RFE/RL: The Russian Foreign Ministry said on May 23 it respected Montenegro's vote to seek independence from Serbia. Abkhazia and Transdniester, two breakaway regions backed by Russia, have also hailed the historic poll as an inspiring model. Will Russia be tempted to apply the Montenegrin experience to Moscow-friendly frozen conflict regions?
Yevgeny Volk: Tbilisi will certainly not allow referendums to be held in Abkhazia or in South Ossetia, and the international community will, of course, be on the Georgian government's side. If Russia tries to push for referendums, it will end up being isolated and neither the OSCE nor the UN will support its efforts. It is a very unlikely option because it represents a direct path to armed conflict.
RFE/RL: Despite welcoming Montenegro's independence vote and urging the nation to engage in a "constructive, good-willed, and wide-ranging dialogue" with Serbia, Russia is very unlikely to sanction a similar referendum in Chechnya. Does this amount to a double standard?
Volk: Russia supports referendums where it is advantageous, where it advances its own interests -- but in no circumstances inside the country, where such referendums could yield the most unexpected results, even despite massive control and manipulation of public opinion.
RFE/RL: Is a similar referendum possible at all in Chechnya, and would it enjoy Western support like Montenegro's independence vote?
Volk: Today, the issue of a referendum in Chechnya is purely hypothetical, so in this context it is too early to talk about the West's stance. Chechnya is now under total Russian control. In my opinion, even if such a referendum took place in Chechnya, its results would be known in advance since free and fair elections cannot be expected there
President Putin at a Kremlin meeting in April (epa)
PUTIN SPEAKS OUT: During a January press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there is a need for "universal principles" to settle "frozen" conflicts in the CIS. His comments came against the background of impending talks on the future status of Kosovo, which many predict will grant it a form of "conditional independence" from Serbia and Montenegro. As an ally of Serbia, Moscow has consistently opposed the idea of Kosovar independence. Putin's remarks suggest he may be shifting his position, but only if the principles applied to Kosovo are also applied to frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union. If Kosovo can be granted full independence, he asked, why should we deny the same to Abkhazia and South Ossetia? (more)