Thursday, February 02, 2006

Frozen Conflicts

Behind-the-scenes negotiations that have lasted for years are probably about to be resolved in a new deal on the future status of Kosovo. Britain, France and the United States - the international powers with a direct interest in the issue - have reached a partial consensus on the need to grant Kosovo "conditional independence". This would separate it from Serbia and Montenegro, but also make it possible for an international mission to supervise the country's fledgling status.

Moscow, however, regards Serbia (in its eyes, head of the "Serb Federation") as a political ally, and has had other plans for Kosovo. The British, French and U.S. deal is not the one that Moscow wanted, but Moscow still sees a way to impose its will via a quid pro quo arrangement that would validate its imperial ambitions in parts of the former Soviet Union. As Vladimir Putin began to hint at his marathon press conference yesterday, in return for agreeing to grant full independence to Kosovo, Moscow might ask in return that the countries of the West recognize the independence of pro-Moscow republics such as those of Abkhazia or South Ossetia, thus putting further pressure on Georgia.

Interviewed by RFE/RL, Economist commentator Edward Lucas has some observations that reach to the central point of this dubious search by the Kremlin for "universal principles" for solving frozen conflicts:

"There's two conflicting principles here, of self-determination and territorial integrity. But I think the key thing is that there is no one outside power that is backing Kosovo," Lucas said. "Kosovo is not the client of a powerful neighboring state the way that Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester are. So I think the first thing we would have to say if one were trying to find a common standard would be that no neighboring country should exercise a big unilateral blockade or support for one of these frozen conflicts and that, of course, would put Russia in a very difficult position."

Russia might also find itself treading on very thin ice. The principle of self-determination in particular cuts both ways. "And there's also Chechnya," Lucas said. "If you accept that there's the right to self-determination, or at least that it has to be taken into account, and one doesn't only deal with inviolable territorial integrity, then it does of course raise the question of Chechnya now and, perhaps at some other date in the future, some other bits of Russia that are there more by coincidence that by historical right like, for instance, Karelia or Tatarstan."

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