Vienna, August 29 – Prior to Moscow’s extension of diplomatic recognition to Abkhazia and South Ossetia – a step no other country has yet followed – many in both Russia and the West argued that Moscow should not take that step lest others raise the issue of independence for some of the non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation.
Now that the Kremlin has gone ahead anyway, ever more people in the West, including both politicians and diaspora communities with close ties to ethnic minorities in the Russian Federation are raising this issue in order to highlight what all of them insist is a demonstration of Moscow’s double standards.
And while it is unlikely that any Western government would in fact move to recognize any of these countries, such statements will not only infuriate the Russian government and many ordinary Russians but encourage independence-minded people in at least some of these areas, forcing Moscow to devote more resources, including coercive ones, to control the situation.
The current discussion began, according to most accounts, when Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate for president of the United States, suggested that “after Russia illegally recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Western countries ought to think about the independence of the North Caucasus and Chechnya.”
“I think in the coming weeks,” McCain continued, “we will conduct a serious discussion on this theme. Russia accuses the West of double standards. We will reply to these accusations of the Kremlin and point to its double standards regarding Chechnya and the North Caucasus (kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2008/08/28/60612.shtml).
But the senator’s words are only part of a much larger discussion of this possibility of a Western challenge in response to Moscow’s so far solitary recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries. And there have been three developments on this front that are especially worthy of attention.
First and not surprisingly, Chechens in Georgia have called for international recognition of their homeland, even though its pro-Moscow president Ramzan Kadyrov has dismissed that possibility. Khizri Aldamov, a leader of the Chechen diaspora in Tbilisi, said yesterday that Russia had made “a big mistake” by its moves, one that would echo across the North Caucasus.
He pointed out that “Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia and Karachayevo-Cherkessia – for these peoples, the main goal is to leave Russia. They are all rising” against Moscow, and he called on them to “unite in a war with Russia,” a step he said “the world should support (http://www.nr2.ru/incidents/193414.html).
Second, celebrations by Circassian diaspora groups of Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia almost certainly do not represent only support for Moscow’s action. Indeed, in almost every case, they reflect a desire that if the situation in the Caucasus loosens up, their lands too will have a chance to gain recognition as independent states.
And third, and most expansively, the Belarusian Youth Front, which operates in Prague rather than in Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s Mensk, issued a call yesterday for the West to extend recognition to all the captive peoples inside the Russian Federation and now ruled from Moscow (http://naviny.by/rubrics/politic/2008/08/27/ic_news_112_296538/).
“The events of the last month have shown the world,” the Youth Front said in its declaration, “that the use of force by Russia is intended to result in the restoration of the Soviet Union and the re-establishment of the ‘empire of evil.’ The occupation policy which the Kremlin is conducting must be condemned by all the civilized countries of the world.”
In response to Moscow’s move on South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the authors of the appeal said that they “call upon the countries of Europe and American to recognize the independence of the Chechen Republic, the Republic of Daghestan, and the Republic of Ingushetia,” whose peoples have been struggling for their independence for more than a century.
And they added that “if this is not sufficient for an end of Russian aggression, then the international community should raise the question about the independence of the other autonomous republics of the Russian Federation,” including “Adygeya, the Altai, Buryatia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachayevo-Cherkesia, Karelia, Komi, Mari El, Mordovia, Sakha, [North] Ossetia, Tatarstan, Tuva, Udmurtia, Khakasia and Chuvasia.”