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The Five-Day War: What Have We Learned?, by Igor Shatrov

Igor V. Shatrov | Special to Abkhaz World

The world changed in August of 2008. The Five Day-War was the end of the Unipolar system of the world order, which existed after the Cold war.  This fact was universally recognized two years later. In the fifteen years during which the conflict has gone on, hundreds of books and thousands of articles have been written about the cause, the perpetrators and the victims. On the anniversary of the sad events I would like to dwell not on the reasons, but on the possible consequences of the events two years ago. What can be done to assure that the results of the events of 2008 in the Caucasus do not become a cause of destruction  for the existing world order? What lessons should we take from happened?

The resolute military actions of Russia, the subsequent recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have put an end to the hegemony of the one superpower in the international system of coordinates! Yet at the same time, problems still exist, which have been ignored for a long time and explained as being for the benefit of certain political interests. The results of the war have concluded not just a brief history of the unipolar world.  For some time the existence of a «Casus Kosovo» was unique in its exclusive nature. A number of governments agreed, that the principle of inviolability of borders may be be questioned without taking into account the opinion of the majority of the population living in those areas. It was allowed for one ethnos to make such a decision without other ethnos’ opinion, with which until recently it was necessary to exist within the borders of a single state. This happened in Europe, where the Helsinki Act provided and fixed the existing borders, as was the result of The Second World War. But even such a resonant event in world practice it is not enough to consider a precedent. The balance was kept for a time. In fact the recognition of the independence of Kosovo proceeded from the center of power which considered itself united.

Russia’s decision concerning Abkhazia and South Ossetia appeared to be a symmetrical reply, even though it was provoked by Georgian aggression. But it has confirmed that there are now two centers of power. It has also confirmed a recent idea, seditious for international law: review of borders is not unique, not an exceptional decision, and under certain conditions is a comprehensible and the singularly possible means of resolving conflicts. Yes, such a method does not recognize the sides interested in successful conclusion for the Kosovo problem, as well as the problem of two new Caucasian states. However, it is treated as such by separatist movements in many corners of the world, including illegal organizations acting on the territory of the countries of the European Union. Finally, it undermines the foundations of the system of international security. In fact the centers of power can even increase. In the future the world is imagined as multipolar, where the strong players become much more equal. Also, what will they, these new players, decide to call in question? How to get out of the deadlock which is threatening us?

Before I offer an alternate solution to the problem, I would call attention to the subject at hand. There is a point of view that in international law there is a collision. As it were, two fundamental principles on which the present world order is based, - the  principle of inviolability of borders and the right of the nations to self-determination – are in conflict. In item 1 of the International Covenant on civil and political rights, 1976, it is asserted: «All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development». Almost the same idea is in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, that the will of people should be a basis of authority of the government. Thus at the declaration of principles by which the state-participants should be guided in mutual attitudes according to the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, 1975, it is stated that they should respect the territorial integrity of each of the states-participants and abstain from any actions incompatible with objectives and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, against territorial integrity, political independence or unity of any state-participant. As is well known, the Helsinki Final Act has been signed almost by all states of the Europe that existed at the time, as well as the USA and Canada.

There is also another point of view according to which law practice concerning realization of the rights of the nations on self-determination exists only in the international processes which have received the name «decolonization». People of the given countries thus have received legislative rights to protect the rights to existence independent of the former metropole. In other cases, the principle of inviolability of borders ostensibly prevails over the rights of the nation. And the rights of the nation should be considered in the cultural, but not the political plan, as the right to a cultural autonomy, education on the native language, conservation of traditions and the other humanitarian rights.

It is clear that legal acts are always a reflection of corresponding epoch of a political situation. Times change – the legal underlying reason changes also. In my opinion, both of them are right. Really, with the objective of securing of results of the Second World War and carrying out of final borders between capitalist and socialist camps, the Helsinki Final Act was signed. In order to create a new configuration, primarily on the African continent, in world legal usage the right of the nation to self-determination was created. But even if, with the destruction of colonial system, different applications of this postulate are supposed, this means that the foundation is weak, and many other problems that remain unresolved, in addition to the consequences of a colonial epoch, are not forgotten. At the same time, if we again return to Kosovan and Abkhazian problematics, it is possible in fact to consider, that in this case it is a question of self-determination of the same splinters of empires, as well as in the case of transformations on the African continent. And Yugoslavia, and Soviet Union were such empires. Georgia within the limits of the uniform USSR  was mini-empire as well. And consequently the approach to solution of the current conflicts from postcolonial positions is quite pertinent.

As the political practice of last decades has shown, the demand for unification of requirements for self-determination has ripened. It cannot be normal, when there is a long-term unresolved problem with this or that ethnos applying for the right to live independently. The arising legal collision between two fundamental principles of international law is solvable only with the availability of precise criteria which do not allow differing interpretations, criteria which will allow the international organization to define the legality of those or other claims. To their number can be included, for example, the unwillingness of the state whose structure includes ethnos, to solve its political, social and economic, cultural problems, the politics of genocide to the ethnos, or oppressions by an ethnic principle, removal from territory on which the given ethnos historically lived and so on. All these problems can become the reason to start the process of national self-determination. In case the state does not change its attitude toward the present policy, the international community will be obliged to support the act of national self-determination. Only acceptance of a similar specific list of criteria with simultaneous discussion by the international authorized body of the situation in Kosovo and with former Georgian autonomies is capable of stopping the probability that the global situation will progress by means of a domino effect. The time has come for the indispensability of conduction an international conference which will define new game rules on the global chessboard for the coming decades, in view of the mistakes accomplished last decades of XX century. As was once the case with Helsinki, the capital of a country voluntarily released from the Soviet empire, Sukhum could become the place of a similar conference. At the same time, documents signed in Sukhum could strengthen world order developed during the conference, and define necessary criteria and game rules in coming decades.

Serbia and Georgia should make for themselves very serious historical decisions what will be  directed to the future, having recognized independence of the former autonomies. It will allow them to build in the future a good-neighbourhood within the limits of the integration projects similar to the European Union. In particular, on the territory of the former USSR (and it is possible even in the space beyond these limits) there can be, for example, an Euroasian Union or something similar. In any case the economic space of the adjacent states could not be disconnected. It is hard to imagine the border of the Inguri River, where one side economic interests are focused in one direction, and on another – in the opposite. In particular, even now, when one can see other directions of export channels from Georgia being created, it is known, that Georgia through the third countries will legalize production of agriculture in Russia. By the way, at times the Georgian dumping even endangers Abkhazian farmers, which Russia is obliged to oversee according to its most favoured nation status. In other words, not politically, but economically Abkhazia and South Ossetia sooner or later will start to cooperate with Georgia in some individual project, as Kosovo will develop relations with Serbia. Even recent history shows the possibility of such relationships in a new historical moment. Germany and Russia, the USA and Japan. Two of these examples are quite enough to come to the conclusion: history does not accept a subjunctive mood. However it does not suffer also constant appeals to the past because it is directed to the future. In this region, it is impossible to forget the five-day war of August, 2008, as well as the military operations. But remembering the past is necessary, in particular, so that similar a situation would never been repeated! If in Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Serbia, Kosovo and Metohija conclusions will be made, and will help the world community to put this difficult experience into a basis for new world order, that means that we have learned something.  This is the contribution of these peoples in the future: a more just world. This is their mission!

Igor V. Shatrov, President, Centre for Communication Technology and Integration Processes in the Post-Soviet Space and in the EU Livadia Club.

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