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Frozen Zones: How Russia Maintains Influence In The
Post-Cold War Era
New York Times - 14/10/2015
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia's international military operations
have focused almost exclusively on its neighbors, former Soviet republics.
One pattern is clear: interventions that inflame conflict and create
permanently tense and unstable "frozen zones," allowing Russia to exert
influence and confound its opponents and, often, its rivals in the West.
During the Cold War, Moscow frequently intervened in countries both near
end far from its borders, including Afghanistan, Angola, Cuba and Vietnam.
The Russian operation currently underway in Syria is in some respects a
return to the ambitious military moves of the Soviet past. In reality,
though, Moscow never quite lost its appetite for exerting influence after
the Iron Curtain fell. Here are notable examples of Russian intervention in
the post-Soviet period.
Nearly 8,000 people have died since Russian-backed separatists began
fighting Ukrainian government forces in April 2014. The United States and
the European Union have imposed heavy sanctions on Russia for its actions
The Ukrainian government says the Kremlin has sent thousands of troops and
advanced weapons across the border into Ukraine. Russia denies that it has
any active-duty forces on the ground.
However, it has criticized the current Ukrainian government, saying it is
the result of a coup, and expressed alarm over attacks on ethnic Russians
there that the United Nations has called exaggerated.
This month, Russia, Germany Ukraine and France held talks aimed at
strengthening the Minsk accord, a peace agreement hammered out in Belarus
in February. The deal is supposed to be put into full effect by the end of
the year.
Russian-backed separatists in Crimea organized a referendum in March 2014
in which an overwhelming majority of residents chose to come under the
control of Moscow. Russia then quickly annexed Crimea from Ukraine,
prompting Western sanctions but avoiding violence in the process. It was
the deepest confrontation with the West since the Cold War.
"Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds
of people," President Vladimir V. Putin said after the takeover.
Unlike "frozen zones," Russia clearly controls Crimea, and it has pledged
to send billions of dollars in aid. But life remains in disarray on the
Black Sea peninsula. Residents say freedom of speech and of assembly have
largely evaporated, while government corruption has remained constant.
Sanctions have damaged the economy and isolated Crimea from the outside
South Ossetia and Abkhazia
These impoverished breakaway regions of Georgia declared independence after
the fall of the Soviet Union but remained politically and economically
dependent on Russia. Georgian leaders accuse Russia of intervening to keep
their country from seeking closer ties to the West, but Moscow has
described its policy as defending both regions from oppressive Georgian
South Ossetia has fought three wars with Georgia - in 1991, 2004 and 2008.
In the most recent conflict, Russia came to its defense, declaring war on
Georgia and helping South Ossetian forces consolidate control of their
territory in five days of fighting. After the war, Russia recognized both
South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries.
Last year Russia and Abkhazia signed a treaty that gave Moscow a dominant
role over its military and economic affairs and called for the
establishment of a joint Russian-Abkhazian military force.
Transnistria is a thin strip of land between the Dniester River and Ukraine
populated largely by Russian-speaking Slavs. Most of the world recognizes
the area as part of Moldova, where Romanian speakers predominate.
But Transnistria declared its independence in 1990, and war with Moldova
erupted two years later. The conflict ended after four months, when
negotiations spearheaded by Russia created an international peacekeeping
force in which Moscow played a leading role.
Transnistria has existed as a de facto independent state ever since.
Roughly 1,000 Russian soldiers have remained there, and Russia has
exploited the conflict to play a significant role in Moldova, one of the
poorest countries in Europe.
Azerbaijan and Armenia, both former Soviet republics, have been in an onagain, off-again state of war for more than two decades over NagornoKarabakh, which declared its independence as the Soviet Union collapsed.
Most residents there are ethnic Armenians, but the area is recognized
internationally as part of Azerbaijan.
The self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has acted as a de facto
independent country since the early 1990s, but it is not recognized by any
United Nations member state.
Russia has styled itself as the leader in long-running peace negotiations
to end the conflict, but critics have accused it of fanning the flames.
There is concern in Azerbaijan that Russia could intervene to assist
Armenia if it ever moved decisively against the breakaway republic.