Prof. Alan Whitehorn, Kingston
Divide and conquer is a well-known historic aphorism for ambitious imperial states. Divide and control is a corollary. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Moscow’s geo-political and foreign policy has opted on a number of occasions to initiate or accentuate the splitting away of small fragments from somewhat weak newly independent states. In so doing, Moscow could more effectively re-assert some control over its historic ‘near abroad’ and re-extend its sphere of influence over parts of the former Soviet Union. Amongst the examples are: Transnistria splintering from Moldova in 1991, South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia in the early 1990s, and Donetsk and Luhansk from Ukraine in 2014.
The population and territorial size of these micro-states are quite small: about 470,000 persons for Transnistria (4,200 square km), 55,000 for South Ossetia (3,900 square km), 240,000 for Abkhazia (8,700 square km), but a little larger for the more recent examples of Luhansk 1,465,000 (8,400 square km) and Donetsk 2,300,000 (8,900 square km). The recently created micro-puppet states are very much controlled by Russian troops, financing and governmental administrative measures. Moscow has claimed it has intervened to supposedly protect vulnerable ethnic minorities, particularly Russian-speaking populations.
However, Russian history is filled with the repression of ethnic subject peoples. The outside world observes that the emergence of these highly dependent client micro-states is a case of Russian imperial re-expansionism piece by piece. It remains to be seen if there are other cases to follow. An inevitable existential question arises for Armenians ‘Is Nagorno-Karabakh next?’ It seems to fit the criteria: small population in a tiny fragment of territory with a people vulnerable to ethnic repression.
Alan Whitehorn is an emeritus professor of political science and writes on international relations and ethnic conflict. He has participated in several international workshops on the South Caucasus.