Day: February 19, 2008

The Politics of Precedent – 2

Vladimir Socor takes a more skeptical view of Russia’s reaction to Kosovar independence, and considers that Russia’s bluff has been called on the issue:

Moscow’s threat to use Kosova’s secession as a “precedent” or “model” for resolving post-Soviet conflicts was never a credible threat, unless the Kremlin was bent on incurring severe damage and no gain to its policies on a wide range of interests: Relations with the West, with members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (far beyond those immediately affected by secessions) and with international organizations, as well as Russia’s own security situation in the North Caucasus would have been jeopardized.

Those concerned about Russian exploitation of a Kosova “precedent” overlooked the fact that Moscow remains more than content to exploit the existing, “frozen” situation in the unresolved conflicts. This it can continue doing effectively and at low cost to itself, as long as the West does not prioritize the resolution of the post-Soviet conflicts.

Indications are now multiplying that Moscow has blinked on its most specific threat: that to “recognize the independence” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia had singled out these two Georgian territories as prime candidates for “recognition.” This line of attack contradicted Moscow’s own claim that resolution of all secessionist conflicts in Europe and the world must follow a common “model” or “single standard.” Such selectivity about Abkhazia and South Ossetia reflected Moscow’s special enmity toward Georgia, the immediate territorial proximity (whereas Karabakh and Transnistria are not contiguous to Russia), and the Russian policy of allowing Armenia de facto a free hand in Karabakh, while Moscow claims de facto a free hand in the two Georgian territories.

Largely for those reasons, Moscow handed out Russian citizenship en masse in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, so as to claim a right of intrusive protection there, including military presence. At the same time it left the issues of citizenship and security protection in Karabakh up to Armenia. And it has been negotiating with Moldova since 2006 regarding a settlement that would leave Transnistria within Moldova, in return for a certain measure of Russian political and military oversight over a Moldovan state “reunified” in that way.

These highly differentiated, expediency-based approaches nullified from the outset Russia’s argument about a “Kosovo precedent” with general applicability. Had it applied such a “precedent” unilaterally in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Kremlin would have been exposed as singularizing Georgia and targeting it for a wanton act of aggression. With Russian troops and Russian-appointed local leaders already deployed in those two enclaves, any Russian “recognition” would have been seen worldwide as open military occupation and annexation. Moscow did not need to risk such a scenario, since the existing situation suits Russian purposes well.

As Kosova’s declaration of independence and Western recognition drew near, Moscow must have concluded that its threats against Georgia were unusable threats. Consequently, Moscow seems to be seeking a face-saving exit from a political impasse into which it has driven itself. Suddenly the Kremlin is downplaying its all-too-recent, dire warnings.

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The Exception

Commenting on the news of Fidel Castro’s resignation, Carl Bildt points out:

I dag är Kuba det enda landet i den västra hemisfären som saknar en folkvald regering. I stället tyngs det av ett föråldrat och förstelnat kommunistiskt styre.

Today Cuba is the only country in the western hemisphere which lacks a popularly elected government. Instead it is weighed down by an obsolete and fossilized Communist regime.

The Politics of Precedent

RFE/RL’s Brian Whitmore, on the wider repercussions of Kosovo’s declaration of independence:

The Chechen situation places Moscow uncomfortably between two contradictory sentiments. While it has done little to dampen separatist sentiments in territories affecting its neighbors, it has staunchly rejected the Kosovo model for its own breakaway conflicts like that in Chechnya.

Indeed, analysts have pointed out, the Kremlin is entering perilous and unpredictable territory by raising the issue of a Kosovo precedent. For this reason, [Sabine]Freizer says she does not expect Moscow to press the issue very hard.

“Russia is taking a risk by saying that Kosovo is now a case that is going to set a precedent in other parts of the former Soviet space,” Freizer says. “They risk having this go beyond Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester — and perhaps even Nagorno-Karabakh — to their own territory of the Russian Federation, to Chechnya or other parts of the North Caucasus.”

Officials of other CIS states with breakaway conflicts are, not surprisingly, far from enthusiastic about the Kosovo declaration.

In Georgia, authorities have rejected any comparison between its breakaway enclaves and Kosovo, adding that they have no plans to recognize the former Serbian territory.

“Georgia is not planning to assume any position in relation to Kosovo, nor is it going to recognize it,” Temur Iakobashvili, Georgia’s state minister for reintegration, tells RFE/RL’s Georgian Service.

“This process has evolved independently from us, and it’s important that we stop looking for parallels between Kosovo and conflicts that exist in Georgia. Such parallels don’t exist, and the sooner we forget the word ‘Kosovo’ the better it will be for us, as well as for the Abkhaz and the Russians,” Iakobashvili adds. “Georgia is not going to recognize Kosovo — this is not in our interests — just like I think Russia is not going to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”

Then there is Azerbaijan, which has spent a decade-and-a-half engaged in a protracted conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian enclave located within Azerbaijani territory that functions as a de facto independent republic with its own provisional government.

Baku fears Yerevan may use the Kosovo precedent during talks on Karabakh to upset the ongoing peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia. To that end, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Khazar Ibrahim said Baku will not recognize Kosovo, calling Pristina’s move “against the principles of international law and illegal.”