1. A fresh look is needed on the post-Soviet territorial conflicts, including on the terminology used within their contexts. In particular, the widely used term “frozen conflicts” is not entirely relevant to the realities on the ground, as all the ethnopolitical post-Soviet conflicts see certain dynamics. For instance, in Transnistria, the role of Ukraine is changing; the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as a matter of fact, stays in a low-intensity mode; and in Abkhasia and South Ossetia, after the status-quo set in, diverging processes are undergoing.
The Role of External Actors in the Post-Soviet Protracted Conflicts
2. In most cases, it is impossible to distinguish between internal and external actors of post-Soviet territorial conflicts. Classifying actors as direct and indirect is also problematic.
3. Big powers possess diverse instruments to exert influence over the post-Soviet space. Yet, their instruments are limited and only rarely correspond to the level of their geopolitical ambitions.
4. Politically, small post-Soviet states cannot accept the doctrine of restricted sovereignty which big powers often attempt to impose on them.
5. Conflicts cannot be analysed separately from societal and regional processes, as all conflicts reflect existing contradictions and have internal origins. To a certain extent, they can be components of states’ development and self-identification. However, external impulses alter the flow of conflicts. Therefore, conflict resolution can be expected only when internal and external efforts are combined.
6. External and internal actors tend to perceive the exclusivity of their own and others’ interests differently. Their contradicting and conflicting nature notwithstanding, it is crucial to recognise the very fact that such interests and their differing interpretations exist. It is on this ground that dialogue mechanisms can start developing. But the principle of the “witch hunt” cannot lead to a productive dialogue.
7. States and international organisations that exist in the reality, rather than one’s normative expectations about them, need to be included as independent variables in the analyses of regional developments and conflict dynamics. States’ actions are governed, first of all, by their own understanding of interests; and the possibilities of international organisations (e.g., the OSCE) are determined by their resources and functions.
8. The crisis in Ukraine has become a ref lection of a systemic and value-based conflict between Russia and the West over the state of international relations and security in the post-Soviet space. Russia is trying to impose “red lines’ for regional geopolitics but does not offer a functioning (and acceptable) systemic alternative.
9. Today, the new international reality requires a search of the balance of interests and a permanent mechanism to coordinate them. In particular, it is crucial to work with Russia’s real interests in the region (and not their normative interpretations). Otherwise, a sustainable improvement of the situation should not be expected. Throwing stones inside a glass house is futile.
10. Against the background of the overall instability of the security system in the post-Soviet space and multiple contradictions between the external actors of territorial conflicts, local points of mutual interest should be looked for. The main task of the first (intergovernmental) and, particularly, the second (expert) tracks of diplomacy is to find feasible cooperation formats.
11. Only the principle of solidary responsibility can be a sustainable foundation for such cooperation.
Internal Political Dynamics in Conflict Zones
12. Containing regional escalation is one of the post-Soviet territorial conflicts’ functions. Therefore, the minimum task is to “freeze” active conflicts and learn how to live side by side without a war. The maximum task is to resolve conflicts.
13. To varying degrees, ethnopolitical conflicts in the region are related to the post-Soviet legacy. The desintegration of the USSR, among other things, became a big ethnic explosion as the cult of native land was omnipresent. In other respects, all conflicts differ and have unique dynamics.
14. The present-day evolution of societies in countries with protracted conflicts is largely limited by the factors of weak government power, oligarchy and state policies aimed at marginalising societal forces that advocate alternative ways of development.
15. In spite of the numerous limitations in state institutions development and lack of the international recognition of contested territories, the formation of identity among local populace, particularly the youth, needs to be taken into consideration.
16. Bloated expectations from regional integration projects by populace and elites often have a negative impact on internal processes in countries with territorial issues and in conflict zones.
17. Unrecognised territories do not and cannot have once and for all defined interests and visions of their development. Thus, their internal dynamics and political priorities can change depending on internal and external conditions.
The Economic Dimensions of the Post-Soviet Protracted Ponflicts
18. Economy and healthcare often become factors that ease conflict tension (including smuggling across contested borders), facilitate contacts and cooperation. At the same time, the shadow sector produces beneficiaries of the status quo, who sometimes are found widely in society.
19. At the centre of economic problems in the post-Soviet space is corruption. For conflict zones, it often presents a bigger security threat than military actions. Corrupt economy finds a breeding ground in protracted conflicts.
20. Large parts of infrastructure (heat and electric energy, water and exports-imports channels, etc.) are often jointly exploited by parties to conflicts. Therefore, infrastructure can be used to facilitate interaction between local elites.
21. However, hopes that economy alone can gradually resolve an ethnopolitical conflict do not materialise. Conflicts are about identities.
22. Regional economic integration can have contradictory impacts on unrecognised territories. Under some circumstances, it can stimulate reforms and economic development. Yet, under other circumstances, it can further isolate unrecognised entities.
Political Negotiations in Post-Soviet Territorial Conflicts
23. There are no examples of universally applicable effective negotiating formats. Therefore, expectations from peace negotiations should take into account each conflict’s specifics and dynamics. As a rule, the problem is not about the negotiating format or the composition of the participants, but about how realistic a compromise is.
24. Peace agreements are generally undermined because they fail to fully incorporate internal political issues. Another widespread problem is belated reaction by parties to a conflict and international guarantors during peace agreements’ implementation. Contingency planning is not addressed sufficiently.
25. Formats combining official (track-I) diplomacy and expert (track- II) diplomacy are needed, as they facilitate not only the conclusion of formal agreements but also the re-integration of conflicting sides into peaceful life and common socio-economic space. Transparency and the responsibility of the participants of negotiations are crucial.
26. Track-II diplomacy should be promoted within international organisations that work in the realm of security, in particular, within the OSCE. Expert potential should be focused not only on specific conflicts but also on the dynamics of threats to regional stability which can lead to territorial conflicts.