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Why Russia Is Opposing Kosovan Independence

posted by zaina19 on August, 2007 as Imperialism

From: MSN NicknameEagle_wng  (Original Message)    Sent: 8/24/2007 7:15 AM
August, 15, 2006

Why Russia Is Opposing Kosovan Independence


Minister for Foreign Affairs of ChRI Ahmed Zakaev

Anybody interesting themselves in the Kosovan situation is bound to form the impression that Russia's furious opposition to granting independence to this former part of Yugoslavia is based on fear of setting a precedent.  Neither could anyone fail to be struck by the numerous assurances being given to Russia by the US Administration and European organisations that Kosovo cannot be seen as a precedent for Chechnya.

Yet still Russia refuses to support the Marti Ahtisaari plan.  In my opinion this is not a matter of Russian anxieties or mistrust of her Western partners.  The independence of Kosovo would benefit Russia, but she needs it to be granted in the teeth of her officially expressed opposition, or at least without her approval.  In the first case this would involve using her veto, and in the second simply abstaining in the vote at the UN Security Council.  Russia is systematically seeking a Kosovan precedent to the effect that Kosovo's independence should be recognised without unanimity in the Security Council.  When in the near future Russia recognises the right of the peoples of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria to self-determination, that is, agrees to annex them, there will be nothing new about going ahead despite opposition, and other parties will just have to live with the situation.

The West's attempts to resolve the Kosovo issue are entirely understandable and deserve approval, representing as they do a recognition of Kosovo's right to self-determination.  It is also not difficult to see why the USA and the European Union are seeking Russian support for the Kosovo plan.  They are attempting to insure against the possibility of Russia taking retaliatory unilateral action to resolve the Abkhazian, South Ossetian and Transdniestrian conflicts.  They would, no doubt, quite like to gain control of all three republics themselves if they were again to become part of Georgia and Moldova.  History, however, implacably teaches us that not every temptation has a serious prospect of being realised.

It would be superfluous to describe in detail the geopolitical significance of these three republics for Russia.  One has only to look at the map to see, for example, that without the Abkhazian section of the Black Sea coast Russia would have only a symbolic presence there;  and that without South Ossetia her presence in the South Caucasus would be purely on sufferance, until Armenia and Azerbaijan come to terms over Nagorny Karabakh.  As regards Transdniestria, I believe there is an instructive analogy with West Berlin.  Russia has no grounds for wanting to give up her West Berlin.

Since the collapse of the USSR Russia has de facto dominated the three republics.  In order to formalise her possession of them de jure, she has only to say 'yes' to a suitably timed request to be annexed from the authorities in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria.  The legal basis for the sovereignty of all the "self-proclaimed" republics is exactly the same as that of the sovereignty of Russia, Georgia, Moldova or Kazakhstan.  Gorbachev's 1990 reform gave equal legal rights to all the national territorial entities of the USSR.  At that time the supreme authority in the USSR renounced its exclusive right to determine the political status of particular national territorial entities, devolving it to the territories themselves.  Russia (at that time the RSFSR) hastened to be one of the first to make use of the right to proclaim its sovereignty with a declaration to that effect in June 1990.

If we look at the matter objectively, the sovereignty of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria is just as much a Soviet legacy as the sovereignty of the universally recognised 15 new independent states, including Russia.  To this one might add, or the Soviet debts and seat in the UN Security Council inherited by Russia.  If the resolutions of the Soviet authorities in respect of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria can simply be ignored, why does Russia not immediately repudiate the annexation of Konigsberg and a number of Japanese islands obtained by the Soviet authorities after the Second World War?

The decision to annex Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria was taken in Moscow well before there was any mention of conflicts in those republics.  For 15 years Russia made no comment on the right to self-determination of the self-proclaimed republics, not in anticipation of the Kosovo precedent but because of the protracted conflict with Chechnya, whose sovereignty is no less legitimate, of course, than that of Russia herself.  Just over a year ago Russia for the first time declared at the highest level the right of the peoples of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria to self-determination, evidently supposing that the Chechen problem had been resolved.  The referendum on a constitution for Chechens ordered by the Russian president for 23 March 2004 was, in the official assessment of Vladimir Putin, a de jure restoration of the territorial integrity of Russia.  Without displaying any enthusiasm for this dubious enterprise, the US Administration and European leaders subsequently recognised the puppet Chechen authorities set up by elections based on this referendum, right up to the point of providing direct financial assistance to them.  After that it is hardly surprising that the Russian leaders considered the Chechen question closed.

On the one hand, Russia is trying to obtain a Kosovan precedent with as little reference as possible to the right of peoples to self-determination inherited from the Soviet Union.  Otherwise, both anti-Chechen campaigns would come under the definition of "aggression against a sovereign state", which is what they undoubtedly are.  On the other hand it would seem that the Russian leaders are interested in drawing out the resolution both of the Kosovan and of all the post-Soviet conflicts for as long as possible.  When Russia unleashed the anti-Chechen war and started appealing to the principle of territorial integrity, it hooked not only the parties directly involved in the conflict, Georgia and Moldova.  Western leaders too decided to turn a blind eye to the mass murder of Chechens, hoping that after Russia had swallowed Chechnya it would not oppose the return of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the jurisdiction of Georgia, and of Transdniestria to the jurisdiction of Moldova.

For more than 10 years the West European countries in interacting with Russia have been constantly compromising their democratic principles.  The Western leaders bear their share of responsibility for the kind of regime that has been established today in Russia.  When democracy, confronted by authoritarianism, allows itself to depart from its basic values or to resort to double standards, it becomes like a derailed train which may head in any direction except the direction in which it should be headed.  The attempt by the Americans to apply in Iraq Putin's experience of an imposed political settlement in Chechnya was a serious mistake, as few people today doubt.

I cannot see attempts to come to agreement with Russia in respect of Kosovo as any more than a display of double standards.  When in the name of democracy peoples are divided into those worthy and those unworthy of freedom, one can only see this as selective democracy and must wonder how it differs from the "managed democracy" of Putin.  In the first case it leads to a dead end, while in the second it leads to a systematic reversal of the democratic reforms which took place in Russia in the early 1990s.  Remaining true to the universal principles of democracy can lead both to stability and to the spreading of democracy.

It is indisputable that the exclusively anti-Chechen wars led to the establishment in Russia of an anti-popular, extremist regime.  The failure to resolve the Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts has long paralysed Georgia, giving its enterprising people no opportunity to fully realise their potential.  The persistence of the Transdniestrian problem has a damaging effect on the situation in Moldova and its prospective integration into Europe.  Instability and tension are a breeding ground for destructive forces.

A return from selective democracy to universal democracy will enable the West to move away from a defensiveness which has no prospects to attack.  Human rights and the right of peoples to self-determination are indivisible.  The acquiescence of Russians in the brutal persecution of Chechens has ultimately come back to haunt them.  Nobody has proved safe:  neither the democrats, nor the oligarchs, nor even the great-power patriots.  The nature of the regime established in Russia is such that it has no mechanism of self-restraint.  Accordingly this regime must be changed.

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