Baku, February 28 – Some analysts have argued that Moscow opposes Kosovo’s independence because of Kremlin fears that international recognition of Pristine could lead to Russia’s loss of control of some of its own border areas, especially in the North Caucasus.
And others have suggested that the Russian government has done so in order to curry favor with other countries that face significant territorial challenges of their own and thus use this issue to mobilize parts of the international community against the United States and Western Europe.
But Moscow’s own handling of the so-called “unrecognized” states in the former Soviet states – Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Karabakh, and Transdniestria – suggests that there is yet another reason, at least in terms of what the Russian government is prepared to do with respect to the aspirations of the residents of these breakaway republics.
In an article in yesterday’s Moscow Times, Yuliya Latynina makes that point explicitly, beginning with the observation that as far as the situations in Kosovo and Abkhazia in particular are concerned “Russians are split between two camps – patriots and liberals.”
The “patriots believe that Kosovo should be a part of Serbia,” she writes, but they are equally adamant that “Abkhazia should not be a part of Georgia.” Liberals take just the opposite view. They agree only that “Kosovo is one thing and Abkhazia is quite another.”
According to Latynina, “however, the two cases are identical. Both Serbia and Georgia freed themselves from the influence of the Soviet Union. After gaining freedom, both began instituting repressive measures against ethnic minorities [and] both of these small countries decided to become small versions of the Soviet Union.
Europe’s approach, she continues, is “very rational” in that “it does not want to support a weak semi-state in the center of the continent,” one certain to be wracked by internecine struggles for decades or longer. And to prevent that, the West is prepared to recognize Kosovo’s independence and help it build an effective state and a stable society.
Some in Georgia and elsewhere assume that Moscow is helping Abkhazia to achieve the same thing. But that is a superficial reading of the situation. What is actually happening is that the Russian government “is really doing everything to ensure that Abkhazia never gains independence.”
And that is because, Latynina says, “Russia is less interested in helping the people of Abkhazia than it is in causing problems for Georgia” by retaining a powerful lever Moscow can use against Tbilisi whenever that suits Russian purposes and keeping the entire region unsettled and thus less attractive for other countries to get involved.
Were Moscow really interested either in principles or in stability around its borders, the Russian government would be doing something different. But in the end, Latynina suggests, that may not matter as much as many in Moscow, Tbilisi or elsewhere now appear to think.
And thus “any way you look at it, Abkhazia is doomed to become independent,” because “today's democratic Georgia” must pay for two mistakes of its predecessor – “sending tanks into Abkhazia in 1992 and, even worse, losing the war.” Today’s “Serbia is also paying a high price for the crimes of former President Slobodan Milosevic.”