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“Kosovo precedent” and the Ukrainian crisis?

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The revolt and colored revolution by the Russian speaking population in the East Ukraine in 2014 finally resulted in separation of Crimea from Ukraine based on the Declaration of Independence of the Crimea as a legal document followed by the people’s referendum on joining Russia based on the formal self-determination rights according to the model and practice of, for instance, the Baltic states in 1990 when they declared independence from the USSR.

It is clear from the official declaration by the Supreme Council of Crimea on peninsula’s independence that this legal and legitimate act is founded on international law and the people’s right to self-determination, but moreover, as well as based on the so-called “Kosovo precedent” – a western created “precedent” in 2008 which came as a boomerang to Ukraine six years later. Basically, “Kosovo precedent” is a clear representative example of a flagrant violation of the international law and order including above all the UN Charter and the UN 1244 Resolution on Kosovo. This “precedent” is firstly created in 1999 by a brutal NATO military aggression on the independent and sovereign state of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) without any mandate of the SC UN that was followed in February 2008 by unilateral proclamation of Kosovo independence by Kosovo parliament and its recognition by a part of the world. At such a way the West created the “precedence” which by definition has to be a unique case of the time in the international relations and global politics what theoretically means that it cannot serve as a foundation or example for any similar case all over the world. However, this international and legal “precedent” was in 2010 internationally and legally empowered by the opinion by the UN International Court of Justice that a proclamation of Kosovo independence does not violate an international law on self-determination (independence) what is true but at the same time it violates the UN Charter on territorial integrity of the states and their domestic law what is also true. Nevertheless, the court’s opinion is, formally, just of the advisory nature but in practice it has serious implications and consequences. The first coming one was exactly the Crimean case in 2014 that was clearly stated either by the local Crimean authorities or by Russia’s government.

Undoubtedly, “Kosovo precedent” not only shaken but even destroyed the very foundations of international law based primarily on the UN Charter and resolutions. As a direct consequence, it had direct “boomerang effect” with regard to the case of Crimean secession from Ukraine and following annexation by Russia. We have to remember that Crimea broke away relations with Ukraine calling for the same formal reasons used by the Albanians in the case of the 2008 “Kosovo precedent” and other legal arguments. Nevertheless, the western countries recognized Kosovo independence from Serbia but not Crimean, Donetsk and Luhansk separation from Ukraine regardless the fact that all of these cases are formally and officially based on the same legal and moral arguments. Moreover, differently to “Kosovo precedent”, separation cases in Ukraine are based on the results of the plebiscites.

The western policy of double standards is very visible from the following written statement on Kosovo independence by the US of April 17th, 2009 that was submitted to the UN International Court of Justice: “Declarations of independence may, and often do, violate domestic legislation. However, this does not make them violations of international law.” Nonetheless, similar statement by the same US administration on the independence cases of the Republic of Serbian Krayina, Republic of Srpska, Republic of Transnistria, Republic of Abkhazia, Republic of South Ossetia or three separatist republics in the East Ukraine and Crimea we did not hear. Obviously, the UN International Court of Justice accepted the US statement and issued on July 22nd, 2010 its own two that “No general prohibition may be inferred from the practice of the Security Council with regard to declarations of independence,” and “General international law contains no prohibition on declarations of independence.” According to the above statements, however, it is clear that Moscow was absolutely truthful in the case of Crimea’s secession but with one important distinction: Russia did not bomb Kiev previously!  

As a matter of fact, the West did not offer to Belgrade possibility of federalization of Serbia with Kosovo as one federal unit as only the independence of Kosovo was advocated as the optimal solution. However, Moscow is advocating exactly the federalization as the best solution for the Ukrainian crisis with the East Ukrainian Russian-speaking regions as a single federal territory. Crimea, following the logic of both historical and ethnic rights, has to stay in Russia as the peninsula has nothing to do with Ukraine. Even Turkey or Greece have more rights on Crimea than Ukraine. The scenario of federalized Ukraine would surely positively influence the process of stopping already ongoing new Cold War in this case between the West (the NATO and the EU) and the bloc of the countries around Russia, China and Iran. However, if the western mentors of the Euromaidan government in Kiev will reject such Russia’s proposal it is most probably that Ukraine will be left to commit suicide as the western policy of double standards, promoted by the US and the EU in the 2008 Kosovo Case will continue to have the boomerang effect in the rest of the East Ukraine following the Odessa region as well.

Current Ukrainian crisis in this case can be solved according to the 1667 Andrussovo Treaty signed on February 9th between Poland-Lithuania and Russia. According to the treaty a present-day territory of Ukraine was simply divided between two states: the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (the Republic of Both Nations) and the Russian Empire with Dnieper river as a demarcation line. In the other words, Russia received from Poland-Lithuania territories eastward from Dnieper but with Kiev and whole Zaporozhie region (from both sides of the river). Therefore, Dnieper became a border between “Europe” and Russia with divided Ukraine into two borderlands. The Slavonic word Ukraine means in English a borderland. It is clear even from the name of the country what is going to be its ultimate destiny. Before or later, no matter. The case of the Republic of Serbian Krayina (Ukraine) proved it clearly in the 1990s – the Borderland can be only a periphery of some more natural state. It does not matter on which side of the border.  

UkraineImperialism

We cannot forget and a humanitarian intervention aspect of the final solution of the “Ukrainian Question”. In general, “intervention” is considered as forcible action committed by some state(s) against another one(s) but without the consent by the attacked side. Therefore, “humanitarian intervention” is a military intervention carried out by some state(s) for the sake to protect human rights (usually as a group minority rights). Speaking from the very morality point of view, a humanitarian intervention is grounded, or at least (mis)used as a formal pretext, on the notion of being “humanitarian” what means to be concerned about the interest of and benefits to mankind particularly if the suffering of someone has to be reduced. The concept of humanitarian intervention is (mis)used especially after the Cold War as in the cases of Iraq (in 1991 to create “safe havens” for the Kurds by establishing a no-fly zone policed by three NATO pact countries: the USA, UK and France), Somalia (in 1992 to create a protected environment), Haiti (in 1994 to restore order by the civil authority), Rwanda (in 1994 to create “safe zone” for the Hutu refugees), Kosovo (in 1999 to protect the Albanians from Serbia’s military and police forces), East Timor (in 1999 to prevent possible ethnic cleansing by Indonesia’s security forces) and Sierra Leone (in 2000 to protect the UK citizens at the time of the local civil war).

Very controversial wars of humanitarian intervention in above mentioned cases, in which participated only the western powers, were formally justified on humanitarian grounds. However, in majority of these cases the intervention had in essence very political and geopolitical real background as it clearly shows the cases of Kosovo and Sierra Leone. In Kosovo case, the intervention was committed just in a context of fears about the possibility of ethnic cleansing but not on the real ground. Following NATO airstrikes campaign for 78 days was conducted without the SC UN authorization but finally it forced Serbia to withdraw its complete military and police forces from the province. As a consequence, the province was occupied by the NATO troops with creation of huge US military base and finally separated from Serbia by proclamation and recognition of independence which was in fact a real and ultimate geopolitical goal of the formally humanitarian intervention in 1999. In Sierra Leone, after a prolonged civil war, the UK government decided to send the British military forces to the country, formally to protect the UK citizens, but in fact ultimately to support the elected government against the rebel forces that have been accused of carrying out atrocities against the civilians.

Here, we came probably to the crux of the matter of current Ukrainian crisis and most probably “Ukrainian Question” in general. It is well known that Russia’s president V. Putin is extremely counter-fascinated with the NATO 1999 Kosovo humanitarian intervention as it is seen as great humiliation of Russia and Russian national proudness. It is also well known that the Euromaidan regime in Kiev committed terrible war crimes in Donbass region which can be classified as ethnic cleansing and even form of genocide as thousands of Donbass region inhabitants are brutally killed (among them around 200 kids) and approximately one million of them became refuges in Russia. For Moscow, it is very easy formally to “prove” acts of war crimes of Kiev Euromaidan junta in Donbass region as it was, similarly, very easy for Washington formally to “prove” Serbia’s war crimes in Kosovo before NATO intervention in 1999. As a result, Moscow can launch Russia’s military humanitarian intervention in the East Ukraine with a consequence of its final separation from Kiev. A “Kosovo precedent” is still on agenda and it can be legitimized even by a very historical fact that a part of the present-day East Ukraine became legally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1654 as a consequence of the decision by the local hetman of Zaporozhian territory Bohdan Khmelnytsky (c. 1595−1657) based on a popular revolt against the Polish-Lithuanian (the Roman Catholic) occupation of Ukraine which broke out in 1648.

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Eastern Europe

Western Influence Wanes in South Caucasus

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Over the course of past year, Georgia’s relations with its Western partners have notably cooled. Under the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party which came to power in 2012, ties with the West had strengthened. But recently, as the popularity of the party declined and the political landscape in Georgia altered, distrust has grown, accusations have flown, and questions regarding the sustainability of Georgia’s pro-Western path are loudly discussed. 

A primary driver is an internal political crisis which followed the 2020 parliamentary elections. That worsened following a July 28 decision by GD to walk back a deal it reached with the political opposition to end a month-long internal political crisis. The process was supervised by EU diplomats along with the U.S. ambassador. A six-point plan was produced that envisaged long-sought electoral and judicial reforms, and power-sharing in parliament. It also involved stipulations on the possibility of new elections and the issue of political prisoners (though the government says there are none.) 

The decision to withdraw from the deal might be also linked to the upcoming local government elections and troubles faced by the ruling party. IRI-produced polls showed that GD is backed by only 28% of the population, with the United National Movement, traditionally the biggest opposition party, coming second with 15%. Other polls showed only slightly higher support for the ruling party. 

Georgian Dream also faces serious dissent within its own ranks. Former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia’s active political campaigning and growing popularity (9% according to the IRI polls) have taken significant support from Georgia Dream to his new party, called For Georgia. The proliferation of parties as well as the steady process of generational change is breaking the political status quo. Gradually, older parties are losing popularity, while newer groups manage to attract support in the 5-10% range. Diffusion of political power among multiple parties is thus a significant development which breaks with traditional Georgian politics of single party dominance of the entire political landscape. 

Although pro-EU sentiment within the Georgian public remains fairly high, for the political elites it has become increasingly clear that membership prospects are bleaker than ever before. Reasons range from troubles in the liberal world order, to the rise of illiberalism and the divisions within the EU on expanding onto Russia’s doorstep. 

America’s failures should not be magnified, but its prestige has been shaken by the Afghan withdrawal, meaning U.S. authority is being diluted. President Joe Biden’s focus on the Indo-Pacific region has provided an opportunity for Georgia’s government to consider a more balanced approach to the Black Sea neighborhood. This involves the establishment of more equidistant external ties, both to regional and global powers. Ukraine, another long-time EU-hopeful, did something similar when the country was essentially shunned from EU and NATO membership. The country turned to China, and signed a large investment deal to improve railway and ports infrastructure. Reaching out to Turkey is another option. 

In Georgia’s case, its fixation with the West no longer provides the expected results. However, this does not mean Georgia will abandon its pro-Western stance. Ideally, constructing closer foreign ties with other actors would allow the country to partially compensate for its inability to win EU/NATO membership. A multi-vector foreign policy is already visible in Turkey, Iran, Russia and other neighboring states. Even Armenia, much constrained by asymmetric dependence on Russia, is actively looking at diversifying its foreign policy options by actively seeking a rapprochement with Turkey.  

One possibility is that Georgia seeks an improvement of relations with Russia — badly marred by the 2008 war — as part of a more agile and balanced foreign policy. As ties between Georgia and the West deteriorate, Russia seems to want an understanding. A series of offers on normalizing bilateral relations was suggested by the Kremlin, aiming to exploit the rising disagreements between Georgia and its Western partners. 

In the end, the shift from fixation on the West to a policy of criticism as part of a broader foreign policy reflects changes in the balance of power. The West is no longer seen in the wider Black Sea region as a decisive power. The rise of an illiberal alternative to the Western liberal democratic model allows countries to take another path. That of course ultimately harms the U.S. and its friends, reduces their credibility, and may reverse liberty’s advances, achieved over several decades, both in Georgia and Ukraine. 

Author’s note: first published in cepa

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Ukraine’s EU-integration plan is not good for Europe

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Late this summer, Estonia, in the person of its president, Kersti Kaljulaid, became the first EU country to declare that Ukraine remains as far away from EU membership as it was after the “Revolution of Dignity” – the events of 2013-14 in Kiev, which toppled Ukraine’s vacillating pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych. Shortly after, the ambassador of Estonia’s neighbor, Latvia, in Ukraine, echoed Kaljulaid’s statement, although in a slightly softer form. This came as unpleasant news for the current authorities of Kiev, especially amid the celebration of Ukraine’s 30th independence anniversary and the “Crimean Forum,” which, according to President Zelensky’s plan, was supposed to rally international support for the country in its confrontation with Russia. However, during the past seven years, Ukraine has been a serious problem for the EU, which is becoming increasingly hard to solve.

Back in 2014, the Kremlin’s response to the overthrow of its ally, Yanukovych, was just as harsh as to the coming to power in Kiev of pro-Western elites. Without firing a single shot, Russia annexed Crimea, a major base for the Russian Black Fleet, and populated by a Russian-speaking majority, many of whom sincerely welcomed the region’s reunification with Russia. Meanwhile, a civil war broke out in Ukraine’s also Russian-speaking southeast where the local separatists were actively supported by Moscow. Europe then realized that it was now necessary to ramp up pressure on Russia and support the budding democratic transformations in Ukraine. However, the country’s successive pro-Western presidents, Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelensky, who shared European values, have since failed to achieve any significant results in European integration. Moreover, they became enmeshed in US electoral scandals and the war of compromising evidence, and they do not create the impression of being independent figures. Moreover, they were consistently making one mistake after another. In two major battles with separatists near Debaltsevo and Ilovaisk in 2014-15, the Ukrainian Armed Forces suffered a crushing defeat, despite the upsurge of patriotism backed by US and European support. The closure of the borders with Russia has divided families and left tens of thousands of people without jobs. An inept language policy and rabid nationalism split the Ukrainian nation, which had just begun to shape up, with wholesale corruption plunging the country into poverty.

In their clumsy effort to prove their adherence to European values, Petro Poroshenko, and after him Volodymyr Zelensky, both made clumsy attempts to prove their adherence to Western values, starting to prioritize the interests of the country’s LGBT community. As a result, gay people were given prominent positions in the country’s leadership, and the square outside the presidential palace became the venue of almost weekly gay pride parades. This open disregard for the conservative values ​​of the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians led to an even greater split between the ruling elites and the nationalists, who are now at loggerheads with the Zelensky administration on many issues – another gigantic problem hindering Ukraine’s European integration.

The fact is that Ukrainian nationalism has old and very controversial roots. Starting out as fighters for independence, the Ukrainian right-wingers quickly joined the camp of Hitler’s admirers and committed a number of serious war crimes not only in Ukraine proper, but on the territory of neighboring Poland as well. Their heirs now honor Hitler and Ukrainian collaborationists, deny many crimes of Nazism and espouse anti-Semitic views that are unacceptable for Europe. Moreover, they do not see Russia as their only enemy, actively provoking conflicts with the Poles and accusing them of the “genocide of the Ukrainians” during the 1930s in the territories that until 1939 were part of the Polish state.

In the course of the seven years of Ukraine’s “pro-Western turn” the local right-wingers, who already represented an organized force, were reinforced by veterans of the Donbass war, members of the country’s military and security forces. They were long regarded by the Washington as important allies in the fight against Russia, failing to see real neo-Nazis hiding under patriotic slogans. Now it is exactly these people, who are breaking up gay parades in Kiev and crippling LGBT activists. They feel no need for European values because they take much closer to heart the legacy of the Third Reich. Thanks to visa-free travel to Europe, they have become regulars, and often the striking force of neo-Nazi gatherings from Germany to Spain. They are ready to kill refugees from the Middle East and burn synagogues. Moreover, some of them have retained ties with their Russian neo-Nazi brethren, who, although in deep opposition to Vladimir Putin, continue to propagate the idea of superiority of the Slavic race.

President Zelensky and his administration are smart enough to distance themselves from the local right-wingers. Moreover, they are detained, and sometimes their rallies are broken up by police (albeit without any consequences for the leaders). Even though the ultra-nationalist Right Sector lost their seats in parliament in the last elections, they retained their hard-core base and influence. De facto neo-Nazi leaders maintain good contacts with the outwardly liberal presidential administration and are thus immune from prosecution. They also go to Europe, where right-wing sentiments are very popular.

Meanwhile, President Zelensky continues to pointlessly lose soldiers along the “contact line” with separatists, unable to “be strong with his weakness” and establish a full-fledged truce in a war he does not yet want to win. As a result, more and more illegal arms are seeping into the country’s central regions from the frontlines and many soldiers, fed up with the war, are now joining the ranks of right-wing militants! These are by no means pro-European activists. They will be just as happy to beat up LGBT members and destroy a refugee camp as the Russian embassy. The authorities simply cannot fight them in earnest because the ultranationalists have too many supporters in the state apparatus and too many activists capable of plunging Kiev into chaos in a matter of hours. Small wonder that such post-Soviet countries as Estonia and Latvia, which themselves had problems with both nationalism and the justification of local collaborationists, were the first to raise their voices criticizing Kiev.

Well, Ukraine could and should be viewed as a potential new EU member. However, it must be forced to root out Nazism, instead of holding staged gay prides in downtown Kiev just for show to demonstrate the elites’ adherence to European values! Otherwise, we would have a faction of real neo-Nazis in the European Parliament, compared to whom any members of the European Far Right would look like moderate conservatives. In addition to stamping out corruption, President Zelensky needs to eradicate neo-fascism, which threatens Europe just as it does his own country. Only then can we talk about European integration. Meanwhile, we have to admit that, just as the Estonian president said, seven years of “European democracy” have not brought Ukraine one step closer to the United Europe…

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Prospects of Armenia-Turkey Rapprochement

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Potential Armenia-Turkey rapprochement could have a major influence on South Caucasus geopolitics. The opening of the border would allow Turkey to have a better connection with Azerbaijan beyond the link it already has with the Nakhchivan exclave. Moscow will not be entirely happy with the development as it would allow Yerevan to diversify its foreign policy and decrease dependence on Russia in economy. The process nevertheless is fraught with troubles as mutual distrust and the influence of the third parties could complicate the nascent rapprochement.

Over the past month Armenian and Turkish officials exchanged positive statements which signaled potential rapprochement between the two historical foes. For instance, the Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan said that he was ready for reconciliation with Turkey “without preconditions.” “Getting back to the agenda of establishing peace in the region, I must say that we have received some positive public signals from Turkey. We will assess these signals, and we will respond to positive signals with positive signals,” the PM stated. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara could work towards gradual normalization if Yerevan “declared its readiness to move in this direction.”

On a more concrete level Armenia has recently allowed Turkish Airlines to fly to Baku directly over Armenia. More significantly, Armenia’s recently unveiled five-year government action plan, approved by Armenia’s legislature, states that “Armenia is ready to make efforts to normalize relations with Turkey.” Normalization, if implemented in full, would probably take the form of establishing full-scale diplomatic relations. More importantly, the five-year plan stresses that Armenia will approach the normalization process “without preconditions” and says that establishing relations with Turkey is in “the interests of stability, security, and the economic development of the region.”

So far it has been just an exchange of positive statements, but the frequency nevertheless indicates that a certain trend is emerging. This could lead to intensive talks and possibly to improvement of bilateral ties. The timing is interesting. The results of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war served as a catalyzer. Though heavily defeated by Azerbaijan, Armenia sees the need to act beyond the historical grievances it holds against Turkey and be generally more pragmatic in foreign ties. In Yerevan’s calculation, the improvement of relations with Ankara could deprive Baku of some advantages. Surely, Azerbaijan-Turkey alliance will remain untouched, but the momentum behind it could decrease if Armenia establishes better relations with Turkey. The latter might not be as strongly inclined to push against Armenia as it has done so far, and specifically during the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. The willingness to improve the bilateral relations has been persistently expressed by Ankara over the past years. Perhaps the biggest effort was made in 2009 when the Zurich Protocols were signed leading to a brief thaw in bilateral relations. Though eventually unsuccessful (on March 1, 2018, Armenia announced the cancellation of the protocols), Ankara has often stressed the need of improvement of ties with Yerevan without demanding preconditions.

Beyond the potential establishment of diplomatic relations, the reopening of the two countries’ border, closed from early 1990s because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Turkey’s solidarity with and military and economic support for Azerbaijan, could also be a part of the arrangement. The opening of the 300 km border running along the Armenian regions of Shirak, Aragatsotn, Armavir, and Ararat could be a game-changer. The opening up of the border is essentially an opening of the entire South Caucasus region. The move would provide Armenia with a new market for its products and businesses. In the longer term it would allow the country to diversify its economy, lessen dependence on Russia and the fragile route which goes through Georgia. The reliance on the Georgian territory could be partially substituted by Azerbaijan-Armenia-Turkey route, though it should be also stressed that the Armenia transit would need considerable time to become fully operational.

Economic and connectivity diversification equals the diminution of Russian influence in the South Caucasus. In other words, the closed borders have always constituted the basis of Russian power in the region as most roads and railways have a northward direction. For Turkey an open border with Armenia is also beneficial as it would allow a freer connection with Azerbaijan. Improving the regional links is a cornerstone of Turkey’s position in the South Caucasus. In a way, the country has acted as a major disruptor. Through its military and active economic presence Turkey opens new railways and roads, thus steadily decreasing Russian geopolitical leverage over the South Caucasus.

As mentioned, both Ankara and Yerevan will benefit from potential rapprochement. It is natural to suggest that the potential improvement between Turkey and Armenia, Russia’s trustful ally, would not be possible without Moscow’s blessing. Russia expressed readiness to help Armenia and Turkey normalize their relations, saying that would boost peace and stability in the region. “Now too we are ready to assist in a rapprochement between the two neighboring states based on mutual respect and consideration of each other’s interests,” the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said. Yet, it is not entirely clear how the normalization would suit Russia’s interests. One possibility is that the Armenia-Turkey connection would allow Russia to have a direct land link with Turkey via Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, here too the benefits are doubtful. The route is long and will likely remain unreliable. For Russia trade with Turkey via the Black Sea will remain a primary route.

Presenting a positive picture in the South Caucasus could however be a misrepresentation of real developments on the ground. The Armenian-Turkish rapprochement is far from being guaranteed because of ingrained distrust between the two sides. Moreover, there is also the Azerbaijani factor. Baku will try to influence Ankara’s thinking lest the rapprochement goes against Azerbaijan’s interests. Moreover, as argued above, Russia too might not be entirely interested in the border opening. This makes the potential process of normalization fraught with numerous problems which could continuously undermine rapport improvement.

Thus, realism drives Turkish policy toward Armenia. Ankara needs better connections to the South Caucasus. Reliance on the Georgian transit route is critical, but diversification is no less important. The results of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war present Turkey and Armenia with an opportunity to pursue the improvement of bilateral ties. Yet, the normalization could be under pressure from external players and deep running mutual distrust. Moreover, the two sides will need to walk a tightrope as a potential blowback from nationalist forces in Turkey and Armenia can complicate the process.

Author’s note: first published in caucasuswatch

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