The cold war nostalgia should now be a thing of the past. No need to lament also about a unipolar world anymore. Russia is back in full force to challenge the expanded NATO and to teach a lesson to a Bush favourite. It has used its military might to counter Georgia's attack on Southern Ossetia and declared two provinces independent. A quick peace deal has virtually recognised Russia's special interest in its backyard.
The world, too, has, by and large, acquiesced in the Russian action, citing history, the energy crunch, independence of Kosovo and NATO expansion. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have virtually endorsed the Russian position by extolling Russia's role in asserting peace and cooperation in the region. Russia claims that China showed full understanding of its position. Nobody could beat Belarus, which proclaimed that 'Russia acted calmly, wisely and beautifully. This was a calm response. Peace has been established in the region and it will last'. Its recognition of the independent states of Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia must be a matter of days.
Even the United States and the European Union have not raised a little finger to challenge the Russian action except in words. They too seem to believe that it was Saakashvili's folly of August 7 that precipitated the crisis, though some commentators find a connection between Georgia's action and a visit to Tbilisi by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a little earlier. If she masterminded the Georgian action, she did not anticipate the Russian reaction and even after she saw it, decided to be content with some angry words in her master's voice. France was quick to broker a peace agreement which, by and large, granted legitimacy to Russia. If Kosovo can remain independent against Russia's wishes, Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia can remain independent in the face of Western objections. NATO will continue to flex its muscles and the US will continue its installation of missile defence in the periphery of Russia. 'A coalition against Russian aggression', proclaimed by NATO, remains an empty thought.
Commentators have also declared that, with this Russian defiance, the Bush world order has ended. The unprecedented and unaccounted world power exercised by the US is over, they comfort us. The Yeltsin era is finally over, they say. They see Russian cooperation with the US on Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and counterterrorism ending in the near future. The West will champion Kosovo's independence and Russia will uphold Abkhazia's and Southern Ossetia's independence and all will be well with the world. Even China has no complaints.
But where is the conscience of humanity against such accommodation between the US and Russia? Where is the nonaligned world, which voiced concerns over bloc politics and bloc accommodation? Are we comfortable with a certain balance of terror? There is no way to find out because no one has spoken about Kosovo or South Ossetia. Countries with secessionist movements within them should shudder to think of these recent examples of forced independence with the connivance of the big powers. We cannot dismiss them as part of the shaping of a new Europe where Russia, backed by its newly found economic strength, is flexing its muscles to survive against the machinations of NATO. We know that NATO is not confined to Europe any more.
To avoid any discomfort to those who do not want to criticise either side, let us describe the situation without naming names and citing history. An integral part of a country seeks self-determination for its people and engages in violence. The central authority deals with the situation through a mix of force, offer of autonomy and other carrots. A neighbouring country, which claims kinship with the region, for reasons of history, ethnicity or religion, intervenes and liberates it and declares it independent. The rest of the world remains silent or protests in whispers.
Such a scenario should send a shiver down the spine of some Indians at least. Or is this only a hallucination? Self-determination is a weapon which has been used against India for more than 50 years. We have countered it on the ground that self-determination is applicable only to people under colonial or alien occupation. Still, we cannot remain oblivious of the fact that it will be the ultimate weapon that will be launched against us.
It is not by coincidence that some of our own intellectuals are inclined to accept the principle of self-determination for an integral part of our country. The European examples may have inspired them to say that there should be a referendum in Jammu & Kashmir and let it be liberated from India and India be liberated from the state. Kosovo and Southern Ossetia seem to have prompted them to think of the unthinkable. Sedition was never so well cloaked.
T P Sreenivasan is a former Indian ambassador to the United Nations, Vienna, and a former governor for India, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.