Conflicts elsewhere in the post-Soviet world cannot be left to boil over

The sanctions imposed on Russia caused the economic collapse of the Russian economy. This led to the collapse of peace and stability in more than a dozen neighboring countries and de facto state. Support for those nations still recovering from their recent wars should be part of the central plan for delivering peace to Ukraine.

The latest conservative estimates released by the United Nations show that, a month on from Russia’s “special military operation” into Ukraine, more than 1,400 civilians have now died. It is difficult to look beyond the immediate tragedy. It is important to do so for the stability and peace of many other countries in the region.

Moldova, a nation with 2.6 million inhabitants, has already taken in more than 331,000 Ukrainians. This is more per capita than any other country. This could increase if Russian forces invade Odesa, which is just across the border. This would leave more girls and women at the mercy of human traffickers. Moldova imports 100 per cent of its gas from Russia, meaning Gazprom’s decision to hike prices leaves many Moldovans struggling to survive. Inflation has been running at almost 20 per cent. Who gets humanitarian aid – and how – will determine whether tensions between refugees and host communities boil over. Moldova, under the watchful eye of Russian troops still in disputed Transnistria has declared a state-of-emergency and applied for EU membership.

In the South Caucasus, long-standing conflicts – like the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, where the future of Russia’s peacekeeping force is uncertain – could flare up quickly: violations of the existing ceasefire agreement are intensifying. The gas pipeline supply has been also cut off. It is not surprising that Armenians in Nagorny Karabakh feel increasingly at risk.


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Central Asia is also fragile. In Kyrgyzstan and in Tajikistan – my own country – remittances from migrant workers, mainly in Russia, account for almost a third of GDP. Many of these workers returned home after the Russian economy collapsed. This trend is being accelerated by the Russian economy in peril due to sanctions.  Hundreds of thousands of jobless, excluded young people could stretch social cohesion to breaking point – whether in public politics or within households, where the hidden pandemic of domestic violence is already devastating far too many lives across the region.

It could be a perfect storm. Food and energy prices are on the rise. Currencies – aligned to the Russian rouble – are volatile.  In a region where space for dissent and protest was already restricted, repressive crackdowns could spark frustrations and fuel violence: in Kazakhstan, hundreds died in early January protests. The risk of direct military confrontation increases in the border areas of Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. There are more skirmishes about land and resources. Rising fuel and food costs create fertile ground to propagandist narratives in a region still recovering from the Taliban takeover.

The truth is that the peoples of Central Asia didn’t want this war. They did not want to be pawns of geopolitical Chess. Yet international sanctions against Russia – so central to the plan for peace in Ukraine – are having precisely that effect. Across the region, tens of millions of us depend on Russia’s banking infrastructure, the health of its rouble, and cross-border remittances from migrant workers. Our families, friends, work, and lives are all interconnected, which is a problem. It’s no surprise that loyalty is being tested and communities are being dissolved.

What can be done in order to stop the spread and worsening of conflict? First, the end to fighting in Ukraine is essential. International donors can increase support in a post-Soviet area that has been neglected for too long. This means more aid funding but also working through the IMF and World Bank to ensure governments have the fiscal space they need to help their economies recover. We must increase our support for countries still recovering from wars.

Third – and just as important – is to channel support to the brave people and peacebuilders working to build bridges, combat disinformation and speak truth to power. They are not afraid to be attacked, but they also keep the door open for a politics that reduces violence and divisions rather than increases them.

Despite how it may sound, there are still reasons for optimism. The conflict in Ukraine has brought together countries from all over the world with a unity that is unprecedented in recent years. That solidarity could be a powerful force for good in the years ahead – but only if nations avoid retreating into parochial concerns or shifting attention and resources between crises.

The United Nations and Ukraine have said some 14,000 people died in conflict in Ukraine from 2014 to the start of this year.  Many more are being killed in this new and horrific war. Their suffering and sacrifices must not go unnoticed. We need a new international effort in order to combat conflict and its causes. It is important to stop the spread and spread of conflict throughout the region.