Kosovo's Independence Boosts Copycat Seperatists in Georgia     Print

Separatist ambitions in the Caucasus region have received their first tangible boost from the example of Kosovo’s independence. The breakaway Abkhazia region in Georgia appealed to international bodies for recognition of its independence in messages sent March 7, the day after Russia announced that it was lifting its trade restrictions on the territory.

The move came two days after a similar move by South Ossetia, another region of Georgia that is in revolt against the central government in Tbilisi. In their appeal, the political leaders of South Ossetia, also heavily pro-Russian, said that “the Kosovo precedent presents a convincing argument” for recognition of the province’s independent because – as with Kosovo in Serbia – “co-existence” had become demonstrably impossible with Georgia. The friction between Georgia and Russia is aggravated, too, by the former’s efforts to join the NATO alliance.

Little practical result can be expected from these two legal appeals, but they can stoke the separatist drives and tensions in Georgia (and elsewhere in the fractious region). The appeals were addressed to the United Nations and the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, and neither contained any explicit reference to Kosovo, which proclaimed its independence from Serbia last month. The controversial step was supported by the West and contested by Russia.

Russia’s announcement — that it was clearing the way for a separate trade channel with Abkhazia — was the first concrete follow-up to Moscow’s warnings that Kosovo’s independence could challenge other existing borders. The trade curbs on Abkhazia reportedly had little practical impact on the undeveloped local economies, but the symbolic value of the Russian change in policy seems bound to encourage separatists emboldened by support from oil-rich Russia.

The BBC reported that Georgia’s foreign ministry accused Russia of attempting to violate the country’s territorial integrity when it lifted trade sanctions imposed on the breakaway region in 1996. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov did not specifically mention Kosovo, but diplomats said that the linkage was clear.

Elsewhere in the region, Russia’s move seemed likely affect Moldova, which has semi-autonomous region of its own, Transdnestr — which has a large ethnic Russian population. Officials in Transdnestr welcomed Russia’s decision to lift sanctions on Abkhazia as a move likely to set a precedent for them, too.