"We need common principles to find a fair solution to these problems for the benefit of all people living in conflict-stricken territories.... If people believe that Kosovo can be granted full independence, why then should we deny it to Abkhazia and South Ossetia?" he said.
"I am not speaking about how Russia will act. However, we know that Turkey, for instance, has recognized the Republic of Northern Cyprus," Putin added. "I do not want to say that Russia will immediately recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, but such precedent does exist." South Ossetia And Abkhazia React
Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, hailed Putin's call for the application of universal principles.
Kokoity said the same day that Putin's "new approach" signals a break with "double standards" that ignore the universally accepted right of peoples to self-determination and divide peoples into "good and bad," of whom the "good" are considered "more equal."
Also on 31 January, Boris Chochiev, first deputy prime minister of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, told regnum.ru that Putin's statement is a "timely" signal "to those countries that continue to ignore the will of states that have exercised the right to self-determination."
Sergei Shamba, foreign minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, told regnum.ru that Abkhazia has even weightier arguments to bolster its claims to independence than does Kosova. Georgian Rejection
Speaking to journalists in Tbilisi on 31 January, Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili claimed that "most" of the states engaged in mediating a settlement of the Kosova conflict do not agree with the Putin's argument.
Bezhuashvili said the Kosova settlement requires "a very delicate, very cautious approach" that cannot be applied universally to other conflicts.
Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli similarly argued that "the Kosova solution cannot be applied to Georgia" because solutions to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts must preserve Georgia's territorial integrity, Caucasus Press reported on 31 January. Nagorno-Karabakh And Transdniester React
Vahram Atanesian, who heads the parliament commission on foreign relations of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, was cautious in his response to Putin's comments.
He told regnum.ru that while Karabakh hails Moscow's "active interest" in resolving the Karabakh conflict, it will hardly prove possible to find a universal principle applicable to all conflicts, given that "each conflict has its own ethno-political and religious history." He said the Karabakh conflict requires "a unique approach."
Yevgeny Shevchuk, chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Moldova's breakaway Transdniester Republic, told regnum.ru that the international community's proposed solution for Kosova "will serve as an algorithm" for solving the Transdniester conflict. He added that there are numerous analogies between the two. LF Skepticism
Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies that has close ties to the Kremlin, pointed out on 31 January that while Russia opposes independence for Kosova because Serbia is Russia's ally, it is prepared to agree to independence for Kosova provided that the precedent becomes universal and is then extended to the four deadlocked CIS conflicts, regnum.ru reported.
Markov predicted that the international community will try to impose independence on Kosova "from a position of force," and likewise from a position of force similarly will seek to prevent the unrecognized states from achieving independence.
He warned that failure to extend the Kosova precedent to post-Soviet conflicts would only destabilize the situation in the regions in question. Serbian observers have adduced the same argument when rejecting independent status for Kosova.
Institute of the Countries of the CIS Director Konstantin Zatulin similarly predicted on 31 January that while the international community, in particular the United States, has all but signed off on independence for Kosova, it will not agree to extending the same principle to post-Soviet conflicts, regnum.ru reported.
THE WORLD'S NEWEST NATION? The region of Kosovo has a population of more than 2 million, some 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians. It was one of the poorest regions in the former Yugoslavia, but has considerable mineral wealth and an enterprising population, many of whom work abroad but keep close contact with Kosovo. All ethnic Albanian political parties seek independence on the principles of self-determination and majority rule. They feel that Serbia lost its historically based claim to what was its autonomous province under the 1974 constitution by revoking that autonomy in the late 1980s and then conducting a crackdown in 1999 that forced some 850,000 people to flee their homes.
Since NATO's intervention that year to stop the expulsions, Kosovo has been under a UN administration (UNMIK). The UN has begun to gradually transfer functions to elected Kosovar institutions. The primary Serbian concerns are physical safety for the local Serbian minority, a secure return for the tens of thousands of Serbian displaced persons, and protection for historic Serbian religious buildings. The main problems affecting all Kosovars, however, are economic. Until Kosovo's final status is clarified and new legislation passed and enforced, it will not be able to attract the investment it needs to provide jobs for its population, which is one of the youngest and fastest growing in Europe. Prosperity is widely seen as the key to political stability and interethnic coexistence in Kosovo, as is the case in much of Southeastern Europe.
For an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of developments in the disputed region of KOSOVO, click here.