Kosovo split disconcerts multi-ethnic states around the world

By bne IntelliNews February 19, 2008

Graham Stack in Moscow -

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on February 17, but the Kremlin's position that the declaration was both "illegal and immoral" has garnered some real support from many other countries around the world - even Russia's bitter enemy Georgia came out on its side to condemn the move.

Russia is on frontline in having to deal with the fallout from Kosovo's move. Within a day of Kosovo's declaration, the Russian-backed breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia said they will follow suit and declare independence in the hope that the US and the EU will also support their bids. Chechnya too has been fighting a separatist battle for years and although Moscow seems to have crushed the rebels, it's afraid that Kosovo's decision may breathe new life into the rebel's movement. Analysts in Moscow say Kosovo's decision has opened a Pandora's Box - they could have a point.

It's not just leaders in the former Soviet Union who are worried by regional splintering into small republics - states with separatist problems around the world are saying they will refuse to follow suit. Pro-US states on the post-socialist European periphery such as Azerbaijan, in addition to Georgia, are saying they won't recognize Kosovo's independence. These states have their own acute separatist problems and fear the Kosovan precedent will trigger a "parade of sovereignty" like the one that put paid to the Soviet Union.

Khazar Ibragim, spokesman for the Azeri Foreign Ministry, announced February 18 that Azerbaijan will not recognize the independence of Kosovo. "We view this illegal act as contradicting international law. Given this, the position of Azerbaijan is clear," Ibragim said at a briefing, according to Interfax. "I disagree with the opinion that only Russia and the West have views on this issue. We are an independent country, which has its own interests. All decisions, irregardless of what they are, are made given the supremacy of national interests."

"Unlike Kosovo, Azeri territorial integrity was recognized by all countries of the world, except for the direct aggressor - Armenia - that occupied Azeri territories," Ibragim added.

The intensely pro-US Georgian administration also seems unlikely to recognize Kosovan independence, according to chairman of the Georgian parliamentary committee for foreign affairs Konstantin Gabashvili. "The Georgian authorities won't recognize Kosovan independence. This issue may have a continuation, if Russia, referring to it as a precedent, makes certain moves in the direction of declaring the independence of separatist enclaves in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria," Gabashvili told Interfax on February 17. "I think that the process of recognizing Kosovan independence by the international community will be shady, because things are far from being clear on this issue in leading western countries."

Siren voices

Embarrassingly for the EU, core European states like Spain also challenge the US and EU assertions that Kosovo doesn't constitute a precedent. While the majority of the EU's 27 members have declared they will recognize Kosovo, Spain declared it won't. "The government of Spain will not recognize the unilateral act proclaimed yesterday by the assembly of Kosovo," Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told reporters in Brussels, where EU foreign ministers were conferring. "We will not recognize because we consider... this does not respect international law."

Newer members of the EU have also come out against the move: Cyprus, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania say they will not recognize Kosovo, despite attempts by the EU to forge a common EU position. This constitutes a major embarrassment for proponents of a common EU foreign policy towards the east, and one that this time can hardly be blamed on Russia attempting to play off states against each other.

China is also set to snub the embryonic Balkan state, lest factually independent Taiwan treat Kosovo as a precedent for declaring formal independence. "Beijing holds that the declaration of Kosovan independence will escalate the situation all over the world and will aggravate differences between Russia and the United States and the European Union on the one hand, as well as possibly evoking other regional conflicts," an informed source close to Chinese governmental circles told Interfax on February 19.

"Another danger is the creation of a precedent, when irregardless of UN decisions and in violation of international law one of the regions of the world has declares its independence. Such actions could incite other separatist forces to increase their activities aimed at damaging the territorial integrity of various countries," Interfax cites the source as saying. "The Kosovo issue and ways to settle it have a direct relation to China. In particular, sabotaging forces in Taiwan could perceive it as a signal to declare independence for the island, which could escalate the situation in the area of the Taiwan Strait." China has a Muslim separatist problem in the region of Xinjiang, as well as continuing an occupation of Tibet to prevent independence there.

Given the efforts that Turkey has made to repress Kurdish separatism, it may be surprising that Turkey is keen to recognize Kosovo - but then Turkey sees its hand in the Cyprus frozen conflict strengthened. Turkish media reports in the run-up to Kosovo's declaration of independence said the government would recognize Kosovo within 48 hours of the declaration, according to the BBC. Like Russia, Turkey takes a bi-polar approach to the issue - it supports separatist movements, in Cyprus in the Turkish case, while also suppressing separatist movements eleswehere, in Turkey's case in the Kurdish areas of the South.

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