As long ago as March, when Russia began to annex Crimea, many experts warned that these aggressive actions against a neighboring country would inevitably increase instability throughout the world – first of all, in the areas of active and so-called frozen conflicts. These predictions came true very soon.
The first problems came up in connection with Transnistria. Taking into account that a Russian military contingent is stationed there, this separatist enclave can be used for attacking Odesa and other southern regions of Ukraine. No wonder, Kyiv is taking measures to tighten security on its border. Also obvious is Moscow’s wish to open a second front line in the rear of Ukrainian troops.
Tiraspol and the destiny of the so-called Transnistrian Moldavian Republic is a source of serious worry for the Kremlin. Russia cannot afford to lose Transnistria, but it is also a problem to keep the current situation intact. Kremlin strategists only see the way out in heightening tension and continuing provocations. Neither Tiraspol nor Moscow seem to be pondering on what will happen in the region if Ukraine imposes a blockade in response to aggressive actions.
The danger of destabilization in Transnistria may also reflect on Moldova, where the so-called Gagauz separatism is on the rise, even though this region with Comrat as capital is unable to exist economically and financially as an independent state.
Firstly, the territory of autonomous Gagauzia is not an integrated unit and consists of four separate parts. A few Gagauz villages are located in Ukraine (Odesa oblast). The autonomous territory borders on Ukraine, Moldova, and Rumania. From this angle, the attempts of its leaders to join the Customs Union in spite of Moldova’s attitude simply look ludicrous.
Secondly, by contrast with Transnistria, where there is at least some industry, Gagauzia is an exclusively agrarian territory. There are only some wine-making and fruit- and vegetable-processing businesses. The autonomy’s leadership is pinning hopes on Russian financial aid. Hence are the resounding statements and threats of separatist actions. Undoubtedly, Moscow keeps Gagauzia as a standby option – to strike at both Ukraine and Moldova.
Another zone of instability with an ever-growing degree of confrontation is Nagorno-Karabakh. There are never-ending shootouts there along the line that disengages the Armenian and Azerbaijani troops. According to Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense, Armenian sabotage groups are trying to penetrate into the adjacent territory. Eight Azerbaijani servicemen were killed recently, while the Armenian side says it has lost five persons.
The Nagorno-Karabakh peace process has been making no progress for a long time. No wonder, Baku more and more hears the voice of those who want the seized territory to be liberated. Somewhat panicky reports keep coming from Yerevan and Nagorno-Karabakh about the relocation of Azerbaijani military units, which Baku does not deny. Defense Ministry Spokesman Vagif Dargahli announced that Azerbaijan has the right to relocate military hardware on its territory. “It is a routine relocation that can be performed in any direction. We are not obliged to and will not report to anybody on this,” he said. It would be strange to hope that this conflict will remain frozen for an indefinitely long time. President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly stressed that any patience will end sooner or later.
Moscow and Yerevan cautiously hope that the coming meeting of Azerbaijan and Armenia presidents in Sochi may ease the Nagorno-Karabakh tension. This is a positive fact in itself, but what then?
Yerevan and the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities have not flinched an inch back from their positions. A compromise is next to impossible in these conditions, all the more so that Armenia is sure of Moscow’s support. The presidents may talk, and this may relieve tension on the disengagement line for some time, but this is a palliative that will not result in a true relaxation. It is easy to imagine that the situation will be aggravated again in rather a short time.
The key to breaking the Nagorno-Karabakh deadlock is in Moscow. It is common knowledge. However, the Kremlin continues its destructive policy of supporting the violation of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, although it is quite capable of seriously helping to reach a peaceful solution of the conflict on the basis of international documents adopted long ago. Obviously, Moscow thus wants to be free to pressure Baku and thwart any attempts to change the current position of Armenia as its satellite.
The Russian aggression against Ukraine has relegated the situation in North Caucasus to the background in the minds of Russian citizens. According to the Levada Center sociological survey organization director Lev Gudkov, 43 percent of the respondents characterize the North Caucasus situation as calm (against 18 percent in January), 41 percent as tense (60 percent in January), and 2 percent as critical (12 percent in January).
At the same time, the situation in North Caucasus remains difficult. According to the Caucasian Knot Internet portal, rebel fighters still remain active. A tragedy has occurred near the village of Novy Chirkei, Kizilyurt district, Dagestan. A police car came under terrorists’ fire on the Kavkaz federal highway. In Makhachkala, militants fired a Shmel infantry flamethrower at the Anti-Extremist Center. In Ingushetia, some unknowns shot almost point-blank at Russian Interior Troops soldiers. It is also dangerous in Kabardino-Balkaria and Chechnya, where law-enforcement bodies have engaged in clashes with militants.
Caucasian Knot reports that the armed conflict in North Caucasus has claimed 146 human lives in the past three months. The previous quarter of the year shows almost the same statistics. This means that tension in this region is not easing at all. On the contrary, it shows a tendency toward building up. It is more and more difficult to oppose rebel fighters because a part of troops have been relocated to the Ukrainian border.
At first glance, Moscow is supposed to see absolutely no point in supporting Ukrainian separatists, as it is still fighting terrorists in North Caucasus. But this follows common logic, while the Kremlin is guided by a different logic, if any at all.
The press and especially television are practically paying no attention to the events in North Caucasus. By doing so, the Kremlin is tackling two interconnected problems.
Firstly, diverting attention from and hushing up the real situation in North Caucasus makes it easier to manipulate people’s minds and create the impression that the domestic situation is stable – so stable that Russia managed to annex Crimea. Not so good news from North Caucasus is being kept off newspaper pages and TV screens in order not to mar the idyllic picture of peace.
Secondly, many parts of Russia have been full of discontent lately over the fact that enormous funds are being injected into, for example, Chechnya at the expense of other regions. If it emerges that all this goes down the black hole and the region remains chronically unstable, ordinary people will be asking far more questions. This will immediately affect the rating of Putin who always tries to be the personification and guarantor of stability.
Moscow initiates and supports destabilization along the Russian borders, even though it has its own problems with terrorism and separatism. This policy of playing with fire is extremely dangerous, for a free flame may cause a blaze that is impossible to put out.