South Ossetia and Abkhazia to follow in Kosovo's footsteps?
After Kosovo declared independence in February this year, Russia warned that other breakaway regions would follow suit. It now seems that the Pandora's box has been opened.
The first regions to take the opportunity are Georgia's breakaway republics. The leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia immediately looked towards Moscow to demand the prize Kosovo had been granted by other countries.
Georgia had unsuccessfully attempted to bring the two regions under its control in by force in the early 1990s. A frozen conflict ensued, with Russian peacekeepers stationed in both regions.
Throughout this period the self-proclaimed republics held several referendums calling for full independence. The overwhelming majority voted to become separate sovereign states, but their will was not put into action. Now they hope to follow in Kosovo's footsteps.
Georgia doesn't want to let the two regions go for historical and territorial reasons. Georgia's president has offered the regions what he calls “broad autonomy”, but after the recent invasion, Ossetians and Abkhazians may have little reason to trust the offer.
The return of the breakaway regions has been one of Saakashvili's main aims since he came to power in 2003. NATO membership is another ambition of the Georgian president, but unsettled territorial conflicts are a major obstacle.
Now Georgia's territorial integrity is being backed by countries which supported Kosovo's separation from Serbia. The EU envoy to the south Caucasus, Peter Semneby, says: “I will not overemphasise and pay too much attention to parallels. Every conflict has its specific character”.
However, the three regions share a common historical experience – a will to set up a state on their own and wars of independence with their central governments.