In 2004, distinct shifts in Georgian and Moldovan conflict resolution efforts sharply underlined the functions of Russian support to the breakaway regions of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transdniestria. Russian patronage permits regional leaders to adopt more radical positions than they would otherwise adopt. It also allows Moscow to continue its efforts to limit the geopolitical choices of Georgia and Moldova, two wobbly outposts of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
For the United States and the European Union to counter Russia’s support requires a sufficient stake in resolution and the ability to undermine or transform Russian interests in Georgia and Moldova. Concerns of trafficking via unregulated regions at NATO and EU borders, coupled with the possibility of obtaining a few democratic “success stories” in Eurasia, provide the stake. The question of leverage needs to be more thoroughly discussed. But if the U.S. and the EU are unable to push Russia toward more rapid political settlements, policymakers can at least adopt a strategy for normalizing conflicts that will promote continued Georgian and Moldovan central reforms, prevent the absence of political settlements from hijacking those reforms, and improve governance within the breakaway regions themselves. […]