Russia’s Claim of Comparison Between Georgia and Serbia is “Red Herring”     Print Email
Friday, 14 November 2008

Russia is stepping up its campaign to impose a moral equivalence between its military action against Georgia over South Ossetia last summer and NATO’s intervention against Serbia over Kosovo in 1998-1999.

The Kremlin line consists of justifying Moscow’s actions by claiming that it is implementing the resolution of the U.N. Security Council imposing a “responsibility to protect” civilian populations from genocidal threats, even from their own legitimate government. That resolution was passed in response to events in Rwanda, but it has never been implemented by major U.N. member states.

Calling the comparison a “red herring,” that is being fabricated by Russia, Jamie Rubin, former U.S. assistant secretary of state under the Clinton administration, writes in the current issue of The New Republic that the international community’s action in Kosovo was “all about moral intervention” whereas Russia’s action in Georgia is “all about geopolitical resentment.”

Rubin points out that condemnation for Serbia’s crimes against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority began with “unanimity among the major powers – the United States, key European governments, and, yes, even Russia.” Moscow supported economic sanctions against Serbia, and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanovo even admitted to then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that the “threat of force might be necessary.”

So what has happened that made Russia change its tune? For one, the Bush administration strained relations with Moscow in 2003, by defying Russia’s objections to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Rubin says that then-president Putin is a temperamental leader who took this affront personally. (After all, he notes, Putin had supported U.S. actions in Afghanistan, the scene of past Soviet humiliation.) So Putin viewed it as adding insult to injury when the U.S. and the EU moved to recognize Kosovo’s independence – against Moscow’s objections.

Creating false moral equivalences is no new tactic for Russia. Back in August during the Russian invasion of Georgia, European Affairs predicted the Kremlin’s tactics, saying that “Russia will certainly play the recognition card in negotiations about the outcome and future shape of Georgia” and explaining that “Russia wants to pay back the West in its own coin for recognizing Kosovo’s independence in defiance of Moscow.”

Now, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev argues that “there is certainly no serious argument which would allow one to … separate the process of recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from decisions taken with regard to Kosovo.”

The idea that Russia is claiming to be the guardian of human rights will not convince many people, but Russia’s attempt to create a parallel between Georgia and Serbia – the two countries that have lost provinces after outside nations intervened in the interest of local civilian populations – irritates U.S. and European officials. Rubin calls Russia’s analogy “nonsense” and says that this flawed logic will draw Russia into a corner – aggravating what the European Affairs blog called “one of [Russia’s] chronic weaknesses: isolation.”