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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 perennial territorial disputes. The de facto situation that emerges may match the de jure position asserted by one party to the conflict; for example, Russia claims and effectively controls Crimea following the 2014 Crimean crisis despite Ukraine's continuing claim to the region. Alternatively, the de facto situation may not match either side's official claim. The division of Korea is an example of the latter situation: both the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of 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
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.
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.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed territory, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but most of the region is governed by the Republic of Artsakh (formerly named Nagorno-Karabakh Republic), a de facto independent state with Armenian ethnic majority established on the basis of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. Azerbaijan has not exercised political authority over the region since the advent of the Karabakh movement in 1988. Since the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994, representatives of the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been holding peace talks mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group on the region's disputed status.
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 War in Abkhazia (1992–93), followed by the Russo-Georgian War of August 2008, have left the Russian-backed Republic of South Ossetia and Republic of Abkhazia in de facto control of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions in north and northwest Georgia.
In 2014, Crimea was occupied by the Russian troops without insignia while Ukraine was still recovering from large scale violence in the capital, and soon afterwards was admitted into the Russian Federation. This is widely regarded as an annexation of the peninsula by Russia, and is considered likely to result in another post-Soviet frozen conflict. While there are similarities between Transnistria, Abkhazia and the 2014–2015 War in Donbass, where the unrecognized Donetsk People's Republic and Lugansk People's Republic have taken de facto control of areas in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, the conflict in Donbass is not a frozen conflict yet as ceasefire violations are keeping the fighting on a low burner. However, some experts predict a frozen future for this conflict as well.
|Name||Capital||Population||Area (km2)||Declaration of independence||Recognition by UN members||Major ethnic groups||De jure part of|
|Transnistria||Tiraspol||475,665||4,400||2 September 1990||none[a]||Moldovans (32.1%), Russians (30.4%), Ukrainians (28.8%)||Moldova|
|Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh)||Stepanakert||150,932||11,458||2 September 1991||none[a]||Armenians (99%)||Azerbaijan|
|Abkhazia||Sukhumi||242,862||8,660||25 August 1990||5[b]||Abkhaz (50.5%), Georgians (19%), Armenians (17%)[c]||Georgia|
|South Ossetia||Tskhinvali||51,547||3,900||28 November 1991||5[b]||Ossetians (89.9%), Georgians (7.4%).||Georgia|
|Republic of Crimea||Simferopol||1,891,465||26,100||18 March 2014[d]||Considered part of Russia by 10 others[e]||Russians (65.2%), Ukrainians (16.0%), Crimean Tatars (12.6%)||Ukraine|
|Donetsk People's Republic[f]||Donetsk||2,302,444||—[g]||12 May 2014||none||Ukrainians (56.9%), Russians (38.2%)[h]||Ukraine|
|Luhansk People's Republic[f]||Luhansk||1,433,280||—[g]||12 May 2014||none||Ukrainians (58.0%), Russians (39.1%)[i]||Ukraine|
Others in Asia
East and South Asia
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 Kashmir and Jammu, of which it administers approximately 43%. Its claims are contested by Pakistan, which controls approximately 37% of the region and urges for plebiscite in Kashmir. The remaining territory is controlled by the People's Republic of China, with which India is again in dispute and have fought the Sino-Indian War.
The conflict between mainland China and Taiwan remains frozen since 1949. Both the People's Republic of China in the Mainland and the Republic of China in Taiwan consider the other to be part of its territory. While the latter especially is not recognized by a majority of countries and states internationally, it remains a de facto independent administration in Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, and PRC's de facto administration remains in the Mainland.
The division of Korea was frozen from 1953, when a ceasefire ended the Korean War; until 27 April 2018, when the two countries agreed to end the war formally. Both North Korea and South Korea governments claim the entire peninsula, while de facto control is divided along the military demarcation line in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
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.
Hostilities of the 1991 Gulf War ended when the United Nations and Iraq signed a ceasefire agreement on April 3, 1991; Kuwait was liberated from being annexed by Iraq and its sovereignty was recognized by the latter. Due to sporadic conflicts through the Iraqi no-fly zones, the war remained frozen for the time being until 12 years later when the United States and its "Coalition of the willing" launched the invasion of Iraq and removed dictator Saddam Hussein from power over the non-compliance with UN Resolutions passed against Iraq following the 1991 war.
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 without an assured peace deal, 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 Syrian Civil War is a multi-sided unconventional conflict fought in the Syria region, being the largest-scale war of the 21st century. As of March 2019, after nearly 8 years of war, the Syrian Armed Forces of the Ba'athist Syrian Arab Republic held 60.2% of Syrian territories; SDF of the Rojava held 28.9%; rebel groups (incl. HTS) & Turkey 8.7%; ISIL 2.2%.
Others in Europe and Africa
The dispute over the status of Kosovo remains frozen since the end of the Kosovo War, fought in 1998–1999 between Yugoslav forces (FR Yugoslavia) and the ethnically Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army. The Kosovo region has been administered independently 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.
The Western Sahara conflict has been largely frozen since a ceasefire in 1991, although various disturbances have broken out since then. Control of the territory of Western Sahara remains divided between Morocco and the Polisario Front.
- Recognized by other non-UN member states
- Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru and Syria
- From Abkhaz government’s official census data (2011). Unofficial estimates believe that the Abkhaz and Armenian populations are roughly equal in number.
- Federal subject of Russia
- Recognised as part of Russia by Afghanistan, Bolivia, Cuba, Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
- The qualification of "frozen conflict" is debated as the War in Donbass is still ongoing.
- Moving conflict line
- Figures for the Donetsk Oblast.
- Figures for the Luhansk Oblast.
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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.
- "More than 570 thousand people were killed on the Syrian territory within 8 years of revolution demanding freedom, democracy, justice, and equality". 15 March 2019.
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