Russian policy seeks to obfuscate the stark differences between the Kosovo conflict on the one hand and the post-Soviet conflicts on the other hand, as well as between the four post-Soviet conflicts. The most fundamental criteria for assessing the nature of each one of these conflicts are: a) the ethnic composition of the population, with special reference to the titular ethnic group; b) population displacements and ethnic cleansing; c) the roots of conflict and cleavages in society; d) the political agenda of the secession; e) an external authority determining local political developments; f) an external military presence; g) the existing mechanisms for negotiation; and h) the position of the internationally recognized government toward the secessionist process within its recognized borders.
Applying these basic criteria to each of the five cases shows the deep differences that invalidate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call for using a single, “universal model” for resolving these conflicts.
Ethnic composition: Kosovo has a 90% majority of the Albanian titular ethnic group; Transnistria’s secession is driven by the minority, non-titular, partly non-indigenous Russian group (25%); Abkhazia’s, by the titular indigenous minority (17%); South Ossetia’s, by a titular majority of some 70%, though the indigenous Georgian population of 30% remains loyal to Georgia; Karabakh had a 75% Armenian majority before the conflict but it occupies additional, heavily Azeri areas since the armed phase of the conflict.
Population displacements and ethnic cleansing: Serbia’s ethnic cleansing of the Kosovo Albanians has been reversed thanks to Western military intervention; relatively small numbers of Moldovans and Georgians were forced to flee from Transnistria and South Ossetia, respectively, and are prevented from returning to their homes; mass-scale ethnic cleansing has targeted Georgians in Abkhazia and Azeris in and beyond Karabakh — a situation that has not been seriously addressed, let alone reversed, on the international level.
Roots of conflict and cleavages in society: The Kosovo conflict is defined by ethnic and religious factors; the conflict in Transnistria is not an inter-ethnic one (though it has its ramifications on that level) but, mainly, a political and geopolitical conflict; the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are largely defined in ethnic terms, though at least in the Ossetian case that group has far better chances of preserving its identity in Georgia’s South Ossetia than in Russia’s North Ossetia; the cleavages in Karabakh run along ethnic and religious lines.
Political Agendas: The secessionist authorities’ political agendas vary from independence in Kosovo, to status-quo conservation in Transnistria, to incorporation into Russia in the case of South Ossetia, to unification of Karabakh with Armenia; whereas Abkhaz groups seem divided between nationally-minded and pro-Russia tendencies, and the Georgian plurality of the population (45% before the armed conflict) disenfranchised through eviction or repression.
Political authority: Western under U.N. aegis in Kosovo; Russian in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia; Armenian in Karabakh.
Military presence: NATO, U.S., EU in Kosovo; Russian in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia; Armenian in Karabakh.
Existing mechanisms for conflict/management and resolution: basically Western ones on Kosovo; Russian-dominated on Transnistria and Abkhazia; Russian-controlled on South Ossetia; and genuinely international on Karabakh.
Position of the internationally recognized government toward the secessionist process within its recognized borders: Serbia negotiating the conditions of its consent; Moldova and Georgia supported by the West in ruling out such consent; Azerbaijan and Armenia negotiating under international aegis.
Thus, the five conflicts involve a wide variety of situations and circumstances invalidating Moscow’s claim that a “single standard” and “universal model” is applicable to all.