Friday, November 14, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Toward a Dangerous New Era of Partially Recognized States in the Post-Soviet Space?

Paul Goble

London, November 14 – Moscow’s decision to extend diplomatic recognition to the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a step only one other country has followed so far, raises the possibility that other countries may recognize an entity that no other state is likely to, a development that could usher in a dangerous era of partially recognized states.
One place where this could happen, according to Yuri Sigov, a Washington correspondent for “Delovaya nedelya,” is Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region that he suggests could “follow the example of Tskhinvali and Sukhumi, but besides Armenia, no one would like” (
Moscow’s claim that what it has done with Abkhazia and South Ossetia is nothing more than what the West has done with Kosovo is disingenuous. While many countries have refrained from recognizing the latter, vastly more have done so than have followed Moscow’s example in the southern Caucasus.
In fact, the relevant case is Turkey’s lone recognition of Northern Cyprus, an action no one else has followed but one that has frozen that conflict for several decades, thus providing a possible model for other countries especially now that Moscow has acted and making Sigov’s analysis both timely and disturbing.
In Sigov’s view, all the so-called frozen conflict on the territory of the former Soviet Union have the potential to break out at any time and thus “radically change the entire system of security which now exists along the perimeter of the former Soviet borders,” all the more so because various powers have an interest in destabilizing the situation.
The most immediately obvious and hence most dangerous of these conflicts, he suggests, is over Nagorno-Karabakh, which most of the parties are interested in avoiding entering a new hot phase but which is one that could nonetheless do so if anyone of the parties acts in a way different than the others expect.
That explains why, Sigov says, Moscow got involved as a supplement to the Minsk Group. But “the diametrically opposed positions” of the sides mean that neither Azerbaijan nor Yerevan can back down, the first from a position based on the territorial integrity of states and the latter on the right of nations to self-determination.
And that is something that nationalist activists in Karabakh itself, as well as in Armenia, understand fully and are prepared to act upon, the Moscow correspondent in Washington suggests.
What then could happen next? One possible answer is the holding of a referendum in Karabakh, where the residents, almost all of them are Armenians will vote for unity with Armenia or independence, either of which could set off a conflict in the south Caucasus that neither Russia, nor the United States and the West, nor Armenia or Azerbaijan want.
Because of these dangers, all the sides “fear the holding of referendum in Karabakh.” If one were held and it called for independence, “no one, “except perhaps Armenia” would recognize it, a situation that would resemble the one that Abkhazia and South Ossetia now find themselves in,” with like those an outside power having taken a position.
Such Armenian recognition, as incomplete as it might appear, would likely delay American and even Western involvement in this issue beyond the summer of next year, the first time that Washington is likely to get involved in any case, given the change in administrations there, Sigov says.
Thus, “it remains unclear what to do if Nagorno-Karabakh declares its independence,” Sigov says. For neither South Ossetia nor Abkhazia is the world community prepared to recognize and not a little amount of time must pass until the positions of these countries will somehow change.”
The American don’t want a violent conflict in the region, especially after the war in Georgia, but the dangers that arise from the partial recognition of a so-called self-proclaimed republic are sufficiently dangerous that everyone involved should think about what they might mean for the future of this and other conflicts.
As a result, Sigov suggests, Moscow’s moves in Georgia will have an even larger set of consequences on the region than people are now thinking, possibly freezing some conflicts for a long time to come as happened in Cyprus or igniting a new conflict in a region where any action has the chance of setting off a new conflagration.
And because there are other places in the former Soviet space, which are left over from Stalin’s ethnic engineering, it is entirely possible that the recognition of one or more of them by one state but not more could complicate the resolution of that conflict or even all of them well into the future.

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