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Emerging Nations: Russian Comparative Perspective on Problems of Sovereignty and New Forms of Stateness in Kosovo, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia
Emerging Nations: Russian Comparative Perspective on Problems of Sovereignty and New Forms of Stateness in Kosovo, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia
Sovereign states as we get them today emerged as landslide winners in a contest with demised empires,
The evolution of the international system after the end of the cold war has been, among other things, determined by such important trends as the decline of the role of
Some of these conflicts now involve unrecognized or partially recognized states or territories, which have proved to be obstacles for the exercise of sovereignty by the existing
Partially recognized states, rivals of certain
Sovereign states themselves differ in attitudes towards their rivals, as the latter often become playing cards in a global game for influence. Major powers like the US, European leaders, Russia, China, Japan, Brazil, and others have their own interests in different regions, with the Balkans and the Caucasus among them. Partial recognition of Kosovo, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia proves the point. As the Russian Federation has supported Serbia and refused to recognize Kosovo, it has confronted the US and its allies on the issue. At the same time, it recognized and established diplomatic relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two Georgian breakaway republics. The problem is that the American (and, partially, European) and Russian perspectives towards the problem are not equally presented and explained in the global information field, thus provoking not only misunderstanding, but even ignorance of important points of the position of the government of the Russian Federation on Kosovo, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.
In addition, alongside with the official point of view of the Kremlin, Russian experts propose their own perspectives on these issues, and they differ in their approaches towards the problem. The cases mentioned receive most of public attention nowadays, and that is why we have them for study in this paper. Our research question is the motives and interests of Moscow in dealing with Kosovo, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, as well as key points of the Russian perspective towards these cases. Why should such a question arise at all? The need to clarify the Russian position is evident because its misunderstanding is often based on the false assumption that Russian national interests are equal to those of some unrecognized territories (Abkhazia, South Ossetia) or certain states struggling with maintaining territorial integrity (Serbia). This and some other points are to be presented in detail below.
Kosovo, Abkhazia, South Ossetia: conflict dynamics
First of all, let us start with the conflict dynamics in the areas concerned, as it will be the necessary background for the analysis of national interests, positions, and foreign policies.
The removal of the superpower grip on the international system turned out to be a spark for conflicts both in the former Yugoslavian federation and the
Practically all secessionist movements, notwithstanding many differences, have one thing in common: within a political entity there is always a group of people who want to secede in order to form an independent state or access to another entity. Secession itself, thus, can be understood as a process of withdrawal of a territory and its population from an existing state and the creation of a new state on that territory. With the removal of the superpower grip and changes in the balance of power, local actors, standing for secession, started gaining more supporters and resources, including help from abroad, and that undoubtedly served as a major cause for central authorities in Belgrade and Tbilisi losing control over secessionist regions.
As for the Kosovo case, the conflict was ignited when, during the breakup process of the Yugoslavian federation, a new Serbian constitution was adopted in 1990, which presumed much less autonomy for Kosovo. Local parliament, being already dissolved, adopted its own constitution, proclaiming Kosovo a republic. Serbian government used police and army to restore constitutional order and territorial integrity. The active phase of this conflict started in 1998, with serious clashes between the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the Serbian police and army. At that moment Kosovo leaders started searching for outside support, which came from NATO and the US. Negotiation strategy of the US was designed in order to make Slobodan Milosevic drive his forces out of Kosovo and make him either cede control over the rebellious region, in peaceful way or with the use of armed force. In 1998–1999, Serbia lost almost all control over Kosovo, while NATO military presence paved the way for
Abkhazia was declared an independent Soviet Socialist Republic in 1921, later in the same year it signed a treaty of federation with Georgia. In February 1931, it became an autonomous republic within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. Legal and political controversies became really hot issues in Abkhazia at the breakup of the USSR. In 1989 a first major separatism wave rose, inspired by dissatisfaction of the Abkhazians of their place within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic during the times of the Soviet Union. After an attempt of Tbilisi to establish a branch of the Georgian State University in Sukhumi, student clashes took place, and only the introduction of a state of emergency prevented further escalation of the conflict and involvement of a greater number of people. Georgia declared independence in early 1991 and then, in March, ignored the USSR preservation referendum. Abkhazians first preferred to stay within the USSR, but then, when the collapse became actually inevitable, chose to become independent as well, that intention being strengthened by the Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s slogan «Georgia for Georgians». The ouster of Gamsakhurdia, which took place in early 1992, only inspired the Abkhazians in their intentions, as they felt Tbilisi was losing control over the country’s territory and becoming more concentrated on clashes of political elites. In July 1992, the Abkhazian parliament at a meeting boycotted by its Georgian deputies restored the 1925 Abkhazian Soviet Socialist Republic constitution, according to which Abkhazia was a sovereign state. As well as with the Serbian case, the Georgian government led by Eduard Shevardnadze tried to restore constitutional order and territorial integrity. Defeat in Abkhazia almost led Georgia to
Tensions between the Georgians and the Ossetians go back to as far as 1918–1920, when the National Council of South Ossetia, created in 1917, called for granting the South Ossetians the right to free
Kosovo seems to be more advanced on the way of achieving international recognition, though Abkhazia and South Ossetia may catch up with it gradually. Kosovo looks better in this way mainly due to US and majority of EU countries’ support, but Abkhazia, too, has its trump cards. Russia’s recognition is more than just a formal act; it is rather a strong regional leader’s backing. Moreover, authorities in Abkhazia have been more successful than those in Kosovo in designing and using political institutions and practices, emphasizing historical prerequisites for independence, and, finally, exercising sovereignty over their own territory, giving the way for national development.
One more important thing to mention is that with Kosovo’s and Abkhazia’s independence being partially recognized, a risk of territorial disputes on ethnic and even other grounds has risen, giving
Kosovo: Russian perspective
Undoubtedly common ethnic and religious backgrounds are among fundamental factors explaining why Russia has favored Serbia on the Kosovo issue since the very beginning. At the same time, one should not forget about realpolitik and Russian interests in Europe and in the Balkan region. It is no wonder that Russia, as one of the major European actors, has always tried to participate in the process of agenda formation and implementation in the politics of the continent. In September, 2005, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov at a meeting with his Serbian counterpart Vuk Draskovic pointed out that «Russia saw no alternative to the europeanization of the Balkans». Such europeanization, according to Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman, meant full protection for ethnic minorities in Kosovo and preservation of state borders of Serbia and Montenegro (at the time) with Albania and Macedonia. In other words, as Russian representative at the EU headquarters in Brussels Vladimir Chizhov put it, «one should not create new dividing lines» in the Balkans.
Thus, Russia does not see any contradiction between the process of the europeanization of the Balkans and the leading role of the UN and its Security Council in the Kosovo conflict settlement. At the same time, it is understood differently in Europe, as europeanization for Brussels means taking on the leadership when it comes to building peace in Europe’s most uneasy subregion. For Russia, the EU leadership means deviation from the principle that the key role in regulation and settling such conflicts should, first of all, belong to global organizations like the UN, because such a way ensures participation of the whole international community and creates an opportunity for issuing binding and legitimate decisions through the UN Security Council, which may be crucial for a successful settlement of a number of longstanding and destructive conflicts in the Balkans.
Still, external factors should be put aside at some point of our analysis. It is obvious that one of the fundamental reasons of Serbia’s loss of Kosovo was its (Serbia’s) insufficient stateness, i.e. inability to exercise sovereign power over the breakaway region. Even Serbian politicians in Kosovo before the declaration of independence agreed that there was no return to the situation which had existed before 1999, when Slobodan Milosevic had deprived the region of its autonomy and resorted to force, both these actions causing thousands of Albanians to flee and the international community to intervene.
It was expected that Russia could take a certain position shortly after the proclamation of Kosovo independence, especially in the light of a possible bargaining with the West over the issues of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Still, with Kosovo independence claimed but declared illegal by Belgrade and only partially recognized, Russia hesitates which of the two major principles of the international law should dominate in its foreign policy, either territorial integrity of a state and inviolability of borders, or national
Russian official position on the Kosovo issue is mainly based on the Resolution /about/news/experts///about/news/experts//#1244 of the UN Security Council which back in 1999 put Kosovo under the UN administration. Unilateral proclamation of independence by the temporary
Abkhazia and South Ossetia: Russian perspective
As it was pointed out above, Russian national interests are a matter of its own and not the same as those of unrecognized states. A major concern for Moscow is maintaining stability in such an explosive (in all senses) region as the Caucasus. Thus, the strategic aim and interest is to manage, freeze or resolve conflicts which, as a dense web, tie all the Caucasus area, from the Russian Federation’s national republics in the Caucasus to parts of other CIS states and breakaway republics. Ongoing instability has so far brought only problems to Russia, as conflicts on the
Today an escalation of a number of conflicts is evident in the region, with not only Russia, Georgia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia involved, but also Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan all having their own perspectives on the future configuration and the balance of power in the Caucasus. The high conflict potential of the Caucasus is partially predetermined by the fact that states comprising it are mainly ethnically homogeneous or have areas which are densely inhabited by distinct national communities. Reasons and circumstances at which groups moved to one area or another should be considered and deeply studied in order to avoid misjudgments at
The Caucasus is also an area of US strategic interest and appropriate activities in the countries situated here. Besides, interest towards Caucasus has been expressed by the EU and other members of the international community like oil- and
Russia is often presented as a giant striving to expand its borders and absorb everything around where instability is present. At the same time, one should take into account that, taking in, for instance, South Ossetia, Russia also gets a bunch of problems of two main sorts. As Russian expert Sergei Markedonov puts it, the first one is connected with Georgian villages mixed up with Ossetian ones in the southern part of South Ossetia. Therefore, the issues likely to emerge are Georgian separatism and irredentism. The second sort of problems is the integration of South Ossetians not simply into the Russian society, but, speaking narrower, into the Ossetian society. From the perspective of
As for the Abkhazians, they tend to prefer not acceding to Russia but their own independent state with political, economic, military and other types of support from Moscow. The Friendship Treaty between Sukhumi and Moscow, signed in September 2009, is evidence to this point. As of 2009, such a treaty seems to be the closest degree of integration with Russia most of Abkhazians would accept, as they do not at all want to get involved in Russian domestic politics with its bureaucracy and, quite often, corruption, especially taking into account that the Abkhazians have similar problems of their own. Andrei Zagorskiy, professor from
Another important observation can be made at a glance at Georgia’s standing and actions. Provocative policy of Georgian authorities in the early 1990s did not help settle the Abkhazian and South Ossetian issues. Russia did not manage to
One may claim that in comparison with South Ossetia, Abkhazia has been more successful in nation- and
In my opinion, rethinking security, sovereignty, and justice, means that the world’s scholars and practitioners must seek ways to support internally stable and externally friendly political entities, able to exercise sovereignty within their borders and act as decent members of the international community. At the same time, with Kosovo, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and certain other non- or partially recognized states on their way to international recognition, the world has to adapt to the new reality, where return to previous status is almost impossible, and new approaches towards unrecognized states have to be developed. Such approaches should promote ease of tensions around these states in international relations, simultaneously not creating paths for potential similar moves by other actors willing to gain independence, as such a trend could add many more problems to the current changing international system, form new dangerous threats and intensify local and regional conflicts.
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