Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 175

In an address which followed predictable lines, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told the UN General Assembly this week that separatist movements in countries around the world now constitute one of the gravest threats to international stability. The Russian foreign minister went on, moreover, to link this “aggressive separatism” to what he called the “monster of terrorism.” Ivanov urged the UN to take decisive action against “any manifestations of separatism,” and to defend consistently “the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of national borders” (AP, Russian agencies, September 21).

Moscow has chosen repeatedly to accent the importance of sovereignty and territorial integrity over that of human rights. That stance has been evident especially in Moscow’s defense of Yugoslav authorities in Belgrade–despite their conduct of a long and bloody crackdown in Kosovo–and in Russia’s sharp opposition to NATO’s effort to rectify the situation there through military intervention. Moscow had likewise emphasized issues of national sovereignty and nonintervention in its criticism of UN weapons monitoring operations in Iraq, and more recently in calling for an end to U.S. and British air patrols over Iraq’s “no-fly zones.”

Mounting unrest in Russia’s Caucasus region and a series of deadly bombings in Russian cities have led more recently to Moscow’s denunciations of “international terrorism” and its linking of that phenomenon to separatist movements–particularly those in Russia and Yugoslavia. Moscow’s arguments in this area are more than a little ironic, given the efforts of Russian political leaders and diplomats in recent years to reclaim significant portions of the Soviet Union’s foreign policy legacy. The Soviet Union was, after all, a key supporter of national liberation movements around the globe. It was also a clandestine sponsor of international terrorism, with connections to fundamentalist groups not unlike those that Moscow is currently blaming for the war in the Caucasus, the bombings in Russia’s cities, and the push for independence in Kosovo.

Moscow’s current foreign policy concepts serve its needs nicely, however. Portraying Russia’s crackdown in the Caucasus as an effort to stamp out a separatist movement underwritten by international terrorist organizations absolves Moscow for the stupidity of its earlier war in Chechnya and its subsequent abject failure to address the region’s glaring social, political and economic problems. Those are the more compelling reasons for the unrest in the region. By simultaneously linking the Chechen rebels to Osama bin Laden and militant fundamentalist groups, Moscow hopes also to align itself with Western nations intent on battling international terrorism and thereby to implicate the West in what is likely to be another war of bloody repression at home in Russia. The emphasis on “aggressive separatism” and terrorism, finally, also serves as a justification for Moscow’s support of Belgrade–a key Russian ally in the Balkans–and for its reservations regarding international military interventions more generally.