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Coming in From the Cold : The Phantom Republics to Join the UN

, by René Wadlow

The announcement by President Dmitri Medvedev of Russian recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia has added a new, if expected, element to the situation in Georgia. The Russian negotiators had warned that if Kosovo were recognized by the European Union (EU), Russia would then recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. Russia has called for other countries to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia. None has as yet.

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The EU 27 will meet on September first in Bruxelles to seek a common position. From current statements by EU representatives, the EU position will probably be hostile to the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, recognition of the independence of these two states along with universal recognition of Kosovo and their entry into the United Nations is probably the only way forward for the Phantom Republics to come in from the cold.

The “Phantom Republics”...

“The Phantom Republics” has been a name given to the states demanding the status of independence after the break up of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union: Kosovo, Nagrno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistra, and Chechenya. The current conflict between Russia and Georgia has put the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts at center stage of world politics. The independence of Kosovo has been recognized by a good number of countries, but there is also strong opposition, and Kosovo has not been granted membership in the United Nations. Chechenya has been ‘pacified’ by Russian troops, and it is unlikely that the Russian Government is willing to reopen the issue. However if the Phantom Republics supported by Russia — Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistra — were granted UN membership, it might be possible that Chechenyan independence would be a counter-weight and a sign of good will on the part of the Russian Federation.

There are obviously oppositions to recognizing each of these states as independent, in particular opposition from the states of which they were once a part. Serbia has run a long campaign against the independence of Kosovo citing history, the human rights of minorities, and territorial integrity. At one stage, I had thought that it might be possible to create a pan-Albanian cultural union with official links among Albanians in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia while keeping a political status of autonomy within Serbia. However, governments like simple solutions — you are in or out, independent or not. Just as one is difficultly partly pregnant, so it is difficult to be partly independent.

Thus, after long and bitter negotiations, Kosovo is an independent state which will have to create links with Albania and Macedonia but which cannot escape relations with Serbia which remains the economic motor of the region. Each of the Phantom Republics is in a difficult position, and with good will and creative political imagination, other forms than independence guaranteed by UN membership might have been found. Alas, good will and creative political imagination have been in short supply.

In the case of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, at least since 1993, there have been mediators from the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. There have been ‘track two’ – non-governmental meetings to discuss the issues. There have been detailed proposals set out, one by a colleague from the University of Geneva, Giorgio Malinverni, who proposed a form of asymmetrical federalism for Georgia — a Swiss Ambassador, Edward Brunner, being the UN mediator at the time. While the plan was discussed, nothing seems to have come of it.

A Package Deal for UN membership

Today, the issues in Georgia have resulted in tensions between the USA, Europe and Russia not seen since the end of the Cold War in 1990.

My proposal is a ‘package deal’ in which all the Phantom Republics become UN members at the same time

My proposal is a ‘package deal’ in which all the Phantom Republics become UN members at the same time. Such a package deal resembles earlier package deals for membership when countries had been blocked by Cold War tensions. UN membership grants recognition of being part of the ‘international community’. It guarantees existing frontiers and a wall against aggression. UN membership will also provide an elegant way for Russia to withdraw its peacekeeping troops from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Thus the Phantom Republics will join the UN along such small UN members as Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco and San Marino — all the result of the restructuring of feudal Europe. When a few years back, Swiss soldiers stumbled into Liechtenstein on a night march because the frontier has no high walls, there was not a diplomatic crisis. Switzerland with its democratic institutions has learned to live next door to a hereditary prince without feeling menaced just as republican France lives next to the princely state of Monoco, neither state feeling that its institutions are under attack. It may take some time to turn Abkhazia into a Black Sea Monaco, but inevitably, for economic and social reasons neighboring states learn to cooperate if they are not able to destroy one or the other by war.

Membership in the UN of the Phantom Republics raises for some the spectre of ‘fragmentation’ or ‘Balkanization’ of the world into a multitude of tiny units to the disadvantage of world security. However, in this case, the recognition of independence is a necessary first step. Once UN membership has been universally accepted for the Phantom Republics, new forms of regional cooperation can be undertaken in a calmer and clearer atmosphere.

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Picture: Ethnic Map; source: University of Colorado

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