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Giorgi Lomsadze

South Caucasus: The Breakaway Club Welcomes Crimea

As Crimea moves to join Russia, it is also joining a neighborhood club of unrecognized territories. Not surprisingly, Moscow-backed separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia welcomed Crimea’s March 16 referendum on seceding from Ukraine and acceding to Russia. Georgia, which feels for Ukraine, dismissed the vote as illegal, while Armenia and Azerbaijan froze in an awkward silence.

Main administration building, side. Sukhum, Abkhazia. Author: Guy D, source: Flcikr

Main administration building, side. Sukhum, Abkhazia. Author: Guy D, source: Flcikr

In similar statements, the de-facto South Ossetian and Abkhaz leaders said that the Crimea vote was a “legitimate expression of the will of the people,” and “a “classic example of thepopular will taking precedence over everything else.” Meanwhile, Nagorno Karabakh, following Armenia’s lead, didn’t make a sound.

The differences between Crimea and the rest of the disputed pack — Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transdniester and Nagorno Karabakh — cannot be underscored enough. After all, the peninsula is dominated by ethnic Russians and is reuniting with Russia, while the others underline their independence from everyone.

Nonetheless, while not universally recognized, the 97-percent vote in Crimea for joining Russia has put governments throughout the region on edge.

Azerbaijan’s close ally, Turkey, which openly condemned the referendum, has announced it plans to consult with Baku and fellow Turkic cousin Kazakhstan about a response to Crimea. The Crimean Tatars are the ethnic kin of Turks, Kazakhstanis and Azerbaijanis.

Across the South Caucasus, the Crimea poll also brought back memories of the referendum on keeping the Soviet Union alive, held almost exactly 23 years ago, on March 17, 1991.
Armenia and Georgia boycotted the vote; Azerbaijan, with Soviet troops on hand, opted for giving the Soviet Union a second chance, though soon reconsidered. The Soviet Union broke up like a matryoshka doll, with republics jumping out of the Union and then separatist territories jumping out of the republics. One Russian newspaper cartoon at the time depicted an elderly Russian couple holding a flag and declaring “The Independent Republic of Ivan and Olga” in their village house.

With post-Soviet borders still in motion, and old and new resentments bubbling under the surface, especially in the Caucasus, the matryoshka effect may continue.

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This post was originally published on EurasiaNet.

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Read more on Ukraine and Russia:

Why Russia Just Can’t. A Ukrainian Perspective

Three Reasons Why Crimea Is Not Kosovo

The Empire That Will Not Speak Its Name

Russia, Ukraine, the Neighbourhood: Changing Putin’s Risk Calculus

Putin Doesn’t Follow Rules, So Why Should We?

Svitlana Zalishchuk: “We Understand That the EU Is No Paradise”

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Writes about the South Caucasus and international relations. You can find his articles on EurasiaNet,

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