The Kosovo precedent has flung wide open the window of opportunity for all other frozen, secession-driven regional conflicts. If two views on the Balkans can exist simultaneously, why not on the Caucasus, Cyprus or the Middle East? There is also the example of China and Taiwan, which are now comfortable at the same table during APEC summits.
Serbia and Kosovo recently signed their first joint document, the First Agreement on the Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations. This marks the first step towards resolving yet another Balkan crisis. But the crisis that broke out in 2008 is fundamentally different from all the rest. It established a precedent in which a region of a UN member country unilaterally seceded and proclaimed itself independent. This event divided the world into those who accept this and those who do not.
Since then the world has been learning to live in two different geopolitical realities. Independent Kosovo resides in one; indivisible Serbia in the other. Some countries established diplomatic relations with Kosovo, marked it on their maps and recognized its passports. The others preferred to look at everything through the prism of Serbia’s domestic affairs. But the main point is that this precedent has flung wide open the window of opportunity for all other frozen, secession-driven regional conflicts (all unique, but with underlying similarities). If two views on the Balkans can exist simultaneously, why not on the Caucasus, Cyprus or the Middle East? Until recently there existed one world with a single geography and one global policy, but now pluralism reigns in all spheres of human existence: subcultures, sects, and minorities of all stripes. Having deviated once from the absolute, geopolitical reality has irrevocably become open to interpretation. Geopolitical minorities have received the hypothetical right to self-determination.
Just six months after Kosovo proclaimed independence, armed conflict broke out between Russia and Georgia. This provided more indirect evidence that the events in the Balkans have repercussions in other places, at least in Europe.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia, who had declared independence from Georgia before the war, were first recognized by Russia and began to exist in the new parallel reality like Kosovo – with their own diplomats, maps and passports.
The status quo in the Balkans probably could have held for a long time, with Kosovo positioning itself in the world and Serbia pretending not to notice. The European Union, the winner of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, deserves credit for bringing both sides to the negotiating table and convincing them (how is another matter) to sign a fairly specific agreement. Belgrade and Pristina agreed on the autonomy of Serbian cities and villages in Kosovo. They also agreed not to prevent each other from joining the EU. Accession to the EU is supposed to become the basis for further normalization. The EU factor is very important in this case. Despite their inability to coexist, both want to be part of the EU. It is the pan-European promise – no matter the circumstances – that led to the agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.
The change in Georgia’s domestic political situation and the resulting preconditions for improved relations with Russia suggest that the predicament could be overcome. In this case, the experience of settling conflicts with the prospect of integration deserves special analysis. Clearly, a unifying project could help the opposing parties enter into dialogue.
Today the idea of establishing a Eurasian Union is on its way to becoming a reality. The foundation of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, supplemented by the Common Economic Space, is an example of active socioeconomic cooperation. The possibility of admitting new members to the union is under consideration. Efforts by the future Eurasian Union to settle regional conflicts could help promote regional security and reduce tensions while also taking Eurasian integration to an entirely new level.
Apart from formalizing the reality on the ground in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Eurasian integration project has the greatest potential for settling conflicts in Nagorny Karabakh and Transdnestr. If member economies are successfully integrated by the synergic effects of increased growth, reduced unemployment and coordinated regulation standards, the political systems will inevitably seek to ease conflicts and step up efforts to find compromise. Apart from this first success in the Balkans, there is also the example of China and Taiwan, which are now comfortable at the same table during APEC summits.
The author is a laureate of the
Valdai Club Foundation Grant Program