Reading And Misreading Moscow’s Position On Kosovo

By Vladimir Socor

Eurasia Daily Monitor, DC
April 3 2007

On March 30 in Brussels, the meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs
of the European Union’s 27 member countries showed for the first time
some cracks in the EU’s common front regarding conflict resolution
in Kosovo. The EU collectively, as well as the United States and
NATO, seek to finalize Kosovo’s transition to Western-supervised

Brussels also offers Serbia the prospect of European integration if
Belgrade overcomes the archaic Greater Serbia nationalist quest to
somehow regain Kosovo with its 90% Albanian majority. However, Russia
supports Belgrade’s hardliners in order to control Serbia’s foreign
policy and separate the country from the EU. Serbian leaders such as
Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica are rising to the bait: "Russia’s
support to Serbia [on Kosovo] is of historic importance. Russia’s
support in the U.N. Security Council will help maintain Serbia’s
sovereignty" (Interfax, April 1).

Moscow is also trying to unnerve certain European countries by warning
that recognition of Kosovo’s independence without Serbian and Russian
consent would set a "dangerous precedent" that could work against
these countries’ territorial integrity. This Russian argument seems
to be having an effect on several European governments.

Thus, Spanish diplomacy seems concerned that a Kosovo "precedent"
could become an argument for Basque nationalists to demand secession
from Spain. Such a linkage and scenario seem, however, so far fetched
as to raise the question of whether the Spanish Socialist government’s
bilateral relationship with Russia might not partly explain Madrid’s
sudden nod to Moscow’s viewpoint.

Greece and Cyprus also show some sympathy for Russia’s position,
their concern being that recognition of Kosovo’s independence would
encourage certain countries to recognize the Turkish Republic of North
Cyprus. In the case of Greece, moreover, a legacy of pan-Orthodox
solidarity with Serbia and even with Russia sometimes influences
the position of Athens on Balkan issues. Even so, some spokesmen for
Russian policy seek to unnerve the Greeks by suggesting that a Kosovo
"precedent" might prompt some Muslim countries to recognize Turkish
Cyprus (National Interest Online, March 21).

In Slovakia, the existing coalition government includes some
nationalist parties harboring irrational fears of Hungarian irredentism
within the country and in neighboring Hungary. Thus the Slovak
government wants the Kosovo settlement to strengthen, not weaken,
the principles of territorial integrity of states and inviolability
of existing international borders. Slovakia carries special weight
as a member of the current UN Security Council, which is expected to
debate a resolution on Kosovo’s status next month.

For similar reasons, the Romanian presidency and government seem
concerned by the possible implications of Kosovo’s recognition
for Romanian-Hungarian relations in Transylvania. Thus, Romania
backs "Serbia’s territorial integrity." Moreover, Serbia enjoys
some traditional sympathies among Romania’s populace and governing
class alike. Ukrainian diplomacy also has expressed all along serious
misgivings about Kosovo’s independence, out of concern for its possible
impact on the Crimea.

These views seem to misread Moscow’s position in a number of ways.

First, while opposing secession in Kosovo’s case, ostensibly on the
basis of international law, Russia is sponsoring territorial secession
and de facto annexation in the post-Soviet conflicts in defiance of
international law. Thus, the notion of enlisting Russia to uphold
international law through "single-standard" conflict-resolution, in
ways that would "set positive precedents," seems illusory. It also
recalls former Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze’s futile efforts
to commit Russia to the principle of territorial integrity in the case
of Georgia, hoping that Russia would have to demonstrate consistency
when it was waging war for that same principle in Chechnya. However,
Russia persisted with its dual approach to this issue even during
that war; and it is even more cynical about such dualism now, when
no longer encumbered by the Chechen problem.

In Kosovo’s case, Russia professes to uphold first and foremost the
notion that any settlement terms must be accepted by both parties to
the conflict (not imposed on one of them) and approved by decision of
the U.N. Security Council. This implies a double veto by Serbia and
Russia and a deep freeze on settlement, leaving Moscow with plenty
of bargaining chips to play through open-ended linkages with other
conflicts and other issues.

On one hand, Russia poses as a responsible power by warning that
recognition of Kosovo’s independence could destabilize certain
European countries through the "precedent" thus created. On the
other hand, Russia threatens to exploit itself such a "precedent"
by recognizing the post-Soviet secessionist territories — a move
that could multiply the selfsame destabilizing potential that Russia
claims it wants to defuse.

Thus, insecure or wavering governments that accept the logic of
linking Kosovo with other existing or potential conflict situations,
hoping thereby for a "model" or "precedent" that could operate in
their favor, do so at their peril. Their most effective protection
would be to rally behind the U.S., EU, and NATO position that each
conflict has its individual characteristics requiring a case-by-case
resolution and ruling out any linkages with other conflicts.

Moscow and the post-Soviet secessionist leaderships are indirectly
admitting to the unsustainability of their own conflict-resolution
proposals based on a Kosovo "precedent." For example, one of their
favorite recent arguments holds that international recognition of
an autonomous unit (Kosovo) that existed within a republic (Serbia)
that formed a subject of a federation (former Yugoslavia) should open
the way for "analogous" recognition of Transnistria, Abkhazia, and
South Ossetia. However, the analogy does not hold up because Moldova
and Georgia were never federations; Transnistria never formed any
kind of unit within Moldova; the three secessionist territories are
treated internationally as integral parts of Moldova and Georgia,
respectively, from 1991 onward; and both countries effectively hold
portions of the secessionist territories.

Moreover, the leaderships of Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia,
and Karabakh openly speak of the possibility or probability of
their territories’ accession to the Russian Federation or Armenia,
respectively; whereas the Western-endorsed status of Kosovo explicitly
rules out any merger of Kosovo with another country (i.e.

Albania). Furthermore, the ethnic cleansing of Georgians from Abkhazia
and of Azeris from a large part of Azerbaijan has yet to be reversed;
whereas international intervention has successfully reversed the
ethnic cleansing of the Albanian majority from Kosovo.

Ultimately, Moscow is making clear that it would hold on to Abkhazia,
South Ossetia, and Transnistria irrespective of any outcome in
Kosovo. As Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov told the Duma on
March 21, Russia would in any case retain its "responsibility" for
its citizens or "compatriots" that populate those three territories
(Interfax, March 21). Moldova, Georgia, and Azerbaijan quite
appropriately refuse to argue with Russia over "precedent"-setting or
linkages. The great majority of Western countries similarly decline
being drawn into any such discussion with Moscow.

While Spain and Greece seem to lend an ear to Moscow for reasons
of their own, it would be risky and naïve for Romania, Slovakia,
and Ukraine to become entangled in fine-tuning the "right" kind of
"precedent" or "model" in Kosovo, instead of adhering to the joint
position of the EU, NATO, and the U.S., ruling out any linkage to
other situations.

(EUObserver [Brussels], March 26; ATA, March 29; Interfax, March
26-April 2; Rossiiskaya gazeta, March 29; see EDM, March 23, April 2)


From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

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