers killed on both sides. A ceasefire was agreed on 5 April at a behind-the-scenes meeting in Moscow between representatives of the warring sides.

Analysts said it should be safely assumed that the events from the first days of April could be a precursor to much worse confrontation to come.

“Russia styled itself as the lead mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” he stated, insisting that the aim was to create the impression that Moscow “calls the shots” in the South Caucasus.

Neil Melvin, Senior Researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), said that Russia styled itself as the lead mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and that the absence of a significant US response left the field open for Russia to be the power broker.

British S&D MEP Richard Howitt (Labour) said the EU should associate formally with the Minsk group process, and that the Union should also engage more with Russia diplomatically. He complained that there were no mechanisms to find out what is actually happening on the ground.

Howitt also put Nagorno-Karabakh in the wider picture, stoking the risk of a wider Christian-Muslim confrontation, Azerbaijan being predominantly Muslim, and Armenia predominantly Christian.


Transnistria [Wikipedia]

Transnistria [Wikipedia]

Transnistria (also called Trans-Dniestr or Transdniestria) is a Moldovan region in the Bassarabian part of Moldova, now a breakaway statelet controlled by pro-Russian rebels who call it the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR, also known as Pridnestrovie).

Geography, history, population

The tiny breakaway republic of 4,163 square kilometres consists of a narrow strip of land located east of the Dnieper River (hence the name), plus the city of Bender, located on the western side. The country borders Ukraine to its East.

In total, Transnistria is home to some 500,000 people, with Russian and Ukrainian Slavs making up 59% of the population and Moldovan Romanians 32%. The capital, Tiraspol, a city of 200,000, is almost three-quarters Russian and Ukrainian.

After World War II, Transnistria had been heavily industrialised and though it accounted for only 17% of the old Soviet republic’s population, it produced 40% of its GDP. So the newly independent state of Moldova, whose 3.6 million people are themselves quite poor, attempted to regain the Trans-Dniester Republic, resulting a in a short war between March and July 1992.

Roots of the conflict

Today’s territory of Transnistria has been part of Romania (1918-1940). After World War II, before the creation of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), today's Transnistria was part of the Ukrainian SSR, as an autonomous republic called the Moldovan Autonomous SSR, with Tiraspol as its capital.

When Moscow created the Moldavian SSR, it added the mainly Russian-speaking Dniester region, formerly an autonomous part of Ukraine, to Romanian Bessarabia —sowing the seeds of future ethnic trouble.

On 31 August 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the Moldavian SSR enacted two laws. One of them made Moldovan the official language, instead of Russian, the de facto official language of the Soviet Union. It also mentioned a linguistic Moldo-Romanian identity. The second law stipulated the return to the Latin Romanian alphabet (previously Moldavian language, which is not different from Romanian, was written with Cyrillic letters).

These events, as well as the end of the Ceaușescu regime in neighboring Romania in December 1989 and the partial opening of the border between Romania and Moldova on 6 May 1990, led many in Transnistria and Moldova to believe that a union between Moldova and Romania was inevitable. This possibility caused fears among the Russian-speaking population that it would be excluded from most aspects of public life.

On 2 September 1990, the “Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic” (PMR) was proclaimed; "Pridnestrovie" being the name for Transnistria in Russian.

A year later, when the USSR ceased to exist altogether, the Moldovan SSR declared its own independence.

The conflict

Emboldened by Russian nationalists and those fearing annexation by Romania, the Moldovian SSR declared itself independent under the name of "Transniester Moldovan Republic", a move that led to a 4-month conflict between Moldovan forces and separatists backed  by the Soviet 14th Army that claimed an estimated 1,000 lives.

The 1992 ceasefire agreement created the Joint Control Commission (JCC), under which 1,500 Russian, de facto Transnistrian, and Moldovan forces continue to serve ostensibly as peacekeepers in Transnistria in roughly equal proportion.

Russian Lt. Gen. Alexander Lebed, a profane and charismatic officer, had little use for either the Moldovans or the Transnistrians, who began to devote sectors of their economy to human trafficking, drug running and arms smuggling. But he successfully separated the two warring parties and they have stayed that way ever since.

The truce

The cease-fire led to the creation of a three-party Joint Control Commission, consisting of Russia, Moldova, and Transnistria, which supervises a demilitarised security zone on both sides of the Dniester River. Transnistria has been a "frozen conflict" ever since.

Since 1997, the OSCE has managed a conflict resolution process which now engages seven parties in the “5+2” format: Moldova and Transnistria, with Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE as intermediaries, and the US and the EU as observers. The OSCE-brokered talks have helped to defuse occasional crises and to keep the sides in dialogue, but no framework agreement has yet been accepted by all sides.

The closest they came was in 2003, when the Russian-brokered Kozak plan for the reunification of Moldova and Transnistria was rejected at the last minute by Chisinau.

In September 2006 Transistria’s citizenry voted overwhelmingly to confirm their independence and the country has created its own constitution, flag, national anthem, and coat of arms, as well as a military, police, postal system, and currency. But Transnistria remains a defacto state, unrecognised by sovereign members of the international community -- including even Russia itself.

Formally, Transnistria remains an electoral democracy. Indeed, the current president, Yevgeny Shevchuk, an ethnic Ukrainian, won the December 2011 election by beating the incumbent, Igor Smirnov, and the Kremlin-backed speaker of the parliament, Anatoliy Kaminski.

Moldova and Transnistria have held talks. Moldova announced that its parliament would consider removing travel restrictions on Transnistrians with Russian and Ukrainian passports.

It is unlikely that war will be renewed, because Russian President Vladimir Putin would actively support Transnistria, while the Moldovans could expect little military aid from the United States and NATO.

The truce and international development in conflict resolution

A so-called 5+2 settlement process, (OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, the Transnistrian region, plus the EU and US as observers) was established following the 1992 truce. However, the format has produced few results.

The OSCE established the Mission to Moldova in February 1993 with a mandate to help find a peaceful solution to the conflict between the country’s central government and the breakaway region of Transnistria. The Mission has its base in Chisinau and maintains a branch office in Tiraspol, and an office in Bender. It has a total staff of 52, of which 13 are international and 39 local personnel. A recurrent problem is that the local so-called “authorities” refuse to grant OSCE monitors unfettered access to do their work.


Abkhazia and South Ossetia [Wikipedia]

Abkhazia and South Ossetia [Wikipedia]

South Ossetia and Abkhazia are two distinct regions in Georgia, which were occupied by Russia during the 7-12 August 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Both claimed independence from Georgia, proclaimed themselves “Republic of South Ossetia” and “Republic of Abkhazia” and seek international recognition. Georgia and the majority of countries of the world do not recognise them as independent. Georgia officially considers them as sovereign territory of the Georgian state under Russian military occupation.

The case of South Ossetia

Geography, history, population

South Ossetia, also known as Tskhinvali region, is a landlocked Georgian territory, now a breakaway statelet, bordering the oblast of North Ossetia in Russia.  It has an area of 3,900 km and an estimated population of 50,000.

The Ossetians are an Iranian ethnic group, speaking Ossetic, an Iranian dialect. They are also fluent in Russian as a second language. The Ossetians are mostly Eastern Orthodox Christian, with a Muslim minority.

Following the Russian revolution of 1917, the area of modern South Ossetia became part of the Democratic Republic of Georgia, which soon collapsed to become a Soviet Republic. The landless Ossetians helped bring down the Democratic Republic of Georgia, as they were influenced by Bolshevism and demanded ownership of the lands they worked.

In Soviet Georgia, Ossetians were given autonomy. Tensions in the region began to rise amid rising nationalism among both Georgians and Ossetians in 1989.

The 1991-1992 South Ossetian war (5 January 1991 – 24 June 1992) was fought between between Georgian government forces and ethnic Georgian militia on one side, and the forces of South Ossetia, and the ethnic Ossetian militia who wanted South Ossetia to secede from Georgia and become an independent state on the other.

The war, which cost some 1,000 lives, ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire, signed on 24 June 1992, which established a joint peacekeeping force and left South Ossetia divided between the rivaling authorities.

On 9 April 1991, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia declared independence.

As a result of the war, about 100,000 ethnic Ossetians fled the territory and Georgia proper, most across the border into North Ossetia. A further 23,000 ethnic Georgians fled South Ossetia to other parts of Georgia. Tensions continued through the years, though in 2004, the then-President of Georgia, Mikeil Saakashvili, proposed to discuss a model of statehood acceptable to the sides.

The conflict

Tensions between Georgia and Russia began escalating in April 2008. Georgia launched a large-scale military operation against South Ossetia during the night of 7–8 August 2008. According to the EU fact-finding mission, 10,000–11,000 soldiers took part in the general Georgian offensive in South Ossetia. The official reason given by Tbilisi for this was to "restore constitutional order" in the region.

According to Russian military commander, over 10 Russian peacekeepers were killed on 8 August. That day Russia officially sent troops across the Georgian border into South Ossetia, claiming to be defending both peacekeepers and South Ossetian civilians.

In five days of fighting, the Russian forces captured Tskhinvali, pushed back Georgian troops, and largely destroyed Georgia’s military infrastructure using airstrikes deep inside the Georgia proper.

Through mediation by President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, the parties reached a ceasefire agreement on 12 August.

The truce

On 17 August, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russian forces were to begin withdrawal on the next day. On 8 October, Russian forces withdrew from the buffer zones adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The control of the buffer zones was handed over to the EU monitoring mission in Georgia.

Russia recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia on 26 August. In response, the Georgian government cut diplomatic relations with Russia.

The case of Abkhazia

Geography, history, population

Abkhazia is the Westernmost Georgian territory, representing more than half of Georgia’s Black Sea coast and bordering Russia. It is 8,660 square kilometres and has an estimated population of 240,000.

Under Ottoman rule, the majority of Abkhaz elite, formerly Christians, converted to Islam. The principality retained a degree of autonomy under Ottoman rule. Georgia signed a treaty with Russia for protection against the Ottoman Empire in 1773 and was seemingly absorbed, while Abkhazia sought protection from Russia. Russia then annexed Abkhazia in 1864.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 led to the creation of an independent Democratic Republic of Georgia which included Abkhazia. In 1921, the Red Army invaded Georgia and ended its short-lived independence. Abkhazia was made a Socialist Soviet Republic (SSR Abkhazia) which was later given autonomy status within the Georgian SSR.

As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate at the end of the 1980s, ethnic tensions grew between the Abkhaz and Georgians over Georgia's moves towards independence. Many Abkhaz opposed this, fearing that an independent Georgia would lead to the elimination of their autonomy.

Georgia declared independence on 9 April 1991. When on 21 February 1992, Georgia's ruling Military Council announced that it was abolishing the Soviet-era constitution and restoring the 1921 Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Georgia, many Abkhaz interpreted this as an abolition of their autonomy status. On 23 July 1992, the Abkhaz faction in the republic's Supreme Council declared effective independence from Georgia.

The war in Abkhazia of 1992-1993 (14 August 1992 – 2 September 1993) involved Georgian government forces and Abkhaz separatist forces fighting for the independence of Abkazia. he separatists received support from thousands of North Caucasus and Cossack militants and from the Russian Federation forces stationed in and near Abkhazia. Several thousand civilians were reported killed, mostly on the Georgian side. The Abkhaz separatists implemented the process of ethnic cleansing in order to expel and eliminate the Georgian ethnic population in Abkhazia.

Sporadic acts of violence continued throughout the postwar years.

The conflict

On 9 August 2008, Abkhazian forces fired on Georgian forces in Kodori Gorge. This coincided with the 2008 South Ossetia war, where Russia decided to support the Ossetian separatists who had been attacked by Georgia. The conflict escalated into a full-scale war between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Georgia. On 10 August 2008, an estimated 9,000 Russian soldiers entered Abkhazia ostensibly to reinforce the Russian peacekeepers in the republic. About 1,000 Abkhazian soldiers moved to expel the residual Georgian forces within Abkhazia in the Upper Kodori Gorge.

By 12 August, Georgian forces and civilians had evacuated the last part of Abkhazia under Georgian government control. Russia recognised the independence of Abkhazia on 26 August 2008.

The truce and international development in conflict resolution in Abkhazia and South Ossetia

In two rounds of mediation, the French presidency of the EU achieved a cease-fire agreement between Tbilisi and Moscow on 12 August 2008. Then, on 8 September 2008, as part of the Russian-Georgian agreement, talks chaired by a troika of the EU, UN, and OSCE, with support from the US, were agreed to be held in Geneva. Subsequently, the involved parties further agreed that two working groups would be established, one focussing on security and stability, and another on IDPs and refugees.

It is doubtful whether these formats will result in any settlement of the now-internationalised dispute over the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia and Russia remain far apart on the central issues of Georgia's future sovereign status and borders, and the international community (and importantly the co-chairs of the talks) continues to insist on the recognition of Georgia's territorial integrity in its present borders.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE and UN are no longer present on site, since the OSCE mission in South Ossetia was closed in 2009, after Russia rejected extending the mandates of some 130 UN monitors in Abkhazia.

The EU established an unarmed civilian monitoring mission in Georgia (EUMM), patrolling day and night, particularly in the areas adjacent to the South Ossetian and Abkhazian Administrative Boundary Lines. Its current mandate is effective until 16 December 2016. It consists of 200 monitors. Abkhazia and South Ossetia have so far denied the mission access to the territories under their control.

UN decision-making has largely been unproductive, as Russia, a member of the Security Council with veto power, is party to the dispute.


Ukraine map with regions of Donetsk and Lugansk [Wikipedia]

Ukraine map with regions of Donetsk and Lugansk [Wikipedia]

Geography, history, population

It may appear awkward to call the situation in eastern Ukraine a frozen conflict, but in the absence of a solution it is very likely that it would become one.  The conflict in eastern Ukraine, also known as the war in Donbass and the subsequent peacemaking, refers to an armed conflict which led to the loss of Ukrainian sovereignty over a large part of the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts of the country, in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.

Donetsk and Lugansk, also called Donbass, is an important historical, cultural, and economic region in eastern Ukraine. It has been an important coal mining area since the late 19th century, when it became a heavily industrialised territory. According to the Russian Imperial Census of 1897, ethnic Ukrainians comprised 52.4% of the population of region, whilst ethnic Russians comprised 28.7%.

Along with other territories inhabited by Ukrainians, the Donbass was incorporated into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in the aftermath of the 1917–22 Russian Civil War. Donbass was greatly affected by the Second World War. In the lead up to the war, the Donbass was racked by poverty and food shortages. The war largely devastated the region. During the reconstruction of the Donbass after World War II, large numbers of Russian workers arrived to repopulate the region, further altering the population balance. By the time of the Soviet Census of 1989, 45% of the population of the Donbass reported their ethnicity as Russian.

Nevertheless, in the 1991 referendum on Ukrainian independence, 83.9% of voters in Donetsk Oblast and 83.6% in Luhansk Oblast supported independence from the Soviet Union.

Donbass is dominated by heavy industry, such as coal mining and metallurgy. Prior to the start of the region's war in April 2014, the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts together produced about 30% of Ukraine's exports.

The conflict

From the beginning of March 2014, demonstrations by pro-Russian and anti-government groups took place in the Donbass, as part of the aftermath of the February 2014 Ukrainian revolution and the Euromaidan movement. These demonstrations, which followed the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and which were part of a wider group of concurrent pro-Russian protests across southern and eastern Ukraine, escalated in April 2014 into a war between the separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR respectively), and the Ukrainian government.

Amidst the ongoing war, the separatist republics held referendums on the status of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts on 11 May 2014. These referendums, viewed as illegal by Ukraine and undemocratic by the international community, returned a result in favour of autonomy from Ukraine. Fighting continued through 2014, and into 2015, despite several attempts at implementing a ceasefire. Ukraine said Russia provided both material and military support to the separatists, though it denied this.

Between 22 and 25 August 2014, Russian artillery, personnel, and what Russia called a "humanitarian convoy" crossed the border into Ukrainian territory without the permission of the Ukrainian government. These events followed the reported shelling of Ukrainian positions from the Russian side of the border over the course of the preceding month. Western and Ukrainian officials described these events as a "stealth invasion" of Ukraine by Russia.

On 4 June, on the occasion of the G7 meeting held in Normandy, French President François Hollande emerged as a peacemaker, and arranged a first post-conflict meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko.

But In the following months DPR and LPR insurgents regained much of the territory they had lost during the preceding government military offensive.

The truce and international development in conflict resolution

A deal to establish a ceasefire, called the Minsk Protocol, was signed on 5 September 2014. The agreement was drawn-up by the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, which consisted of representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE.

In the two weeks after the Minsk Protocol was signed, there were frequent violations of the ceasefire by both parties to the conflict. Talks continued in Minsk, and a follow-up to the Minsk Protocol was agreed to on 19 September 2014.

A new package of measures meant to stop fighting in the Donbass, called "Minsk II", was agreed to on 12 February 2015 by the between the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine (the so-called Normandy format), after 17 hour of negotiations.

The four leaders committed to respecting Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to a joint declaration.

On 2 March 2015, European leaders said that they agreed that the OSCE needed a broader role as observers of the ceasefire, and weapons removal.

On 2 October 2015, the leaders of the Normandy format admitted that it would take time to organise elections in Ukraine which respect international standards and as a result, the so-called Minsk peace process would run into next year.

The EU placed friendly pressure on Kyiv to deliver on the Minsk agreements. Ukraine’s position is that as long as numerous ceasefire violations by Moscow-supported separatists in eastern Ukraine continue to occur, it is impossible to talk about political decentralisation of  Donetsk and Lugansk, and local elections.

Of the six countries singled out by the European Union (EU) as its eastern neighbourhood partners, five are locked in disputes over regions that have claimed independence, writes Magdalena Grono, Crisis Group's Europe and Central Asia Program Director.

“The conflicts that have plagued Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have brought to life the self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Donetsk and Luhansk. Nagorno-Karabakh is the subject of an unresolved war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Only Belarus is spared such divisions," she writes.

“In each case, Moscow does not see itself as a party to the conflicts, or as an actor other than a guarantor of stability in the region. The EU has sought to support conflict resolution, but has struggled with the tricky issue of the disputed status of the territories, and only has a lead role in the Geneva Discussion for the crisis in Georgia. The resolution processes with regard to Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh and now Donbas are mediated by the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), she further explains.

But Grono refrains from throwing all the blame at Russia.

“Russia or no Russia, a deal will always be hard to strike between the Georgians and the Abkhazians or Ossetians, or between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Many of these communities have lived on opposing sides of deep political and physical divides for over twenty years. Their original grievances, dating back to deep Soviet times, have been layered over by newer grievances of vicious fighting as the Soviet Union fell apart, and years of isolation since.”

Sergiy Gerasymchuk, board member of the Strategic and Security Studies Group in Kyiv, asks whether Ukraine’s Donbas is condemned to suffer the same fate as Moldova’s Transnistria: decades of frozen conflict.

He argues that there is a difference in the context. In the case of Transnistria, Russia has behaved, in terms of international status, as a great power, temporarily in crisis. “These days, Moscow’s rulers are in the “revolutionary expansionism” mode. Russia’s self-perception has changed and it now perceives itself as a Eurasian, anti-American superpower," Gerasymchuk writes.

“While Russia’s defensive realism provided Moldova twenty years of the status quo, Russian revolutionary expansionism gives Ukraine much less time to find a solution and get strong. Although Europeans may not realize it, they also have limited time to adapt to the new reality of Russian expansionism and to react promptly," he added.

Orkhan Gafarov, Russia and the Caucasus region expert, Political Risk Analyst at Ankara Policy Center, Turkey, said that now the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has calmed down after the four-day war in the first days of April.

“The collision was expected – there have always been mutual provocations. This year Azerbaijan has decided to put more pressure on Armenia. However, in my opinion, there will be no full-scale regional war in the near future, because the world’s major powers such as Russia, Iran, Turkey and other countries in the region are not interested in. In both Yerevan and Baku there is a feeling that serious negotiations with Moscow will start soon. I hope in the near future this issue will be solved by diplomatic means,” the analyst said.

“Some experts of the region believe that the problem can be resolved this year. This view is shared by some members of the diplomatic community. The Russian influence can be positive for the region and may further contribute to the determining of Nagorno-Karabakh status. I think this year the countries will get the chance to resolve the conflict and it is important not to miss it,” Gafarov concluded.

Since the Ukraine crisis broke out in 2014, this situation has got even worse for Abhazia and South Ossetia, writes Thomas De Waal of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, for Carnegie Europe.

He argues that a “Crimean scenario," meaning annexation by Russia of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is not a realistic option, not least because this would alienate Georgia completely and thus lose far more than it gained.

“The more time passes, the bigger the gap between Sukhumi and Tshkhinvali and Tbilisi. It should not be forgotten that the last time Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Tbilisi were in one country, it was not independent Georgia, but the Soviet Union," he writes.

“Although Russia remains Abkhazia's almost only partner and friend, much of the Abkhaz political elite is still suspicious of Russia. […] The paradoxical conclusion must be that for Georgians should help Abkhazia achieve greater sovereignty and de facto independence," De Waal writes.

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