Regional conflicts are arguably the most disturbing heritage of
the USSR. Ironically, they are gradually becoming cornerstones
for a renewed foreign policy of Russia. That can have
long-lasting consequences: from disrupting regional stability to
a massive geopolitical change in a strategically important Black
Sea/Caspian region. Regional conflicts are also penetrating the
agenda of world politics. The end of pure Westphalian principles
of the world order emancipated numerous unprecedented
challenges, strengthened by nationalism, separatism, and
non-conventional warfare. That created a challenge for political
science and conflict studies, a challenge which could be
compared and contrasted to the problems once posed by the Cold
War. These challenges require a scientific inquiry into the
nature of internal conflicts, particularly of the “frozen” ones,
as well as the impact they have upon regional security
arrangements and methods of conflict management. Recent
developments in the Caucasus are a continuation of old problems,
which are likely to remain for an undetermined period of time.
Coping with those problems is one of the most important tasks
not only for the foreign policies of states involved, but also
for the whole system of regional security.
“frozen” conflict, regional
security, integration, Black Sea Economic Cooperation, GUAM,
so-called “frozen conflicts” are among the toughest challenges
to Black Sea regional security, as well as to the national
interests of several post-Soviet states. They
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the
conflicts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, and the
Transnistrian conflict in Moldova.
conflicts vary in scope, history, and management options, but
are structurally similar. Contributing factors, such as weakness
of states, economic depression, and external support, are in
place in each of the conflicts. Moreover, they create similar
threats for national security of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and
Moldova. Artificially “frozen” or deescalated, none of the
conflicts has been fully resolved. Along with traditional
geopolitical challenges, they are also sources of transnational
Common wisdom holds that regional integration is one of the best
possible responses to this sort of problem under given
circumstances. But, despite numerous attempts to put the “frozen
conflicts’ into the framework of different integration projects,
they are still far from being resolved. Arguably, they are even
further from resolution than ever before.
poses a dilemma. Is regional integration ineffective in dealing
with the conflicts of identity or separatism? That would mean
that the liberal approach to conflict management, in a broader
sense, is losing its attraction. Or is there something special
about either the conflicts themselves or the environment they
are developing in?
Managing Problems of Identity: Theory
Modern internal conflicts result from differences in identity
within societies. This pluralism can be of any nature, but
mostly it is either ethnic or ideological.
current theories of ethnic conflict assume that managing
ethnic/ideological differences is better than eliminating them.
With 285 politically active minority groups
inhabiting just about 200 states, ethnic problems are
inevitable. Combined with ideological, religious, and internal
political differences, they provide a broad basis for various
types of internal political conflicts. Given the effects of
globalization and growing interdependence on a global scale, it
is not possible to solve the problems of identity by eliminating
ethnic, religious, ideological diversities either through
genocide and ethnic cleansing or by artificially constructing an
isolated homogeneous society. This leaves policymakers with the
only option of managing, not eliminating the differences. The
strategies may vary. Usually they target different causes for
internal conflicts, trying to ameliorate ethnic security
dilemmas, minimize levels of discrimination, and provide
effective power sharing.
that is important for internal post-Soviet conflicts. They
result from an interaction of factors, among which structural
and political factors are the most important. The combination of
a weak state and aggressive local elites produces an ethnic
security dilemma, under which state norms and regularities can
no longer limit mutual mistrust, suspicion, and violence between
ethnic groups. This combination is strengthened by economic
disruptions, political instability and rising cultural
discrimination. With some minor variations, all those factors
could be observed in the initiation stage of the “frozen
also possess another common feature. With the exception of
the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the
role of the Russian-speaking minority is huge.
It opens up an opportunity for
support of the Transnistrian, Abkhazian and South Ossetian
self-proclaimed states. The Russian involvement in those
conflicts not only raises doubts about the objectivity of
Russian mediation, but also transforms their structures,
increasing asymmetry and diminishing chances for a mediated
ameliorating the security dilemma and providing effective power
sharing mechanisms are problematic under these circumstances.
Theoretically, conflicts like those in Georgia, Moldova, and
Azerbaijan are best solved through strategic liberalization.
This approach entails a long-term transformation of a societal
structure with the view to erase any forms of discrimination and
provide equal access to power for various ethnic groups, thus
minimizing the rationale for violent uprisings. Unlike rapid
democratization, it does not provoke a quick rise in
nationalistic ideology and rhetoric, since it puts higher value
on aggression-limitation tools and discourages “win-or-lose”
approaches in dealing with other ethnic groups. Strategic
liberalization is targeted at a stage-by-stage construction of a
democratic society, in which both strengthening of a state and
power sharing are achieved through implementation of democratic
norms and institutions.
Post-Soviet internal conflicts exemplified this conflict
management model. A transition from totalitarianism to democracy
was underway, ethnic minorities were engaged into the security
dilemma, while the states were weak. Improvement of democratic
institutions, protection of the rights of minorities, and
enhancement of mutual trust were seen as landmarks for conflict
transformation and subsequent conflict settlement in Georgia,
Azerbaijan, and Moldova.
strategy failed in all cases. Backed by Russia, separatist
leaderships in Transnistria, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia opted
to continue the struggle, while the respective parent states
proved too slow in implementing effective power sharing and
building confidence among all ethnic groups. As a result, the
conflicts became “frozen” with an equilibrium established
between the state power and the leadership of the
self-proclaimed states in each case.
strategic liberalization approach failed for many reasons, among
which a lack of democratization would be the most significant.
External factors, as well as a tough economic situation, made
success even less likely.
best alternative to strategic liberalization is regional
integration. Theoretically, it helps to overcome internal
difficulties by providing a broader context for resolving all
sorts of contradictions. Common institutions compensate for
state weaknesses, helping to cope with the security dilemma. In
the long run, elements of a common identity are created and
shared. All that minimizes the destructiveness of internal
conflicts, opens up opportunities for cooperation and makes
Neofunctionalism tells us that, due to the spillover effects,
integration can convert economic interdependence between states
into political harmony.
It is a slow process with no guarantees, which requires
“political will” to be employed. When employed, it can use an
increased interdependence to maximize the economic costs of
violence and thus minimize incentives for aggression. Unlike
strategic liberalization, this approach is a regional-level one,
and assumes that regional integration can both be economically
beneficial and politically stabilizing.
Keeping abovementioned theoretical assumptions in mind, this
paper will now assess how regional integration strategy was put
into action in dealing with the problem of post-Soviet “frozen
Black Sea Economic Cooperation
Black Sea Economic Cooperation was established in 1992 (since
1998 it has been officially named the Organization of Black Sea
Economic Cooperation) to unite 12 countries with a view to
strengthen economic cooperation in the Black Sea region. This
went in line with the general tendency of regionalization and
also helped in resolving specific problems which appeared on the
regional agenda after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
it did not prevent violent conflicts in several member-states.
Regional cooperation did not make any impact on dynamics of the
conflicts, including the escalation stages. Why did it happen?
are two principal problems. First, the OBSEC concentrates almost
all of its activities on economic issues, particularly on the
problems of production cycles. Since most of the member-states
are integrated into alternative highly developed integration
structures (such as NATO and the CIS), no political or security
issues can be effectively solved within the Organization. Thus,
when faced with internal violence Moldova, Georgia and
Azerbaijan – all members of the OBSEC – could not rely on this
multilateral format for mediating and conflict settlement.
Secondly, economic cooperation within the OBSEC is not an
integration process. There are no spillover effects, no
supranational institutions, and no common norms of legislature.
The depth of cooperation rarely goes further than joint economic
Political context is also problematic. Political interests, if
any, are too diverse and often contradictory. Some OBSEC members
are NATO countries, which means Russia will certainly not allow
political issues to be resolved within the format of the
Organization. Three states – Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey - are
competing for regional leadership, relying on military, oil,
transition potential and organizational strength as primary
resources. This competition is far from providing positive
effects for stabilizing “frozen conflicts”.
makes any peacebuiling or mediating activity sporadic and
ineffective. As an organization, the OBSEC does not interfere
into any of the conflicts, and only attempts by individual
member-states rarely take place. Concepts for more fruitful
intervention are vague. The security issues are at best
secondary in the OBSEC activities and are closely connected to
the economic dimension of security. Taking this into account, we
might assume that a closer interconnection of political
stability and economic development will lead to a greater
involvement of the Organization into political issues, although
this involvement will surely remain limited. Mostly these
perspectives are in one way or another linked to energy
production and the transportation potential of the region. The
more developed, interdependent, and integrated into the European
energy market the region is, the more chances for political
stability at regional and national levels it gets. However, due
to organizational and functional peculiarities, the OBSEC is
unlikely to provide this sort of a spillover.
could do that. Unlike the OBSEC, GUAM was established as a
framework for solving the problems of regional security along
with developing economic cooperation in the Black Sea/Caspian
region. In 1997 Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova
founded the forum, with Uzbekistan joining in 1999 and leaving
in 2005. Throughout its history, GUAM has given the highest
priority to energy security issues, promoting development of the
Caspian oil/gas fields and securing diverse energy supply routes
Security issues threatening these routes demanded a greater
institutionalization than in the case of the OBSEC, thus leading
to establishment of an annual summit and the Committee of
seemed to open up additional options for conflict management.
Aiming to enhance regional security, the member-states
elaborated a more or less coherent view on how this security
should be achieved. They agreed to strengthen cooperation within
various international organizations, to reinforce the
cooperation with NATO, to provide mutual assistance in conflict
settlement and crisis management, and last but not least - to
fight against separatism, terrorism, and extremism. A framework
for managing “frozen conflicts” seemed to be set.
Following the “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine, GUAM’s
activity received an additional democratic flavour, with the
official name transformed into GUAM – Organization for Democracy
and Economic Development. Democratization was seen as an
effective tool for both settling internal conflicts and
developing into a geopolitical opposition to Russia. Both aims
were problematic, and both influenced further developments of
internal conflicts in Moldova and Georgia. Moreover, both seem
to be failures.
key problem with an effective conflict management is a lack of
interdependence and democracy. Member-states are still minor
trade partners for each other (e.g., Ukraine’s major trade
partners are the EU, Russia, and Turkey), with their economies
primarily dependent on European and Russian markets. Under these
circumstances the very concept of a region could be doubted,
since opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation are
smaller than those for development of trade with third
countries. Inter-state cooperation remains highly sensitive to
energy markets and political instability.
case of the OBSEC, GUAM can be boiled down to several joint
projects, mainly in energy. That is absolutely insufficient for
a regional free trade area, which once was an aim of the
member-states. Ukraine’s accession to the WTO makes this goal
obsolete. It looks like each of the members will join the global
was aimed at another important achievement. Its members were and
still are willing to form a regional cooperation framework to
facilitate negotiations over possible EU and NATO membership and
strengthen their negotiation positions. This provides impetus
for more active political and security cooperation, given the
fact that both the EU and NATO are strategically interested in
regional stability in the Black Sea/Caspian area. But quite
surprisingly, this sort of integration efforts has had an
opposite impact on regional conflict development.
connecting their efforts to enhance regional security to a
broader NATO/EU context, GUAM countries challenged the regional
balance of interests, first and foremost with regard to Russia.
Putting more emphasis on political issues such as democracy
resulted in a shifted perception of GUAM in Moscow. Before 2004
it was mainly seen as a competitor on the European energy
markets. Following the “Orange revolution” in Ukraine,
geopolitical and foreign policy orientations in the region have
changed. Ukraine’s declared active pro-Western strategy was
unacceptable for Russia. Part of this strategy was strengthening
GUAM and its closer cooperation with the EU and NATO. Thus, in
Moscow’s view, it quickly turned into a geopolitical contender.
was risky, given the fact that all member states had “frozen”,
delayed, or potential internal conflicts on their territories
with a strong Russian influence in all cases. Joint regulation
mechanisms in GUAM were still absent, security cooperation
remained weak. In short, the separate balance of forces in each
conflict was more decisive than common mediation procedures. As
a result, GUAM member-states remained vulnerable to Russian
attempts to use its influence in contested regions to undermine
the credibility of local political leadership.
Russian strategy in the “frozen conflicts” has gradually changed
from mediation to a direct support of separatists. Ukraine’s
initiative to resolve Transnistria conflict – the Yuschenko
plan, initiated at the GUAM summit in April 2005 – was later
blocked by the Russian-backed leadership of the self-proclaimed
Transnistrian Republic. Russia has also intervened in the
conflict in 2006, when a crisis broke out over Transnistria’s
illegal export system. Ukraine introduced more strict
documentation rules for export from the territory of
Transnistria, thus endangering income collected by the
leadership of the separatist republic. Russia responded with
significant diplomatic pressure in favor of Transnistria.
2006 an exotic “Community for Democracy and Peoples’ Rights” was
founded in Sukhumi, the capital of the separatist Georgian
territory of Abkhazia. It united Abkhazia, Southern Ossetia, and
Transnistria – the three self-proclaimed unrecognized states –
in an effort to legitimize their political activities. The joint
memorandum of the Community dated 27 November 2006, was a sharp
criticism of GUAM’s initiatives to regulate “frozen conflicts”
through the UN General Assembly. It also completely supported
the Russian strategy in all three conflicts.
Finally, Russia directly supported separatist South Ossetia and
Abkhazia in the recent war in Georgia.
The bottom line of
these developments was that joint but unsystematic efforts taken
by GUAM member-states turned out to be ineffective, due to a
lack of institutional power and resources. Efforts to create an
area of regional integration failed due to an inability to build
up economic ties not only among states, but also within the
state boundaries with a view to include the separatist regions
into an interdependent economic interaction. GUAM does have a
significant political “pillar” for its activity, but it is not
based upon economic cooperation. In any case, Russian
counter-actions make conflict settlement through this
NATO and the European Union
Concerning NATO and
the EU the question is simple: will joining both or either of
these organizations help solve the “frozen conflicts”? Since
joining the European Union looks a very distant opportunity for
any of the GUAM states, we’ll mostly speak of NATO as a system
of collective security and thus a tool for resolving internal
By far, the
sequential chain of events looks quite opposite: joining NATO,
for instance, will be possible after the conflicts are
settled. But the political leadership, especially in Georgia,
keeps relying on NATO mechanisms to find solutions for
long-lasting problems of separatism.
There are two
principal problems with NATO as a tool for internal conflict
of conflicts are structural, political, and historical. NATO
is not effective in dealing with any of these challenges.
The Alliance remains predominantly a system of inter-state
security, with very few opportunities to regulate internal
conflicts. Examples of such conflicts in NATO member-states
(such as Turkey) are enough to see this lack of
opportunities. Founded like a traditional interstate
coalition, NATO has not changed so much as to meet
challenges from an internal state level. It is even less
suited for managing transnational or civil risks. At the
same time, separatism in the “frozen conflicts” is kept
alive by weaknesses of the states, lack of legitimacy,
economic instability, and historical/cultural peculiarities.
into any of the “frozen conflicts” may, in fact, worsen the
situation by transforming “frozen” internal conflicts into
escalating and, possibly, interstate conflicts. This is
particularly the case in Georgia.
The European Union
could provide a much broader way to conflict settlement. Being a
common market and a common political space, it could help
resolve the ethnic security dilemma, build effective power
sharing mechanisms, and guarantee cultural autonomy. But there
are also obstacles, which make this scenario unrealistic in the
short- and midterm perspective:
The level of
democratisation in the states concerned is insufficient for
creating a framework for managing the conflicts. The
separatist areas are governed by local elites, isolated from
the society, who benefit from the existing status quo. Thus
either strategic liberalization or rapid democratisation
would require a long transition period.
abovementioned states are just too far from joining the EU.
Taking all that into
account, one might say that the EU and NATO mechanisms will not
be used to resolve the “frozen conflicts” in a direct manner. It
looks more like they can serve as a model of creating a
framework for conflict settlement. The very ideology and values
behind Euro-Atlantic integration could help in building more
democratic societies, which in turn will bring about more
chances for solving internal conflicts.
Managing “frozen conflicts” is problematic. Structural factors
are too strong, ethnic divisions are too complicated, and
economic interdependence is too low. Combined with a set of
Russian interests in the region, the conflicts pose a serious
challenge for regional security.
Attempts to solve the problem through strategic liberalization
have, by and large, failed. Democratization is too slow, and
civil society remains underdeveloped. This prevents effective
power sharing, creates discrimination, and enables aggressive
rhetoric of local elites.
Turning to some forms of regional integration seems reasonable.
Regional integration helps establish mutual benefits, provides
economic gains, and facilitates the activities of international
organizations and regimes. In the long run it creates common
political regulation procedures and norms, and establishes
elements of a common identity.
did not work in the cases of “frozen conflicts”. But this
failure is more due to specific features of the conflicts, than
to the approach itself. For various reasons regional integration
projects failed. There is some economic cooperation, but this
cannot substitute for integration processes when it comes to
dealing with internal conflicts. Levels of economic
interdependence among the countries of the region remain
comparatively low, while no spillover effects take place.
Regional integration could be effective, but it should be
meaningful. Implementation of democratic procedures, legislating
for protecting minority rights, encouraging of “win-win”
approaches in conflict management – all that could be
strengthened by integration. However, institutional and
normative basis is to be created in the societies first. Until
that is accomplished, integration would rather help to preserve
problems and difficulties.
Integrative processes, effective for conflict management, should
be economically based and follow the logic of a gradual increase
of interdependence. In this regard, the example of the European
Union could play an important role. Integration will be a
success if it creates benefits for ethnic minorities and lessens
the ethnic security dilemma. But it will become a failure if it
substitutes interdependence and practical cooperation with
slogans and political rhetoric.