The Pandora's box of sovereignty
By Thomas Meaney and Harris Mylonas
August 13, 2008
For the coolest composure while going to war, the gold medal goes to Vladimir Putin. The Russian prime minister maintained his characteristic calm during Friday's Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing -- giving a firm salute to the Russian athletes marching by -- while he arranged for another kind of march into the disputed territory of South Ossetia. It's clear that Putin considers this payback time, not only for Georgia, Russia's meddlesome neighbor to the south, but for President Bush.
In February, Bush and most European leaders backed the independence of Kosovo from Serbia, which Putin vociferously opposed. Don't worry, assured U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying, "Kosovo cannot be seen as precedent for any other situation in the world today." But precedent is exactly what it set. Just as the West wanted to shield Kosovo from Serbian domination, so Putin hopes to free South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgian interference and keep them in the Russian orbit of influence. Thus far, he has succeeded by rolling out tanks while the West has paid only lip service to the territorial integrity of Georgia.
If the United States wishes to avoid carnage like this in the future, we need to be more consistent about how we treat fledgling independence movements. Beyond Kosovo and South Ossetia, why do we encourage the independence of the southern Sudanese but condemn the uprisings of the Kurds in eastern Turkey? Why do we speak up for the Tibetans in China but tune out the Basques in Spain?