Аt the very beginning of April 2016 the armed conflict between the Armenian and the Azerbaijani militaries was shortly renewed over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh – an autonomous province within Azerbaijan but in fact under direct military control by Armenia.
This event once again opened the question of the legitimacy of similar self-proclaimed independence cases around the world and international (non)recognition of such de facto quasi- and client-states (Transnistria, North Cyprus, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, West Sahara, South Sudan, East Timor…). However, from the European perspective, three cases from the Caucasus (Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia) have to be firstly analysed in comparison with the Balkan case of Kosovo.
A Domino effect
After February 2008 when Kosovo Albanian-dominated parliament proclaimed Kosovo independence (without organizing a referenda) with obvious U.S. diplomatic support (unilateral recognition) with explanation that Kosovo case is unique in the World (i.e., it will be not repeated again) one can ask the question: is the problem of southern Serbian province of Kosovo really unique and surely unrepeatable in some other parts of the world as U.S. administration was trying to convince the rest of the international community?
Consequences of recognition of Kosovo independence by one (smaller) part of the international community are already (and going to be in the future) visible primarily in the Caucasus because of the very similar problems and situation in these two regions. At the Caucasus (where around 50 different ethnolinguistic groups are living together) self-proclaimed independence already was done by Abkhazia and South Ossetia during their wars of 1991−1993 against the central authorities of Georgia but up to the mid-2008 both of these two separatist regions from Georgia were not internationally recognized by any state in the world. The region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which proclaimed its own independence in 1991 from Azerbaijan with a full military and political support by Armenia, was also not recognized before Kosovo independence. We have to remember that separatist movements in the Caucasus in the 1990s occurred at the time when Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina proclaimed their own independence from Yugoslavia and have been soon recognized as the independent states and even became accepted members of the Council of Europe and the United Nations.
However, only several months after self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo on February 17th, 2008 a wave of recognition of three Caucasus separatist states started as a classic example of a domino effect policy in the international relations. It has to be noticed that the experts from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed even in 2007 their real fear that in the case of U.S. and E.U. unilateral recognition of Kosovo independence the same unilateral diplomatic act could be implied by Russia (and other countries) by recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a matter of diplomatic compensation and as result of domino effect in the international relations. It is also known and from official O.S.C.E. sources that the Russian delegates in this pan-European security organization have been constantly warning before 2008 the West that such scenario is quite possible, but with one peculiarity: from 2007 they stopped to mention a possibility of Russian recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s self-proclaimed independence in 1991. It was most probably for the reason that Moscow did not want to spoil good relations with Azerbaijan – a country with huge reserves of natural gas and oil.
Kosovo is the Balkan region which became during the last 150 years contested land between the Serb and Albanian nationalisms. The region (for the Serbs Kosovo and Metochia, for the Albanians Kosova or Kosovë), however, has different historical and national-cultural importance for these two nations. For the Serbs, Kosovo is the “cradle of Serbia” – a central and pivotal land in regard to their statehood and national identity as before the Ottoman occupation of Serbia in the mid-15th century it was exactly Kosovo to be administrative, political, cultural, religious and economic centre of the medieval Serbia. However, differently to the Serb case, for the Albanians this region was all the time of the marginal importance concerning their national identity and particularly statehood. That became the crucial reason why the Great European Powers did not include Kosovo into the newly (and for the first time in history) self-proclaimed the independent state of Albania (on November 28th, 1912) but recognized Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia after the Balkan Wars 1912−1913.
Kosovo was the birthplace of Serbia as the powerful state but also and the place were Serbia lost its real independence to the Ottoman Turks after the Battle of Kosovo on June 28th, 1389. Contrary, the region means simply nothing for the Albanian statehood, but it became a birthplace of the Albanian territorial nationalism as it was the town of Prizren in Kosovo where in June 1878 the (First Albanian) Prizren League declared a Greater (Islamic) Albania as an autonomous province within the Ottoman Empire composed by Albania itself, Kosovo, the West Macedonia, the East Montenegro and the North-West Greece. This megalomania project, nevertheless, left up today to be for all kinds of the Albanian chauvinistic nationalists as the cornerstone of their political ideology of a Greater and ethnically pure (Islamic) Albania. This process of purification of Kosovo on both ethnic and confessional bases started by the Muslim Albanians immediately after the Prizren League session in 1878 and was continued during the WWII within the borders of Mussolini’s created Greater Albania when up to 20.000 Cristian Serbs were killed in the region followed by at least 100.000 expelled Serbs.
The Albanian terror against the Serbs was legalized by the Yugoslav authorities at the time of Kosovo’s very broad autonomy (in fact independence) from 1974 to 1989 but it received a form of genocide on Serbs and all other non-Albanians from the time of the N.A.T.O.’s occupation of Kosovo in June 1999 up today (the British, U.S., German, Italian and French military forces occupied a different sectors of Kosovo). As a consequence, the ethnic Albanians today compose 97% of Kosovo’s population compared with only 2% in 1455 (according to the first Ottoman census). On the other hand, Kosovo’s Albanians were politically oppressed by the Serb-led regimes during the interwar time (1919−1941), first two decades after the WWII and during the government of Slobodan Milosevic in the years of 1989−1998. However, for the matter of comparison, the Serb oppression had as a single aim just to prevent territorial separation of Kosovo from the rest of Serbia while the Albanian terror was inspired by much serious national goal: to ethnically clean Kosovo as a part of a Greater Albania.
On the first glance it can be said that the Orthodox South Ossetians are equally separatist as the Muslim Kosovo Albanians. However, the South Ossetians are having sympathies towards the Serbs (not because both of them are the Orthodox) but not towards, as we could expect, separatist Kosovo Albanians. The real reason of such sympathies are similar legal state rights applied by both the Serbs in Kosovo and the South Ossetians – the only European nation in the Caucasus.
Historically, South Ossetia (like Abkhazia) was never integral part of sovereign Georgian state, differently with Kosovo in its historical relations with Serbia as Kosovo was not only integral, but culturally and politically the most important and even administratively central region of the medieval Serbian state till 1455 when Kosovo became occupied by the Ottomans and a such away separated from the rest of Serbia. Shortly, Kosovo before the Ottoman occupation was historical, political, administrative, cultural and church centre of Serbia populated before 1700 exclusively by the Serbs (the Albanians came to Kosovo from Albania after 1700).
However, in comparison with Kosovo-Serbia relation case, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were never of any kind of centres of any kind of Georgian state as all the time they have been provincial (occupied) regions of Georgia even populated by different ethnolinguistic groups. Moreover, Georgia itself was never before entered Russia at the very beginning of the 19th century strongly and definitely united state territory, also differently to Serbia which up to its lost independence in 1459 was profoundly united with Kosovo as its national and state centre. Also, differently with Georgia, Serbia by herself and Russian military and diplomatic support regained her state de facto independence during the Serbian Revolution of 1804−1815 against the Ottoman Empire while Georgia was waiting to regain its own state independence for the time of self-destruction of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. It has to be noticed that the present day territory of Georgia entered Russia in parts – segment by segment. Ossetia as united territory (not divided into Northern and Southern as today situation is) became voluntarily part of the Russian Empire in 1774. The Russian Empress Catherin the Great (1762−1796), in order to be surely convinced that the Ossetians are really independent, before incorporation of this province into the Russian Empire sent a special commission which informed St. Petersburg that “the Ossetians are free people subordinated to no one” (what means not under any kind of the Georgian rule or subordination!).
Georgia itself became part of Russian Empire in 1804 (27 years later then Ossetia) being before that from 1783 a protectorate of the Russian Empire. This fact is the most important argument used by the South Ossetians in their dispute with the Georgian authorities. Differently to the Ossetians, Kosovo Albanians such argument do not have in relation to the Serbs. In is known that the Albanians started to settle themselves at the region of Kosovo from the present-day Northern Albania only after the First Serbian Great Migration from the region in 1689. It should be said as well that, according to several Byzantine and Arab sources, the Balkan Albanians are originating from the Caucasus Albania. In the other words, the Caucasus Albanians left in the 9th century their homeland (Dagestan and Azerbaijan) and have been settled by the Arabs in the West Sicily and the South Italy which they left in 1043 and came to the Balkans (to the present-day Central Albania). It means that the Albanians are not authentic Balkan people differently to the Serbs who are most probably one of the oldest Balkan nations (the aboriginal Balkan Illyrians).
Georgia declared its independence during the Russian Civil War in 1918, but became occupied by the Bolshevik Red Army in 1921. Georgia joined the U.S.S.R. next year as a part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Republic together with Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, Georgia became a separate Soviet Republic in 1936 like Armenia and Azerbaijan. The southern part of Ossetia (together with Abkhazia) was given to be administered by Georgia by decision of three Georgian Communists – Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (Jughashvili), Sergei Ordzonikidze and Avelj Enukindze. Nevertheless, between two parts of Ossetia (North and South) never was a state border before 1994.
The people of South Ossetia on the referendum upon destiny of the U.S.S.R. on March 17th, 1991 voted for existence of Soviet Union (like the Serbs upon Yugoslavia, but and Kosovo Albanians on illegal referendum to become independent from Serbia like Georgians from the U.S.S.R.) that was a month before Georgia became independent from the USSR. The referendum on March 17th, 1991 was organized two months after the Georgian army started the war against South Ossetia in which till September of the same year 86 Ossetian villages have been burned. It is calculated that more than 1.000 Ossetians lost their lives and around 12.000 Ossetians emigrated from the South to the North Ossetia. This is the point of similarity with expelled around 250.000 Serbs from Kosovo by the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army after the NATO peace-keeping troops entered this province in June 1999 and legalized Muslim Albanian terror over the Christian Serbs and other non-Albanians.
An Independence of the Republic of South Ossetia was proclaimed on May 29th, 1992. However, this legal act has not been understood as a “separatist” because at that time Georgia was not recognized by no one state in the world as an independent one and Georgia was not a member of the United Nations. Oppositely to the South Ossetian case, Kosovo Albanian unilateral independence proclamation on February 18th, 2008 cannot be treated by the international community as a legal one (at least without a direct permission by Belgrade) as Kosovo by the international law and agreements is still an integral part of Serbia. Moreover, Serbia (differently from Georgia in May 1992) is internationally recognized independent state and a member of the United Nations. This is and common point of similarity between the Ossetians and the Serbs: both of them are fighting against separation of one part of national body and land from the motherland (Ossetia and Serbia).
Abkhazia is a Caucasian province that was a part of the ex-USSR in the form of an Autonomous Soviet Republic within the Soviet Republic of Georgia. However, in comparison with Kosovo status as an Autonomous Province within Serbia from 1974 to 1989, Abkhazia did not reach even half of the rights and power as Kosovo had: President, Assembly, police forces, Academy of Science and Arts, Constitution (in direct opposition to the Constitution of Serbia) and even Territorial Defence forces (in fact the provincial army). Nevertheless, in April 1991 Abkhazia became a part of the self-proclaimed independent state of the Republic of Georgia, against the will of both the Abkhazian population of the Islamic denomination (at that time 18% out of all Abkhazian inhabitants) and Abkhazian Russian-speakers (14%). Subsequently, at least one third of Abkhazian population opposed its integration into the independent Georgia in 1991.
The conflict with Georgian central authorities started when the troops of the Muslim volunteers from neighbouring territories, but mainly from Chechnya, helped the local Abkhazian Muslims in their struggle against Tbilisi security forces. Georgia at that time was already involved into the civil war against the Ossetian separatists and for that reason seriously weakened. As a result of the conflict with the Abkhazian separatists, Tbilisi, which lost all control over Abkhazia, was finally forced to accept to be militarily defeated and therefore compelled to start political negotiations on extensive autonomy status of Abkhazia within sovereign Georgia. Ultimately, the negotiations between the Abkhazian government and Georgia became futile, and a very fragile peace was achieved under the civil supervision of the UN observers and the Russian military troops as a guarantor of the peace-treaty implementation.
Georgia was obviously week to recover political control over the separatist republic of Abkhazia in the 1990s. The President Eduard Shevardnadze was ultimately only able to restore some order within Georgia which was at that time under de facto Russian protection and therefore with implicit political-military assistance by Russia. As a consequence, Shevardnadze signed an agreement with Russia on allowance of 20.000 Russian military troops to be present in two Georgian separatist republics alongside with the Russian right to use Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti.
The economic background of such pro-Russian policy by Shevardnadze is understood from the fact that at that time Georgia was in desperate need of direct Russian economic assistance that is quite visible from the very fact that in 1994 Georgia’s GDP declined to only 25% of its pre-independence level. As a direct Russian economic and financial help, Georgia’s economy became soon stabilized with controlled inflation and state spending reigned in.
Nevertheless, it was clear that Georgia can maintain at least a formal authority over both South Ossetia and Abkhazia only being within the Russian sphere of influence in the region of Transcaucasia. Any change of the side would bring and de facto separation of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Tbilisi what in fact happened in reality in 2008 due to (irrational) pro-American policy by Mikhail Saakashvili – a leader of 2003 Georgian coloured revolution (the Rose Revolution) which finally removed Shevardnadze from power but six years later and Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia.
International system of governing and separatist movements
The main argument for the western politicians upon Kosovo independence in 2008, as an “unique case” of Kosovo situation, is the fact that according to “Kumanovo Agreement” between Serbia and the N.A.T.O. signed on June 10th, 1999, and the U.N. Resolution 1244 (following this agreement), Kosovo was put under the U.N. protectorate with imposed international system of governing and security. However, such “argument” does not work in the case of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as the Ossetians and Abkhazians are governing their lands by themselves and much more successfully in comparison with “internationally” (i.e. the N.A.T.O.) protected Kosovo. It was quite visible in March 2004 when international organizations and military troops could not (i.e. did not want to) protect ethnic Serbs in Kosovo from violent attacks organized by the local Albanians when during three days (March 17−19th) 4,000 Serbs exiled, more than 800 Serbian houses are set on fire followed by 35 destroyed or severely damaged Serbian Orthodox churches and cultural monuments.
The “2004 March Pogrom” revealed the real situation in the region of Kosovo – a region which had to be under the effective protection by the international community. The position of the South Ossetians in the independent Georgia from 1991 to August 2008 could be compared with position of the Serbs in Kosovo after June 1999. Differently with Kosovo case after June 1999, or even after February 2008, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria showed much more political-legal bases to be recognized as the independent states as they showed real ability to govern themselves by only themselves but not by the international organizations as it is in the case of Kosovo. They also proved much more democracy and respect for human and minority rights in comparison with the Albanian-ruled Kosovo Republic which is in fact transformed into the Islamic State of Kosovo (Kosovo I.S.I.L.).
The region of Nagorno-Karabakh is the most contested conflict-area in Trancaucasia during the last three decades. It became a part of Azerbaijan with an autonomous status in 1936 within the Soviet Union but not a part of Armenian Socialist Republic established as such also in 1936 as one of 15 socialist republics of the U.S.S.R. During the whole time of the existence of the Soviet Union there were tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia over enclave (province) of Nagorno-Karabakh which was at the Soviet time populated by Islamic Azeri majority and the Christian Orthodox Armenian minority. However, the enclave was historically with majority of the Armenian population but due to the Islamic terror the Christian Armenians became a minority on their own land what happen as the same with the Christian Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo in relations to the Muslim Albanians. For the Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh enclave was unjustifiably separated from Armenia by the Soviet authorities and included into Azerbaijan in order to keep good political relations with neighbouring Turkey. The Serbs, similarly to the Armenians in regard to Nagorno-Karabakh, were complaining about the same practice with regard to Kosovo status from 1974 to 1989 when the “cradle of Serbia” was practically teared off from the rest of the motherland and granted actual independence from Serbia having much stronger relations with the neighbouring Albania than with Serbia.
The frictions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh ultimately led to the open bloody war mostly within the enclave which started in 1989 when the central Soviet authorities already have been in the process of collapsing. The war led in 1993 to the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and some strategic territory of Azerbaijan. Consequently, Armenia became cut off from Azerbaijani oil supplies and as naturally being devoid of mineral resources or fertile soil Armenian economy collapsed in the mid-1990s. For instance, Armenian GDP had fallen to 33% of its 1990 level followed by the inflation of 4000%. Naturally, as politically supported by Moscow, the Armenian economy became mostly oriented toward Russia: for instance, 60% of Armenia’s export went to the Russian market. Up today, Armenia was not directly attacked by Turkey exactly for the reason that it is politically but also and militarily protected by Russia whose armed forces are located on the territory of Armenia nearby Turkey’s border.
There are several similarities but also and great dissimilarities between conflicts upon Nagorno-Karabakh in Transcaucasia and Kosovo at the Balkans.
In both cases the international community is dealing with autonomy of compact national minority who is making a majority on the land in question and already having its own national independent state which is bordering this contested territory. Both Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians and Kosovo Albanians do not want to accept any other solution except separation and internationally recognized independence. Both conflicts are in fact continuations of old historic struggles between two different civilizations: the Muslim Turkish and the Christian Byzantine. In both conflicts the international organizations are included as the mediators. Some of them are the same – France, U.S.A. and Russia as members of both Contact Groups for ex-Yugoslavia and Minsk Group under the O.S.C.E. umbrella for Azerbaijan. Both Serbia and Azerbaijan have been against that their problem-cases (Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh) would be proclaimed by some kind of the “international community” (the U.N., the E.U., the O.S.C.E., etc.) as the “unique” cases as it would be (as the Kosovo Albanians already proved on February 18th, 2008) a green light to the Albanian and the Armenian separatists to secede their territories from Serbia and Azerbaijan without permission given by Belgrade and Baku.
However, there are and significant differences between Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh cases. Kosovo is internal conflict within Serbia (which is after June 1999 internationalized) but in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh we have to speak about external military aggression (by Armenia). In difference to Armenia in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh, Albania formally never accepted any legal act in which Kosovo was called as integral part of state territory of Albania (with historical exception during the Second World War when Kosovo, the East Montenegro and the West Macedonia have been included into Mussolini’s sponsored and protected “Greater Albania”). Delegation from Albania did not take any participation in the talks and negotiations upon the “final” status of Kosovo between Pristina and Belgrade in 2007, while Armenia has official status of “interested side” in the conflict concerning Nagorno-Karabakh. However, the Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh such status still did not obtain. Official regular army of Albania never was involved in Kosovo conflict (differently from great number of volunteers from Albania), while Armenia’s army (i.e. from the state of Armenia) was directly involved in the military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh from the very beginning of the conflict, but officially part of the independent state of Azerbaijan. As a result, Armenia occupied 1/5 of Azerbaijani territory and the victims of ethnic cleansing are primarily the Azeri as more than one million of them are being displaced as a result of the hostilities.
Differently to the case of Nagorno-Karabakh’s conflict, in which the main victims became a former majority population (the Muslim Azeri), in Kosovo case the principal victims of the war are the Christian Serbs as a minority population of the province. Nevertheless, differently from Kosovo case, weaker Azerbaijani side did not apply to the N.A.T.O. for the military help, but a weaker Albanian side did it during the Kosovo conflict in 1998−1999 and only due to the N.A.T.O.’s military intervention on the Albanian side and direct military occupation of Kosovo after the war it was possible for the Albanians to commit almost a full scale of the ethnic cleansing of the province during the first five years after the war (up to the end of March 2004).
It can be concluded that the Albanian unilaterally proclaimed Kosovo independence in February 2008 is not at all “unique” case in the world without direct consequences to similar separatist cases following the “domino effect” (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, South Sudan…). That is the real reason why, for instance, the government of Cyprus is not supporting “Kosovo Albanian rights to self-determination” as the next “unique” case can be easily northern (Turkish) part of Cyprus which is by the way already recognized by the Republic of Turkey and under de facto Ankara’s protection. Or even the better example: the Spanish government does not want to recognize Kosovo independence for the very “Catalan” reason as a domino effect of separatism can be easily spilled over to the Iberian Peninsula.
There are around 200 territorial-national separatist movements around the world for whom the case of Kosovo “precedent” is going to serve as the best moral and legal foundation for their own independence. Subsequently, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized by now by three non-U.N.’s member states according to Kosovo’s pattern: Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Furthermore, in 2012 (four years after Kosovo’s independence proclamation), a member of Uruguay’s foreign relations committee stated that his country could recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence and the Parliament of New South Wales (Australia) called upon the Australian government to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh. Two other Transcaucasian separatist republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia became like Nagorno-Karabakh recognized after Kosovo’s independence proclamation in 2008 by several states and quasi-states: Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Abkhazia and South Ossetia (each other).
In sum, Kosovo’s independence proclamation in February 2008 became in fact not “precedent” as the U.S.’s and the E.U.’s administration declared: it became rather a boomerang example of “domino effect” in the international relations. The case of Crimea in 2014 was in this respect quite clear: the Crimean popular self-determination rights to separate peninsula from Ukraine and to become part of Russia were at least formally founded on the same rights used by Kosovo’s Albanians (as majority in the province) to proclaim the state independence from Serbia.
 On quasi-states, see [Pål Kolstø, “The Sustainability and Future of Unrecognized Quasi-States”, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 43, no. 6, 2006, 723−740].
 On the Caucasian geopolitics, see [Chorbajian Levon, Patrick Donabedian, Claude Mutafian, The Caucasian Knot, Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Zed., 1994; Jorge Heine, “The Conflict in the Caucasus: Causing a New Cold War?”, India Quarterly: A Journal of International Affairs, vol. 65, no. 1, 2009, 55−66].
 On the issue of connection between geopolitics and energy, see [Klare Michael, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008].
 However, in the western academic literature on Kosovo as disputed land between the Serbs and the Albanians, usually the region is wrongly presented as central for both nationalities concerning their cultural identity [Jan Palmowski, Dictionary of Contemporary World History from 1900 to the Present Day, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 354].
 Радован Самарџић и други, Косово и Метохија у српској историји, Београд: СКЗ, 1989, 5−46.
 On this issue, see [Dragan Kojadinović (ed.), The March Pogrom in Kosovo and Metohija (March 17-19, 2004) with a survey of destroyed and endangered Christian cultural heritage, Belgrade: Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia, 2004; Мирко Чупић, Отета земља. Косово и Метохија (злочини, прогони, отпори), Београд: Нолит, 2006; Hannes Hofbauer, Experiment Kosovo. Die Rückker des Kolonialismus, Wien, 2008].
 On the issue of Kosovo War in 1998−1999 and the Albanian terror after the war, see [Judah Tim, Kosovo: War and Revenge, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000].
 On the Armenian approach to the conflict, see [Armenian Center for National and International Studies, Nagorno Karabagh: A White Paper, Yerevan: ACNIS, 2008].
 On the conflict on Nagorno-Karabakh, see [Moorad Mooradian, Daniel Druckman, “Hurting Stalemate or Mediation? The Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, 1990−95”, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 36, no. 6, 1999, 709−727].
Revisiting the Ukraine- Russia- EU triangular dynamics
With the narrative that floats around, one is tempted to think that the Ukraine crisis is all about Crimea; that it started and ended there. So what about the internal oblasts like Odessa, Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Donetsk (the South- Eastern regions) where a protracted conflict broke out? Are they not part of the resolution to the Ukraine crisis? But before any party decides on how to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, it is crucial to understand what needs to be resolved.
What needs to be Resolved?
First, the negotiating status. Formal peace talks began with the Minsk-I ceasefire in September 2014 but Kyiv refused to engage with rebels as negotiation partners, even while Kyiv’s negotiators had no official status, proceeding to brand rebels as ‘terrorists’ (Matveeva, 2018, p. 260). For as long as the insurgents are not considered cohorts in negotiating a peace deal and power sharing arrangements, the Ukraine crisis will not resolve. Second, the political fate of the insurgent territory. At the crisis’s outset, Donbas seemed to concord with Russia about the federalization idea (Davies, 2016, p. 737), but as the conflict progressed, rebels’ aspirations were geared either towards complete independence or irredentism with Russia – the former, Ukraine would never give, and the latter, Russia did not want. The ‘Special Status’ option running into a political impasse coupled with Ukrainian civil activist efforts against Minsk agreements meant that the crisis was not ripe for peace from Kyiv’s side. On the split side, the Donbas rebels’ dissatisfaction with Moscow and Kyiv for neglecting rebel wishes also meant that the crisis was not ready to be resolved from their side either. All parties were dissatisfied with the outcomes. It is not wrong therefore to say that Ukrainian nationalism and monist identity approach was only becoming stronger with rebels’ resistance to Kyiv’s biddings. Thus, for as long as the rebels are not awarded some sort of autonomy or freedom to live their “Russianness,” the crisis will not be resolved. At the same time, for as long as the rebels are firm on irredentist motives instead of attributing some form of loyalty to Kyiv, the SE-Ukraine crisis will prolong and cannot be resolved. It goes without saying that the resolution needs to be political, not military. As with any conflict, ceasefires are only temporary arrangements for until a greater political plan is formed. As the many (failed) ceasefire attempts indicate, Ukraine needs to seriously determine a political solution for the conflict to truly stop.
Ukraine Crisis and European Security
No matter how the Ukraine crisis is resolved, some things from the crisis serve as important notes for European security. First, the Donbas conflict is a strong reminder that for regional stability and order, it is necessary to devote attention to grassroots rebellions instead of single-mindedly fantasizing over the “all-Putin” narrative. Crimea was the tip of the iceberg; it is possible that such dormant grassroots rebellions could foment and induce a regional domino effect throwing the fragile balance off the continent. Second, it is unreasonable to take insurgent groups’ military organization and political aspirations for granted. Within Ukraine, rebels have showed the skill and experience needed to spontaneously mobilize and acquire modern warfare methods, which means, that such revolutions can very much happen despite state defense methods. Was (is) Ukraine prepared for this? Are Kyiv’s European friends prepared for this? Furthermore, when grievances are addressed in the form of violent conflict, a pro-war culture unites people with similar ideologies. How can Europe stop European fighters from fighting in Donbas? The moment that a cultural war becomes war-culture is indeed tricky – so Europe needs to take into account the strength of identities, symbols, and beliefs, and how that can affect the fragile security in the region, instead of brewing the ‘Russia-orchestrates-all’ beverage. Lastly, with whatever political resolution that Ukraine comes up with, European security and stability is only possible with Russia’s cooperation. Antagonizing Russia will not help integrate pro-Russian factions within pro-West states like Ukraine. This would mean not only cooperating with Russia for further regional stability, but also not isolating it. Russia’s past attempts of halting the Novorossiya project in Donbas, postponing elections in rebel territories, enthusiasm for peace prospects including suggesting UN peacekeeping troops cannot be simply rewarded with more economic sanctions. That defeats good faith from Russia. This causes Russia to turn away from cooperation with the EU, and with it, induce its pro-Russian supporters (scattered all over the FSU) to imitate the same.
Ukraine Crisis and Russian Security
If a political-military resolution is found to end the Ukraine crisis, it has some implications on Russian security too. First, Russia needs to be prepared for calls to the ‘Russian World.’ A population who was driven to go to war because they had faith Russia would repeat Crimea means that such dormant attitudes maybe present within other FSU populations. Matveeva (2018, 286) states that “Russia does not have a universalist approach to regional conflicts,” and Donbas is a clear example of that. Whatever the resolution is agreed upon for Ukraine, a big question that looms over Russian security is about how it would take care of regional military confrontations. Russia uses a bilateral and multilateral approach in order to bind states into a regional order, but the aspect about a military confrontation remains unanswered (Slobodchikoff 2014). Whether we look at CIS or some other multilateral organization, there needs to be some forum which either addresses collective security operations (actual military confrontations) or allows Russia to intervene as necessary. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has been a good tool for Russia in integrating Eurasia against external threats (Hansen 2013), but has Russia seriously considered civil and transnational (internal) conflicts which can turn into full-blown civil wars if allowed? Even if Russia finds it pointless to entertain civil skirmishes like the one in Donbas, how can it ignore the fundamental drive – Novorossiya– which served as the rebels’ motivational catalyst? All this indicates that Russian security is invariably a matter of regional stability, very much taking into account Ukraine. So, it is only in Russian security interests to mollify such uprisings using support from mainland governments and/or a multilateral security architecture, thereby standardizing its approach to such regional hostilities. Unless, of course, it is Russia’s wish to stay mysterious with its security approach. If that be so, such an approach does not bode well for regional security. Secondly, for any sort of crisis resolution to sustain, Russia will have to understand Kyiv’s perspective. Although it has to rush to aid its Russian World when she summons her, Moscow cannot overplay this cultural dimension so much as to explicitly challenge the West and thereby feed into the Western normative discourse. Ukraine will be more than unwilling to make any more concessions past Crimea, so Donbas’s resolution (when it happens), would require sacrifices on both fronts and acknowledgment of bitter history.
Of course rebels in Donbas or Kyiv, the governments in Moscow and Kyiv, as also the wider continents of Europe and America would appreciate a true peace, but ‘peace’ cannot be viewed as an absolute dichotomy: either my way or the highway. A ceasefire may bring about a transient military resolution, but without a political one unanimously agreed by involved parties, it is unlikely that the Ukrainian crisis will end in spirit.
In order to avoid such future conflicts, both Russia and Europe must understand how overlooked conflicts such as those in Donbas have security implications for both of them. For Russia, it means acknowledging the dormant (but very potent) society within the Russian World, as also Russia’s obligation as leader of that world – and while doing all of this, maintaining a delicate balance between itself and the West. For Europe it means acknowledging indigenous uprisings, giving due value to cultural enthusiasm uncontaminated by political conspiracies that feed in the all-Putin perspective, and faithfully cooperating with Moscow to attain regional stability.
So as we see, there is much theoretical resolution to the Ukraine crisis and how that will affect Russian and European securities, but practically, one has to wait to see. As Matveeva (2018,298) writes, “we can only hope humanity survived in those who went through it,” to which it would do well to add: I hope some foresight and rationality is present in those who are to resolve it.
How to Make Peace in Ukraine Five Years After Minsk II
Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Hubertus Hoffmann
Five years ago, in February 2015, the first steps towards a vision for peace in Ukraine were taken with the Minsk II agreement. Five years is a long time not only in human life, but also in European history: World War I only lasted four years, and World War II was only two years longer. Five years after Minsk, the crisis in and around Ukraine is yet to be resolved, and the country remains a bleeding wound of Europe with a profound negative impact on the overall relationship between the Russian Federation and the West. The tragic deaths of more than 12,000 people and more than 23,000 injured remind us of the human suffering in this conflict on all sides.
Many hoped that the Normandy summit in December 2019 would become a historic breakthrough, but the outcome of the meeting was quite modest. At best, the four leaders made a cautious step towards freezing the conflict rather than solving it. Protracted and painful discussions in Paris once again demonstrated that there is significant mutual resistance on both sides regarding a genuine settlement. Too many politicians in both Kiev and Moscow still believe that time is on their side, or, at least, that the risks associated with maintaining the current status quo in Donbass are lower than risks resulting from a status quo change.
In order to reach a breakthrough, we need to demonstrate enhanced creativity and out of the box thinking a la Albert Einstein, who observed, “Imagination is more important than knowledge…we can’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” One of the ways to ignite creativity is to look beyond the current crisis seeking mindset and adopt the positive crisis resolution experience accumulated in Europe.
Why South Tyrol?
European history knows many examples of how complex territorial, ethnic, confessional and other conflicts can last for many years and even decades without any clear prospects for a “final” solution. Take, for instance, the Armenian-Azeri dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh or the Serbia-Kosovo unfinished divorce. On the other hand, there are also success stories that we should not forget. One of the latter is the Alto Adige (South Tyrol) settlement of the dispute between Italy and Austria. This case, in our view, has certain similarities with the situation in East Ukraine.
South Tyrol was a bone of contention between the newborn Italian Republic and the Republic of Austria for decades. The conflict has never reached the scale of what we are witnessing today in East Ukraine, but it also generated violence, ethnic hatred and victimization. Moreover, it poisoned Austrian relations for a long time. After World War II, from the beginning of negotiations in 1947 until 1971, a series of agreements recognized equal rights for all citizens, despite their language, as well as a balanced decentralization of administrative, legislative, executive and economic competences to be exercised autonomously over the regional territory.
Historical and cultural bonds within the Austrian-Germanic world, Italy’s Trentino- Alto-Adige (South Tyrol) sought a highly autonomous status within the Italian Republic constitution. The process of deriving this status shows the value of reaching an agreement based on a high level of regional autonomy in political, economic, and cultural issues. This status received an appropriate codification within the Italian constitution. This approach eased the institutional balance between the centre and periphery, defusing, in the medium to long term, potentially disruptive political unrest.
South Tyrol successfully consolidated its autonomy over the last decades, fostering ties between the central state authority and the peripheral regional authority. Now, the German-speakers there live peacefully within Italy as citizens of the European Union.
This integration-through-decentralization process into the Italian national identity shows how a widely shared process and agreement recognizing a high level of institutional autonomy would lead, in the medium-to-long term perspective, to constructive and balanced power-sharing, stability and economic development. This achievement is particularly spectacular, given the long history of Austrian-Italian conflicts and even wars.
What Would It Mean for Donbass?
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had every reason to refer to the “South Tyrol model” at his meeting with President Vladimir Putin on March 5, 2015. The Russian leader welcomed it as a “valuable suggestion to resolve the situation”. After three hours of discussion in Moscow regarding the EU-Russia crisis involving Ukraine, Putin and Renzi gave a joint press-conference to review their discussion and proposals.
The Italian Prime Minister said, “I think it’s worth highlighting the crucial step forward made,” regarding the signature of the Minsk Agreement. “We will work to implement the statements of this Agreement. Europe and Italy can become a reference point.” Italy in particular, according to the Prime Minister, might “provide all possible support for a solution concerning the urgent request of a new status and a wider autonomy to be granted to the Eastern Ukrainian Regions held by the separatists. We had a wonderful experience in Trentino-Alto Adige (South Tyrol). This is an excellent example of how you can successfully solve the problems of decentralization.”
“We agree that both the parties have to respect the Minsk II Agreement, paving the way to a peaceful solution,” stressed Russian President Putin. He added the need for a broader political dialogue involving the rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk as well. “We expect Italy, in its national capabilities and as a major European Union member, will play a key role in this process,” he argued. Putin told the media, “The Prime Minister made several valuable suggestions about what could be done to resolve the situation in the future. The situation there remains difficult, and we have to stop the fighting, killing and destroying cities.” The conflicting parties should strictly comply with the agreements reached in Minsk. “I count on more active help of the EU.”
If referred to within the context of the situation in Eastern Ukraine, many ingredients constituting the Austrian-Italian deal could help to settle the Donbass conflict, all the differences between the two cases notwithstanding.
The same rights extended to the local German population in Alto Adige (60 per cent in 1971) should be given to the predominantly Russian speaking (and Russia-oriented) locals in the Donbass. Rights similar to those preserved by Rome as the central government in Italy should be assigned to Kiev. Both languages should be granted official status, and no discrimination of any minority and cultures should be practised in Donbass.
Of course, this arrangement implies that the territory will be Ukrainian, including border-control. The Donbass should be de-militarized. That also applies to the Russian-Ukrainian border like it was the case with the Austrian-Italian border. The status of autonomy calls for guarantees embedded in the Ukrainian constitution, rather than merely a law, which could be changed at any time.
The South Tyrol experience also suggests that it would be impossible to solve and formulate all principal or small regulations for autonomy under Ukrainian law, as it adds up to several thousand details. Therefore, a smart framework agreement is needed and would lay the groundwork for ensuring the rights of ethnic Russians in the Donbass on the same level as those of ethnic Germans in South Tyrol. Such an agreement would also guarantee rights to Kiev similar to those of Rome. Leveraging this framework agreement as the model for Eastern Ukraine seems to be the only reliable way to handle the autonomy smoothly and avert further crisis.
The Austrian-Italian experience also suggests that there will be many bumps on the road to reconciliation and reintegration. To deal with these bumps, it would be helpful to establish a standing Donbass committee with ambassadors from each country within the OSCE in Vienna, with a special best practice team involving Austria and Italy. This committee could appoint an Ombudsman to handle complaints and resolve disputes. The Ukrainian government, together with the Donbass OSCE committee, should prepare an annual progress report and present it to the Verkhovna Rada.
What Is Missing?
Matteo Renzi came up with his proposal in March 2015. Unfortunately, not much has been done to apply the lesson of South Tyrol to Donbass. Therefore, the critical question is why implementing a strategy similar to South Tyrol in Donbass is not yet considered.
The answer, in our opinion, is in the international environment and the nature of the Austria-Italy relations. By the time of the South Tyrol deal, both Austria and Italy considered themselves organic parts of a greater European family of nations. This is despite the fact that Austria, even now, is not a NATO member and only joined the EU in 1995, 24 years after the agreement on South Tyrol had been reached.
Neither country had a fundamental identity problem that could feed radical nationalism and block a settlement. Their respective national identities emerged long before the deal was achieved. Neither side was fearful of aggression, deliberate provocation or gross interference into domestic affairs from the other side.
Both Vienna and Rome saw many advantages in building their economic, political and humanitarian ties with each other. Both Austria and Italy experienced rapid economic growth followed by an expanding middle class, vibrant civil society, maturing political institutions and successful fight against populism, political radicalism and nationalism. No external player in or outside of Europe demonstrated any interest in instigating the conflict through supporting one of the sides. In other words, the overall environment for reaching a compromise was overwhelmingly positive.
Unfortunately, most of these preconditions are currently absent in the case of Donbass. Therefore, we cannot push for the application of the South Tyrol model until such prerequisites are created. This will be difficult, but not impossible.
Going Beyond Minsk
Using the best practice from South Africa, one then is lead to think of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Donbas, reporting live on TV in Ukraine and Russia with an annual report. More than twenty countries have done this successfully in the past.
However, the problem of reconciliation is not limited to Donbass only. Both Russia and Ukraine today lack the know-how for true reconciliation, which had been mustered by Austria and Italy after World War II. Let us all learn from the American philosopher Eric Hoffer who said, “A war is only won after you have turned your enemy into a friend.” We can draw upon the lessons of other European states that have mastered the art of reconciliation, including decentralization, after two bitter world wars.
The governments, political parties, opinion leaders and media should learn how to make peace with (former) enemies and utilize European best practices – such as in South Tyrol or Northern Ireland. For the Russian population in Ukraine and all other minorities, including Hungarians and Tatars, fresh Ukrainian Codes of Tolerance should be implemented. The Kiev government should appoint a Minister for Tolerance and Reconciliation with sufficient staff and funding. The United Arab Emirates established the first minister for tolerance in February 2016. The tolerance minister in Kiev would promote respect toward all ethnic and religious minorities in Ukraine and report annually to the parliament and the OSCE in the form of a Ukrainian Codes of Tolerance and Reconciliation Report. Within the context of reconciliation, an amnesty committee would be established, as in South Africa, for people from all conflict parties.
Rebuilding trust will not get us too far until we build the economic foundations of the settlement. The goal should be to turn Donbass from a headache into an opportunity for all. We propose establishing a special reconciliation fund for the region, financed equally by the EU, the US, and the Russian Federation, and utilized to rebuild destroyed infrastructure. By rebuilding, we do not mean restoring the region as it was back in 2013 – this is hardly possible and rather undesirable. We suggest turning the devastated war area into a modern and vibrant ecosystem attractive to both international investors and millions of refugees and displaced persons.
Carefully designed and skillfully localized reforms can stimulate new jobs, especially for small businesses. It is essential to address burning issues of documented property ownership, competitive access to capital, legal enforcement of contracts, governmental and regulatory transparency, and rules that promote and safeguard foreign direct investment. The environment presents yet another challenge, but also another opportunity for multilateral cooperation in Donbass with the European Union taking upon a leadership role.
At the same time, the European Union should move in the direction of a free trade agreement with Russia and other members of the Eurasian Economic Union. A new Ostpolitik by Ursula von der Leyen could help to bring Europe closer together via trade and visa-free travelling.
Towards a New European Security Architecture
A new, fresh and intense dialogue between NATO and Russia, including the discussion of a non-aggression pact and new arms control agreements, is now needed. It was counterproductive to freeze the NATO-Russia Council in April 2014 as punishment. This forum, meant for crisis management, is now active again. It took too long to understand that we need more, not fewer, meetings during crises. Despite many state-banquets and vague speeches in the past years, real discussions were missing for far too long. The western “no-talk no-meetings approach” neglected the lessons learned in the months before World War I.
The dialogue about a common security structure in Europe should start with fresh bi-monthly meetings of the NATO-Russia Council in Moscow and Brussels, as well as in other NATO capitals. Russia and NATO should openly discuss all strategic military issues to find solutions to alleviate tensions and promote cooperation, with several working-groups established for major political, technological, or geographic regional concerns, including mutual threats.
A high-ranking NATO-Russia Summit should be held in Moscow to discuss security issues openly. At this summit, NATO and the Russian Federation should declare not to utilize their military capabilities against each other. They will not use their forces, equipment, active or non-active soldiers or allow those activities against each other.
Both Moscow and Kiev should find their rightful places in the new European security architecture. Confidence building measures between Russia and Ukraine should become a part of a broader CBM system between the East and the West of the continent.
In this new environment, we can broaden the limits of what is possible. All sides have to look for a creative compromise, based on respect for international law, recognizing the national interests and minority rights of all stakeholders, while drawing upon best practices in Europe.
The ultra-nationalists on both sides will be disappointed. Still, only a broad political compromise would be in the national interests of Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the EU, the United States of America and the international community.
We all need humanity, creativity and efficiency for a new Europe 3.0.
External Implications of Domestic Reforms in Azerbaijan
The restructuring of the governance system, the appointment of Western-educated young professionals to the leading positions, and more decisive fight against corruption in energy-rich Azerbaijan promise a quicker betterment of the internal socio-political situation and allows the country to overcome the challenges posed by volatile energy prices in the global market. These developments in the South Caucasian country have, however, some implications for the wider region in general, for its immediate neighborhood in particular.
Azerbaijan’s political system has gone through a remarkably stable period since 1993 when Heydar Aliyev was elected the President of the then just two-years old republic in gravely troubled times for the country amidst the war with Armenia and tensed domestic situation. In a short period of time, President Aliyev managed to reach ceasefire with Armenia, quell separatist movement in the south, sign important contracts with Western oil companies, and navigate the country through troubled geopolitical waters. There have been few changes to the political system established at that time as it, supported by lucrative revenues from oil and gas exports, provided necessary conditions to implement the overall priorities of the country. As an American expert aptly observed, “There was simply enough money to keep almost everyone happy”.
The latest political and economic challenges the country confronted due to new realities in the international relations, however, revealed some shortcomings of this system and necessitated comprehensive reforms. Important to note that, this process had started even before the start of sharp fluctuations in oil prices since 2014. The optimization of the public services at an unprecedent pace exemplified by the establishment of the Azerbaijani Service and Assessment (ASAN) in 2012 strictly reduced the Soviet-style bureaucratic procedures marred by unbridled corruption. These measures were back then lauded by many international observers primarily for “eliminating the conditions that [were] conducive to corruption”.
The existence of strong centralized government has allowed the authorities to initiate and implement such amendments with immediate effect at all levels of the political establishment. The past year of 2019 marked the zenith of these changes in Azerbaijan. The replacement of the old cadres, some of whom held their positions at the highest posts in the government since 1990s,with younger and mostly Western-educated people, the dissolution of the unpopular parliament on the ground of its failure to catch up with the reform process and calling for snap parliamentary elections were some of the changes made in 2019. In the course of this process, in December, for the first time in the history of post-Soviet Azerbaijan, a regional executive head was arrested on charges of corruption and theft committed during his service.
The reforms have been, however, not confined to the political branch of the government. Over the last few years, the country has made immense efforts to diversify economy and reduce the dependency on oil and gas reserves that still supply major segment of national revenues. The government targets a quick development of the so-called non-oil sector which primarily includes tourism, agriculture, national industry, transport, logistics and communications. President Ilham Aliyev repeatedly highlighted in the recent year that the reforms would be expanded, and they are inevitable and irreversible.
The provision of the favorable business environment and independent judicial system has been on the top of the agenda. The achievements reached have also reflected in the Economic Freedom report by the Heritage Foundation where Azerbaijan’s ranking progressed from 91stto 60th in 2019. According to the report, Azerbaijan’s “overall score has increased…, led by a dramatic rise in judicial effectiveness and higher scores for property rights and government integrity that offset declines in labor freedom and fiscal health.”The new situation makes it possible for the country to recover from the economic shocks of 2015 when it went through devaluation twice in a year.
These developments in Azerbaijan have, however, some implications for the wider region in general, for the country’s immediate neighborhood in particular.
First and foremost, as the reforms promise that the country will maintain its leading role in the economic map of the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan will likely continue to have necessary financial resources to invest in large-scale transportation and economic projects. The new generation of technocrats, transparency in financial management, and fair judiciary are other factors that bode well for the future of Azerbaijan’s economy. This is highly important for the South Caucasus as most of the monumental projects in the region would have not been possible without the financial backing of Azerbaijan.
For example, the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which connects Azerbaijan with Georgia and Turkey and boosts the region’s appeal as a hub on the transportation route between Europe and China, has been financed solely by the Azerbaijani side. Likewise, the ongoing construction of a new Baku International Sea Trade Port (Alat), which targets to be the biggest multi-purpose port in the Caspian Sea, with a potential capacity to handle 25 million tons of cargo per year, will be completed thanks to economic recovery of the country.
In the meantime, Baku continued to expand its relations in the neighborhood with major partners like Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine, embarking in 2019 on ambitious transportation and energy projects, starting from China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and to launching TANAP gas pipeline on November 30, 2019, targeting the European market. These projects have a regional significance and are as hugely important for the economy of the participating countries from the region as for that of Azerbaijan.
The internal political and economic situation in Azerbaijan has also a very critical link with the regional security in the South Caucasus. The country’s multi-faceted relationship with its north-western neighbor, Georgia, has proved itself utmost important for the latter in the most troubled periods. Azerbaijan provided Georgia with crucial support in 2008 which helped its neighbor to overcome the challenges posed by sudden disruption of the trade with the country’s major partner Russia. Azerbaijan, with its oil and gas exports and investments, have often played an indispensable role for the Georgian economy. In 2019, Azerbaijanis ranked first in the number of foreigners visiting Georgia which provide an important contribution to its tourism revenues. The political stability and economic well-being in Azerbaijan aimed to be maintained by the recent reforms will boost the existing dynamics between the two countries which are vital for their national security in general.
The domestic reforms in Azerbaijan provides also a useful opportunity to revitalize the country’s relationship with its Western partners. The optimization of the public services, the rejuvenation of the government and the new political atmosphere built by the recent changes are all in line with the targets declared by the Eastern Partnership program of the EU and need to be supported. The new situation also promises a push for Azerbaijan’s relations with the United States as Svante Cornell, Director of the American Foreign Policy Council’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, suggested in October 2019: “The reform effort in Azerbaijan provides an opportunity for the U.S.-Azerbaijan political dialogue to be centered on positive cooperation, and thus to strengthen rather than weaken the bilateral strategic dialogue.”
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