Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 126

The unresolved conflicts, conducted or underwritten by Russia in ex-Soviet territories, were glossed over in Khanty-Mansiisk. EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana had informally assured Georgian leaders ahead of the summit that he would “forcefully” take issue with Russia’s forcible seizure of Abkhazia. Such a step would have signified a major departure from Solana’s indifferent track record on this and related issues.

By all accounts from Khanty-Mansiisk, however, Solana and the other EU leaders shied away from any substantive discussion of Abkhazia and the other post-Soviet conflicts. They also failed to raise the issue of transforming Russia’s “peace-keeping” operation to conform to international standards. Solana and several other top figures had given those informal assurances to Georgia on the understanding that Tbilisi would in turn refrain from declaring Russia’s “peace-keeping” troops illegal. These EU leaders’ authority in that regard will not be the same in Georgia after Khanty-Mansiisk.

According to Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov, one item on the summit agenda was the “five conflicts: Kosovo, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Karabakh, and Transnistria” [in that order] (RIA-Novosti, June 27). If so, Moscow succeeded for the first time to link the conflict in Kosovo with the four post-Soviet conflicts at this summit. Initial post-summit briefings in Brussels seem to confirm that the five conflicts were discussed as a package at Khanty-Mansiisk. Linking conflict resolution in the post-Soviet territories to that in Kosovo, so as to complicate all solutions even further, became Russia’s policy during the final stages of negotiations leading to Kosovo’s independence. It seems to have re-emerged in Khanty-Mansiisk in a modified form.

According to Russia’s envoy to the EU, Valery Chizhov, on the eve of the Khanty-Mansiisk summit (RIA-Novosti, June 23; Eurasia Home, June 25), Moscow opposes the sending of an EU civil mission to Kosovo, unless the mission is officially endorsed by Serbia and approved by a resolution of the United Nations Security Council. This clearly implies an offer to bargain with Russia. Lavrov, and presumably President Dmitry Medvedev in the background, reiterated this position in Khanty-Mansiisk (Itar-Tass, June 27). They seemed to suggest that Russia did not need Georgian consent to the “peace-keeping” operation in Abkhazia, as long as the EU and NATO feel that they did not need Serbian consent to their ongoing or planned missions in Kosovo.

That logic fails on multiple counts, however. Georgia is the lawful and recognized holder of sovereignty in Abkhazia, which Serbia is not in Kosovo. The Russian seizure of Abkhazia is based on ethnic cleansing, whereas the political resolution in Kosovo is based on reversing the ethnic cleansing. The ongoing or planned Western missions in Kosovo conform to international standards for such operations, whereas Russia’s operation in Abkhazia violates the most basic accepted standards. And no operation or country pursues annexation goals in Kosovo, whereas Russia does so in Abkhazia. Such stark differences between the two situations notwithstanding, Moscow again attempted to equate them. Moscow seems to hint that it might not block an EU mission in Kosovo, if the EU and other Western chancelleries continue to tolerate Russia’s military “peace-keeping” and de facto annexation of Abkhazia.

Summing up the discussion on the conflicts for the Russian media after Khanty-Mansiisk, Lavrov declared that Russia would consider the possibility of some EU participation in conflict-resolution processes on post-Soviet territories. Any EU involvement should not, however, change “the existing formats” for peace-keeping and negotiations, he cautioned. Russia and the EU could cooperate in seeking solutions, but “the main task is to promote direct contacts between the parties to the conflicts” (Interfax, Itar-Tass, June 27).

Lavrov’s remarks express the familiar goal to maintain the formats created in the early 1990s without significant changes in the future, while accepting some minor EU involvement on economic reconstruction issues. Ostensibly promoting direct contacts between the local parties and placing the onus for political resolution on them is also a familiar tactic. It obscures Moscow’s role as the main party to the conflict, equates its secessionist protégés with the recognized state on the opposite side, and seeks a step-by-step acceptance and de facto recognition of Russia’s local clients. Moreover, Moscow insists on vetting de facto authorities’ direct contacts with the legitimate governments and has thus far been successful in controlling the agenda of such contacts.

While Russia essentially stonewalled on these issues at Khanty-Mansiisk, the EU and the United States are increasingly promoting a new concept of direct contacts and confidence-building measures, outside Russian control. Georgia supports and initiates such steps as parts of a three-track diplomatic effort: internationally, bilaterally with Russia, and locally with secessionist authorities (see EDM, June 30). Success depends, however, on active EU and U.S. involvement on all three levels, not just in the ancillary role to which Russia would restrict them.