Friday, April 8, 2016

Moscow’s Approach to Resolution of Conflicts is to Freeze Them and Wait, Alksnis Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 8 – Moscow has adopted an extremely successful approach to many of the conflicts in the post-Soviet space: it “freezes” them and then sits back and “waits” while others rush in to propose this or that settlement, something that works to Russia’s benefits because their proposals would impose enormous costs on one or all of the participants.

            Every time one of these frozen conflicts explodes, Irina Alksnis says, Russia works to refreeze them, a reflection of its understanding of the advantages it retains given that the West will hasten propose what are inevitably dangerous “solutions” (

            The Moscow commentator makes this point in a commentary about the recent violence in Karabakh, violence that as she notes has prompted Western writers and diplomatists to suggest there must be “a solution” but convinced Moscow and its allies on all sides that the current “frozen” state is better than any of these “solutions.”

            “In the long list of ‘mortal sins’ of Russia, that the West has composed,” she says, “a new point appeared not so long ago,” although it is really difficult to call it new given that Moscow has been practicing it for “more than 20 years,” although many in the West have begun to recognize it only recently.

            This “sin,” Alksnis continues, consists of the following: “Russia in the post-Soviet space has created and supports a number of frozen territoria conflicts which it uses in its own geopolitical interests.”  Among these are Transdniestria, South Osetia, Abkhazia, and of course Nagorno-Karabakh.

            Russia, she says, is guilty as charged, even though many of these conflicts arose because of complexities far beyond the capacity of Moscow to manage. But of course, “to accuse any state of using the geopolitical levers in its possession for the defense and advancement of its national interests is very funny.” That is something that all states which can do.

            Moscow’s position, Alksnis says, is “extraordinarily simple: these conflicts in the framework of the existing world political-legal system are extremely difficult or in places impossible to solve, and attempts to do this by ignoring the system are more illegal, amoral and in human than keeping them frozen.”

            The prospects for resolving these conflicts “in the current system” are both “simple and sad,” she says, in that the solutions proposed inevitably involve “the forcible and illegal seizure of the territory” of one state, “ethnic/religious cleansing which at times recalls genocide, or a combination of both processes.”

            That is why Russia prefers to freeze these conflicts using both carrots and sticks for each side rather than “solve” them via such horrors, Alksnis continues. And it is a reflection of how “Russia shamelessly uses its dominant position as the main regional power in order to achieve the result it needs, in this case, the maintenance of the Karabakh problem in a ‘cold’ status.”

            In sum, the Moscow commentator says, “Russia not simply freezes conflicts around the perimeter of its border; it has learned to wait” because only by waiting is it possible that some more acceptable arrangement can be found.

            Alksnis does not say, but her analysis implicitly contrasts Russia’s approach with that of Western leaders who seem compelled to try to find a solution and to find it quickly.  In diplomacy, it is generally recognized that those who seek something and especially who seek it quickly are in a weaker position than those who can wait and let others come to them.

            That is what Russia has done in the case of Karabakh, the other frozen conflicts around the Russian periphery, and on other conflicts in the region and world as well.  And because of how the West has responded, publishing calls for solutions and racing to Moscow to try to achieve them, Russia has been able to achieve more than its real power justifies.

            On the one hand, this combination has allowed Moscow to constantly point out all the problems with these Western solutions, thus winning support in places it doesn’t deserve. And on the other, it has used this Western tendency to build up its own reputation as the arbiter of all such conflicts, again something that works for Russia but against the West.




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