RESTRUCTURING THE GLOBAL MILITARY SECTOR
VOLUME I: NEW WARS
Edited by MARY KALDOR AND BASKER VASHEE
on behalf of UNU World Institute
for Development Economics Research
PINTER. London and Washington
RUSSIAN PEACE-KEEPING FORCES IN THE POST-SOVIET AREA
Russia conducted and continues to conduct four ‘peace-keeping’ operations
on the territory or the former USSR, in Moldova/Transdnestr, Tajikistan
and in Georgia/Southern Ossetia and Georgia/Abkhazia. The conditions under
which these operations are implemented differ not only because of the differences
in the mandates of the Russian peace-keepers but also because of historical
and cultural differences between the regions, which are 3000 kilometres
apart. The political and military specificity of the conflicts in these
territories also differs considerably.1
Russian peace-keeping activity was one element in a range of contradictory
and often dangerous policies and activities in armed conflicts on Russia’s
borders in the post-Soviet period. Russia, from the beginning, was deeply
involved in all these conflicts both in a political sense, because of the
desire of autonomous regions or Russian minorities within other post-Soviet
republics to join the Russian Federation, and in a material sense, because
of the supply of Russian arms and mercenaries and even the involvement
of regular Russian units in these conflicts following the collapse of the
Soviet military machine. Moreover, the conflicts threatened Russia’s own
The new Russian government found itself caught between two contending positions.
On the one hand, most Democrats supported an isolationist position, arguing
that Russia should confine all military activities to Russian borders.
On the other hand, aggressive nationalists wanted to re-create the Russian
empire. Peace-keeping potentially represents an alternative way in which
armed conflicts can be curbed and the efforts of democratically-minded
people to find diplomatic solutions to conflicts supported. Peace-keeping
activities in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) could constitute
a significant element of Russian national security and serve the preservation
of stability in the country. They could also offer a new progressive role
for the Russian military. It should be stressed, however, that Russia,
or the CIS under whose flag Russian forces strive to operate, cannot and
should not carry out this task in isolation from international institutions.
Neither an overall security doctrine nor a set of ideas related to the
conducting of peace-keeping operations by Russia has yet been formulated
As in the past, the majority of decisions in the field of peace-keeping
seem to have a spontaneous and ad hoc character, which is further complicated
by the subjective considerations of those involved in the decision-making
process Attempts to forecast the eventual possible requirements of peace-keeping
activity are necessarily rudimentary. It is possible, however, to identify
different approaches to solving armed conflicts and the role of peace-keeping
forces which have predominated at various stages since 1991. The evaluation
and comparison of peace-keeping operations conducted according to this
model offers some relevant insights for the use of peace-keeping forces
in the contemporary world, as well as some possible ways in which Russia
might, in the future, find a role for itself to adopt as a country supporting
stability in the post-Soviet area.
This chapter is limited to an examination of the development of Russia’s
approach to peace-keeping on the territory of the former USSR and an analysis
of the experience gained by Russian forces in the framework of peace-keeping
operations. The role of the other divisions of the Russian armed forces
will be discussed only in those cases where their activities merged with
those of peace-keeping forces or when it is necessary to depict the overall
development of events. The chapter does not address the issue of the participation
of Russian units and individual observers in operations outside the post-Soviet
area. It also omits the evaluation of the actions of Russian peace-keepers
from the point of view of the norms of human rights, although by participating
in a conflict even in the role of a neutral third side, Russian peace-keepers
are in effect a part of the conflict and are thus obliged to adhere to
the rules and laws of warfare.
Because it is limited to one strand of Russia’s policy regarding the Near
Abroad, this chapter may appear one-sided. It is difficult to talk about
a unified Russian policy during this period. Russian peace-keeping operations
were conducted in a period when all kinds of other negative tendencies
towards the Near Abroad could be observed both on the part of different
state actors and also from private individuals and groups. Often, peacekeeping
was a response to conflicts which had already been fomented by Russian
forces. An investigation limited to Russian peace-keeping operations is
of interest, however, both because of its relevance to peace-keeping in
general and because it represents a possible progressive future direction
for overall Russian policy towards the Near Abroad.
In the first period of Russian peace-keeping activity, priority was given
to political and negotiated approaches to the solution of crises with the
possibly comprehensive participation of international institutions. The
beginning of this period can be traced to the spring of 1991, when the
Kezbeg protocol was signed between Russia and Georgia. The first steps
in the conducting of peace-keeping operations in Transdnestr and Southern
Ossetia, during this period, were relatively successful. At the end of
1992 and the beginning of 1993, with the attempts to revive imperial ideologies
in the Kremlin, a change occurred in the approach to the solution of armed
conflicts characterized by an exaggerated emphasis on the use of force.
This was a post-Soviet interpretation of the ‘peace enforcement’ approach.
The ensuing stagnation of the peace-keeping process in Tajikistan, the
lack of visible improvement in the situation in the territories of ‘old’
conflicts, and the tough position of Western countries which refused to
recognize the special rights of Russia to the territory of the former USSR
led, in 1994, to Russia’s return to a diplomatic approach aimed at solving
conflicts through joint efforts with other CIS countries.
The development of Russian understanding of the role of peacekeeping forces
in the settlement of conflicts
Overcoming imperial traditions or ‘Russian isolationism’
The concept of peace-keeping, as a response to ethnic conflict, was not
introduced until after the disintegration of the USSR. In addition to the
united armed forces subordinated to the President of the Soviet Union,
and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the Kremlin had at its disposal
the armed forces of the Ministry of Interior which were especially trained
for the suppression of internal disorder. In the first stage of perestroika,
the armed forces of the Ministry of Interior and the elite paratroops of
the Ministry of Defence attached to them were used to contain conflicts.
During this period, attempts to go beyond the use of force to impose order
and to contribute to peaceful reconstruction and the restoration of social
stability were unsuccessful. The most vivid example of this was the establishment
of a Union Administration (i.e. direct rule from Moscow) in Nagorno-Karabakh.
It succeeded in preventing the escalation of the armed conflict and it
instituted a relative calm on the streets of the capital and the main roads
but failed utterly to make progress in reconciling the Armenians and the
The paradox, however, is that the peaceful settlement of conflicts was
not in the interest of the Kremlin leadership. Up until the period of perestroika,
state structures in the republics had been more or less cosmetic. The reform
of the system of the Soviet power apparatus started only after the republics’
state structures were taken over by alliances of democratic and nationalist
forces, which led them to challenge the power of the central authorities.
The central authorities responded by supporting separatist movements within
the republics so as to maintain tensions between the governments of the
republics and the territories inhabited by ethnic minorities. This is why
representatives of ethnic minorities in most republics proceeded to raise
the banner of maintaining the Union and in some cases demanded the unification
of their territories with the Russian Federation.
While the attempts to topple the power of Communist vassals in the capitals
of the republics led to violent and effective forceful reaction (from the
central authorities), as was the case in Alma-Ata, Yerevan, Dushanbe and
Baku, ethnic paramilitary groups in the areas of high tension often received
support from the Soviet army units based in these areas. This support ranged
from the covert sale of armaments to the participation of armed personnel
in combat in some cases.
This could be observed in Transdnestr, Nagorno-Karabakh and Southern Ossetia.
Independent observers managed to gather evidence of support by different
Soviet army units to both sides of the conflicts.
A new situation arose during the process of disintegration of the Soviet
Union when Gorbachev was still President of the Union. A group of reform-minded
aides to Boris Yeltsin launched the first attempt in the history of new
Russia to conduct a peace-keeping operation. As a result of their efforts,
the Heads of the Supreme Soviets of Georgia and Russia - Gamsakhurdia and
Yeltsin - signed the protocol for the settlement of the Southern Ossetian
situation at the border of the two republics in March 1991. At that point
the phase of active confrontation between the Ossetian and Georgian units
was over and the tactical aim of both warring parties was to maintain the
territory that they controlled. The solution offered in the protocol envisaged
the employment of a joint force of Russian and Georgian volunteers consisting
of 400 men in Southern Ossetia. Through lack of experience and, probably,
comprehension of the scale of the intended operation by the Russian leadership,
the limited force had a wide range of peace-keeping tasks, including the
disarmament of population. The ill-prepared protocol justifiably provoked
wide protests from different political forces in Russia, including protests
from democratic intellectuals who had up to that time unconditionally supported
the prospective Russian President. Consequently, the Supreme Soviet of
the Russian Federation blocked the implementation of the peacemaking operation.
The idea of the active role of Russia in the settlement of conflicts on
the territory of the Soviet Union was discredited. The authority of Galina
Starovoitova, along with the aides who had prepared the agreement and lobbied
for it, was undermined. From that point on, the ideology of ‘Russian isolationism’
in Union-wide issues became the prevalent view in the Moscow-based democratic
The Russian government took a series of steps to demonstrate its rejection
of Russia’s imperial heritage. These included: the adoption of the first
‘Sovereignty Declaration’ in the Soviet Union, which paved the way for
a number of similar declarations; the numerous declarations of support
for the aspirations of sovereignty of the Soviet republics, especially
the Baltics; and Yeltsin’s calls to Russia’s autonomous regions to ‘take
as much sovereignty as they can’. The uncompromising struggle with Gorbachev’s
Union government was supposed to secure the support of the Union’s republican
leaders for Russian leaders in their struggle to move the Russian Federation’s
government from the Moscow White House to the Kremlin and to create friendly
relations with the leaders of the other republics of the Soviet Union.
It should, however, be admitted that these hopes proved later to be unjustified.
Only the leaders of the Baltic states lent their support to Yeltsin in
his struggle against the elite of the Communist nomenklatura during the
conservative coup attempt in August 1991.
The ensuing Belovezhsk and Alma-Ata agreements, which eliminated the Soviet
Union, did not create the mechanisms for the settlement of conflicts on
the territory of the former USSR. The only positive result of the negotiations
were the decisions taken on the fate of the Soviet nuclear and chemical
arms. This laid the basis for subsequently implemented measures to destroy
them or ship them to Russia and excluded the possibility of using them
in conflicts in the post-Soviet territory.
When the Russian federation declared itself the heir of the former USSR,
none of its leaders comprehended the level of responsibility Russia was
assuming for events taking place outside its territory. The arsenals of
Soviet arms in the former Union states were rapidly being seized by unknown
people. While the governments of the new independent republics did not
acknowledge any connection with these seizures, they also failed to conduct
any serious investigation into them. Soviet military units which mostly
declared allegiance to Russia had difficulty moving into Russia and, in
the process, often lost their equipment and arms. For example, in 1992,
during the Nagorno-Karabakh withdrawal of an armoured unit which became
Russian, all its equipment was seized by Armenian units. Special forces
of Russian commandos had to locate and destroy captured Russian armoured
vehicles and tanks. In other cases Russian forces remained in previous
locations without a clear legal basis for their actions and without any
plan for the future.
The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation could not secure control
over the troops subordinated to it in the ‘Near Abroad’. The rank and file
of the armed forces was often constituted of members of the local populace.
Such units continued to lend support to local military formations. Officers
turned a blind eye to actions undertaken by their subordinates and attempted
to conduct their own policy in relation to the local population. Corruption
reached unprecedented levels.
For example, the 201st Division located in Tajikistan demonstrates how
the disorganized Russian forces became a source of weapons for the conflicting
sides even before the beginning of the civil war there in 1992. A representative
of the Russian authorities, who along with others was responsible for the
situation of the Russian forces in Tajikistan, concisely described in 1993
the results of corruption in the 201st Division, saying ‘It blew up everything’.2
It is important, however, to note that the 201st Division at the time of
the civil war played the role of buffer and effectively provided shelter
for refugees escaping from one or the other side of the conflict.
At this point the Russian leadership devoted considerable attention to
the development of relations with the new independent states. The Kremlin’s
actions, including the attempts to participate in the settlement of armed
conflicts, were of a spontaneous and ad hoc character. In the framework
of the Russian general political strategy it attempted to raise the authority
of the CSCE, declaring that the main role of an international collective
organization lies in the institution of good neighbourhood relations between
the newly independent states. At that time a doctrine was being developed
that was to govern the implementation of peace-keeping operations in the
entire CIS. The ‘adolescent romanticism’ characteristic of the first year
of Russian foreign policy, however, was often combined with threats and
declarations of support to the Russian-speaking population on behalf of
the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation. The passive role played by
the Kremlin in the ‘Near Abroad’ became a focus for continuing attacks
from the opposition. The flow of refugees into Russia from other states
of the post-Soviet area increased many times. Political stability, in a
society already weakened by the consequences of radical economic reform,
was under threat.
It became evident that the perception of liberal leaders, who stood at
that time at the helm of the Russian Government and the foreign office,
of the future of relations between states in the post-Soviet area bore
little resemblance to reality. Russia could not solve the problems of transition
from a post-totalitarian to a democratic society in isolation from the
other successor states of the post-Soviet area. The instability on Russian
borders and in the continuing conflicts would inevitably disrupt Russian
society. Consequently, it was in Russia’s national interest to take an
active role in facilitating the settlement of these conflicts. By the same
token, it was also in Russia’s interest to undertake peace-keeping operations
in addition to diplomatic efforts. Some kind of middle way had to be found
between the ‘isolationists’ on the one hand and, on the other, those nationalist
patriotic forces who demanded active intervention by Russia in the ‘Near
Abroad’ and who viewed this intervention as a revival of the policy of
a great power and the successor to the Russian empire.
The Soviet heritage
Throughout this period, Russia was not ready to conduct peace-keeping operations.
It had no experience in conducting such operations. The Soviet Union had
never sent its combat units to install peace in the framework of UN operations.
Throughout its entire history the Soviet military or Soviet military advisors
involved in civil wars in other countries provided assistance to ‘progressive’
(according to the Communist leadership) regimes and rebels. This corresponded
to the doctrine of so-called ‘proletarian internationalism’, which requires
the provision of assistance to those workers fighting for freedom and the
progressive struggle for liberation from the oppression of capitalism and
its last stage - imperialism. Peaceful negotiations could be used only
as an element of struggle, the end result of which was already predetermined
by Marxist-Leninist theory.
The participation of Soviet officers in UN operations as observers did
not contradict this approach, since international organizations were assigned
the role of a force ‘containing imperialist states and their aggressive
aspirations’. The policy of peaceful coexistence was considered to be a
dialectical form of struggle between states with different social-political
formations. International organizations represented one of the fields of
Because of this approach the Soviet government never devoted serious attention
to the issue of training cadres for peace-keeping operations. Neither did
it develop any military-theoretical thinking about the conduct of peacekeeping
operations. The Russian army participating in proposed peace-making operations
could only count on the initiative of proposed peace-keepers -officers
with very limited international experience, acquired mainly from television
screens while watching the recent Operation Desert Storm. Thus, Russia
inherited from the Soviet Union neither a general conception conducting
peace-keeping operations nor a concrete vision of the tasks of military
peace-keepers. There existed only a couple of dozen officers who had at
one time served in the UN.
Meanwhile there were a number of positive psychological and cultural aspects
related to the possibility of peace-keeping operations being conducted
by Russian forces in the territory of the former Soviet Union. First, there
was the identification of the peace-keepers with the suffering of the local
population. The Russian military, as well as the majority of the inhabitants
of the USSR, were not psychologically prepared for its disintegration and
continued to perceive the inhabitants of the other republics as their fellow-citizens.4
This was supported by the ideology of the ‘unity of the army and people’
boosted by perestroika in combination with the new and, at that time, extremely
popular concept of an ‘army outside polities’. If, for example, the ideology
of military neutrality helped prevent the use of the military in Moscow
during the coup of August 1991, then it was possible to count on the high
ideological motivation of each soldier to fulfil the common task of contributing
to peace. The second factor was the ease of establishing contacts between
the peace-keepers, the local authorities and the populations guaranteed
by the prevalent wide use of the Russian language and the existence of
common cultural perceptions and shared experiences of living in a totalitarian
Third, peace-keeping offered a realistic possibility of career development
for officers participating in peace-keeping operations. It is also necessary
to take into consideration the social background of the period. The reform
of the winter of 1991-92 led to a crisis in the army, cuts in the armed
forces and mass layoffs of young officers. The prestige of the military
was at its lowest point. The military profession ceased to win the respect
of public opinion. Against this backdrop the noble responsibility of peace-keeping
could give a sense of purpose to officers and create psychological confidence
In the spring of 1992, the Leningrad garrison established the first base
for preparing peace-keeping forces. This happened before the beginning
of the Russian peace-keeping operation in Transdnestr.
The first operation: Moldova/Transdnestr
In the spring of 1992, the conflict in Transdnestr flared up. In this region
a tension was emerging, dating back to 1989, between the Government of
Moldova (which was first a party and government leadership of the Moldovan
Soviet Socialist Republic and later, after 1991, became the Government
of the independent Moldovan Republic) and the local Russian-speaking population
of the Transdnestr region, which declared the creation of its own Transdnestr
Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic (which also later became the Transdnestr
Moldovan Republic). The separatist mood in Transdnestr was sympathetically
supported by the locally-stationed Soviet 14th Army. A number of unfortunate
political moves by both sides led to the escalation of tensions and to
armed clashes beginning in the autumn of 1990, which developed into open
war in March 1992.
Under intense pressure from nationalist circles, the Russian leadership
became actively involved in the events taking place in Moldova. The opposition
demanded military assistance for the Russian-speaking population of Transdnestr.
Volunteers, including groups of Cossacks, headed for the region to support
the separatists. In the face of this pressure, the democratic government
of Gaidar and the Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev in particular tried to
defend a diplomatic approach to solving the crisis and argued that a military
solution to the issue of Transdnestr was impossible. On 2 April 1992 the
units that remained in the I4th Army were transferred to the jurisdiction
of Russia. This happened on the day after a failed attempt by the Moldovan
police to enter Benderi, one of the cities controlled by Transdnestrian
authorities. The military garrison in Benderi launched an appeal to give
the 14th Army based in the region the status of peace-keeping forces.
Despite Kozyrev’s efforts to find a compromise solution, the ‘party of
war’ in Russia and in Moldova turned out to be stronger. The Russian Vice-President
strongly criticized the ‘parquet diplomacy’ of Andrei Kozyrev and insisted
on the need for decisive action. The nationalist Moldovan leadership also
attempted to solve the problem by military means. On 19 June 1992, regular
units of the Moldovan army entered Benderi. A large number of civilians
perished during the military confrontation. Units of the Transdnestr separatists,
using equipment from the 14th Army, halted the advance of the government
forces. A war for position had started in the region.
Russian forces supported the separatists. General Alexander Lebed, the
commander of the I4th Army, threatened to march on Kishenev and Russian
artillery started to bombard the Moldovan forces. The open participation
of the I4th Army brought the Moldovan forces to the verge of military defeat.
Only after that came the agreement between Moldova and Russia entitled
‘Principles of the Peaceful Settlement of the Armed Conflict in Transdnestr’,
signed on 23 June 1992. According to this agreement trilateral peace-keeping
forces were established, which included representatives of the warring
sides and Russia.
The peace-keeping forces included twelve battalions, six of which were
Russian. The Russian part of the peace-keeping forces was sent to Transdnestr
and drawn from military formations in the Volga region inside Russia.
A security zone was established - 220 km long and 10-20 km wide - on both
sides of the river Dnestr. The leadership of the peace-keeping forces was
given to the United Controlling Commission for the Settlement of the Armed
Conflict in Transdnestr Region, which included six representatives of the
warring parties and Russia. The actions of the Russian peace-keepers included
the minimal standards set for measures of separation. The forces separated
the warring parties, controlled weapon depots and organized checkpoints.
The first commander of the peace-keeping operation. Major General Edward
Vorobiev, who later became famous for leading the intervention of Russian
forces in the Chechen Republic, described the situation during his leadership
as follows: ‘At first one or the other side opened fire every-day. But
the fast reaction in each case of shooting and the adoption of effective
measures to pursue the culprits meant that by the middle of September the
cases of use of arms had become scarce.’ At this point, each case of firing
was investigated on the spot. Decisions were taken in the daily meetings
of the Commission. Additionally, the peace-keeping forces proceeded to
confiscate illegally kept firearms and ammunition. They also cleared mines
from dams, gardens and fields.
During their activity, the representatives of the different components
of the peace-keeping forces conducted some tasks jointly and some separately.
Joint checkpoints were established on the roads involving representatives
of one of the warring sides and Russia. The protection of the dam on the
Dnestr from explosions was conducted exclusively by Russian forces. According
to the account of one officer who participated in the protection of the
hydroelectric power station, there were several attempts to blow it up
by both sides. In some cases, when the intentions of the groups advancing
on the power station by night were obvious, the peace-keepers opened fire
without warning from a special ambush.
The participation of the forces of the Russian 14th Army, which was in
the region at that time, was not envisaged in the agreement. The commanders
of the Russian peace-keeping forces, however, maintained permanent contact
with General Lebed, the commander of the I4th Army. Units of the I4th Army,
moreover, took it on themselves to conduct such measures as the disarmament
and liquidation of bandit groups who were, in fact, made up of former units
of the Transdnestrian forces. These groups provoked tensions and constituted
a permanent source of danger to the population on both sides of the Dnestr.
The joint efforts of the I4th Army and the peace-keeping forces in the
city of Dubbossary led to the liquidation of a group of bandits which,
according to General Vorobiev, was ‘comprised partially of members of former
law enforcement units and partially from criminal elements. They provoked
both sides by shelling their positions.’ A meticulously planned operation
was conducted to liquidate this group. The situation was significantly
calmer afterwards and was definitely stabilized later.
There were two de facio authorities in the Transdnestr, after ultimatums
had been issued by the commander of the 14th Army to the Transdnestrian
leadership. Russian forces conducted road-checks, searches and arrests
on the territory controlled by the separatists. In 1993, the Russian military
command in Teraspol assumed the law enforcement functions in the region
and was in permanent conflict with the local authorities. The population
of the region in many cases supported the actions of the Russian military.
The Russian general and citizen Alexander Lebed even became a deputy of
the local parliament.
This approach could not, however, be sustained. This was because of the
conflicts emanating from Moscow at that time. The forces of the Red-Brown
opposition in Moscow constantly exploited the suffering of the ‘abandoned’
Russians in the Transdnestr. The deputies of the Supreme Soviet of Russia
openly declared their support for the Transdnestrian separatists. In these
circumstances Russia could not apply multiple pressure on the leadership
of the separatists and strictly demand the need for reasonable compromise.
The real position of the Moscow leadership in Transdnestr is demonstrated
by the following fact. In the fall of 1993, the President issued a decree
(no. 1400) on the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet which put an end to
the 76-year-old Soviet state system. A paramilitary group from Transdnestr
arrived in Moscow and supported the mutiny started by Rutskoi. After the
mutiny had been quashed, the returning paramilitary received, according
to media reports, awards from the Transdnestrian state. The participation
of officers of the Transdnestrian formations who abandoned their positions
for the period of the mutiny was never investigated. In protest at the
actions by the Transdnestrian authorities. General Lebed abdicated his
mandate as a deputy of the Transdnestrian Moldovan Republic.
The situation, along the line of separation, in Transdnestr remained stable.
It seemed that, with the passing of time, tension was subsiding. According
to a decision of the Ministry of Defence at the end of 1994, Russian peacekeeping
forces were reduced by half. This decision was taken at the end of November
1994, when the plan for the military operation in Chechnya was hastily
put in place.6 According to the Moldovan President Mircha Snegur in his
meeting with the CSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Max Van
der Stoel, a ‘threat of provocation and possibilities for the resumption
of the conflict’ was once again at hand. Indeed, in the spring of 1995
an increase was observed in clashes involving Moldovan and Transdnestrian
armed forces. Cases of the use of force by Russian peace-keeping forces
were also on the increase.
General Lebed, who had the status of a freewheeling military commander
in the period between 1992 and 1994, harshly criticized the state of affairs
in the Russian army and state. For this he received immense support among
officers’ circles. He was also supported by nationalist circles. Among
other things, Lebed repeated his proposal to charge the 14th Army with
peacekeeping functions, pointing at its role in securing stability in the
region, as recognized by Moscow,7 and at the possibility of reducing the
cost of maintaining the forces if his proposal was accepted.
After lengthy diplomatic efforts by Moscow and an extended bureaucratic
struggle the Russian Ministry of Defence adopted a resolution to dissolve
the I4th Army and to change the command structure of the new entity. Moscow
also made desperate attempts to attach peace-keeping status to units which
were formerly part of the 14th Army and to move the remaining units back
to their original bases. The Moldovan leadership decisively opposed these
moves, considering them to be an attempt by Moscow to side-step its obligations
of withdrawing its forces from the republic. The Moldovan leadership also
opposed the use of former units of the 14th Army for peacekeeping functions.
In an effort to overcome Moldovan mistrust, the Russian Ministry of Defence
decided, in November 1995, to establish a centre for the training of peace-keeping
forces in Transdnestr. The Centre was supposed to retrain the servicemen
of the 14th Army.
Throughout the conflict, international institutions were relatively ineffective.
In May 1995, the emissary of the CSCE, Ishtvan Dyarmati, insisted that
his organization should be included in the existing mechanism for settling
the conflict. This was initially resisted by the leadership of Transdnestr.
Two months later, the leadership of Moldova and Transdnestr approached
the Ukraine with a proposal to involve it in the negotiations of the settlement
together with Russia and the CSCE. The participation of a Ukrainian force
in the peace-keeping process is currently under discussion.
In Moldova, mixed peace-keeping forces were established involving the parties
to the conflict and Russia. The main burden in this process was on the
Russian peace-keeping forces. The peace-keeping forces were relatively
successful in separating the sides and did not allow the escalation of
separate clashes to develop into large-scale confrontation. They undertook
pre-ventative work with the local population. Their participation did not,
however, involve systematic law enforcement and was mostly ad hoc. The
policing function assumed by the Russian army located in the region was
conducted outside of the peace-keeping operation. This was, however, important
for the success of the operation.
Georgia: the operation in Southern Ossetia
The operation in Southern Ossetia began almost simultaneously with the
Transdnestrian operation by the Russian peace-keeping forces.
The first clashes between the Ossetians and the Georgians in the Southern
Ossetian autonomous region on Russia’s borders started in the winter of
1989-1990. In autumn 1990, after the first non-Communist leadership assumed
power in Georgia, led by Z. Gamsakhurdia, the Supreme Soviet of the autonomous
region adopted a number of measures aimed at the creation of an independent
state. On 9 December 1990, regardless of the protests of the leadership
in Tbilisi, the Ossetians elected a new Supreme Soviet for the autonomous
region. On II December, the Georgian Supreme Soviet dissolved the Southern
Ossetian autonomous region and adopted a law on ‘Extraordinary Situations’.
On the same day, in the capital of Southern Ossetia, Tskhinvali, an Ossetian
policeman was killed, as well as two Georgians. The Ossetians claim that
this was done by members of Gamsakhurdia’s personal guard. The next day,
the Georgian parliament declared an extraordinary situation on the territory
of the former autonomous region.
On 6 January 1991, Georgian police forces and paramilitary units entered
the capital of Southern Ossetia. Soviet Internal Ministry forces located
in the region did nothing. After battles with Ossetian paramilitary groups,
the Georgian forces had to retreat from the city on 26 January 1991. Afterwards
the Ossetian forces succeeded gradually in pushing Georgian forces back
several kilometres. By the spring, it was evident that active military
confrontation between the Ossetian and Georgian formations was over, and
the tactical aim of each side had become to maintain the territory it controlled.8
The main problem in the region was the upsurge of crime in the area of
conflict. From the beginning of the conflict, Ossetians fled the internal
regions of Georgia en masse and headed toward Southern and Northern Ossetia.
Several dozen Ossetian villages were burnt. The Georgian inhabitants of
Tskhinvali and other Ossetian villages also fled the conflict zone. Following
the end of outright armed conflict, and the departure of the Georgian and
Ossetians from the conflict zone, robbery and banditry were directed against
ethnic groups of third parties. Armenians and Jews were among the new victims.
In the meantime, raids on the territories controlled by the enemy, as well
as attacks on transport and communications which were accompanied by murder,
hostage taking for ransom and cattle theft, continued.
With the aim of stabilizing the situation and preventing a renewed outbreak
of war, Yeltsin and the new Georgian leader Shevardnadze signed the so-called
Dagomys Treaty on 14 June 1992. The treaty envisaged the creation of trilateral
peace-keeping and law enforcement forces with the aim of maintaining peace
in the conflict zone. A multilateral control commission was also established
with the aim of solving administrative and economic problems.
It should be noted that the Dagomys Treaty was in reality never implemented.
It did, however, establish the basis for peace-keeping activity in the
region. The Multilateral Control Commission, which should have included
representatives of Georgia, Southern Ossetia and Russia (including Northern
Ossetia), never managed to function systematically. Throughout the period
since the signing of the agreement the need for the permanent functioning
of the Commission has always been discussed. Its work, however, was limited
to a few meetings and missions over a one-year period and the signing of
several formal protocols.
The peace-keeping forces, at least according to the signed agreements,
were supposed to comprise three battalions. One battalion was supposed
to be drafted from the Georgian armed forces, one from the Russian armed
forces and one from the forces of the Northern Ossetian Autonomous Republic,
which was a subject of the Russian Federation and was trusted by the Southern
Ossetians. The peace-keeping forces were supposed to conduct joint missions
for the maintaining of peace with a united headquarters and three senior
military commanders. Joint checkpoints for controlling the roads and disarming
the population similar to those in Transdnestr were also envisaged.
The actual development of the peace-keeping process soon strayed away from
the planned decisions. The military operations that started in Abkhazia
distracted the Georgian leadership from the problems in Tskhinvali. The
Georgian battalion turned out to be comprised mostly of the local Georgian
population, which had participated in the preceding armed clashes in the
region. The volunteers from Northern Ossetia also deserted the peacekeeping
forces, and the rank and file of the Northern Ossetian battalion was replenished
with mercenaries from the local Ossetian population. The overall superiority
of the Ossetian forces in military equipment constantly disconcerted the
Georgian commanders. The Georgian battalion of peacekeeping forces, which
represented the main force on the Georgian side in the region, was armed
with infantry equipment which was not suitable for peacekeeping activity.9
Suspicions among the Ossetians regarding the intentions of the Georgian
military did not disappear either. In these circumstances, the commanders
of the peace-keeping forces decided not to set up joint checkpoints, and
to separate the checkpoints of the Georgian and Ossetian forces by Russian
Given the paralysis of power both in Georgia and in Southern Ossetia in
1992-93, peace-keeping forces were allowed to be formed from the former
fighters. This meant that they were limited in their ability to act efficiently
in the region. The best senior military commanders were formerly officers
in the Soviet army who had been discharged and returned to serve in the
Georgian army, and the Ossetian forces saw their main task as containing
their subordinates. One of them, in an interview with the author, described
his fighters as bandits. Indeed, no other peace-keeping operation in the
territory of the former Soviet Union saw so many cases of law violations
by the peacekeepers, including drug trafficking. The culprits in most cases
were never punished.
In these conditions, the Russian peace-keeping battalion carried most
of the burden of maintaining law and order in the region. On its territory
and under its protection, meetings were conducted between Georgian and
Ossetian officials. Because of the hazy formulations of their mandate which
foresaw the maintaining of peace, law and order in the region, Russian
peacekeepers actually assumed responsibility for law enforcement in Southern
Ossetia, including the arrest of criminals. According to the commander
of the Russian peace-keepers. Major General Nikolai Pavlov, local law enforcement
officials, mostly made up of former fighters of the Ossetian groups, immediately
released those arrested without any investigation. After the elections
of 24 March 1994 in Southern Ossetia, when the representatives of the local
security ministries lost, Russian peace-keepers became a counterbalance
and supported the newly elected leadership of the Republic. The commanders
of the Russian battalion also addressed most economic issues which required
co-operation between the two sides.
When the power structures in Southern Ossetia and Georgia became stronger,10
the Control Commission, at its meeting of 6 December 1994, decided, with
the agreement of the Russian Georgian, Southern and Northern Ossetian sides,
to unite the peace-keeping forces under the command of the Russian Major
General Anatolii Merkulov. During 1994-95, according to the general11 the
rank and file of the Georgian battalion was completely revamped. The Ossetian
battalion was cleansed of one-third of those who participated in the military
operations in the region. A decision was also made to freeze the heavy
equipment of the Georgian and Ossetian peacekeepers. Notably, this was
not extended to the Russian peace-keeping forces.
Afterwards and during 1995, the focus of the commanders of the peacekeeping
forces shifted to issues of law enforcement and the issues of economic
reconstruction. Anatolii Merkulev perceived his mandate as preventing a
renewal of the conflict in the widest possible sense. The commander of
the peace-keeping forces conducted weekly meetings with administrative
and economic officials of the Georgian and Ossetian sides in the region.
They discussed such issues as continuing cases of violence and cattle theft,
as well as restoring operations in the local plant, combating unemployment
in the region and even providing textbooks for schools before the beginning
of the school year.
When evaluating the peace-keeping operation in Southern Ossetia, it is
important to note that the unification of tasks of peace-keeping and law
enforcement made success possible even with the absence of planned civilian
support. The use of trilateral peace-keeping forces which involved participants
from previous military operations made it possible to limit the influence
of the fighting formations on life in the region and create conditions
for peaceful reconstruction. Now, the composition of the peace-keeping
forces is to be changed and the Ossetian battalion, which was supposed
to be a battalion of the Ministry for Extraordinary Situations in Northern
Ossetia and which was financed from the Russian budget, will be replaced
Russian battalion; this will allow an even easier transition to peaceful
life. The conclusive settlement of the conflict, however, will only be
possible after the determination of the status of Southern Ossetia.
Tajikistan: the collective peace-keeping forces in Tajikistan
The third operation which is considered as peace-keeping by the Russian
leadership was conducted by Russian forces in Tajikistan within a joint
peacekeeping force under the leadership of the CIS.
The collective peace-keeping forces in this mountainous Central Asian republic
were formed in November 1993, at a joint meeting of the Heads of States
of the CIS. The experience of the peace-keeping forces in Transdnestr and
Southern Ossetia was taken into consideration in the formulation of their
tasks. At that point, the first steps towards analysing the actions of
the Russian forces during military conflicts in the territory of the former
Soviet Union were undertaken.12 However, the proportionate and successful
use of force for the maintenance of peace in the conflict zones gave rise
to exaggerated expectations about the possibilities of using peace-keeping
forces. The operation in Tajikistan became an illustration of the erroneous
nature of this approach. It was envisaged that the collective peace-keeping
forces would include Russian forces previously based in Tajikistan as well
as units from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan 3 and Kazakhstan. By that time, the
Russian and Uzbekistani military were already deeply involved in the conflict
The units of the 201st Division were the source of arms for both the warring
sides. During the extraordinarily violent war in the summer and autumn
of 1992, the Russian Ministry of Interior repeatedly appealed to the warring
sides to start negotiations. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andrei Kozyrev,
made a similar appeal during a special visit in October. Nonetheless, the
units of the 201st Division, based in different parts of the republic,
were in a difficult situation. Both the groups supporting the Islamic-democratic
authorities in Dushanbe and the pro-Communist formations of the National
Front tried to entice the Russian military on to their side or to take
away their weapons and equipment by every possible means.
Some units of the 201st Division were de facto encircled and were forced
to assume a circular defence within the borders of their military bases.
These bases also became a sanctuary for refugees. In the autumn of 1992,
a decision was made to replenish the 201st Division with the addition of
specially trained units. The Division, which had suffered from a shortage
in manpower, was able to restore its combat readiness. In accordance with
an agreement with the authorities, military hardware was positioned on
the roads around the capital. The aim of this measure was to prevent the
infiltration of small gangs of thieves notorious for their handiwork in
the capital city. After the defeat of the Islamic-democratic coalition
and the change in power in Dushanbe, the Russian authorities openly supported
the new government and agreed, for the sake of maintaining stability, to
turn a blind eye to the Communist slogans and the mass violations of human
rights through which the National Front came to power. Support was also
expressed for the significant economic assistance supplied by Russia to
the new government and for active military co-operation.
President Boris Yeltsin and the Minister of Defence Pavel Grachev, as well
as the Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Kozyrev, on a number of occasions
declared Tajikistan as a zone of special interest to the Russian Federation.
Russia signed a special treaty with the new government on ‘Co-operation
in Military Issues’. Actual co-operation went much further than was envisaged
in the treaty. Cases were registered when the Russian military ensured
the security of the Tajiki forces in disarmament operations.15
The Russian forces had the task of preventing a renewed explosion of the
conflict, which threatened to spill over into Central Asia. According to
the Russian military, Russia still did not have the economic resources
adequately to protect its southern borders. The civil war in Central Asia
would have exposed the southern borders of Russia to weapons and drug trafficking
from Afghanistan and the Pamirs, where the remaining units of the Islamic
opposition took refuge. They therefore prepared new units to return home
In conjunction with the Tajiki government, Russia initially sent airborne
commando units and, later, border guards to the borders between Tajikistan
and Afghanistan. On the night of 31 July 1993, one of the Russian border
posts was almost completely destroyed by Afghani units of the Islamic opposition.
This tragedy elicited a strong response in Russia and illuminated one of
the most important issues of this war - the lack of a serious legal basis
for the actions of the Russian forces in the CIS countries.
The liberal intellectuals rightly accused the government of attempting
to take control over Tajikistan and in essence repeat the failed experience
of the Soviet assistance to Afghanistan. At that point, the government
promoted the idea of creating a coalition of forces from the CIS to secure
stability in the region.
In November 1993, at a meeting of the heads of states of the CIS, an agreement
was made to create the Collective Peace-keeping Forces (CPF). In addition
to Russia, three countries committed themselves to send one battalion each
to participate in the peace-keeping forces. Uzbekistan did not participate
in the formation of the CPF, and its forces were virtually autonomous.
The participation of the Kyrgyz unit was often called into question. Only
Kazakhstan completely met its commitment. The evidence, however, seems
to show that the Kazakh battalion based in the mountainous region of Badakhshan,
which is partly controlled by opposition forces, is not capable of changing
the situation in its area of responsibility.
In general, the actions of the CPF bore little resemblance to the actions
of peace-keeping forces. Their military power supported the current regime
and allowed it to remain passive during negotiations with the representatives
of the armed opposition. Moreover, the Council of Defence Ministers of
the CIS stressed to the commander of the CPF, Lieutenant General Valeri
Patrikeev, on 19 April 1995, during the deterioration of the situation
in Tajikistan, the necessity to provide ‘assistance to the Tajikistan with
forces and equipment in order to bring the size of the Tajiki army to 16
thousand’. This, according to the general, would have allowed the Tajiki
forces to secure defence of the main borders. This plan was not adopted,
however, and the Russian government continues to push the Tajiki government
to seek a compromise with the opposition. Stability in the region, moreover,
has not increased.
The so-called collective peace-keeping forces are, in effect, little more
than regular military formations of the Russian armed forces. Under the
title of the Collective Peace-keeping Forces of the CIS, Russia is occupying
a strategically important position from its perspective and supports with
its own power the balance of power in Tajikistan, which makes futile any
attempt to change it in a military manner. This group does not, in reality,
take part in the separation of the warring sides, nor is it defending the
border with Afghanistan. The Russian border guards, although they are not
part of the Collective Peace-keeping Forces, are attempting to fulfil the
Georgia: the operation in Abkhazia
The most recent Russian peace-keeping operation in the territory of the
CIS was the Abkhazian operation, which started in July 1994. At that point,
the Russian military were involved in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict even
more than in Tajikistan.
The tension between the Georgian and Abkhazian communities and between
the Georgian authorities and the Abkhazian autonomous region emerged at
the beginning of perestroika. At its beginning, the Abkhazian population
demanded the transfer of the jurisdiction of Abkhazian autonomy from the
Georgian to the Russian Republic. The first armed clashes between the representatives
of the Abkhazian and Georgian populations took place on 15-17 July 1989.
The Communist leadership managed to settle the conflict and the events
did not have any serious repercussions. The situation was later stabilized
through significant concessions to the Abkhazian demands made during the
rule of Gamsakhurdia. However, after the military coup in Tbilisi and the
ascent of Edward Shevardnadze to the leadership of the State Council in
Georgia the situation in Abkhazia started to deteriorate.
On 14 August 1992, the armed conflict between Georgia and its autonomous
republic Abkhazia started. The aim of the Georgian government was to establish
control over part of its territory and to guarantee its territorial integrity.
The aim of the Abkhazian authorities was to extend the rights of the autonomous
region and ultimately to achieve independence. The National Guards, paramilitary
formations and Georgian volunteers acted on behalf of the central authorities.
The Abkhazian leadership used formations made up of the non-Georgian population
of the region and volunteers from the Confederation of Mountain Peoples
who came from the northern Caucasus region, as well as Cossacks from the
adjacent Russian regions. This was the only one of the above-described
conflicts where clashes took place on land and water and in the air. On
each side several thousand people were killed. Hundreds of thousands of
people were forced to leave their homes and became internal refugees. Both
sides adopted the strategy of expelling the opposing ethnic group from
strategically important regions. By the beginning of 1993, the Abkhazian
forces established control over the strategically important city of Gagra.
During the conflict, Moscow officially maintained neutrality; the Russian
government condemned human rights violations and established sanctions
against both sides. Russian forces situated in the conflict zone from the
beginning provided unofficial support for the Abkhazian formations. Numerous
eye-witness accounts testify to the bombardment of Georgian forces by Russian
aircraft and the use of the Russian navy to transport Abkhazian fighters.
Official statements by the Russian Ministry of Defence claimed that Russian
forces were only acting in self-defence and were only returning fire when
attacked. After the cease-fire, which was finally agreed in Sochi on 27
July 1993, there was an attempt to assign an ex-post peace-keeping status
to the Russian forces. The calculation was that their presence could become
a containing factor. The Russian government took responsibility for guaranteeing
the fulfilment of signed agreements. The UN promised to provide 50 military
monitors and actually sent some of them to the region. But it turned out
that the Russian forces did not have the authority to enforce the cease-fire
agreement. It soon became evident that Georgia did not desire the presence
of Russian peace-keeping forces on its territory.
On 16 September 1993, Abkhazia violated the agreements and its forces launched
an attack on the capital of the region, Sukhumi. Abkhazian forces established
control over most of the Abkhazian territory, including Sukhumi. Thus the
military situation returned to how it had been before the beginning of
the war. Following the victory of the Abkhazian forces and the establishment
of control over Abkhazian territory, they prevented the return of the Georgian
The Russian peace-keeping mission could have not taken place at all if
not for the renewed explosion of armed struggle, on the Georgian territory
adjacent to Abkhazia, between the supporters of the deposed president Gamsakhurdia
and units supporting the new government. In October 1993, Russian forces
supported Shevardnadze by blocking all roads and communications and preventing
the rebels from advancing on the capital Tbilisi.
On 23 October, Shevardnadze decided to assent to the admission of Georgia
into the CIS. Tbilisi allowed Russian military bases to remain in Georgia.
An agreement in principle was made to allow the implementation of a peace-keeping
mission in Abkhazia. On I December the Abkhazian and Georgian delegations
signed a ‘Mutual Understanding Agreement’. On 9 May the UN Secretary General
Boutros Boutros-Ghali presented a report to the UN Security Council stating
the lack of conditions in Georgia necessary for the deployment of UN forces.
He took the view that the task of peacekeeping could be conducted by Russian
forces, which could later become part of a deployed UN force.
This was the first time that lengthy preparations were undertaken before
the deployment of peace-keeping forces. Both sides agreed first to a total
cessation of hostilities. Russia achieved an agreement that this operation
would be under the auspices of the CIS, with the authorization of the UN.
The mandate of the Russian forces was worked out in detail using the UN
experience. The area of responsibility was limited to the Gal region, adjacent
to the internal part of Georgia. UN observers were assigned to control
the situation in the conflict area. After a number of co-ordinating measures
were completed, Russian peace-keepers entered Abkhazia on 26 July 1994.
In the first months of the operation, additional battalions of the Akhalkal
and Batumi divisions of the Russian army were sent to the region. The local
population serves in these divisions, which now constitute part of the
Russian bases in Georgia. Until recently, there were even Georgian citizens
in these groups.19
Finally, the following scheme was adopted for the location of the peacekeeping
forces. Three battalions were positioned on the territory of Abkhazia.
One battalion was positioned inside Georgia. The commander and headquarters
of the peace-keeping forces were situated in Sukhumi. The deputy commander
was stationed in the Georgian regional centre of Zugdidi.
The first task of the Russian forces was the organization of checkpoints
on the river Gumista which constituted the demarcation line. The peace-keepers
managed in a short time to assume control over the main crossing points.
Groups of Georgian and Abkhazian fighters still, however, managed to cross
over to the opposite side of the river and disturb the population.
The second task was to demilitarize the Kodor pass in the mountains, which
is the last part of Abkhazia still populated by Georgians and still controlled
by Georgian forces. After a series of lengthy negotiations a lowering of
the level of confrontation was achieved by banning heavy weapons and ammunition
from the area and separating the armed groups of both sides. Although the
full demilitarization of the passage was impossible, the frequency of shelling
was significantly reduced.
The peace-keeping forces started an extensive operation to remove mines
and allow the inhabitants of Abkhazia to resume agricultural activity.
The removal of mines was extremely complicated because of the lack of maps
showing their location. Nevertheless, the peace-keeping forces managed
to clear the 10-kilometre-wide strip under their control of mines. The
peacekeeping forces also assumed the protection of the Inguri hydroelectric
station which supplies energy to the region.
The peace-keepers, however, did not succeed in carrying out the most important
task from the Georgian point of view, which was securing the return of
refugees. The Abkhazian authorities prevented the return of refugees to
areas outside the region of Small Gali.20 Law and order in that region
had to be secured by Abkhazian police, the members of which had participated
in the armed conflict. This meant the returning refugees were subject to
the danger of attacks from the numerous criminal groups, as well as persecution
at the hands of the Abkhazian police. There are eye-witness accounts of
such harassment taking place in the presence of Russian servicemen who
undertook no action to prevent it. The commanders of the peace-keeping
forces explained the inaction of their subordinates by the absence of a
policing mandate for the peace-keeping forces.21
There was only one instance when the Russian peace-keepers attempted to
act at their own risk, as they had acted before in the other operations.
At the beginning of September 1994, the Deputy Minister of Defence, Lieutenant
General Gregori Kondratev, who was responsible, among other things, for
peace-keeping operations, visited the region. Furious about the murder
of Russian officers on the territory controlled by Abkhazian forces and
by the lack of will on the Abkhazian side to receive Georgian refugees,
he made a desperate move. He declared that by 14 September (which he later
moved to 16 September) Russian forces would start an operation for the
repatriation of refugees, ‘giving an armed response to whomever attempts
to prevent it’.22
On 15 September, Abkhazian police in the Gali region were blocked by Russian
forces and prevented from receiving reinforcements hastily sent from other
parts of Abkhazia. On 16 September, however. Defence Minister Grachev stopped
the operation and flew to Georgia with a mission from Yeltsin. A meeting
was scheduled between the Russian and Georgian leaderships. The Abkhazian
side declared its readiness to consider the issue of the return of refugees
on I October. Soon after that, Gregori Kondratev returned to Moscow to
perform his function as Deputy Defence Minister, where he remained until
the beginning of the armed conflict in Chechnya.
From the very beginning of the operation, the lack of policing functions
in those areas under the peace-keepers’ jurisdiction was criticized. It
is important to note that Georgian politicians started to demand these
functions in the early spring of 1995. Up until then they had counted on
the peace-keeping forces establishing control over the entire territory
of Abkhazia. The Abkhazian authorities, on the other hand, were striving
to minimize the functions of the peace-keepers. Their opinion was that
the population, including the returning refugees, should be protected from
thieves and bandits by the law enforcement organs of the Abkhazian republic.
In the peace-keeping operations of the Russian authorities in post-Soviet
territory, it is possible to discern a struggle between two approaches.
On the one hand, there was the diplomatic approach according to which the
role of peace-keeping forces was to strengthen the separate results of
lengthy negotiations, and, on the other hand, there was the force-based
approach founded on the exclusive use of war to solve conflicts. This approach
assumed a deployment of peace-keeping forces based on commonsense considerations,
disregarding the mandate established through negotiations.
The second approach is more natural for Russian political leaders, who
came to power on a wave of post-revolutionary changes in Soviet society
which destroyed the totalitarian regime and the Communist empire. Regardless
of the democratic nature of these changes, this wave of historic change
in Russia gave rise to one of the most dangerous diseases of the new society,
the disease of disregard for legal norms for the sake of achieving practical
The actions of the Russian leaders and the practice of the Russian military
in peace-keeping operations in armed conflicts in the CIS in most cases
eased the suffering of the civilian population, although Tajikistan is
an important exception. It did not, however, create the conditions for
the settlement of conflicts. Russian peace-keeping forces were capable
of freezing the conflicts and restraining the warring parties from renewed
open combat. The peacekeepers, however, were not capable of eliminating
the tension between the former enemies without the efforts of the politicians
and indeed of democratically-minded groups and individuals in the areas.
The realities of politics force all sides to resort to diplomatic approaches
to the settlement of conflicts. Today, according to the Russian authorities,
the peace-keeping efforts of the CIS and the conduct of peace-keeping operations
under its auspices constitute an important perspective for the settlement
of conflicts. The military formations of the peace-keeping operations are
viewed as one of the instruments for the settlement of conflicts in conjunction
with a number of measures of an economic and humanitarian nature.
From this point of view, the difference between the policy of the two Deputy
Defence Mnisters who at different times were responsible for Russia’s peace-keeping
operations, Gromov and Kondratev, does not so much reflect the difference
in their personal approaches to the organization of peace-keeping operations
as the different periods that coincided with their activity. It is important
to note that Lieutenant-General Gromov, the former commander of the Soviet
forces in Afghanistan who is usually considered a supporter of active,
forceful actions on the part of peace-keeping forces, himself did not consider
it possible to use military force to stop war. He said that ‘combat units
that receive an order to separate warring parties by force inevitably find
themselves in a situation where they have to fight at first one side and
then the other. They then become the enemies of both sides. In reality
this means that the forces stand in the conflict on one or the other side
and with that lose de facto their peace-keeping status.’23 In the meantime,
as we mentioned before, the ‘diplomatic’ General Kondratev was prepared
to use force in order to force the Abkhaz authorities to agree to the return
of the Georgian refugees.
One of the lessons that can be learnt from the Russian experience is the
need to establish a role for peace-keepers that is somewhere between taking
sides, as Gromov feared and as was the case in Tajikistan, and merely guaranteeing
a cease-fire, as was the case in Abkhazia and which Kondratev found unacceptable.
Peace-keeping needs to combine the separation of forces with civilian tasks,
especially law enforcement. This was the reason for the relative success
of the Ossetian operation. While Russian peace-keepers bemoaned their lack
of experience in international peace-keeping operations, in some ways this
was an advantage because they were able to respond to the new situation
in more direct ways. In Abkhazia, where they took advice from the UN, they
made many of the same mistakes that the UN has made in recent operations
interpreting their mandate in such a rigid way that they were unable to
enforce key provisions, such as the return of refugees, in the cease-fire
Perhaps the biggest problem for Russian peace-keepers is that Russia is
a former imperial power and that Russian arms and Russian forces participate
in the armed conflicts raging in and around Russian territory. It is extremely
difficult to establish a genuine peace-keeping role unless these other
activities are strictly controlled, unless the rule of law is respected
and unless Russian peace-keeping operations become part of a wider legal
framework of international peace-keeping operations.
Peace-keeping operations attracted the best forces of the Russian army.
By protecting populations and preventing the flaring up of conflicts on
the borders of Russia, Russian servicemen ensure the security of their
own country. The acquired experience of settling armed conflicts leaves
its imprint on the relations of Russian peace-keeping officers and changes
their perception of the role of the army and of life in the country. It
is not an accident that after the beginning of the senseless armed conflict
on the territory of Russia in the Chechen Republic the generals who developed
the basis of peace-keeping operations for the Russian peace-keeping forces,
Boris Gromov, Gregori Kondratev and Edward Vorobiev, were forced to leave
their positions. Peace-keeping forces, however, which were created over
these five years continue to support stability outside the borders of Russia
in places where armed conflict was raging until recently.
Participation in international operations for the fulfilment of the Dayton
agreements on former Yugoslavia will undoubtedly enrich the experience
of Russian peace-keepers and will substantially change the nature of their
actions within the CIS. The experience gained by these forces within the
CIS in recent years also provides valuable lessons for the international
community which should be heeded.
1. Analysing the situation emerging during the armed conflicts on the territory
of the former USSR, the author took part in expeditions conducted by the
‘Memorial’ group. Human Rights/Helsinki Watch, between 1991 and 1995 and
missions conducted at the request of the Head of the Human Rights Commission
of the Russian President, Sergei Kovalyov.
2. Report of the human rights centre ‘Memorial’ and Human Rights Watch
(1994) ‘Human rights in Tajikistan. After the events of the civil war of
3. This assumption is based on a debate with Russian officers of the collective
peace-making forces in Tajikistan in May 1994.
4. In many ways the local population also perceived the Russian military
as their fellow-citizens.
5. From an interview with an officer of the Russian airborne forces during
an operation in Chechnya in January 1995.
6. Report of the Russian Information Agency, 25 November 1994, on a speech
made by the deputy defence minister in charge of peace-keeping forces,
Lieutenant-General Gregori Kondratev.
7. From a speech made by the chief military inspector and deputy defence
minister, Army General Konstantin Kobets, in a meeting with World War II
veterans on 29 April 1995.
8. For more details see A. Sokolov (1991) The drama of Southern Ossetia
and human rights’. The Country and the World, vol. 63, no. 3, 21-34 (Munich;
9. The Georgian commander of the Georgian peace-keepers described the situation
to the author with the revealing phrase ‘they can simply wipe us out’.
10. On 24 October 1994, the Security Council of Southern Ossetia was formed.
This was done on the orders of the head of the Southern Ossetian Supreme
Soviet, Ludvig Chebirov. The Security Council included the Security Service,
the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Internal Affairs. The chief
of the Security Council, Vladik Bagaev, the Chief of the Internal Affairs
Department, Ruslan Khubulov, and the head of the Security Service, Leonid
Kharebov, were removed. It should be noted, however, that by the summer
of 1995, the author noticed a checkpoint of the Russian peace-keeping forces
at the entrance of the Southern Ossetian Supreme Soviet which had not been
11. From an interview with General Major Anatolii Merkulev in Tskhinvali
on 28 August 1995.
12. E. Shaposhnikov (1993) ‘On the Russian security doctrine’, Mezhdunarodnaya
Zhizn, no. 9, 5-15.
13. Uzbekistan provided assistance in the formation of the pro-Communist
National Front (in Tajikistan), and helped overthrow the coalition of the
Islamic-democratic government by supplying military hardware and crews
to arm it. Uzbeki aircraft bombarded the positions of the retreating forces
of the coalition. After the occupation of Dushanbe by the forces of the
National Front and the formation of the new government, the author spoke
to soldiers from Uzbekistan who were guarding the building of the Ministry
of Interior. The Interior Minister Yakub Salima was escorted by two bodyguards
dressed in the uniform of Russian airborne forces. The union between Russia
and Tajikistan prompted Uzbekistan to change course.
14. For details see ‘Human rights in Tajikistan’ (above, note 2).
16. From an interview conducted by the author in Moscow in the spring of
1994 with a former fighter of one of these units who escaped from a training
camp in Afghanistan.
17. From a report by the Nouosti programme of the Russian Ostankino TV
channel on 19 April 1995. In order to measure the extent of the assistance
required by the commander of the CPF it is sufficient to point out that
according to Tajik defence minister Shurali Khairulaev the army consisted
of 11,500 servicemen.
18. See report by Human Rights/Helsinki Watch (1995) ‘Georgia/Abkhazia:
the violation of the rules of war and the role of Russia in the conflict’
19. In 1995, the Russian army started to demand the adoption of Russian
citizenship as a prerequisite to the signing of a contract of service with
the Russian army. However, the procedure of receiving Russian citizenship
for potential servicemen was made drastically simpler.
20. Small Gali is the provisional name of half of the Gali region closer
to the Georgian border and separated from the rest of Abkhazia by a water
21. From an interview in August 1995 with a responsible official of an
international humanitarian organization acting in the region, who asked
not to be named.
22. Report by the Georgian information agency BGI on 14 September 1994.
23. From an interview with General Boris Gromov published in Krasnaya Zvezda,
27 November 1993.