Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 122

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov

Meeting in Tiraspol on June 17, “foreign ministers” Valery Litskay of Transnistria, Sergei Shamba of Abkhazia, and Murat Jioyev of South Ossetia, as well as Karabakh “presidential” foreign policy adviser Arman Melikian issued a “Declaration on the Principles of Peaceful and Just Settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz, Georgian-Ossetian, Azerbaijan-Karabakh, and Moldovan-Dniester Conflicts.” Intended for dissemination to international organizations (courtesy of Russia), the document calls for resolution of these conflicts through “recognition of the right of peoples to self-determination.”

This approach seemingly contradicts Russia’s tactical emphasis on the principle of the territorial integrity of states, in the context of negotiations on the status of Kosovo. Even as the secessionist leaders were en route to Tiraspol, Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov professed that the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be resolved “through existing mechanisms: We think that the principle of territorial integrity is universal” (Itar-Tass, June 15).

The leaderships in Tiraspol, Sukhumi, Tskhinvali, and Stepanakert are coordinating their actions through the “Community for Democracy and Rights of Peoples” (CDRP) sponsored by Modest Kolerov’s Department for Inter-Regional and Cultural Ties within Russia’s Presidential Administration. The relationship between the Russian government’s official policy and the actions of the CDRP is reminiscent of the relationship between the Soviet government and the Moscow-based Comintern between the two World Wars. While the government sought at least pro forma to act within international law and negotiate with the Western world on that basis, the Comintern advanced Moscow’s political and strategic objectives with overt and sometimes violent breaches of international law. While the Kremlin itself was commissioning the Comintern’s activities, the government eschewed the legal and political responsibility.

The analogy extends to stimulation and exploitation of ethnic separatism in neighboring states. The Comintern championed an ethnically based “right of peoples to self-determination, up to separation from the [existing] state” in order to weaken the Soviet Union’s neighbors in Europe. At present, the Kremlin is applying similar tactics against the Western-oriented Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan, using the CDRP as one of the instruments of this policy. Concurrently, Russia seeks to establish a Balkan outpost in Serbia by supporting the latter’s “territorial integrity” in Kosovo, necessitating Russian lip service to that principle “universally.” Consequently, it needs the CDRP to champion “self-determination of peoples” without directly exposing the Russian government to international accountability.

The terminology “Georgian-Abkhaz, Georgian-Ossetian, Azerbaijan-Karabakh, and Moldovan-Dniester conflicts” is also designed to obscure Russia’s responsibility as well as the nature of these conflicts. They are, in essence, inter-state conflicts waged by Russia on the territories of Georgia and Moldova and by Armenia on the territory of Azerbaijan, with state tools of conflict such as conventional armed forces.

The CDRP was founded in June 2006 in Sukhumi with Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia as full members and Karabakh as observer. The meeting in Tiraspol is at least the fifth in 2007 at the political level, apart from military-level meetings. The declaration just issued in Tiraspol was timed as a counter to the GUAM summit (Georgia-Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Moldova) that was just held in Baku (see EDM, June 20).

Apart from the tactical timing, CDRP members claim, “a new concept of international relations has been born with the signing of this document.” The declaration calls for barring all types of pressure — such as military deployments, diplomatic isolation, economic blockades, or information wars — during negotiations toward resolution of conflicts. It also calls for external guarantees to eventual political settlements of these conflicts. In practice, however, the three Western-oriented countries are bearing the brunt of pressures from Russia and its allies.

While Russia professes to strongly oppose the recognition of Kosovo’s independence, the secessionists’ meeting in Tiraspol described Kosovo’s recognition as “inevitable” and adding to a “legal basis” for recognition of Transnistria’s, Abkhazia’s, South Ossetia’s, and Karabakh’s independence. However, those meeting in Tiraspol were careful to hedge against the distinct possibility that Russia would continue championing Serbia’s “territorial integrity” for some time to come, delaying any movement toward a “self-determination”-based resolution of the post-Soviet conflicts. Consequently, CDRP claimed in Tiraspol that their title to recognition is stronger than Kosovo’s. “Our state institutions and democratic standards are much better developed,” Litskay claimed for a clinching argument.

On the participants’ behalf, Litskay warned Ukraine against promoting the creation of a GUAM peacekeeping battalion. He advised Kyiv that it has “no interests in the Caucasus. And if Ukrainian [peacekeepers] are wounded or killed there, Ukraine will be mired in conflict.” The CDRP meeting reaffirmed the intention to set up their own peacekeeping battalion, but implied that they would do so in response to the possible formation of a GUAM unit.

As part of the Tiraspol session, “deputy defense ministers” Vladimir Atamanyuk and Garri Kupalba announced a decision to create a coordinating body on military cooperation and “peacekeeping” in Abkhazia and Transnistria within the CDRP’s framework.

(Interfax, Regnum, Olvia-Press [Tiraspol], Pan-ArmenianNet, June 16-18; Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 19)