Accessibility links

Breaking News

East: In Post-Soviet Breakaway Regions, Eyes Look Longingly To Kosovo

(epa) The ink has hardly dried on Kosovo's independence declaration. The celebrations have barely abated in the streets of Pristina. And already, reactions are flowing from frozen conflict zones in the former Soviet Union as if on cue.

Eduard Kokoity, the leader of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia, said he intended to petition the United Nations and the CIS for independence from Georgia, arguing that his separatist enclave had "a stronger case" for statehood than Kosovo.

Sergei Bagapsh, president of a second Georgian breakaway region, Abkhazia, said he plans to make a similar appeal, adding "the situation with Kosovo is a precedent."

The two appeared at a joint press conference in Moscow today to make their case. The parliament of Moldova's separatist Transdniester region is widely expected to make a similar announcement.

"It is our firm belief that there should be a universal approach to all these conflicts," Bagapsh said. "And if anybody thinks that Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Transdniester will stop this process [toward independence] after the issue of Kosovo's recognition has been resolved, they are wrong."

Separatist leaders in Georgia and Moldova, as well as their backers in Moscow, have long said that Kosovo's independence would set a precedent for them to achieve statehood as well. Do they have a point? Can the Kosovo model be repeated in South Ossetia, Chechnya, Transdniester, or elsewhere?

Analysts point out that the specifics of the Kosovo case make it a very poor model for other regions.

"I think that it is extremely difficult to compare the former Yugoslavia with any other part of the world. The breakup of the former Yugoslavia was unique in itself," says Sabine Freizer, Europe program director for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

Kosovo A 'Special' Case

Freizer adds that the era of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, with "the atrocities, the ethnic cleansing, the massive displacements, [and] the massive human rights violations" was "very specific" in its brutality.

The cases are also different from the standpoint of international law, due to the 1999 NATO air war against Serbia, and the United Nations resolution that followed the conflict.

"We have a UN Security Council resolution, Resolution 1244, which opens the possibility for a change of status in the Kosovo case," Freizer says. "We don't have any resolution that calls into question the territorial integrity of Georgia, for example. So this makes the case very different."

Freizer says the one important lesson other breakaway territories can learn from the Kosovo experience is that it pays dividends to cooperate with the international community and make oneself appear worthy of independence.

Since becoming a UN protectorate in 1999, Pristina has labored to develop democratic institutions and to respect international norms.

"The one lesson that I would maybe take from the Kosovo experience is that the best that [these territories] can do to get their case understood internationally is to show that they are responsible and to not make any excessive moves. To work on trying to build up their own structures, their own institutions and, most importantly, to defend the rights of minorities that are living on their territories," Freizer says. "In some ways the Kosovars have done that."

It isn't only pro-Moscow separatists that are raising the issue of Kosovo in defense of their own causes. Chechen separatist officials have been more than happy to raise it as well.

"We welcome the declaration of sovereignty and independence by Kosovo, and we will never question Kosovo's right to be free under any circumstances," Usman Ferzauli, foreign minister in the separatist Chechen government in exile, told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service by telephone from Copenhagen. "Enormous bloodshed and cruelty inflicted by the Serbs...[have resulted] in Kosovo becoming a new, free, and independent state on the world map."

The Chechen Problem

The Chechen situation places Moscow uncomfortably between two contradictory sentiments. While it has done little to dampen separatist sentiments in territories affecting its neighbors, it has staunchly rejected the Kosovo model for its own breakaway conflicts like that in Chechnya.

Indeed, analysts have pointed out, the Kremlin is entering perilous and unpredictable territory by raising the issue of a Kosovo precedent. For this reason, Freizer says she does not expect Moscow to press the issue very hard.

"Russia is taking a risk by saying that Kosovo is now a case that is going to set a precedent in other parts of the former Soviet space," Freizer says. "They risk having this go beyond Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester -- and perhaps even Nagorno-Karabakh -- to their own territory of the Russian Federation, to Chechnya or other parts of the North Caucasus."

Officials of other CIS states with breakaway conflicts are, not surprisingly, far from enthusiastic about the Kosovo declaration.

In Georgia, authorities have rejected any comparison between its breakaway enclaves and Kosovo, adding that they have no plans to recognize the former Serbian territory.

"Georgia is not planning to assume any position in relation to Kosovo, nor is it going to recognize it," Temur Iakobashvili, Georgia's state minister for reintegration, tells RFE/RL's Georgian Service.

"This process has evolved independently from us, and it's important that we stop looking for parallels between Kosovo and conflicts that exist in Georgia. Such parallels don't exist, and the sooner we forget the word 'Kosovo' the better it will be for us, as well as for the Abkhaz and the Russians," Iakobashvili adds. "Georgia is not going to recognize Kosovo -- this is not in our interests -- just like I think Russia is not going to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia."

Then there is Azerbaijan, which has spent a decade-and-a-half engaged in a protracted conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian enclave located within Azerbaijani territory that functions as a de facto independent republic with its own provisional government.

Baku fears Yerevan may use the Kosovo precedent during talks on Karabakh to upset the ongoing peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia. To that end, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Khazar Ibrahim said Baku will not recognize Kosovo, calling Pristina's move "against the principles of international law and illegal."

(RFE/RL's Azerbaijani, North Caucasus, and Georgian services contributed to this report)

Kosovo's Uncertain Future

Kosovo's Uncertain Future

An ethnic Serb silhouetted against his home in the ethnically divided town of Caglavica. (Photo by Valentinas Mite)

In December, RFE/RL correspondent Valentinas Mite traveled to Kosovo, where he photographed the everyday realities that underlie the emotionally charged debate surrounding the region's ethnic divisions.

Click here for a slideshow of images from Kosovo.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.