The principle of territorial integrity has its place in Russian policy, and that place is Russia. In other places, the principle has no place at all.

Russian support for secession is the life blood of separatist movements in Moldova and Georgia. In both, secession allows Russia to keep troops deployed in former Soviet territory, outside the borders of the Russian Federation. In both, Western diplomats boasted of progress toward peace following last month’s summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. And in both, secessionist leaders repudiated the OSCE agreements before the ink was dry.

In Moldova, Russia agreed at the OSCE summit to remove its arsenals by 2001 and its troops by 2002. But Igor Smirnov, the Russian citizen who heads the breakaway province of Transdniester, says he won’t “allow” the Russians to leave. (How will he do this, with no troops of his own? “Resolutely,” he said.) Smirnov’s opposition is enough for Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, the second-ranking officer on Russia’s general staff. Said Ivashov: “As long as Chisinau [Moldova] and Tiraspol [Transdniester] don’t agree with one another, Russia declines any responsibility for the nonfulfillment” of its OSCE commitments.

In Georgia, Russia agreed at the OSCE summit to reduce its combat forces, close two of its four military bases, and negotiate the status of the remaining bases. But Russian support for the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and Ajaria could undermine this agreement as well. In Abkhazia, where Russian border troops operate, the Russian-backed leaders of the unrecognized secessionist government announced they would not be bound by OSCE decisions, to which of course they are not a party. And Russian-backed secessionist leaders in Ajaria are unlikely to “allow” the closure of the Russian base that sustains their authority.