Writing in RIA Novosti, Alexander Pogorelsky, director of the Institute of Eastern Europe and member of the RIA Novosti Expert Council discusses the value of Russia exercising imperial control over the nations of the former USSR (with LR’s running commentary in red):
In general, Russia does not stand to gain from the international recognition of self-proclaimed post-Soviet countries. However, together with the world community it will have to search for new solutions to this problem.
LR: By this logic, the world shouldn’t have recognized Russia when it “self-proclaimed” separation from the USSR.
The world community has not recognized Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transdnestr and South Ossetia. They emerged immediately after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and preserved their de facto independence over the past 15 years. Their problem is becoming increasingly urgent, and not only because of the expected recognition of Kosovo, which, as some experts believe, can create a precedent in this respect. Although formally the world community does not recognize the presidential elections in South Ossetia and Transdnestr, and a constitutional referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh, they point to a clear invigoration of political life in these republics. At the same time, metropolitan countries, primarily Georgia, are prone to retrieve the lost territories by force, which is bound to negatively affect the general situation in the area and Russian-Georgian relations. It seems that now the breakaway republics, these smallest fragments of the former U.S.S.R., have approached the time of trial.
LR: Is he suggesting that Russia is not “prone to retrieve lost territories by force”? Is he actually saying, with a straight face, that Georgian aggression is responsible for the deterioration of relations? Perhaps he hasn’t heard about Russia’s attempt to foment a coup d’etat against Georgia . . .
The problem of breakaway republics is a challenge both for Russia, and the rest of the world. The right of nations to self-determination, and the principle of the inviolability of frontiers are often separated in international documents by a comma. However, the persisting contradiction between them is capable of shattering the relatively stable international practice on territorial integrity and border disputes. Some experts perceive the expected Kosovo precedent as a master key that can unlock any borders, and essentially wreck a system of frontiers in Europe and the rest of the world. More often then not, the notorious “right of a nation to self-determination, up to and including secession” becomes a weapon in the hands of political schemers and extremists. Abuse of this right is extremely dangerous everywhere, including Russia and its neighbors – any successful example of separatism on post-Soviet territory can trigger off a domino effect.
LR: By “experts” he apparently means himself, and “more often than not” he means apparently whenever Russia is not seeking to break territory away from other countries and seize it for itself.
There is no doubt that it is in Russia’s national interests to support the inviolability of frontiers and territorial integrity no matter where, although this principle cannot be absolute or universal. It has some restrictions, for instance, when a country’s central government, and titular nation suppress the rights of ethnic minorities, such as the right to autonomy, and still worse, pursue a policy of tough assimilation. In this case, the state loses its right to territorial integrity because it is violating inalienable human rights, including the right to life, when it is suppressing national movements by force. In other words, separatism is turning into a form of struggle for survival, and small nations are fighting for their right to national identity and independence in the modern multi-cultural world.
LR: Hmmm . . . so if a country is found to “suppress the rights of ethnic minorities” then its frontiers become violable? In that case, the fact that Russia murders one dark-skinned person every week probably means Russia is affected, right?
How to find a compromise in settling this most urgent contradiction? Universal solutions are not likely to help. However, a number of general principles could be applied to each particular case. The main point is to display mutual responsibility, and achieve a pragmatic balance of interests between a metropolitan country and a breakaway nation striving for independence and international recognition. If a country is multi-ethnic, it is obliged to take into account the interests of all ethnic groups on its territory. It should not be Unitarian, or discriminate against any of its nations. The current Georgian leaders are refusing to recognize the autonomy of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and it is not surprising that these former autonomies are striving for independence – they simply do not see themselves as part of Georgia. If during a long period of time a self-proclaimed entity demonstrates the functioning of independent state institutions, observance of the rights of ethnic minorities, a consensus of its elites, economic self-sufficiency and cultural identity, if it moves towards independence peacefully and democratically, and on the basis of reasonable bargaining and compromise, there is an obvious opportunity for its international recognition as an independent and valid state.
LR: In other words, let Russia grab whatever territory it wants, and don’t let anybody grab any territory from Russia. Use international pressure to protect Russia, but not to attack it, to help advance Russia’s imperliast agenda but not to impede it. That’s fair, isn’t it?
Russia does not stand to gain from the self-determination, and international recognition of its neighbors, although its sympathies are on their side. This is so not only because the threat of separatism exists in Russia itself. If unrecognized countries become subjects of international law, Moscow will automatically lose the right to patron-client relations with them. Speaking figuratively, there may appear new gambling chips in the international stock exchange, on which Russia’s rivals may place their bets.
LR: Why exactly does Russia suffer from letting Chechnya be free? Can anyone explain? Certainly not this fellow, that’s for sure.
Nobody can guarantee that Moscow’s former unrecognized friends will not make an about-face towards the Euro-Atlantic community. Moreover, this turn may be one of the conditions for their full recognition. The threat of armed conflicts, especially between Georgia and South Ossetia, and between Georgia and Abkhazia may generate unpredictable consequences for the Russian North Caucasus. Russia is more interested in the restoration of the territorial integrity of its neighbors – Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan. However, there are not many chances that this would be done in a peaceful and civilized way. For this reason, Moscow will have to look for new standards in settling the problem of self-proclaimed countries.
LR: Note that well. Russia is the civilized country, the others are barbarians.
One of the possible ways is to establish a supranational entity patterned after the European Union. It could largely resolve the problem of separatism and regionalism by uniting metropolitan countries and breakaway nations on the basis of a broader identity that would be acceptable for all the members. The question is whether post-Soviet states and their leaders will show enough political maturity to make this choice.
LR: The key is for Russia to have total control over that entity, of course.