Vienna, May 4 – The leader of the Russian Communist Party said in Strasbourg last week that in his view, it would be “desirable” if Moscow were to annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia, an opinion several Russian commentators said reflected the thinking of many in the upper reaches of the government of the Russian Federation.
Speaking to Georgian journalists on the sidelines of a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last week, Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the KPRF, said that “history does not turn backwards” and that Moscow will “not back away from [its] recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia” (www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=182666).
And then he added that if it were up to him, “I would conduct a referendum and would include Abkhazia and South Ossetia within Russia,” a comment that was posted on the KPRF website last Thursday (kprf.ru/international/66074.html) and one that apparently reflects the generally unexpressed views of many in Moscow.
In reporting Zyuganov’s remarks, the Russkaya Liniya portal -- a Russian Orthodox site with close ties to the Russian government and statist Russian nationalists -- asked several of its regular contacts for their comments about the possibility of such a move, one that would send shockwaves not only in those two breakaway republics but across the post-Soviet space as well.
Vladimir Timakov, a deputy in the Tula Oblast Duma, told the site that Moscow would have “first of all to ask South Ossetia and Abkhazia whether they want to unify themselves with Russia.” From his perspective, Timakov said, such a step “would be completely logical. But in the current environment,” there would be problems.
Such a move, he said, would “be conceived as an annexation by Russia of part of Georgia. [And] therefore it would be more correct to preserve the status quo, as is now being done. But if these states would become part of Russia, this would be a natural course of events,” however much many Georgians and the international community might oppose.
Timakov suggested that another reason for Moscow to go slow is that “one should remember that the Georgians are all the same an Orthodox people and therefore it is necessary to organize things more calmly.” But the Tula deputy continued, as for him, he “would be glad if Georgia itself were to become part of Russia.”
At present, he conceded, that is “impossible, although it is desirable.”
A second Russkaya Liniya interlocutor, former Duma deputy Aleksandr Chuyev said that “the inclusion of South Ossetia into Russia is a question which we will resolve when the time comes.” For now, however, he continued, “besides guaranteeing” these states full sovereignty, Moscow should work to bring their “legislation in correspondence with the Russian.”
That is not a process that should be rushed, because “the republics all the same have lived according to their own laws, and there life is quite different from ours.” Moscow should also work to beef up the external borders of these republics, something the Russian government has already taken steps to do.
“Gradually” and in ways that will “not create unnecessary tensions,” Chuyev suggested, Moscow and the two republics will be able to resolve “more important social tasks” and then will be able “to conduct referenda” because “the idea of unifying Abkhazia and South Ossetia [with Russia] not utopian but not just now timely.”
But a third Russkaya Liniya contact, St. Petersburg political scientist Sergey Lebedev, suggested that the unification of the two republics is “not only desirable but entirely possible:” He called for referenda to unite South Ossetia with North Ossetia and to reaffirm Abkhazia’s quest in 1989 to be recognized as “a union republic of the USSR or part of Russia.”
Arguing that Zyuganov had expressed the right idea, Lebedev said that “it is understandable that the international community will react very nervously to this initiative for the simple reason that it will create the precedent of changing borders. And that means that after
That trend, in turn, “could lead to the reestablishment of historical Russia in the borders of the Russian Federation and the Soviet Union. Strictly speaking, even de jure, these republics today are independent states,” the political commentator from the northern capital continued, “but de facto these are Russian gubernia.”
Such views are often found on nationalist sites, but Lebedev continued by suggesting that “the Kremlin shares Zyuganov’s position although official acknowledgement of the necessity of the unification of these republics is not going to come soon” because while many of the powers that be think that way, they are afraid the West would “freeze their accounts” if they said so.”
Three things are interesting about these comments, even if they do not reflect as broad a consensus in the Kremlin as Zyuganov and his supporters imply. First, these speakers like the Russian government and the West treat Abkhazia and South Ossetia as equivalent situations, something that is not true, with the former far more committed to independence than the latter.
Second, the willingness of Zyuganov to make this proposal and in Strasbourg no less shows that he and others in the Russian capital have no intention of backing away from their commitment to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whatever some in the West may think, but instead are prepared to press ahead still further.
And third, Zyuganov’s comments may in fact be a trial balloon by Russian officials who are attempting to test the waters for Western reaction. By suggesting that Moscow might go even further than the annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, some in the Russian government may be attempting to gauge whether some in the West are prepared to engage in a grand bargain.