Proxy agents, auxiliary forces, and sovereign defection: assessing the outcomes of using non-state actors in civil conflicts

Vladimir Rauta

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    This article interrogates the role of non-state armed actors in the Ukrainian civil conflict. The aim of this article is twofold. First, it seeks to identify the differences between the patterns of military intervention in Crimea (direct, covert intervention), and those in the South-East (mixed direct and indirect – proxy – intervention). It does so by assessing the extent of Russian troop involvement and that of external sponsorship to non-state actors. Second, it puts forward a tentative theoretical framework that allows distinguishing between the different outcomes the two patterns of intervention generate. Here, the focus is on the role of non-state actors in the two interventionist scenarios. The core argument is that the use of nonstate actors is aimed at sovereign defection. The article introduces the concept of sovereign defection and defines it as a break-away from an existing state. To capture the differences between the outcomes of the interventions in Crimea and South-East, sovereign defection is classified into two categories: inward and outward. Outward sovereign defection is equated to the territorial seizure of the Crimean Peninsula by Russian Special Forces, aided by existing criminal gangs acting in an auxiliary capacity. Inward sovereign defection refers to the external sponsorship of the secessionist rebels in South-East Ukraine and their use as proxy forces with the purpose of creating a political buffer-zone in the shape of a frozen conflict. To demonstrate these claims, the article analyses the configuration of the dynamics of violence in both regions. It effectively argues that, in pursuing sovereign defection, the auxiliary and proxy forces operate under two competing dynamics of violence, delegative and non-delegative, with distinct implications to the course and future of the conflict.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)91-111
    JournalSoutheast European and Black Sea Studies
    Issue number1
    Early online date29 Feb 2016
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


    • Proxy war
    • proxy agent
    • auxiliary force
    • Ukraine
    • sovereign defection
    • civil war


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