Separatist conflicts in Eurasia
This chapter examines Russia’s policies towards the conflicts in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transdniestria during Putin’s presidencies in the 2000s. This chapter shows how, with the arrival of Putin to the Kremlin, Russia adopted a much more assertive policy vis-à-vis the separatist conflicts in Georgia – in response to the violence in Chechnya and NATO’s growing presence in the South Caucasus. The chapter argues that to compensate for Russia’s forced military withdrawal from Georgia, the Kremlin established ‘unofficial’ partnerships with the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which effectively turned these regions into Russian protectorates. The chapter also describes how Russia’s direct engagement in Abkhazia and South Ossetia increased after the new Georgian leadership, which took power in 2004, engaged in assertive actions towards these separatist regions, challenging the existing status-quo and put at risk Russia’s influence in Georgia. The chapter reaches the conclusion that while Russia may have had legitimate security concerns when acting more assertively in the separatist regions, the Kremlin nevertheless viewed Georgia, with its valuable strategic location across the Caucasus mountains and on the shores of the Black Sea, as falling within Russia’s exclusive sphere of security influence.
The chapter also shows how during Putin’s first and second Presidencies, Russia generally took a positive stance in the negotiations and collaborated actively with the other OSCE Minsk co-Chairs, in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – in what seemed a discard of Russia’s imperial legacy. However, the chapter also describes how Russia’s military policies in Armenia and Azerbaijan during the 2000s allowed it to keep the region partly under its influence. The chapter also discusses Russia’s engagement in the resolution of the Transdniestrian conflict by analysing the various attempts conducted by the Kremlin during Putin’s first two Presidencies to find a negotiated outcome to the dispute. The chapter argues that while during 1999 and 2002, Russia moved ahead with the withdrawal of troops stationed in Moldova, it nevertheless tried to compensate for such strategic losses by trying to preserve a military deployment in Transdniestria. The chapter shows how Russia slowly turned the separatist region into a virtual Russian protectorate. While Russia’s actions were conducted in clear violation of international law, and intended to keep Moldova under its influence, they also reflected Russia’s concerns over the enlargement of NATO into Romania and Bulgaria, approaching the CIS and the Russian borders.