The Russian decision to recognize South
Ossetian and Abkhazian claims to independence has begun to backfire
politically -- in terms of Russia's own global and domestic interests.
Not only has Moscow been criticized by the US and European Union for its
actions, but also by China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which, on
principle, have generally opposed the right of national independence and
Moreover, Russian support for South Ossetia and Abkhazia could exacerbate nationalist claims for independence within Russia itself (or states allied to Russia), particularly given Russia's repression of the Chechen claims to independence, while simultaneously opposing Kosova's independence. In short, Russian actions in Georgia have tended to alienate Russia's own friends and allies while providing ideological justification for those national and ethnic groups that have historically opposed Russian imperialism and that might ultimately seek "independence" from Russia itself. Russia consequently risks further isolating itself from the world community and alienating a number of its own indigenous communities.
Here, however, the question of what exactly is meant by "independence" may possibly provide a key to a diplomatic settlement. In other words, while Russia has recognized South Ossetia's and Abkhazia's "independence," there may still be room to compromise on what is meant by "independence"-- by redefining the term. On the one hand, Russia may not want to support and subsidize these impoverished regions indefinitely; on the other hand, these regions could still reach for important security and political accords and trading arrangements with both Russia and Georgia that permit close cooperation, thus resulting in a new definition of "independence" and resulting in a form of "autonomy" or "confederation". Georgia can then, in turn, claim that its territorial integrity remains intact, although not in the traditional sense of the concept.
In other words, by redefining the concept of "independence," it may be possible for Russia to find a face saving way out of the crisis that will ultimately permit the deployment of international peacekeepers either along side Russian forces or in replacing those forces. Such an agreement -- involving mutual and overlapping security accords, possibly backed by the UN Security Council--- may also make it possible for Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia to live side by side in peace and mutual prosperity, while protecting the rights of minority communities.
Hall Gardner is Professor in the International and Comparative Politics Department at the American University of Paris. He is the author of Averting Global War (New York: Palgrave, 2007); American Global Strategy and the ‘War on Terrorism' (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005; 2007); and Dangerous Crossroads (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997), among many other edited books and articles.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Colette Grace Mazzucelli: The Georgian Flaw in Transatlantic Security
- Stefan Fröhlich: The EU and the US: Peace Brokers for a Secure Georgia
- Leonie Holthaus: EU Should Balance Criticism Toward Russia and Georgia