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Easy, Reckless Independence

 Vladimir Milov
Vladimir Milov
In the light of the events of this week and Russia's precipitous, some might say reckless, recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it is interesting to recall an article that former Russian Deputy Energy Minister Vladimir Milov wrote for "Vremya novostei" in November 2006. Since leaving government and founding his own think tank, Milov has earned a reputation as one of the most astute Russia watchers out there.

In late 2006, South Ossetia carried out a referendum on independence. Although that was just a bump in the road compared to recent events, it prompted Milov to give some serious thought to issues of independence and territorial integrity, as well as to what Russia's real national interests in the so-called near abroad might be.

Milov wrote that "easy" independence -- based on ethnic tension, military action, and populism -- can only produce "irresponsible regimes with weak state institutions that become a source of problems for their neighbors." He noted this is what happened to the de facto independent Chechnya in 1996-99 and said the same process was under way at the time in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester.

He also noted that earlier in the year then-President Vladimir Putin had stated that the presence of "weak, dependent state formations" on Russia's frontiers was a major problem for the country. He had in mind, Milov notes, Ukraine and Georgia, but the description applies far more readily to Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester.

Milov said real independence for such territories can only be established through a long process of internationally supervised talks and nation building. The process in South Ossetia, although it was long, never got beyond the stage of jingoism; the 2006 independence referendum was almost identical to one the region approved in 1992. Milov said such a referendum should be the crowning achievement of an independence process, not its point of departure. He blamed Russia for stalling the process in all three regions, saying Russia support only "pushed them to unilateral actions and to a refusal" of all forms of political regulation of the conflicts.

Most chillingly, Milov warned that "easy" independence would bring nothing but trouble for Russia. "We don't need weak, poor, criminalized, and internationally unrecognized states on our borders," he wrote. Russia's policies regarding all three regions, Milov wrote in 2006, was "an irresponsible, provocative approach."

-- Robert Coalson

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