How Russia Hurt Itself By Vetoing U.N. Monitors in Abkhazia

The New York Times editorial board has stepped forth on Russia’s veto of the U.N. resolution extending UNOMIG’s presence in Abkhazia in an opinion entitled “Small Minds in the Kremlin”. I’m going to do my best here to strip out the polarizing language of the opinion and boil this down to what exactly Russia sacrificed, in the opinion of the Times, by sticking to its linguistic guns in the U.N. Security Council at the beginning of this week:

  • Russia’s larger interest lies in calming, not stirring up, secessionist ambitions in the Caucasus, a violently fractured part of the world that includes other restive regions like Chechnya.

  • Whatever hopes the Russian-backed separatists in Abkhazia might still retain for a semblance of international legitimacy vanishes with the withdrawal of the United Nations mission.

  • Abkhazia secessionists will be hard pressed to calm concerns about the treatment of minority ethnic groups when they expel the only neutral monitors from their territory.

  • The fact that only Russia and Nicaragua recognized the Abkhazia’s independence after last summer and that Russia voted alone on Monday further isolates it from the rest of the world on this issue.

I’m going to reiterate here that these are the Times’ views, I am merely the messenger. I am also the facilitator though, so here’s a question: considering that this resolution was only four months old and that one of the things the United Nations does best is punt on an issue, what if language had been drafted up that agreed to temporarily continue calling the mission the “United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia” for, say, another four months, at which point the Security Council would reconvene to agree on a better name for the mission? At the very least this would have bought everyone a little more time and it must have been considered at some point. But it was not to be. This leads to the next question: Assuming that it was Russia that prevented a punt, what does Russia gain by vetoing now rather than agreeing to punt? I have my own theories on this but am withholding them for now pending more developments.