Beyond Crimes In The New Russian Empire

Beyond Crimea
Published with assistance from the Mary Cady Tew Memorial Fund.
Copyright 2016 by Agnia Grigas.
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10 9 87 6 543 2 1
Separatism and Annexation
The most obvious risk was that the Russian-speaking population
was threatened and that the threats were absolutely specific and
tangible. This is what made Crimean residents, the people who live
there, think about their future and ask Russia for help.
-Vladimir Putin, 17 April 2014
AT FIRST GLANCE, the three former Soviet republics of Moldova, Uk
raine, and Georgia appear to have little in common. Moldova is a small
country of just four million people, sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania. Despite its historical, cultural, and linguistic ties to EU and NATo
member Romania, Moldova has been a forgotten corner of Europe since
the Soviet Union’s disintegration. Neighboring Ukraine is a juggernaut
in comparison. Ukraine’s landmass makes it the largest country entirely
within Europe, and its population of approximately 43 million is also substantial. Often called the breadbasket of Europe, the country has been a
prize that neighboring powers such as Poland, Lithuania, the Crimean
Khanate, the Ottomans, and Russia have jostled over for hundreds of years.
As fellow Slavs, Russians consistently perceive the Ukrainians as a “brother
nation,” inherently related to themselves. Across the Black Sea from
Ukraine, nestled in the Caucasus Mountains, is the country of Georgia.
The Georgians, or Kartvelians, number just 5 million people today, and,
as part of their distinct position at the crossroads of Eastern Europe
and Western Asia, possessa unique alphabet, language, and identity
Yet these distinct countries possess some striking similarities. All
three have had a long and dificult history with imperial and SovietRus
sia, facing aggressive Russification and deportation policies. A sizable pro94
portion of the population of all three states belongs to the Eastern
Orthodox Church, a feature in common with Russia. All have struggled
with corrupt regimes and remain among the poorest countries in Europe
with an annual GDP per capita of less than $4.00o. Partly as a result, all
three have xperienced “colored” revolutions, civil movements seeking
change in the government and a turn to the West: Georgia’s Rose Revolution in 20o3, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004, and Moldova’s
Grape or Twitter Revolution in 2009. And they were the three top performers within the EU’s Eastern Partnership Initiative since it was
launched in 2009.
Perhaps the most significant commonality shared by Moldova, Geor
gia, and Ukraine is the clarity with which their recent histories reveal
the trajectory of Russian reimperialization. Equally striking is the similarity with which Russian policies (particularly passportization, informa
tion warfare, and calls for protection) have been enacted in these three
states at different time periods. Indeed, while the 2014 annexation of
Crimea came as a shock to most, many of the same processes of compatriot passportization and calls for their protection had been ongoing since
the early 199os in all three states. On Moldova’s eastern border, Transnistria has been an internationally unrecognized breakaway territory bolstered by Russia since the 1990s. Moscow has been stoking separatism
in Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia since the 1980s and has turned
these territories into puppet states since the Russo-Georgian war in 2008.
The groundwork of Crimea’s annexation and separatism in eastern
Ukraine’s two newly minted “people’s republics”-the People’s Republic
of Luhansk and the People’s Republic of Donetsk-has been laid over
the last decades. In 2015, both of these “people’s republics” increasingly
look likely to turn into frozen-conflict zones like Transnistria, Abkhazia,
and South Ossetia. As Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2o13. Mikheil
Saakashvili, wrote in the Washington Post as the crisis in Ukraine was
unfolding in March 2o14, “there are striking similarities between the
early stages of Russian aggression against Georgia and what is happening in Ukraine.” The current Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili
reiterated this, stating that “What happened in 2008 unfortunately also
echoed in 2014 in Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk and Mariupol.”4 Indeed,
Russia’s reimperialization trajectory has been almost identical in Ukraine,
Georgia, and Moldova.
Vilnius RUSSIA Minsk
Administrative unit Self-declared republic 2. ‘DONETSK PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC
4. CRIMEA Significant Russian
speaking populations Kiev
MAP 2. Distribution of Russian speakers and disputed territories across Belarus,
Ukraine, and Moldova. Map drawn by Giedr Tamaauskait
Sea Black
Sea Tbilisi
A Baku RMEN I,
Self-declared republic Administrative unit
Significant Russian
speaking populations Capital
City with
Russian speakers
MAP 3: Distribution of Russian speakers and disputed territories across the
Caucasus. Map drawn by Giedr Tamaauskait
There are also important distinctions in the way Russian reimperialization efforts have been pursued in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.
Since the Transnistrian conflict of 1991 until the annexation of Crimea
n 2014, there have been notable changes in Russia, its leadership, and
Es policies, as well as in the geopolitical context of Europe-all ofwhich
have colored the developments in the countries concerned. Russia’s
participation in the Transnistrian conflict was partly a reflex response of
the old Soviet empire (and Soviet troops on the ground) to a (trom their
point ofview) advantageous course of events. The Russo-Georgian war of
2008 was a successful trial experiment in reimperialization by Putin’s
regime, in no small part because it garnered little response from the
West. Crimea’s annexation and the war in eastern Ukraine appear as a
culmination of these measures that have been methodically and systematically pursued by the Kremlin since the 2000s. In all three countries
in Moldova’s Transnistria, in Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and
in Ukraine’s Crimea and eastern territories-Moscow has consistently
evoked the protection of Russian compatriots as reasons for its involvement and military operations. Before outlining Russia’s policy in the
three states, however, it is helpful to place them geographically (see Maps
2 and 3) and start with a brief overview of their Russian compatriot pop
ulations, their historical ties to Russia, and the background to conflict.
The populations of Russian speakers and so-called Russian compatriots
of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine could not be more different, particularly because of differences in their ethnicities. Indeed in the case of
Georgia and Moldova it is surprising that Moscow would conceptualize
those populations as compatriots. Georgia’s South Ossetians, number
ing only fifty thousand, have little to do with Russia ethnically, cultur
ally, or linguistically. Ossetians are descendants of the Alans, warrior
tribes speaking a language akin to Persian, who have lived here since the
early medieval period. For hundreds of years, South Ossetians and Geor
gians lived in harmony, and most Ossetians spoke Georgian in addition
to Ossetian. Their recent affinity with Russia can be explained by their
geographical proximity to North Ossetia (also inhabited by Ossetians),
which is part of the Russian Federation. The Georgians, Abkhazians, and
Ossetians also share a common Orthodox Christian faith with Russia.
Like the Ossetians, Georgia’s Abkhazians are also a distinct ethnicgroup
now numbering just a few hundred thousand. In the eighth century, they
formed a Christian kingdom with close ties to either united Georgia or
the Georgian Principality until they came under Ottoman rule and then
that of the tsarist Empire. During the nineteenth century, the tsarist re-
gime carried out an ethnic cleansing policy along the northeast shore of
the Black Sea and the North Caucasus, which resulted in the annihilation of around 1,5 million locals and the expulsion from the region of a
similar number of indigenous Abkhazians, Circassians, and Muslim
tribes. Subsequently, Russians, Armenians, Greeks, and Georgians colonized the region./ The Georgian-born Stalin pursued aggressive Geor
gianization policies in Abkhazia, which was the turning point that forever
spoiled Abkhaz-Georgian relations. Instead, Abkhazians increasingly
looked to Moscow for support.
In Moldova, Moscow’s perception of local minorities and even ethnicMol
dovans as “compatriots” is likewise puzzling. Sharing the same lan
guage and culture with neighboring Romania, the Moldova principality
came under the influence of Moscow at the beginning of the nineteenth
century with its incorporation into the Russian Empire. For the next two
hundred years, Moldova would face Russification policies while the native
Romanian was eliminated from official use? The Stalin era saw executions and deportations of locals to Siberia or Central Asia while new,
Russian-speaking workers were brought in.0 In addition the “Moldovan”
language was introduced, which was essentially the same as Romanian
but written in the Cyrillic alphabet.” The confict in Transnistria emerged
following Moldovan independence from the USSR, when Chisinau reinstated Romanian as the state language and in 1990 Transnistria declared
its independence from Moldova, seeking instead to continue to be part
of the Soviet Union.2 Initially the Kremlin was skeptical toward Transnistria’s independence and ability to control the region, and the Russian
media described the independence movement as “rebellion against perestroika.”3 Transnistria’s activists also toyed with the idea of integrating
with Ukraine but increasingly the idea of autonomy and identity tied to
Moldova’s Soviet history gained ground” Today, the people ofTransnis
tria whom Moscow has long sought to protect as Russian compatriots
in fact are almost equally divided between Moldovans, Ukrainians, and
Russians, with Moldovans being the most numerous. There are two
more regions in Moldova with separatist proclivities and Russian support: the Taraclia district, where some 65 percent of the residents are
Russian-speaking ethnic Bulgarians; and the autonomous region of
Gagauzia, where some 8o percent of the population are Gagauz–an
Eastern Orthodox nation of Turkish and Bulgarian descent. Though
the Gagauz have their own Turkic language, the majority today are Russian speakers, in great part due to Soviet Russification policies.5
Unlike Georgia and Moldova, Ukraine is a Slavic nation, making it easier
tor Russia to impose a Kremlin-driven narrative of its culture and history,
with the aim of appropriating Ukraine for its imperial project. Moscow
likes to promote the concept that Kievan Rus’ formed the ninth-century
Cradle of Slavic (Russian, according to Moscow) civilization in the terri
tory of Ukraine. This is argued as evidence that Ukrainians and Russians
are essentially one and the same people.’6 Ukrainians lay claim to their
own distinct history and identity, and argue that “Rus’ ” historically referred to the lands and peoples of Ukraine and Belarus. Until 1547 Russia
was never referred to as such but rather by the name of its capital city:
Moscovia–officially known as the Grand Duchy of Moscow. The relatively modern concept of Russia only developed during the reign of Ivan
the Terrible, who inherited the title of Grand Prince of Moscow from his
father, Vasili IlI, and in 1547 assumed the title of Grand Prince and Tsar
of All the Russias.” At most, Ukrainians acknowledge their common
roots with Russians until the tenth century, but some even question
whether Russia is truly a Slavic nation.” Ukraine’s history with its socalled brother-nation has been difficult since the end of the eighteenth
century when Kiev lost the remains of its autonomy to the Russian Empire In the nineteenth century the Ukrainian nation faced aggressive
Russification policies from Moscow, including closure of its maininsti
tution of higher learning, the Kiev-Mohyla Academy, suppression ofits
culture, prohibition from publishing books and teaching in Ukrainian,
and even banning of building churches in the Ukrainian Baroque style.20
The Stalinist era was the cruelest to Ukraine. In the early 1930s, most
Ukrainian intellectuals and officials were repressed and killed, while the
repression of Ukrainian peasants took the shape of the politically motivated famine, the Holodomor (extermination by hunger), in which around
5 million Ukrainians perished.21 Throughout the Soviet era, Russification policies and an influx of Russian immigrants persisted.
In eastern Ukraine the developments were similar but Russification
was more pronounced. Before the 1850s, Ukraine’s eastern regions of
Donetsk and Luhansk were inhabited predominantly by ruralUkraini
ans, but one could also meet peasants ofvarious ethnic origins-Russians,
Greeks, Germans, Tatars, and others. Industrialization brought labor migrants from central Russia and elsewhere.22 During Soviet times, many
prisoners were deported from all over the Soviet Union to the Donbas
to work in coal mines and factories, resulting in a more diverse ethnic
composition in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions than elsewhere in
Ukraine” However, while the Russian language was popular, ethnic
Ukrainians remained the majority.24
Crimea’s history is distinct from Ukraine’s. The peninsula was ruled
by the Golden Horde and then formed part of the Crimean Khanate from
the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. The Russian Empire annexed
Crimea in 1783, which resulted in the emigration and deportation of the
local populations of Crimean Tatars and Greeks, while the peninsula was
colonized mainly by Russians.25 In 1944, on the night of 18 May Stalin
deported the remaining Crimean Tatars to Uzbekistan, other Central
Asian republics, and Siberia.26 Herded to railway stations and packed into
cattle cars, many of the Tatars died during the journey, while starvation
and disease also took their toll in the resettlement camps.” As noted by
Lilia Muslimova, aide to the Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemilev, “this
tragic event resulted in the deaths of 46% of the Crimean Tatar population and achieved what many historians consider to be the Russian desired final solution-a Crimea without Crimean Tatars.”23 The most
recent transparent population census, that of 2001, in Crimea showed
that 58.5 percent called themselves Russians, 24.4 percent identified as
Ukrainians, and 12.1 percent called themselves Crimean Tatars, with
other ethnic groups making up the remainder.2” Muslimova adds that “in
the twenty-first century Crimean Tatars are once again struggling for
their dignity and homeland because of the Crimea’s brutal and illegal oc
cupation by the Russian Federation.”30
To illustrate the complexity of views and sentiments of contemporary
Russian speakers and “compatriots” of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova,
this section will draw on interviews with Russian speakers to offer readers
the voices and portraits of people that facts and figures cannot provide.
There is an important distinction between Russian speakers residing in
separatist territories like Transnistria and those in Moldova and Georgia
proper. Russian speakers in Transnistria, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia
have been more thoroughly Russified and have increasingly grown loyal
to Moscow over the past two decades. Russian speakers in Moldova,
Georgia, and Ukraine proper are more integrated into their states and
are more likely to perceive themselves as Moldovan, Georgian, and
Ukrainian. These observations were indirectly confirmed in an internet
survey conducted in September 2014 by Russian opposition leader
Alexei Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation, in which they tried
to learn the attitude oftwo traditionally pro-Russian regions in Ukraine,
Odessa and Kharkov, toward separatism and Russian involvement in
Ukraine. While this survey demonstrated people’s skeptical position
toward the Kiev government (with 26 percent describing their attitude
as “negative,” 25 percent as “neutral,” and only u percent as “positive”), it
also revealed other sociological trends such as 34 percent support for the
statement that “the Ukrainian future should be with Europe” (compared
with 17 percent for Russia), a 5o percent “negative” attitude toward Putin
(with only 12 percent “positive”), and most importantly, 87 percent of support for the statement “Td like to see my region as part of Ukraine,” as
against only 3 percent expressing a preference for becoming “part ofRus
sia” and 2 percent in favor of “a part of Novorossiya”).1 As I
noted in the
introduction, the following interviews should not be construed as a scientific survey, as it was not possible to gather a representative sample of
every age and social group, especially considering the ongoing war in
Ukraine and the frozen conflicts in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South
Ossetia. Instead, these interviews offer a glimpse into the views of mostly
young Russian speakers in late 2014. The focus on the younger generation, born after the fall of the Soviet Union, is due to the fact that they
represent the future of Russian compatriots in their countries. This generation may play a significant role in how their countries respond to the
reimperialization policy.
In Ukraine, the interviewed youths were from Ukraine’s thirdlarg
est city, Odessa. In 2014, Putin emphasized that Odessa was part of the
region of Russia’s historic empire known as Novorossiya (New Russia),
implying that that region should be part of the Russian Federation.32
Today, the port city of Odessa boasts a vibrant multiethnic population that
includes more than ten nationalities. While ethnic Ukrainians make up
more than 6o percent of the population, the city is mostly Russianspeaking with most ethnic Ukrainians using Russian as their native
language. The subject I will call Margarita is a Russian speaker and a
student of marine logistics at Odessa University.3″ She dreams ofworking
in the merchant marines. With Russian roots on her paternal side, she
considers herself half Russian, but certainly not a Russian compatriot or
Russian patriot. As she explains, “Russia and Ukraine are two separate
countries” and “I have never lived in and will never live in Russia.” She
would prefer Russian to be the second national language of Ukraine,
so that Russian speakers could choose to conduct their education and
bureaucratic procedures in their mother tongue. However, she does not
think that Ukrainian Russian speakers need Russia’s protection and that
“all problems can be solved within the border of our own country”
Another Russian-speaking Odessan, whom I will call Viktoriya, is a
young marketing professional.4 She enjoys speaking English and hopes
to travel to America someday. Like Margarita, she does not feel she is
a Russian compatriot and has no grievances as a Russian speaker in
Ukraine. As she says, “in a democratic society everyone has the freedom
and right to speak the language of their choice. We don’t have fascism
or totalitarianism. Nobody dictates the language we speak here and certainly not in my region.” She thinks Russian protection or support is
unnecessary and that in fact “Russia should turn its attention to its own
domestic problems and not to the domestic problems of a neighboring
Yelena, a recent university graduate from Odessa, moved to Kiev not
long ago to seek employment.35 Born and raised in Odessa in a Ukrainian family, she grew up speaking Russian. But, as she explains, “here
everyone speaks in Russian, but we are not Russian. We are Russianspeaking Ukrainians and patriots of our country.” Based on her personal
experience, she refutes myths that Russian speakers are discriminated
against, pressured, or intimidated anywhere in Ukraine, including west
ern Ukrainian-speaking territories. She adamantly rejects the prospect
of Moscow’s protection-I wonder from whom Russia is going to protect us? From ourselves? What is happening in our country should be
decided from within and we do not need outside help.”
In Moldova’s predominantly Russian-speaking territory of Gagauzia
the sentiments are similar. Deniz is a young journalist and a nativeRus
sian speaker.36 As he explains, “my mother is Moldavian and my father
is Gagauz, but in the family they spoke Russian, so they could understand
one another. This is why from my childhood I spoke in Russian.” He ex
plains that in the cities most Gagauz are Russian speakers, but in the
provinces they speak Gagauz though they all know Russian as well. He
rejects the notion of being identified as a Russian compatriot, declaring:
am a citizen of Moldova. My homeland is Moldova! I was born here and
I am a patriot of my own country!” He has never encountered any discrimination in Moldova other than the occasional request in the capital
of Chisinau to speak Romanian. He believes that “no one here would
ever want Russian protection.”
In Moldova’s breakaway territory, Transnistria, opinions are moredi
vided. Yevgeny is in his thirties and a member of the leading political
party.7 He represents the vanguard of pro-Russian compatriots in Mol.
dova. He considers himself to be a Russian compatriot and a Russian because “I was born and raised in a Russian environment and I have only
one homeland-Russia.” A staunch Russian patriot, Yevgeny actively sup
ports the notion of Russia absorbing Transnistria and the latter becoming part of Novorossiya and the Eurasian Economic Union. When asked
about potential grievances, he stated, “only the Western-leaning Moldovan government causes problems for Russian speakers.” He also believes
that “Russian protection is necessary and thata few military bases would
cool down the pro-Western officials in Chisinau.” Finally, when asked
about Russia’s 2014 policies in Ukraine, he mentioned that “Crimea always belonged to Russia” and that “a great historical mistake has been
Konstantin is a sales manager in his fifties and a former participant
in the Transnistrian War35 Like Yevgeny, he is highly pro-Russian. Even
though he holds Transnistrian, Moldovan, and Russian passports, he regards himself as a Russian because he was born there and he only
moved to Transnistria in the late 1990s. Konstantin, too, is a firm Russian patriot and explains that “I grew up in the USSR, my family always
spoke Russian, and we always supported the fight against the West.” Although Konstantin is a hardline supporter of the Crimean annexation,
he is more ambivalent about Russia’s involvement in eastern Ukraine or
Novorossiya as he calls it-“simply because at the present this region is
not of great importance.”
Yana, a high-school teacher in her late twenties, represents the least
pro-Russian segment of Russian speakers in Transnistria. Although
she speaks Russian today, she considers herself to be Ukrainian, because
“in the family we always spoke Ukrainian” and she does not consider
herself a Russian compatriot or part of the Russian World. When asked
about Russia’s protection of Russian speakers in Transnistria, she replied
“Russia made a lot of promises to Transnistria and its people, but in reality little has changed. Unfortunately, military support is probably the
only support that Russia can provide us with.” She added that her”Rus
sian friends mention being dissatisfied by the policies of both Moldova
and Russia.” Yana is very critical ofthe Russian involvement in Ukraine.
She explains that “I have many friends who live in Crimea and eastern
Ukraine and therefore, I have negative feelings toward Russian aggression.
People die there in vain.”
In the case of Georgia, it was exceedingly difficult to get responses
from residents of the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as they feared discussing their national identity and sentiments to
ward Russia. Nonetheless, a few agreed to offer their views under strict
conditions of anonymity. Boris, a university-educated man in his forties,
lives with his family in Abkhazia while running a business in Russia.0
His feelings toward Russia are somewhat ambiguous. While Abkhazian
is his native language, today he primarily relies on Russian. However,
this has not affected his identity: “No, I don’t consider myself Russian,
because I’m Abkhazian. I am not a Russian compatriot because I was not
born in and have never lived in Russia. .. . My homeland is Abkhazia.”
However, he feels that Russia’s protection of Abkhazia’s Russian speak
ers is necessary “because Abkhazia is a small country and it cannot by
itself take care of its own problems.” Likewise, he is supportive ofMos
cow’s policies in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
Soslan is a native South Ossetian in his fifties with a notable streak
ofskepticism. He lives in South ssetia, but often travels to Russia and
admits he could partly identify as a compatriot because he was born in
the Soviet Union and holds Russian citizenship. On the other hand, he
has a very strong Ossetian identity. “I speak Russian fuently, but I am
not Russian, I am Ossetian and I treat the Russian passport only as a
means to travel,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have anything
against the Russians, in fact, we appreciate their support fighting the
Georgians in August 20o8. Nonetheless, it would be silly to be a patriot
of Russia, a country that is so incredibly rich and is treating its people so
poorly. How could you ever even admire a country that is so unjust?” he
asks. Surprisingly, Soslan is not supportive of the Crimean annexationunlike many, he is rather skeptical of the Russian media’s narrative.
As these interviews suggest, many Russians and Russophones in
Ukraine and the separatist regions of Georgia and Moldova feel ambivalent toward Russia. Some may seek Russian protection or support for
their nation or territory, but they do not all consider themselves Russian
compatriots. Indeed Moscow’s eagerness to claim various ethnic minor
ities of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine as compatriots appears driven by
Russia’s national interests rather than the interests of the so-calledcom
Moscow has a number of ideological, military, political, and economic
motives in maintaining Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine in its sphere of
infuence and potentially reincorporating portions oftheir territories into
the Russian Federation. All three are perceived as belonging to Russia’s
inherent sphere of infuence and interests. Moldova and Ukraine are
members of the CIS, while Georgia is a former member. Among Russia’s foremost interests has been for the CIS states not to seek integration into Western structures, like the EU and especially NATO, nor to
host any new U.S. military bases.2
It may seem puzzling that Russia would seek control or influence in the
small, poor, and landlocked country of Moldova. Historically, however,
both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union aspired to control the territories in the Black Sea basin (to which Moldova belongs) and theDan
ube river delta, which served as a trade corridor to the Balkans and could
advance Russia’s influence, interests, and security in the region.”Trans
nistria lies on the border of Ukraine, close to Ukrainian territories that
Russia has deemed “Novorossiya.” The unresolved status of Transnistria
is of special interest to Moscow as it dims Moldova’s chances of EU mem-
bership or closer ties to NATO. In fact, the unresolved borders ofMol
dova, Georgia, and Ukraine all benefit Russia by slowing NATO expansion
in this region and remain a useful instrument for potential divide-andrule tactics regarding the internal affairs of these countries.
Georgia’s position on the Black Sea and in the Caucasus, straddling East
ern Europe and Western Asia, is of clear strategic interest for Russia. As
early as the 1990s, the Kremlin noted that Russia’s strategic weight in
the Black Sea depends on the presence of its troops on the Caucasus’s
western coast. Thus the territory of Abkhazia, with its long stretch of
Black Sea coastline, holds military significance for Russia as well as boast
ing offshore oil resources (now controlled by Russian state monopoly
Rosneft). As for South Ossetia, though it is a poor and sparsely populated
mountain region it could offer Moscow leverage over its own Ossetian
minorities and diffuse its internal problems. Just over the Russian border and the Great Caucasus mountain range is North Ossetia, an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation inhabited by ethnic
Ossetians and connected to South Ossetia by the Roki Tunnel. For Moscow, dangling the carrot of union with South Ossetia could preempt any
radicalization and separatist movements among the North Ossetians.4
As my interviews revealed, many Ossetian nationalists in fact hope that
one day the two territories will be united. Moscow’s fears of radicalization of its ethnic minorities are considerable, especially as Russia’s North
Caucasus region is already roiled by separatist and Islamic movements,
and even by ISIS-aligned groups in neighboring regions likeIngushe
tia and nearby Chechnya and Dagestan.5 Furthermore, the frozen confict and resulting lawlessness in South Ossetia and Abkhazia facilitate
money laundering and organized crime that often has ties to Russia.6
Apart from its Black Sea access and location in the strategic and
volatile Caucasus, Georgia itself offers few riches or natural resources
that could beckon Russia’s reimperialization. However, Georgia stands
to be a player in the energy diplomacy of the Caucasus, particularly as
Europe would like to diversify its energy mix with Caspian rather than
Russian energy resources. As an energy superpower, Russia seeks control
of oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea that would pass through
Georgian territory, including the , the
Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, and the proposed Azerbaijan-Georgia.
Romania gas interconnector pipeline:” Lastly, Georgian territorycusof
Moscow’s direct access to its regional ally Armenia where it keeps a mii
tary base.
Ukraine’s size, population, Black Sea ports, and geographical position,
which make it both buffer and launching pad against the West, along
with its role as both a supplier of foodstuffs and a market for Russian
goods, have made it a strategic prize for the Russian imperial project for
centuries. Ukraine shares a long border with Russia, a sizable Russian
speaking population, and a common Christian Orthodox faith. Theide
ological motives behind Moscow’s imperial claims on Ukraine are
significant. As Zbigniew Brzezinski noted, “It cannot be stressed strongy
enough that without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with
Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes
an empire”*5 Ukraine would be the most prized addition to theMoscow
led Eurasian Economic Union, of which Belarus and Kazakhstan are
also members. At the same time Russia strongly opposes Ukraine’sa
sociation agreement with the EU. Part of the imperial ideology vis-
vis Ukraine rests on the aforementioned concept of Russia and Ukraine
as “brotherly Slavic nations.” Days ahead of the annexation of Crimea,
on 18 March 2014, President Vladimir Putin stated that Ukraine and
Russia are inextricably interlinked, saying “we are one people
.. ndwe
cannot live without each other.”” In August 2014, Putin reiterated, “1
think that the Russian and Ukrainian peoples are practically one single
people, no matter what others might say…. People living in what is
Ukraine today all called themselves ‘Russian.”s0 The Ukrainians, on
the other hand, are more ambivalent about this concept of “Slavic broth
erhood” accompanied bythreats.5 Ukraine also figures centrally inRus
sia’s perception of empire. The inftuential far-right, anti-Western
Russian author Alexander Prokhanov has argued that Russia is now entering the stage of its Fifth Empire: “The first Russian empire was Kievan
Rus, the second was the Moscow Kingdom, the third was the St.Peters
burg Empire of the Romanovs, [the fourth] the Red Empire of the Soviet
Union,” and the fifth is now emerging under the leadership of President
Putin.2 Finally, Moscow is also concerned about the domestic repercus
sions in Russia, when neighboring Ukrainians are looking to the EU,
seeking reforms and a democratic society.55 Moscow likely worries that
a version of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Maidan movement of 203-14 might spark in Russia, and thus attempts to delegitimize if not demonize the civic unrest by labeling it a radical, fascist,
staged revolution, and alleging Western interference.
Besides these ideological motives, Russia has a number of strategic
economic interests in Ukraine. The country is a significant market for
Russian natural gas, oil, and nuclear fuel.” In 2013, according to Gazprom’s data, the company sold nearly Su billion worth of gas to Ukraine,
representing some 16 percent of Gazprom’s total gas exports, and earned
16 percent of its total revenue.55 Following the confict and a change in
the Ukrainian government, in 2014 Ukraine cut its gas consumption by
half to less than S4 billion.56 Most significantly, however, Russian energy
exports depend on Ukrainian territory. Through Ukraine runs Russia’s
key Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhhorod gas pipeline and the Druzhba (Friendship) oil pipeline, transporting Russian energy resources to European
markets. Russia’s economy is hugely dependent on revenues from oil and
gas exports, and Russia depends on the European markets for some
80 percent of its piped gas exports. Half of that supply is piped through
the territory of Ukraine. Thirteen European countries-Croatia, France,
Greece, Germany, Poland, Italy, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia,
Slovenia, Austria, Bulgaria, and Romania-get their gas via Ukraine.37
Thus for Russia it is critical to maintain control and influence over a territory through which flows its most important export route and on which
its main source of income depends. Leaked Russian government policy
papers from February 2014 stated that in light of the changing political
situation in Ukraine, Russia could not risk “losing not only theUkrai
nian market for energy sales but more importantly indirect control over
the gas transportation system of Ukraine. This will put at risk Gazprom’s
positions in Central and Southern Europe, causing great damage to the
national economy.”58
Ukraine also has its own significant natural resources. Ukraine’s gas
reserves are 1.2 trillion cubic meters, andifproduction were to be ramped
up the country could fully supply its domestic needs and in the long term
could even become a key European natural gas exporter. In eastern
Ukraine shale gas exploration was launched in 2013, and Donetsk and
Luhansk, which have become hotbeds of Russian-sponsored separatism,
are highly industrialized and have notable coal and iron ore deposits,
According to the Statistics Service of Ukraine, the regional GDP ofDo
netsk totaled nearly 12 percent of Ukraine’s GDP, and Luhansk’s, 4 per
cent. Meanwhile, 7o percent of coal in Ukraine is mined in Donetsk
and Luhansk regions.’ Since the 2014 conflict erupted, Ukrainian coal
from Luhansk has been transported out of the country toRussia.5 In the
face of increasing Western and Chinese interest, Russian private and
state-owned companies have also sought to privatize Ukrainianstate
owned commpanies and enterprises, including gas and oil pipelines, energy companies, engineering industry, and agriculturalland
According to Ukrainian political scientist Dmytro Kondratenko, Rus
sia’s primary interests in Ukraine are military. Ukraine’s domestic military industry includes manufacture of helicopters and cruise misile
engines, and Russia likewise relies on Ukraine for the maintenance of
its SS-18 nuclear rockets as well as its aircraft-facilities for all ofwhich
activities are located in eastern Ukraine.* Most importantly, for Russia,
Ukraine serves as a passage to central Europe, the Balkan countries, and
Moldova’s Transnistria.” Only on 23 May 2015 did Ukraine annul a se
ries of agreements with Russia on military cooperation and mutualsecu
rity, and most importantly, it officially terminated permission for Russian
troops to use Ukraine as a corridor to Transnistria.6 The Ukrainian port
of Sevastopol, which has now been annexed by Russia, had been romanticized as “Russian Glory” and compared to “the Temple Mount inJeru
salem” by Putin despite there being no historical basis for thisargument
Sevastopol’s importance has been primarily military-it has hosted the
Russian Navy, affording Russia quick access to the eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Moscow has consistentlyar
gued that even the theoretical possibility of Ukraine’s joining NATO
would have significant implications for Russia’s security. As Putin stated
on 18 March 2014 regarding Ukraine’s theoretical closer ties to NATO:
“What would this have meant for Crimea and Sevastopol in the future?
It would have meant that NATO’s navy would be right there in this city
of Russia’s military glory, and this would create not an illusory but a per
fectly real threat to the whole of southern Russia.”70 With its annexation of
Crimea, Russia immediately seized various equipment-rockets, ships,
aircraft, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles-from Ukrainian military bases”
Russia’s soft power in Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia (as well as their
separatist territories) has predominantly been based on the prevalence
of the Russian language, the Orthodox Church, the Russian media, and
strong business ties. The legacies of common Soviet culture and the appeal of Russian contemporary popular culture have also played a role, es
pecially in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia’s separatist territories. All this
has been most effective in the separatist regions, but this is partly because the tiny, internationally unrecognized regions are now completely
dependent on Russian patronage. As noted in Chapter 2, Russian soft
power often goes beyond these means of influence, comes to resemble
coercion and blackmail, and can include economic sanctions.
As a means of economic influence, Russia has conducted numerous trade
wars against Ukraine, especially since the Orange Revolution of 2o04.
Much of the economic pressure was aimed at forcing Ukraine’s hand to
join the Russian-led Customs Union and later the Eurasian Economic
Union.2 Cutoffs of natural gas flow to Ukraine due to tensions over debts,
pricing, and politics (including the notorious cuts of 2006 and 2009 that
affected the EU’s supply) have been the most prominent and consistent
instrument of Russia’s political and economic coercion of and influence
over Kiev.3 Other Russian embargos targeted Ukrainian agricultural,
metal, and manufactured products. Russia also offered carrots as well
as brandishing sticks in its economic policies toward Ukraine. For instance, in the aircraft industry, Russia at times promised cooperation in
exchange for political concessions.75
Since the 2000s, Russian soft power in Ukraine has centered on the
Russian cultural centers, including in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
and the Crimean Peninsula. The sizable and well-funded Crimean center, besides cultural events and distribution of Russian textbooks and
fags, has consistently sought to influence the identity ofthe Crimean inhabitants and propagate separatism, including supporting the Crimean
Cossacks militant pro-Russia group.76 It has continually organized such
initiatives as the Day of Russia, the Day of Moscow, and the Day of the
Reunion of Crimea with Russia.7 Every week the center’s TV Studio telecast the Kuranty (Chimes) program targeting the Crimeans and offering
information on Russian government activities, the Moscow-Crimea Foun.
dation, and the like. Through the 201os, Ukraine imported threetimes
more books from Russia than it published on its own, while Ukrainian
cinemas and TV channels spent more than a hundred million dolars an.
nually on films produced in Russia.7″ However, it is evident thatthrough
out the 200os, rather than cultural appeals, intense ideological presure
on the Ukrainian people marked Russia’s soft power.”
Often intertwined with cultural and political means ofinfuence
Russia’s economic infuence has been overwhelming over the past twenty
years. Russian citizens own 1o percent of Ukraine’s two hundred larg.
est strategic companies.30 Russian companies and businessmen donate
funds to different pro-Russian organizations, often blurring the lines
between Russia’s economic, cultural, and political soft power. For ex
ample, Russian-born oligarch and billionaire Vadim Novinskiy is a well.
known sponsor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow
Patriarchate.3 He helped elect a relatively pro-Russian candidate as the
new metropolitan of the church, which answers directly to the Kremlin
ally Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and competes with the two independent
Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, the Kievan Patriarchate and the Auto
cephalous Orthodox Church, which are not subordinate to Moscow2
As in Ukraine, in Moldova the soft power ofthe Russian Orthodox Church
is also important. The Metropolitan Church of Moldova is canonically
subordinate to the Russian Patriarchate, and administers about 7o per
centofallOrthodox parishes in the country and benefits from the status
of the country’s most trusted institution.3 The church has generaly lent
its support to pro-Russian political parties at election times. In return,
the Communist Party of Moldova, while in power from 2002 to 2008,
renovated a series of churches, often using public funds.4 Another
cultural source of Russian soft power in Moldova is Soviet nostalgia,
which was progressively revived after the Communist Party became the
largest political party in the parliament in 1998. The 9 May celebrations,
commemorating Soviet victory in the Second World War, have been the
main rallying point, with Soviet-era wartime songs performed by prominent Moldovan and Russian singers invited to Chisinau. Since around
2012, the Russian Embassy has introduced a new tradition ofsporting
Russian nationalist and military symbol, the St. George Ribbon, which
has been enthusiastically adopted by the Moldovan Communist Party.
In Moldova and Transnistria, Russia has leveraged its position as a
dominant investor, energy provider, and consumer of Moldovan wine.
Russia contributes to some 40 percent of all investment in the Moldovan
economy (including Transnistria) as a player in some 350 enterprises.85
While Moldova accounted for some 1o percent of the wine consumed in
Russia in 2013, Russia has enacted several bans against it including in
2006 and in 2013 When Moldova signed an association agreement with
the EU.36 At the same time, Russia started favoring wines from Moldova’s Gagauz region, thus lending informal support to its separatist tendencies.37 Transnistria has also received some carrots from Moscow in
the form of “free” gas from Gazprom, running up an outstanding bill of
Ss billion.5 Moldovan authorities are not financially able to pay the debt,
but separating the debt from Moldova and demanding that Transnistrian
authorities pay it themselves would be a step toward recognizing the independence of the region-something Chisinau is not prepared to do.9
As in Transnistria, in Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia Gazprom
has consistently provided subsidized gas as a tool of economic soft power.
By contrast, Moscow has consistently pressured Georgia, which used to
be 100 percent dependent on Gazprom gas, to pay its massive energy
debt.0 Amid political tensions, in the winter of 2006, the coldest in
some twenty years, unknown saboteurs bombed the gas pipelinesupply
ing Georgia andArmenia Tbilisi called this Moscow’s foul and in the
subsequent years diversified its gas supply away from Russia and toward
Azerbaijan.,2 The same year Russia also applied economic sanctions
against Georgia, blocking imports of Georgian wine and mineral water.
Trade with Russia has been another soft power tool used in South
Ossetia. In the 1990s, the South Ossetian administration received significant revenue from controlling illegal trade in Russian gasoline and
wheat, which was conducted on the side of the road to Vladikavkaz and
the Roki mountain tunnel connecting the region with Russia. The South
Ossetian government would resell these goods to Georgia and apply
“transit taxes” though the region was still officially part of Georgia. Like
wise, throughout the i990s, Russia paid the salaries of Russian soldiers
and peacekeepers stationed in the region in rubles rather than the Geor
gian lari, to further tie the territories economically to Russia” To this
day, much of Russia’s soft economic power in the separatist territories is
tied to illegal commercial practices that steer resources to a few people
in these poor and underdeveloped regions. The economic vulnerability
of these regions makes them attractive targets for the next stage ofhu
manitarian policies of Russia’s reimperialization trajectory.
In addition to Russia’s policies toward the separatist territories, since
the 2010s as Tbilisi increasingly turned Westward and NATO-ward,Rus
sia’s soft power activities intensified vis–vis Georgia’s domestic poli
tics. There were increased signs and allegations of Russian intelligence
activity, including infiltration of government bureaucracies, officials, and
even themilitary2 In 2012, the rapid rise ofthe former Georgian Prime
Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili was described as “the sudden transformation of a shady Russian billionaire into a populist Georgian politician”
and was perceived by some “as a Kremlin-organized plot.” Regardless
of the truth or falsehood of these allegations, they contributed to an immense polarization of Georgian domestic politics, growing mistrust, and
distraction from national priorities.
The Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC), as one of the most ancient
(from the fourth century) of the family of Orthodox churches, benefits
from a unique position. Out of all Eastern Orthodox Churches in the post
Soviet states, only the autocephalous GOC is independent from Moscow
and has not become a clear mechanism of Russia’s soft power.6 South
Ossetia and Abkhazia officially still belong to the GOC’s canonical territory, and the GOC has responded harshly to the Russian Orthodox
Church’s plans to build churches in Russian military bases in Abkhazia.2
However, it is possible to discern that traditional Georgian society has
been targeted by Russia’s narrative of “a common [Orthodox) front against
Western infuence on society.”% In the 2010s there has also been a notable challenge to Georgia’s Euroatlanticist agenda from within thecoun
try as various local pro-Russian NGOs and organizations like Eurasian
Choice, the Eurasian Institute, and Earth Is Our Home that have been
supporting Georgia’s integration into the Eurasian Economic Union instead. Also, NGOs and interest groups that openly receive funding from
Russian sources, such as the Russian-Georgian Public Center, the Foundation of Russian and Georgian People, and the Gorchakov Fund, which
is directly affiliated with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, regularly hold events in Tbilisi, including conferences, roundtable discus
sions, and seminars. Pro-Russian rallies and political leaders who oppose
integration to NATO have become increasingly common, demonstrating
that Russia’s soft power is not just a singular phase leading to conflict
but rather a long-term consistent effort that persists even after the war is
officially over.100
Russia’s humanitarian policies have varied from softer means of assis
tance to harder methods oftroop introduction under the pretext ofpeace
keeping in Moldova and Georgia. In Moldova’s Transnistria, Russia has
consistently provided a large amount of financial support to the Tiraspol
administration, in the form of humanitarian aid, bonuses, additions to
pensions, and other means of support. To illustrate the scope of this, in
the period 2o07-u, Russia spent some $75 million to pay out pensions
in Transnistria.0l In Georgia on the other hand, Russian humanitarian
policies in the 1990s were directly tied to its military activities. The first
presence of Russian troops in the region can be traced directly to Rus
sia’s “humanitarian operations” or, specifically, peacekeeping in the
early 199os in South Ossetia and Abkhazia following the wars of these
two territories for independence from Georgia.02 For Russia peacekeeping has arguably been not about keeping peace but at a minimum gaining influence and at a maximum carrying out acts of aggression, in
accordance with General Gerasimov’s argument that peacekeeping is an
important component of new methods ofwar.0 The first Russian
peacekeepers arrived in South Ossetia in 1992 as part of a multinational force and essentially never left. In the Russo-Georgian war of
2008, the safety of Russian peacekeepers (and the newly minted South
Ossetia’s Russian citizens) was used as the reason for military intervention in Georgia.104 Other humanitarian efforts in South Ossetia included
an OSCE mission set up in 1991 to reach a peaceful political settlement,
but the mission was perceived to be highly influenced by the Russian
state105 Similarly, in May 1994. following a cease-fire in the AbkhazGeorgian conflict, peacekeeping was to be conducted by CIS countries
yet only Russia sent its troops, who remained in Abkhaz territory until
the outbreak of war in 2008.
During the 2000s, Russia’s humanitarian efforts in Ukraine have
centered not on “peacekeeping” troops (as no prior confict existed) but
instead on the narrative of supporting the rights of Ukraine’s Russian
minority. However, it is worth mentioning that in fact Russia had con
sidered yet ultimately refrained from using “peacekeeping” troops in 2014
in eastern Ukraine both before and after the request from militants in
Donetsk.06 Moscow’s interest in Ukraine’s Russian minority policies intensified following Ukraine’s attempts to turn West with the Orange
Revolution of 2004. The paradox ofthesepolicies stemmed from the fact
that no international human rights organizations had ever received any
complaints from ethnic Russians or Russian speakers living inUkraine
Instead, the Russian government tried to appeal to the OSCE HighCom
missioner for National Minorities on a number of occasions. In October
2008, the Russian ambassador to Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin,
called on the OSCE to monitor the rights of Russians there, claiming that
Ukraine is using “restrictive measures without taking into account the
interests of the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine, who appeal to
the Russian embassy.”109 Russia has also appealed to the Council ofEu
rope regarding these alleged violations.10 Most surprisingly, Russian
policy deemed that Ukraine’s recognition of its historical Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which fought against the invasion of the Nazis and Sovi.
ets, is a violation of international law and a violation of the rights of
Soviet army veterans, These incoherent attempts at raising the issue
of human rights violations in Ukraine were backed by Russia’s simultaneous compatriot policies. Once again, soft power and humanitarian
policies lay the groundwork for the most significant policy thread in the
reimperialization trajectorythat of reclaiming Russian compatriots.
In Georgia and Moldova, Moscow’s efforts to claim the South Ossetian,
Abkhazian, and Transnistrian populations as Russia’s compatriots started
in the early 1990s with economic and cultural support and peacekeep
ing operations long before Russia had fully formulated its official poli
cies toward compatriots. In the 199os Russia promoted Russian-language
education in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which had just 9 percent
and 1 percent ethnic Russians respectively. As a result Russian became
the language of instruction in all schools and higher education institutions while the educational content was redesigned to promote a new
national identity.2 In April 2008, before the Russo-Georgian war that
summer, Putin called for a package of economic and legal assistance to
Russian compatriots, resulting in a formal program, Main Directions of
the Development of Relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This program established consular, economic, social, educational, and cultural
cooperation and assistance. The Russian media described it as a step to
protect “the legitimate interests” of Russian citizens “residing in so far
unrecognized republics.”113 The real aim and result ofthese policies was
to start treating the separatist regions as independent states and sidelin
ing the Georgian government in its territories. Outside of the separatist
regions, Russia’s compatriot policies toward the Russian diaspora in
Georgia proper have been much more limited and have garnered little
success, primarily due to the small numbers of ethnic Russians and
Russian speakers and their generally successful integration into Georg1an society.14
Moldova and Transnistria have both been targets of Russia’s official compatriot efforts. While most of these efforts started long after the de facto
independence of Transnistria, here, Russian compatriot support can be
barely distinguished from Sovietera Russification policies. In Transnistria,
though Russian, Ukrainian, and Moldovan are the official languages, the
Russian language is the de facto language of communication. Accord
ing to Transnistria’s 2014 official report, ethnic Moldovans number
32 percent of the population, Russians 30 percent, and Ukrainians 29 percent, but 96.5 percent of school and university students study in the Russian language.15 In 2009, 0utofTransnistria’s 182 schools, only thirty-three
taught in the “Moldovan” language and only two in Ukrainian, with the
rest teaching in Russian. Moreover, the majority of the region’s government leaders come from Russia, so that most government proceedings
are in Russian.6
In Moldova, there is a plethora of nongovernmental organizations
spearheading Moscow’s support for the so-called Russian compatriots.
The Russian Community (comprising 26 territorial branches) and the
Congress of the Russian Community (comprising ii organizations, plus
20 local branches) are both part of the Coordinating Council of Russian
Communities (comprising an additional 22 associations and 9 territorial branches). Besides their many branches, these entities host joint
events in Gagauzia. Many of their activities are cultural (such as the “Days
of Russian Culture” festival) or educational (such as the “Time to Study
in Russia” project), but they also promote joining the Eurasian Economic
Union and “reunification with Russia.”7 Delegates of the Congress of
the Russian Community in Moldova participate in the World Congress
of Russian Compatriots.18 A smaller organization, Friends of Russia, ad.
vocates closer relations with Russia and boasts many prominent Moldovan public figures, including ex-Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev, governor
of Gagauzia Mikhail Formuzal (2006 to present), and former Deputy
Prime Minister Nicolae Andronic as members.19 The extensive eforts
to support Russian compatriots are somewhat surprising considering that
Chisinau has long emphasized that “Moldova is a multiethnic state,”12
and is perceived to have enacted some of the best policies in the region
as regards ethnic and linguistic minorities.121
Under Putin’s regime, Ukraine has also faced escalating Russian compatriot policies despite the fact that Russians and Ukrainians have lived
together peacefully for decades: intermarrying, speaking predominantly
Russian in some regions, and often sharing the same faith. Nevertheless,
starting in about the year 2000 the Russian government began creating
various compatriot organizations and culture centers and supplying them
with legal, financial, informational, logistics, and organizational support,
but these activities internsified after the mid-20oos.22 After the 2004 Or
ange Revolution, Russian citizens started creating illegal and semilegal
organizations in Ukraine and providing members with paramilitary
training, resulting in Kiev banning some Russian politicians from en
tering the country.23 For instance, Donetsk’s pro-Russian separatist or
ganization “Donetskaya Respublika” was registered in 2006 and started
receiving military training no later than 2009, according to media reports and information from social networks.24 Other Russian organizations in Ukraine also became more active at this time. In 20o07 a former
member ofthe Ukrainian parliament, Vadim Kolesnichenko, became the
head of the newly founded Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriot
Organizations in Ukraine-a post he maintained until he absconded to
Russian-occupied Crimea in 2014. Yet the most significant policy related to Russian compatriots in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova was Moscow’s passportization effort.
The Georgian and Ukrainian cases are the best examples in the post
Soviet states of Moscow’s highly concerted effort to provide Russian
citizenship to inhabitants of specific regions. Handing out Russian citizenship and passports was often conducted simultaneously with efforts
to politically and ideologically reconstruct these foreign citizens as
Russian compatriots. In Georgia, Russia started its early efforts ofpass
portization in the 1990s, and they gained further momentum under
Putin’s presidency in the 200os. Tbilisi granted automatic Georgian
citizenship to all former citizens ofthe Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic immediately following independence-including South Ossetians
and Abkhazians.126 Yet many people from these regions did not acquire
Georgian passports due to both separatism, tensions with Tbilisi, and
the fact that many people living in remote villages saw no need to apply.
In 2000, Moscow made a strategic move and withdrew from Georgian
citizens the right to visa-free travel to Russia but allowed it for Abkhazians and South Ossetians. This had significant consequenceseconom
ically for some 6oo,00o to 9oo,ooo Georgian labor migrants in Russia
and in particular for the breakaway regions that bordered Russia.27 For
these poor regions trade with neighboring Russia had become an im
portant source of livelihood. As a result, many South Ossetians and Abkhazians, including those interviewed and profiled here, obtained
Russian passports, driven by the economic necessity to travel visa-free
to Russia. Russian citizenship provided additional benefits such as
pensions and allowances, winning the loyalty of the population.28
In 2002, Moscow started large-scale distribution of Russian citizenship and passports, shortly after Russia’s new citizenship law, which
simplified the naturalization procedure.129 The new law stipulated that
stateless peoples of the former Soviet Union could hand in their Soviet
passports and in exchange receive Russian passports. Despite the fact that
Abkhazians and South Ossetians were officially Georgian citizens, a pass
portization blitz followed across these territories. For instance, within a
month of the new law, Russian application centers were set up in six out
of seven regions in Abkhazia, in which special field brigades distributed
documents within days across remote and inaccessible mountain villages.
The proportion of Russian citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia rose
consistently: from 3o percent in Abkhazia and 40 percent in South Os
setia in 2002, to 8o percent and 9o percent respectively in 20o6. Dur
ing the war of August 20o8, passportization was allegedly assisted by
Russian troops. For instance, some two thousand Russian passports were
found in the vehicle of a Russian officer in South Ossetia’s capital of
Tskhinvali. Pressure and compulsion to accept Russian citizenship
were reported even in ethnically Georgian territories, though some of
the interviewed ethnic Georgians from nearby regions such as Gori had
also acquired Russian passports for economic motives. By 2009, nearly
90 percent of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s population were Russian
In Ukraine, Russia started handing out citizenship and passports to
members of the Russian minority in Crimea during the 1990s, and amplified its policies in the 2000s. In addition, discharged officers of the
Black Sea fleet would obtain Ukrainian citizenship and remain in the
country. In 2008, the Vice Admiral of Ukraine, Volodymyr Bezkorovainiy,
as well as the Sevastopol prosecutor’s office, announced that some 1595
navy personnel from the fleet stationed at the port had illegally acquired
Ukrainian citizenship, all of them while maintaining their Russianciti
zenship.31 The Ukrainian media in 2008 started covering stories such
as that a librarian in a Sevastopol library was systemicaly handing out
Russian passports.32 While estimates suggested that the number of
Crimeans with Russian citizenship ranged from eight to forty thousand
or o.4 to 2.1 percent of the total population, Russian officials continued
to deny the distributionofpassports there133 Generally, many Crimeans,
especially ethnic Russians, were ambivalent both toward Ukrainian
citizenship, and often accepting of the opportunity to have a Russian
passport. The rapid passportization of the Crimeans was a reflection
of Russia’s successful implementation of previous stages of the reimperialization trajectory, namely soft power and compatriot policies.
The Russian passportization activities were not unknown to the
Ukrainian officials, though Kiev made no consistent policy response. In
the early 2o0os the representatives of Crimean Tatars presented evi
dence that Russian consulates in Simferopol and Sevastopol were massively handing out Russian citizenship,35 In 2008, The minister of
foreign affairs, Volodymyr Ohryzko, confirmed in an interview that the
Russian consulate general in Simferopol was providing Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens in unknown numbers.56 In September
2008, Ukrainian members of parliament from then Prime Minister Yulia
Tymoshenko’s bloc drafted legislation to strengthen penalties for offenses
against the Ukrainian Law on Citizenship, which forbids dual citizenship,
but the law was never passed. In February 2015, the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs stated it would start introducing “sanctions” against holders of
dual citizenship.1 Indeed what is evident from the cases of Georgia and
Ukraine is that the weakness and incoherence of these countries’ policies toward their own citizens and minorities and their lack ofre
sponse to Russian soft power and compatriot policies enabled Russian
passportization and paved the way for more aggressive reimperialization activities.
The process of passportization was somewhat different in the case of
Moldova’s Transnistria than in Georgia or Ukraine. Passportization followed rather than preceded the region’s separatism and served to solidify rather than establish proseparatist and pro-Russian leanings. Much
of this is due to the fact that Transnistria’s separatism emerged long before Russia’s compatriot and accompanying citizenship policies werede
veloped. Since Transnistria declared independence in 1990 almost
immediately following Moldova’s independence but before the Soviet
Union collapsed, most Transnistrians remained Soviet citizens. While
Transnistria has issued its own passports (which are internationally unrecognized) many people have opted for Russian and Ukrainian citizenship. Estimates from the late 200os suggest that there were some i50,000
Russian citizens in Transnistria out of the total population of half a million.38 However, in comparison to South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Crimea,
Moscow’s effort at passportizing the population has been less concerted.
In the 200os Moscow opened a consular office in Transnistria’s capital
Tiraspol, despite Chisinau’s objections. Yet reports indicate that Trans
nistrians have dificulty acquiring Russian citizenship and to do so gen.
erally pay significant fees and bribes tomiddlemen. Passportizing the
Transnistrians has become a profitable business for some. In the end,
the inhabitants of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transnistria all succumb
to the same necessity: people living in internationally unrecognized ter
ritories without internationally recognized passports have no choice but
to resort to obtaining Russian passports if they want to legally travel to
Russia or anywhere else. Yet with a Russian passport these individuals
wittingly or not become targets of Moscow’s claims to protect.
Possibly the most active and sophisticated Russian information warfare
campaign in the whole of the post-Soviet space was enacted against
Ukraine in the year leading up to Crimea’s annexation and the separat
ist war. As in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria, Russian infor
mation warfare leveraged the widespread Russian language and the
dominance of Russian media that had been established over earlier years
through soft power efforts, cultural appeals, compatriot policies.
In Ukraine, the main targets of Russian information warfare have been
Russians and Russian speakers, who mainly reside in the southeastern
parts of the country, while Ukrainian speakers have been targeted to a
much lesser degree.0 The main vehicles of this information campaign
have been Russian and Russian-language TV, online media, and social
networks. In the autumnof2013, Russian TV channels like Perviy Kanal,
Rossiya 24, Life News, Euronews (Russian edition), Russia Today, and
others pursued a number of strategies. The first was to discredit Ukraine’s
European integration efforts and the Maidan protests.4l Simultaneously,
the Russian media turned to their favorite tactic of smearing itsoppo
nents as “fascists,” and tried to convince eastern and southern Ukraini
ans of the narrative that “fascism is returning to life” in Kiev and western
Ukraine.2 Russian TV channels urged Russian speakers to resist and
even to take aggressive actions against the authorities and theirUkrai
nian neighbors4 The Russian mass media also tried to promote the idea
of “federalization of Ukraine”-introducing greater autonomy forvari
ous regions through referendums.”* Russian foreign minister Sergey
Lavrov likewise demanded that “Ukraine should abandon the unitary position and Ukrainization.”5 As time progressed, but before the annexa
tion of Crimea and ahead of the military clashes in Donetsk and Luhansk,
Russian authorities started to produce fake reports about mass refugee
flows from Ukraine to Russia.46 Much of this propaganda was also targeted at domestic TV viewers to gain support for Moscow’s stance toward
As with passportization, Kiev was ill-equipped, outmatched as it was
by Moscow’s resources and political will, to respond to Russia’s informa
tion campaign. Generally, Ukrainian television is considered to be quite
pluralistic, without explicit pro- or anti-Russian content, with the possible exception of the Inter channel which in 2015 was accused by the
government of broadcasting “Russian propaganda” but continues in oper
ation.4″ Inter is the second most popular national channel in Ukraine,
owned by Dmitry Firtash and Sergey Levochkin, oligarchs aligned ith
ousted President Victor Yanukovich who allegedly have strong connec
tions with Russian business.* Ukraine stopped transmitting several
Russian TV channels on its territory, though one Kiev-based pro-Russia
newspaper (and corresponding internet site), Vesti, continues to operate
as of 2015, allegedly financed in cash byRussia On the other hand, Russian troops and pro-Russian militias immediately switched off Ukrainian TV channels and switched on Russian ones after taking control of
a city or town in the conftict since 20o14.150 Less than a year after Crimea’s
annexation, internet users in the peninsula faced Russian censorship and
could not access more than eleven thousand banned websites including
Ukrainian ones.151
In addition to a vigorous information warfare offensive, since 2014
pro-Russian hackers have been carrying out a cyber wartare campaign
not only against the Ukrainian government but also against NATO.
Shortly after Yanukovych fled Ukraine on 28 February 2014, by sabotaging
fiber optic cables and raiding the facilities of the Ukrainian telecommunications company Ukrtelecom, Russian troops rendered the entire
Crimean peninsula virtually inaccessible from the mainland152Subse
quently, the main Ukrainian government website was shut down for over
seventy-two hours and pro-Russian hackers also managed to compromise
the mobile phones of Ukrainian parlianmentarians.”3 This tactic, which
essentially followed the Russian hybrid warfare scenario, severelyham
pered communications between the Ukrainian military and decision
makers during the crucial hours of the Crimean annexation. Further
more, it has been observed by security analysts that dozens of comput
ers in Ukraine have been hit by Snake-a sophisticated computer virus
probably originating from Russia, which can gain access to, remotely con
trol, and steal large amounts of data.15* Ultimately, following theRus
sian offensive in Ukraine and the Western sanctions in 2014, a surge of
cyber attacks has been documented against NATO, Western government
departments, and telecoms-all probably linked with cyber groups based
in Russia.155
In both Moldova and Transnistria, Russian media are almost equally per
vasive. According to Moldova’s 2014 Barometer of Public Opinion, the
media are the third most trusted institution after the church and the
army. Television is the most important source of information for 83 per
cent of Moldovans.156 The most watched Moldovan TV channel, Prime
TV, mostly retransmits the Russian channel, Perviy Kanal. About half
the newspapers are in Russian and also mostly published in Russia,
while some, like the business newspaper Kommersant Plus, are financed
by Transnistria’s regime. 57 The propaganda of Moldova’s andTransnis
tria’s pro-Russian media focuses on negatively portraying the European
Union and the West, and positively portraying Russia and the Eurasian
Economic Union. In the case of Transnistria, there has been a tendency
to build anti-Moldova public sentiment, which in times of tension be
tween Chisinau and Moscow has been described as reaching a level of
In Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia, however, the Russian policies
went beyond propaganda tactics: as in the Ukrainian case, the propaganda
served as a tool to justify an eventual invasion, which was facilitated by
a concerted information warfare campaign. As the 19908 progressed,
Georgia lost the information space and the allegiance of South Ossetia
and Abkhazia to Russia. In 2006, the two separatist regions blocked the
broadcasting of Georgian channels, giving Russian media the monopoly 15 Ahead of the war in 2008, there was a notable increase in Russian
coverage of the hardships and discrimination allegedly faced by the South
Ossetians and the Abkhazians at the hands of the Georgians and the
Georgian government.0 Following these allegations, in the spring of
2008 Moscow sent reinforcements to its peacekeeping operations in Abkhazia, declaring that force would be used to protect Abkhazia’s Russian
citizens if the alleged hostilities resumed. In June 2008 Russian Lieutenant General Alexander Burutin warned in reference to the allegations
of abuses, “In the future we cannot guarantee that our servicemen will
act in this patient way. Their patience is not limitless. The consequences
will be grave and there could be bloodshed. It is beyond doubt that the
Georgian side will have to assume the responsibility for these provocations and their consequences.”lo1
In the lead-up to the war in the summer of 2008, Russia’sinforma
tion warfare became increasingly aggressive, reporting on completely unsubstantiated claims of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” being carried
out by the Georgians.162 During his visit to Russia’s North Ossetia in August 2008, Prime Minister Putin stated, “we are seeing elements of a
kind of genocide against the Ossetian people” and “They are mostly
women, children, and the elderly. Of course, they faced a dramatic tragedy. What they told me is beyond any war rules. I believe there were elements ofgenocide.” Yet these dramatic accounts were no more than a
disinformation ploy. The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia concluded in 2009 that there was no
evidence of genocide committed by the Georgian side during the war or
its aftermath. Rather, the report concluded that ethnic cleansing had been
practiced against ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia both during and af
ter the war.164
As war approached, Russia’s information campaign turned to cyber
warfare and included cyber attacks on Georgian government and media
websites.165 It was the first known case (which would later be repeated in
Ukraine) where cyber warfare and a military campaign were coordinated,
with pro-Kremlin hackers reportedly working alongside Russian military
forces.166 Weeks before the invasion, Russian hackers began attacks
against Georgian internet infrastructure with coordinated barrages of
millions of requests-known as distributed denial of service, orDDos
attacks-that overloaded and effectively shut down Georgianservers,
The DDoS attacks also targeted the websites of the president, the parliament, the foreign ministry, news agencies, and banks.’s6 Ultimately, while
Russian tanks and troops were crossing the Georgian border and bombers were flying, the hackers began simultaneously attacking key Georgian
military, communications, finance, and government websites (fifty-four
of them were targeted), thus rendering some of them inaccessible dur.
ing the crisis and spreading chaos and panic.1659
Moscow’s call for protection of Russian compatriots was carried out under quite different circumstances in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine.
However, in all three cases there were already Russian troops on the
ground who served as the means for this “protection” process. In the early
1990s in Moldova it was Soviet troops; in the 2ooos in Georgia it was
Russian peacekeepers; and in 2014 Ukraine it was Russia’s militarypres
ence on the Sevastopol naval base. The calls for protection and subsequent
military operations in the case of Georgia and Ukraine were preceded
by much earlier groundworkofwooing and co-opting Russian compatri
ots and even providing them with paramilitary training.
In Ukraine, Moscow’s calls for Russian compatriot protection were al
ready voiced sporadically following the country’s Orange Revolution in
2004 and were often launched in response to Ukraine’s domestic politi
cal developments, such as elections or a change in leadership.70 Increasingly, however, some Russian intellectuals and political scientists
associated with the Kremlin tended to speak about splitting Ukraine and
absorbing some of its regions. In an interview in May 2009, a prominent
Russian philosopher who argues for a restoration ofthe Russian Empire,
Alexander Dugin, called for the integration of the southeastern regions
of Ukraine with Russia. He even outlined the process, arguing that the
residents of these regions should initiate a referendum on integration
with Russia, and protest if such a referendum were prohibited.1 Another
Odessa-born Russian political commentator, Anatoliy Vasserman,pro
posed that each local commune of Ukraine should hold a referendum
about whether its residents wanted to join Russia.2 According to a 2015
report begun by Boris Nemtsov and finished by his colleagues after his
death, long before Crimea’s annexation Ukrainian officers and politicians
were being recruited by the Russian security services to switch sides and
support the separatists at key moments, and being paid for their efforts
by Moscow and by Crimean businesses that received loans from Russian
banks.73 Indeed the subsequent events in Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk
unfolded as if according to the Kremlin’s playbook.
By early 2014, following the Maidan protests and Yanukovich’s departure from government and Ukraine on 21 February, Moscow’s protec
tion changed from rhetoric to a hybrid warfare campaign. On the night
of 27 February 2014, Russian special forces took over the local legislature of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea.74 During the day,
several legislature members gathered and illegally named a new prime
minister of the Crimea (without proper procedure, quorum, or theUkrai
nian president’s permission).!75 At the same time, Russian troops, previously stationed in Crimea and the city of Sevastopol under the Black Sea
Fleet Treaty of 1997, started besieging and attacking Ukrainian troops,
government buildings, and infrastructure in direct violation ofthe 1994
Budapest Memorandum which guaranteed the territorial integrity of
Ukraine.6 On 16 March, Russian authorities and pro-Russian separat
ists conducted an illegal “referendum” for Crimea and Sevastopol to join
Russia with the reported but unlikely outcome of 96.7 percent supporting annexation. At the same time, the president of Russia’s Council on
Civil Society and Human Rights unexpectedly published in a blog (which
was quickly removed a short time later) that “so-6o percent voted for unification with Russia, with a turnout of 30-50 percent.”17 Putin himself
later acknowledged that around twenty thousand Russian troops were
present in Crimea during the “referendum,” which has been perceived
as influencing the outcome.78 In Sevastopol the Russian authorities
created new leadership by appointing a so-called people’s mayor without
any procedure. On 18 March, two days after the “referendum,” the Russian Federation signed the treaty of accession for Crimea and the city of
Sevastopol, and thus enacted what the world considers an unlawful annexation of Ukrainian territories.
In eastern Ukraine, violence by small militant groups broke out on
1 March. The real fighting began after u April, when a special Russian
military detachment, commanded by Colonel Igor Girkin (who had ear
lier taken part in capturing Crimea) crossed the Russian-Ukrainian
border and captured the city of Sloviansk in the region ofDonetsk
Pro-Russian militias continued capturing and advancing on other towns
and cities in eastern Ukraine. Despite the Ukrainian army’s efforts to
liberate Donetsk and Luhansk regions, subsequent offensives in 2014
and 2015 enabled the militants that were supported, armed, and largely
manned by Russia to maintain control over some territories. On n May
2014 Russian militants in Donetsk and Luhansk conductedinternation
ally unrecognized referendums and pseudo-elections on 2 November
2014. The future consequences of these actions as yet remain unclear,
since the militants declared “state sovereignty” but not independence
for the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics,30
On 17 July 2014 the conflict acquired an international dimension
when Malaysia Airlines Flight MHr7 was shot down over Donetsk by proRussian separatists with an SA-1 Buk missile likely given them byRus
sia, killing 298 people, seemingly because the separatists confused the
plane with a Ukrainian military aircraft.81 From the beginning, investi
gation of this tragedy was compromised by eftorts of Russian propaganda
to assign responsibility for the tragedy to Kiev, presenting fake pictures
of Ukrainian fighter aircraft next to the airliner and coming up withnon
existent witnesses who claimed to see Ukrainian involvement.52 How
ever, all evidence suggested the opposite. On 17 July 2014, approximately
at the same time the contact with MH7 was lost, Colonel Girkin posted
on the Russian social network Vkontakte about shooting down a Ukrainian An-26 plane in eastern Ukraine, but deleted the post as soon as the
news about the MH7 crash started to emerge13
Meanwhile, in August and September 2014, pro-Russia militias
seized the city of Novoazovsk in Donetsk region and tried to capture the
city of Mariupol.184 In September 2014, a first cease-fire agreement
(Minski) was signed between Kiev and the separatists, but it was broken
several days later when fighting started for control of the Donetsk air
port.8 In February 2015 a second cease-fire agreement (Minsk-2) was
signed but constant shelling by pro-Russian forces persisted.8 The wars
toll from 2o14 to mid-2015 was more than six thousand dead, tens ofthou
sands wounded, and nearly 1.3 million displaced persons.187
Throughout the war, the Russian government and media emphasized the narrative of “protecting” Russian compatriots as if to justify
forceful intervention and pseudo-referendums. In early March and again
at the beginning of April 2014 there were reports in the Russian media
that Russians were calling for protection in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions, and the city of Odessa.l8 In April 2014, Putin argued
that protection of Russian speakers was Russia’s primary motive in the
annexation ofCrimea:
The most obvious risk was that the Russian speaking population was threatened and that the threats were absolutely
specific and tangible. This is what made Crimean residents,
the people who live there, think about their future and ask
Russia for help. This is what guided our decision. I said in my
recent speech in the Kremlin that Russia had never intended to
annex any territories, or planned any military operations there,
never…. Butwe also thought, andhave always hoped,thatall
native Russians, the Russian-speaking people living in
Ukraine, would live in a comfortable political environment,
that they would not be threatened or oppressed.189
Just a month earlier, however, Putin had been far less studiedly pacifistic
when he argued cynically that Russia is not worried about war with Ukraine:
“If we make that decision sto go to war with Ukraine), it will only be to
protect Ukrainian citizens. And let’s see those [Ukrainian] troops try to
shoot their own people, with us behind them-not in front, but behind.
Let them just try to shoot at women and children! I would like to see
those who would give that order in Ukraine.”0 Indeed Russia’s “protec
tion” of its “compatriots” is nothing more than an undeclared hybrid war
against Ukraine. The goal appears to be to destroy Ukraine in its present
form as a unitary state and to gain control over Ukrainian territories.
In Georgia as in Ukraine, propaganda about mistreatment of “compatriots,” in this case the South Ossetians and Abkhazians, also set the stage
for “protection:” In hindsight it appears that Georgia served as a rehearsal
for the line that Moscow would later take in Ukraine. However, unlike in
Moldova and Ukraine, in 2008 there had been a heated debate over
whether Georgia was completely blameless in the outbreak of theRusso
Georgian war. Some have argued that it was Georgia’s use of military
force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia and the killingoftwo Russian
peacekeepers that resulted in the escalation of the conflict. Others point
to the fact that Russian troops had been in South Ossetia and Abkhazia
under the guise ofpeacekeepers since the 1990s and that Moscow steped
up its aggressive polices in Georgia after the country indicated its desire
to join NATO at the Bucharest summit in 2008. In the end, theRusso
Georgian conflict became an all-out direct war without Russia hiding
behind proxies and paramilitary groups as in the case of Ukraine or
Moldova. Under the leadership of pro-Western Georgian President
Mikheil Saakashvili, the confict also took on the character of a personal
confict between him and Putin. The Columbia University-educated law
yer Saakashvili gained his wild popularity and made his ascent to the
presidency by his bold charisma, his call to curb the country’s corruption, and his penchant for riding the run-down Tbilisi metro. In the summer of 2008, Ossetians began shelling Georgian villages while Russian
troops and military equipment were moving toward Georgia. Arguably
in response or arguably to recapture the breakaway territory, Saakashvili
launched a military operation on the night of7-8 August. On 8 August
Russia officially moved its army and air force into South Ossetia in addi
tion to the large “peacekeeping” contingents there and started air
strikes against Georgia proper.
The Russian side called the operation “peacekeepingenforcement.”
On 9 August 2008, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov argued that
the Russian constitution and Russian laws made it “unavoidable for us
to exercise responsibility to protect,” which was little more than a ma
nipulation of the R2P (Responsibility to Protect) concept coined by West
ern analysts.s On another occasion, he reiterated, “Russia will not
allow the death ofits compatriots to go unpunished… the life and dig
nity of our citizens, wherever they are, will beprotected.” The military
intervention was justified by allegations of genocide of the Ossetian
population by the Georgian forces, and as a move to protect South Os
setia’s Russian citizens and Russian peacekeeping forces on theterr
tory. Certainly, the fact that South Ossetians and Abkhazians were
now Russia’s citizens gave Moscow greater grounding in its efforts to
“protect” them. On 1o August 2008, at an emergency meeting of the
Security Council in New York, Russian Permanent Representative Vitaly
Churkin was highly emotional, accusing the Georgians of carrying out
“ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” in South Ossetia, but it would be a
vast understatement to call his claims exaggerations. He claimed Geor
gia’s attack on South Ossetia’s capital in one day resulted in 2,000 casualties of mostly Ossetian Russian citizens.6 “Can it be described as
genocide when 2,000 out of 120,000 people died the first day of the war?
What should be the numbers of the] victims to describe the situation as
genocide?97 However, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mis
sion on the Conflict in Georgia concluded that the overall South Osse.
tian civilian losses in the August 2008 war were 162 in total rather than
the 2,000 in a day cited by Russian officials.198
In the case of Moldova, there have been two scenarios of attempted Russian compatriot protection. The first was in 1991-92 when the some
twenty to thirty thousand Soviet troops who were still on the ground in
Moldova fought together with and on behalf of the separatists ofTrans
nistria, thus establishing the de facto independence of the territory. The
Soviet military involvement was largely justified on the pretext ofprotect
ing Moldova’s Russians and Russian speakers. While today the Russian
military remains on the ground as a “peacekeeping force,” it has also been
observed that Russia has been providing Transnistrian soldiers and of
ficers with service passports and rotating them through elite Russian of
ficer training courses.199 In 2014. furthermore, there was an arguably
orchestrated effort similar to that in Donetsk and Luhansk to destabilize
Moldova’s region of Gagauzia. Like Transnistria, Gagauzia had declared
itself independent in 1991, but Chisinau had assuaged tensions in 1994
by giving the region autonomy. In early February 2014, however, Gagauzia held an illegal referendum on whether Moldova should join the
Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, or the EU, which resulted in more
than 98 percent voting in favor of the Eurasian option. Likewise, the vot
ers voted 99 percent in favor of Gagauzia seeking independence from
Moldova ifthe latter lost its sovereignty or were to try to join Romania.200
In early 2014, the security services of Moldova successfully arrested a
number of Gagauz who had participated in military training camps in
Russia, and others fled to Russia fearing arrest.20 Allegedly young Gagauz
men had been recruited by Gagauz officials close to the Gagauz bashkan
(governor), Mihail Formuzal, and were supposed to complete training in a
Russian camp on how to defend themselves against police special forces
as well as to attack, make Molotov cocktails, and launch grenades,20 In
late November 2014, other pro-Russian organizations also came to the
attentionofthe Moldovan police, including AntiFa, Social Shield, Restruct
isicl Moldova, the Russian Legion, the New Legion, and the Cossack
movement, after the police found large amounts ofammunitions, rifles,
grenade launchers, and currency in fifteen locations where members of
AntiFa were active.20 Many in Moldova have concluded that the upsurge
of these organizations was related to parliamentary elections inNovem
ber 2014. The former acting director of Moldova’s Department ofHome
land Security, Valentin Dediu, stated: “Immediately after the elections
these forces will try to destabilize the situation to the maximum, and the
Russian Federation aims at creating the new Russian Empire.”204 Essentially Dediu argued that electoral losses by pro-Russian candidates could
result in violent protests carried out by the specially trained militant
groups. In May 2015, calls for protection were again heard when sixty-six
Transnistrian NGOs requested Putin to protect the territory and guar
antee peace there in light of the fact that Ukraine had terminated its
greement with Russia on military transit to Moldova.205
Among the three countries analyzed in this chapter, only Ukraine in the
case of Crimea experienced an official annexation of its territories by Russia. In fact Crimea stands alone as a case of Russia’s annexation ofterri
tory following the fall of the USSR. Even though the vast majority of the
international community has rejected the validity of Crimea’s referendum
and subsequent annexation, it does appear a lost cause for decades to
come. The future of Ukraine’s territories of Luhansk and Donetsk looks
more uncertain. Annexation does not seem to be the most likely scenario
in the near to medium term. For one, Western sanctions since 2014
and falling oil prices have taken a toll on the Russian economy and the
Kremlin is unlikely to pursue such an openly confrontational path. Kondratenko and another Ukrainian analyst, Inna Vedernikova, argue that
the aim of Russia is to keep these territories in medium-intensity war
mode and under the Ukrainian fag but with near complete Russian control 206 This lower-cost strategy could help Russia interfere in Ukrainian
domestic affairs, torpedo Kiev’s reforms, and hinder any plans to join the
EU and NATo through the resulting instability and unresolved territorial
boundaries. It is likely that other parts of Ukraine could become targets
of confict. Russia’s interfering hand could reach Ukraine’s Kharkiv,
Zaporizhia, or Dnipropetrovsk region and even further, but at greater
cOst. Going forward the reality on the ground for Luhansk, Donetsk, and
Crimea will likely resemble the no-man’s-lands of Transnistria, South
Ossetia, and Abkhazia, with limited rule of law and no international
In the case ofTransnistria, the isolated territory’s “independence” has
never been recognized by Russia. In fact, Soviet President Mikhail Gor
bachev annulled Transnistria’s declaration of independence by a presi
dential decree in December 1990.207 As the territory has remained isolated
for a quarter of a century with Moscow as its sole supporter and protec
tor, Russia holds all the cards of Transnistria’s future in its hands. In
March 2014, following the annexation ofCrimea, the leadershipofTrans
nistria submitted their application to join the Russian Federation, but
have not received a response to date.208 Transnistria’s geographical position and lack of a border with Russia make it unlikely to become formally
incorporated into the Russian Federation. However, this possibility cannot be excluded as Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast is also not connected
territorially to the rest of the country. Nonetheless, formal annexation is
not necessary for Russia’s reimperialization aspirations, and de facto control suffices for Russia to dominate Transnistria and indirectly infuence
Moldova’s foreign and domestic politics. The status quo in Transnistria
as well as eastern Ukraine will continue to benefit organized crime and
even terrorist organizations, as has been the case in South Ossetia and
Abkhazia. According to the former Moldovan ambassador to the United
States, Ceslav Ciobanu, Transnistria is rife with criminal activities such
as “‘money laundering; contraband; and illicit trafficking of drugs, alco
hol, tobacco, and weapons” which have made their way to other confHict
zones, “falling into the hands of criminal and terrorist groups”20
South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s “independence” has not received rec
ognition in the international arena outside of Moscow’s closest allies.210
It is likely that in the years to come these breakaway territories will
follow the Crimean example and be absorbed by Russia. Some signs are
already present. On 24 November 2014 Russia and Abkhazia signed
the Moscow-proposed Alliance and Integration Treaty, hich aims tocre
ate joint defense and law enforcement structures as well as to integrate
the region into Russia’s economic, social protection, and health care
systems.2 In March 2015, South Ossetia signed a similar agreement
and effectively handed over control of its border, military, and economy to
Russia, while also creating a joint defense and security zone and inte.
grating customs agencies.212 It is possible that South Ossetia will merge
with the Russian Federation’s territory of North Ossetia, but the Abkha
zians appear to be interested in maintaining at least some degree of
independence. In October 2014, Aslan Basaria, a representative of the
prominent Abkhazian media club Ainar, which focuses on ensuringco
operation between Abkhazia and Russia, offered a perspective that
seems to reflect the position of Abkhazia’s leadership, “1 am deeplycon
vinced that Abkhazia would be much more useful for Russia as aninde
pendent state. We need to simply develop the concept for the country
having in mind the processes of integration to the Eurasian Economic
Union.”21 Meanwhile, the Georgian government and Abkhazia’s govern
ment in exile have been pursuing “Involvement without Recognition,
a policy of public diplomacy toward the region without recognizing its
independence. The policy aims for support and cooperation in health
care and education. According to the chairman ofthe Supreme Council
of Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia (in exile in Georgia), Elguja (Gia)
Gvazava, “Today, strengthening public diplomacy is essential and it
should be taken on the political level. We do not have any other chances.
Ifrelations with the occupied territories will not be built,ofcourse, frozen
confict will persist and we will have to wait for what the future will
bring…. It must be acknowledged not only inside Georgia, but also on
the international arena that if we forgo our nonrecognition policy, even
by insignificant steps, we must realize that these territories will be lost
In sum, it seems possible that in the years to come Russia will consolidate the gains of its reimperialization trajectory by absorbing the break
away territories of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. However, it is more
likely that Moscow will pursue an opportunistic, low-cost, high-return
strategy of maintaining these frozen conflicts and continue to use compatriots as a vehicle to achieve its foreign policy goals and thus make life
dificult for Kiev, Tbilisi, Chisinau, as well as for NATO and the EU.Spe
cifically, the lack of territorial integrity of these states will hinder any
ambitions they may have for membership in those organizations. In the
end, annexation may not be the very end goal of Moscow despite the domestic appeal of rebuilding the Russian Empire. With annexation come
costs-isolation in the international community, the threat of sanctions
from the West, and a lack of legitimacy in international law. With frozen
conficts, on the other hand, Moscow is still able to boast gains while the
torn-apart countries of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova shoulder many

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