I wanted to write a post comparing Kosovo and South Ossetia, but Dan Drezner has already written it. It’s a week old now, but still good:
Itâ€™s been more than a week since Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. The number of other countries that have followed Russiaâ€™s lead isâ€¦. well, maybe one (Nicaragua), as near as I can tell. Belarus keeps promising that theyâ€™ll get around to it, and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has defended Russiaâ€™s recognition decision; since that initial promise, however, Belarus appears to have decided to sit on their hands. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez has expressed similar support of Russiaâ€™s recognition decision â€“ but I havenâ€™t seen any actual recognition from Caracas either… Vedomosti reports that, â€œIt appears that the Russian government has reconciled itself to the fact that no other country has recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said yesterday the reluctance of other states to recognize the independence of the breakaway Georgian territories was not critical.â€
As they say, read the whole thing — there are lots of interesting links and some thoughtful discussion of whether recognition was really such a good idea for Russia.
You want to bring along a grain of salt, because Drezner — like a lot of American conservatives — is a mild Russophobe. I note that he thinks the war was a serious economic setback for Russia, a position that Harvard B-School professor Noel Maurer sharply disagrees with. (Key quote: “Markets do not punish successful aggressors.”) Read ’em both and decide for yourself.
But anyway. I don’t think it’s all that useful to compare Kosovo to South Ossetia, but there are lots of people who disagree. So here’s one point of comparison: Kosovo’s independence is recognized by 46 countries. That number looks likely to slowly increase, eventually stabilizing (my guess) at between 50 and 60, including most of Kosovo’s neighbors, most of Europe, and most of the world’s largest economies. South Ossetia is currently recognized by two countries, one of which wants to annex it; that number seems very unlikely to grow beyond single digits.
Where it gets interesting, I think, is the interaction between the two; I suspect that a number of countries who are uncomfortable or undecided about Kosovar independence may use South Ossetia as an excuse to avoid recognizing it, at least for now. These things happen, in diplomacy.
On a related note, I notice that Montenegro’s President / Prime Minister / President Djukanovic is publicly wringing his hands about how much pressure he’s feeling — you know, from The West — to recognize Kosovo. It’s on the B92 site, which means it’s followed by a bunch of commenters screaming at each other. (B92 is a great site, but its English-language site has some of the dumbest commenters anywhere. Lots of Serb and Albanian diasporids, need I say more?) What’s interesting is that all these people seem to be taking Djukanovic’s statement at face value. Which suggests that none of them know very much about Djukanovic or the odd little country he’s been running for 16 of the last 18 years.
Djukanovic is a canny, amoral opportunist running a deeply divided country. Montenegrin nationalism still exists uncomfortably alongside Serb nationalism; anyone who’s spent time with Montenegrins knows that they can simultaneously insist that (1) they are totally different from Serbs, with their own distinct and heroic history and a totally unique culture; but also (2) they are, of course, Serbs. The picture is further complicated by the fact that about 15% – 20% of Montenegro’s population is ethnic minorities — Albanians, Bosniaks, and a few Turks and Croats. These groups supported secession from Serbia a couple of years ago; today, they strongly support recognizing Kosovo. And they’re a key bloc of swing votes.
So, Djukanovic has to walk a very narrow line here. He cares very little about foreign pressure, but he cares a lot about staying in power, maintaining political order, and keeping the money and perks flowing to himself, his family and his friends. So, wailing that he doesn’t really want to recognize Kosovo but, you know, he’s being forced to is probably the cleverest way to handle this. It plays nicely into the whole helpless-victim mindset of Serb nationalists while allowing him to keep the minorities and their MPs on board. In other words, it’s pretty classic Djukanovic… and it probably means Montenegro will be recognizing Kosovo in the not-too-distant future.