Op-eds

Abkhazia and the Promises of Princes

Open Democracy

No one could accuse the world’s great powers of consistency in their treatment of small “breakaway states”, in which individual bilateral relationships and geopolitics tend always to trump a principled approach to issues of self-determination. Hence Moscow’s friendship with Serbia underlies its vehement opposition to the independence of Kosovo, while its hostility to Georgia contributed to its recognition of Abkhazia. The United States, by the same token, has sought to punish past Serbian aggression and continuing recalcitrance by leading the charge in support of Kosovo’s statehood, while concurrently providing unwavering support to Georgia’s territorial integrity.

The parties to Eurasia’s separatist conflicts are often unwilling or unable to fully recognise this inconsistency, frequently to their own cost. Hence, many in Abkhazia saw their goal of sovereign statehood moving a step closer when the International Court of Justice ruled on 22 July 2010 that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence on 17 February 2008 was not in breach of international law. These hopes have been further encouraged by the vote of Southern Sudanese in January 2011 for secession from Sudan. But the reality is that the region’s status is trapped in a geopolitical limbo, with the great powers asserting irreconcilable positions on its future.

Russia recognised Abkhazia after the brief destructive war with Georgia in August 2008. Yet only Nicaragua, Venezuela and the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru have followed Moscow’s lead - far fewer than the dozens that have opened diplomatic relations with Kosovo. Moscow is obsessed with maintaining control over Abkhazia, which greatly increases its Black Sea influence and allows the Kremlin further to punish Georgia for turning its back on Russia...

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