Crimea Could Become the Former Soviet World’s Newest Pseudostate. Here Are the Other Four.

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March 1 2014 5:44 PM

A Tour of the Pseudostates of the Former Soviet Union

90059925-picture-taken-on-august-26-2008-shows-residents-of
Picture taken on August 26, 2008 shows Residents of Sukhumi celebrating the recognition of Abkhazian independence by Russian Federation, in Sukhumi.

Photo by IBRAGIM CHKADUA/AFP/Getty Images

Crimea’s new prime minister, Sergei Aksenov, has moved up the date of a planned referendum on the peninsula’s future status to March 30. Voters will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” on whether "Crimea has state sovereignty and is a part of Ukraine, in accordance with treaties and agreements."

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

It seems extremely unlikely that Kiev will recognize the referendum, but with Russian troops occupying the territory, there’s not a whole lot they can do about it. Crimea, therefore, seems destined to join the ranks of the former Soviet Union’s “frozen conflicts.” Here’s a quick rundown over the other four:

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Transnistria

Also known Trans-Dniester or Pridnestrovie, the traditionally Russian speaking region was joined by Moscow to Bessarabia, formerly part of Romania, to create the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic after World War II.

Amid rising Moldovan nationalism during the break-up of the Soviet Union, Transnistria declared its independence in 1990. After a short and bloody war, a ceasefire was declared in 1992. The region became de facto independent, backed up a significant Russian military presence, but it is not recognized by Moldova or most other countries. Transnistrians have not gained any more enthusiasm for the idea of joining Moldova – Europe’s poorest country – since that time, and in a 2006 referendum, 90 percent voted for independence. There has been some quiet diplomatic progress since then, and increased trade between the two sides, but a permanent solution doesn’t appear likely any time soon.

Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh is a predominantly Armenian enclave within the territory of neighboring Azerbaijan. The two countries have fought over the region since the 19th century. It was transferred to Soviet Azerbaijan by Joseph Stalin in 1923 and remained part of it throughout the Soviet period.

In 1988, the region declared independence and demanded reunification with Soviet Armenia. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a bloody war broke out between the two countries in which at least 30,000 people were killed. A Russian-brokered ceasefire was signed in 1994, but the region’s status has remained unresolved, and exchanges along the border are common. A long-running mediation effort by the OSCE has made little progress. 

Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Just three miles from Sochi, Abkhazia has declared itself independent from Georgia since 1999. Independent from the 8th to the 11 centuries, the region was part of Georgia until both were annexed by Russia in the 19th century. Stalin, incorporated it into Georgia in 1931. Ossetia was also absorbed into Russia in the 19th century. In the 1920s, Moscow divided it into, making North Ossetia part of Russia, and South Ossetia an autonomous region within Georgia.

After the break-up, both territories found themselves as part of Georgia under the Georgian nationalist President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Ossetia seceded in 1990, prompting an invasion by Georgian forces that resulted in a civil war resulting in tends of thousands of casualties and refugees. A ceasefire was declared in 1992.

Georgia sent troops to put down a similar separatist movement in Abkhazia in 1992, resulting in another bloody year-long war with Russian-backed Abkhazian troops. The status quo, enforced by Russian troops, held for years in both regions after that,  though Georgia claims the Abkhazian government carried out the ethnic cleansing of the region’s Georgian population and accused Moscow of exacerbating tensions by granting residents of the region Russian passports.

In 2008, after a series of skirmishes between Georgian and South Ossetian forces, Gerogia sent in troops to restore control, prompting a Russian incursion into both territories as well as Georgia-proper that likely permanently separated both from Georgian control. Shortly after the war, Russia recognized the independence of both, comparing it to Western recognition of Kosovo. Today, they are recognized as independent only by the odd grouping of Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Vanuatu, Nauru, and Tuvalu. 

Russia's actions in Crimea in recent days have been called "fully analogous with Abkhazia" by Ukraine's acting president. 

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As you can see, all of these conflicts all have their roots in heavy-handed Stalin’s redrawing of national boundaries as well as post-breakup violence during the 1990s. Crimea, assuming it joins this club, is a somewhat different animal, joined to Ukraine in the Khrushchev era and relatively peaceful until now.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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