Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 233

Representatives of Transdniester, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Karabakh conferred on December 15-16 in Moscow on “Conflicts in the Post-Soviet Space and the Unrecognized Republics.” Russia’s Institute for CIS Affairs, which is officially sponsored by the Foreign Affairs and Defense ministries and other government agencies, organized the gathering. While billed as a conference, its attendance and content were those of a strategy session. Russian government officials met with the unrecognized republics’ representatives on the conclave’s sidelines.

The CIS Affairs Institute’s director, Konstantin Zatulin, made public the gist of the proceedings through the Gazeta SNG [Russian acronym for CIS], the Russian government’s electronic publication for CIS affairs. The conferees recommended that the Russian government develop more active and more open relations with the “unrecognized republics,” shedding undue concerns that Moscow might be accused of “double standards.” In the conferees’ view, the double standards manifest themselves in the international community’s policy of nonrecognition of these breakaway formations. They are being denied the right of self-determination through separation from Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan, respectively, even though the international community had accepted those countries’ independence when the Soviet Union broke up. In this view, unless “the independence of Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan was a victory for separatism” in the first place, the subsequent secessions from them ought also to be recognized on the basis of the right of self-determination.

The unrecognized republics–the argument goes on–are de facto functioning states with “democratically elected” leaderships, their own political systems and armed forces; they are also parties to political negotiations, mediated by Russia, with the recognized states from which they broke away. Meanwhile, Russian troops function as “peacekeepers,” and will be “guarantors” of eventual settlements. Russia, moreover, officially pursues a policy of protecting the interests of “compatriots” in former Soviet republics, the “internal affairs of which therefore concern Russia as well.” All this, according to the session’s concluding recommendations, justifies stepped-up Russian support of the unrecognized republics. The conference stopped short of advocating a prompt or open official Russian recognition of these formations.

On his return from the Moscow session, Transdniester’s would-be foreign affairs minister Valery Litskay stated that he had met there with Vyacheslav Trubnikov, Russia’s first deputy foreign affairs minister, responsible for CIS affairs. Litskay cited Trubnikov as expressing concern over the Moldovan government’s refusal to continue negotiating with Transdniester’s leader Igor Smirnov. Trubnikov called for the resumption of negotiations in the existing “pentagonal format,” which consists of Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Transdniester authorities and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. That is also President Vladimir Putin’s known position, which prompted the Moldovan analyst Oazu Nantoi to comment on Putin’s dual approach: “The Chechen separatists are to be ‘exterminated in their outhouses,’ but the Transdniester separatists are to be invited to pentagonal formats” (Interfax, December 5, 7; Azg (Yerevan), December 15; Gazeta SNG cited by Flux, December 18; Basapress, December 18).