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Russia’s Recognition of Georgian Areas Raises Hopes of Its Own Separatists
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MOSCOW — Tatarstan is a long way from South Ossetia. While South Ossetia is a poor border region of Georgia battered by war, Tatarstan is an economic powerhouse in the heart of Russia, boasting both oil reserves and the political stability that is catnip to investors.

But the two places have one thing in common: Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, both have given rise to separatist movements. And when President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia formally recognized the breakaway areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations two weeks ago, activists in Kazan, the Tatar capital, took notice.

An association of nationalist groups, the All-Tatar Civic Center, swiftly published an appeal that “for the first time in recent history, Russia has recognized the state independence of its own citizens” and expressed the devout wish that Tatarstan would be next. The declaration was far-fetched, its authors knew: One of Vladimir V. Putin’s signal achievements as Mr. Medvedev’s predecessor was to suppress separatism. The Tatar movement was at its lowest ebb in 20 years.

But Moscow’s decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia made Tatarstan’s cause seem, as Rashit Akhmetov put it, “not hopeless.”

Mr. Akhmetov, editor in chief of Zvezda Povolzhya, an opposition newspaper in Kazan, said, “Russia has lost the moral right not to recognize us.”

Mr. Medvedev’s decision to formally recognize the two disputed areas in Georgia — an option long debated in Moscow’s foreign policy circles — has had far-reaching consequences.

Most immediately, it has deepened the rift between Russia and its erstwhile negotiating partners in the West. But some also see Moscow departing from its longstanding insistence on territorial integrity, leaving an opening for ethnic groups within its borders to demand autonomy or independence.

“In the long term, they could have signed their own death warrant,” said Lawrence Scott Sheets, the Caucasus program director for the International Crisis Group, an independent organization that tries to prevent and resolve global conflicts. “It’s an abstraction now, but 20 years down the road, it won’t be such an abstraction.”

Moscow’s position is that South Ossetia and Abkhazia were extreme situations, in which decisions were driven by the threat to the lives of its citizens. Russian troops poured across the border early in August, after Georgian forces attacked civilian areas in the city of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, with rocket and artillery fire.

The attack made it “completely impossible” to conceive of South Ossetia returning to Georgian control, said Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for Mr. Putin, now Russia’s prime minister.

Mr. Peskov said Russia stood firmly behind the principle of territorial integrity and saw no major separatist movements within its borders.

“We do have some separatist movements, some extremist elements, especially in the northern Caucasus, but they are very minor,” he said. “These are very fragmented and very small groups.” He added that the circumstances of South Ossetia and Abkhazia belonged in a “totally different category.”
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