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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Measuring South Ossetia by Kosovo

Kommersant: Russia Pushes a Profitable Analogy for the Republic

Moscow has so far stopped just short of recognizing the results of the referendum on independence and the presidential elections that were held in South Ossetia last Sunday. The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry called them a watershed event that it would be "short-sighted" to ignore. With that, Moscow is heading down the path of directly applying the Kosovo formula to South Ossetia and, possibly, to other unrecognized republics in the former Soviet Union.
The West Says No

Moscow's reaction to the presidential elections and the referendum on independence in South Ossetia came after several CIS republics, the leading countries of the West, and key international organizations had already had their say. Their reaction was to be expected: neither the South Ossetian referendum itself nor its result will be recognized.

Like Georgia's, Moldova's reaction was predictably harsh, since the country suffers from its own headaches thanks the recent independence referendum in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transdneistr. Chisinau called the referendums in South Ossetia and Transdneistr links in a single chain. "The pseudoreferendum that was held on September 17, 2006 in the Transdneistr region of the Republic of Moldova and the illegitimate referendum in South Ossetia are coordinated actions aimed at disrupting the efforts of the international community to settle conflicts in the post-Soviet sphere," said the Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ministry called upon those who have not already done so to condemn South Ossetia for its "destabilizing step and clear display of separatism."

One of the first in the West to express its displeasure with the referendum and the elections was the leadership of NATO. "Such actions do not serve any purpose other than to exacerbate tensions in the South Caucasus region," said NATO General Secretary Jan de Hoop Scheffer. A similar assessment came from current European Union chair Finland, which spoke for the 25 countries of the EU: "The referendum contradicts the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia" and "does not facilitate a peaceful resolution of the conflict."

Council of Europe General Secretary Terry Davis called the South Ossetian referendum "useless, unnecessary, and unjust," adding that the circumstances under which it was carried out – especially the fact that ethnic Georgians were not given the right to vote – "robbed [the vote] of all significance." The United States also rejected the referendum. "We do not think that this was really a referendum," said State Department spokesman Shawn McCormack in response to questions from journalists at a press conference on Monday.

But the harshest reaction to the referendum in South Ossetia can from the OSCE. Its chairman, Karel De Gucht, said that the OSCE does not recognize the referendum and that it does not intend to take the results of the South Ossetian referendum and elections into account at all.

Russia Says Yes

Against that background, the announcement by the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry late Monday night not only struck a dissonant note but flew directly in the face of the West. "Whether anyone likes it or not, in this situation we are dealing with a free demonstration of the will of the South Ossetian people that was expressed via the appropriate democratic procedures," said the ministry. "And no matter how hard Georgia or any other Western country tries to denigrate the significance of this event, nevertheless it is significant. Not taking it into consideration is very short-sighted."

The statement from the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry is not quite a binding declaration of Moscow's intent to immediately recognize South Ossetia's independence. Rather, it is aimed at convincing the international community that the idea of independence for South Ossetia is supported by an absolute majority of the population of the unrecognized republic and that this fact is indisputable.

Moscow is not maneuvering itself into this position for no reason: Russia's actions appear to be part of a plan to apply the Kosovo formula in the post-Soviet sphere.

In advancing the idea of independence for Kosovo, the West is putting forth two key arguments. The first is that the idea of independence is supported by an absolute majority of Kosovo's population – around 90% – and that if their will is ignored there will not be peace in the Balkans. The second argument is that the Kosovo situation is unique and that the solution that will be found for it is inapplicable to any other part of the world. Kosovo's uniqueness lies in the fact that genocide took place there in 1998 and 1999, when Serbian special forces carried out ethnic cleansing against the Kosovo Albanians.

For the last few months, whenever the question of a possible solution to the Kosovo question has come up, Russia has insisted on the situation's universal character. If Kosovo receives independence, says Moscow, other unrecognized republics in the CIS should have the same right. Now it appears that Russia is moving towards making that theory a reality. For that to happen, it is first of all essential to ensure that both arguments that the West is using in relation to Kosovo are applied to other unrecognized territories: for example, to South Ossetia.

On October 12, deputies in the South Ossetian parliament appealed to the governments of the Russian autonomous republics of North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkariya, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia with the request to recognize Georgia's responsibility for genocide committed against South Ossetians in 1920 and 1989-1992. As examples of the planned destruction of the Ossetian population in Georgia, several ethnic cleansings of Ossetians during the course of the 20th century were mentioned: in the 1920s, thousands of Ossetians were killed and their villages razed to the ground, while in 1989, "hatred of Ossetians grew into military aggression from the Georgian authorities."

At the end of October the North Ossetian parliament, in response to the request of their South Ossetian counterparts, appealed to the Russian State Duma with a call to recognize the "genocide of the Ossetian people by the military and political leadership of Georgia." According to the design of the motion's initiators, the appeal was to be closely followed by a massive PR campaign aimed at explaining to the world "why the Ossetians do not want to be with Georgia."

If the genocide in South Ossetia is successfully proven, that will make the unrecognized republic's problem similar to that of Kosovo. As such, one part of the Kosovo formula will be applicable to South Ossetia as well. And then it will only remain to apply the second part of the formula: to prove that anything besides independence will be unacceptable to the South Ossetian people. Hence the usefulness of the statement from the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Natalya Portyakova and Gennady Sysoyev

All the Article in Russian as of Nov. 15, 2006
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