Filippa Sofia Braarud sheds light on the political situation of countries around the Black Sea.
Over two decades have passed and a millennium has been celebrated since we saw the end of the Cold War, yet the world is still witnessing an intense tug-of-war escalate towards new heights between the leaders on each side of the Caucasus region and the Black Sea, currently headed by the demands of the Eurasian Economic Commission’s Customs Union on the one side and the European Union’s calls for cooperation through the Eastern Partnership (EaP) on the other. These two major political poles are aiming at the same countries in a mutual line of fire, leaving these countries increasingly irresolute and alienated. As can be understood from the uprising of masses calling for transparency and justice such as during Ukraine’s unprecedented Euromaidan last winter followed an increasingly volatile situation in Eastern Ukraine after the Crimean annexation in March and the shoot-down of the MH17 later this summer, an increasing hostility and heavy reciprocal sanctioning between the Russian Federation and the European Union and the Eastern Europeans’ opposition to Russian backing of de-facto authorities in their territories, the people have indeed fought fiercely to give evidence of their general verdict on the matter. Their leaders, on the contrary, do not seem willing to listen attentively. These new developments, occurring upon the smouldering grounds of history-bound territorial conflicts make the countries around the Black Sea – especially Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – look like a belt of political firecrackers ready to re-ignite.
Het gekkenhuis (Oud liedje, nieuwe wijs) 1915
In the attempt of understanding the current situation in these countries, navigating our way around the Black Sea, it is indispensable to take a close-up, retrospective view on each of these countries’ history and geopolitical situation. There are numerous signs indicating that these countries are indeed emerging from the hibernation following the post-Soviet era, now making them ready to shake off their former political influences and take the reins of their countries in own hands.
The reformation of the political status quo is notably epitomized in Moldova, a country where European aspirations have been increasingly prevailing since the 1994 Constitution of Moldova was signed, making European Union integration a matter of high priority.This is also reflected in the Moldovan Parliament, where the Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM), essentially pro-European integration, has gone from 15 to 32 seats since 2009, contrary to the Party of the Communists (PCRM), who has gone from 60 to 42 seats in the same period. In the elections on 30th of November this year, an essentially pro-Russian party Patria (Homeland) was ultimately banned from the elections as it had received financial support from abroad. The elections ended up as a significant victory for the pro-European integration bloc. Additionally, a benchmark was reached for Moldova, as well as Ukraine and Georgia, as they all signed the widely disputed trade and political Association Agreement with the European Union in June this year.
What is known as the Transnistrian conflict could however cause problems in terms of Moldova’s approach to the EU, impeding the fulfilment of the Copenhagen criteria of territorial stability. The Transnistrian conflict is effectively a territorial dispute dated back to 1990, in which year it escalated into the outbreak of the 1990-92 War of Transnistria. The ground for the dispute is the mutual claim of the sovereignty over the break-away territory of Transnistria, located between the river Dniester and the Moldovan borders to Ukraine.
After 1992, the appeasement initiatives of the Organisation of Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) and other international mediators such as the UN, have kept the region in stability, however the Transnistrian de facto authorities have maintained control hitherto. These authorities, based in the capital of Tiraspol, have interestingly been upheld and provided with Russian petroleum, funding and military aids since the break-up of the Soviet Union, which has, as a corollary, led the international community to essentially perceive the region as a Russian attempt of maintaining a ‘foothold’ at Europe’s doorstep. This theory has also been backed with the claims that the Russian Federation, calculating its own political gain, declared both the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states in 2008, however keeping the Transnistrian bond with Russia warm, without making a declaration. To prevent illicit trade, trafficking and other dark industries over the unrecognized Transnistrian borders, a plan that sought to improve the border and customs procedures and elevate them to EU standards was also called for and established at the joint request of the Presidents of both Moldova and Ukraine in 2005, and the European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM), was consequently established later that year.
Moving further to the situation in Ukraine, the current status quo is tense and filled with stirring suspense about the Ukrainian way forwards. With a country in a political rupture between the East and the West and an unprecedented violence and death toll in the twenty-first century, the Ukrainian people seem increasingly apathetic and defeated as the democratic standards they called for during Euromaidan have not yet materialized. The level of public alienation from democracy peaked in this years’ Parliamentary elections, when an unidentified man dressed like Darth (Alekseyvich) Vader signed up as a candidate in protest to the status quo. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine is currently an important agent in the country, reporting on the situation on a daily basis and making a considerable effort to appease the situation in the country as well as advocating for the domestically polarized political aspirations reach consensus. The implication of the world community’s concern about Ukraine’s path forward may also be one of the factors urging politicians and the civil society to come to a conclusion rapidly and peacefully.
When considering the Georgian position in the political tug-of-war at hand, a relevant concern to address is that the separatist breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are deterring political stability. Since the South Ossetia War in 1991-92 and the 1992-93 Abkhazia War escalated and led to the breakout of the Georgian War in 2008, these regions have been elements undermining Georgian’s suitability within a European framework, especially preventing it to fulfil the Copenhagen criteria.24 During the conflict in Abkhazia, a little known of genocide was perpetrated towards the Georgians of different ethnicities in Abkhazia, leading to the death of over 30,000 civilians.25 In the aftermath of this ethnic cleansing, the perpetrators have been internationally condemned and a UN General Assembly passed, A/RES/62/249, on the «Status of internally displaced persons and refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia» The Georgian Parliament’s unanimous vote for passing the genocide resolution in 2010 also resulted in the call for cancellation of the 2014 Olympic Games in the Russian city of Sochi, on the ground that it is consistently exploiting nearby Abkhazi people for the execution of the massive project, further suppressing and violating Georgians and Caucasians’ rights and sovereignty. Evidence of the perturbing and increasingly destabilized situation in the entire region notably emerged in form of two suicide bombings ultimately claiming 34 lives 28 on the 29th and on the 30th of December 2014, in the city of Volgograd. Radicalised separatist groups and individuals from the entire North Caucasus region witnessed a political awakening over the entire spectrum of terrorism as the Sochi games draw close, and groups like the Caucasus Emirate claimed to “expend maximum force in disrupting the games”. As for Georgia’s position, it was demonstratively stated in 2010, understood as a major political declaration in opposition to the Customs Union, supposedly in favour of European integration, by the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili:
«In terms of human and cultural space, there is no North and South Caucasus, there is one Caucasus that belongs to Europe and will one day join the European family of free nations, following the Georgian path.»
These two contested Russian-backed territories have in the wake of the 2008 war been partially recognized as independent states, both notably by Russia, Nicaragua, Nauru, Tuvalu and Venezuela as is also the situation with the Armenian de-facto authorities in an enclave located in Azerbaijan, the much contentious issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.
When mentioning the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, there are numerous aspects to point at that make this area probably the most combustible and tensioned territory as the situation currently stands as we enter the new 2014. To provide a brief historical overview of the situation, this contentious landlocked territory has since the territorial cataclysm following the breakup of the USSR in 1991 been inhabited by a majority of Armenians, which has claimed the de-facto independence of the territory as it lies as an enclave within the Azerbaijani territory, now separated by a highly fortified Line of Contract, as a «Iron Curtain» of the Caucasus region. The Azerbaijani authorities claim the area to integrally form Azerbaijani territory, although they have not wielded power over it since 1991, when the tensions escalated until the outbreak of the Nagorno-Karabakh War, in which the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh fought an intense war backed by the diaspora Armenians and the Armenian government itself, against the Azerbaijani authorities. The war resulted in a backlash in which the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh had occupied a further 9% of the Azerbaijani territory, which they have retained control over hitherto. Ever since the Russian-brokered peace agreement managed to calm the military situation in 1994, the Organisation of Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) MINSK group has held the peace-negotiating and arbitration process going between the Armenian and the Azerbaijani authorities until the entry of 2014.
Time has, and still does, work against a peaceful outcome of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The de-facto authorities in the region have indeed had the intention to prolong the peace brokering process in the MINSK group going until time legitimizes the annexation of the Azerbaijani territories and hoping for ‘time to heal old wounds’. However, the Azerbaijani government has claimed that its integrity will not remain infringed for long,40 and it is worth considering that since the 1994 violations of the Azerbaijani sovereignty, it has emerged rapidly as one of the most prosperous petroleum states, centralized around the petroleum empire of Baku.
The Azerbaijani petroleum from the Caspian Sea makes them massively dominant to a stagnating Armenian economy, leaving the entire national budget of Armenia inferior to the Azerbaijani Military budget. The overarching threat has made Armenians alienated and occasionally radicalized, epitomized by their attempts of re-building the official airport in Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, which was close to being annihilated by the Nagorno- Karabakh War. However, since 2012, the airport has officially been renovated and operative, solely waiting for the Armenian clarification allowing the first official flight to emerge from the airport. Azerbaijani authorities have, consequently, made an official declaration in sharp jargon, notably clarifying that any such attempt from the Armenian government of materializing a flight in the aerial zone over Nagorno-Karabakh, would lead to military reprisals, reigniting the currently appeased situation on the Line of Contract.
As in the hypothetical scenario of a full-scale war over the Nagorno-Karabakh, one can only speculate in what the military butterfly effect would result in the territories lying as smouldering firecrackers along the Black Sea; then most probably breaking open military cluster bombs in form of Russian and European military repercussions, thus creating instability around both the Black and the Caspian Sea – most plausibly for states like Turkey, Iran and the corollary to find ground for getting involved. Perhaps what this region needs next is a perestroika the context of the twenty first century.