Self-determination in international legal acts was formalized during the post-war decolonization period, aimed to legalize independence of emergent countries and to facilitate their statehood. Prof. Cheshko emphasises that the West has tended to revise the inviolability of post-war borders after the Soviet Union's break-up and continues to assert double standards.
Below is an article written by Sergei Cheshko, Professor of Anthropology at the Russian Ethnography Institute published on the RIA Novosti website:
Moscow. (Sergei Cheshko for RIA Novosti) - The Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-South Ossetian conflicts, as well as Russia's role in settling them, are a major factor in Russia's relations with Georgia, as well as NATO and the European Union.
Georgian leaders and their Western and Russian sympathizers believe that both conflicts are a typical example of separatism. Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as their supporters in Russia, advocate the right to self-determination based on referendum results. This position also hinges on the fact that most Abkhazians and South Ossetians have Russian citizenship and it is impossible for them to live under Georgian jurisdiction.
Historical arguments rest on the fact that both regions were made part of Georgia in Soviet times for purely political reasons; moreover, a medieval Abkhazian state had emerged earlier than Georgia.
An opinion that is increasingly often voiced in this country is that Russia should stop kowtowing to Georgian leaders, respond to the call of the fraternal nations and stand up for its regional interests.
It is hard to contest the arguments of both sides, all of which are right in their own way. But the main problem is that international law, including UN documents, still highlights a conflict between the sovereignty and territorial integrity principles of UN member-states and the right to self-determination.
The concept of self-determination in international legal acts was formalized during the post-war decolonization period and primarily aimed to legalize independence of emergent countries and to facilitate their statehood.
It may appear that this latter circumstance rules out the right to self-determination today because it is already an established fact, and these nations are part of the UN.
But the situation is not as simple as it seems.
During the break-up of the Soviet Union, Georgian autonomies, namely, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as Transdnestr and Gagauzia in Moldova declared they did not want to gain independence together with these republics and voiced their desire to join the Russian Federation.
In response they were explained that they did not have the same rights as the titular nations in former Soviet republics, but this inadequate logic was not accepted.
The West has tended to revise the inviolability of post-war borders after the Soviet Union's break-up and continues to assert double standards. This trend was manifested vividly in the Yugoslav conflict, the plan for Kosovo's independence, efforts to pressure Moscow on the Chechen issue and the position on Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdnestr.
The recent Serbian constitutional referendum has polled voters on the status of Kosovo and made the situation even more obscure.
What are its possible consequences in the context of international law and a new world order? What will happen if Georgia and Moldova hold similar referendums on the status of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdnestr? How will the West respond in all these cases? What foreign policy strategy will Russian leaders choose in a changed and extremely unstable international situation when customary norms and principles of international relations are being revised?
The cautious statements of top-level Russian politicians imply this is a blind alley.
Technically speaking, Russia could de jure recognize the de facto independence of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdnestr, admit them in the federation or establish any other associated relations. This scenario, although it is fraught with serious international implications for Moscow, would end uncertainty and ensure Russian interests in these regions.
Alternatively, Moscow could continue to maneuver in the hope that the problem would eventually be resolved by itself. However, this less precarious option is fraught with several equally serious dangers. Russia may not be able to keep up with the events, and failure to make crucial decisions would signify defeat.
Sergei Cheshko is Professor of Anthropology at the Ethnography Institute