Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Taiwan, Not Kosovo, Moscow’s Model for ‘Unrecognized’ States

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 22 – Moscow’s latest moves concerning Abkhazia and South Ossetia are a response to Western recognition of Kosovo, but the model the Russian government is using is not the one the West adopted on that Balkan land but rather like the one the U.S.adopted toward Taiwan after Washington recognized Beijing.
Like Washington in the latter case, Moscow analyst Sergei Markedonov argues in an essay posted online yesterday, Moscow is far more interested in politics than legalities and thus more concerned with providing “an umbrella” over these two “unrecognized” states than in securing their genuine independence.
And also like Washington in its dealing with Beijing and Taipei, Markedonov says, Moscow recognizes that it risks destabilizing the region around Russia and isolating itself on many far more important issues if it were to try to promote de jure independence for the two (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=13833).
Other Russian commentators have invoked the Taiwan example in their discussions of Russian policy not only because it appears to offer a relatively risk-free way for Moscow to increase its support for these states without risking a reaction but also because it is a policy that the United States will find difficult to reject.
But Markedonov goes further in three respects. First, he underscores the distinctions some more thoughtful analysts and officials are making among the “unrecognized” states, viewing South Ossetia as an irredenta issue, Abkhazia as a potential independent state, and both Transdniestria and Karabakh as totally different.
Moscow will make a terrible mistake if it tries to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to even two of them, let alone all four.
Second, the specialist on ethno-politics points to the ways in which Moscow can protect both its citizens and its interests by using the Taiwan model for South Ossetia and Abkhazia without doing anything irrevocable that might provoke a crisis with unintended and “unpredictable” consequences.
The institutions it already has on the ground, including the offices of the Russian foreign ministry in the Southern Federal District, can do what Moscow needs.
And third, Markedonov argues, this strategy is one that if carefully conducted will both represent the “adequate’ response to Kosovo that many Russian nationalists want and serve Moscow’s broader interests as well. For that to happen, he suggests, Moscow needs to adopt the following stance.
First of all, it must proceed cautiously in terms of actions if not in terms of rhetoric, working first of all to “convince” the major powers that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are viable as de facto independent states and that Moscow’s involvement with them is “stabilizing.”
Moreover, he insists, the Kremlin must work systematically to suggest that “the existence of de facto states represents in itself a stabilizing factor” in Eurasia and that “the destruction of their [current political] infrastructure would [entail] e a much greater problem than its [continued] existence.”
And finally, the Russian leadership must make clear to the Russian political class that “the juridical recognition” of these states is not the key thing. The main thing is political cooperation and cooperation in the sphere of security.” Consequently, Russia should not force the process of the official recognition of the de facto states.”
Far more important if Russia is to advance its interests rather than those of someone else is to ensure that they have the opportunity to assume a higher public profile, know they have Moscow’s “political support” and act on the basis of “political realism,” rather than emotionally on behalf of some ethno-national cause, .
In sum, Markedonov writes, Russia must explain that ”the disintegration of the USSR which was so unloved by the West will be completed only when post-Soviet realities [like these “unrecognized” states] are taken into consideration” not only by the countries of the region but by the broader international community.
If Moscow does proceed in this way, the “unrecognized” states are likely to remain a prominent feature of the Eurasian map for a long time to come, a constant reminder that the borders Stalin drew in the 1920s were designed not to reduce tensions but to create them -- however much many may want to think otherwise.

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