( dpa ) - The "Kosovo precedent" forms Russia's most vehement objection to Western recognition of the province's independence, but also its biggest threat.
When President Vladmir Putin warned last week that Russia would take "any decision on Kosovo as a precedent for international law," he held up the possibility Russia would move to recognize the independence of breakaway regions in Georgia and Moldova.
Is this a case of Russian hypocrisy?
Rather, as the lifeblood of Russia's longstanding objections to Kosovo's independence - it is Russia's only response, which amounts to a threat of war against its two post-soviet neighbours.
Yuri Kolosov, an prominent member of Russia's Association of International Law, said: "If Kosovo is a precedent, then it is a bad one."
With respect to Kosovo, Russian analysts say the country is caught between a rock and a hard place.
"Under no circumstances can Russia recognize (other separatist states), but not recognizing them would now be to show weakness," Alexei Malashenko, an analyst with the Moscow-based Carnegie Center said
Russia benefits most from drawing out the status quo, said Pavel Felgenhauer, a independent analyst specializing in military issues.
He noted that confronting the West over Kosovo has at once increased Russia's influence in Serbia and presented an easy platform for defying a Washington-based international agenda. "It's a win-win situation," he said.
But in the face of Russian intransigence, Kosovo's newly elected majority Albanian government is expected to unilaterally declare independence from Serbia in the first quarter of 2008.
Separatist states in the Caucasus, taking their cue from Kosovo and bolstered by Russia's declarations, look set to make good on Russia's warnings that events in Kosovo will set off a "chain reaction."
Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, which is frozen in a quasi-autonomous status and holds its own elections, has been quick to echo Russia's position.
Abkhazia's foreign minister Sergei Shamba has said recognition of Kosovo's independence by the West would "bring about the recognition of other deserving states."
Highlighting the region's reliance on Russian support, Shamba added: "We hope that Russia's authorities will be consistent in their actions."
Abkhazia is caught in a deadlock that is increasingly verging on open conflict between Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who is sold on the idea of a "restoration of territorial integrity by 2009" and Russia, become more invasive under Putin's new foreign policy redux.
Pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov, who heads the Moscow-based Institute of Political Studies, accused the west of opening "Pandora's box with Kosovo."
"There are many who want to separate ... They will ask why is an exception being made for Kosovo," he said.
Abkhazia is one of four states surrounding the Black Sea that are revolting against the Soviet-era borders drawn up by Joseph Stalin, including South Ossetia in Georgia and the Moldovan region of Transnistria, which seeks to join Russia.
South Ossetia President Eduard Kokoity declared recently: " South Ossetia has many more grounds for recognition as an independence country than Kosovo has."
The essential chemistry of the question hinges on whether Kosovo is considered a unique case.
Georgia's Justice Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili, in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa, stressed, "We have to clearly distinguish between those two cases: Kosovo and Abkhazia."
Proponents of Kosovo's independence, say it stands apart from other separatist movements because of the province's recent history of institutional discrimination and brutal violence and because it has been administered by the United Nations since 1999.
But Putin two weeks ago called support of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence declaration "illegal and immoral."
Kolosov, head of International Law at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, judged the United States' decision to recognize Kosovo, "of course, illegal," but also said the case could not be considered "anything but unique."
He said that by insisting on a mediated solution between Pristina and Belgrade, Russia was trying to redress its diplomatic errors of the 1990s, when the West prevailed on Serbia's only ally to secure its withdrawal from Kosovo.
"It was a great mistake on the part of Russian diplomacy that served as the first step in justifying Kosovo's independence," Kolosov said, adding that Russia was humiliated when it was not allowed to take on its promised peacekeeping role as guarantor of Serbia's territorial integrity.
"Now, Russia feels more secure and self-confident enough not to endorse any position that Moscow feels is wrong," Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs journal, said.
Though analysts in Moscow do not expect Russia to rush to recognize Abkhazia or South Ossetia given a change in Kosovo's status, they don't discount it could lead to a military flare up in the region.
" Russia has sent strong signals that if there is conflict, it will be involved," Felgenhauer said.
There have been frequent clashes between Georgian troops and Russian peacekeeping forces in each of South Ossetia and Abkhazia since 1992 and 1994.
Relations between the two states have further deteriorated, since Saakashvili came to power in 2003, advocating NATO membership for Georgia and winning the organization's support in demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from its territory.
Russia officially maintains that it respects Georgia's territorial integrity, but critics say Russian aid to the region and its free issuing of Russian passports to residents amounts to the annexation of Georgian territory.
Experts estimate as many as 95 percent of the population in Abkhazia and South Ossetia hold Russian passports.
"Cynically speaking, Kosovo's independence will open new options and positions for Russia in the region," Lukyanov said.