Analysis - Monday, July 18, 2016 4:47 - 0 Comments

Review of Isolation Policies Within and Around the South Caucasus


By Burcu Gültekin Punsmann, Zaal Anjaparidze, Sos Avetisyan, Izida Chania, Vadim Romashov, Rashad Shirinov

Download PDF

Policies aimed at severing communications and hindering the movement of goods and people by imposing embargos, blockades, and sanctions within the South Caucasus, and between parts of the South Caucasus and the immediate neighbors, namely Turkey and Russia, are qualified in this paper as policies of isolation. The paper starts with the analysis of the policy rationales behind cases of isolation as they appear on the level of the official discourses. It then questions the efficiency of blockades and sanctions by looking at their socio-economic and socio-political impact. Next, the paper looks at the impact that sanctions and blockades have on the policy preferences of the targeted entity which in turn often contribute to the continuation of its own isolation.

Table of Contents

Isolation as a policy option: the rationale

The impact of isolation policies

When ‘self-isolation’ as a convenient second best option further consolidates the status quo

Ending isolation and re-establishing linkages



The South Caucasus is considered foremost as a place of boundaries and divisions. It has been for centuries a border/borderland and is today fragmented by blockades and frontlines as a result of conflicts that following the collapse of the Soviet Union broke down the traditional transportation routes within the region and communications with the external world. Policies aimed at severing communications and hindering the movement of goods and people by imposing embargos, blockades, and sanctions within the South Caucasus, and between parts of the South Caucasus and the immediate neighbors, namely Turkey and Russia, are qualified in this paper as policies of isolation. More recently similar policies characterize Turkish-Russian relations as well.

This paper focuses on Russia’s policies of isolation against Abkhazia in the 1990s as a reaction to the conflict in the early 1990s and the de facto secession from Georgia, Russia’s isolation of Georgia as a result of the August 2008 war, and Russia’s current sanctions against Turkey as a result of the downing of the Russian military jet in Syria; Georgia’s isolation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a result of their de facto secession; Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s isolation of Armenia in reaction to its military advances during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; as well as the response policies of Armenia and Abkhazia in coping with the sanctions and policies of isolation. The paper starts with the analysis of the policy rationales behind these cases of isolation as they appear on the level of the official discourses. It then questions the efficiency of blockades and sanctions by looking at their socio-economic and socio-political impact. Next, the paper looks at the impact that sanctions and blockades have on the policy preferences of the targeted entity and how political decision-making processes can internalize the context imposed by the isolation, producing policies that further isolates the side.

This paper is the result of a collaborative process which involved analysts from Turkey, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, as well as Georgia and Abkhazia. The paper, while offering an integrated structure, tried also to preserve the specificity of each context. The paper does not intend to serve as an all-exhaustive comparative study.

Isolation as a policy option: the rationale

Many scholars have made attempts to develop a systematic taxonomy for understanding how linkages between countries, policy choices, and priorities can translate into leverage for the one side and exposure to pressure for the other (Keohane and Nye 1977) (Way and Levitsky 2007). Linkages, therefore, can be seen as a source of power.

While isolation can take many forms from discrediting the target as an actor to putting travelling restrictions on the target, the most common form of isolation is economic and manifests itself through economic sanctions, boycotts, embargoes, freezing of assets and other means. In the case of economic ties, the leverage in the form of sanctions would have its best effect when its application incurs significant losses on the economy of the target state or target group. The significance of losses depends on the density of the existing economic linkages. The same is relevant for inducement and conditionality – the possible expansion of the existent economic or social contacts and creating new ones, gives the option for threatening with inhibiting these prospective benefits. Asymmetrical linkages give to the less dependent side a leverage over the more dependent side. Economic sanctions are a coercive foreign policy action of an entity, in which it intentionally suspends customary economic relations such as trade or financial exchanges, in order to prompt the targeted entity to change its policy or behavior. They are policy tools used by governments to constrain business activity across borders and divides with intended policy outcomes.

Sanctions can be classified according to their rationale. Purposeful economic sanctions are intended by the sender to inflict economic hardships and thus coerce the target into changing what are seen to the sender as objectionable policies. Palliative economic sanctions are imposed to publicly register displeasure with the actions or policies of the target. Punitive economic sanctions are intended to inflict harm on the target country without an explicit consideration of policy change. Partisan economic sanctions are intended to promote commercial or other interests (Askari 2003).

All the cases discussed in this paper appear to be punitive actions administered as a retaliation to what has been perceived as an act of offense. Some of them are also purposeful as they aim at inflicting economic hardship and thus coercing the target into changing objectionable policies. The prospect of the lifting of the isolation is envisaged as a bargaining chip in negotiations. Interestingly, while the capacity to isolate is a demonstration of power, it is often framed as a request for justice, restoration, and reparation.

Isolation policies of Azerbaijan and Turkey against Armenia

Azerbaijan’s acquisition of independence came in package with a war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. The loss of territories and the pain of losing the war have since been a powerful uniting factor for Azerbaijanis. The humanitarian crisis related to the influx of refugees and IDPs into Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan led to the adoption of a forceful stance towards Armenia. The experience of war also changed radically the way most Azerbaijanis perceive Armenia and Armenians. In the official discourse and in popular culture, Armenia has become the enemy – a concept that is a common component of war ideology.

Introducing the blockade of Armenia’s transportation routes and keeping it out of all regional cooperation and integration projects involving Azerbaijan has become one of the clear and pronounced goals of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy in the last two decades.

The efficiency of this action has never been questioned domestically. Isolation in Azerbaijan is seen as ‘natural’ as a request for justice and restoration, as well as a form of punishment. In the context of the official discourse not communicating with the enemy is conceded to be a ‘natural’ response to the occupation of the Azerbaijani land by Armenia, while the blockade is also the demonstration of the power of the state.

Certainly, there are voices advocating the interest of reconciliation with Armenia. However, these remain marginal and increasingly more suppressed and branded by the government and nationalist groups as a ‘fifth column’ or ‘traitors’. Re-escalation of the war in April 2016 has demonstrated how fragile the constituencies advocating for peace could feel when the official and patriotic forces take to the theater of action.

Turkey, for the past two decades has been a reliable ally of Azerbaijan, including in the latter’s policies of isolating Armenia. Yet in the early 1990s, Turkey’s position was less obvious. In parts of the political and bureaucratic elite, there was a clear understanding of the importance, both from a geographical and historical perspective, of establishing good neighborly relations with the newly independent Republic of Armenia. Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Armenia’s independence in December 1991[1]. Negotiations for the establishment of diplomatic relations with Armenia, however, did not proceed as smoothly as with the other ex-Soviet states, as Turkey requested from Armenia a statement on the recognition of the common border that it did not receive.

The railroad connecting the Turkish city of Kars to the Armenian city of Gyumri that allowed communication between Turkey and the Soviet Union, however, for the time being remained operational. With the outbreak of the Nagorno-Karabakh war in the winter of 1992, Turkey agreed to contribute to international efforts to relieve Armenia’s economic plight, which had been aggravated by an economic blockade on the part of Azerbaijan and the coincidental breakdown of transit routes across Georgia. In November 1992, Turkey agreed to the transit through its territory of 100,000 tons of wheat to Armenia and to supply urgently needed electricity via a grid connecting the two countries. The latter was cancelled after protests in Azerbaijan.

In March 1993, the Armenian forces launched an offensive to establish a second corridor between Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh through the town of Kelbajar, north of Lachin, causing a new flood of Azerbaijani refugees. On April 3, the Turkish government halted the supply of wheat across its territory to Armenia and sealed the Turkish-Armenian border. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey issued a statement bearing the signature of the Minister Hikmet Çetin stressing that Turkey decided to halt the delivery of aid transiting through its territory onto Armenia, to close the Turkish-Armenian border, and to interrupt all rail and air connection to Armenia, and lastly to cut trade including transit trade between Turkey and Armenia (Candan 2011, 531).

The obstruction of trade with Armenia does not have any ground beside the above-mentioned two paragraph-long decree that was addressed to the Secretariat for Foreign Trade and to the chambers of commerce. Since then, Turkey has been enforcing a de facto embargo against Armenia. Turkey does not issue customs declarations for goods from Turkey that are sold to Armenia or for goods from Armenia imported to Turkey through third countries. Interestingly, the on-line registration system of the Undersecretariat of Customs includes Armenia with the code 77. The registration of trade between Turkey and Armenia is technically possible; the refusal to do so stems from a political decision. The central and provincial offices of the Undersecreteriat of Customs have claimed that they act based on a Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ letter of 2003[2].

Armenia has contested the legality of Turkey’s closure of the border calling it a ‘blockade’ or an ‘embargo’. Yerevan argues that Ankara’s policies contravene the Kars Treaty, the free trade provisions of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Millennium goals and other provisions in international law which refer to the need to guarantee access to the sea for landlocked countries. Turkey retorts that from the point of view of public international law, the closure of the border cannot be qualified either as a blockade or as an embargo, both being terms with specific legal definitions and meanings. Interestingly though, in 2002, prior to Armenia’s accession to the WTO, Turkey notified the organization in exercise of its right provided by the Agreements not to consent to the application of WTO Agreements with Armenia[3]. In 2003, when Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s membership in the WTO was discussed, Turkey voted for Armenia’s inclusion, but announced that it will not follow the WTO requirements towards trade with Armenia.

More recently, Turkish officials started publicizing the albeit informal existent links between Turkey and Armenia as a way of refuting the accusations of the Armenian government in blockade. The official discourse underscores the volume of trade between Turkey and Armenia, the direct flight connection between Istanbul and Yerevan, and the Armenian irregular migrants in Turkey as facts testifying that Turkey does not intend to impose an embargo on Armenia. This official discourse, however, makes understanding the reasons for keeping the border closed all the more difficult.

The re-opening of the air corridor between Turkey and Armenian in 1995 constituted the only major shift in Turkey’s stance towards Armenia since the closure of the border. On May 2, 1995 Turkey reopened the H50 air corridor which had been closed in 1993 to flight connections to Armenia. The reopening of this air corridor was indeed requested by the Azerbaijani civilian aviation authority. Azerbaijan and Armenia have access to each other’s air space for civilian aviation. The closure of the H50 air corridor between Turkey and Armenia was affecting Azerbaijani flight connections to Turkey as well as other countries. In August 1996, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey authorized the Armenian National Airlines to start operating commercial passenger flight between Yerevan and Istanbul. (The Union of Manufacturers and Businessmen of Armenia 2012)

By 2007, Turkey and Armenia engaged in negotiations conducted under the Swiss mediation and opened a window of opportunity for the normalization of the relations. The protocols for the establishment of diplomatic relations were signed by the Turkish and Armenian Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Zurich on October 10, 2009. The protocols incorporated a detailed outline for establishing diplomatic ties, opening the common border and improving bilateral and people-to-people relations according to an agreed upon set of principles and a timetable. The border was to be opened within two months after the entry into force of the protocols. On the Turkish side, however, the Azerbaijani intervention prevented the ratification of the protocols in the parliament, effectively freezing the normalization process.

Since the failure of the protocols, the issue of the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border has been linked explicitly with the settlement of the Nagorno Karabkah conflict. Azerbaijan is pressing Turkey to maintain the border closed because the isolation can be effective only if Armenia is blockaded from both sides. In Turkey, the concern that as a result of the opening of the border, Azerbaijan would lose its main leverage on Armenia became widespread. It is believed that opening would jeopardize the Turkish-Azerbaijani relations, give economic and moral support to Armenia, and affect negatively the settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict (Aslanlı 2015) (Gültekin Punsmann, Azerbaijan in the Changing Status Quo: Adaptation Strategies 2011). Turkey, therefore, subscribed to the Azerbaijani approach that the ending of the blockade should be clearly linked to the political settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and the withdrawal of the Armenian troops from the Azerbaijani territories, consistent with the reasons for the initial closing of the border in retaliation for Armenia’s occupation of Kelbajar.

Turkey and Armenia, of course, have their own problems separate from Azerbaijan that have been complicating the bilateral relations. Turkey hoped to see Armenia to stop compaining for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by foreign govermments, and for Armenia to recognize the Turkish border: two issues on which Armenia has not been very cooperative, considering these to be both issues of justice and a leverage against Turkey.

Russian sanctions against Georgia and Turkey

The international cooperation on the territory of the former Soviet Union is characterized by asymmetrical interdependence between Russia and the other ex-Soviet republics. Russia as the former core of the unified state is able to effectively apply leverage towards the former Soviet republics without substantial harm to its own economic and political stability. Moscow has repeatedly employed this instrument of coercion in response to those political actions of the ex-Soviet states, which have been perceived by Russian policy makers to be undermining Russia’s security (Markedonov 2007), such as aspirations towards the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the European Union (EU). This foreign policy tool has manifested itself in sanctions aimed at bringing economic hardship to the target political entity which eventually would lead to change in its objectionable policies. Similar to the cases discussed above, the pro-western policy choices of some of the former Soviet states in light of NATO’s gradual advances into the countries of the former Warsaw Pact are seen from Moscow as unjust and threatening its security.

Russia’s relationship with Georgia is illustrative of how this foreign policy tool that is based on leverage derived from extensive linkage can be applied. In the 1990s, Russia was supportive of Georgia’s territorial integrity. It joined Tbilisi in its efforts to isolate the Abkhazian authorities that had proclaimed independence. In 1994, Moscow, concerned about the possibility of secession of its own autonomies, in particular Chechnya, used this as a pretext to join Tbilisi’s blockade of Abkhazia. In a reversal of the situation, in September 1999, the Russian government cancelled its decision of December 19, 1994 “On measures temporarily restricting the crossing of the state border of the Russian Federation from Azerbaijan and Georgia”, through which the blockade of Abkhazia was legitimized, as a response to Georgian President Eduard Shevarndadze’s reluctance to work in closer coordination with Russia on the Chechen problem (Tesemnikova 1999). Vladimir Putin, who by that time had taken the Prime Minister’s office launched this toughening of policy towards Georgia at the time of the second campaign against Chechen insurgency that was linked to the use of Georgian territory by the Chechen fighters. In December 2000, Russia introduced a visa regime for Georgian citizens with simplified procedures for residents of Abkhazia, Ajaria, and South Ossetia. As a response, Georgia started more actively developing its cooperation with NATO, further straining the Georgia-Russia relations.

After the fall of Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003 and advent to power of Mikheil Saakashvili with his even stronger pro-Western aspirations and anti-Russian rhetoric, the degree of political confrontation between Moscow and Tbilisi further increased. In the spring of 2006, it resulted in Russia’s embargo on key Georgian export positions, such as wine, mineral water, and agricultural products, formally explained by quality and health concerns. Another round of Russia’s sanctions against Georgia came in autumn after the Georgian authorities arrested four Russian officers and a number of Georgian citizens on charges of espionage for Moscow and launched a loud media campaign about this event. While explaining the rationale behind the new round of sanctions, Chairman of the International Committee of the Federation Council Mikhail Margelov said that the sanctions aimed to “bring the Georgian government to its senses” and “to then develop a constructive dialogue” (Ivanitskaya, et al. 2006). Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov explained that Russia views the “espionage story” as а manifestation of the anti-Russian and pro-Western policy of the Georgian government, hinting that the sanctions were a response to this Georgian policy in general and not only to the detention of the Russian officers (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation 2006).

Years later, Turkey became the first country outside of the post-Soviet space towards which Russia unilaterally applied a sanction regime. The shot down of a Russian warplane in Syria by the Turkish air forces on November 24, 2015, allegedly as a response for violating Turkey’s airspace, triggered a sanctions campaign by Moscow against Ankara. The sanctions were implemented in a way that would “inflict minimal damage to the Russian economy”, (Kommersant 2015) while maximizing the effect they would have on the Turkish economy. As the Russian government could not leave the downing of its warplane by a NATO-member state without a firm punitive response, the rationale for sanctions was above all to demonstrate Moscow’s determination to Turkey and its allies.

Isolation policies of Georgia against Abkhazia and South Ossetia

On October 8, 1993, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze gave up his reservations against the country joining the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In February 1994, Georgia and the Russian Federation signed a “Bilateral Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation”, whose most significant provision was the re-establishment of the Russian military bases in Georgia. On January 19, 1996 the Council of CIS Heads (with the exception of Belarus and Turkmenistan) adopted the resolution on “Measures for the settlement of Conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia” which imposed economic sanctions on Abkhazia and led to its political and economic isolation. In its first paragraph, the resolution condemns “the destructive position of the Abkhazian side that creates obstacles on the way to mutually acceptable agreements for the political settlement of the conflict and the secure and dignified return of refugees and IDPs” and in its sixth paragraph states that the member states of the CIS, without the agreement of the Government of Georgia, “will not have economic, financial or transport transactions with the Abkhazian authorities” and “will not have official contacts with the Abkhazian authorities” (Council of the Heads of States of the CIS 1996). In a separate presidential decree adopted on January 31, 1996, the Georgian government declared “The seaport of Sukhumi, port sites and the marine area and the sector of the State border between Georgia and the Russian Federation within the territory of Abkhazia, Georgia, shall be closed to all forms of international shipments, with the exception of consignments of humanitarian aid shipped in accordance with this Decree” (Permanent Representative of Georgia to the United Nations 1996).

Following the worsening of Russian-Georgian relations in 1999, Moscow started easing its regulations on the Abkhazian border: the prohibition for men of military age to cross the border was lifted in 2000, and the citizens of the CIS countries have been authorized to enter the territory of Abkhazia. In April 2006, the Russian Federation authorized non-CIS citizens with a double entry Russian visa to cross into Abkhazia, effectively de-isolating Abkhazia from the north.

While today Georgia does not prevent travels to Abkhazia from its territory either, as it considers Abkhazia part of Georgian territory, entering Abkhazia from the Russian Federation is considered illegal by Tbilisi and is punishable by law in Georgia, since the Georgian border guards are not controlling the Adler/Psou border post.

However, the Adler/Psou has become the main gate for ordinary travelers to Abkhazia, namely for tourists, petty traders, and Abkhazians from the diaspora as crossing into Abkhazia from Georgia causes more practical problems such as the need to obtain the Abkhazian side’s permission to enter and the absence of a nearby airport. The Georgian coastguard regularly detains ships which enter Abkhazian waters or seaports without Tbilisi’s permission under the cause of “illegal crossing of Georgian territorial waters” and requires the payment of fines for illegally shipping goods to Abkhazia. From 1999 to 2003, the coastguard of Georgia’s Border Protection Department detained over 40 ships. In 2003, the coastguard arrested 7 ships and a further 8 ships’ captains were given official warnings. In July 2004, Georgia fired on a cargo ship approaching Sukhum/i and threatened to sink any ship, including those carrying Russian tourists entering its waters without permission (Gültekin Punsmann, Abkhazia for the Integration of the Black Sea 2009).

Reportedly, the Georgian authorities detained 22 vessels between 2004 and 2006. On October 30, 2006 the coast guard detained a Bulgarian ship whose owner was fined $448,000. One Russian and one Ukrainian fishing vessels were detained on January 10, 2007, and the captains were held on pre-trial detention for two months. In 2009, two Turkish ships were detained: the ship “Densa Demet” on April 5 and the “New Star” on April 29. (International Crisis Group 2007)

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on September 3, 2009 warning that the further seizure of cargo ships en-route to Abkhazia by Georgian coast guard may cause “serious armed incidents” (Civil Georgia 2009). The Georgian officials decried the Russian Federation’s decision to end the economic embargo on Abkhazia as “immoral and dangerous” and interpreted the Russian Federation’s move as a step towards the formal annexation of Georgian territory (Lobjakas 2008).

Georgia’s policies toward the other breakaway region, South Ossetia, followed a different path. Despite the conflict, for many years, the Ergneti market located on neutral territory between the Ossetian controlled Tskhinval/i and the Georgian-controlled villages of the Gori region allowed trade between Ossetian and Georgian populations caught up in the conflict and striving to survive. The Ergneti market was a rare economic mechanism in the post-violence period that became the dominant source of budget revenue for South Ossetians. 90 percent of the transfer of goods was considered illegal from the Russian and Georgian perspective. At the same time, a study undertaken with the support of International Alert in 2003 concluded that “the closure of the market by an executive order in Georgia or Russia could cause the collapse of the economy of the entire region and result in further escalation of the conflict” (Dzhikaev and Parastaev 2004).

Yet Georgia’s government formed after the Rose Revolution in November 2003 did just that. Aiming to return South Ossetia to Georgian control, it cut off its economic lifeline. The move was done in the name of the anti-smuggling campaign and was part of Saakashvili’s larger effort to eradicate widespread corruption. The Ergneti market was shut down violently in 2004. The Georgian customs revenues collected at the Kazbegi checkpoint, the only land border linking Georgia with Russia that is controlled by official Tbilisi, went up dramatically (Civil Georgia 2004). At the local level, however, livelihoods were destroyed both on the Ossetian and the Georgian side of the former Ergneti market, taking down with them the collaboration between Georgians and Ossetians who relied on the market (Freese n.d.). The crackdown pushed South Ossetia further away from Georgia and toward complete economic dependence on Russia.

On August 26, 2008 following the August 2008 war, the Russian Federation recognized the Republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The “Treaty on Alliance and Strategic Partnership between Abkhazia and the Russian Federation” signed in November 2014 and a similar agreement with South Ossetia signed in March 2015 further increased Moscow’s influence on these regions pushing them further away from Georgia. The importance of developing relations with these regions has been underlined in “The Strategy of National Security of the Russian Federation” adopted in December 2015 that spells out the Russian interest in integrating the two secessionist republics into the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

Having failed to regain control over South Ossetia militarily, in 2010 the Georgian government applied a new approach toward Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The approach named the “State Strategy on Occupied Territories: Engagement through Cooperation” was more commonly known as the “Iakobashvili strategy” named after Georgian Minister of Reintegration (formerly called Minister of Conflict Resolution) who developed the approach. The strategy envisioned a certain degree of de-isolation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia adopting a “people-centered policy aimed at engagement”. The strategy, however, required any engagement with Abkhazia and South Ossetia to proceed only with a formal permission of the Georgian government, generating suspicion and rejection of communication on the side of the Abkhazian and South Ossetian authorities and civil societies, especially as the wounds of the August 2008 war were still fresh.

The new Georgian government that came to power in 2012 tried to adopt a more conciliatory approach. As one of its steps, it once again renamed the above-mentioned Ministry of Reintegration (meant to reintegrate Abkhazia and South Ossetia into Georgia) into the Ministry of Reconciliation and Civil Equality and initiating a series of confidence-building measures. By this time, however, Abkhazia and South Ossetia found themselves in an almost complete dependence on Russia and cut off almost all relations with Tbilisi.

The impact of isolation policies

In theory, there is a difference between economic sanctions and economic warfare. The former represents a milder form of coercion employed to “inflict punishment on the selected target”, while the latter represents “economic coercive measures employed during wars as part of the general military effort to inflict as much havoc, destruction and deprivation as possible (Lopez and Cortright 1995). However, both sanctions and economic warfare affect the economies of the target entities, creating such serious problems as shortage of food, water, and medical supplies. They inflict a punishment directly on populations and lead to a systematic deprivation of entire populations of economic resources. The most harm done is to those who are least able to defend themselves, who at the same time represent the least military threat and who are the most vulnerable.

The following analysis will assess the impact of the Russian sanctions against Georgia and Turkey on the political and societal levels, followed by the analysis of the impact of the sanctions against Armenia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia and the resulting response policies of Armenia and Abkhazia as examples.

Effects of the Russian sanctions on Georgia

As briefly mentioned above, in 2006 Russia implemented widespread sanctions against Georgia. The Russian Embassy in Georgia stopped issuing entry visas for Georgian citizens and started evacuating the families of diplomats and military personnel. Some 800 Georgians with no legal residence were expelled from Russia within a period of two months and the allowed period of stay in Russia for Georgians with visas was reduced from 180 to 90 days per year. Moscow and other municipalities conducted large inspections of businesses owned by Georgians. The visits of some Georgian and Russian artists and sportsmen were cancelled, and the Russian ambassador to Georgia was recalled.

Abkhazia joined the Russian policy of sanctions against Georgia, and announced the tightening of border control on the Ingur/i River; the transportation of cargo was suspended, and only pedestrian crossings through the central Ingur/i bridge under a strict control was allowed.

As a result of these severe sanctions as well as the Russian involvement in the war of August 2008, Georgia moved away from Russia over the last decade. As the sanctions were extensive and comprehensive, they left almost no major dependencies that Russia could leverage as threats in geopolitical disputes. This is best illustrated on the example of the gas supply: Russia often uses gas as a geopolitical weapon. By 2006 Georgia was 100 percent dependent on Russian gas imports. However, after this supply was cut by an explosion in the North Caucasus, Georgia switched to importing its gas from Azerbaijan and in recent years has imported only 15-20 percent from Russia. Similar decreasing dependency is relevant about the export of the other goods: if until 2006 Russia was Georgia’s main market, as of February 2016, the exports to Russia constitute only about 8 percent of Georgian exports, limited mainly to wine (about ½) and mineral water (about ¼)[4].

The sanctions, therefore, while causing a short-term harm to the Georgian economy, in the long-term have weakened the Russian presence and influence over Georgia, prompting it to pursue closer integration with Western institutions.

Effects of the Russian sanctions on Turkey

Starting from January 2016, Russia started implementing sanctions also against Turkey. It banned imports of certain Turkish vegetables and fruits, poultry meat, salt and carnations for bouquets. Moscow also introduced a ban on some of the activities run by Turkish companies and restrictions on the employment of Turkish citizens. Companies from Turkey were prohibited from providing services for the state and the municipalities.[5] (Vinogradova and Bazanova 2016)

Tourism, an essential sector of the Turkish economy, was also restricted. On November 28, 2015, President Vladimir Putin imposed a ban on charter air transportation between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey and urged travel agents to abstain from selling tours to Turkey (President of Russia 2015). The regular flight connection of the Turkish Airlines has not been affected. Turkish Airlines flights still fly to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Kazan, Rostov-na-Donu, Ufa, Sochi, Astrakhan, and Stavropol. Starting January 1, 2016, Turkish citizens are required to have touristic visas to enter Russia. However, reports about deportations of Turkish citizens and denying them entry into the country started appearing earlier, right after the incident with Russian military jet in Syria (Petelin and Gromov 2015) (Rozhdestvenskiy 2015) (BBC Russian Service 2015).

The number of Russian nationals visiting Turkey has been affected by the sanctions. The number of Russian nationals who travelled to Antalya during January 2016 decreased by 81 percent compared to the previous year[6] (Hurriyet Daily News 2016). Between January and March of 2016, the total number of Russians who travelled to Turkey decreased by 56 percent compared to the same period of the previous year (Interfax-Tourism 2016).

The sanctions also impacted the relations between the Turkish citizens of the Caucasus origin and the citizens of various entities in the Caucasus. Today millions of Turkish citizens have Caucasus origins. The November 24 crisis had far-reaching effects on North Caucasus-Turkey relations and affected mostly Turkish citizens living in the republics of the North Caucasus and in Abkhazia as well as the Turkish and Russian business people involved in trade relations.

The total volume of exports from Turkey to Russia have decreased in January 2016 to $110 million from $315 million in January 2015. The sanctions did not close the access to the Russian market for Turkish agricultural producers entirely. Nevertheless, small and medium exporters to Russia have lost their access, leading to the monopolization of the flow to Russia and distribution channels of those fruits and vegetables which are not under the Russian embargo. The loss of access has also led to re-routing of channels through other countries[7].

The overall effects of the Russian sanctions on the Turkish economy remain limited, with the latter benefiting from being diversified, open, and well-integrated with the world economy. Moreover, while the sanctions did not directly target the energy relations between Turkey and Russia, the worsening of relations had a negative impact, for example, on the “Turkish Stream” project, prompting Turkey to intensify its exports from other suppliers, including Azerbaijan. The perceived vulnerability vis-a-vis Russia is likely to have impact on Turkey’s energy policy in the future. Therefore, while the economic impact of the sanctions might not be very visible for each country, the political impact, the trajectory of strategic economic relations and policies, as well as the people-to-people relations have been severely affected and the results will be felt for decades to come.

Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Armenia: Blockaded communities. Impact on conflict settlement and confidence building

As the cases of sanctions against Georgia and Turkey demonstrate, isolation policies are harmful to long-term strategic relations, and severing links destroys interdependence. Isolation policies are even more harmful for the settlement of conflicts. Blockades and sanctions considered from Baku toward Armenia and from Tbilisi toward Abkhazia and South Ossetia are symbolic ways of defending their territorial integrity and are proclaimed to be done in the name of advancing the settlement of the conflicts. Yet they tend to solidify political positions without encouraging political compromise and they tent to generate a siege mentality halting economic integration. Closing a region or a country to the outside world also contributes to the development of a shadow and resistance economy that undermines prospects for the entrenchment of the rule of law. Isolation deepens political and mental divides. Fences erected at the borders of ethno-territorial entities sustain the image of the enemy, while the grievances and ongoing issues remain unresolved. A survivalist mentality and the spirit of innovation can emerge under the conditions created by blockades and embargoes that along with benefits for the communities that have developed these, normalize the isolation and render it ineffective. Isolated communities have proven to be highly resilient.

The situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the one hand and Armenia on the other, of course, is not identical. Armenia is an internationally recognized country, member of the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and other international organizations and with open borders with Georgia and Iran. Meanwhile, South Ossetia and Abkhazia were recognized only in 2008 and only by four countries, and have only one border open, connecting them with Russia. A closer comparison could be drawn perhaps between Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh, however the limitations of human resources for this research have not allowed for the examination of every entity in the South Caucasus. The contexts of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Armenia are discussed here, therefore, not based on their international status, but to compare their respective responses to their isolation.

Impact of the blockade on Abkhazia and South Ossetia

As already discussed above, as a result of the CIS decision to join the Georgia-imposed sanctions of Abkhazia, the unrecognized republic was virtually cut off by land from the outside world for the good part of the 1990s. The dire situation of the war-ruined economy was further exacerbated by the Russian-Georgian maritime and land blockade which caused a total economic and social breakdown. The airport was shut down for external flights and the railway functioned only within Abkhazia. The seaports were closed for passenger boats, and the Abkhazian boats could not leave port to bring goods from Turkey. The movement of people beyond Abkhazia was restricted. Men aged 16 to 60 were prevented from crossing into Russia at the Psou river. The postal services were also blocked.

In April 1997, Russia tightened the blockade of Abkhazia, cutting it from the international phone service. Turkey as well responded positively to the CIS call for imposing economic sanctions on Abkhazia and canceled direct cruises between the ports of Trabzon and Sukhum/i in 1996. Officially the maritime link between Turkey and Abkhazia remains closed up to date. Turkey is justifying its compliance with the isolation regime by respect for the territorial integrity of Georgia. The attempts of Turkish business people from the Black Sea coast to trespass the sanctions, either guided by profit or socio-cultural ties, brought a relative degree of relief for the Abkhazian population. The informal trade and economic relations with Turkey have helped the Abkhazians to survive under circumstances of almost complete isolation. A small clandestine and seasonal economy of mandarin and hazelnut trade along the officially closed borders provided a source of income for a few businesses in Abkhazia.

Unlike Abkhazia, South Ossetia was not completely isolated in the 1990s and the early 2000s. Travel and trade between South Ossetia and Georgia continued albeit with some difficulties. By 2004, the new Georgian government led by Mikheil Saakashvili severed the relations with Tskhinval/i and closed the Ergneti market where the Georgians and Ossetians unofficially conducted trade. An alternative to Tskhinval/i, South Ossetian government was installed led by loyal to Georgia Dmitry Sanakoev and based in the Georgian-controlled parts of South Ossetia. The aim of these measures was to isolate South Ossetia and to pressure it into rejoining Georgia.

However, after the August 2008 war in South Ossetia, the Georgian government has come to rethink its policy. With Abkhazia and South Ossetia recognized by the Russian Federation, isolating them was no longer a viable policy option, and the approach was to change considerably. Nevertheless, having to give in to the domestic pressures to keep in place the isolation policies, the successive Georgian governments have not been able to bring about a qualitative change or advance conflict settlement in the way desirable for Tbilisi. Having fenced themselves off from Georgia, Abkhazians and Ossetians no longer see Georgia as a threat or a desirable development resource. The Abkhazian and Ossetian elites is inclined to believe that with partial recognition and the growing Russian military and economic presence in the region, the “Georgia factor” has lost all significance.

Moreover, years of international isolation of these societies has contributed to their mistrust of the outside world. Anti-western stereotypes are running high, promoted in the name of preserving identity and traditional values. The feeling that the opening of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Europe and to the western community will jeopardize “traditional” values, customs, traditions, and culture is taking root.

The two societies also differ. The land-locked South Ossetian one increasingly looks toward Russia as their savior and strive for integration into Russia, while the open to the Black Sea Abkhazia seems determined to preserve its independence.

The closed Turkey-Armenia border

The closure of the Azerbaijani and then the Turkish borders became a significant obstacle to land communications to and from Armenia. Connected to its distant markets via uncertain and expensive routes through Georgia and Iran, Armenia’s development is constrained and the markets are both internally and externally monopolized harming consumers. The route from Yerevan to the Turkish border town of Iğdir lying only dozens of kilometers away is lengthened by a factor of 10 by the closed border, as traffic must transit through Georgia. It takes 14 hours to travel from the Armenian industrial city of Gyumri to Kars in Turkey despite a mere distance of 20 kilometers.

Despite the legal obstructions, trade with Turkey exists and is estimated at $200-300 million per year (Directorate-General for Trade of the European Comission 2016). It takes place via Georgia, with the Turkish trade records showing Georgia as the final destination. Trade between Turkey and Armenia is conducted mostly in one-direction. Armenian exports to Turkey are almost non-existent; whereas, Turkey ranks among the first countries from where imports come to Armenia. According to unofficial sources, at least 20,000 vehicles bearing Turkish number plates carry goods to Armenia over Georgia every year. Opening of the Turkish-Armenian border is estimated to have far-reaching effects in Armenia that go beyond economic performance. Armenia is a small country, with a population of 3.2 million, while Turkey’s population is 71 million. One can reasonably expect that Turkish human and cultural involvement in Armenia following the border opening would make a significant impact on the Armenian society.

The two countries have been separated since the 1920s. The closed border has been definitively a significant barrier to human and business interactions, preventing the populations from bridging the century-old gap dividing them. The isolation policies of Turkey and Azerbaijan also led to hardening of stereotypes against them in Armenia, supporting the perception that Armenians are in an existential conflict with one common enemy both in the east and the west. Similar to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the growing mistrust toward these immediate neighbors led Armenia toward increasing reliance and eventually dependence on Russia for its security and economic needs, pushing it even further away from possibility of improving relations with Azerbaijan or Turkey.

When ‘self-isolation’ as a convenient second best option further consolidates the status quo

Sanctions and blockades have an impact on policy preferences of the targeted entity which in turn often contribute to the continuation of its own isolation. This part brings two local insights, one from Abkhazia and another from Armenia. The paper does not intend to compare these two different cases. Through two distinct examples, it aims to shed light on how political decision-making processes can internalize the context imposed by the isolation, producing policies that further isolates the side. ‘Self-isolation’ is used here as a conditional term that does not mean a full isolation of oneself from everyone. It means streaming foreign and economic integration policies in the direction of one hegemonic actor, in this case Russia, at the price of depriving oneself of the possibility to develop existing and potential ties with other actors and markets. Therefore ‘self-isolating’ oneself from relations disapproved by the hegemon gives the latter almost unlimited leverage and influence over oneself.

‘Self-isolation’ or the permanent dependence on a hegemon can be perceived by the ‘self-isolating’ actor as the second best option to diversified foreign and economic policy – the option that is preferred to compromises that have to be made to a neighbor considered to be the ‘enemy’ in order to develop such a diversified policy. This option seems all the more acceptable since it offers a context where the parameters are well known. Political power consolidates in the hands of a few in a context where economic competition is restricted because of the scarcity of external connections. On the discursive level, neither Abkhazia nor Armenia consider pursuing a self-isolationist policy: yet the normalization of their relations with their immediate neighborhood is not a priority and cooperation with their immediate neighborhood requires compromises to the ‘enemy’ that are considered unacceptable. The second best option implies integration into the EAEU led by Russia that gives access to a large economic zone, yet that is also a protectionist commercial bloc restricting relations with alternative partners.

Abkhazia’s policies in response to isolation

The signing of the Russian-Abkhazian “Treaty on Alliance and Strategic Partnership” on November 24, 2014 propelled Abkhazian-Russian relations to a new level. The overwhelming majority of the Abkhazian political and social groups positively evaluated this treaty which largely relieves its isolation and opens wider access to Russian markets and other benefits. Nonetheless, segments of the Abkhazian society that advocate for meaningful independence remained skeptical.

The baggage that came with the agreement soon became apparent. After the meeting of the adviser to the Russian President Vladislav Surkov with the Abkhazian leader Raul Khajimba on December 29, 2015, the Abkhazian government announced joining the Russian sanctions against Turkey. Addressing Abkhazian-Turkish relations, Surkov after the meeting with Abkhazia’s president Khajimba stated, “Abkhazia has no official relations with Turkey. Turkey, as everyone knows, does not recognize Abkhazia. Nevertheless, at the same time, Turkey is trying to solve here some economic and political issues. Certain circles inside Turkey, for some reason, include Abkhazia into the sphere of their possible influence.” (Surkov “Turtsiya Abkhaziyu ne priznayet, no pri etom pytayetsya zdes’ reshat’ ekonomicheskiye i politicheskiye voprosy” 2015).

The sanctions that Sukhum/i has imposed on Turkey are considerably more harmful for Abkhazia than for Turkey, which as Abkhazia’s second largest trade partner following Russia had the 14.2 percent share of the total trade volume in 2014 (EurAsia Daily 2016). The Abkhazian order on the implementation of sanctions against Turkey explicitly states that they are imposed according to “Article 4 of the Treaty between the Republic of Abkhazia and the Russian Federation on alliance and strategic partnership of November 24, 2014, providing for a coordinated foreign policy of the Republic of Abkhazia and the Russian Federation” (Cabinet of the Republic of Abkhazia 2016). Abkhazia announced banning the access of Turkish fishing vessels to Abkhazian territorial waters. The sanctions are hardly in Abkhazia’s economic interest. At the same time, the Russian sanctions against Turkey opened an unexpected window of opportunity for Abkhazia, as well as the members of the EAEU, as gateways to the Russian market. Abkhazian economic circles have started making use of this argument to attract investments from Turkey.

Armenia’s policies in response to isolation

Twenty-five years of semi-closed borders surely had its effects on Armenia’s policy making. With no recent experience of open borders with all its neighbors, the Armenian society has grown accustomed to the situation.

Through the years of independence, changing political elites in Armenia have had different approaches to the relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. The thesis of the first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan that envisioned considerable concessions to Azerbaijan in exchange for peace and open borders was defeated by the members of his own ruling regime. The subsequent presidents adopted a more hardline approach and the Modus Vivendi since then has changed towards ensuring Armenia’s survival through maintaining the status quo. The third president Serzh Sargsyan’s foreign policy went from somewhat pro-Western to clearly pro-Russian and in the direction of ‘self-isolation’ closing the door on possible alternative developments in the future.

In his 1997 article “War or Peace: Time to be Thoughtful”, Ter-Petrosyan warned his political team that without resolving the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and opening of Armenia’s borders the “normal development of the Armenian state would not be feasible” (Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s Speech at the Expanded Session of the Security Council (January 8, 1998) 2006 (in Armenian)). The ‘antithesis’ of this approach was advanced by the second president Robert Kocharyan’s policy that had expressed a belief that the Armenian state will be able not only to survive but also to develop despite closed borders (Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s Speech at the Expanded Session of the Security Council (January 8, 1998) 2006 (in Armenian)). Kocharyan legalized the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), the nationalist party that was preserved in the diaspora and that had been banned by Ter-Petrosyan in 1995. This party became one of his main power pillars and the diaspora’s role in Armenia was strengthened. At the same time, the two-digit economic growth in the early 2000s, largely due to the development of the construction sector, earned Armenia even the title of the ‘Caucasian Tiger’, vindicating Kocharyan’s approach. However, Kocharyan and his entourage understood very well, that this was more a ‘paper tiger’ and that without opening the borders, Armenia’s economy would not be able to sustain its growth.

With the growing confrontation between the West and Russia in the late 2000s and the increasing Turkish-Russian standoff in Syria, the Armenian leadership’s ability to maintain collaborative relations with both Russia and the West was constricted. Armenia increasingly leaned on Russia at the expense of all other relations. While the failure to reach the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border was the first setback of Sargsyan’s presidency, the failure to sign the Association Agreement with the EU was certainly the one that sealed Armenia’s move toward ‘self-isolation’. Of course, one can contend that the inability to reach these agreements was not necessarily Sargsyan’s choice but rather a necessity dictated by the assessment of the geo-political environment; nevertheless, the root cause of Armenia’s limited geo-political maneuverability has been first and foremost the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Few would disagree that Armenia’s accession to the EAEU and turning down the Association Agreement was preconditioned by Russia’s security leverage on Armenia, as voiced by Sargsyan in his speech on September 3, 2013 (Armenpress 2013). According to some Armenian commentators, the price for joining the EAEU was not only the loss of ability to further integrate with the European structures, but also economic losses. Russia, finding itself under growing international isolation and in a context of freefalling oil prices, was not able to sustain the EAEU, making the participation in the union economically harmful for Armenia (Standish 2015) (Karapetyan 2015). Furthermore, the attempt by the Russian energy monopolist to increase prices of electricity for Armenia’s residents brought thousands of protesters into the streets in what became known as the “Electric Yerevan” of the summer of 2015 (Mackey 2015), although failing to bring significant changes to the energy policy. At the same time other commentators argue that EAEU was beneficial for Armenia’s economy (Ria Novosti 2016) (Chichkin 2015) (Materik 2015).

These years left a watermark also on Armenia’s relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Armenia’s ability to negotiate in the circumstances of increasing dependence on Russia has been questioned; while the commemoration of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide crystalized the rhetorical loci of redefining Armenia’s relations with Turkey. In February 2015, President Sargsyan officially recalled the protocols on the establishment of diplomatic relations with Turkey from the Armenian National Assembly (News 2015 (in Armenian)), burying the normalization process on the Armenian end. In this same period, the negotiations with Azerbaijan have effectively hit a dead end, paralleled by an unprecedented growth of militarization and war rhetoric that resulted in an on-going escalation culminating in the Four Day War of April 2016 and nullifying any possibility for political settlement in a medium-term future.

Ending isolation and re-establishing linkages

As shown in this paper, isolation can hardly prove as an effective strategic policy choice towards its initial objective. The common final goal of the entities exploiting leverage is to draw the target entity closer into their orbit of influence, that is, to establish even closer ties with the target entity. The long-standing policy of sanctions, blockades, and isolation, however, is fraught with a threat for the dominant power of not only alienating the target entity, but also losing the linkages and therefore the tools of influence.

In none of the discussed cases did the isolation policies help to reach the policy aims. Yet the political powers that impose sanctions and blockades rarely conduct efficiency tests. More than the harm caused by the sanctions, it is the possibility to lift them that can give an additional incentive when sides are already in talks about the normalization of relations. The context of the progressive normalization of relations between Russia and Georgia provides a good illustration.

Daniel Drezner who analyzing Russia’s economic coercion and trade disruption in the former Soviet space (Drezner 1999) reached the conclusion that such policies are more successful when directed toward allies rather than political adversaries, which can be confirmed by the example of the Russian-Armenian relationship. In adversarial relationships, states will be aware of the likelihood of future confrontations, and therefore less likely to offer short-term concessions.

Turkey and Azerbaijan, at the same time, were unable to extract any concessions from Armenia, despite two decades of sanctions aimed towards that end. With independent Armenia never having lived in conditions of open borders with Turkey or Azerbaijan and having built its economy accordingly, the sanctions have had little effect on the policy making in Armenia and if anything, they have contributed to mistrust and adoption of a harder-line rather than softening of positions. Moreover, with the memory of the Armenia Genocide constituting the core of the Armenian identity, the mistrust towards Turkey remains high, and the opening of the border and the improvement of economic relations is not always seen as desirable. Many circles in the Armenian government and society fear that the open border will give Turkey too much leverage vis-à-vis Armenia, which can jeopardize its security should the relations take another negative turn.

In case of Georgia, since Moscow explicitly ruled out any possibility of cooperation with Mikheil Saakashvili’s government after the war of August 2008, negotiating a lift to the embargo became possible only for the opposition, and the latter included this carrot in its basket of pre-election promises to the population. Thus, Bidzina Ivanishvili and his opposition party “Georgian Dream” proclaimed the normalization of relations with Russia as one of their priorities. After winning the elections in 2012 and Saakashvili’s resignation in 2013, the new government started building dialogue with Russia to end the economic sanctions. Georgia no longer conditioned the relationship exclusively by the disagreement over the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while at same time, it remained rhetorically committed to territorial integrity. Upon receiving some positive signals from the new incumbents in the Georgian government and seeing a decrease in anti-Russian rhetoric, Moscow started gradually lifting the sanctions, opening its market for Georgian exports, re-launching flight connections, and softening visa regulations for Georgian citizens. However, one of the main goals of the Russian strategy towards Georgia – the prevention of Georgia’s integration into the Western structures – remains only partially achieved with Georgia not joining so far NATO yet signing the Association Agreement with the EU. Apparently at this stage, the Russian policy makers count on the increasing linkage beneficial for Georgian economy. Improving the general environment for the Russian-Georgian cooperation, initiates positive changes in the Georgian public opinion about Russia and increases the latter’s leverage in the relationship.

The normalization of relations, however, can prove to be difficult as the side that was once the object of sanctions tends to mistrust the relationship and to fear re-entering into a relationship that creates asymmetrical dependency. This is illustrated not only by the Russian sanctions against Georgia, but also Georgia’s isolation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Tbilisi’s policy of isolation in its present form stopped being an instrument of coercion on Sukhum/i or Tskhinval/i, that during the years of conflict and isolation developed strong mistrust toward Georgia and rebuilt their infrastructure economy centering on relations with Russia. Nor did the policies of isolation promote conciliation between the conflicting sides or led to conflict resolution. The current Georgian government has acknowledged the inefficiency of the policies of isolation, yet remains torn between the desire to promote de-isolation and the fear that the de-isolation might ultimately legitimize the secessionist regions and prompt international recognition of their independence. Georgia today tries to balance between ‘softer isolation’ and ‘engagement without recognition’ approaches, which are viewed with suspicion from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Abkhazian and South Ossetian authorities are concerned that Georgia might exploit the opening of these regions to the outside world. Some fear that the process of de-isolation and increased interaction with Georgia might lead to eventual restoration of Georgian control. The Georgian approach to the engagement supports these fears. While offering to engage with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in areas such as healthcare, education, and business, the “Georgian State Strategy on Occupied Territories” provides that all areas of cooperation of Abkhazian and South Ossetian populations with foreign countries should be controlled by the Georgian government and contacts should be made only with the permission of the Georgian government. Thus, the work of international organizations operating on the territory of Abkhazia are coordinated with Georgia’s state strategy of engagement, which discredits these initiatives in the eyes of the population of Abkhazia, while no international organizations other than the Red Cross operate in South Ossetia as of today.

According to many Abkhazian and Ossetian experts, the political bias of international institutions, and, consequently, their goals and objectives, result in a very limited international presence and effectiveness. South Ossetia is not engaged with many international organizations, and Abkhazia’s engagement with Western institutions is often made conditional on the need to maintain contacts with Georgia. Almost all international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) working in Abkhazia have a mandate as institutions which specialize in peacebuilding and confidence building or the provision of humanitarian aid, rather than institutions directly involved in implementing development programs. The experts point out that international institutions do not take into account the inequality of conflicting parties’ ‘starting’ positions after the 1992–1993 wars and the August 2008 one. While Georgia was given massive assistance for state building and the development of democratic institutions and infrastructure, Abkhazia and South Ossetia whose territories were devastated by the wars, found themselves with no assistance and in isolation for many years, adding insult to injury to the societies traumatized by violence.


Sanctions, blockades, and embargos are considered policy tools because of the existence of asymmetrical linkages that give to the more powerful entity leverage over the dependent one. As far as the cases discussed in the paper are concerned, isolation policies have not been effective in extracting any concessions and have served primarily as punitive actions administered in retaliation. Interestingly though, while the isolation policies are a demonstration of power on the one side, they have often been linked to considerations of justice, restoration, and reparations on the other. The prospect of the lifting of the isolation has also served as a bargaining chip during negotiations, although with mixed efficiency as the isolated entities often become accustomed to the situation, develop mistrust toward the sanctioning side, build alternative economic linkages, and are suspicious of the benefits of normalizing relations, in the extreme cases preferring ‘self-isolation’.

Isolationist policies, in all cases, cause economic hardships, limit economic opportunities, and prevent the creation of sources of income generation that require the opening up of local economies to the outside world. Furthermore, sanctions and blockades restrict mobility and curtail people-to-people contacts. This cost is particularly high for the societies that used to intermingle extensively and develop strong cross-communal and transnational cultural ties, including in the form of intermarriage as was the case for with Georgians and Ossetians. Moreover, isolation deepens conflict divides, keeps communities at both sides in fear, and contributes to the perpetuation of the enemy image, hindering the establishment of trust and the possibilities of finding a common ground.

The policies of isolation, therefore, are counter-productive for the settlement of conflicts. They tend to solidify mutually exclusive positions and discourage compromise. They generate a siege mentality and make the economic integration seem unappealing. Contrary to the accepted rationale, isolation policies do not make the target entity more cooperative, but reduce the propensity of societies to compromise. The consolidation of power structures in the hands of a few in a context where economic competition is restricted leads to the monopolization of entire sectors of economy and the resultant interest of economic elites to preserve the status quo that benefits them. It is, therefore, the ending of isolations and the re-establishment of linkages and connections, rather than the isolation policies, that contribute to normalization and conflict resolution.


Armenpress. Serzh Sargsyan announces about Armenia’s decision to join Customs Union. September 3, 2013.

Askari, Hossein, ed. Economic Sanctions: Examining Their Philosophy and Efficacy. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2003.

Aslanlı, Araz. Karabağ Sorunu ve Türkiye-Ermenistan Ilişkileri. Ankara: Berikan Yayınları, 2015.

BBC Russian Service. Turki v Moskve: v chem my vinovaty? December 16, 2015.

Cabinet of the Republic of Abkhazia. Rasporyazheniye Prem’yer-ministra Respubliki Abkhaziya Artura Mikvabiya. January 15, 2016.

Candan, Azer. Baba’dan Oğula Güney Kafkasya. İstanbul: Truva Yayınları, 2011.

Chichkin, Aleksey. “Rasshireniye YEAES: vygody dlya prodovol’stvennogo rynka Rossii.” TPP-Inform. September 14, 2015.

Civil Georgia. Closure of Ergneti Black Market Boosted Customs Revenues. September 2, 2004.

—. Russian Warns Georgia Against Ship Seizures. September 3, 2009.

Council of the Heads of States of the CIS. “Resheniye o merakh po uregulirovaniyu konflikta v Abkhazii, Gruziya.” Internet-portal of the CIS. January 19, 1996.

Directorate-General for Trade of the European Comission. European Union, Trade in goods with Armenia. June 21, 2016.

Drezner, Daniel W. The Sanctions Paradox: Economic Statecraft and International Relations. Cambridge Studies in International Relations 65. Cambridge, England; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Dzhikaev, Vakhtang, and Alan Parastaev. “Economy and Conflict in South Ossetia.” In From War Economies to Peace Economies in the South Caucasus, edited by Phil Champain, 180-215. London: International Alert, 2004.

EurAsia Daily. Sanktsii protiv Turtsii ne kosnut’sya imeyushchikh grazhdanstvo Abkhazii. January 13, 2016.

Freese, Theresa. “Smuggling to Survive.” EurasiaNet. n.d.

Gültekin Punsmann, Burcu. Abkhazia for the Integration of the Black Sea. Background Paper, Ankara: Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) and Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), 2009.

Gültekin Punsmann, Burcu. “Azerbaijan in the Changing Status Quo: Adaptation Strategies.” In Reassessing Security in the South Caucasus: Regional Conflicts and Transformation, edited by Annie Jafalian. Farnham, Surrey, England; Burlington, Vermont, USA: AShgate, 2011.

Gültekin Punsmann, Burcu, and Anna Gevorgyan. “Review of Legal Issues Between Armenia and Turkey.” Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV). 2012.

Hurriyet Daily News. Antalya sees record lows in Russian tourists with 81 percent decrease. February 8, 2016.

Interfax-Tourism. Turpotok iz Rossii v Turtsiyu s nachala goda snizilsya na 56%. April 28, 2016.

International Crisis Group. Abkhazia: Ways Forward. Europe Report N179. January 18, 2007.

Ivanitskaya, Nadezhda, Vasiliy Kashin, Yelena Mazneva, and Aleksey Nikolskiy. “Blokada.” Vedomosti. October 3, 2006.

Karapetyan, Armen. “Eurasian Union Fails to Deliver for Armenia.” Institute for War and Peace Reporting. September 15, 2015.

Keohane, Robert O., and Joseph S. Nye. Power and Interdependence. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977.

Kommersant. Turtsii vozdadut po uslugam. December 16, 2015.

“Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s Speech at the Expanded Session of the Security Council (January 8, 1998).” Chorrord Ishkhanutyun. July 15, 2006 (in Armenian).

Lobjakas, Ahto. “Georgia: Tbilisi Outraged At Moscow Withdrawal From Abkhaz Sanctions Treaty.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. March 7, 2008.

Lopez, Georga A., and David Cortright. “Economic Sanctions in Contemporary Global Relations.” Edited by David Cortright and George A. Lopez. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1995.

Mackey, Robert. “Armenia’s ‘Electric Yerevan’ Protesters Return to Streets Despite Arrests and Water Blasts.” The New York Times. June 23, 2015.

Markedonov, Sergey. “The Paradoxes of Russia’s Georgia Policy.” Russia in Global Affairs, no. 2 (May 2007).

Materik. Ministr YEEK: Armeniya mozhet stat’ liderom finansovoy integratsii v ramkakh YEAES. April 14, 2015.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Vystupleniye Ministra inostrannykh del Rossii S. V. Lavrova. October 3, 2006.

News. Serzh Sargsyan is calling back the Armenian-Turkish Protocols from the National Assembly. February 16, 2015 (in Armenian).

Permanent Representative of Georgia to the United Nations. “Letter Dated 3 April 1996 From The Permanent Representative of Georgia to the United Nations Addressed to the President of the Security Council.” Dag Digital Library. April 3, 1996.

Petelin, German, and Artur Gromov. “Turok vystavili s vystavki.” Gazeta. November 26, 2015.

President of Russia. Ukaz o merakh po obespecheniyu natsional’noy bezopasnosti Rossii i zashchite grazhdan Rossii ot prestupnykh i inykh protivopravnykh deystvii i o primenenii spetsial’nykh ekonomicheskikh mer v otnoshenii Turtsii. November 28, 2015.

Ria Novosti. V Yerevane schitayut, chto YEAES polozhitel’no vliyayet na ekonomiku Armenii. July 4, 2016.

Rozhdestvenskiy, Ilya. “Zhivushchiye v Rossii turki pozhalovalis’ na travlyu vlastey.” RosBusinessConsulting (RBC). December 1, 2015.

Standish, Reid. “Putin’s Eurasian Dream Is Over Before It Began.” Foreign Policy. January 6, 2015.

Surkov “Turtsiya Abkhaziyu ne priznayet, no pri etom pytayetsya zdes’ reshat’ ekonomicheskiye i politicheskiye voprosy”. December 29, 2015.

Tesemnikova, Yekaterina. “Rossiya snimayet blokadu s Abkhazii.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta. September 22, 1999.

The Union of Manufacturers and Businessmen of Armenia. Impediments to Direct Trade between Turkey and Armenia. October 2012.

Vinogradova, Yelena, and Yelizaveta Bazanova. “Rossiya rasshirila antituretskiye sanktsii.” Vedomosti. January 11, 2016.

Way, Lucan A., and Steven Levitsky. “Linkage, Leverage, and the Post-Communist Divide.” East European Politics and Societies 21, no. 1 (2007): 48-66.


[1] Turkey reacted very smoothly to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Ahmet Mesut Yılmaz’s government decided to take the risk of recognizing the independence of all the ex-Soviet states before the United States (US) and other Western powers made the same decision. One of its last acts, before leaving office was to recognize Azerbaijan on November 9, 1991. The incoming Süleyman Demirel’s government followed this policy by recognizing all the other ex-Soviet states on December 16.

[2] During a research conducted in February 2011 by the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) in collaboration with Union of Manufacturers’ and Businessmen of Armenia (UMBA), data was collected through interviews at the Turkish Ministry of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications; the Undersecretariat of Customs, and elsewhere. The research was reflected in a briefing note “Impediment to Direct Trade between Turkey and Armenia” (The Union of Manufacturers and Businessmen of Armenia 2012).

[3] The following communication, dated November 29, 2002, from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Turkey to the Chairman of the General Council, was circulated to WTO Members. “My authorities have instructed me to inform you and the General Council, prior to the approval of the agreement on the terms of accession for the Republic of Armenia, that the Republic of Turkey does not consent to the application as between it and the Republic of Armenia of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization and the Multilateral Trade Agreements in Annexes 1 and 2 thereto.” For more information, see: Gültekin Punsmann, Burcu, and Anna Gevorgyan. “Review of Legal Issues Between Armenia and Turkey.” Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV). 2012.

[4]The data was compiled by the Georgia-based think tank GeoWel within the EU-financed research project Intra- and Inter-Societal Sources of Instability in the Caucasus and EU (ISSICEU).

[5] The data was collected from Russian official documents and media reports.

[6] As a result, the flow of the Russian tourists to Georgia has sharply increased.

[7] The data was compiled by the Ankara Policy Center within the research project ISSICEU.

Leave a Comment


Subscribe to our Newsletter