Russia has signaled its intention to continue escalating the
crisis in Georgia by unilaterally and illegally recognizing the
independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
After both failing to abide by the terms of the formal ceasefire
negotiated by French President Nicholas Sarkozy and vetoing
attempts to resolve the crisis in the United Nations Security
Council (UNSC), Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he "now felt
obliged to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as other countries
had done with Kosovo."
Comparing the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia with
Kosovo is not only duplicitous, but it is also a calculated move by
Moscow designed to show the West that it was serious when it
threatened reprisals for Kosovo's declaration of independence in
February. Russia successfully engineered this crisis
to suit its broader geopolitical ambitions, and unless the West
pushes back in unequivocal terms, it is more than likely that
Russia will pursue similar policies in other neighboring states,
Russia Does Not Keep Its Word
After more than a week of disproportionate military activity by
Moscow, including multiple incursions into sovereign Georgian
territory, Russia signed a French-led ceasefire agreement on August
16, agreeing to six key points. Moscow has shamelessly flouted the
ceasefire at every turn, thereby exposing the weakness of Sarkozy's
shuttle diplomacy. However, despite the ceasefire's general
shortcomings, the agreement was clear on one particular point: both
sides' commitment to international talks regarding the future
status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Emboldened by the fact that
Russia previously endorsed United Nations (U.N.) resolutions
affirming the territorial integrity of fellow U.N. member state
Georgia, Sarkozy took Moscow's word that the final status of South
Ossetia and Abkhazia would be resolved through international
Although Europe has shown itself to be weak and ineffective in
resolving this crisis, it has been unified around the idea that
Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.
Moscow's illegal and immoral recognition of the breakaway regions
is both a personal humiliation for Sarkozy and a political
humiliation for the European Union's (EU) policy of unfettered
engagement with Russia.
Russia's Illegal Actions
Through its recognition of independence for South Ossetia and
Abkhazia, Russia is attempting to set as precedent the redrawing of
borders by the use of force. This move has been condemned by
Germany, France, the U.K., NATO, the Council of Europe, the United
States, and Russia's neighbor Ukraine. Representatives of these
nations and organizations have issued strong statements of
condemnation, including the following:
- British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has denounced Moscow's
recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as "unjustifiable and
- Georgia's deputy foreign minister, Giga Bokeria, has described
Russia's decision as "an unconcealed annexation"; and
- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stated that the
U.S. will veto any attempt to legitimize Russia's actions through
At present, UNSC resolutions recognizing the Georgian borders
inclusive of South Ossetia and Abkhazia-resolutions of which Russia
has previously voted in favor-remain in force.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia Are Not Kosovo
The current situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia bears no
resemblance or moral equivalence to Kosovo's declaration of
independence in February 2008. Kosovo spent seven years as a
U.N.-administered protectorate and was denied Security Council
recognition only when Moscow wielded its veto power. U.N. Special
Envoy on Kosovo's future status Martti Ahtisaari, who proposed
Kosovan independence, enjoyed the support of the European Union,
the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE),
NATO, the United States, the Western Members of the Kosovo Contact
Group, the U.N., and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ahtisaari
united the majority of the international community on Kosovo's
future, and thus far 46 U.N. countries have formally recognized
Kosovo, with seven recognitions still pending. The near-universal
support for Kosovar independence stands in sharp contrast to the
unilateralism exercised by Moscow over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Kosovo's independence was gained through the U.N. process with
prior consultation and widespread unity.
The head of OSCE, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, has
accused Russia "of trying to empty South Ossetia of Georgians." As a
result of either force, fear or a combination of both, thousands of
Georgians have fled the region. South Ossetia, with Moscow's
assistance, is cleansing the area of ethnic Georgians, thereby
essentially copying Serbia's effort to ethnically cleanse Kosovo.
The West should not countenance such a policy.
Russian claims that Georgia has engaged in Serbian-like ethnic
cleansing in South Ossetia are preposterous. The systematic and
brutal atrocities committed by a Slobodan Milošević-led
Serbia in the Balkans are incomparable to the situation between
Georgia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. When the majority of the
European Union and the United States recognized Kosovo's
independence, they acknowledged that such independence was the
result of tough, tragic, violent, and unique circumstances. As Lady
Margaret Thatcher said in 1999, "It would be both cruel and stupid
to expect the Albanian Kosovans now to return to live under any
form of Serbian rule." Apart from Moscow, even the most ardent
critic of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili would be at pains
to compare him to Slobodan Milošević.
Unlike Kosovo, which wants to enjoy true independence and
ingratiate itself into Euro-Atlantic institutions, South Ossetia
and Abkhazia will become enclaves of Russia, de facto subservient
to the will of Moscow. Indeed, Moscow is currently considering
basing a permanent military facility in Abkhazia. Russia argued
that the principle of self-determination was null and void in
Kosovo but has now turned around and used it as an excuse to back
South Ossetia's and Abkhazia's independence, which it ultimately
has no intentions of respecting. Moscow remains intellectually
bereft in this argument, lacking any sort of consistency with
regard to the principle of self-determination.
In Defense of Our Values
Ukraine's president Victor Yushchenko is correct in stating that
the Georgian-Russian War has exposed the weakness and
ineffectiveness of international bodies like the U.N.
Russia has shown itself more than ready to have a showdown with the
West and is blatantly testing the resolve of both Europe and the
Europe must quickly recognize that the Georgian situation cannot
be undone and that more aggression is to be expected from Moscow.
Russia has pledged that it will go to any lengths to protect its
gains in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the West must not
underestimate Moscow's determination to make good on that
In a stirring article in the Daily Telegraph, British
Conservative leader David Cameron and Czech Prime Minister Mirek
Topolánek stated that "we should not forget that the lessons
of 1968 apply still in 2008-that we must be strong and vigilant in
defence of our values and not look the other way when a small
independent country is invaded by its neighbour." Vice President
Dick Cheney will visit Georgia next week, following an emergency EU
summit to discuss the Caucus crisis. It is important that Europe
stands with the United States in confronting Russian
is Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs in the Margaret
Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby
Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage
Foundation. The author is grateful to Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D., Vice
President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at The Heritage
Foundation, for his advice and suggestions.
"West 'to Pay for Kosovo,'" The Sunday Mail (Australia),
February 24, 2008.
"Russia Recognizes Georgian Rebels," BBC News.
"Russia Recognizes Georgian Rebels," BBC News.
"Russia Recognizes," BBC News.