Monday, February 18, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Despite Kremlin Opposition, Russia’s Muslims Back Kosovo’s Independence

Paul Goble

Baku, February 18 – Kosovo “has the right to independent existence as a state,” a leader of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR) said last night, because the conflict there between Serbs and Albanians has such “deep roots” and has cost so many lives that the coexistence of these two communities in a single state is “impossible.”
In making this declaration, Nafigulla Ashirov, the SMR’s deputy head and one of the most outspoken of Russia’s Muslim leaders, added that it was important that the European community “assume responsibility” for the security of Kosovo’s Serbian population (
Other Islamic leaders in Russia, including Talgat Tajuddin, the Supreme Mufti of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD), are likely to echo the Kremlin’s opposition to Kosovo’s independence when they issue statements today or tomorrow. But Ashirov’s remarks almost certainly reflect the actual views of most Muslims there.
That is all the more likely to be the case because spokesmen for the Moscow Patriarchate have indicated that their opposition to Kosovo’s move has more to do with their worries about the fate of the Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo than with the principle of the territorial integrity of states (
And consequently, the somewhat hyperbolic statements of some Moscow commentators already today that “the independence of Kosovo has split the world” into two halves ( may apply with perhaps equal force to the situation within the Russian Federation as well.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, Iliya II, the catholicos of the autocephalous Orthodox Church there, has weighed in against any moves by Moscow, as a response to the Kosovo declaration to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (
In his Sunday homily yesterday, Iliya, referring to Moscow’s “threats” to do so, said that he wanted to remind Russia that while “the Georgian people is very often divided in its thinking … all of us – the government, the opposition, the church, and the people – are of one mind that Georgia was and must remain an indivisible state.”
Despite Russian rhetoric including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s statement on Friday that Moscow will modify its approach to the two so-called “unrecognized” states within Georgia if Kosovo went ahead with its declaration as it now has, Russia is unlikely to do anything precipitous.
While some in Abkhazia and South Ossetia say they plan to appeal to the international community for recognition with the argument that there should be “no double standards” on this issue (, both Moscow and the leaders in both of these regions will proceed cautiously.
That is because, Dmitry Medoyev, South Ossetia’s representative in Moscow, said in an interview published by this morning, the Ossetins back Moscow’s view that international law must be followed rather than violated as he suggested that West had done in Kosovo (
There must not be any “double standards,” he continued, and South Ossetia’s push for independence will continue. As a result, he strongly implied that it would not achieve international recognition soon, although he explicitly warned that Tbilisi as “a satellite of the United States” may exploit the situation to move against his republic.

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