by Sergei Markedonov

WPS Agency, Russia
September 10, 2008 Wednesday

South Ossetia and Abkhazia will have no effect on other countries
but may be used against Russia itself.

A precedent was set by which the borders of the former republics
of the erstwhile USSR could be altered. What the post-Soviet world
counted on as unfaltering ever since December 1991 is history now. The
argument that Russia alone recognized two formerly Georgian autonomies
carries no weight. Turkey alone recognized the Turkish Republic of
North Cyprus in 1983, but this formation has been a major player in
the Black Sea - Mediterranean Sea politics ever since. The fact that
South Ossetia and Abkhazia are recognized by a permanent member of
the UN Security Council that wields veto power, an Atomic Club member,
and a global player to boot only strengthens their positions.

The self-determination of South Ossetia and Abkhazia raises some
delicate questions. Will it set a precedent for separatist or
nationalist movements on post-Soviet territory? Will the recognition
of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Moscow cause the so called Domino
Effect in Russia itself and particularly in the Russian Caucasus? The
ethnic-political situation in Georgia is anything but ideal because
its Javakhetia has predominantly Armenian population, Kvemo Kartli is
mostly Azerbaijani, and the Panki Gorge is where the Kista Chechens
have always lived.

Practically every CIS state has its own skeleton in the "ethnic"
cupboard. Moldova and Azerbaijan have unsolved territorial conflict
areas on their territories. Wayward Trans-Dniester region and
Nagorno-Karabakh meanwhile design their own tactics and strategies
of getting the coveted international recognition. Situation in the
Russian Caucasus (Ingushetia, Dagestan) is quite volatile too.

Russians in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan, Ukrainians in
Moldova, representatives of Caucasus peoples in Russia and Azerbaijan
do not always feel at home in their new post-Soviet countries for
various reasons (which does not really matter.) Hence the quite
reticent reaction in the post-Soviet republics to the recognition of
Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states.

Squashing emotions over the so called Domino Effect, however, we
must admit that successful self-determination of South Ossetia and
Abkhazia is going to have no visible effect on territorial integrity
of any state in Eurasia.

It will take grave administrative and political errors for
separatism to revive in Russia. Errors are made of course, and
not just in the Caucasus alone. Fortunately, the situation is not
yet irreversible. Success of Project Russia depends on ourselves -
powers-that-be and civil society - and on nobody else. A precedent,
however, is a different matter. Sure, formally recognizing two Georgian
autonomies as foreign states, the Kremlin took certain risks and knew
it. After all, this precedent may be used against Russia any moment
now. The Caucasus these days is in grave danger from radical Islam,
closeness of the regional authorities and their disinclination to apply
modern methods of governance and initiate a dialogue with society.

It is necessary to draw a line between the policy of the United
States (and, to a lesser extent, the EU) we will have to try and
negate on the one hand and the demand for political modernization of
the country. The absence of this "division" will only facilitate the
degradation of the Russian officialdom. It and only it will make the
precedent explode in Russia's face.