“Spots of Tension”: Where to Expect New Military Conflicts?

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Anton ŠVEC
The current geopolitical situation is clearly characterized by tendencies to solve complex political problems by means of military tools. Meanwhile, only in the post-Soviet space there are enough “tension spots” tempting to kick off another proxy war
The Israel defense forces have postponed for a few days the start of the land operation in the Gaza Strip, officially due to unsuitable weather conditions. The pause before a new phase of armed confrontation in the Middle East is being used for consultations and shuttle diplomacy. Under American pressure, Iran reported no intention to intervene in the conflict - only in case Israeli strikes on its territory or citizens. Syria, Egypt and the Gulf states, politically supporting Hamas, have no plans yet to attack the Jewish state and are holding back any mercenaries from among their citizens. Even Hezbollah operating in Lebanon and Palestinian Fatah in the West Bank are trying to avoid unnecessary escalation of the war. The UN has suddenly seen signs that the confrontation is easing, calling on Israel to stop carpet bombing and the humanitarian blockade of the Gaza Strip and on the Palestinians to release all hostages without preconditions. No response to these peace proposals followed, as the balance of power in the conflict remains uncertain. Israel has clear military superiority, especially in its limited conflict with Hamas, as well as solid political support from the Western establishment. But in Western countries there are demonstrations of thousands in favor of Palestine that threaten to escalate into dangerous protests, especially in France and Germany. Other important centers are criticizing Tel Aviv for inhumane strikes against civilians. Moreover, there is renewed talk of an independent Palestinian state - Russia, China, Turkey and many Arab countries have made these statements. In other words, the world is once again divided in its assessment of yet another conflict plot. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the launch of an IDF land operation in the Gaza Strip could provoke the involvement of Hezbollah, Fatah and a number of Arab countries, or at least their mercenaries, in the conflict. If Israel is forced to fight on several fronts, it will have serious problems that may require the USA and Britain to intervene. And we are talking about a large-scale war, fraught with broad internationalization and even the use of nuclear weapons, some of which Tel Aviv possesses. Meanwhile, in just ten days, many thousands of people, mostly civilians, have fallen victim to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The global community’s attention is largely focused on the Middle East and, for example, the Karabakh case and the humanitarian catastrophe of the Armenian population in the region are out of sight. Meanwhile, a symbolic event took place in the Transcaucasus at the weekend: Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev raised his country’s flag over the former capital of “Artsakh”, Stepanakert. The city will now receive the Azerbaijani name Khankendi. Against this background, the issue of the Russian peacekeepers’ presence in Nagorno-Karabakh, whose function, given the exodus of the absolute majority of the Armenian population, is quite uncertain, has become more acute. Releasing this asset could help Moscow in solving tasks in the Ukrainian theatre of war. Therefore, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned a group of Democratic congressmen that the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict could still “flare up”. Earlier this month, he had predicted an attack by Baku on the territory of southern Armenia in order to trespass the Zangezur land corridor to the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchivan. It is characteristic that the opinion of the US State Department became public already after the start of events in the Middle East, diverting significant US and Western resources originally intended for Ukraine. In this context, Volodymyr Zelensky tried to bring up the topic of Georgia’s territorial integrity. He actually called on Tbilisi to use the moment to militarily resolve the problem of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Recently it has become known that the sea coast of Abkhazia will be used to establish a Russian military base (before that, such a facility functioned in the Georgian city of Poti), and there are at least 7,000 Russian border guards and other paramilitary representatives in South Ossetia. It is unlikely that the current leadership of Georgia, which despite European integration is strengthening economic and tourist ties with Russia, will be heeding to Zelensky’s ideas. However, the message is clear – hotspots of tension should be created to divert resources and weaken key players. Thus, the Palestinian-Israeli war is becoming a problem, first of all, for the USA and the West, which are forced to reduce military and financial supplies to Ukraine, especially taking into account certain transformations and specificity of the position on Kyiv in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. While Russia is aloof in the Middle East crisis, calling for peace and implementation of UN resolutions. On the other hand, any aggravation in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict or in the breakaway Georgian regions will be a “headache” for Moscow and will serve in Ukraine’s favor. Especially given the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive and the reduced Western arms supplies (Soviet equipment and ammunition have mostly been “knocked out” during the year and a half of confrontation, and Ukraine’s own production is clearly insufficient for offensive operations, especially with cuts in Western funding). A reasonable question on Moldova’s place and role in the current geopolitical arrangements, characterized by the tendency to solve any political problems through military instruments, arises. Moldova’s territory still remains tempting for launching a proxy war against Russia. Especially since Maia Sandu, Dorin Recean and the ruling parliamentary majority are ready to commit any crime for the sake of preserving the regime and realizing the course of accession to the European Union and NATO, up to unfreezing the conflict on the Dniester. Extensive deliveries of lethal weapons to Moldova and systematic military exercises, as well as statements by our politicians, testify to the possibility of such scenarios. The only problem is that Chisinau risks not only being a loser in such a conflict by losing Transnistria (this doesn’t bother Maia Sandu’s regime at all – they believe they will “abandon the left bank of the Dniester and escape to Romania” as a last resort), but also to provoke an uncontrolled escalation in Ukraine. There is an opinion that Kyiv understands this, which is why it has somewhat opted out its threatening rhetoric with regard to the Transnistrian region and the Russian peacekeepers stationed there. Moreover, Kyiv’s decision to open railway communication through the south of Transnistria is an undoubted contribution to peace scenarios for the region. In this sense, the restoration of the negotiation process between Chisinau and Tiraspol, including for the conclusion of a long-term contract on the electricity supply to the right bank, would allow the population on both banks to feel safe and look ahead with greater confidence. However, the decisive role, of course, will be played by the calculations prepared for Moldova in Western think tanks and political centers.