chapter  5
20 Pages

The outbreak of military conflicts

Russia’s difficulties in discarding its Imperial legacy
WithDomitilla Sagramoso

This chapter examines three separatist violent conflicts that broke out with the end of the USSR along Russia’s periphery within the former Soviet space – the wars in Georgia’s separatist regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the violence in Moldova’s separatist region of Transdniestria, a primarily Russian-speaking region. The chapter also examines the violent conflicts that erupted in Tajikistan in 1992, as well as the exacerbation of violence in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, that took place after the USSR collapsed in 1991. These wars witnessed a significant involvement of Russia, both in terms of military support to the warring parties and mediation efforts aimed at reaching a ceasefire. The chapter seeks to determine whether or not Russia deliberately exacerbated these conflicts in order to become the main peace-broker, and deploy its troops on the ground, or whether instead Russia was reacting to events on the ground. The chapter reaches the conclusion that while restoring a sphere of influence was not Russia’s initial objective, the combination of the Kremlin’s hard power and diplomacy, however uncoordinated, eventually resulted in the creation of an ‘informal empire’ over the separatist regions of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria, and as result, Moscow succeeded in keeping both Georgia and Moldova, albeit temporarily, within Russia’s sphere of influence. The chapter also argues that while Moscow succeeded in keeping Tajikistan within a Russian neo-imperial space, its ability to influence events in Nagorno-Karabakh remained more limited, but not for the want of trying. This chapter also shows how with the arrival of Yevgeny Primakov at the Foreign Ministry, the Kremlin engaged in active efforts to resolve these various military disputes through diplomatic means. Its proposals, nevertheless, envisaged the deployment of Russian peacekeeping forces in the conflict zones. Such stipulations, therefore, showed that while Russia seemed ready at least in theory, to discard its imperial legacy, it still felt that a military presence was necessary in these volatile regions to safeguard its own security and prevent a resumption of violence.