Kosovo 46, South Ossetia 2?

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:

It’s been more than a week since Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. The number of other countries that have followed Russia’s lead is…. well, maybe one (Nicaragua), as near as I can tell. Belarus keeps promising that they’ll get around to it, and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has defended Russia’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 Russia’s recognition decision – but I haven’t seen any actual recognition from Caracas either… Vedomosti reports that, “It 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.”

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.

30 thoughts on “Kosovo 46, South Ossetia 2?

  1. Counting countries is an exercise in self gratification. Surely we can understand that the decisions to recognize Kosovo have nothing to do with international law or fairness. To point out that most of the world’s largest economies work in lockstep with each on this issue is also hardly revelatory. When don’t they work in lockstep? That would be worth blogging about.

    In the new cold war era, we have to the us vs. them geo-political system. The differences from before are what matter. China is now going to be more closely aligned with Russia (note that that very large economy has not recognized Kosovo). And so, too, will South America, which is no longer ruled by dictators imposed by the US.

  2. Doug, do you really believe that Russia expected dozens of recognitions within a few weeks? Might it not be that they had other reasons?

    They had a lot of reasons to say that South-Ossetia has better arguments for independence than Kosovo (never really part of Georgia, longer de facto independent, more deaths per capita and a Georgian attack on peacekeepers). And they certainly have to fear that the Kosovo doctrine will one day be used against them – for example in Chechnya. It looks like the Russians have been rather convincing: it now looks as if even many Western countries may support Serbia’s request for an ICJ opinion. (remember that British minister who some time ago found it hostile to Europe?)

    A second reason is more practical. It gives Russia a good reason to keep its troops in the territories and to keep Western peacekeepers out. I don’t think the Russians trust Western peacekeepers very much after Kosovo.

    I admit that the Russians would have liked some more recognitions for their credibility. But I think they are realist enough to see that the number of potential recognitions at the moment is rather restricted.

  3. Hello Douglas,

    since I am one of these diaspora-peeps you are talking about, I would love to hear what exactly you mean with the following paragraph you posted:

    “(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?)”

    Thanks you.

  4. The article misses the point entirely- it does not matter how many countries will recognize South Ossetia or North Neverlandistan.

    The point is that The United States is no longer the sole power who can chop up independent countries and create fiefdoms on stolen territory.

    Other bullies will do it also.

    American claim that suport to Albanian terrorists is “unique case” and can not be a precedent is echoed by the Russian claim that South Ossetia is unique case and not a precedent. More unique cases will follow. There are hundreds of potential flashpoints will be unique.

    Countries who sided with American aggression on Serbia or recognize illegal independence of Kosovo have lost moral right to judge the actions of other countries.

    That’s what Kosovo thing is all about – dismantling of international order, on behalf of corporate interests, cheerleaded by the
    Liberal self-styled do gooders who leave mayhem behind. In retropspect, it exonerates Hitler and Nazi Germany’s actions against the established international order.

  5. In one of my posts on the Russo-Georgian crisis, I cited a post at the New Kosova report, which turned the Kosovo-South Ossetia question on its head, by comparing Russia’s meddling in the break-away regions using the excuse that it was protecting Russian citizens, as similar to the excuses that Serbia had used in Kosovo, As they described it:

    “The parallels with the Georgia situation of the attempt of using an ethnic minority inside the country – Kosovo Serbs – to carve up a part of the country is not missing on Kosovars.”

  6. Hi Douglas,

    I think you forgot the background of Kosovo’s independence, since its not essentially because the Powerful west countries wanted to show power, its because Milosovic’s way of ‘governing’ over Kosovo. I mean, were Citizens of S. Ossetia facing ethnic clearance in form of expulsion from their homeland, repression, brutal killings of civil population, no elementary human rights, continuous police hours after 6pm for over a decade, not mentioning ‘small problems’ like every institution was closed for Albanians etc. just because of ethnicity?
    Imagine your kid was not allowed to go to school, you were expelled from work without a reason, you were beaten by the policemen whenever they wanted, you were dead sick and weren’t allowed to visit a hospital.
    You cannot imagine what was going on in Kosovo.
    During war there were so many of your colleagues reporting about Kosovo, ask them what was going on there.
    It’s so easy just to write something while sitting on a leather wheel chair and pretending that its a based on facts point hitting article.
    You cannot draw parallels between Kosovo and S. Ossetia without analyzing their respective backgrounds.
    The independence of Kosovo was not decided by a single state, which is the case in S.Ossetia, it was decide upon negotiations and eight year period of research by the EU, USA, NATO and UN.

    ….

    Thanks

  7. “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?”?????????????????????????????????????????

    At least those “dumb people” have a reason to waste their time because its their country???

    what is your reason?

  8. I seriously doubt the guys you quote (Drezner or Maurer) are any smarter than the dumb people you quote. Maurer has said some pretty idiotic things way too often.
    As for the issue, I guess when your cities are bombed and Georgian troops enter killing civilians, I’d say this is probably worse than Milosevic’s repression, at least if you’re one of those being killed.

  9. Just a gentle reminder: this is a moderated site. No obscenity, ethnic slurs, personal attacks, or 1500 word rants about how this country or that deserves to be smitten by God.

    Also, keeping it relevant is nice.

    Common sense, please, people.

    Doug M.

  10. To Meriton:
    Kosovo was not decided after 8 years of research and negotiations. After the war the West first refused to negotiate with Serbia because they claimed that they needed to restore order in Kosovo first. They gave this even a name: “standards before status” (never mind that that suggested that the status would be a kind of reward instead of the product of negotiations). Finally negotiations started with Ahtisaari. His idea of negotiations was to tell Kostunica on his first visit to Belgrade that the only thing Serbia could talk about was minority rights for Kosovo’s Serbs. And even that was restricted (“no new RS”). I think this can only be described as a diktat.

    My idea of negotiations would be that you have Serbia’s Finland proposal as a start. Kosovo can then convince Serbia with a better proposal that they should allow independence. It is not particularly in Serbia’s interest to keep Kosovo (think of all the trouble and the votes in parliament), but they will only give it up when they are convinced that the rights of Kosovo’s Serbs are guaranteed.

    As for similarities between Kosovo/Yugoslavia and Georgia I can give you two:
    – In the beginning of the Yugoslav wars you saw militias. Arkan’s was the most famous but the other sides had similar militias – also with an ample criminal presence. Georgia didn’t have an army when it became independent so it relied on militias to bring Abkhazia and South Ossetia to order. Their ignoring of human rights and pilfering did much to antagonize the Ossetians and Abkhazians and provoked the Russian interventions.
    – Before the wars there lived nearly 100,000 Ossetians in Georgia proper – outside South-Ossetia. Many (about 55,000) were expelled during the previous wars. Georgia blocks their returns by refusing to give their houses and lands back and requiring unending juridical procedures. Just the same way as Kosovo is keeping out its Serbs.

  11. Wim, I’m sorry, but you seem to be writing from an alternate universe where South Ossetia is actually independent. In this world it’s a de facto province of Russia. Russia controls defense, foreign policy, internal security, and trade, the currency is the ruble, everyone has a Russian passport, ethnic Russians are running the police and security services, more than 80% of the “national” budget is underwritten by Moscow, and virtually all construction and investment is funded by the Russian state.

    More to the point, nobody in South Ossetia wants independence. That has never been on the table. They want to be part of Russia; that’s been their explicit goal from day one. So, trying to argue they have a better case for independence than Kosovo pretty thoroughly misses the point.

    Doug M.

  12. Doug, the core argument for Kosovo’s independence is that suffered so much and has been de facto independent for some time. That it will remain independent and not become part of another country is not really a part of that argument. It only serves to (falsely) convince the world that Kosovo’s insurrection was indigenous and not foreign sponsored – while in fact it got a lot of foreign sponsoring. There is no doubt that Kosovo’s Albanian population wanted to get rid of Serbia’s rule (just as S.Ossetia’s Ossetians wants to get rid of Russian rule), but without foreign support they wouldn’t have achieved anything. Even now Kosovo could be overrun within a day by the Serbian army if it didn’t have international protection.

    If it was not sure that it would jeopardize its effort to get rid of Serbian rule Kosovo would at least have a serious faction advocating a union with Albania. On the other hand it looks like South Ossetia is perfectly prepared to stay for some time independent if that is necessary.

    As for defense, foreign policy and internal security: in Kosovo the international community has a very big influence in those areas too. And they contribute much to the budget too and have even introduced their coin – the auro.

    Given Georgia’s boycott policies, the high number of Ossetian exiles from Georgia who can’t be absorbed in South Ossetia and the geographic situation it is only natural that South Ossetia has become oriented towards Russia.

  13. “It only serves to (falsely) convince the world that Kosovo’s insurrection was indigenous and not foreign sponsored ”

    Um, what?

    If by ‘foreign’ you include diasporid Albanians… well, sure.

    But if you mean outside government, hell no. The KLA was miserably lonely until well into 1998; their first few years, they not only had no foreign support, they had to work hard to avoid being busted as criminals. Even the Albanian government distrusted them: the Berisha administration threw a couple of their leaders in jail, just to show who was boss. There was nothing remotely resembling the western support to, for instance, Tudjman’s Croatia; up until the autumn of 1999, no foreign government regarded the KLA with anything more than queasy tolerance.

    “without foreign support they wouldn’t have achieved anything.”

    Well, that depends what you mean by “anything”. Guerrilla movements generally don’t achieve independence without foreign support; there are exceptions but they’re very rare.

    But before it got any foreign aid whatsoever, the KLA had managed to grow from a ragtag handful of students and malcontents to a well-armed, highly competent group of 20,000 or so fighters; tie down five times their number of Serb army regulars, paramilitaries and police in an unsuccessful counterinsurgency campaign; and turn large chunks of Kosovo into no-go areas for the Serbs. Whether that’s “anything” or not is a matter of definition, I guess.

    “they contribute much to the budget too and
    have even introduced their coin – the auro.”

    Well, the “auro” has been introduced in a number of countries without compromising their independence. In fact, Montenegro was on it for years before they separated from Serbia.

    As for the ruble… do you know how many countries other than Russia use the ruble?

    “it is only natural that South Ossetia has become oriented towards Russia.”

    This is either bad English or painful ignorance. I like you, Wim, so I’ll assume the former.

    It’s just not correct to say that “South Ossetia _has become_ oriented towards Russia”. South Ossetia was always oriented towards Russia. They first asked to join Russia in 1990, before Georgia had even gained independence.

    South Ossetia didn’t want to join Russia because Georgia had cruelly misgoverned them. They wanted to join Russia because they were sure that Georgia would cruelly misgovern them, and they didn’t want to give Georgia that chance.

    “If it was not sure that it would jeopardize its effort to get rid of Serbian rule Kosovo would at least have a serious faction advocating a union with Albania.”

    And now we’re back in that alternate universe again. Wim, have you ever met anyone from Kosovo?

    Doug M.

  14. Lawyers don’t let the facts get in the way; do they Douglas…..

    ‘In parallel with the setting up of its military operations in Albania and Macedonia, NATO had established direct links with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). A US Department of Defense briefing confirms in this regard that “initial contacts” between the KLA and NATO had taken place by mid-1998:

    “…the realization has come to people [in NATO] that we [NATO] have to have the UCK [acronym for KLA in Albanian] involved in this process because they have shown at least the potential to be rejectionists of any deal that could be worked out there with the existing Kosovo parties. So somehow they have to be brought in and that’s why we’ve made some initial contacts there with the group, hopefully the right people in the group, to try and bring them into this negotiating process.’ 34

    34. US Department of Defense, Background Briefing, July 15, 1998.

    More at:

    http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/CHO309C.html

  15. Well, let’s see.

    — Article from Miroslav Antic’s site claiming that West German military intelligence supported the KLA. Supporting evidence: 1) KLA government in exile was based in Germany 2) German military intelligence was present in Albania in 1997 3) KLA soldiers were seen wearing Bundeswehr uniforms.

    (I note in passing that there’s a large Army Surplus store in Bad Neustadt, ten minutes from where I live here in Germany.)

    So, yes, clearly that means “Germany helped create, train and fund them”.

    (The pacifist, multilateralist and pro-Russian Schroeder government was sending German army intelligence down to Albania to fund and train a guerrilla movement against Russia’s favorite Balkan ally: that makes perfect sense. Because, you know, Germans just hate Serbs. Always have.)

    The NATO cite says only that by summer 1998, NATO wanted to establish formal contacts with the KLA. Well, you know: duh. This was definitely a slap at Belgrade — it implicitly placed the KLA as equals with the Yugoslav government, which was a long step towards legitimizing them and their goals — but it’s a far cry from NATO training, funding, or otherwise giving them support.

    The Impact Press article is just too stupid to fisk. Sorry, but in the first couple of paragraphs he manages to claim that the “imperialist fascist” Albanian diasporids from Germany were really German “mercenaries”. That’s either idiotic or deliberately mendacious, and the rest of the article is more of the same.

    I’m a little surprised that you haven’t mentioned the Croatian Volunteers. Or the famous .50 caliber sniper rifles. Get with it, Todd.

    Two recent books on the KLA, BTW, both specifically discuss — and dismiss — various “foreign aid and funding” myths. They’re _Kosova Express_ by James Pettifer and _Be Not Afraid, For You Have Sons In America_ by Stacy Sullivan. Both recommended.

    Doug M.

  16. Doug, the core of my last post was an analysis of Kosovo’s “special case” argument and the conclusion that that can easily be applied to South Ossetia. You never come even close to refuting that argument while instead you focus on rather uninteresting details. But I will address the points you raise:

    “Um, what? If by ‘foreign’ you include diasporid Albanians… well, sure.”
    The KLA depended on Albania as a foreign base. That Berisha (whose farm is believed to have been a KLA training camp) threw a few KLA leaders in jail meant involvement (some people believe the KLA was set up by the Segurimi). The KLA was extremely well-funded and many people were astonished that they even had new uniforms. This was quite different from Castro who had to steal his guns from the enemy. Whether it was only the diaspora that provided the money is an open discussion.

    “up until the autumn of 1999, no foreign government regarded the KLA with anything more than queasy tolerance.”
    Albright seemed to take Thaci quite seriously at Rambouillet.

    “But before it got any foreign aid whatsoever, the KLA had managed to grow from a ragtag handful of students and malcontents to a well-armed, highly competent group of 20,000 or so fighters; tie down five times their number of Serb army regulars, paramilitaries and police in an unsuccessful counterinsurgency campaign; and turn large chunks of Kosovo into no-go areas for the Serbs.”
    Serbia made some classical mistakes in guerrilla fighting (too much violence) what helped the UCK to grow fast. The availability of much money made it possible to equip all those new recruits. But the KLA thanked their “no go” areas mainly to ceasefires that Serbia had accepted under Western pressure (another classical mistake as you shouldn’t allow guerrilla’s safe havens). I think it was a sign of the weakness of the KLA that they couldn’t hold no-go areas on their own. The weakness of the KLA became even more evident after the war. The rapacious everyone-for-himself behavior of the (ex)-guerrilla’s showed that they didn’t possess a fraction of the discipline that you need for an effective guerrilla. My estimate is that Serbia would have learned much faster the art of the anti-guerrilla than the UCK the art of the guerrilla.

    “[South-Ossetia] first asked to join Russia in 1990, before Georgia had even gained independence.”
    OK, point for you.

    “””…union with Albania.”””
    :”And now we’re back in that alternate universe again. Wim, have you ever met anyone from Kosovo?”
    Doug, I suppose you want to say that most Kosovo Albanians you know are not enthusiastic about a reunion with Albania. However, given that there is no real discussion about the subject in Kosovo and both the advantages and disadvantages are not very clear I don’t think that gives an accurate image of what would happen if Kosovo’s elite decided for reunion. The arguments that you nowadays hear against a reunion are rather superficial and I don’t think it will be difficult to change them.
    But at the moment Kosovo’s leaders know that they have to bide their time. Being independent brings more aid now and is necessary for international recognition.. A reunion would also weaken the position of the Albanians in Macedonia. But I expect that in about 10 years Kosovo will have an active discussion about reunion.

  17. I’m not sure what the point of the discussion is. That the US has more friends? Israel is routinely condemned in UN resolutions for essentially practicing self-defense. What would it mean if for instance all islamic countries plus a few more island states in the South Pacific would in block recognize S.Ossetia, so reversing the score 46 to 100 or something?
    I doubt anyone would change his views depending on this.

    I really do not have any evidence about Kossovo uniting with Albania, one way or another. However, in negotiations there is a minimal and a maximum set of demands and if you cannot get the maximum, you get the most of what you can get. You do not have to go far in the Balkans. An example in the Balkans is the VMORO/VMRO/IMRO, a Bulgarian organization in the start of last century who in the words of their founders had the maximalist goal of grabbing Macedonia for Bulgaria and as a minimum goal getting an independent Macedonia which could unite with Bulgaria at a later stage. They did not openly say it would have to be cleansed of non-Bulgarians; they just practiced it(and failed, but this was another topic)

    The point is that in international politics there is speakable and unspeakable. Kossovo uniting with Albania would be hard for the West to swallow;
    Maybe it is not in the mind of Kossovo Albanians; but if it is, do you really expect them to say it openly?
    If I were a Kossovo Albanian and I did favor reunion, I’d say take the safe road, wait 50 years, make sure things subside and then claim right of self-determination and so on. I’m not saying this is what Kossovo Albanians want. I just don’t read minds, only actions. Wim’s concerns are quite justified.

    Finally about the undecided countries:
    Law is what the weak needs against the strong.
    So many of the weaker countries are understandably reluctant to recognize Kossovo: if they side with breaking the law, how will they invoke the law if they are the victims?
    The counterargument is that Kossovo is a unique case:
    no one else in the planet has suffered that much. One can argue that S.Ossetians being bombed and killed was all they needed, but maybe I’ll skip this discussion and suggest another topic: There are basically two different concepts of law: The french concept is a detailed list of what you may not do(such as “you may not use swearwords a,b,c on this blog”-I know it is not that detailed, but it helps for contrast). The anglo-saxon concept is essentially “You must not do anything bad”.
    This has the advantage of flexibility, as new forms of “bad” behavior arise, but it gives enormous power to the judge or jury to define what bad is. The relevance here is that the reasons given for Kossovo’s independence are
    based on the anglo-saxon model, without even a valid jury(meaning UN-approved) I doubt any country would agree to subject itself to such an interpretation of international law.

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  20. The point is that The United States is no longer the sole power who can chop up independent countries and create fiefdoms on stolen territory.

    Stolen? You came from Russia (pretty late too) and claim it as your land!!! You got some nerve.

    One cannot expect guerrilla fighters to go toe to toe against tanks. They had no choice but to disperse and use hit and run. I have to say that as NATO was bombing, tank warfare was being taught to the KLA, so things would have gotten heated. There is a video of a Serbian tank getting blown up in Presevo 2001 trouble.

    Let’s face it: Serbia with a third world economy aand barely 7 million (very old) people, cannot keep 2 million people colonized. They still have not paid their regular soldiers (the paras got paid by looting and raping)

    Will Kosovo unite with Albania in 20-30 or 50 years? Who knows. Montengro might join Serbia again too, and once the status is solved it’s up to the two countires. There is safety in numbers, 2-3 million vs. 7-8 million will make a huge difference in Serbia’s decision to attack or not to attack.

  21. Question (if anyone reads this): Could the mixed messages from Montenegro be the result of one part of the country being pro-Serb and the other being anti-Serb?

  22. “(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.”

    Also, in a previous post about Montenegro’s secession, one of you talked about how some Montenegrins eagerly participated in Serb atrocities in Bosnia even as Montenegro itself is welcoming of non-Serb minorities and sought separation from Serbia.

  23. The first, I wouldn’t call a mixed message so much as a confusion of identity. Though Montenegrins don’t see it that way, of course.

    The second is simple pragmatism. Looting and raping over the border is fine. Looting and raping in your own country, less so. And I wouldn’t say Montenegro is “welcoming” of non-Serb minorities, exactly. “Tolerant”, on a good day.

    Doug M.

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