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From Kosovo to Georgia: The US, NATO and Russia

Separatist movements across the globe are demanding self-determination and independence, prompting major powers who are seeking geopolitical advantage to intervene in these regions. The endorsement of Kosovo's independence by the United States and the recent conflict between Georgia and Russia over separatists in South Ossetia have set precedents for others. If the major powers continue to involve themselves in such issues, there is the danger of the tensions deepening and spreading to a wider canvas.

COMMENTARYseptember 6, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly24From Kosovo to Georgia: The US, NATO and RussiaRama Sampath KumarSeparatist movements across the globe are demanding self-determination and independence, prompting major powers who are seeking geopolitical advantage to intervene in these regions. The endorsement of Kosovo’s independence by the United States and the recent conflict between Georgia and Russia over separatists in South Ossetia have set precedents for others. If the major powers continue to involve themselves in such issues, there is the danger of the tensions deepening and spreading to a wider canvas.On August 26, the president of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, signed decrees recog-nising the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two breakaway regions of Georgia. One can draw parallels between this and the proclamation of independence by the Assembly of Kosovo, with United States diplomatic support, on February 17 this year. At that time, Russia rejected the “one-of-a-kind” argument, alleging that the development would set a new precedent that would have a domino effect. The US, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and the European Union (EU) argued that the question of Kosovo in-volved unique circumstances, and that changing its status to a republic would not set any pattern. The provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia1 had no legal grounds for secession yet Russia has recognised their independ-ence, in spite of Georgia rejecting the decree as a violation of international law. The Russian acceptance of these two regions as independent states is in tune with the recognition of Kosovo as an independent republic by the US and some western nations. Moscow has now exploited the west’s recognition of Kosovo’s independ-ence for its own geopolitical advantage. And for Russian president Medvedev (or, for that matter, prime minister Vladimir Putin) there could have been no better moment than this to point out to the world that the US has gambled away its moral authority. At present, theUS image in the eyes of the world is poor. At home, it faces a gloomy recession, topped by its preoccu-pation with the approaching presidential election. A timely message probably, to the next president, of the necessity of be-ing prudent in his dealings with Moscow. The implication is that the US policies of unilateralism and non-cooperation will no longer be accepted and that the country will have to bear the consequences of selectively citing principles to suit its cause, sway international opinion, and admonish Russia.The Kosovo ConnectionOne needs to understand the Kosovo2 issue to appreciate Russia’s sensitiveness to the objectives of the US and the western world. This goes back to 1999 when the US, spearheadingNATO, tried to justify the air strikes on Kosovo. When Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, there were many groups who discovered that history had once again made them minorities, disliked by whoever was the ethnic majority. Many Serbs, Croats and Bosnians were displaced, leading to constant clashes among Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. The bloodiest of the Balkan conflicts was in Bosnia, which had a large Serbian popu-lation that wanted their districts to secede and join Serbia. This led to a protracted and ruthless struggle, with the involve-ment of the Serbian and Croatian govern-ments of the day.US President Bill Clinton helped negotiate the Dayton Accords in December 1995, which basically said that there could be no border adjustments and the ethnic Serbs should liveunderBosnian rule. The Dayton Accords held that the ex-isting borders were sacrosanct and that it was not possible to grant territorial rights to all ethnic minorities.3 In the late 1990s, trouble began brewing in Kosovo, a Serbian province with a large Albanian Muslim population. Over the course of time, Albanians from the rest of Serbia started moving into Kosovo. By 1997, it was overwhelmingly Albanian and the population demanded statehood or unification with Albania. The Albanian re-sistance was met with Serbian force. It was widely reported that crimes against hu-manity were committed by the Serbian forces, and NATO stepped in, backed by the US but without the mandate of the United Nations (UN). To the Serbs and Russians it seemed illogical that the US should back Kosovo’s claim for independence while denying the same to the Serbs in Bosnia. There was strong opposition from Russia but the US and its allies, especially the United Kingdom, disregarded this. NATO’s role changed from that of a military alliance to that of an organisation that could takeEmail: rama@epw.in

hitting targets in Serbia (besides Serbian units in Kosovo), the same rationale could be used for a strike on Georgia. For legitimacy, they also had the 1992 Sochi agreement, which gives the Russians the mandate to “keep the peace” in the province of South Ossetia.4 In the case of Kosovo, NATO had pointed out that military interference was necessary due to Serbia’s “loss of sovereignty” over the region. Now the Russians had the point that Georgia had lost its right of exercising sovereignty over South Ossetia; the latest provocation being proof that it was not possible for Ossetians to live under Georgian rule. Besides, in a referendum held in November 2006, around 99 per cent of South Ossetians voted for independence from Georgia. All this facilitated Medvedev’s massive counter-attack on Georgia by Russian troops.

In the recent conflict, the Russians reasoned that if US-backed NATO could justify

COMMENTARYseptember 6, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly26PROGRAM OFFICERHEALTH AND EDUCATIONSir Dorabji Tata Trust & Allied TrustsThe Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and Allied Trusts are renowned non-profit social organizations founded by the members of the Tata family. In line with the founding Trustee’s vision of nation building and of providing humanitarian assistance to improve the quality of life of the people of India, the Trusts support innovative enterprises for development through need-based grants to voluntary organizations, educational and cultural institutions and individuals. The Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and the Allied Trusts have a fairly extensive portfolio focusing on enhancing the quality of life and creating and enhancing opportunities for all. Its portfolio currently has over 350 projects with an annual grant budget of around Rs 2,000 million. The Trusts place special emphasis on such areas as Natural Resources Management and Rural Livelihoods; Education; Health; Urban Poverty & Livelihoods; Civil Society, Governance and Human Rights; and Media, Art & Culture. The Sir Dorabji Tata Trust has been known for promoting pioneering institutions like the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai; the Tata Memorial Centre for Research and Treatment, Mumbai; the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai; the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore; and the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai.The RoleThe Trusts wish to recruit two Program Officers each in thea. Health Portfoliob. Education Portfolio. a. Health : The Health portfolio at the Trusts expects to have annual disbursements of the order of Rs 350-400 million for the next two to three years and handles about 100 grantees located all over India. The portfolio focuses on four thrust areas: non-communicable diseases; community health, particularly focusing on women and children; mental health, disability rehabilitation and mainstreaming; and Indian Systems of Medicine. b. Education : The Education portfolio at the Trusts expects to have an annual disbursement of Rs 350-400 million for the next two to three years and handle over 100 grantees across the country. The portfolio focuses on child-centered education and has identified thrust areas pertaining to improvement of access to education for children, particularly girls from marginalized communities (tribals, Dalits, minorities); improvement of school education in the public education system; and education of adolescents. The Trusts also focus on specific aspects of higher education.The Candidate1. Over five (5) years work experience in the Development Sector.2. A postgraduate degree in social work/rural management or a relevant discipline from a reputed institute/university.3. The capacity to work independently, take initiative and recommend as well as monitor projects.4. The position will be based in Mumbai/New Delhi; Program Officers are expected to travel extensively in the geographic region assigned to them.The program officer is responsible for identifying prospective grantees; assessing and responding to grant proposals and preparing recommendations for funding. She/He will also be expected to develop and maintain close working relationships with other donors and with leaders in civil society, academic institutions and government.How to ApplyThe applicant should submit his/her curriculum vitae along with a one-page note which briefly outlines what s/he sees as the priorities in the Health/Education sector and how his/her skills will help address these key issues and build on the Trusts’ Health/Education portfolio. Please provide two references.Remuneration will be based on the candidate’s previous experience and qualifications. Please apply by September 30, 2008 to: Program LeaderSir Dorabji Tata Trust and Allied TrustsBombay House24, Homi Mody StreetMumbai 400 001E-mail: sdtt@sdtatatrust.com Only those candidates who are short-listed will be acknowledged.

The US and its western allies seem to have underestimated Russian capabilities.

Reading between the lines, Washington sees it less as a territorial dispute than an effort to draw a new dividing line across Europe between nations that come under the Kremlin’s sphere of influence and those that fall outside its orbit. And the unfortunate reality for the US is that it is now in no condition to fight Russia over Georgia or anything else that may come up. More importantly, such a confrontation is bound to lead to a war transcending the Balkans and the Caucasus. The US cannot ignore this new international reality. The stakes are too high for any new gamble and it needs to rethink the consequences of pushing NATO

perceive this conflict as a proxy war, engineered by the US, using Georgia as an outpost of the west against Russia. One cannot underestimate the US role, especially given the huge stake it has in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. According to some reports, there were US soldiers as well as military advisers in Georgia. During the last five years, the US has invested over $ 180 million in the Georgian military and high-level officers from Georgia’s army have received training in the US. Georgia also obtained an estimated 1,000 military advisers from Israeli security companies to train its forces, besides purchasing weapons, intelligence and electronic warfare systems from that country. Such being the level of US involvement, it seems very unlikely that Washington was unaware of the Georgian move,6 as it is made out to be. Whatever be the truth, the reality is there was a serious miscalculation about the Russian ability to translate rhetoric into action.

In many places, de facto separations have been legalised and, according to some calculations, if the present demand for separate states is met, there would be around 1,300 states. One way to address this is by strong regional economic integration, something on the lines of the EU. Some years ago, Turkey had chalked out a programme, what came to be known as the “Caucasus Pact”.7 The basic tenets of this stability pact can be emulated in restive breakaway regions, including the Caucasus. Efforts in working out an economic framework for such a union may pay off rich dividends because, in most cases, it is economic isolation that leads to frustration and the urge to bond with extremist groups.

In an interview with Mathew Chance of CNN on August 28, 2008, Vladimir Putin suggested that there were US operatives on the ground assisting Georgian forces and that could only have happened if they had instructions from their leaders in Washington. Far-fetched though it may seem, he suggested that provoking a conflict could have given a presidential candidate in the US some kind of political leverage.

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It is very difficult to believe that the Georgian president, Saakashvili, launched the assault on South Ossetia without the blessings of the US. Many

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