The European Union’s High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, opined in a European Parliament hearing that international recognition of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia could set “a precedent” adversely affecting Georgia in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. With some trepidation Solana imagined, “We are trapped here…. President [Mikheil] Saakashvili is trapped; all of us are trapped in a double mechanism that may have good consequences for one, but not for the other” (RFE/RL Caucasus Report, October 6).
This statement gratuitously bows to Russia’s untenable, self-serving theory linking the conflict settlement in Kosovo to the post-Soviet conflicts. Given Solana’s top position, this statement — inadvertent or improvised as may be the case in a hearing — is the strongest public support for Moscow’s position from a Western official thus far. It undercuts U.S. policy and that of many old and new EU governments, which rule out any linkage between conflict resolution in Kosovo and in the post-Soviet conflicts. Those governments — and also Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan, whose territories are the scene of conflicts — point out that the Kosovo conflict differs profoundly in its nature from the post-Soviet “frozen” conflicts and that any outcome in Kosovo can have no bearing on eventual outcomes in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, or Karabakh.
The timing of Solana’s pronouncement is — again, perhaps unintentionally — as encouraging to Moscow as its content. The endgame seems very near in Kosovo. The United States and the European Union (the latter not without hesitation) are aiming for a solution in Kosovo by the end of this year, involving international recognition of Kosovo’s right to independent statehood or at least a decisive and irreversible move toward such recognition.
In the U.N. Security Council and at the OSCE, veto-wielding Russia is set for a grand tradeoff. Two options seem equally satisfactory to Moscow: It would accept Kosovo’s independence from Serbia via referendum, if Western powers tacitly accept the secession by a similar scenario of one or more Russian-controlled territories from Georgia and/or Moldova. Or, alternatively, Russia could use its veto to support Serbia, block the Western-supported independence of Kosovo, and exploit such a success to re-enter Balkan politics in alliance with Serbian nationalism.
A third option, at least as advantageous to Moscow, would be stalemate and persistent ambiguity on both Kosovo and the post-Soviet conflicts. Russia aims to manipulate the negotiating processes on both fronts, in no hurry to reach settlement on either, and leverage its influence for potential tradeoffs in both. If Kosovo festers unresolved, Russia will have its fifth “frozen” conflict, this one in the Balkans, to exploit from next year onward.
Even the relatively moderate (compared to the ultras) Serbian nationalists currently in power are scurrying to gain Russia’s support for the latter two scenarios. Thus, Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vuk Draskovic is seconding Moscow in calling for an arms embargo against Georgia (Interfax, October 6).
All three Russian scenarios are predicated on linking the negotiation processes and outcomes in the post-Soviet conflicts and Kosovo, falsely postulating the equivalency of all these conflicts and calling for equivalent solutions. Moscow insists that it wants a single, overarching conflict-resolution model, but it remains ambiguous and flexible about its choice of such a model. At the moment, it seems equally prepared to sacrifice Serb nationalist interests for a “precedent” that would advance the “right” of post-Soviet secession; or, alternatively, to short-change its post-Soviet secessionist clients by stalling the resolution in Kosovo with lip service to the “territorial integrity” principle.
The United States and many other governments point out that each conflict has its own characteristics and is a case in itself, requiring specific solutions. In Kosovo, for example, the former titular state Serbia ethnically cleansed the Albanian population — a process that the West reversed. In Abkhazia or Karabakh, however, the local minority ethnically cleansed the majority population with external support — a process that continues to this day with Russian support. While Kosovo was an internal conflict within the former Yugoslavia, the post-Soviet conflicts are inter-state conflicts pitting Russia against Moldova and Georgia and Armenia against Karabakh. Whereas the post-Soviet secessionist territories make no secret of their desire to join another country and have taken the citizenship of another country, Kosovo is headed for statehood of its own, with an explicit prohibition on joining another country.
Thus, any “precedent” or linkage is ruled out. Russia, however — from President Vladimir Putin on down — insists on linkage and “precedent.” Solana could have underscored the major differences between these conflicts by aligning himself with the United States and many EU member countries on this issue. Instead, he seemed to succumb to Moscow’s views in his European Parliament deposition.
Solana has in the recent past displayed an uncertain knowledge of the post-Soviet “frozen” conflicts and an inclination to appease Moscow. Last year, he allowed himself to be maneuvered by Putin into meeting with the Abkhaz and South Ossetian secessionist leaders in Sochi. Earlier this year, in an interview with Moldova’s officious daily newspaper, Solana completely mis-described the Transnistria conflict as one between right-bank and left-bank economic and political elites — an interpretation apparently designed to obscure Russia role in this inter-state conflict.