Kosovo Should Serve as a Wake-Up Call

Kosovo's declaration of independence has cracked open the lid on Pandora's box. Recognition of the enclave's independence by the European Union and the United States would rip the lid right off.

No matter what EU and U.S. governments say, Sunday's development sets a very important precedent. A concentrated ethnic majority -- Kosovar Albanians -- is establishing an independent state in Europe without the consent of its parent state, Serbia.

Western policymakers might be hoping that the integration of all of the Balkans into the EU and NATO would minimize the consequences of the Kosovo precedent.

But these hopes are limited by how many nations and ethnic groups the EU could absorb or anchor before such an the expansion started threatening its economic, security and political viability.

The Kosovo example also risks starting a chain reaction elsewhere in the world, including former Soviet republics.

International recognition of Kosovo's independence would be fraught with negative consequences for Russia, which has its own ethnically distinct republics such as Chechnya.

In addition, such recognition would force Russia to take a stand after years of ambiguity on so-called frozen conflicts within the former Soviet Union. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Russia to offer tacit support for separatist regimes while officially backing the territorial integrity of former Soviet republics. Russian policymakers have hinted that their rhetoric vis-a-vis Georgia's separatist republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as well as Moldova's Transdnestr might change in the wake of Kosovo's independence, They have, however, kept mum on Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian majority enclave claimed by Azerbaijan.

Such an ambiguity -- coupled with Russian efforts to court Azerbaijan by offering to sell weapons at a discount, among other things -- could be interpreted as a double standard -- the very thing that President Vladimir Putin angrily accused the West of doing when he commented on Kosovo's independence last week.

The ambiguity in the Kremlin's approach toward frozen conflicts in its neighborhood demonstrates vividly that its real interest is to anchor former parts of the Soviet Union to Moscow, not to support the self-determination of self-declared republics or the territorial integrity of its neighbors.

Self-proclaimed republics should realize that the Kremlin's concern about their cause would vanish instantly if their parent states agreed to be anchored to Russia. The republics should consider beginning negotiations in earnest with their parent states or at the very least distancing themselves from Russia before that happens.