Policy Paper

Keeping the Peace in the Borderlands of Russia

in Program

The region of the newly independent states (NIS) that emerged from the Soviet Union presents a major challenge to traditional notions of peacekeeping. Perhaps the paramount legacy of the Soviet Union has been the development of numerous deep-seated ethnic and political conflicts. In a region characterized by weak states, disputed political borders, a plethora of militias, and no shortage of weapons, the demand for international mediation and peacekeeping is enormous.

Yet the prospects for traditional approaches to peacekeeping in this region are not promising. These conflicts have developed at the same time that the United Nations’ capacity to undertake new peacekeeping missions has been taxed to the limit. But more importantly, conflicts and their resolution in the newly independent states are dominated by the regional hegemon–the Russian Federation. While the Russian government welcomes endorsement and financial support for its mediation and peacekeeping efforts by international organizations, Moscow insists that it take the leading role diplomatically and militarily. Not surprisingly, its role is rarely impartial. Although the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE),1 and the United States each has been involved in efforts to mediate NIS disputes, their limited means and Russia’s at-times-active opposition have limited their effectiveness. Thus, the newly independent states represents a case where there is a pronounced tension between the objective goal of peacekeeping and the interests of the great power that is most interested in, and most capable of, carrying out the mission.

Yet despite their sometimes suspect motivations and means, most of Russia’s peacekeeping efforts need not be cause for great alarm. Each of the conflicts discussed here developed independently of Russian involvement. Moreover, having no interest in instability on its borders, the Russian government’s peacekeeping efforts in most cases have aimed to limit conflicts in the NIS region. The problems have been a by-product of the baggage that Moscow brings to its role as peacekeeper: the pro-Russian concessions it demands from the conflicting parties for providing a public good, its refusal to allow outside parties to play a major role, and the often heavy-handed way that it enforces settlements. Although the US, UN, and OSCE cannot–and should not–force their way into NIS peacekeeping, there are real opportunities to influence Russia into pursuing a more balanced policy of peacekeeping that is consistent with international principles.

This chapter analyzes the particular features and challenges of international peacekeeping in the NIS. It excludes consideration of the use of military force within the borders of the Russian Federation–the conflict in Chechnya, in particular–because that is, in international legal terms, an internal Russian matter. The first section addresses the interests and capabilities of the external actors most interested in the region: Russia, the United States, the UN, and the OSCE. The next section considers the broad trends of conflict and peacekeeping in the NIS as well as each of the current or likely peacekeeping operations, in detail. The concluding section offers suggestions for external institutions and states seeking to encourage more positive behavior from Russia’s peacekeeping efforts.

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