Experts: Russia Reveals Double Standard in the Caucasus | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 27.08.2008
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Experts: Russia Reveals Double Standard in the Caucasus

Despite warnings from the West, Russia has recognized the independence of two Georgian provinces. But they have no legal grounds for secession and can't be compared to Kosovo, German experts say.

Girls ride on a car while holding Russian and South Ossetian separatists' flags in Tskhinvali, the capital of Georgia's separatist-controlled territory of South Ossetia

Just how sacrosanct is territorial integrity?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia has come up against hefty international criticism. Georgia has rejected the decree as a violation of international law.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the recognition of independence "absolutely not acceptable," adding: "In my opinion, this contradicts the principle of territorial integrity."

Britain likewise criticized Russia's move, invoking "Georgia's national integrity."

No parallel in Kosovo

A Kosovo Albanian woman shows her new Kosovo passport

Due to the repression of the minority, Kosovo had a right to secede, said experts

However, the same politicians in Washington, Brussels, Berlin and London which have staunchly defended Georgia's territorial integrity reacted quite differently in the case of Kosovo, where they supported the province's right to separate from Serbia without the approval of the "mother country."

By advocating Kosovo's independence, the West defied complaints from the Russian government, which saw the split as a violation of international law.

International legal expert Jochen von Bernstorff from the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg said the decision of Western governments to recognize Kosovo's independence may not have aligned with the principle of territorial integrity, but they still shouldn't be accused of practicing a double standard.

The situation in Kosovo was different because the Serbian government had violated the rights of the minority there. As a result, NATO intervened and Kosovo was placed under international control.

Intense discrimination by the state over a long period of time is grounds for secession -- the legal term used when a region acts on its own authority to separate from a state --, said von Bernstorff. But in Georgia, there was no massive violation of minority rights and therefore no legal basis for secession, he added.

Chechnya policy doesn't line up

Ruprecht Polenz

Polenz said that territorial integrity is important to Russia, when it comes to Chechnya

Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the foreign policy committee in the German parliament, took a similar view.

"The policy of apartheid and the Serbs' use of violence against the Albanian in Kosovo have no parallel to the conflict between Ossetians, Abkhazians and Georgians," Polenz, a member of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, told DW-WORLD.DE.

Instead, Russia is applying a double standard when it comes to the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he said.

"Russia claims a right to secession in the regions, while in Chechnya it has put a high priority on territorial integrity, which it has defended with extreme brutality against the Chechnyans," Polenz said. "That doesn't line up."

The incongruities in Russia's policies will catch up with it in the end, added the German parliamentarian, and it can't rely on Kosovo as a precedent.

After all, Russia hasn't yet recognized Kosovo's independence.

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