Saturday, February 23, 2008

Europe.view column


The case for clarity

Feb 21st 2008

Why does the EU support independence for Kosovo?

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WHY is the West giving Kosovo independence when it refuses to recognise Transdniestria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia? These three places are nominally independent—at least in their own eyes—and have been so for many years.

At first sight it seems a clear case of Western double standards. Kosovar Albanians don’t want to be under Serbian rule any more than the Abkhaz feel Georgian or the Transdniestrians like Moldova. They have established their status by force of arms, and entrenched it over ten years of quasi-independence. Is not the real story just an American power-play in Europe, punishing Serbia and rewarding the only pro-American Muslims in the world?

Nobody would deny that such political calculations have influenced decision-making. But the real difference is another one. Kosovo wants to join the European Union. That much is at least clear, however badly run Kosovo may be at the moment, and however much gangsterism and ethno-nationalism have flourished there under the haphazard stewardship of the so-called international community. Kosovo does not want to join, say, Turkey in a new “Ottoman Caliphate”. Nor is it even interested in forming a “Greater Albania”.

That makes a big difference. Transdniestria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia do not subscribe to the Euroatlantic vision of multilateral security and law-governed political freedom. The main priority of the ruling elites there is self-enrichment, followed by at least a rhetorical commitment to closer integration with Russia (a goal that the Kremlin endorses in theory but seems remarkably cautious about in practice).

The West is reluctant to say so bluntly, but that makes a difference. The EU is sending thousands of lawyers, prosecutors and police officers to Kosovo, in what might be termed the continent’s most ambitious colonial adventure for decades. That “soft imperialism” creates at least a chance of success for Kosovo’s independence.

All this may yet be derailed. Bosnia is falling apart again; Macedonia still looks fragile; and Russia could not ask for more fertile soil for mischief, with Europe divided and indecisive. But it is worth a try.

Contrast that with Transdniestria or Abkhazia. Imagine that Russia and a bunch of other countries—Belarus, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Venezuela, say—decided to go ahead and recognise these breakaway statelets. It is almost laughable to imagine what such outside supporters could offer to promote the rule of law and good government. Would Hugo Chávez of Venezuela offer policemen? Would Russia provide prosecutors, or Uzbekistan start teaching Abkhaz civil servants about e-government?

This is the weakness at the heart of all the Kremlin’s foreign-policy efforts in the countries of the former Soviet Union. It offers a great deal for elites. Some enjoy lavish hospitality and lucrative directorships. Others get intelligence co-operation and sales of advanced weaponry.

But Russia has much less to offer from the public’s point of view. True, it offers passports, and a Russian passport is not worthless.

But the survival of the Soviet-era propiska system means that this does not confer the prized right to live and work in Moscow. Even the Kremlin’s most loyal allies can’t offer that to their citizens as a quid pro quo. (Admittedly, Schengen and American visas can still be shamefully hard to come by, even for citizens of ex-captive nations that are loyally Euroatlantic in outlook).

What the EU will not say, but thinks privately, is this: We are supporting Kosovo’s independence because of the chance that it will become more like us, and hence a better neighbour. We oppose independence for Transdniestria et al because it would make them more like Russia, and therefore worse for Europe.

1 comment:

George Nikoladze said...

Dear Mr Lucas,

Indeed, Interesting analysis of differences between Kosovo and Russian backed separatist regimes in former Soviet Republics of Georgia and Moldova. We should also mention the fundamental differences between Abkhazia, S.Ossetia, and Kosovo.

In Abkhazia, entire Georgian population (which constituted the majority of the population in this autonomous republic) numbering 350,000 was expelled by force. Although, crimes were committed by the both sides during the conflict, the Georgia side suffered brutal ethnic cleansing (recognized by OSCE Conversions in Bucharest and Lisbon). During the war Georgians did not face Abkhaz separatist militants alone, but thousands of North Caucasian volunteers (including infamous Shamil Basaev) and most importantly, Russian forces. This de facto "state" is governed by small group of ethno-nationalists who refuse the rightful return of all Georgian IDPs. Mainly, this de facto regime is sustained and maintained by Moscow. It has no other function.

South Ossetia case is very similar to Abkhazia. This patch of land lacks territorial uniformity. The whole territory is like a chessboard, with many Georgian and Ossetian villages spread out thought the territory. The main stronghold of the separatist regime (again Moscow backed) is capital Tskhnvali with its 30,000 population.

Overall, in all of those conflicts Russia is a the main player and instigator. We can easily draw conclusions that more than ethnic tensions or animosities of the Balkan type, we get Russian negative political/military influence in those conflicts which further eradicates the peaceful solution.

And if we want to draw parallels between Kosovo and other separatist regions, it would be easier to find similarities between Chechnya and Kosovo or Ingushetia-Daghestan to Kosovo. Russian methodology for curing separatism by Kadirovite venum will shown its catastrophic effects in near or far future. When you have a house made entirely of glass, you don't through stones at your neighbors house (Im not sure who said that but it definitely suits the Russian parallel making for Kosovo)

Thanks a lot