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Sovereignty, Secessionism, and State Rights: Examining Security Implications of the EU's Response to Post-Soviet States’ Self-determination Movements

Sovereignty, Secessionism, and State Rights: Examining Security Implications of the EU's Response to Post-Soviet States’ Self-determination Movements

 Intro

Relegated to icy obscurity, de facto states suffer from international institutions that operate on Westphalian norms in a post-Westphalian political landscape, and their fate may tip the scales of international geopolitics to come. The result of decades-old conflicts, de facto states are unrecognized governments that operate autonomously within sovereign, or de jure, states’ internationally recognized borders. Millions of citizens rely on de facto states that lack international recognition and credibility, yet these states must nevertheless provide government institutions for their citizenry. The Peace of Westphalia, in 1648, is the origin of modern conceptions of national sovereignty that international institutions rely upon, wherein each nation is entitled to independently rule its own territory, yet non-state actors such as de facto states lack recognized sovereignty while still ruling over their lands. Although the dilemma of de facto states is not limited to Eurasia, ranging from Anjouan in the Comoros islands and Puntland in Somalia to better known examples such as Palestine and Taiwan, the fall of the Soviet Union and ambiguous parameters for self-determination caused protracted conflicts to emerge within many post-Soviet states. As these conflicts persist, new state identities emerge that further deter and obfuscate lasting peace. The long timespan of these conflicts allows for independent national identities to be constructed, territorialized, and politically mobilized. In the post-Soviet sphere, new states won their own sovereignty, yet were quick to deny the same right to self-determination to groups within their new territories, and such is the case in the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (Transnistria), the Republic of Abkhazia (Abkhazia), the Republic of South Ossetia (South Ossetia), and the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). International institutions operate on the norms of sovereignty outlined in the Peace of Westphalia, yet the existence of de facto states prove that we live in a post-Westphalian world where non-sovereign actors play a significant role. Without international recognition, these states can neither issue recognized passports nor formally create trade agreements with other nations. Observers often essentialize civilians of de facto states into a single monolithic entity, ignoring the heterogeneity of their political beliefs and preferences. Analyzing the context and impact of de facto statehood and denied self-determination in Transnistria illustrates the problems caused by international institutions that operate on Westphalian norms and elucidates the importance of de facto states for the future of international politics.  

Table created by  Sebastian Relitz

Table created by Sebastian Relitz

Frozen, Secessionist, Self-Determination Movements

The frozen status of Transnistria’s self-determination movement allows space for state institutions to become entrenched, impeding the conflict’s eventual closure. Transnistria is a self-declared nation on the eastern banks of the Dniester River within Moldova, with a capital city, Tiraspol, and a population of roughly 500,000 inhabitants. Transnistria’s national history is nuanced, as it perennially existed at the juncture between nations. In 1917, the precursor to Transnistria’s parent state Moldova formed, the Moldovan Democratic Republic of Bessarabia, yet this state did not include territory east of the Dniester River, and thus did not include Transnistria. The next year, two more small regional states were combined with Bessarabia, creating ‘Greater Romania.’ Its creation brought with it an aggressive campaign of Romanianization, with a Romanian public schooling program, language tests, and loyalty oaths. As a result of Transnistria’s exclusion from the territory of Greater Romania, it did not undergo the same process of Romanianization, and the cultural ramifications of this persist today. Following the Second World War, the USSR created the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova with territory from Moldova and Bessarabia, now including Transnistria. After its creation, many ethnic Slav industrial workers migrated to Transnistria to work in its budding industrial sector, deepening the demographic divide between Moldova and Transnistria by contributing to a broader Russification. The Soviet administration promoted the development of unique cultural identities, promoting the use of the Cyrillic alphabet and positing “Moldovan” as a language independent from the Romanian that it is almost identical to.

As Soviet dominance faded in 1989, the Popular Front formed in Moldova as an amalgamation of the manifold Moldovan nationalistic groups. Pressure from the Popular Front pushed the USSR to declare Latin script the official letters used in Moldova. In the final days of the USSR, Transnistrian leaders supported the August 1991 Soviet coup, hoping to reverse some of the liberal policies enacted under the policy of perestroika, while Moldovan leaders opposed the coup due to their increasingly divergent nationalistic aims. When the pro-Romanian government in Moldova declared independence on August 27th, 1991, local governments in the east felt that shifting away from their Russia identity and shifting back to Latin letters was intolerable. A mere six days after Moldova declared independence, Transnistria declared its own independence on September 2nd, 1991. Steven Roper explains the cultural divide demarcated by the Dniester River in the Regional & Federal Studies journal as “…a conflict between Moldovans and a regionally concentrated Russophone population that has a ‘Soviet’ identity.” While the Moldovan nationalists were afforded the right to self-determination and their sovereignty became internationally accepted, the new Moldovan government acted in their own self-interest and did not extend such rights to the Transnistrian population in order to preserve their own territorial integrity. After Transnistrian political leaders were kidnapped by the Moldovan government, Transnistrians took up arms, and were supported by the former Soviet 14th army that was stationed in Transnistria. Aided by Russian manpower and weapons, Transnistrian paramilitary groups raced to stockpile arms and munitions. The 14th Army’s commander, General Gennadii Yakovlev accepted a position as Transnistria’s Minister of Defense, further complicating regional geopolitical loyalties. Military clashes in 1992 along the Dniester River that killed more than 100 people galvanized nationalist Moldovans in the Moldovan parliament to push for more decisive military action. The conflict escalated surrounding the control of the Transnistrian city Bender, and more than 1,000 were killed after Russian brokered ceasefire negotiations failed upon the Russian negotiators’ refusal to withdraw the 14th army, claiming that it would act as a peacekeeping force. Following these heightened hostilities, Russian and Moldovan actors signed a ceasefire in July, 1992.  The ceasefire stipulates a tripartite peacekeeping force, the Joint Control Committee (JCC), made up of six Russian, three Moldovan, and three Transnistrian battalions. The disproportionately large presence of Russian and Transnistrian forces outnumbered the Moldovan peacekeepers, resulting in the protracted, frozen conflict that persists today.  

Map  of Transnistria and Moldova today

Map of Transnistria and Moldova today

As is often the case with separatist regions, Transnistria constituted the majority of Moldova’s economy, yet financial tribulations seriously impaired Transnistria’s monetary self-sufficiency in the two decades following the ceasefire. The majority of Moldova’s manufacturing and energy plants at the time existed in Transnistria. Although Transnistria composes only 14 percent of Moldova’s total population, it produced 25 percent of the nation’s industrial products, almost 90 percent of the nation’s electricity, and all of the nation’s large electric machinery. While Transnistria is only 8 percent of Moldova’s total land area, some figures list its industrial production as high as 40 percent of Moldova’s total output. Furthermore, Transnistria’s foreign trade more than doubled from 1998 to 2008, growing from 200 percent of its GDP to 409 percent. While this paints an encouraging picture of Transnistria’s economic potential, changes in the international economy damaged Transnistria’s economic independence. Russia’s economic contractions in the 1990s damaged the economies of many post-Soviet states that relied heavily on trade with Russia, and Transnistria’s industrial output plummeted to a third of its 1990 level by the end of the millennium. Inflation in Transnistria ran rampant as money was minted to meet budget shortfalls, and in 1994, the Transnistrian ruble was revalued to equal 1,000 of the old rubles. Still, the value of the currency continued to plunge, skyrocketing the exchange rate from 257 Transnistrian rubles per U.S. dollar in 1994 to 1,100,000 Transnistrian rubles per dollar in 1999. In the year 2000, Transnistria again revalued its currency so that one ruble equaled one million of the previous rubles. Labor migration and changes in international demand for Transnistria’s main exports, such as steel, resulted in Transnistria’s deficits growing from 20 percent of its budget in 2008 to more than 70 percent of the budget in 2012. Transnistria also faces difficulty with its stamps and currency, as no other state recognize their de facto statehood. Such economic travails placed Transnistria in a perilous position. Unable afford the price of its energy bills, Transnistria now relies on Russia for its energy, with a $6 billion debt to the Russian energy giant Gazprom. As ersatz collateral for such debt, Transnistrian leaders pawned substantial portions of its infrastructure, and thus sovereignty, to Russian oligarchs with ties to Gazprom. The Moldova Steel Works in Transnistria, which represents more than 60 percent of Transnistria’s exports, and Moldavskaya GRES, Transnistria’s largest power plant, are now both controlled by Russian companies. This is an example of the soft power that Russia wields in much of the post-Soviet world. Transnistria lauds its welfare program as superior to that of Moldova, yet its welfare and pension programs are significantly supported by Russia, as is evidenced by the local slang for such pension funds, “Putinka.” Russia further gave Transnistria US$7 million of humanitarian assistance in 2009. Russia also donated the Kolbasna munitions depot to Transnistria, which provided many of the weapons used during Transnistria’s conflict the Moldova. In 1994, the depot contained 42,000 tons of equipment, yet today it contains half that amount, pointing to undocumented Transnistrian sales of weapons likely resulting from its economic hardship. Indeed, by the data on the number of tons of poultry imported into Transnistria, the average Transnistrian would eat 12 times as much chicken as the average German, but the majority of this meat is likely sold again through underground meat sales. These facts contributed to the development of an international perception of Transnistria as a ‘black hole’ for the sale of illegal goods, yet an EU mission’s investigation found this perception to be untrue. Still, the precipitous decline in Transnistria’s economic independence has serious and legitimate geopolitical ramifications, with economic reliance on Russia impeding rapprochement with the Moldovan government.

Transnistria also experienced similar political tumult. For two decades after its independence, Transnistria was controlled by Igor Smirnov, who ruled in a dictatorial fashion, with the Ministry of State Security and the intelligence service acting as secret police and impeding free elections. Political opposition to Smirnov was weak and superficial, with one ‘opposition’ party controlled by Smirnov’s son and fashioned to facilitate the control of Transnistria’s ruling party. Smirnov mobilized his political hegemony for his own personal gain, with a significant stake in the “Sherrif” store chain, which controlled (and still controls) much of the consumer spending in Transnistria, with grocery stores, sports stores, liquor stores, and a professional soccer team. Today, Transnistria still must rely on Moldova’s de jure government to enable its international trade, with Moldova forcing Transnistrian companies to register in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau in order to receive their customs certificates. This lack of autonomy impairs Transnistria’s political independence, with Helge Blakkisrud and Pål Kolstø explicating in Post-Soviet Affairs that “No matter how hard Tiraspol pretends to represent an independent state, its ability to conduct licit trade with the outside world still depends on Chisinau.” Transnistrian politics is also heavily influenced by the Kremlin, and following dissatisfaction with Smirnov’s use of Russian financial aid in 2011, Russia did not endorse Smirnov in the 2011 Transnistrian presidential elections. While Russia backed the former vice-President and Supreme Soviet Speaker Kaminsky, the ousted Supreme Soviet Speaker Schevchuk won, heralding the first transition of power in Transnistria’s history. In 2016, Vadim Krasnoselsky was elected president of Transnistria. Despite these economic and political hardships, Transnistrians believe that they enjoy a far better quality of life than Moldovans, and thus are unlikely to sway from their staunch rejection of reunification.

Transnistria’s situation is not identical to that of the de facto states in the Southern Caucuses, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, yet its story serves as a case study for the difficulties that post-Soviet de facto states face on the international stage.

Tables  created by The Polish Institute of International Affairs. Freedom House data can be found  here .

Tables created by The Polish Institute of International Affairs. Freedom House data can be found here.

Sovereignty and State Rights in a Post-Westphalian World

De facto states such as Transnistria’s experience are evidence of the problems that result from the contrast between subnational self-determination movements’ and international institutions’ approaches to sovereignty. While de facto states argue that they too should be afforded the same right to self-determination that their de jure states enjoy, de jure state governments argue that local stability must be a first priority and posit that territorial cohesion is essential to such stability. Despite international perceptions of de facto states as ‘black holes’ for smuggling and international trafficking, the protracted nature of these frozen conflicts forces de facto states to develop their own institutions, with Helge Blakkisrud and Pål Kolstø further elucidating that “even if we were to accept the argument that the secessionist agenda  was initially driven by shadowy economic interests rather than ethnic or regional discontent—that is, by greed and not by grievances—the time factor will eventually transform the secessionists into state-builders.” De facto states’ shift towards state-building enhances their local support, and thus entrenches their ideas of independent sovereignty, relying on Weberian ideas of legitimacy that are grounded in public support. As state institutions grow, identity politics becomes involved in groups’ battles for the right to self-determination. Administrations in de facto states, such as Transnistria, work diligently to construct a national demos, or sense of communal identity. For minority populations who are seeking to secede from a larger state, asserting their membership to the de facto state gives them a sense of security. Furthermore, de facto states’ militarization give their populations ideas of terrestrial borders, further engraining their ideas of their state’s legitimacy. As conflicts persist across multiple generations, Michael S. Bobick of the Center for Russian and East European Studies posits that “The ideological foundations of these geopolitical divisions are obscured by local demands and grievances against the central government, while the latent idea of empire slowly shifts geographic boundaries of Europe and Eurasia.” As the grounds for sovereignty are gradually obscured, sovereignty itself becomes a central political issue for de facto states, allowing one political party to assert a monopoly over the concept of independent sovereignty. Appealing to mutually enticing sentiments such as state sovereignty and self-determination allows political parties like that which Smirnov controlled for 20 years to invoke the social cohesion necessary to achieve a limited level of legitimacy provided by the popular support they mobilize. This mobilization of the beliefs of the majority population is often used by outside observers as a basis for a monolithic representation of a de facto state’s political goals. While some observers argue that the conflict over Transnistria’s sovereignty is rooted in politicized regionalism, that representation of ‘Transnistrian regionalism’ ignores the heterogeneity of political beliefs within de facto states. In Transnistria, ethnic Moldovans are seriously underrepresented in parliament, hovering around 25% of the total representation. One such ethnic Moldovan, Grigoriy Marakutsa, held the post of speaker in the Transnistrian parliament for three consecutive terms, yet his support for Transnistria was rooted in a desire to maintain the elite position he occupied during the Soviet regime. Many former members of the former Soviet nomenklatura share this sentiment, yet the multifaceted foundations of their political beliefs are too often essentialized by external observers into an invented single Transnistrian belief. Finally, de facto states often valorize their wars of independence, using opposition to an oppressing ‘other’ as the basis for the national identities they construct. Such a valorization of war has significant political ramifications, for it promotes hero worship and perpetuates the power of militaristic leaders, such as Smirnov and many of his chief advisors. De facto states’ self-determination movements’ frozen statuses provide time for their governments to entrench popular political support through various means in order to justify their secession.

Beyond its foundations in popular support and public good delivery, sovereignty is also largely performative. Michael S. Bobick conceptualizes sovereignty as composed of both performances of state functions and performances amongst the plebiscite. These performances center on portraying functional democratic institutions, for democracy is widely used as a prerequisite for legitimacy by international institutions. Moreover, Kosovo’s internationally recognized sovereignty led Eurasian de facto states to believe that sovereignty can be earned through democracy and human rights promotion. In order to demonstrate the existence of such democratic values, Transnistria established the Che Guevara School of Political Leadership in 2005 to consolidate state ideology and train new democratic leadership. Transnistrian authorities also extensively utilized media in an attempt to construct a narrative of Transnistrian independence and win greater popular support. Additionally, numerous questionably legitimate websites administered by the Transnistrian government promoted Transnistria’s membership in a supposed “International Council for Democratic Institutions and State Sovereignty” and published propaganda in order to create the appearance of statehood. Examples of other former de facto states achieving international recognition after concerted media campaigns promoting their sovereignty, such as East Timor, encouraged Transnistria to work to replicate such success through state-run media campaigns. Transnistria further lauds its participation in multilateral organizations such as the Community for the Democracy and Rights of Nations (composed of Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh) as a basis for its independent sovereignty. In 2006, Smirnov joined the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on Russian TV to argue for the legitimacy of their claims of self-determination. Yet, while the members of the Community for the Democracy and Rights of Nations all recognize one another’s sovereignty, their claims are not supported by international institutions. The performative sovereignty enacted by the Transnistrian government illustrates the difficulty that de facto states incur in achieving international support for their self-determination movements.

While de facto states wait for international recognition, they must find new ways of justifying their independence. The Russian military played a key role in justifying such sovereignty, because its intervention in Eurasian de facto state’s struggles for independence inhibited the de jure states from achieving a decisive victory, thus providing de facto states with the necessary time to establish state institutions. Upon reaching a stalemate, de facto states channel large portions of their revenue into national defense in order to exert territorial control and establish their borders. After achieving territorial integrity, de facto states must demonstrate their ability to provide for their polity, and they enact this through economic development and welfare programs. In the post-Westphalian world of de facto states, corporations gain significant power because they allow de facto states to function through international commerce and enable third track economic diplomacy. The absence of any baseline for sovereignty and the difficulties that de facto states encounter seeking international recognition force them to resort to the various strategies discussed above to craft the appearance of legitimacy.

Reaction of International Institutions

International institutions cast de facto states into a pariah status, in which the conflicts that de facto states are party to are recognized but their own individual sovereignty is not. Michael S. Bobick elucidates that “From an international position of power, de facto states are dismissed as illegitimate rogues.” While Russia argued that international institutions who recognized Kosovo’s sovereignty must now also recognize the existing de facto states, institutions hesitate to provide de facto states such legitimacy. In 2006, the European Parliament adopted the Declaration on Moldova without a single dissent vote, which called for support for Moldova in mitigating the conflict with Transnistria and preserving territorial integrity. The European Union assigned a Special Representative for the conflict in Transnistria, yet their work bore no fruit and the conflict persists. The most significant step taken by an international institution came in 2009, when the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the EU endorsed a nonpaper Non-Recognition and Engagement Policy (NREP) towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Romanian scholar Alexandra Sabou describes how the policy is intended to allow Europe to interact with de facto states without providing them with recognition, clarifying that “The policy is built on two pillars: a legal one - the firm nonrecognition standpoint of the international community towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia and a civic one - the engagement with them in the framework of non-recognition.” Such action is detrimental to the eventual resolution of any of the conflicts over de facto states’ sovereignty, as it prolongs the current status quo. In 2010, Angela Merkel met the then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Mesenberg, and the two nations agreed upon a memorandum calling for the establishment of an EU-Russia Political and Security Committee, and stipulating a 5+2 style negotiation to resolve the Transnistrian conflict. That same year, EU leaders at the French-German-Russian summit in 2010 arranged a reopening of negotiations after more than 6 years, which occurred in Vilnius and were followed by a second meeting in Dublin. Almost a decade after these meetings, no results emerged from such negotiations, predicating the necessity of a new approach to de facto states’ status by international institutions.

Outlook for the Future

As the world nears three decades since the fall of the USSR, it is important to consider the ways that international actors may alter the status of de facto states. Nina Caspersen identifies four possible routes of action for de facto states seeking international recognition after Kosovo: If continuing to pursue independent sovereignty, states can shift their focus to great-power support, or maintain their strategies of earned sovereignty; if abandoning independent sovereignty, states can seek recognition as an autonomous region of their de jure state, or improve the status quo in their nations through international engagement. Transnistria remains steadfast in its resolve to achieve independent sovereignty, but the way that it attempts to achieve this sovereignty will depend on actions taken by Russia and the European Union.

Russia views de facto states as opportunities and is likely to continue to invoke every advantage it has to maintain the allegiance it enjoys from Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. The lack of significant international recognition led Abkhazia to pursue recognition from international apostate states, turning to nations such Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Nauru. The other de facto states are likely to follow Abkhazia down this path if international attitudes surrounding their sovereignty do not change. The Western perception of de facto states as ‘black holes’ damages potential collaboration between de facto states and the West, likely resulting in increased Russian collaboration. Transnistria plays an important strategic role for Russia following Moldova’s neighbor Romania’s entrance into NATO in 2004 and ascension to the European Union in 2007. These developments increased Russia’s interest in maintaining its relationship with Transnistria greatly, as the state now serves as a perceived buffer against  Western influence, and as an obstacle to potential NATO military action through the region. Russia’s support for de facto states is emboldened by the policy’s past success in Georgia and Ukraine. Russia will likely build new Forward Operating Locations for its military in the de facto states that it supports. De facto states themselves are now also emboldened to assert their sovereignty following Russia’s willingness to intervene on their behalf. This intervention is not limited to military action; in 2005, Russia flexed its economic muscle to support Transnistria, imposing a wine ban that caused Moldova to lose more than $180 million. Russia’s subsidization of Transnistrian pensions is also unlikely to end, given the affects that the marginal sum provides them, as Transnistrians now associate their independence movement with the Russian state and cultural sphere. The decades following the ceasefire in Transnistria fostered a symbiotic relationship between Transnistria and Russia, wherein Russia provides Transnistria with financial support and Transnistria provides Russian oligarchs with new business opportunities and Russia with heightened geopolitical power. De facto states also have the potential to join the Eurasian Economic Union, with Elizaveta Egorova and Ivan Babin hypothesizing that “Russia may amend the EEU with political and military agreements in order to tip the balance of power in the region in its favor and secure its borders.” Such economic integration would deepen the divisions in nations such as Moldova, with the disparate governments within Moldova aligning with different great powers. If de facto states continue to pursue their independence and European institutions continue to refuse to acknowledge their sovereignty, Russia’s geopolitical strength will increase.

The European Union’s approach to de facto states in the east has failed to yield any beneficial results, and thus a new approach must be adopted. The European Union failed to establish a policy towards post-Soviet de facto states until almost two decades after they emerged, and that latency provided Russia with an opportunity to edge European influence out. Sebastian Relitz, of the Institute for East and Southeast European Studies, aptly describes the differences in European and Russian actions towards de facto states, explaining that “While the EU struggles to find an effective policy of engagement, Russia is pursuing a policy of increasing economic, financial and political integration.” The EU generally follows the policy of improving the de jure state’s institutions, hoping that increased state capacity for the recognized states would allow them to reassert their control over the de facto states, yet the divisions that emerged from the protracted nature of these conflicts makes this approach infeasible. Although the European Commission’s EU-Moldova European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) Action Plan correctly characterizes the conflict as a serious regional security threat, the EU’s prioritization of a single Moldova impeded conflict resolution efforts. The ENP provides significant potential for the EU to leverage resources to promote collaboration with de facto states. Furthermore, the funding made accessible by the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) could be used to incentivize certain European Union objectives for de facto and de jure states, supporting not only economic and political development, but also conflict transformation efforts. While the European Union aimed to foster heightened economic interdependence between Transnistrian and Moldovan elites, the Russian oligarch’s control of Transnistrian infrastructure limits the depth of such new partnerships. The EU launched the European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM) in 2005, using funds from the ENPI to combat structural inadequacies, but EUBAM’s overemphasis on consolidating Moldovan and Transnistrian trade regimes obscures other important considerations necessary to resolving the conflict. The European Union must acknowledge the trade alliance between Russia and Transnistria and other de facto states that has developed after decades of EU non-recognition and focus on strengthening de facto states democratic institutions and infrastructures if it hopes to resolve their secessionist conflicts peacefully. With the failure of economic attempts to offset Russia’s regional power, the EU must either consider recognition or hard power intervention. Recognizing Transnistria and other de facto states would allow them to take part in European initiatives such as the EU’s Eastern Partnership, which works to expand the work of the ENP in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Such efforts may provide greater opportunities for de facto states to align themselves with Europe, but recognition remains a prerequisite for such opportunities to arise. If Europe continues to delay action on de facto states, the divisions between them and their de jure states will continue to deepen. During the Mesenburg negotiations between European and Russian leaders, European leaders explicitly expressed that they were “waiting for the Russian government to make the Transnistrian leadership flexible and more amenable to negotiation, which would signal Russian willingness to confirm its good will with practical measures,” yet this approach is a thinly veiled justification for European inaction. In the face of such destabilizing Russian actions, EU must adopt an approach that combines top-down institutional recognition of de facto state actors’ popularly supported claims of self-determination. Recent political changes in Tiraspol, such as the first two transitions of power in Transnistria’s history, present the EU with an opportunity to resolve the deeply ingrained self-determination struggles of de facto states, but in order to take advantage of this opportunity, Brussels must adopt a new approach to recognizing state sovereignty.

Conclusion

De facto states’ existence proves that non-state actors are a relevant and important part of international geopolitics, yet international institutions’ reactions to de facto states are rooted in antiquated Westphalian norms, eroding the power of actors such as the European Union in post-Soviet de facto states. Nine Caspersen encapsulates the necessary approach to de facto states’ existence, instructing that “rebels cannot be reduced to warlords and rebel-controlled areas should not be seen as areas where anarchy prevails.” The long time span of de facto states’ self-determination struggles results from the lack of a ‘hurting peace,’ as conceptualized by Ira William Zartman, for neither side of the stalemate incurs enough harm to motivate them to alter the status quo. The entrenched status quo enables de facto states to form their own functional state institutions, thus only further ingraining their ideas of independent sovereignty. International institutions’ lack of recognition for de facto states has serious implications, meriting a reconceptualization of the grounds for statehood. De facto states’ civilian populations’ ideological stances are commonly homogenized, stifling the minority opinions that exist within de facto states. Local political leaders in de facto states utilize their tenuous position to mobilize and maintain popular support founded on their existential struggle, thus damaging the health of democratic institutions in de facto states. Furthermore, the persistently ambiguous status of de facto states leads their populations to constantly reify their independence, depicting their de jure states’ populations as a cultural ‘other,’ marginalizing minority populations within de facto states and breeding unnecessary antagonism. Finally, the lack of recognition of de facto states by the European Union and other international institutions allows Russia to exert a disproportionately large geopolitical influence, through both hard and soft power actions. These hardships are not limited to Transnistria, but are instead present in all post-Soviet de facto states, and a new path must be theorized to preserve regional security for the time to come.

 

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