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Fault line between sovereignty and democracy

Lewis Sanders IV
February 19, 2017

From territorial integrity to democratic aspirations, Eurasian nations have highlighted a number of critical fault lines shaping global geopolitics. Lewis Sanders reports from the Munich Security Conference.

Kind mit russischer Flagge
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Polegenko

Political leaders gathered at the Munich Security Conference to discuss geopolitical fault lines emerging between Europe and Asia - and beyond.

According to the participants, disputes over territorial sovereignty and regional influence are among the most relevant barriers to peace on the Eurasian land mass.

"Territorial integrity must be respected while internationally recognized boundaries cannot be redrawn," Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said Saturday at the conference.

Aliyev accused Armenia of occupying the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is run be a de facto independent state of ethnic Armenians.

"We support strongly territorial integrity of all the countries surrounding us – sitting at this table," Alivey said, referring to political leaders from Ukraine, Georgia, Estonia and Kazakhstan.

"We suffered, ourselves, from the violation of territorial integrity, therefore the issue of territorial integrity is untouchable," he added.

Last year, violence flared in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, leaving dozens dead. Concerns that the conflict could spiral out of control prompted Moscow to negotiate a ceasefire that effectively de-escalated tensions in the breakaway region.

Despite Baku's growing influence as a stabilizing nation for the region and its amicable relations with Moscow, Azerbaijan voted in favor of the UN General Assembly resolution backing Kyiv's sovereignty in Crimea after Russia's illegal annexation.

The darkest division

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk took the floor to lash out at the issues that emerged in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea, saying Moscow's actions constituted the pinnacle transgression against national sovereignty.

"Let me put it bluntly: President (Vladimir) Putin wants to run the world; at least part of the world. We has been very vocal, saying that the Russian Federation wants to restore the spheres of interest," Yatsenyuk said.

In 2014, Ukraine witnessed Moscow annex the Crimean peninsula in an internationally condemned referendum following European-leaning protests that lead to pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych's ouster.

Ukraine Zerstörung in Donezk
Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since fighting erupted in 2014Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Ermochenko

The annexation fueled pro-Russia sentiment in eastern Ukraine, prompting an insurgency that has left nearly 10,000 people dead and affected more than 500,000 children, according to UN figures.

Democratic aspirations

Yatsenyuk, who led the government after Yanukovych's departure, noted that upholding the values of liberal democracy would provide a response to such interventions.

"The best option and the best remedy is to stick to our values of democracy, values of the free world, values of the free media. We need to support every single country, to respond and act in concert," he added.

Estonia's President Kersti Kaljulaid not only raised concerns about Ukraine's predicament, but also considered Georgia, which in 2008 witnessed Russia's armed forces occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"What happened with these two countries? Indeed, they were standing on a very important line. I don't know whether it was a fault line or not, but their people expressed their democratic will to belong to the European value space and system," Kaljulaid said.

Recalling the history of her country and its fight against Soviet rule, Kaljulaid said both countries had been punished for that. She urged the participants to "consider carefully how we could push that fault line back."

"The fault line is not a constant line. The fault line can be moved back and forth, but it should always be the will of the people, in whichever way they want to go," she added.