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Conflict Reignited in the Former Soviet Union | Foreign Affairs

Border conflicts and territorial disputes have been a prevalent issue across the former Soviet Union since the USSR’s collapse, but the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated these tensions. 

While it is impossible to attribute all violence in the region to the Russo-Ukraine war, there has certainly been an uptick in regional clashes. These states see the war in Ukraine as an opportunity to act more aggressively than they would otherwise, allowing for old and previously stalemated conflicts to be reignited. 

Border conflicts between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan began in April 2021, displacing tens of thousands of civilians. While a ceasefire was agreed upon in May 2021, there have since been sporadic clashes, the largest and more recent occurring just last month.

In the most recent clash, over 100 people were killed and hundreds of thousands of civilians were evacuated from the threatened areas, making it the deadliest border clash in Central Asia since the fall of the Soviet Union. 

A potential reason for the recent incitement of the conflict is because Tajik President Emomali Rahmon wants to demonstrate strong national power by winning a war.

Another cited reason is that the backdrop of violence across the nations of the former Soviet Union is prompting conflicts where there may be unresolved tensions. 

Haley Alvarez-Lauto | Graphic Artist

The Collective Security Treaty Organization is an alliance currently consisting of six former Soviet states — five of which are currently engaged in conflict. The disregard for this treaty and violence across the region are potential sources of the renewed conflict on the Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan border.

It is clear that, currently, the member nations of this treaty are not respecting the rules it has imposed, providing a window of opportunity for the remaining nations to engage in conflict without the typical repercussions. 

An additional conflict to note is the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In 2020, Russia helped to coordinate a ceasefire in the area, however their recent invasion of Ukraine has hindered their ability to ensure peace in the area.

On the night of Sept. 12, another border clash occurred, killing over 100 servicemen between the two nations. While conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is certainly not new, it is speculated that Azerbaijan is looking to capitalize on Russia’s focus on Ukraine. 

Nations outside of the former Soviet Union have felt the ramifications of these tensions as well, which is seen in the recent disputes between Greece and Turkey.

The “Aegean dispute” has persisted between Turkey and Greece since a 1974 conflict between the two nations over issues in Cyprus. The nations have disputed over boundaries of Greek waters, ownership of certain islands, unresolved tension from the conflict in Cyprus, the militarization of certain islands and more.

In recent months, these tensions have only escalated against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine. Greece began constructing military bases on Aegean islands, something that Turkey claims violates a previous agreement. Last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “When the time, the hour, comes, we will do what is necessary. Like we always say: we may come suddenly one night” in response to the Greek militarization.

Some scholars have cited the war in Ukraine as a factor in the severity of this situation, as foreign powers that would typically play a diplomatic role in seeking a resolution between both sides are preoccupied with focusing their efforts on Ukraine, overshadowing the dispute between Turkey and Greece. The lack of a mediator or foreign diplomatic intervention could prevent  tensions from defusing any time soon. 

President Erdogan has also accused Western nations of aggravating Russia, committing Turkey to remaining neutral in the Russo-Ukraine war. While Turkey has aided Ukraine, it has not joined in the Western sanctions placed against Russia. This nonalignment could cause tension amongst the NATO nations, among which Turkey and Greece are both members, who wish to show a united front against Russia. 

The war in Ukraine is consuming a significant amount of global attention and is Russia’s current focus, allowing these states to behave in a way that can go more unnoticed on a global scale and lack repercussions from Russia, who typically acts as a mediator in such conflicts. 

As the former Soviet sphere becomes more war-torn, nationalists in these countries seek to exploit the global distraction other conflicts will provide.

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