Latvian Commentary Says Recognition of Abkhazia, S Ossetia Hurts Russia

Text of report by Latvian newspaper Diena on 28 August

[Commentary by Askolds Rodins: “Russia’s fence of sticks”]

On Tuesday [26 August], Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev signed decrees on the recognition of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independent statehood. This is an historical leap for Russian politics – from the ground back up into the trees.

Aggression against Georgia in and of itself was quite enough to worsen relations with the member states of NATO and the European Union to a considerable degree. The decrees signed by Medvedev will create new foreign and domestic challenges. What is more, the recognition of the independence of Georgia’s separatist provinces is on fairly shaky legal grounds. The 1970 UN declaration to which Medvedev made reference was adopted in relation to a specific situation, and it creates no grounds for any generalization.

Russian plans

Russia has said no to the joint statement by NATO member states yesterday in which they called on Medvedev to withdraw his decrees. It is continuing to encourage other countries to follow the example that has been set. We are told that preparations are being made for diplomatic relations, agreements on friendship and cooperation are being drawn up, and there are also going to be military treaties. The Russian foreign minister has said that Moscow “has no plans to attach” Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Russian territory. Georgia has reduced its diplomatic presence in Moscow to the minimum. Russia says that it has no plans to change its level of representation in Tbilisi.

In an interview on one of Russia’s state-owned television stations, Medvedev said that he is not afraid of the possible deterioration in relations with the West: “It all depends on the position which our partners take. If they want to maintain good relations with Russia, then they will understand the cause for our decision, and the situation will be peaceful. If they choose a scenario of confrontation – well, we have lived under all kinds of circumstances, we can live under such circumstances, too.” That is at least a partial announcement of self-isolation.

International response

It is important for Russia not to remain proudly alone or nearly alone in the recognition of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence. I doubt whether there will be much of a response from CIS countries, which have said nothing about Russia’s attack against Georgia. The only response came from Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the “boss” of Belarus who has been chased into a corner (he was in Sochi to see Medvedev), and it was a fairly peculiar reaction: “It was a quiet, peaceful reaction. (..) You acted peacefully, wisely and beautifully,” he said.

Leaders from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s member states (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kirghizia, Tajikistan) are gathering in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe today, and they will talk about the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We will see what the final documents from this meeting say. Much, presumably, will depend on China, which has its own problems with integrity – Taiwan, Tibet, also Uighuristan.

Medvedev’s decree is also a blow below the belt for Russia’s trustworthy paladin Serbia. If the changes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia occurred, as Russia claims, in accordance with the example set in Kosovo, then that means that Russia has indirectly admitted that Kosovo’s departure from Serbia was lawful. It would only be logical if Russia, in this new situation, were to plan diplomatic relations not only with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but also with Russia.

Effects of Russia’s actions

Russia has spit upon Georgia’s territorial integrity and recognized the independent statehood of two of Georgia’s separatist provinces. If we treat this fact seriously, then we must talk about several consequences which may boomerang back to Russia which, like Georgia, is a federal country.

The most evident example here is Chechnya, where Russia, in the name of preserving territorial integrity, organized two bloody wars. OK, that was before it recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. If Russia wants to be consistent in demanding nothing more of others than it demands itself, then it is time for a new “parade of sovereignty” – for the Northern Caucasus, for the Trans- Volga region, and for Siberia.

We cannot fail to recognize, too, the fact that at least 80 per cent of the residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are Russian citizens. Russia talked about defending the interests of its citizens when it attacked Georgia. Now that Medvedev has decreed recognition of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independent statehood, the scene has changed. In what sense is, for instance, the Kaliningrad territory worse than Abkhazia and South Ossetia? It is, moreover, an enclave that is completely split off from the “mother country”. 85 per cent of the residents of Kaliningrad who are younger than 30 have never been elsewhere in Russia, but they are very familiar with Germany, Poland or Lithuania.

Also possible now is the oft-cited concept of North Ossetia and South Ossetia merging. North Ossetia could join up with independent South Ossetia. Medvedev’s decrees theoretically open up broad possibilities for the subjects of the Russian Federation. Of course, these could be pursued if Russia were a democratic country. And, of course, nothing of this sort would ever happen in a democratic country – democratic countries do not tend to declare neighbouring provinces to be independent countries unilaterally.

Russia probably will be able to preserve its military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Close to Tbilisi. That is all, however. NATO enlargement will continue independent of Russia. A new place in the world is, at the end of the day, a very high price to pay for an exaggeration of Russia’s real capacities and its willingness to present wishful thinking as reality.

Originally published by Diena, Riga, in Latvian 28 Aug 08 p 2.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring European. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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