August 27, 2008
Well, the big story here is of course Russia's recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. On Russian state television, the decision is being presented quite clearly as a response to the recognition of Kosovo's independence earlier this year by the United States and the European Union. Indeed, an extended excerpt of a speech by Vladimir Putin in Germany last June in reaction to the recognition of Kosovo's independence was shown on the news tonight. I'd never seen it, but in it he clearly says that if such rules apply to Kosovo, then they can apply to countries all over the world.
Indeed, Russia's recognition today marks a reversal of a policy Russia had followed since the end of the Cold War, in which Moscow steadfastly insisted upon the principle of territorial integrity while the United States and the European Union recognized the independence of one state after another in the Balkans. While Russian support for Belgrade was often presented in the Western media in terms of some kind of mystical Orthodox brotherhood between the two countries, in fact Russia supported Yugoslavia's territorial integrity because the Russian Federation is itself divided into republics and autonomous regions which could likewise break apart--and which appeared to be, for much of the 1990s. Thus, despite the fact that the Russian government for years supported the breakaway republics in Georgia, it never went as far as to recognize their independence--until now.