West paying the price for Kosovo in Georgia

If Russia recognises Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia then the West's backing of Kosovo's independence move this year will have played a key role, according to analysts.

Russia's upper house of parliament will meet in emergency session Monday to discuss recognising the independence of the rebel Georgian regions.

In the Abkhazian capital Sukhumi on Thursday tens of thousands of people thronged the main square urging Moscow to back the bid for independence from Tbilisi.

Western nations have repeatedly championed Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity even as Russian troops advanced to within 30 kilometres of the capital Tbilisi.

However Moscow argues that it has been protecting its nationals in peril abroad, as the United States, France and other western powers would do.

Russian leaders also cite the example of Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Russian ally Serbia in April and has since been recognised by the United States and 20-odd European Union nations among others.

"With the recognition of Kosovo, they opened Pandora's box," said Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia's mission to NATO.

Western officials strongly reject the Kosovo-South Ossetia parallel.

"In Kosovo there was a UN presence, there was also the issue of ethnic cleansing, there was a standstill in negotiations, no chance for a negotiated settlement all these different things came into play," one British diplomat said.

"I don't think you can draw parallels."

His foreign secretary David Miliband puts the case more succintly, describing the comparison as "completely bogus".

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer speaks of "a special UN trajectory for Kosovo" which has been under United Nations control since NATO bombing in 1999 ousted Serbian forces waging a crackdown on the ethnic-Albanian separatists.

But for Alain De Neve, of Belgium's Center for Security and Defence Studies, Moscow and Tbilisi have made the connection even if the West doesn't want to.

"Without the issue of Kosovo's independence I don't think that we would have seen this (Georgia) story unfurl as quickly as it has," he argues.

"Those opposed to recognising Kosovo's independence feared above all that it would unleash a series of declarations of independence. But that provoked the intervention of one state, Georgia, which wanted to keep control of all its territory," De Neve told AFP.

Thomas Gomart of the French Institute of International Relations also believes that "the backdrop behind Russia's moves was the West's behaviour in Kosovo, with the launching in 1999 of a military operation without a United Nations mandate and then recognising its independence ... despite Moscow's opposition."

However in his opinion Russia will nonetheless think twice before recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

Just as Russia was opposed to Kosovo's unilateral move it would not want to further encourage independentist tendencies within the Russian Federation, such as the Chechens, he said.

Russia is "more interested in maintaining an unclear situation in the two (rebel Georgian) regions, which would allow them to intervene when they wish."

Political science Professer Bruno Coppieters thinks the Georgia problem will eventually have to be sorted out as part of a wider solution.

"Russia can't expect a lot of countries to follow suit if it recognises the independence of the two regions.

"For their part Western nations haven't got the means to put effective pressure on Russia. The most likely scenario is that the conflict will become frozen again and, in the long term, there will have to be a wider agreement between the permanent members of the UN Security Council."

[Source: By AFP, Georgian Daily, Tbilisi, 22Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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