The feeling is widespread in the West that the post wwii normative international order has been under severe challenge since Russia’s seizure of Crimea, now exacerbated by statements from the American president casting doubt on the institutions that underpin that order. Is there a future role for osce mediation as this order erodes? Study of the Ukraine crisis in light of other protracted conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union shows that the same challenges have existed for a generation. Because the conflicts were small, however, the international community chose to accept a fiction of convenience to isolate them from an otherwise functioning international order: the narrative that the separatists sought independence, not (as in reality) a re-drawing of post-Soviet borders. This isolation is under pressure both from the new experience in Ukraine and from the extension of ever-greater Russian control over the separatists, amounting to crypto-annexation, despite a backlash from Moscow’s clients, including in Armenia. There is little likelihood of a resolution to the Ukraine crisis, including Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and prospects for mediation to resolve the conflicts remain dim. However, continued talks may resolve some humanitarian issues and provide a release valve to prevent pressures boiling over into renewed open warfare.
In 2015 the present author published an article outlining some effects of the Ukraine crisis on protracted conflicts in the osce area and on osce mediation in those conflicts.1 He has been asked to revisit his assessment of that time in light of subsequent events in world politics (in particular the advent of a new administration in the United States) and in the region. The new developments give little cause for optimism that settlement in any of the conflicts is closer. Rather, the question for the osce is whether the international community, in view of the challenges posed by the Ukraine crisis, should continue to engage in the fictions that have allowed it to manage the conflicts since their beginnings in the collapsing Soviet Union.