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Many people from the post-Soviet space know well the concept of “frozen conflicts” – the lingering hostilities over the unresolved status of secessionist territories in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. But many Ukrainians are only now learning about them, as such conflicts take root in Crimea and the country's east.
As Kyiv and the rest of the country worry about what will happen to the eastern Donbas region, I would like have a closer look at some of those other breakaway regions to see if they offer clues to the region’s future.
I have already traveled to Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave within the territory of Azerbaijan, and to the separation line between Georgia and South Ossetia, a de facto client statelet of Russia in what is officially Georgia. More than 20 years after the conflicts started, these territories remain in diplomatic and legal limbo, with their economies and governments reliant largely on a sponsor county – Karabakh on Armenia and South Ossetia on Russia. But although their people consider themselves citizens of sovereign countries, they seem less ready to take up arms these days, and they have begun to question why they cannot live in peace after sacrificing so much to perpetual conflict.
The most pressing and difficult question has become how these territories and the countries from which they have seceded can begin to talk to each other in a new way after years of outright war followed by saber-rattling.
For Donbas, these older conflicts are a chance to study some dos and don’ts: Do leaders on both sides understand the need to modulate their rhetoric so they are not trapped in the dance of hostility that Armenia and Azerbaijan’s fear-mongering leaders cannot now back out of? Will Moldova accept federalization in an attempt to integrate the self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria, as Russia is pushing Ukraine to do for its restive east? If so, what consequences would ensue? What do citizens of these territories really want? Can the Russian factor in these conflicts be minimized? And why has diplomacy failed for decades to bring a resolution?
This type of reporting is expensive, but I believe it could contribute to a store of wisdom that Ukrainians and their leaders will need if they wish avoid the endless conflicts of other post-Soviet countries.
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