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TIME: Russia Cashes In On Kosovo Fears

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  • satanay_b
    Saturday, Mar. 08, 2008 Russia Cashes in on Kosovo Fears By Yuri Zarakhovich/Moscow By splitting the West and the wider international community, the U.S.-
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 9, 2008
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      Saturday, Mar. 08, 2008
      Russia Cashes in on Kosovo Fears
      By Yuri Zarakhovich/Moscow

      By splitting the West and the wider international community, the U.S.-
      backed declaration of independence by Kosovo has given Russia an
      opening. Countries concerned with separatist problems of their own,
      from Spain or Cyprus to China, have been unable to follow the U.S.
      lead in recognizing Kosovo's breakaway from Serbia. And Russia has
      sought to exploit the gaps that have emerged as a result.

      In Serbia, itself, Russia capitalized literally, on the standoff over
      Kosovo. In Belgrade, just a week before he became Russia's President-
      elect, Dmitri Medvedev supervised Serbia's signing up to a
      prospective Russian Southern Stream natural gas pipe-line. Serbia
      also sold to Russia a 51% stake of Naftna Industrija Srbija (NIS), a
      much prized national oil company for $614 million and the promise of
      a further investment of $770 million. Russia plans build a major gas
      storage facility in Serbia, making the country a key base for Russian
      energy supplies to Europe. This consolidation of ties with Serbia
      achieves two Russian strategic goals: taking over national energy
      assets of European countries; and keeping erstwhile allies of the
      Soviet Union from being drawn into the Western fold. To emphasize
      warming ties, travel between Russia and Serbia will no longer require

      The Balkans is not the only theater in which Moscow is strongly
      reasserting its presence. This week, just as Georgia's breakaway
      provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia formally appealed to Russia,
      the U.N., the E.U. and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) a
      loose association of post-Soviet countries to recognize their
      independence. Russia has pointedly abandoned the economic sanctions,
      clamped on Abkhazia in 1996 to punish its separatism. The Parliament
      of the Russian Republic of Alania-North Ossetia already voted to
      incorporate South Ossetia. Next week, the Russian Duma will consider
      Abkhazian and South Ossetian appeals to join Russia.

      South Ossetia and Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in the 1990s in
      the wake of bloody ethnic wars. Much as those wars were ignited by
      the then Nationalist Georgian authorities, Russia fanned the flames
      by giving a brazen support to the separatists. It was the Russian
      army that won their wars against Georgia.

      Although Russia pays lip service to Georgia's territorial integrity,
      it has tacitly supported breakaway provinces, just as it has done in
      Trans-Dniestria — a province that broke away from Moldova back in the
      1990s. Russia deploys its peace-keepers in all the three separatist
      provinces, and these serve to counter any thoughts of forcible re-
      integration by Georgia or Moldova. Moscow has also granted Russian
      citizenship to some 90% of the Abkhazian and South Ossetian
      populations, giving it grounds to intervene whenever Russia deems it
      expedient, on the basis of ensuring the security of its citizens.

      "Russia is smartly playing a more subtle game then just formally
      recognizing breakaway provinces," comments Tedo Japaridze, former
      Georgian Foreign Minister. Indeed, Russia could never openly annex
      South Ossetia or Abkhazia. That would have been very much in conflict
      with Russia's harsh suppression of Chechnya's independence, or fears
      of separatism in non-Russian ethnic regions. Annexing Abkhazia and
      South Ossetia was also "a red line" drawn by the U.S. But Russia has
      become the de facto power in both territories without formally
      annexing them. Chairman of the Chechen Parliament Dukvakha
      Abdurakhmanov blurted out last week that "Abkhazia has long been a
      part of Russia's Southern Federal District." Recently, Russia tacitly
      deployed units of its Chechen Vostok battalion in Abkhazia to beef up
      its force there as a deterrent against any Georgian move to regain
      the territory.

      Leonid Slutsky, First Deputy Chair of the Russian Duma's Foreign
      Relations Committee, told Itar-Tass on Friday that "So far, Russia
      doesn't have plans of recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia."
      However, he said, "Should Georgia try using force there, the
      situation will cardinally change. The same concerns Georgia's plans
      of joining NATO."

      For its part, NATO, long eager to grant Georgia membership, has
      backpedaled, saying that Georgia isn't yet ready to join. The Kosovo
      opening may indeed encourage a resurgent Russia to go beyond simply
      exercising de facto control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

      Another after-effect of Kosovo's independence is Moscow's rallying of
      its hitherto reluctant CIS partners against the West. Oil-rich
      Azerbaijan, for example, had long begun inclining towards the West,
      but may be pushed back into Moscow's orbit because of Nagorno-
      Karabakh, a province that broke away in the 1990s and has de facto
      integrated with Armenia. Last week, for the first time in years,
      Azeri and Armenian forces clashed in a full scale fighting in

      Even a staunchly pro-Western Georgia, furious as it is with Russia,
      might finally be forced back into Russia's orbit because of
      Kosovo. "It's indeed surrealistic," quips Japaridze darkly: "How it
      happens that in terms of the 'Kosovo Precedent' we, Georgians,
      Azerbaijani, Moldovans, have to support Russia's position and go
      against the West?!"

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