Thirty years after the collapse of the USSR, the people of Eurasia still live with conflict and repression that are part of the post-Soviet legacy. The year 2020 saw the most serious violence since 1994 erupt between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region also saw an upturn in violence, whilst Russia maintains its hold over Crimea. Georgia’s separatist regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – are also the site of ongoing clashes. These multiple conflicts impact the lives of civilians and abuses of human rights are common in the contested border regions. Moreover, the political cultures of the five Central Asian states – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – remain autocratic and opaque, limiting democracy and human rights.
The post-Soviet conflicts are often been described as ‘frozen’ as a result of ceasefire agreements in the 1990s, the presence of peace-keepers and supposed ongoing negotiations. Yet there have been no real solutions or conclusions, and over time the factors affecting a solution to the conflicts have changed as the conflicts have become internationalised. Furthermore, the type of warfare has shifted from primarily separatist guerrilla action to include regular state armies. This has seen a significant militarisation of the region, enabled by outside support. The proliferation of large and small drones, as well as loitering munitions across the region has gathered pace in the last few years and, aside from providing all important propaganda for states at war and for autocratic leaders, the threat of new unregulated technologies are directly contributing to increased violence in these often-overlooked areas.
The fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh has certainly become internationalised and the issue of drones is at the centre of that. Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 drones have given the Azeri forces capabilities well beyond those they possessed. In the Ukraine in 2014, drones similarly gave separatists in the Donbas an edge over Ukrainian forces. As well as the pressing problems of drone use in Eurasia, there is the also the possibility that several more states will begin operating armed drones in the near future.
While the use of drones is Eurasia is not yet having the same devastating impact and global repercussions as other sites of drone warfare, such as Libya, Yemen and Syria, the proliferation of drones in this region has brought many of the same issues to the fore. The increased use of force through greater risk-taking; the reliance on ‘precision’ strikes; the use of propaganda, hype, and rumour around these relatively new systems to fight info-wars; the problematic border use that adversely affects human rights; and the unaccountable acquisition of armed drones are all present in Eurasia.
Together these issues highlight the urgent need for a global agreement on the use and proliferation of military drones. In Eurasia, although new technology may be providing strategic advantage to some, new weapons systems are only obscuring the need for political and humanitarian solutions to the unresolved and ‘frozen’ conflicts, prolonging and perhaps increasing violence, hindering rather than helping to find real peace and security.
Date: January 2021
Author: Joanna Frew