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Research Report

Frozen Conflicts: A Tool Kit for US Policymakers

Agnia Grigas
Copyright Date: Jul. 1, 2016
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 23
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-1)

    Since the 1990s, a number of separatist movements and conflicts have challenged the borders of the states of the former Soviet Union and created quasiindependent territories under Russian influence and control. Unrecognized by the international community but generally supported by Moscow, these so-called “frozen conflicts” include the regions of Transnistria in Moldova, Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. Since 2014, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the emergence of pro-Moscow separatist territories in eastern Ukraine—the so-called “people’s republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk—created a new set of potential frozen conflicts. These seemingly disparate conflicts across different...

  2. (pp. 1-1)

    The term “frozen conflict” is used to describe conditions on territories where active armed conflict may have ended, but no peace treaty or political resolution has resolved the tensions to the satisfaction of the different sides. In the separatist territories that have become frozen conflict zones, internal sovereignty is often achieved in the breakaway territory but at the expense of “external sovereignty” or recognition in the international system.¹ The term frozen conflict is almost completely associated with the breakaway territories of post-Soviet republics. Such conflicts emerged as a result of Moscow-stoked separatism often with the ultimate aim of gaining influence...

  3. (pp. 2-7)

    Russia’s tools for manufacturing such grey zones have been strikingly similar in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. As outlined in the author’s book Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire, the trajectory starts with Russia’s softer means of influence such as an appeal to common values and shared membership in the Russian Orthodox Church, cultural, and linguistic support. It continues to humanitarian and compatriot policies, which involve aid to Russianspeaking minorities as well as support for compatriot institutions and organizations. The crucial turning point is the handing out of Russian citizenship to these inhabitants of foreign territories. Thus, Russian citizens are manufactured...

  4. (pp. 7-7)

    Frozen conflict conditions enable Russia to gain long-term control over the separatist territories and thus achieve leverage over the target states without necessarily resorting to annexation. In fact, annexation may not be Moscow’s end goal, despite its domestic popularity vis-à-vis Crimea. With annexation come costs—isolation in the international community, the threat of sanctions from the West, and a lack of legitimacy in international law. Annexation also implies costs from assuming control and responsibility for the breakaway region such as government services, rebuilding destroyed infrastructure, gas subsidies, or in the case of Crimea the need to ensure water supplies and...

  5. (pp. 8-11)

    For the past twenty-five years, the United States has elaborated an increasingly assertive response to Russian-backed threats to post-Soviet countries’ territorial integrity. In the framework of its policy of “engagement without recognition” of separatist territories, Washington has pursued “public diplomacy” and people-to-people initiatives to counter the gradual isolation of those separatist entities. The US government has also pursued sanctions to various degrees. Initially, sanctions were targeted toward the separatist regions, which created an inherent contradiction where the aggressor was ignored and the territories of the attacked country were sanctioned. Following Crimea’s annexation, these policies evolved to sanction the Russian government....

  6. (pp. 12-14)

    In the past twenty-five plus years of proliferation of frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space, the United States has pursued a mix of policy initiatives from non-recognition to people-to-people diplomacy to sanctions. Since the first conflict in Transnistria, there has been an evolution in US government responses from seeking to sanction solely the separatist leaders to introducing sanctions against Russia. Due to Moscow’s outright annexation of Crimea and its role in the conflict in the Donbas, Ukraine has been the first case where the Russian Federation has been sanctioned. In all past conflicts, Moscow received little to no direct policy...