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Eurasia's Troubled Frontiers

Author: Robert McMahon, Managing Editor
December 2011
Foreign Service Journal


On the twentieth anniversary of the Soviet Union's dissolution, attention has focused on the unsettled nature of the region. In most of the non-Baltic successor states, economic progress has lagged, political reforms have fizzled and Russia—itself caught up in a dodgy transition—has often played conflicted, controversial roles.

The cases of four unrecognized statelets that emerged from the Soviet collapse typify this rocky path and could hold clues to how the former Soviet space develops in the decades ahead. Conflicts over Nagorno- Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniester have all defied efforts by the United Nations Security Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (including the "Minsk Group" co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States), and the European Union to resolve them.

Failure to resolve "frozen conflicts" over these territories has contributed to halting economic and political reforms in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova — countries seen as far behind their development potential. They also pose a security risk. Georgia's breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia figured centrally in its 2008 war with Russia, which resulted in Moscow's deployment of thousands of peacekeepers in both entities, recognition of their independence, and a spike in friction with Washington. Now some analysts express concern that Azerbaijan, regaining confidence as a petrostate, will seek to reclaim by force its lost territory from Armenia following the failure of efforts to conclude an agreement on Karabakh.

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