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European security issues

19 - Relations with Russia on protracted conflicts

Grade: B-
Unity 4/5
Resources 4/5
Strategy 2/5
Impact 1/5
Total 11/20
Scorecard 2015: C+ (9/20)
Scorecard 2014: C (8/20)
Scorecard 2012: C+ (10/20)
Scorecard 2013: C+ (10/20)
Scorecard 2010/11: C+ (10/20)

Tensions continued in breakaway territories in the former Soviet space, while strained EU–Russia relations made conflict resolution seem remote

No significant progress was made in 2015 on the resolution of frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space, as events in Ukraine and then Syria dominated European and Russian foreign policy agendas. Five countries in the eastern neighbourhood have unresolved conflicts, where breakaway regions remain in a state of limbo. These protracted conflicts are a key part of Russia’s strategy to exercise influence in the neighbourhood and prevent NATO enlargement.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, a region located within the borders of Azerbaijan, fewer skirmishes were reported in 2015, after a spike the previous year. The Minsk Group (an EU-backed OSCE conflict-resolution mechanism) made no progress, faced with the intransigence of the parties: Azerbaijan and Armenia. With Moscow occupied by the crises in Ukraine and Syria, the only mediation talks involving both Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents were held in December, and delivered no concrete result. Moscow continues to sell heavy weaponry to both sides and is happy with the status quo, as it provides important leverage over both countries and thus the region.

The Geneva talks on the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – pro-Russian separatist regions of Georgia – continued throughout 2015 under the chairmanship of the EU, OSCE, and UN, but with no major breakthrough. An EU mission continued to monitor the boundary lines of the two breakaway republics, but had no meaningful access to the breakaway regions. Russia further consolidated its grip on South Ossetia by signing an “alliance and integration agreement” with the de facto authorities, which effectively legalises the entity’s integration with Russia. Russian forces pushed the administrative border 1.5 km further into Georgian-controlled territory to cover the Baku–Supsa pipeline. South Ossetia announced plans for a referendum on joining Russia.

In May, Ukraine’s parliament voted to suspend military cooperation with Russia, including a 1995 agreement giving Moscow military-transit rights in Transnistria – a breakaway region of Moldova. This raised fears in Tiraspol that Kyiv might be trying to blockade Transnistria and reignite the conflict.