Monday, August 11, 2008

South Ossetia and Kosovo

The West has taken great pains to argue that the case of Kosovo is sui generis and is not applicable to secessionist movements anywhere else, but the more I read about South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the harder I find it to square that semantic argument with reality. After all, Kosovo was an ethnic enclave seeking independence from a newly formed state in the context of the breakup of Yugoslavia. South Ossetia is also an enclave seeking independence from a newly formed state in the context of the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The main difference, of course, was that Milosevic was carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, which is why I'm finding it unsurprising that Russia is accusing Georgia of ethnic cleansing, or that Georgia and its allies are accusing Russia of the same.

Moreover, in liberating Kosovo, the US spread the conflict far beyond Kosovo itself, bombing Belgrade's infrastructure and military capacity. The Russians can argue that they're currently doing the same thing by spreading the conflict to Georgia proper.

The main question now is whether the Russians seek regime change in Georgia. US Amb. Khalilzad yesterday asked the Russian delegation this very question, twice, after revealing that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had told US Secretary of State Rice in a phone conversation that Saakashvilli needs "to go." Amb. Churkin of Russia said that "regime change is an American term" but suggested darkly that leaders who cause their country harm need to take "courageous decisions" and step aside. For anyone who is a fan of Georgia's democracy (imperfect, yes, but way more democratic than any other country within several hundred miles of them), this is not reassuring.

Still, it was amusing to hear Amb. Khalilzad say that "the days of overthrowing leaders by military means..." Beat. "... in Europe are gone." (Georgia being in Europe seems a bit of a stretch, though technically the Caucasus are considered part of both continents.) Apparently, overthrowing Middle Eastern governments is okay, but in the Caucasus it's beyond the pale. Boy have Iraq and Kosovo really torpedoed our ability to make a coherent argument at the UN Security Council.

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