Kosovo Precedent Watch, Part II

That Kosovo's independence wouldn't set a precedent is an unonvincing argument for several other former-Soviet territories.

A summit was held earlier this month in Tiraspol, capital of the unrecognized, breakaway region of Transdnistria. This meeting brought together representatives from a number of the various statelets that emerged after the break-up of the Soviet Union in Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan-each claiming the right to leave their titular republic when those states left the USSR.

On the agenda? What implications the recognition of Kosovo would have for their own aspirations.

An advisor to the president of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was quoted as saying:

"The recognition of the independence of Kosovo as a legal precedent will, of course, be working. In this sense it may prove a certain acceleration in the recognition of our states."

No one from this group seems to be accepting the notion that Kosovo is a unique case.

The foreign minister for South Ossetia, Murat Jioev, said, "[I]f Kosovo is recognized by the international community, it will automatically become a precedent for those states that are also seeking their recognition. It must be reckoned with." The foreign minister for Abkhazia, Sergei Shamba, stressed, "[T]here must be a general principle, as everyone is seeking independence."

What should be especially worrying for Washington is that Nagorno-Karabakh, which in 2004 withdrew from what is often referred to as the "Commonwealth of Unrecognized States", in part as a gesture to the United States to show its willingness to pursue a settlement with Azerbaijan, has rejoined this body in advance of an expected push for Kosovo independence.

Sometimes double standards are a necessary part of statecraft and diplomacy. Not all precedents have to be applied equally. But Washington's public diplomacy in the region is going to need some stronger and more convincing talking points on this matter.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.