The Coming Independence of Kosovo and the Steps Russia Should Take.

The negotiations on the future status of Kosovo continue, but there seems to be no hope to break the stalemate to which the politics of the West have led to in the Balkans.

Local elections in Kosovo are scheduled for November 17, and the Albanian leaders are open about their intention to declare independence unilaterally in the aftermath of the event, by December 10, 2007.

Following the talks in London with the representatives of the troika of envoys, Kosovo "prime minister" Agim Ceku said he made it clear that the Kosovo Albanians had won independence, and that the latter was not what they demanded, but actually a starting point.

At the same time, even the Western media describe the situation in the province as one of total misery.

Unemployment among the local population is at the level of 40% to 50%, making people turn to subsistence agriculture or smuggling to survive (1).

Certainly, neither official Belgrade nor the Serb people will agree to the forming of a gangster enclave in the historically important Serbian region.

Besides, such an enclave is likely to create problems for the south of Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia.

Nor is the Serbian leadership going to accept the partition of Kosovo – Belgrade insists that a broad autonomy of the province within Serbia as prescribed by the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 is the only option.

The quagmire makes EU authorities initiate intense activity, though there are no indications that they might yield any results whatsoever.

More consultations will possibly take place during the session of the UN General Assembly, but it is hard to believe that they will be fruitful.

A unilateral recognition of Kosovo will irreversibly undermine the authority of international organizations such as the UN Security Council - it will transpire that the resolutions of the latter respectable institution serve as distracting maneuvers, and that nobody planned to comply with them from the start.

In this context, the serious question is what will be Moscow's position if Kosovo declares independence unilaterally and is recognized by a number of countries?

The answer is that the only logical step for Russia would be a full recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Premises for this move are available. This would be exactly what Russia can and must do from the standpoint of its own national interests.

For a long time, the Russian leadership has been overly cautious about the option of recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia and ignored the political and legal arguments made in favor of the step. This approach is explained both by the chaos of the Russian foreign politics of the 1990es that in some aspects lingers on, and by the attempts to reach a compromise with Georgia and the US (2).

It is already clear, however, that the US understands compromise solely as the readiness of others to agree. For example, by the time of the next NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008, Georgia will be ready to implement its plan of joining the bloc.

Its full integration into NATO will thus become a matter of the not-so-distant future.

The de facto failure of the talks on the joint use of the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan is another illustration of the tendency.

It is questionable whether the US visit to Gabala, with its predictable outcome, was worth the consequences for the relations between Russia and Iran and for Russia's standing in the Muslim world. If we really needed to hear another "no" from the US, we got what we wanted.

Russian foreign politics can be serious only in the case that they are guided by the country's national interests.

No other guidelines are appropriate. This indisputable truth can be derived from V. Putin's speech in Munich and from Moscow's subsequent military-political decisions (the withdrawal from the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, etc.).

We believe that the political course Russia adheres to will be reflected in its relations with the self-determined Republics (which are de facto new independent states) on the territory of the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Election campaigns have already started in Georgia.

They can have unpredictable consequences for the Caucasus region.

The fact that most of the competition will unfold between the hawk M. Saakashvili and the even more irresponsible Irakli Okruashvili is not the only problem.

Finding themselves in a rush situation, with so little time remaining till the anticipated unilateral proclamation of independence by Kosovo, the Georgian leaders are quite likely to launch "a small victorious war" by which they can hope to strengthen their domestic positions.

Saakashvili generously dispensed promises to return the insurgent Republics to Georgia during his first term in office.

His electorate is highly susceptible to such pledges.

Now, Saakashvili’s second term is nearing the end. A wave of arrests of local officials, formally under the pretext of financial abuse charges, began in Gori, a location in close proximity to South Ossetia.

One of the versions of the developments is that the individuals arrested had strong ties with the former defense minister Okruashvili.

There is no guarantee that the anti-corruption campaign will not get transformed into a military offensive against South Ossetia. One should keep in mind that the invasion of Abkhazia in August 1992 was carried out under the pretext of "protecting transportation routes."

The so-called "peace march" to Tskinvali ended up as another failed provocation planned by the Georgian authorities.

The technology of such marches was put to practice in Ajaria in 2004, when secret service operatives mixed with the march of residents of other Georgian regions, penetrated into the Republic's territory, and neutralized Ajaria's defense officials (3).

In that case bloodshed did not follow because the people of Ajaria were Georgians as well.

In Ossetia, a tragic scenario is likely. A build-up of the Georgian armed forces from 60,000 to 90,000 servicemen (including reservists) is planned to take place by the end of the year. There is no doubt as to whom this impressive force will be used against.

On September 20, Georgian saboteurs attacked Abkhazia's army base. The incident ended with fatalities. As long as Moscow's position remains indefinite, provocations from the Georgian side will continue with increasing frequency. Sooner or later, they will evolve into a full-scale aggression against the self-determined Republics. The consequences of the military escalation can be severe.

So far, Moscow's politics in the Caucasus have often been inconsequential and largely driven by inertia.

Moscow's granting an official recognition to Abkhazia and South Ossetia would restrain the hawks in Georgia and thus tilt the geopolitical balance in the Caucasus in Russia's favor, which would help to ensure peace in the southern regions of Russia as well.

If the Georgian leadership's present course continues, the recent escalation of the terrorist activity in Ingushetia will look like a minor problem, especially since the Georgian legislation envisions unparalleled conditions for hosting US armed forces in the country neighboring Russia. It is as if one day China would deploy its military infrastructure in Mexico, some 20 miles from Rio Grande.

Statements by the Russian Foreign Ministry are not enough to depart entirely from the logic of geopolitical retreat.

This applies to Russia's politics with respect to the Caucasus as well. The Kremlin itself must advance its position. It should also be realized that the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be meaningless verbiage unless it is backed by a range of practical measures including those of the military character.

We keep hearing that Russia will face severe consequences in case it takes this diplomatic step.

The secret hope of those who say so is that when Russia gets a new President in 2008, the country's foreign politics will revert to the condition in which it used to be in the epoch of President Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Kozyrev.

They hope that all they have to do is wait for the 2008 elections in Russia.

In reality, no serious consequences (the uproar in the media of several countries notwithstanding) would be entailed by Russia's official recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The anti-Russian rhetoric in the Western media will persist under any scenario (it has become an indispensable part of the US and European political culture), especially now that Brussels has in fact declared a war on Gazprom.

The answer to the question about the steps Moscow should take after the West ignores the positions of Russia and Serbia and recognizes the criminal Albanian regime in Kosovo as "an independent country" is clear: Russia must finally recognize the new independent states which have existed on the territory of the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic for over 15 years.

[Source: By Andrei Areshev, Strategic Cultural Foundation, Russia, 24Sep07]

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