Saturday, August 23, 2008

Window on Eurasia: How Many Countries Would Follow Moscow in Recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 23 – Georgian Foreign Minister Yekaterina Tkeshelashvili says that if Moscow goes ahead and recognizes either or both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries, that action will do little besides becoming an embarrassment for Russia because no other country will follow its lead.
But some commentators and officials in Moscow and elsewhere disagree, arguing either that Russian recognition alone would change the situation much as Turkey’s lone recognition of North Cyprus has or that either a few countries like Belarus and Venezuela could be counted to follow Moscow’s lead or perhaps as many as 15 to 20.
An article on the news portal today brings together the various strands of this debate, one that is likely to heat up soon either if Moscow takes unilateral action soon or if Abkhazia and South Ossetia carry out the referenda on independence that Russian parliamentarians have suggested (
If Moscow takes unilateral action, Tkeshelashvili said at a briefing in Tbilisi yesterday, that step will not have “any serious legal consequences” because such a step would “contradict international law.” What it would do, she continued, is to “show yet again the intentions [Moscow] had when it invaded the territory of Georgia.”
As a result, the Georgian foreign minister insisted in the words of the report, “such a step would be dangerous for the political image of Russia because the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia are recognized by the entire international community” except of course for Russia.
But many others have called into question Tkeshelashvili’s confidence. Aleksey Makarkin who is the deputy director of the Moscow Center of Political Technology, according to “Vedomosti,” is arguing that a Kremlin decision to respond positively to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian calls for independence is possible, depending on two factors.
On the one hand, he said, Russia will want to find at least one other country – even if it is only Belarus – to join Moscow in doing so, lest Abkhazia and South Ossetia find themselves in a situation like Northern Cyprus “which is recognized only by Turkey,” something that would create new problems for both them and the Russian government.
And on the other, Makarkin said, Moscow will have to test the waters with Moldova and Azerbaijan and be in a position to explain to them that it will not adopt a similar position toward Karabakh and Transdniestria if Baku and Chisinau show “a sufficiently constructive” attitude toward what Moscow is doing.
Meanwhile, Russian regional development minister Dmitry Kozak, who has a longstanding interest in the Caucasus, told ITAR-Tass that after what has happened in recent days, Moscow will be even more inclined to support the independence of South Ossetia than it was earlier, regardless of how many other countries might go along.
Vladimir Lukin, Moscow’s former ambassador in Washington and now plenipotentiary for human rights, argues, “Deutsche Welle” reported, that Moscow should delay taking action on the Abkhaz and South Ossetian requests lest it “provoke” NATO into admitting Georgia immediately.
Russia finds itself in a difficult position, “Vremya novostey” reports. If Moscow moves to recognize these two republics, “then this can be interpreted as a retreat from the promises it gave to the West community,” but “if it does not start [the process of recognition], then it will be retreating from promises given to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”
However that might be, the paper continued, Russia’s foreign ministry clearly wants to “avoid a situation when after Russia no one will recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia besides Belarus, Cuba or Venezuela,” something that because of comparisons with Kosovo, would highlight Russia’s isolation rather than confirm its strength.
Meanwhile, an article in “The Wall Street Journal” noted that Abkhazian officials believe that the strength of Abkhaz diasporas in Turkey, Jordan and Syria would convince these countries to follow Russia’s lead, especially since the Abkhaz in these three states are being supported by the much larger and more politically active Circassian communities there.
But at least one Russian commentator believes a Russian move would prompt a larger group of countries to do the same. Maksim Shevchenko, a frequent commentator, said that 15 to 20 countries would follow Russia’s lead more or less immediately, with even more to follow, something that would “mean that the sovereignty [of the two] would be solidified.”
Obviously, these various projections reflect the hopes of those making them, but they also provide a road map for future action both by those who hope Abkhazia and South Ossetia will become independent and also by those who oppose that and want to find a way to ensure the territorial integrity of Georgia.

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