Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Logic of Occupation

Victor Yasmann (RFE/RL) writes - just before today's announcement of Russia's recognition of Abkhazian and South Ossetian "independence" - about the looming diplomatic war between Russia and the West. Excerpt:
Russia is following a precise logic in its actions. Moscow will recognize the "independence" of the two republics and conclude agreements on political, military, and economic support with them. Furthermore, as Medvedev promised, Russia will give international guarantees to both republics, meaning that it will lobby for their recognition by the United Nations. From a legal point of view, international organizations can ignore pleas from the unrecognized republics themselves, but they cannot ignore appeals from Moscow.

In making those appeals, it seems Russia is not likely to stress the idea of self-determination, which is a potentially explosive argument for Russia itself and other CIS countries. Instead, it will actively push arguments related to charges of Georgian "genocide" and the legally "incorrect" way in which Georgia left the Soviet Union in 1991. In the latter case, Moscow will argue that the peoples of Abkhazia and South Ossetia never wanted to take such a step.

It seems unlikely that any Western countries will acknowledge the two republics anytime in the foreseeable future, just as Russia and most CIS countries will not recognize Kosovo. In addition, Russia's main Asian partners -- Iran, China, and India -- will also decline to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, inasmuch as they have their own real and potential ethnic troubles. But Russia will be satisfied even if the two regions establish a status similar to that of the Republic of Northern Cyprus, which has been recognized only by Ankara for decades.

The strengthening of Russia's position in the CIS will lead to increased tensions with almost all countries that have significant Russia populations or large numbers of Russian citizens. Primarily, this means Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.

As for Georgia's territorial integrity, it has clearly fallen victim to Moscow's insistence that Georgia never join NATO. Before the war, Moscow tried to achieve this goal through the frozen conflicts. Now, despite the war, Moscow's main aim is unchanged.

The presence of Russian forces and the creation of buffer zones on Georgian territory will simply solidify the state of conflict and complicate Tbilisi's efforts to join NATO. On the one hand, all NATO members have expressed solidarity with Georgia and are ready to offer help. On the other hand, granting NATO membership to a country entangled in a military confrontation with Russia will certainly not be easy. It is possible the United States might conclude a bilateral agreement with Georgia, similar to the one it concluded with Poland as part of the missile-defense accord.

Moscow is also no doubt hoping that, with time, Georgians will become increasingly enraged about the losses of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and will replace Saakashvili with a leadership that is more acceptable to Russia. Moscow might facilitate this scenario by stimulating separatist feelings in Mingrelia and Ajara, which border Abkhazia. These efforts could lead to the disintegration of Georgia or, at least, to that country losing its access to the Black Sea.

In order to counter such a scheme, the West would have to find quick and effective methods of integrating both Georgia and Ukraine into the Euro-Atlantic community.
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