Frozen conflict

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Geopolitics of Eastern Europe prior to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, showing the frozen conflict zones of Transnistria, Crimea, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Donbas (numbered 1–5), as well as Artsakh (shown as darker shaded region within Azerbaijan), Northern Cyprus (lighter region within Cyprus), and Kosovo (beige region within Serbia). Israel, Palestine, and the Golan Heights also appear on the map, although they are not highlighted. Frozen conflict zones elsewhere in the world do not appear in this map.

In international relations, a frozen conflict is a situation in which active armed conflict has been brought to an end, but no peace treaty or other political framework resolves the conflict to the satisfaction of the combatants. Therefore, legally the conflict can start again at any moment, creating an environment of insecurity and instability.

The term has been commonly used for post-Soviet conflicts, but it has also often been applied to other extended and unresolved territorial disputes.[1][2][3] The de facto situation that emerges may or may not match the official position asserted by either party to the conflict. For example, in the division of Korea both South Korea and North Korea officially assert claims to the entire peninsula; however, there exists a well-defined border between the two countries' areas of control.

Frozen conflicts sometimes result in partially recognized states. For example, the Republic of South Ossetia, a product of the frozen Georgian–Ossetian conflict, is recognized by eight other states, including five UN members; the other three of these entities are partially recognized states themselves.


In post-Soviet territories[edit]

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, a number of conflicts arose in areas of some of the post-Soviet states, usually where the new international borders did not match the ethnic affiliations of local populations. These conflicts have largely remained "frozen", with disputed areas under the de facto control of entities other than the countries to which they are internationally recognized as belonging, and which still consider those areas to be part of their territory. Most of the separatist states in the region are Russian state-backed. These interventions have been interpreted as a Kremlin strategy to destabilize other post-Soviet states and extend Russia's sphere of influence.[4][5]

Name Capital Population Area
Declaration of
Recognition by
UN members
Major ethnic groups De jure part of
 Transnistria Tiraspol 475,665 4,400 199009022 September 1990 none[a] Moldovans (28.6%), Russians (29.1%), Ukrainians (22.9%)  Moldova
 Artsakh Stepanakert 150,932 3,170 199109022 September 1991 none[a] Armenians (99%)  Azerbaijan
 Abkhazia Sukhumi 242,862 8,660 1990082525 August 1990 5[b] Abkhaz (50.5%), Georgians (19%), Armenians (17%)[c][6]  Georgia
 South Ossetia Tskhinvali 51,547 3,900 1991092828 November 1991 5[b] Ossetians (89.9%), Georgians (7.4%).


Since the ceasefire which ended the Transnistria War (1990–1992), the Russian-influenced breakaway republic of Transnistria has controlled the easternmost strip of the territory of Moldova. The republic is internationally unrecognized, and Moldova continues to claim the territory.


The situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region prior to the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan,[7] but most of the region is governed by a de facto independent state with an Armenian ethnic majority established on the basis of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. Since 1988, the Karabakh movement strove for the transfer of the region to Armenia. In 1991 Nagorno-Karabakh declared its independence from Azerbaijan. During the subsequent First Nagorno-Karabakh War until 1994, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic could not only defend its existence, but also significantly enlarge its territory, and crucially establish a land border with Armenia, by annexing adjacent Azeri territories. After 1994, the conflict remained practically frozen in this situation; in 2017 Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was renamed as Republic of Artsakh. In 2020, the conflict escalated again, and following the signing of a ceasefire, it was agreed that Azerbaijan would regain the territories surrounding the borders of the original Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, as well as any parts of Nagorno-Karabakh it had advanced into as a result of its military actions.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia[edit]

The Abkhaz–Georgian conflict and Georgian–Ossetian conflict have led to the creation of two largely unrecognized states within the internationally recognized territory of Georgia. The 1991–92 South Ossetia War and the 1992–93 War in Abkhazia, followed by the Russo-Georgian War of August 2008, have left the Russian-backed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in de facto control of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions in north and northwest Georgia.

In Asia[edit]


India claims the entire erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir based on an instrument of accession signed in 1947. Pakistan claims Jammu and Kashmir based on its majority Muslim population, whereas China claims the Shaksam Valley and Aksai Chin.

India and Pakistan have fought at least three wars over the disputed region of Kashmir, in 1947, 1965, and 1999. India claims the entire area of the former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir on the basis of its ruler formally acceding to India[8] amidst a Pakistani invasion after partition, and administers approximately 43% of it. Pakistan has also claimed it since the partition—based on its majority Muslim population, and controls approximately 37% of the region while encouraging proxy-war tactics in Kashmir.[9][10] The remaining territory is controlled by the People's Republic of China; some of it was occupied during the Sino-Indian War, and some was conferred on the PRC by Pakistan.

Mainland China and Taiwan[edit]

The conflict between mainland China and Taiwan has been frozen since 1949. No armistice or peace treaty has ever been signed and debate continues as to whether the civil war has legally ended.[11][12] Officially, both the People's Republic of China (PRC) based in Beijing and the Republic of China (ROC) based in Taipei consider themselves to be the sole legitimate government of the entirety of China.[13] While the latter especially is not recognized by a majority of countries and states internationally, it remains a de facto independent administration in Taiwan and several other islands, and the PRC's de facto administration is in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.


The Korean conflict was frozen from 1953, when a ceasefire ended the Korean War. Both North Korea and South Korea governments claim the entire Korean peninsula, while de facto control is divided along the military demarcation line in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Both North and South Korea are recognized by the vast majority of other nations, although they do not recognize each other.

Israel, Palestine, and the Golan Heights[edit]

Area C (blue) is part of the West Bank under full Israeli control, in 2011

The Arab–Israeli conflict is a perennial conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours, including the Palestinian National Authority. Israel refuses to recognize Palestinian statehood, while some Arab countries and groups refuse to recognize Israel. Israel has de facto control of East Jerusalem and claims it as its integral territory, although it is not internationally recognized as such. Similarly most of the Golan Heights are currently under de facto Israeli control and civil administration, whereas most of the international community rejects that claim. The United States formally recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019 through a proclamation by President Donald Trump. However, in recent years, a few Arab states and Israel had formed an alliance to contain the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies as part of the Iran–Israel proxy conflict.

In Europe[edit]


A map of divided Cyprus

The Cyprus dispute has been frozen since 1974. The northern part of Cyprus is under the de facto control of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but this is not recognized internationally except by Turkey.[14][15]


The dispute over the status of Kosovo remains frozen since the end of the Kosovo War, fought in 1998–1999 between Yugoslav forces (the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) and the ethnically Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army. The Kosovo region has been administered independently by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo since the war. Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, but it is not recognized by all countries worldwide, as Serbia still considers Kosovo part of its territory.[16][17]

In Africa[edit]

Western Sahara[edit]

Status quo in Western Sahara since 1991 cease-fire: most under Moroccan control (Southern Provinces), with inner Polisario-controlled areas forming the Sahrawi Arab Republic.

The Western Sahara conflict has been largely frozen since a ceasefire in 1991, although various disturbances such as the Independence Intifada have broken out since then. Control of the territory of Western Sahara remains divided between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Recognized by other non-UN member states
  2. ^ a b Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru and Syria
  3. ^ From Abkhaz government’s official census data (2011). Unofficial estimates believe that the Abkhaz and Armenian populations are roughly equal in number.


  1. ^ Simon Tisdall (2010-09-22). "This dangerous new world of self-interested nations". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
  2. ^ "North and South Korea: A Frozen Conflict on the Verge of Unfreezing?". Retrieved 2014-03-22.
  3. ^ "Europe: Frozen conflicts". The Economist. 2008-11-19. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
  4. ^ Walker, Robert Orttung, Christopher. "Putin's Frozen Conflicts". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2021-05-20.
  5. ^ Jukic, Luka (20 February 2019). "How Russia Keeps Post-Soviet States in Its Orbit | Palladium Magazine". Retrieved 2021-05-29.
  6. ^ "An unlikely home". openDemocracy. 4 January 2016.
  7. ^ "General Assembly adopts resolution reaffirming territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, demanding withdrawal of all Armenian forces". United Nations. 14 March 2008. Retrieved 30 Aug 2015.
  8. ^ en:Instrument_of_Accession_(Jammu_and_Kashmir), oldid 912696457[circular reference]
  9. ^ Irfan Haider (28 September 2015). "PM Nawaz urges Ban Ki-moon for plebiscite in Kashmir". Dawn. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  10. ^ Durrani, Atiq (4 February 2013). "PAK-INDIA Dialogue: Single-Point-Agenda: KASHMIR". PKKH. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  11. ^ Green, Leslie C. (1993). The Contemporary Law of Armed Conflict. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-7190-3540-1.
  12. ^ "The U.S. Army Should Plan To Send Four Divisions To Taiwan: Expert". Forbes. 22 September 2020.
  13. ^ Hudson, Christopher (2014). The China Handbook. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-134-26966-2.
  14. ^ Foster, Peter (2016-08-21). "Hopes rise for deal to end 40-year frozen conflict in Cyprus". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  15. ^ Byrne, Sean J. (Winter 2006). "The Roles of External Ethnoguarantors and Primary Mediators in Cyprus and Northern Ireland". Conflict Resolution Quarterly. 24 (2): 149–172. doi:10.1002/crq.164. Cyprus is more of a frozen conflict, and a long-standing one, than Northern Ireland, where the peace process has in a real sense gone much further down the road to settlement.
  16. ^ Bancroft, Ian (2008-06-09). "Ian Bancroft: A new frozen conflict in Kosovo?". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  17. ^ "KOSOVO: RUSSIA'S FIFTH FROZEN CONFLICT? - Jamestown". Jamestown. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  18. ^ Zivkovic, Nikola (26 December 2012). "Western Sahara: A Frozen Conflict". Journal of Regional Security. 7.