The Peculiarities of Fourth-Party Intervention

Tiraspol: Soviet mural
The Peculiarities of Fourth-Party Intervention - Melanie Yoell


The dissolution of the Soviet Union saw the outbreak of numerous ethno-political separatist conflicts, as well as intervention by a particular kind of outside actor that could be termed “fourth party” — local outsiders with preexisting linkages to a group rebelling against its parent state. Analysis of fourth-party intervention in Georgia and Moldova suggests the following: first, fourth-party ties to separatists that are political and based on mutual interests prompt more willing intervention than ethnic affinity; second, fourth parties make internal conflicts more complex by involving third parties; and third, more sustained fourth-party intervention (associated with political, interest-based ties) makes resolution more elusive.

Fourth-Party Intervention

While ties between these external parties and dissatisfied groups existed to varying degrees circa 1990, this does not in and of itself explain why the North Ossetians, the 14th Army and the CMPC became involved in violent conflicts in Georgia and Moldova. Marshall would argue that their intervention was the logical extension of their previous respective relationships, and that both “appealers” and “interveners” have motives for playing their roles.[19] What might those motives have been in these cases? Events on the ground suggest the decision to intervene was not as clear-cut as one might think.

The intervention of the North Ossetians and the CMPC does, in fact, seem logical, though the types of intervention differed. These groups had definite ties (one ethnic, the other based on nationalist interests) to the insurgent peoples they supported. Blood bound the Ossetians in the north and south. The south began voicing its desire for a union with the north in 1988, and to that end declared independence from Georgia in August 1990. Co-conspirators in the north supplied the south through the vital Roki Pass soon after violence broke out in Tskhinvali between the Georgia National Guard and Ossetian Defense Forces on 5 January 1991. What exactly they supplied is unclear. In a January 1991 interview, Akhsarbek Galazov, Chairman of the North Ossetian Supreme Soviet, expressed sympathy and support for the south. While he confirmed the north was taking in refugees and sending food, medicine, fuel and money, he resolutely denied North Ossetian militants were being permitted through the Roki Pass.[20] He did not mention arms.

Clearly (though surprisingly), there was some hesitation on North Ossetia’s part to intervene. While individual North Ossetians were recruited to the south, the government of North Ossetia, with its own political position to consider, chiefly in regard to Moscow, limited its support to humanitarian aid and money, not military support.

The CMPC, meanwhile, had been formed in light of the intensifying Abkhazia conflict and with the expressed intent of mobilizing volunteer fighters in the event that tension boiled over. It was really a mutual assistance agreement. Simply put, Chechens came to the assistance of Abkhazians because they believed the Abkhazians in turn would support the Chechen revolt against Russia.

The president of the confederation, Musa Shanibov, called the situation in Abkhazia a case of genocide. In response, the CMPC channeled a steady stream of volunteer fighters (particularly from Chechnya, but all confederation republics were represented), money and weapons to the separatists.[21] The CMPC at various times threatened to unleash tens of thousands of militia fighters. But that is not to say the confederation was itself necessarily in general command: as many as 60 percent of volunteer fighters in Abkhazia went without the knowledge of the CMPC—although the leadership certainly sanctioned their involvement.[22]

The case of the 14th Army in Moldova is more nebulous. Transdniestria was a Soviet stronghold; in breaking off from Moldova, separatists sought to remain a part of the Soviet Union and avoid unification with Romania. The Army, under the command of Lieutenant-General Gennadii Yakovlev, and Transdniestrians alike hailed the August 1991 attempted coup by Soviet hardliners in Moscow. Although the coup did not succeed, the Soviet regime remained instable; the military establishment in response acted with greater autonomy.[23]

Soon after the failed coup, on 2 September 1991, Transdniestria seceded, the Supreme Soviet voting to join the Soviet Union. At this point, the 14th Army officers found themselves in a predicament. The very nation they represented was crumbling, morale was low and questions of identity and loyalty abounded. Meanwhile, loyal Soviets took up arms in their respective communities and appealed intensely to the 14th Army for aid.

Through a combination of successful coercion, willing donation and outright theft, they got it. In September 1991, the Dniestr Soviet Socialist Republican Guard became operational and began covertly receiving arms from the 14th Army thereafter.[24] The precise “when” and “how” of the 14th Army’s involvement is “ambiguous,” according to a 1994 report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The report cautiously states with “reasonable certainty” that the 14th Army transferred arms during the “hot phase” of the war, which would have been between March and June 1992.[25] Many scholars likewise focus on the 14th Army’s active involvement in the spring of 1992.[26]

However, evidence suggests earlier initial complicity. On 7 December 1991, Moldovan leadership claimed before the United Nations that the 14th Army was distributing hundreds of arms to insurgents.[27] Furthermore, 14th Army commander Yakovlev accepted the post of Transdniestrian defense chief that same month. A number of officers joined Transdniestria’s defense forces; others recruited local residents. In March 1992, Mircea Snegur, president of Moldova, openly blamed the conflict on separatists acting with the support of the Soviet 14th Army command.[28]

Independent intervention by the 14th Army turned out to be short-lived. In January 1992, the troops were transferred to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) armed forces. Yakovlev was relieved of his command and replaced with Yuri Netkachev. The new army leadership resisted involvement in the civil conflict under intense pressure. Once Russian president Boris Yeltsin transferred the 14th Army to Russian control in April 1992, the army resumed involvement in the Transdniestrian conflict, but this time under a third-party state.

The course of events in each of these cases illuminates the fact that linkages alone cannot account for fourth-party intervention. The decision to intervene depended on individual motives. Interestingly, the most definitive, enthusiastic example of support came in a case when ethnic ties were not at play—in Abkhazia. Political or interest-based linkages produced the most sustained intervention.


The end of the Cold War may not have caused the plethora of intrastate conflicts that marked the early 1990s, but it did provide the opportunity. Beginning between 1988 and 1992, internal, nationalist insurgencies confronted weak new states such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan. The susceptibility of weak states to civil conflict is well documented.[1] Yet the dissolution of the Soviet Union permitted an additional phenomenon that proved an exacerbating factor for these conflicts—one that has not been well examined. This factor is the involvement of what this paper identifies as “fourth parties.”

If first and second parties are the two groups in dispute and third parties are other states or international organizations, then “fourth parties” are local groups intervening independently. Fourth parties are organized groups possessing structural leadership. Neither mercenaries nor mobs, the groups exist outside conflict—as community, civil society or political bodies—and are not “fourth parties” until they intervene in a local armed conflict that does not involve them directly. They may be part of a government but in deciding to intervene do not represent the state; they are decidedly independent, even rebellious, in that particular instance. Joining as a result of coercion or voluntarily, fourth parties are invariably sympathetic to the separatists in a conflict.

This paper analyzes the impact of fourth-party intervention in the cases of South Ossetia (Georgia), Transdniestria (Moldova), and Abkhazia (Georgia).[2] All largely political disputes with ethnic overtones, these separatist conflicts developed amidst certain commonalities. These include the Soviet legacy, a history of autonomy, weak new parent states, separatists’ perception of ethnic chauvinism by the state and some degree of separatist allegiance to Moscow.[3]

In August 1990, South Ossetia, in northern Georgia, declared independence from Tbilisi; violence broke out in January 1991 and escalated until the Sochi Agreement of June 1992 froze the conflict. Similarly, in August 1991, the Republic of Moldova declared independence from the Soviet Union; less than one week later the easternmost region of Transdniestria seceded, and violence followed until a July 1992 ceasefire. The northwestern Georgian region of Abkhazia declared autonomy as early as March 1989; in August 1992 violence erupted. The bloodiest of the three wars, the Abkhazian conflict finally froze with the Moscow Agreement in May 1994.

All three conflicts saw the immediate intervention of independent outsiders, or fourth parties. In the case of Transdniestria, the fourth party was the Soviet 14th Army stationed in Tiraspol. Suffering from low morale and something of an identity crisis, it began covertly providing arms to the separatists between September and December 1991, acting largely as a supranational body. The South Ossetians received fourth-party aid from their ethnic counterparts in the Russian region of North Ossetia, beginning in the spring of 1991. Finally, in August 1992, as violence broke out between the Georgian National Guard and Abkhazian insurgents, a militarized political organization known as the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus joined the cause on behalf of Abkhazia. It is worth noting that, before stepping in as peacemaker, Russia also aided the South Ossetians, Transdniestrians and Abkhazians against their respective central governments, but this was only after the start of fighting and after fourth parties became involved.

With respect to each of these conflicts, this paper intends to answer the following questions: (1) What was the fourth party’s historical role in the territory and relationship with the disputing parties? (2) Why did the fourth party get involved in the conflict? (3) Did separatists anticipate fourth-party assistance? Did this impact their decision to rebel violently? (4) What impact did fourth-party involvement have on the conflict? How did it affect first and third parties?

What soon becomes clear upon analysis is that fourth parties are neither equivalent nor necessarily unitary. Certain trends, however, emerge. Through comparative analysis of these three conflicts, this paper will show that, while fourth parties have preexisting ties with and sympathies toward the rebellious groups they support, intervention is by no means inevitable; politically-minded interests and overt pressure from the “appealers,” even more than these sympathies, compel fourth parties to intervene in the conflict. Furthermore, fourth parties complicate intrastate conflicts by providing material aid to insurgents as well as drawing in third parties. Finally, more sustained fourth-party intervention makes conflict more difficult to bring to a ceasefire.

Literature Review

Scholars have devoted a fair amount of research to intervention in intrastate conflict. Most look at why third parties intervene, whether for national power interests,[4] humanitarianism,[5] or ethnic affinities.[6] Others consider the impact of third-party intervention on the duration of an internal conflict.[7] Still others seek to determine the effectiveness of those who intervene in terms of their ability to end a conflict.[8] These analyses have two assumption-based limitations that make them inapplicable to the present analysis: first, they assume that intervening parties are states, multilateral organizations or non-governmental organizations; second, they assume the objective of intervention is to resolve the conflict. This state-based, problem-solving approach does not describe well the behavior of fourth parties.

Ted Robert Gurr,[9] Paula Garb[10] and others have brought in the issue of foreign sympathizers and the potential for the spread or “spillover” of ethnic conflicts. External sympathies play a role in fourth-party intervention, but the assertion that this leads to a spillover of violence across national boundaries is questionable. In the cases examined, the conflicts generally remained concentrated in the disputed territory within state borders.

C. R. Mitchell contends that external intervention is based on linkages between the intervening party and a disputing party; essentially, intervention is just the logical—though by no means inevitable—extension of a preexisting relationship.[11] These linkages may be transactional (for example, economic, political and military) or attitudinal (for example, ideological, religious and ethnic). Such linkages-—identifiable for separatists and lacking for the central state they oppose—define the relationships between first and fourth parties. The supposed causality between linkages and intervention will be considered in due course; for the present, it is sufficient to consider how linkages affect the relationships between parties.

Fourth-Party Ties

Fourth parties have certain linkages with the groups they come to support. It is for this reason that separatist groups turn to them for assistance. According to Mitchell, “the nature and intensity of these connecting links are decisive in determining which external parties become involved in an internal conflict and whether intervention takes place.”[12] Both ethnic and political ties played roles in the three conflicts under consideration and were intensified by the circumstances that sparked violence.

South Ossetia

The Ossetians are one of a myriad of ancient ethnic communities in the Caucasus striving to maintain their identity and territory against rival groups even as their numbers dwindle. The majority of Ossetians are Eastern Orthodox Christian, with a Muslim minority, and their language resembles Farsi. Soviet policy divided the Ossetians into northern and southern groups: North Ossetia became an autonomous region within the Russian Soviet Republic, while in 1922 South Ossetia formed as an autonomous province within the new Georgian Soviet Republic. In 1989, according to the last Soviet census, 335,000 Ossetians lived in North Ossetia, while 164,000 lived in Georgia, of which 65,000 dwelt in the small, northern territory of South Ossetia.[13] Before the conflict, Ossetians were a minority within their corner of Georgia, but this should not have been especially problematic as Ossetians and Georgians in recent decades got along well and intermarriage was common.[14]

The imposing peaks of the Caucasian mountains serve as a natural border between North and South Ossetia. A single highway joins the capital cities of Vladikavkaz (North) and Tskhinvali (South) through a mountain tunnel known as the Roki Pass. Completed by the Soviets in 1985, this tunnel is one of only a handful of arteries in Georgia that cut through the mountain range into the modern-day Russian Federation.


Stationed in the Transdniestrian capital city of Tiraspol in 1956, the Soviet 14th Army in the early 1990s numbered approximately 9,200 troops. It consisted of one motor rifle division, one tank battalion, one artillery regiment and one anti-aircraft brigade.[15] Its placement was not without political significance, for Moscow considered Transdniestria more reliable than greater Moldova.[16] Unlike the rest of Moldova, the strip of land east of the Dniestr River is ethnically and historically tied to Ukraine and Russia, rather than Romania. The Soviets incorporated the territory, an autonomous republic of Ukraine, into Bessarabia to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1940, and Russian speakers began to migrate into the republic. As of 1989, Transdniestria’s population was 40 percent ethnic Romanian, 28 percent Ukrainian and 25 percent Russian,[17] with Russians concentrated in Tiraspol. As in the rest of the Soviet Union, Russians were afforded political and educational advantages, even as the minority in Moldova.

The 14th Army came to be seen as protector of the Russian minority and Russophones in Transdniestria. In the early 1990s, the force included many local conscripts and officers, which further tied it to the Dniestr region. The army’s continued presence in Moldovan territory (as the Russian 14th Army) remains a serious point of contention between Chisnau and Moscow to this day.


Unlike the Ossetians or the 14th Army, the band of Caucasian supporters who intervened on Abkhazia’s behalf was a much newer, more ad hoc phenomenon. The most enduring of a number of Pan-Caucasian organizations, the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus (CMPC, renamed the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus the following year) formed in November 1991. Inspired by riots in Abkhazia against the Georgians in July 1989, the confederation was an attempt to organize and mobilize various regional ethnic groups to come to each other’s aid in similar situations involving perceived state oppression.

Made up of representatives from sixteen Caucasian peoples, the CMPC was to be a regional administrative organization modeled after the European Community, with a council of ministers and parliament. Abkhazians, Chechens and Kabardians led the organizing effort. In the Caucasian cauldron, where interethnic tension is legendary and exacerbated by the Soviet legacy, unification proved arduous and not entirely fruitful. Even years after the Abkhazian war, as Paula Garb concludes, “a Pan-Caucasian ethnic identity is barely embryonic.”[18] In truth, the CMPC is a federation of separate nationalisms bound together by the mutually recognized fact that no single group can achieve political autonomy or statehood on its own.

Fourth Parties and Separatists’ Decision to Rebel

Ted Gurr has identified several key conditions that determine whether or not ethno-political groups ultimately take up arms, including the salience of identity (language, religion, comparative disadvantage or superiority in society), incentives (resentment of past losses, hopes for relative gains and loss of political autonomy) and capacity for action (territorial concentration and formation of coalitions).[29] Identity and incentives can be seen as the building blocks of affinity linkages between separatists and their fourth-party supporters; fourth parties themselves provide capacity for action.[30]

Soviet policy had afforded each of these three regions political autonomy and the right to speak their respective local languages. Trouble came when newly independent Moldova and Georgia tried to deinstitutionalize this Soviet legacy.[31] Elites in South Ossetia, Transdniestria and Abkhazia who backed the separatist movements were undoubtedly aware of two factors in their favor that provided capacity for action given the perceived threat. First, their respective parent states were weak, with only nascent security forces of their own. Second, there were external parties whose sympathies could be exploited. These observing parties also encouraged insurgents by denouncing the state leadership for discriminatory policies.

Given the dearth of available information about the decision making of the South Ossetians, Transdniestrians, Abkhazians or any insurgent group for that matter, scholars must rely on circumstantial evidence. What is clear is that all three groups appealed for aid (namely arms or money or both) without which they would not have been sufficiently equipped to take on state forces. Indeed, the insurgency leadership probably anticipated garnering this assistance. But the mere presence of external, sympathetic parties would presumably have made little difference had the conditions not existed already for ethno-political conflict.[32]

Impact on the Conflict

Gurr asserts that external intervention “makes it more likely conflicts will be protracted and resistant to settlement.”33 The conflicts in South Ossetia, Transdniestria and Abkhazia were indeed difficult to halt. The question is whether fourth parties are culpable for that fact, and how.

Each of these conflicts would have been difficult to manage, even without the involvement of external supporters. Statesmen and scholars can attest to the difficulty of managing internal, ethno-political conflicts. Michael E. Brown identifies two basic reasons for this intractability. First, ethno-political conflicts tend to take place in weak states, which means groups and troops are not easily controlled and often commit gross abuses against each other and the civilian population. Second, there are very high stakes at play. Often the very survival of the insurgent group hangs in the balance.[34]

Thus, fourth-party intervention makes an already thorny situation even more complex. That complexity can be seen in the impact fourth parties have on third-party states and on the management of the conflict.

Fourth Parties and Third Party-Intervention

The indirect impact on a conflict by fourth parties results in even greater complication than does their provision of material aid. In analyzing internal conflict, Brown stresses that it is crucial that “opportunistic neighbors” be kept out;[35] fourth parties essentially invite them in. The current study characterizes these groups as largely independent or supranational, but no group in the present international system is truly outside the reach of the state. For that reason, fourth parties tend to drag their host states into conflicts. The result is third-party intervention, for better or worse.

In these three cases, it is very possible Russia would have intervened, whether or not fourth-party groups with ties to Russia had become involved. Moscow is not shy about keeping a hand in the near abroad. But the fact remains that fourth party groups intervened first, and that only after their intervention did Russia jump on the bandwagon. Due to fourth-party involvement, Moldovan and Georgian authorities criticized and blamed Russia for interfering even before the Kremlin was actually involved. It is true that Moscow remained intentionally passive even as Russian troops and citizens independently got mixed up in the conflicts,[36] but overt intervention came later.

Abkhazia is a case in point. In Abkhazia, as many as two thousand Russian citizens (among them Chechens, Ossetians, Kabardins and Ingush) fought alongside insurgents.[37] In October 1992, referencing these north Caucasian volunteers, a Georgian general accused Russia of fighting an undeclared war in Abkhazia.[38] Moscow’s involvement at this point, however, was limited to attempts to protect and evacuate Russian nationals. Over the next year Russia brokered two ceasefires; both failed. At last, on 23 October 1993, Moscow acquiesced to appeals by Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze and, in return for Georgia joining the CIS, deployed troops to halt the conflict.

Independent intervention by Russian and Soviet citizens thereby gave a pretext for the Kremlin’s intervention. In Transdniestria, nearly 10,000 14th Army troops found themselves in the middle of a Moldovan civil crisis. After the force had been put under the control of the CIS in January 1992, Russian president Boris Yeltsin transferred the 14th Army to Russian control in April, ostensibly to keep them out of conflict. In reality, the Russian troops were very much involved over the ensuing months under Netchakov and General Aleksander Lebed, and became a peacekeeping force along the Dniestr River after the July 1992 peace settlement. In South Ossetia, North Ossetians provided material aid and likely smuggled arms. Meanwhile, local government officials in Vladikavkaz and Tbilisi waged a war of words, exacerbating international tensions. Yeltsin himself expressed support for the Georgian government early in the conflict; a year later he was party to the Sochi Agreement that froze the conflict. As in Transdniestria and Abkhazia, Russian troops served as the bulk of the peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia. As such, Moscow maintains a hand in the Soviet successor republics of Moldova and Georgia to this day; there will be no resolution of these frozen conflicts without Russia’s blessing.

Fourth Parties and Lasting Ceasefires

Study of these conflicts suggests that more willing, sustained fourth-party involvement (previously identified as being based on political, interest-based ties rather than ethnic affinity) causes violent conflicts to be more difficult to halt. This is a point that deserves greater investigation, but one that this paper discusses briefly.

Jeff Chinn claims the 14th Army was a “provocative force” early in the Moldovan civil war.[39] Yet however much Soviet arms and men fuelled the early insurgency, the army’s independent involvement (between September 1991 and January 1992) was so limited that it did not seriously impact the implementation of a ceasefire. Once Moscow determined that the conflict had become too unruly, following the Transdniestrian-14th Army victory at Bender in June 1992, Yeltsin and Snegur signed a ceasefire that continues to last.

In South Ossetia, violence escalated early in 1992, as both sides struggled futilely to maintain control over their armed forces. While fourth-party intervention in Transdniestria was limited in terms of duration, in South Ossetia it was limited (at least officially) in substance. This was the case, even though presumably fierce ties of ethnicity bound the Ossetians in Russia and Georgia. Yet, as in Moldova, a ceasefire signed 24 June 1992 by the Russian and Georgian presidents endured.

Abkhazia is another story. The intensity and staying power of that conflict was greater than the others. Bolstered as they were by the CMPC and other volunteers, Abkhazian separatists broke four ceasefire agreements before a fifth held. The first, declared 3 September 1992, lasted a month. After the United Nations established an observer mission in the region in early 1993, Russia brokered a second ceasefire on 14 May 1993. Claiming the Georgians were not complying quickly enough, the Abkhazians broke that agreement as well. Following a third ceasefire on 27 July 1993, Tbilisi withdrew 80 percent of its forces from Abkhazia, whereupon the separatists attacked and retook the capital city of Sukhumi.

Riding high, the Abkhazians rejected Russian efforts at mediation in September 1993. They succeeded in driving Georgia’s forces and some 230,000 Georgian civilians from their territory before agreeing to a fourth ceasefire in October 1993.[40] This agreement likely would have stuck, had ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and his rebel followers not taken the opportunity to invade Georgia proper by way of Abkhazia that same month. At this point, Shevardnadze appealed to Russia to intervene. The Moscow Agreement of 14 May 1994 ended the violence.

The connection between the sustained fourth-party involvement of the CMPC and this series of slippery ceasefire agreements is not so much causal as it is correlated. But the Abkhazians had little reason to cease fighting when they found success on the battlefield. And most would agree that success was due largely to the outside support the separatists enjoyed in the form of money, arms and men from the CMPC. The CMPC, with its ability to control the ebb and flow of outside fighters, actually became a player during the negotiations. As long as the reinforced insurgents made progress, the intensity and brutality of the conflict remained high, and as long as Russia sat by passively, no ceasefire stood much of a chance.[41]


Analysis of the conflicts in Georgia and Moldova suggests, through inductive reasoning, three hypotheses. First, certain ties or linkages exist between fourth parties and the separatist groups they support, but those ties do not necessarily lead to willing intervention; ties that are political and based on mutual interests prompt more willingness to intervene than those based on ethnic affinity. Second, fourth parties exacerbate internal conflicts by increasing their complexity; not only do they reinforce separatists with material assistance, they also tend to pull in third party states, with their own interests in seeing the conflict continue or cease. Finally, conflicts with more willing, sustained fourth-party involvement are more difficult to manage, and to bring to a lasting ceasefire.

The robustness of these hypotheses remains in question due to the limited availability of insights into the inner workings of either separatist groups or fourth parties and to the limited scope of this study. Applying the hypotheses to other intrastate conflicts outside the former Soviet Union will provide more conclusive evidence as to their veracity.

The conflicts in Transdniestria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain unsettled. Having won on the battlefield, separatists maintain effective control over the territories in question. Yet no group has been recognized by the international community as an independent state, and presumably will not be so long as the Moldovan and Georgian governments hold fast to the principle of territorial integrity.[42] Fourth-party actors have receded with the violence. Despite a 1994 troop-withdrawal agreement, a portion of the Russian 14th Army (now reduced to an “Operational Group of Russian Forces”) remains as peacekeepers in Transdniestria. Outside fighters have retreated from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, some finding their way to Chechnya, but mostly not.[43]

The fourth-party phenomenon is one that deserves further study. It is too simplistic to lump these local, independent, external actors within the broader category of third parties. Their behavior, incentives and lack of international accountability differentiate them from states or international organizations. Understanding the motivations and impact of fourth parties could be of the utmost importance for the management of certain conflicts.

Notes & References

  1. See Michael E. Brown, “Ethnic and Internal Conflicts,” in Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson and Pamela R. Aall, eds., Turbulent Peace: The Challenge of Managing International Conflict (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2001), 209–26; David Keen, “Incentives and Disincentives for Violence,” in Mats Berdal and David Malone, eds., Greed and Grievance (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2000), 19–41; James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War,” American Political Science Review 97, no. 1 (2003): 75–90.
  2. This study will focus solely on post-Soviet separatist conflicts that, at the outbreak of fighting, did not include third-party state assistance. As such, Tajikistan is not included because it was not a separatist conflict, nor is Nagorno-Karabakh because it involved Armenia as a patron from the start and was essentially an interstate war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
  3. It is not the intent of this paper to examine in depth all the factors contributing to open conflict in these three cases. Rather, I point out those commonalities and contributing factors that prompted the involvement of fourth parties. For a closer look at the backgrounds of these conflicts, see James Hughes and Gwendolyn Sasse, eds., Ethnicity and Territory in the Former Soviet Union: Regions in Conflict (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2002); Svante E. Cornell, “Autonomy as a Source of Conflict: Caucasian Conflicts in Theoretical Perspective,” World Politics 54 (2002): 245–76.
  4. Hans Morgenthau, “To Intervene or Not To Intervene,” Foreign Affairs 45, no. 3 (1967): 92–103; Hedley Bull, Intervention in World Politics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).
  5. Alan Dowty and Gil Loescher, “Refugee Flows as Grounds for International Action,” International Security 21, no. 1 (1996): 43–71.
  6. C. R. Mitchell, “Civil Strife and the Involvement of External Parties,” International Studies Quarterly 14, no. 2 (1970): 166–94; David Carment and Patrick James, “Two-Level Games and Third-Party Intervention: Evidence from Ethnic Conflict in the Balkans and South Asia,” Canadian Journal of Political Science 29, no. 3 (1996): 521–54.
  7. Ibrahim Elbadawi and Nicholas Sambanis, “External Interventions and the Duration of Civil Wars,” paper presented at the World Bank conference on “The Economics and Politics of Civil Conflicts,” Princeton, NJ, 18–19 March 2000, available at, accessed 17 April 2007; Patrick Regan, “Third- Party Interventions and the Duration of Intrastate Conflicts,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 46, no. 1 (2002): 55–73.
  8. David Carment and Dane Rowlands, “Three’s Company: Evaluating Third-Party Intervention in Intrastate Conflict,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 42, no. 5 (1998): 572–99; Patrick Regan, “Choosing to Intervene: Outside Intervention in Internal Conflicts,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 60, no. 3 (1998): 754–79.
  9. Ted Robert Gurr, “Minorities and Nationalists,” in Crocker, Hampson and Aall, eds., 163–188.
  10. Paula Garb, “Ethnicity, Alliance Building, and the Limited Spread of Ethnic Conflict in the Caucasus,” in David A. Lake and Donald Rothchild, eds., The International Spread of Ethnic Conflict (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 185–99.
  11. Mitchell, 166–94.
  12. Ibid., 182.
  13. It bears noting that Georgia considers North Ossetia to be simply “Ossetia,” and prefers to call the South, which exists within the Shida Kartli province, the Tskhinvali region (“Regions and Territories: South Ossetia,” BBC News, available at, accessed 13 November 2006).
  14. John MacKinlay and Evgenii Sharov, “Russian Peacekeeping Operations in Georgia,” in John MacKinlay and Peter Cross, eds., Regional Peacekeepers: The Paradox of Russian Peacekeeping (Paris: United Nations University Press, 2003), 73.
  15. Library of Congress Country Studies, “Moldova: The Armed Forces,” available at, accessed 6 December 2006.
  16. Jeff Chinn, “The Case of Transdniestr (Moldova),” in Lena Johnson and Clive Archer, eds., Peacekeeping and the Role of Russia in Eurasia (Oxford: Westview Press, 1996), 104.
  17. Transdniestria’s Russians accounted for only a quarter of the total Russian population in Moldova in the early 1990s. Library of Congress Country Studies, “Moldova: Ethnic Composition,” available at, accessed 6 December 2006.
  18. Ibid. and Garb. Most of this section draws on Garb’s analysis.
  19. Marshall, 172. Marshall speaks in terms of third-party, state interveners, but the argument holds.
  20. A. Grachov, “First Step Must Be Taken—On Events in South Ossetia,” Pravda, 21 January 1990, 2, trans. in Current Digest of the Soviet Press XLIII, no. 3 (1991): 30.
  21. Nikolay Astashkin, “Sending of CMPC Volunteers Suspended,” Krasnaya Zvezda, 2 September 1992, trans. in “Mountain Peoples’ Confederation Seeks to Unite Caucasus,” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 4 September 1992.
  22. Liana Minasyan, “Caucasus: The CMPC Hasn’t Declared War on Anyone—But the Fate of the Governments of the Northern Caucasus Republics Will Be Determined by Their Attitude Toward the Abkhaz Question,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 6 October 1992, 3, trans. in Current Digest of the Soviet Press XLIV, no. 41 (1992): 14.
  23. Human Rights Watch, “War or Peace? Human Rights and Russian Military Involvement in the Near Abroad,” December 1993, available at, accessed 17 April 2007.
  24. Trevor Waters, “Russian Peacekeeping in Moldova: Source of Stability or Imperialist Threat?,” in MacKinlay and Cross, eds., 143.
  25. OSCE, “Transdniestrian Conflict: Origins and Main Issues,” 1994, available at, accessed 17 April 2007.
  26. See Charles King, “Eurasia Letter: Moldova with a Russian Face,” Foreign Policy 97 (1994–1995): 111.
  27. All Union Radio, Mayak, 7 December 1991, trans. in “Moldovan Leadership Appeals to UN over Soviet Aggression,” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 9 December 1991.
  28. D. Dyakov, “Snegur, Russian Leaders Don’t Want to Whip up Tension,” ITAR-TASS, 3 March 1992, trans. in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 5 March 1992.
  29. Gurr.
  30. Ibid., 178.
  31. Monica Duffy Toft, “The Failed Transition in Georgia,” in Hughes and Sasse, eds., 133.
  32. Here I paraphrase Stuart J. Kauffman, “Spiraling to Ethnic War: Elites, Masses, and Moscow in Moldova’s Civil War,” International Security 21, no. 2 (1996): 118. Kauffman speaks of state patrons: “[T]he key role of foreign patrons is to help those groups who are inclined to fight get the means to do so. If the internal conditions for ethnic war are not present, foreign patrons can do little harm.”
  33. Gurr, 178.
  34. Michael E. Brown, “Introduction,” in Brown, ed., The International Dimensions of Internal Conflict (London: MIT Press, 1996), 28.
  35. Ibid., 29.
  36. Human Rights Watch reported that the Russian government “failed to investigate, let alone prosecute” reported cases of involvement and abuses by Russian troops stationed in conflict zones. Human Rights Watch, “War or Peace?,” available at, accessed 17 April 2007.
  37. According to Rossiski Vesti, as quoted by James Rupert, “Civil Wars in Ex-SovietRepublics Draw Russia Into Troubled Morass,” Washington Post, 15 July 1993. A20. Additionally, Russian troops in Georgia (up to 20,000, plus thousands of border guards) were “targets of harassment, thievery and bullets.”
  38. Interfax, 27 October 1992, trans. in “Georgian general accuses Russia of waging undeclared war,” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 29 October 1992.
  39. Chinn, 103–19.
  40. The US State Department estimated the number of displaced persons to be between 230,000 and 250,000. US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 (February 1994), 881.
  41. For more on success and failure in mediation, see Marieke Kleiboer, “Understanding Success and Failure in International Mediation,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 40, no. 2 (1996): 360–89.
  42. Edward Walker, “No War, No Peace in the Caucasus,” in Gary K. Bertsch et al., eds., Crossroads and Conflict: Security and Foreign Policy in the Caucasus and Central Asia (London: Routledge, 2000), 152.
  43. Garb expounds on the failure of Abkhazians in general to reciprocate Chechens’ intervention into their separatist conflict (Garb, 185–99). Though Garb would not agree, Walker claims this snub has “soured” relations between the North Caucasian groups (Walker, 163).
MELANIE YOUELL is pursuing a Master of Arts degree in international relations at Johns Hopkins University SAIS. Originally from Connecticut, United States, she received a Bachelor of Arts in history from Brigham Young University in 2005. As an undergraduate, she spent seven months living in Russia, and her interests lie in conflict prevention and democratization in the former USSR. Her specializations at SAIS are conflict management and international economics.