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“Political Autism” in the West on South Ossetia and Abkhazia

laar041708.jpg“Annexation” is not a word heard frequently in the Russia debate, but it surfaced this week after Moscow established official relations with the separatist states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia – a move they had threatened to make if the West recognized Kosovo statehood (which they did). The former prime minister of Estonia, Mart Laar, has a column about the issue coming out in tomorrow’s FT. Here’s an excerpt:

Russia’s “representations” will be less than official consulates, although consular services will be offered from offices in neighbouring bits of Russia. “Representation” is a euphemism to soothe western fears that Moscow may recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in tit-for-tat retaliation for western recognition of Kosovo. However, in Moscow’s insidious gambit, the “representations” will be among the final steps toward annexation of the two Georgian territories.

The instruction allows Russian ministries and even Russian regions to open “representations” in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali, the capitals of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It is a stratagem to install in two Georgian territories government apparatus typical of autonomous republics of the Russian Federation. Just as legal acts, corporate entities and documents of one autonomous republic are recognised throughout the Russian Federation, so too will be legal decisions, companies and papers of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This will incorporate the two territories into the Russian legal space.Meanwhile, the west appears deaf and dumb to Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s offer on March 28 of unprecedented autonomy for Abkhazia in Georgia. Georgia’s proposal of a new negotiating format for South Ossetia fares no better. Western political autism is irresponsible. The west must awake and unite, not to oppose Russia or support Georgia, but to stand up for its ideals. It must send Mr Medvedev a strong signal that the path to better relations lies only in repudiating the Putin instruction and engaging on the Georgian peace proposals.“The belief that security can be obtained by throwing a small state to the wolves is a fatal delusion,” said Winston Churchill just before Munich – we should have learnt the lesson 70 years ago.