Former Serbian President Boris Tadic said in an opinion piece for Nationalinterest.org that the West that created the legal precedent which Russian President Vladimir Putin is using for his own goals.
Tadic recalled Putin’s speech in which he accused the West of having “trampled on the principle of the inviolability of borders, and now it is deciding, at its own discretion, who has the right to self-determination and who does not”. “For those with long-enough memories, this refers to Kosovo. When the ethnic-Albanian leadership of the Serbian province unilaterally declared independence in 2008, most of the West immediately recognized it as a state,” Tadic wrote.
“The UN Charter, which guarantees the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its members, was simply ignored. For Putin, his salami slicing of other nations begins with Kosovo: it has been repeatedly cited as precedent in recognizing or annexing South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea, and now the latest regions in eastern and southern Ukraine,” he added.
Tadic said that this highlights the West’s “once circumstantial approach to principles it now proclaims sacrosanct in Ukraine”. He said that the principle of territorial integrity was not applied consistently in the age of Western interventionism after the Cold War but has depended on friendship and Western preference. “Unfortunately, that inconsistency has denuded international law of its authority, creating a world where unilateral declarations of border changes become permissible,” the former Serbian president said. He recalled that Putin warned in 2008 that the West did not understand the consequences of recognizing Kosovo.
According to him, claims by Western politicians that Kosovo was a sui generis case did not pass muster. “Russia both criticized the decision, then also used it as a precedent. The double standard could now be used by anyone,” he said.
“For Kosovo, the West would argue the ghost of the Western Balkans wars from the 1990s changed everything. Yet in 2008, Kosovo Albanians faced no existential pressures. The Serbian leadership had grappled with its history, apologized for war crimes committed at Srebrenica, Bosnia, and Vukovar, Croatia, and fulfilled all obligations towards the Hague Tribunal, established by the UN to prosecute crimes committed during conflicts in the Balkans. Our government was on a liberal and pro-European trajectory. We were a fully-fledged democracy. A deal for extensive and full Kosovo autonomy within the Serbian state was on the table,” Tadic said and recalled that the Kosovo Albanians knew they had the full support of the United States… and “this emboldened their leadership to shun compromise and reject Serbian offers of full autonomy”.
Tadic said that nothing of what Putin has claimed or done is justified but that what the West did opened the door for the Russian president to step through.
“The Kosovo precedent and the subsequent ICJ ruling not only has implications for the international community; it has also given license to any group that wants to secede. With global instability on the rise, this will become increasingly dangerous,” he warned. “If we are to return some semblance of stability to our increasingly fractious and decentralized world, we must return to the principle of territorial integrity,” he added.
“Of course, there is a simple solution. The Western states could roll back their recognition of Kosovo, reaffirming that the principle of territorial integrity applies across time and all contexts. This may not stop the likes of Putin, but it would remove his justification for illegal land grabs whilst dampening dormant secessionist forces around the world that will feed on future instability,” Tadic said.