RFE/RL: Russia has tried to link Kosovo's future status with the so-called frozen conflicts in Transdniester, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. Moscow has indicated that if Kosovo is granted independence, it may push for the same in those regions. Do you think there is a natural link?
Joerg Himmelreich: Of course, there are many arguments why the cases are completely different and everybody who is a little bit involved in the problems of the frozen conflicts knows that each conflict is very different. Transdniester is very different from South Ossetia and this one is very different from Abkhazia. And of course, all three are very different from Kosovo -- in particular, as we have had an entire ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia. Now to have a vote of independence or dependence and integration into Georgia is without a legitimate basis, if you have expelled all the Georgians that lived there as a majority in Abkhazia before.
RFE/RL: So if Russia is making an artificial link, in your opinion, what should the West's response be?
Himmelreich: The West, and in particular the EU, should think less technically and more strategically. Why don't we take this linkage that Putin and Russia try to make as an argument and give it back to Putin, saying: 'OK, if you make the linkage, then please accept all the points that are relevant in Kosovo, in particular international involvement,' -- that so far Russia refuses in South Ossetia or in Abkhazia.
RFE/RL: It seems Moscow is bound to refuse that. Are you saying Russia's argument is pretty weak, then?
Himmelreich: If you really think it through, this argument that every separatist regime should become independent -- Russia is probably the first and most important country that would suffer under such an argument. The whole North Caucasus, which is now a part of Russia, could become a chain of separatist regimes that want to become independent from Russia. So I think that for Putin and for Russia, it's a quite dangerous argument to make the linkage between Kosovo and the South or North Caucasus.
RFE/RL: If the linkage argument doesn't hold water, then wouldn't an easier solution be for Russia to simply block any kind of independence for Kosovo, using its UN Security Council veto? Putin has hinted as much. Why wouldn't Russia follow through on its threat?
Himmelreich: They'd lose their reputation that they want to build with Europe. They need Western financial support for all their innovation and renovation. Apart from energy, it's a very unstable economy in Russia. Putin is definitely realistic enough to realize that apart from all the big noise that people in his entourage make to the public, he desperately needs financial investments for the renovation of his pipelines, even for the Russian people themselves. You hear increasing voices in Russia itself. Key business people in Russia have doubts that the country will be able to meet even its domestic energy supplies by 2010 and after.
RFE/RL: So you don't think Putin will risk spoiling economic ties with the EU over Kosovo?
Himmelreich: Even here in Germany, and Germany is particularly known for being very positive about Russia, we have serious criticism of Putin. When Putin was here in September, in Dresden, we saw the first broad demonstration against Putin on the streets. And I think it's even realized in Moscow that you can't overreach on certain rigid policies, without raising enemies where you don't need them. And even Russia is aware, and Putin is aware, that they need key EU states for their economic development.
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)