Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 173

Representatives of Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Karabakh held a conference on “A Parallel CIS” on September 15-16 in Moscow. The gathering differed from previous ones in that it was overtly sponsored by officials of Russia’s executive branch of power. Modest Kolerov, head of the Russian Presidential Administration’s Directorate for Interregional and External Ties (mainly responsible for liaison with pro-Moscow groups in Eurasia) and Konstantin Zatulin, Director of Russia’s government-sponsored CIS Affairs Institute, were the hosts and keynote speakers.

Perhaps because the unprecedented official involvement could be seen as provocative enough, the organizers chose to invite low-profile secessionist personages this time. Participants included a “deputy minister of foreign affairs” of Transnistria, a counselor to Karabakh’s president and one to its “ministry of foreign affairs,” the rectors of “state universities” from all the four territories, and heads of these territories’ resident missions in Moscow. Several “ministerial”-rank officials were also listed initially as participants. Abkhazia’s leader, Sergei Bagapsh, was officially reported as being in Moscow during the conference, although he was not listed among conference participants. Conferees also included elements of Kolerov’s usual clientele of pan-Slavist and pan-Orthodox groups from ex-Soviet-ruled countries, the Balkans, and the Near East. Some of these were supposed to provide illustrative examples of unrecognized enclaves striving for international recognition.

Kolerov’s and Zatulin’s keynote addresses both introduced a novel theme to Russian policy on conflict resolution. They portrayed the secessionist territories as well on their way toward becoming functioning democracies, with representative institutions and regularly held elections. Kolerov and Zatulin argued that international recognition would help complete that purported development and would correspond with “democratically expressed” aspirations in these territories. The thesis, in a nutshell, is that stabilization through recognition would promote democracy and guarantee human rights. This argument seeks to exclude the issue of Russian troops from discussion at this stage, reserving the Russian “military guarantees” to be discussed as part of the political settlements. “First democratization, then negotiations toward political settlement,” Kolerov said. For his part, Zatulin suggested that the “parallel CIS” of unrecognized territories was already more effective than the officially existing CIS and could lay a groundwork for international recognition.

This line of argument corresponds with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ new tactic to seek international recognition of the secessionist authorities in two stages. The first stage would involve international monitoring and recognition of elections to secessionist territories’ legislative bodies as democratically valid. The next stage would see recognition of the executive authorities that issued from those elections. Political settlements of the conflicts would then be negotiated on that basis with Russia’s clients in a far stronger position than they had been. Moldova and Transnistria are, at the moment, the first object of this experiment in which Russian diplomacy seeks Western acquiescence. In a message to the participants in the conference, Transnistria’s leader, Igor Smirnov, optimistically stated, “We are drawing closer to recognition with every passing day.”

Kolerov cautioned the secessionist leaderships against the “tactical mistake” of overemphasizing “historical connections with Russia” when addressing international public opinion. “Of course, you can continue to mention that, but it is no longer important for the West.” Instead, they should use human-rights and democracy arguments in the quest for recognition, as “no one can ignore such arguments,” Kolerov advised. At the same time, Kolerov offered a catch-all definition of “Russia’s compatriots (sootechestvenniki) on either side of post-Soviet conflicts,” whose rights and interests Russia “has an obligation to guarantee.” Those compatriots include “all persons born on the territory of the former Soviet Union or the Russian Empire,” irrespective of ethnicity, in the recognized states or the unrecognized ones. This sweeping definition reflects Moscow’s goal to act as “guarantor” of conflict-settlement and post-conflict arrangements, overseeing the constitutional setups in what are now the unrecognized states and the recognized ones as well. Again (and as usual), Moldova is the first target of this new Russian policy.

The Abkhaz and South Ossetian representatives indicated that the goal of international recognition is, to them, an intermediate stage toward accession of these territories to Russia. Transnistria’s representatives (evidently taking geography into account) spoke more vaguely of becoming part of some “community” around Russia. Karabakh representatives only spoke of achieving independence from Azerbaijan. The leader of Armenia’s Democratic Party, Aram Sarkisian (not to be confused with the identically named ex-prime minister who is now an opposition leader) criticized Armenia’s leadership for “distancing itself from Russia” and defended the population of Armenia and Karabakh against any such imputations.

Representatives of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy also led a discussion on the role of the “national dimension” of Orthodox churches in consolidating “national identity” in these territories. This may presage a more active role than has hitherto been the case for Russian Orthodox clergymen and the Moscow Patriarchy in supporting secessionist authorities.

(Regnum, Interfax, RIA, September 12-16; Kommersant Daily, September 16)