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18th Nov 2017

Kosovo independence emboldens South Caucasus breakaway republics

  • Breakaway republics in the Caucasus mountains view Kosovo's declaration of independence as a precedent (Photo: wikipedia)

Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are to ask Russia and the United Nations to recognise their own independence in the wake of Sunday's unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.

"In the near future, Abkhazia will appeal to the Russian parliament and the UN security council with a request to recognise its independence," said Abkhaz president Sergei Bagapsh on Monday (18 February), according to Russian newswire Interfax.

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"If anyone thinks that Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria will stop after the recognition of Kosovo, they are making a big mistake," he said.

Using almost identical language, South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity issued a similar pronouncement.

"South Ossetia will in the near future appeal to the Commonwealth of Independent States and the UN with a request to recognise our independence," he said.

But the European Commission has said that Kosovo is a "unique case" and cannot be taken as a precedent for the South Caucasus.

"Kosovo is not a blueprint that can be applied to any other area,'' said external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner replying to a question on the breakaway Georgian regions during a press conference in Brussels where EU ministers on Monday were discussing Kosovo's self-proclaimed independence.

EU Council secretary-general Javier Solana said the Kosovo case was sui generis, distinct from other regions.

"I don't know if anywhere has been like Kosovo, which since 1999 has been ruled by the United Nations," he said.

"When we talk about [Kosovo being] a sui generis situation, this is so evident that those who don't see it, don't see it because they don't want to look at it."

For his part, Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili warned against stirring up tensions in the region.

"I do not advise anyone to even put a nose into this issue and to escalate tensions. We want to resolve all the issues peacefully – we do not need any unrests now – but Georgia will not step back," he stated.

Last week Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov met the leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to discuss their own conflicts and how they relate to Kosovo's declaration.

A Kremlin source, quoted by Russian daily, Kommersant, said that there is to be a change in the relationship between Russia and Abkhazia and South Ossetia with Russia intending to open "representations" in the two regions.

While Russia has delivered military support to the breakaway republics, it has up to now stopped short of recognition of the Republic of South Ossetia or the Republic of Abkhazia.

\"Chancers\"

Andrew Stroehlein, of the International Crisis Group, told the EUobserver: "Many others who might try to claim independence seem like chancers. They can try their luck, but they're not going to get the international recognition that Kosovo will."

"There have been human rights abuses, but none of the break-away states in the region have faced the massive ethnic cleansing that Belgrade perpetrated on Kosovo.

"None of these regions has been the subject of a UN resolution like Resolution 1244, which in 1999 explicitly called for the final legal status of Kosovo to be determined in future.

Mr Stroehlein also warned against thinking Russia is strongly supportive of Kosovo setting an international precedent in all circumstances, as it too has its own separatist regions.

"Russia's in a precarious situation itself," he said. "Perhaps it wants Kosovo to be a precedent for the Russia-friendly breakaway republics in the South Caucasus, but it certainly doesn't want it to be a precedent for Chechnya."

The leaders of Ngorno-Karabakh have also expressed their hope that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence would set a precedent for their own unrecognised South Caucasian republic, officially part of Azerbaijan.

Nevertheless, Russia did not mention Ngorno-Karabakh when it last week listed the unrecognised republics within the former Soviet Union's sphere of influence whose status would be affected by the Kosovar announcement, referring only to South Ossetia, Abkhazia and the Transdniester region in Moldova.

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