From Postcommunism to Post–September 11
Posted by Fredsvenn den februar 19, 2008
South Ossetia (Iryston), Abkhazia (Apsny), Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), and Transnistria (Pridnestrove), are unrecunrecognized states that are the result of the wars of the Soviet succession, a congeries of ethnic and separatist conflicts that accompanied the dissolution of the Soviet state. Although the fighting in each of these wars ground to a halt in the mid-1990s, the basic question at the heart of each-Who should govern the particular piece of territory over which the wars were waged?-has not been resolved.
First, there is a political economy to Eurasia’s unrecunrecognized states that benefits almost all sides. Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova are extraordinarily weak states, with state revenues too low even to ensure many of the most basic state functions. Second, the process of informal state building has gone on for so long that distinct societies have begun to emerge in the rebel areas.
Since September 11, governments across the region have found a new label to apply to the unrecunrecognized regimes: “terrorists.” The Azerbaijani press has come to describe the Nagorno-Karabakh administration not as “aggressors” or “separatists,” as in the past, but as “terrorists,” who should be dealt with by force. The Azerbaijani government has also stepped up efforts to have the army of Nagorno-Karabakh placed on the US list of terrorist organizations and Armenia placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Commentators in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Russia have suggested that the US attack on Afghanistan provides a precedent for relaunching a military campaign against the unrecunrecognized entities and their supporters abroad. The flare-up of violence in Abkhazia in early October may be linked to precisely such calculations.
At the heart of this issue lie a dilemma and a tragedy. The dilemma is this: so long as these statelets remain unrecunrecognized, it is very difficult for the international community to make policy regarding them-except to continue with “negotiations” that are often postponed, cancelled, or manipulated by all the parties to ensure that they achieve little. Yet recognizing them will do violence to the principle of the territorial integrity of the existing states.
The tragedy is this: even in the best-case scenario (a peace agreement that would allow for the separatist regions to be formally reintegrated with the existing state but would also provide for considerable local autonomy), Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova will still end up as the losers.