With U.S. dis­tracted, Russia warms to op­por­tu­ni­ties in ‘frozen con­flicts’

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY TODD WOOD

With the Trump administration fo­cused on other hot spots of the world, from Iran and Syria to North Korea, Russia is stealth­ily mak­ing care­fully co­or­di­nated moves to bring sev­eral “frozen” conflict zones closer to the Moth­er­land.

Trans­d­ni­ester, a part of the tiny for­mer Soviet re­pub­lic of Moldova lodged be­tween Ukraine and Ro­ma­nia, has long had the “honor” of host­ing lots of Rus­sian troops (since the early 1990s) and essen­tially has be­come a ter­ri­tory of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. The Krem­lin seems to be us­ing this model for other re­gions where Moscow has had to “pro­tect” Rus­sian speak­ers liv­ing in lands be­yond its present bor­ders.

The most re­cent ex­am­ples of this phe­nom­e­non are the two oc­cu­pied, for­mer ter­ri­to­ries of Ge­or­gia in the Cau­ca­sus. I’m speak­ing of South Os­se­tia and Abk­hazia, both “reac­com­mo­dated” from Ge­or­gia dur­ing the Russo-Ge­or­gian War of 2008. There have been mul­ti­ple ac­tions in these ar­eas that make it ob­vi­ous Russia is mak­ing plans to even­tu­ally fully bring them un­der Krem­lin con­trol.

There have been sev­eral bor­der clo­sures in the re­cent months — for in­stance dur­ing elec­tions that were held in South Os­se­tia, which in­cluded a pro­posal to change the name of the re­gion to the state of “Ala­nia.”

The Ge­or­gian govern­ment protested vig­or­ously against these mea­sures, of course, and NATO con­demned the elec­tions as il­le­git­i­mate. Three Ge­or­gian cit­i­zens were re­cently taken into cus­tody in South Os­se­tia as they were at­tempt­ing to visit the graves of their rel­a­tives dur­ing Easter hol­i­days. Over 30,000 Ge­or­gians were evicted from their homes dur­ing the war and are re­stricted from tak­ing care of their loved one’s rest­ing place.

In an­other overt ges­ture, Rus­sian For­eign Sec­re­tary Sergey Lavrov re­cently paid a visit to the other oc­cu­pied Ge­or­gian ter­ri­tory, Abk­hazia, dur­ing which he opened a Rus­sian em­bassy in the state, which is only rec­og­nized by Russia and a few other na­tions, like Venezuela and Nicaragua.

“When we speak about diplo­mats, em­bassies are like the sec­ond home for us. So I would like to congratulate all our diplo­mats and the Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry on the open­ing of the new build­ing of our em­bassy in the Re­pub­lic of Abk­hazia,” Mr. Lavrov said dur­ing the cer­e­mony. “I am con­fi­dent that the em­bassy will be the sec­ond home not only for our diplo­mats but also for our Abk­hazian friends, as well as for friends from the diplo­matic corps.”

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin signed a de­cree ear­lier in the year which brought sev­eral of the best mil­i­tary units in the dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries un­der the con­trol of the Rus­sian armed forces. Other troops were dis­banded and dis­armed.

In east­ern Ukraine, there have been re­peated at­tempts to also le­git­imize Rus­sian con­trol over the Don­bass re­gion con­trolled by pro-Rus­sian sep­a­ratists bat­tling Kiev. Russia has be­gun to ac­cept for­mal, govern­ment-is­sued doc­u­ments from the Luhansk and Donetsk “Peo­ple’s Re­publics” as valid doc­u­ments for mar­riage cer­tifi­cates, pass­ports and other func­tions.

Moscow is lay­ing the ground­work for use of the ru­ble and the le­gal ten­der in the dis­puted ar­eas of Ukraine.

All of these moves have hap­pened as the Minsk agree­ments, signed by Russia, Ukraine and sev­eral West­ern pow­ers, have yet to be im­ple­mented and now look im­pos­si­ble to see put into place. It is ob­vi­ous Moscow has been fi­nan­cially sup­port­ing its al­lies in east­ern Ukraine for some time. Per­haps the Krem­lin has de­cided to make per­ma­nent the sta­tus of the frozen con­flicts, at a time when the West seems pow­er­less to stop them.

Sanc­tions on Russia over the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea do not look to be lifted soon ei­ther. Moscow may have de­cided it has noth­ing to lose by pulling these ar­eas closer to Mother Russia.

L. Todd Wood is a for­mer spe­cial op­er­a­tions he­li­copter pi­lot and Wall Street debt trader, and has con­trib­uted to Fox Busi­ness, The Moscow Times, Na­tional Review, the New York Post and many other pub­li­ca­tions. He can be reached through his web­site, LTod­dWood.com.

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