THE KOSOVA CONUNDRUM FOR TURKEY AND EURASIA

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 37

Since Kosova unilaterally declared independence on February 17, its action has caused a fissure in international reactions. Thirty states have now recognized Kosova’s independence, including the United States, Great Britain, France, and Germany. However, Russia, China, Spain, Georgia, and Greece, among others, oppose the move.

Turkey supported the declaration on the basis that it could help bring peace to the Balkans. Following a reception for Albanian Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said, “Prosperity of the regional people must be enhanced to ensure a lasting peace in the Balkans… The Balkans had to suffer for many years. Turkey respects the will of the people of Kosova. Turkey also expends full support to the NATO membership of Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia” (New Anatolian, February 26).

To show its support for Belgrade – and opposition to Kosovar independence, Russia has decided to play the energy card. On February 25 Serbian President Boris Tadic received Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Belgrade and signed an agreement allowing Russia’s South Stream pipeline to transit Serbia, a distinct blow to EU alternative pipeline routes (RBC, February 26).

For Turkey, the implications of having South Stream transit Serbia are enormous, as the pipeline’s route directly undercuts the Nabucco pipeline favored by Turkey, the United States, and the EU, which would deliver Central Asian gas to Europe via Turkey – and bypass Russia. Whether Moscow will play further pipeline politics with Ankara to indicate its displeasure over Turkey’s position is unclear, but the South Stream decision will definitely hit Ankara in the pocketbook, costing it hundreds of millions of dollars annually in natural gas transit fees. Adding to Russia’s distrust is Turkey’s support of Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia entering NATO, a process that the Kremlin feels has already gone too far.

Interestingly, the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has also recognized Kosova, while Cyprus has not.

Among the fifteen former Soviet republics, Latvia and Estonia have already recognized Kosova, while Lithuania’s parliament is considering a similar action. At the other end of the spectrum, Belarus and Moldova have lined up behind the Kremlin’s position. The Belarusian Parliamentary Commission on International Affairs reported, “Events in Kosova not only destabilize the situation in the Balkans, but also directly affect international stability. Kosova necessarily sets a precedent of similar crises in other countries” (Telegraf, February 21).

On February 18 the Moldovan government issued an official statement noting, “With all the uniqueness of the Kosova problem, this form of ‘decision’ is not only an arbitrary violation of the integrity of the Republic of Serbia, but also a major factor in the destabilization of Europe, a dangerous incentive for the revitalization of separatist sentiment in all conflict zones” (Nezavisimaya Moldova, February 19). In Transnistria Moldova has a restive Russian minority toying with the idea of separatism. Ukraine supports the idea of further talks.

The governments in the Caucasus have taken attitudes sharply divergent from the Baltics. Both Georgia and Armenia have explicitly declared that they will not recognize Serbia’s breakaway province Georgia is worried that similar sentiments might prevail in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while two days before the declaration Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian complained of an international double standard, saying, “Granting independence to Kosova, the international community violated the legal norms but forgot Karabakh” (PanARMENIAN Network, February 16).

Ankara’s close ally, Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan, no doubt fearing that Karabakh might follow Kosova’s precedent, has labeled Pristina’s declaration of sovereignty and independence “illegal” and, according to Aydin Mirzazade, a member of the Standing Parliamentary Commission for Security and Defense, is considering withdrawing its 34-man peacekeeping contingent from the newly independent state (Trend, February 26).

In Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan have all stated that they are against the declaration of independence, while Uzbekistan is reserving judgment.

Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Erzhan Ashikbaev commented during a weekly news briefing, “The position of Kazakhstan on the Kosova situation is based on the fundamental principles of the United Nations about the retention of sovereignty and territorial integrity of states within their internationally acknowledged boundaries, the search for peaceful means to debate questions on the basis of fulfilling of the positions, which are contained in the documents on regulating the crisis, first of all the resolution of the UN Security Council No. 1244 about a peaceful plan for Kosova” (http://ru.government.kz/site/news/2008/02/57).

It seems ironic that Turkey, successor to an Ottoman Empire that ruled the Balkans for centuries, should support Kosova’s independence in the name of stability. Meanwhile, the states that emerged from the wreckage of the USSR largely either oppose independence or support further talks, concerned that Kosova’s action at the very least violates the spirit of the UN mandate assumed in 1999. It seems unlikely that opposition to the move, centered around Moscow, is unlikely to abate any time soon, but what is obvious is that, of the former republics of the USSR, which stretched from the Polish border to the Pacific, two-thirds of its successor states are opposed to the move, based on international law and the UN overstepping its mandate.

Whether Kosova’s action will lead to greater stability in the Balkans or set off a flurry of micro-nationalist declarations around the world remains to be seen. Equally unclear is the eventual response of Russia, Eurasia’s dominant energy producer, and whether it will choose to exercise that power to indicate its profound displeasure. For Turkey, which earlier this year suffered from shortages of Russian natural gas, it is a question well worth pondering.