Differences Over Disputed Territories – Analysis

In the United States, there remains considerable opposition to Russian policies in the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (former Georgian SSR for short). Among some others, David Kramer of the German Marshall Fund and Massachusetts Senator and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry have noted this stance. Kramer reflects a part of the American foreign policy establishment which is especially critical of the Russian government. During Kerry’s 2004 campaign for the American presidency, he suggested that his opponent George Bush was soft on Russia.

American President Barack Obama said that he brought up Russian-American differences over the former Georgian SSR during his recent meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Yesterday (July 5), in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated the Obama administration’s support for Georgia’s claim of former Georgian SSR territory in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In this sort of situation, a noticeable portion of American mass media is nurtured to focus attention on whether the American government has been forceful enough in expressing its position to their Russian counterpart. Another matter having to do with selectivity is downplayed. On the subject of issues challenging improved Russian-American relations, little if any mention is made of the American government’s support for Kosovo’s independence, in contradiction to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. Along with some other countries, Russia opposes Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.

Issue can be taken with the claim that the Russian recognition of South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence is primarily in response to the earlier independence recognition that the United States and some other nations gave to Kosovo. On this point, two distinguishing factors differentiate the former Georgian SSR dispute with the territorial disputes involving Serbia, Moldova and Azerbaijan:

Following their respective war conditions of the 1990s, Serbia, Moldova and Azerbaijan have refrained from the level of military action like the 2008 Georgian strike on South Ossetia. (Since the 1990s, there have been a few armed skirmishes between Armenian and Azeri forces, in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh. These exchanges have so far not been comparable to the intensity of the 2008 Georgian strike on South Ossetia.) After the 1990s former Georgian SSR warfare and before the aforementioned 2008 Georgian activity in South Ossetia, Russia did not recognize Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence. The Russian independence recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia came shortly after the 2008 war in the former Georgian SSR. Russia continues to not recognize the independence of the other disputed former Communist bloc territories.

Vis-a-vis Russia, the Serb, Moldovan and Azeri governments have not been irksome in the manner exhibited by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The combined international influence of the pro-Kosovo independence United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Turkey over Russia is one major reason why more countries support Kosovo’s independence over South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s. Another key factor is the better established Albanian activist global presence when compared to Abkhaz and Ossetian advocacy. Meantime, the number of countries not recognizing any of the disputed former Communist bloc territories remains high. They include China, Brazil and five European Union nations.

Regarding the comparison of independence recognition of disputed territories: after many years, predominately Muslim Turkey remains the only country recognizing the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The lack of Turkish clout and at times overrated pan-Islamic sentiment appear to be the main contributing reasons for this predicament. Reaching out to the so-called “Muslim street” was a reason some Western neoliberals and neoconservatives gave for recognizing Kosovo’s independence. (Kosovo’s majority Albanian population are mostly Muslim). At last glance, 17 out of 57 nations in the Organization of the Islamic Conference recognize Kosovo’s independence, with 22 out of 27 European Union countries doing likewise.

The international community’s non-recognition of Pridnestrovie’s independence underscores the politicization behind recognizing disputed territories. (Pridnestrovie is also known as Transnistria and several closely related spellings.) After World War I and before 1940, Pridnestrovie and Moldova were not in the same country. Prior to World War I, Pridnestrovie was never part of an independent Moldovan state. The Moldavian SSR was established in 1940, years after the Soviet Union’s founding.

Some analysts believe that if Pridnestrovie can be separate from Moldova, then the Ukrainian territory that was part of Romania after World War I and before 1940 can secede from Ukraine and/or merge into Romania. One difference appears evident between these two territories. The Ukrainian land that was once part of Romania does not appear (in majority terms) to seek leaving Ukraine and/or joining Romania. Like it not, Pridnestrovie shows signs of preferring a separate relationship with Moldova.

The dispute concerning the former Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (former Moldavian SSR for short) territory of Pridnestrovie was spiced up with a recently questionable claim about a supposed secret Russian-Ukrainian agreement to incorporate Pridnestrovie into Ukraine.

Some of the political opposition to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have been at the forefront in presenting the claimed surreptitious agreement as reality. If implemented, such a move would hinder Yanukovych’s efforts at simultaneously having good relations with the West and Russia. Short of unnecessary confrontation, Russia is also seeking better ties with the West.

What is in it for Russia to recognize a Ukrainian acquisition of Pridnestrovie? Shortly after the claim of the supposed secret Russian-Ukrainian agreement on Pridnestrovie, Yanukovych said that Ukraine will continue to not recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as Kosovo. Simply put, the claimed secret agreement does not seem to make much sense for either Russia or Ukraine.

Pridnestrovie’s 2006 referendum calls for that disputed territory to eventually become a part of Russia. The Kremlin has rejected that idea, partly because of the apparent effort to better maintain reasonable ties with Moldova, which claims Pridnestrovie. A stated thought behind the supposed Russian-Ukrainian secret agreement includes the notion that if Pridnestrovie was acquired by Ukraine, Moldova would then be pressured to move closer to Russia. Where is the logic behind this opinion? The overall mood in Moldova would see an increase against Russia for going along with a Ukrainian acquisition of Pridnestrovie.

Short of agreeing to Pridnestrovie’s incorporation into Ukraine, it is hypothetically possible for Russian and Ukrainian officials to privately discuss the ramifications of that scenario. This sort of strategic discussion has been done on other issues not involving Russians and Ukrainians. The nature of such discussions are reckless, which explains why they are not formally released and actually implemented.

A conspiracy thought comes to mind. Russia and Ukraine could (stress could) plant a claim of a planned Ukrainian takeover of Pridnestrovie in a way that can be denied and is not intended for actual implementation. The two nations can then come back with a former Moldavian SSR settlement plan that is less provocative, but one which Moldova has not accepted. In this scenario, some might become more inclined to put the onus on Moldova to show greater flexibility, given what was supposedly discussed (Pridnestrovie going to Ukraine).

Moldova has not expressed support for a union/federation of republics within the boundaries of the former Moldavian SSR. Ukraine and Russia support Moldova and Pridnestrovie as part of one nation, while stressing that Pridnestrovie should have a considerable degree of autonomy. Moldova stresses that Pridnestrovie is part of Moldova. Given the limited but potentially greater pan-Romanian sentiment in Moldova, a politically looser Pridnestrovie within former Moldavian SSR boundaries, increases the likelihood of that entity to not drift away from Russia and Ukraine.

Towards the end of last month, Moldovan interim President Mihai Ghimpu arbitrarily announced a new holiday for his country which rebukes Moldova becoming a part of the Soviet Union in 1940. This holiday contradicts Moldova’s claim on Pridnestrovie. (As previously noted, the two were put together into the Moldavian SSR in 1940.) In Moldova, there is opposition to Ghimpu’s move with the view (as of the writing of this article) that his planned holiday will not get approved.

The article first appears in the American Chronicle on July 6, 2010.

Michael Averko

Michael Averko

Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic. He has appeared as a guest commentator on the BBC and WABC talk radio, in addition to having been a panelist at the World Russia Forum, Russia Forum New York and US-Russia.org Experts' Panel. Besides Averko's Eurasia Review column - Counterpunch, Foreign Policy Journal, Global Research, History News Network, InoSMI.Ru, Johnson's Russia List, Journal of Turkish Weekly, Kyiv Post, Oriental Review, Penza News, Pravda.Ru, Pravoslavie.Ru, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Russia Insider, Sputnik News, Strategic Culture Foundation, The Huffington Post, Valdai Discussion Club and WikiLeaks, are among the numerous venues where his commentary have either appeared or been referenced. The American Institute in Ukraine and the Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies, have referenced some of his commentary, along with academic white papers prepared for NATO Watch, Ohio State University, Problems of Post-Communism and the Royal College of Defence Studies. He is source referenced in Richard Sakwa's book "Frontline Ukraine". Averko's Eurasia Review article on Pavlo Skoropadsky, provides the first full online transcript of Skoropadsky's edict calling for an "All-Russian Federation", inclusive of Russia and Ukraine. Among other issues, that article explains the relationships among the major combatants in the Russian Civil War. He can be reached via [email protected]

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