Staunton, March 22 – US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a region Israeli forces seized militarily and have occupied since 1967 and regularly condemned by the United Nations, has roiled not only the Middle East but also affected the post-Soviet space as well.
Despite the fact that the Russian Foreign Ministry has condemned this American action and despite statements by US officials that Western sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns Crimea to Ukraine and leaves the Donbass, commentators in both Moscow and Kyiv argue that Trump’s move helps Moscow make its case about those territories.
Fyodor Lukyanov, a senior Moscow foreign policy commentator, makes that point today (vz.ru/news/2019/3/22/969571.html), as does Ukrainian analyst Andrey Kovalenko (dsnews.ua/world/eho-golanskih-vysot-kak-tramp-spaset-netanyahu-i-pomozhet-22032019101300).
Meanwhile, and again despite the fact that US officials continue to say that Washington respects the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan, some commentators in Moscow and the Caucasus suggest that Trump’s move on the Golan opens the way for movement on Karabakh (regnum.ru/news/polit/2596487.html and kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/83772/posts/37046).
Recognizing Israeli sovereignty over territory it acquired by force alone, of course, does not automatically mean that the United States is now ready to accept territorial changes elsewhere achieved by similar means. But this move does have two consequences, both of which are far from negligible.
On the one hand, it will, indeed, it already has, raised expectations among some in Moscow that Washington is prepared to back away from a principle first articulated by Secretary of State Henry Stimson in 1932 that the US will never recognize territorial changes achieved by force alone.
And on the other, it will reduce the effectiveness of American efforts to maintain the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Azerbaijan not only by offering a new argument by those committed to making such changes but by reducing support for this principle as many in the US are sympathetic to making this change for Israel and not wish to be accused of double standards.