Vienna, September 11 – By sending the Russian army across an internationally recognized border, Moscow crossed the first Rubicon in Georgia. By unilaterally recognizing two states after that act of aggression, Moscow crossed a second. Now it stands on the banks of a third: annexing South Ossetia and including Abkhazia in a union state.
Edward Kokoity, the president of South Ossetia, said today that he wants South Ossetia to unite with North Ossetia and become part of the Russian Federation, but he refused to say how long this process might take or what the attitude of the Russian government toward such a step might be (RIA Novosti cited by www.mk.ru/blogs/MK/2008/09/11/srochno/370358/).
And Sergey Bagapsh, the president of Abkhazia, said that his republic intends to seek membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and in that body’s collective security union, and to join with the Russian Federation and Belarus in the Union State Moscow and Minsk have agreed to (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1024217).
Unlike South Ossetia’s Kokoity, however, Bagapsh added that Abkhazia has no intention of becoming part of the Russian Federation. “The people of Abkhazia made its choice in a referendum,” he said, and in that poll, they voted for independence,” a position he said his government would respect.
Both comments were made informally at the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual Moscow gathering that this year attracted some 80 political scientists, analysts and journalists from Russia, the United States, and various European countries, as well as Canada, Japan, China, India, Israel and Iran.
And consequently, because these proposals were not made officially, the Russian government has not yet felt compelled to respond to them, even though these statements do not depart from positions that the Abkhaz and South Ossetia leaders have expressed in recent weeks and even months.
But there are at least three reasons why Moscow is unlikely to move quickly on these requests and especially on any call by South Ossetia for its annexation by the Russian Federation. First of all, such a move would lead many more people to conclude that Russia’s invasion of Georgia was intended as a war of conquest rather for the reasons it has claimed.
Second, uniting the two Ossetias could create more problems for Moscow in the North Caucasus, not only because Kokoity has made some truly nasty remarks about the people in the north but also because the unification of the two could trigger intensified demands by members of other divided groups – the Circassians in particular – for similar steps.
And third, such an action might prompt more Western officials to consider responding to Russia’s actions in Georgia by re-emphasizing the West’s historical commitment to the right of nations to self-determination, a right Moscow has invoked in Georgia but risks becoming the victim of if it is applied within the borders of the Russian Federation.
But however that may be, Moscow for the third time this month stands at a Rubicon, a point of no return from actions that are the product of its own ill-considered policies and that will change, negatively and possibly irreversibly, the international system and the Russian Federation’s place in it.