Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Politics of Precedent

RFE/RL's Brian Whitmore, on the wider repercussions of Kosovo's declaration of independence:
The Chechen situation places Moscow uncomfortably between two contradictory sentiments. While it has done little to dampen separatist sentiments in territories affecting its neighbors, it has staunchly rejected the Kosovo model for its own breakaway conflicts like that in Chechnya.

Indeed, analysts have pointed out, the Kremlin is entering perilous and unpredictable territory by raising the issue of a Kosovo precedent. For this reason, [Sabine]Freizer says she does not expect Moscow to press the issue very hard.

"Russia is taking a risk by saying that Kosovo is now a case that is going to set a precedent in other parts of the former Soviet space," Freizer says. "They risk having this go beyond Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester -- and perhaps even Nagorno-Karabakh -- to their own territory of the Russian Federation, to Chechnya or other parts of the North Caucasus."

Officials of other CIS states with breakaway conflicts are, not surprisingly, far from enthusiastic about the Kosovo declaration.

In Georgia, authorities have rejected any comparison between its breakaway enclaves and Kosovo, adding that they have no plans to recognize the former Serbian territory.

"Georgia is not planning to assume any position in relation to Kosovo, nor is it going to recognize it," Temur Iakobashvili, Georgia's state minister for reintegration, tells RFE/RL's Georgian Service.

"This process has evolved independently from us, and it's important that we stop looking for parallels between Kosovo and conflicts that exist in Georgia. Such parallels don't exist, and the sooner we forget the word 'Kosovo' the better it will be for us, as well as for the Abkhaz and the Russians," Iakobashvili adds. "Georgia is not going to recognize Kosovo -- this is not in our interests -- just like I think Russia is not going to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia."

Then there is Azerbaijan, which has spent a decade-and-a-half engaged in a protracted conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian enclave located within Azerbaijani territory that functions as a de facto independent republic with its own provisional government.

Baku fears Yerevan may use the Kosovo precedent during talks on Karabakh to upset the ongoing peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia. To that end, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Khazar Ibrahim said Baku will not recognize Kosovo, calling Pristina's move "against the principles of international law and illegal."
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