Roses for the Bear

Kosovo’s independence could unleash a storm of instability in the neighborhood. That’s why Russia and Georgia need to start ironing out their differences.

This article is not about Kosovo's independence. I clearly understand that it was a product of different history and has occurred under different circumstances. Instead, I would like to focus on the "Kosovo Precedent"-as a pattern which has already affected the post-Soviet states and the wider Black Sea area. Indeed, this precedent may just destroy stability in those lands altogether, specifically in my own country, Georgia.

The rush by some states to recognize Kosovo's independence has divided the West, gives Russia an unwarranted political and economic reason to bash its neighbors, and creates unintended consequences for Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan, all of which have secessionist regions. Other countries with huge minority enclaves, like Kazakhstan or Ukraine, may be eventually at risk too.

What is so unique about Kosovo that makes it different from a score of other separatist entities across the board? Why not grant independence to all those "unrecognized" enclaves across the former Soviet Union (FSU), including in Russia? How do you make this point to some of the Russian leaders, who are busy pulling the strings of separatism in all these neighboring conflicts, while playing the role of "unbiased" peacekeeper?

I don't see principles here-just expediency. The United States and some major European countries support enclaves in the Balkans, now including Kosovo, while opposing Abkhazian or South Ossetian separatism. We Georgians naturally support that Western position. Russia supports all these breakaway entities within the FSU (formally recognizing Georgia's and other former Soviet republics' territorial integrity) while opposing Kosovo. What makes the Kosovo precedent surrealistic is that we Georgians have to support Russia's position and go against the West, doing so while lobbying vigorously for NATO membership! We clearly understand that the Western policy aims to avoid a failed state in Kosovo, but we also presume that it's a calculated risk. Quite possibly the pattern may result in greater rather than lesser danger.

The main consequence of the Kosovo precedent, for the time being, is to further complicate the conflict-resolution process within the FSU, and specifically in Georgia, even though the Western community keeps saying that Kosovo is unique. Notwithstanding all the lip service that Russia gives, for example, to Georgia's territorial integrity, Moscow has already turned up the heat by terminating the more-than-feeble sanctions on Abkhazia, and is even introducing a dangerous model of some "suspended independence."

Some in Georgia admit that in retaliation for Tbilisi's position on Kosovo, NATO may backpedal on Georgia's long-coveted membership-though there are additional reasons why some European capitals resist Georgia‘s inclusion in the organization. Georgia, some Western experts say, may not expect the Membership Action Plan (MAP) to be offered at the Bucharest NATO summit because Georgia isn't ready to meet NATO standards yet. Trying to say that message is "not if, but when" in terms of a MAP for Georgia does not look convincing.

This could be the case, but-more importantly-we understand that some EU members do not want to jeopardize their political-economic interests (i.e., energy dependence on Russia) over what is perceived as just a "peripheral Georgian issue." However, Georgia's NATO aspirations are based not only on a quest for credible security guarantees, but also on a willingness to seize the opportunity to become a truly democratic, stable and sovereign state. A stable and democratic Georgia would benefit mainly its immediate neighbors, and concretely its northern and biggest one. Ironically, it is exactly Russia which could have guaranteed Georgia that kind of development.

Why do I say that the "Kosovo precedent" may destroy stability in our area? Because the wider Black Sea region-and specifically the South Caucasus-is a space where a lot of history, traditions and habits as well as prejudices, psychologies, perceptions and misperceptions are interconnected and intertwined with each other. Security as well as stability and sovereignty there are indivisible and all-inclusive. So if something happens within that broader area (Serbia happens to be a member of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, meaning it formally belongs to the wider Black Sea area) or even beyond it, it may affect in a negative way any entity inside that equation. That's why the "Kosovo precedent" may matter to us!

I know that our Russian friends display a certain irritation with Georgia's NATO and EU aspirations. They may have their own reasons for that, though I cannot comprehend them fully. Let's call a spade a bloody shovel and ask some questions in this regard! What can Russia offer as an alternative? What is the substance of Russia's "Good Neighborhood Policy," if it exists at all, beyond some formal statements of support regarding Georgia's territorial integrity? What are Russia's strategic interests in Abkhazia, for example? Access to the Black Sea shoreline, some energy or real estate and other private property assets? Stability in the Northern Caucasus, where Russia itself is not fully immune to the implications for its own restive areas of any moves it makes regarding Abkhazia or South Ossetia? All of the above?