As of early 2019, policy-makers looking for pragmatic and forward-thinking approaches to meaningful engagement with de facto states in the EU’s neighbourhood should keep as their point of reference Thomas de Waal’s recently published book “ Uncertain Ground: Engaging With Europe’s De Facto States and Breakaway Territories”. He argues in favour of a “more sophisticated rules of engagement within a framework of non-recognition”, suggesting that the international community should “be prepared to engage more directly with de facto authorities on a give-and-take principle,” and further presents a number of specific recommendations on issues such as higher education, health, minority rights, and trade (in a previous commentary for ISPI, I have similarly argued in favour of a pragmatic, nuanced approach to increased engagement focusing on human rights and trade).
Ten years after the war between Georgia and Russia in South Ossetia, in a context where grand bargains and comprehensive agreements are difficult to imagine, it is time to embrace a nuanced approach to conflicts in the post-Soviet space. Pragmatic and humane solutions that acknowledge local agency are the way forward
The one book I recommend reading on the 10th anniversary of the August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia in South Ossetia is Gerard Toal’s Near Abroad.
In spite of their contested nature, de facto states in the post-Soviet space engage in substantive external relations across a number of sectors, well beyond the dominant relationship they have with their patron. In recent years, confidence building programmes sponsored by the European Union have represented a venue for interactions between local actors in de facto states and the outside world. Such assistance – including capacity building projects and relatively small initiatives aimed at enhancing the social infrastructure in the health and education sector – contributes to the welfare of the local population and is welcomed by de facto authorities.