Review: “Russia and the Right to Self-Determination in the Post-Soviet Space” – Johannes Socher

I was not very enthusiastic about Johannes Socher’s “Russia and the Right to Self-Determination in the Post-Soviet Space” when I first ordered it on Amazon. The title of the book sounded like it was going to be some kind of Russophobic ‘analysis’, i.e., U.S.-NATO propaganda, like books by Svante Cornell, Kamal Makili-Aliyev, Bahruz Balyev, and Heiko Kruger. Of course, I had to order the book, even if I thought it would suck, because ethnic and secessionist conflicts, especially those involving the right to self-determination, is the primary subject of interest to me. But as I began to read the book I really did think, “Maybe this book is different?” Socher is a much better writer than the aforementioned scholars, and the book lacks their flagrant Russophobia, although Socher’s historical analysis is equally as terrible (it is readily apparent that Socher is a legal scholar or lawyer and not a historian). I was intrigued! Sadly, however, this sudden revelation proved to be premature; Socher’s book is U.S.-NATO propaganda, just slightly more subtle.

What infuriates me about books like this one and ones by the aforementioned scholars is the flagrant double-standard employed when examining the policies or actions of the U.S. and its NATO allies, on the one hand, and Russia and its allies, on the other. Socher, Cornell, Kruger, Makili-Aliyev write like they want Russia to be more like the U.S. and NATO but not do U.S.-NATO imperialism. They are trying to achieve the impossible: that of trying to support U.S.-NATO imperialism by criticizing Russian imperialism but in such a way that their criticism of Russian imperialism doesn’t backfire and lend credence to criticism of U.S.-NATO imperialism. After all, the objective is to strengthen U.S.-NATO imperialism, not weaken it, and criticizing any imperialism risks criticizing all imperialism.

A case in point is Socher’s arguments against statehood for Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, and Nagorno-Karabakh. Socher recycles all the same arguments of Kruger and Makili-Aliyev: that 1) these entities are supposedly too reliant on outside support to satisfy the requirements of independent statehood under international law, and 2) and that they were established through the use of force in violation of the UN Charter. Of course these arguments are all true. Nobody denies that without Armenian support Nagorno-Karabakh wouldn’t survive and that without Russian support Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria wouldn’t survive. Neither does anybody deny that these de facto states were established through violence against UN member states, i.e., the metropolitan countries, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova.

Without exception, however, when Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia is inevitably examined all these arguments somehow evaporate. It is like Kosovo exists in some kind of vacuum; it declared its independence, no need to examine it in any further detail. The fact that the U.S. and NATO bombed Yugoslavia in violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition against force and without the authorization of the UN Security Council, described by one scholar as a “shameless land grab by the United States” and its NATO allies “to install an enormous military base (Camp Bondsteel) on other people’s strategically located land,” seems to escape the ‘de-ideologized’ analysis of Socher and the other aforementioned scholars. So, too, does the fact that, as Milena Sterio writes, “if international administrators were to withdraw from Kosovo now, it would most likely crumble as a state: it would be unable to militarily defend its borders; to politically sustain its government; to protect its population; to maintain a sound economic and commercial policy; or to explore its natural resources.

If only Kosovo was subjected to the same kind of supposedly ‘de-ideologized’ analysis that Socher subjects Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Transnistria to, maybe the book would have a very different conclusion. But then this would defeat the aim of the book: to defend the interests of U.S.-NATO imperialism by criticizing Russian imperialism. After all, if Kosovo was subjected to the same degree of analysis as the other secessionist entities, it would readily become apparent that Russia hasn’t committed any crime that the U.S. and its NATO allies haven’t already committed to a far greater extent.

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