The London meeting of the Contact Group, which launched the negotiations toward defining Kosovo’s status (Interfax, February 1, 2), is being assessed by the post-Soviet secessionist leaderships cautiously. They do not seem to assume that the outcome in Kosovo would necessarily set an international precedent to legalized secession. This is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s professed assumption. On January 30-31, Putin called for the post-Soviet enclaves’ international recognition and came close to promising Russian recognition if, as expected, Kosovo is granted independence (see EDM, February 2, 6). In the Contact Group’s meeting, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov reiterated Putin’s thesis that the outcome in Kosovo must create a precedent and “universal model” for resolution of conflicts.
No major Western government or international organization shares Moscow’s view on Kosovo as a “precedent” or “model.” Moscow, however, wants the post-Soviet enclaves to cling to that illusory expectation and, meanwhile, to cast aside the respective negotiations on conflict settlement. For example, Abkhaz de facto president Sergei Bagapsh claims that recognition of Kosovo’s independence should simply lead to international recognition of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, and Karabakh (Vremya novostei, February 2).
However, the secessionist leaders seem less than fully certain about the ultimate outcome in Kosovo and are therefore phrasing their case more broadly. Thus, Abkhazia’s self-styled “minister of foreign affairs” Sergei Shamba claims that Kosovo would merely add to examples of the right of self-determination overriding the inviolability of borders. From this perspective, a Kosovo precedent may even be redundant: “Of course a precedent is needed, but I should point out that there are numerous precedents already” (Regnum, January 30; Itar-Tass, February 3). Evidently, Abkhaz leaders are awaiting the outcome on Kosovo before deciding which “precedent” to pick and choose for their case.
In a similar vein, South Ossetia’s de facto leader Eduard Kokoiti maintains that Putin’s position on Kosovo “supports the right to national self-determination” for Ossetians as well (Regnum, January 30). Kokoiti evidently means separation of South Ossetia from Georgia, not that of North Ossetia from Russia, let alone that of Chechnya. But irrespective of such deviation from Putin’s “universal model,” Kokoiti’s argument falls back on the general claim of self-determination, rather than tying its case to an as yet uncertain outcome in Kosovo.
For his part, Transnistria’s newly elected Supreme Soviet chairman Yevgeny Shevchuk would grasp at any “precedent” or “model,” not just the putative one in Kosovo. Shevchuk claims that the conflict in Moldova does not differ from the conflicts that tore Yugoslavia apart and it can be resolved along similar lines. According to him, the common state of Serbia and Montenegro, the federal/confederal arrangements for Bosnia-Herzegovina, or Kosovo’s outright independence (if enacted) can all provide a basis for resolving the conflict in Transnistria and “similar conflicts” (Regnum, January 31). Again, the Kosovo argument becomes almost redundant in this perspective.
In Karabakh, self-styled “deputy minister of foreign affairs” Masis Mailian hopes that the Contact Group on Kosovo would work out that “universal model” to provide a formula for international recognition of Karabakh as a state. On the other hand, the Karabakh legislature’s foreign affairs commission chairman, Vahram Atanesian, rejects the application of any “universal solution” to Karabakh, calling instead for an “individual approach” on the basis that this conflict differs in its essence from the other post-Soviet conflicts (Arminfo, January 31, February 1). This has long been Armenia’s position, and it seems unchanged by Putin’s “universal model” thesis. According to Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hamlet Gasparian, “Armenia does not regard all conflicts as equivalent. Each conflict has its own causes and legal background, requiring a specific approach to its resolution.” Thus, the declared goal remains that of Karabakh’s “self-determination, irrespective of solutions that may be proposed for other conflicts” (PanArmenianNet, Azg, February 2).
Within the Contact Group, Russia seems set to treat the interests of its post-Soviet proteges as well as those of its traditional ally Serbia as currencies of exchange, to be traded off one way or another in accordance with Moscow’s interests. Belgrade expects Moscow to stand for territorial integrity; the secessionist enclaves, for territorial separation; and they all know that they may end up short-changed. For now, the post-Soviet enclaves are cautious about betting on the outcome in Kosovo, clearly hedging those bets while uncertainty persists.