Recognition a Lonely Exercise for Moscow

Ten days after Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, the only other country to have followed suit as of Thursday was that Cold War battlefield of the 1980s: Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's announcement this week of his Central American nation's recognition of the breakaway Georgian regions was a "pleasant surprise," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday.

Closer to home, however, Russia's allies among former Soviet republics have remained reticent on the issue.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led alliance of seven former Soviet republics that Moscow hopes will evolve into a full-fledged military bloc, issued a statement Thursday criticizing Georgia's military campaign -- which was crushed by Russia -- but making no mention of the Kremlin's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Their silence on recognition could change Friday, when the heads of the alliance's member states -- Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan -- are to meet in Moscow for a summit.

But so far it's just Managua, where the socialist leader was actively supported by the Soviet Union three decades ago. Ortega on Tuesday announced that his country would back independence for the rebel regions.

"This was a pleasant surprise," Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov said.

He added that Moscow was not pressuring other governments on the issue and took a swipe at the United States to make his point.

"We, unlike the United States, give every country a chance to make its own decision," Lyakin-Frolov said.

Nicaraguan Deputy Foreign Minister Manuel Coronel Kautz told RIA-Novosti on Thursday that his ministry is drawing up the documents to recognize the regions and will send them to the parliament for ratification.

Following Moscow's Aug. 26 recognition of Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence, expectations ran high that at least some of the Moscow's allies -- above all Belarus -- would follow suit and not leave Moscow on its own.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has supported Moscow in the conflict with Georgia, telling President Dmitry Medvedev in an Aug. 28 letter that Russia had no choice but to recognize the separatist republics.

But a Belarussian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said by telephone from Minsk on Thursday that the letter "does not exactly mean that Belarus is recognizing them."

She said her ministry had so far received no presidential order to begin the process of recognizing their independence.

Back in Nicaragua's neighborhood, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Aug. 30 that Russia was "right" to support independence for the two regions.

But there have been no reports that Venezuela, to whom Russia has sold $3.5 billion worth of arms in recent years, would also offer recognition, despite the close personal ties Chavez has developed with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, Russia last week attempted -- and failed -- to win support from its Central Asian allies on Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence at Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Tajikistan.

The organization offered only a general defense of Russia's actions in the Caucasus.

Analysts said it was unrealistic for Medvedev to expect the organization, in which China plays a leading role, to support Moscow's position on independence given Beijing's own concerns over its own separatist Tibet and Xinjiang provinces.

Furthermore, most former Soviet republics are being courted intensely by the United States, which is offering massive investment and political backing as they integrate into the global economy.

The Kremlin might be better off looking for support not only among its traditional former Soviet allies, but also among countries at odds with the United States, said Sergei Mikheyev, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies.

Belarus, Venezuela and Syria would fit the bill, Mikheyev said.