THE RUSSO-GEORGIAN WAR, THE AFTERMATH: MOSKVA THROWS DOWN THE GAUNTLET
"Respected citizens of Russia! You undoubtedly know of the tragedy of South Ossetia...I have signed decrees on the recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by the Russian Federation....This is not an easy decision, but it is the only way to protect people's lives....In violation of the UN Charter, its commitments under international agreements, and in defiance of common sense, the Georgian leadership began an armed conflict...The same plight was in store for Abkhazia. Tbilisi had obviously planned a blitzkrieg that would have presented the world with a fait accompli."
Dmitri Medvedev,"Russia Recognizes Georgia's breakaway Republics," 26 September 2008in www.en.rian.ru
"We, the Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom,condemn the action of our fellow G8 member. Russia's recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia violates the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia and is contrary to UN Security Council Resolutions supported by Russia. Russia’s decision has called into question its commitment to peace and security in the Caucasus.
We deplore Russia's excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia. We call unanimously on the Russian government to implement in full the six point peace plan brokered by President Sarkozy on behalf of the EU, in particular to withdraw its forces behind the pre-conflict lines.We reassert our strong and continued support for Georgia's sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders and underline our respect and support for the democratic and legitimate government of Georgia as we pursue a peaceful, durable solution to this conflict."
"Joint Statement on Georgia by Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom",
Released on August 27, 2008 http://www.state.gov maintained by the Bureau of Public Affairs.
As I noted in this journal at the beginning of the Russo-Georgian War, Europe, nay indeed the world has entered a new reality in International Relations. And, whilethat 'reality,' is primarily of the psychological variety, that does not obviate the fact that what has occurred in the last two and half weeks, has completely upset the applecart of both the post-1991 and indeed the post-1945 world order. Like the Japanese in 1931 and 1932 in the Manchurian Crisis, Moskva has thrown down the gauntlet, in particular to the Western Powers, and especially to its fellow members of the G-8, and, the leading European powers (UK, France, Germany, Italy) and the institutional EU in Brussels. What the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, characterized in a speech in Kiev today as using a torpedo to stop all discussions (see: "Foreign Secretary Speech in Ukraine," 27 August 2008, in www.fco.gov.uk). In short, Putin and Medvedev have turned the tables and presented the International Community with a faite accompli over the Georgian War. The reason or the rationale behind this move is irrelevant for my purposes. What I want to examine is: a) what will be the Western Response; b) will that response be effective; c) where does 'a' and 'b', leave the future of Russo-Western relations in the near term.
Perhaps the first place to look for something approaching an official or semi-official response to Moskva' action is to be found in Miliband's speech. The location of which, was of course a harbinger of attempting to ascertain what type of response one can expect from the Western Powers, or at least some of them. According to Miliband, irregardless of the rights and wrongs of what occurred in South Ossetia, the fact of the matter is that Russia has destroyed the entire, post-1991, basis of Russo-Western relations. Calling into question the bon fides of Moskva in a whole host of areas. In particular as per Miliband:
"The Georgia crisis has provided a rude awakening. The sight of Russian tanks in a neighbouring country on the fortieth anniversary of the crushing of the Prague Spring has shown that the temptations of power politics remain. The old sores and divisions fester. And Russia is not yet reconciled to the new map of this region".
Thus while Miliband rejects, calls to throw Russia out of the G-8, and to suspend ongoing ties between Russia and NATO, & Russia and the EU, what he calls "a policy of 'isolation'", he instead advocates:
"Our approach must be hard-headed-engagement. That means bolstering our allies, re balancing the energy relationship with Russia, defending the rules of international institutions, and renewing efforts to tackle ‘unresolved conflicts’".
In particular Miliband, calls for sharply backing the current, pro-Western government in Kiev. Both as it relates to membership of the EU and possibly of NATO. As well as the rest of the countries: NATO and non-NATO, which lie on the Russian periphery. The American Vice-President's, Mr. Cheney upcoming visit to both Kiev and Baku as well as Georgia are no doubt part and parcel of the same proposed policy. In essence to build-up a new cordon sanitaire , around certainly the Western and perhaps the South-Western portions of Matushka Roissya. With the rest of the items mentioned by Miliband: like 'rebalancing' the EU's energy relationship with Russia, 'defending the rules of international institutions', and suchlike, being much more akin to the diplomatic version of eatings one's vegetables and drinking all your milk. Admonitions, which one hears and indeed indulges in, but, which one rarely actually engages oneself. In short a complete damp squib in practical terms. In reality of course, short of coming to an agreement with Persia over its nuclear programme, there does not appear to be any short or even medium term alternative to Russia as a supplier of energy to the EU. And, of course for both the USA and its Israeli ally, there is no possibility to coming to terms with Teheran, short of the latter voluntarily giving up its nuclear ambitions.
So the question becomes then, assuming for arguments sake that the above list of proposals will be the sum total, or close to it, of the Western response to the Russian action, will it succeed? Concerning the nominal cause of the dispute: Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the answer is: of course not. As Dominic Lieven noted almost two weeks ago in the Financial Times at the very beginning of the Russo-Georgian War, short of the complete collapse of Russia as a state, the two breakaway Republics are lost to Tbilisi forever. Pur et simple. Concerning the other goal of the above Western response: to 'police', Russia, to make sure that it understands that it cannot violate the norms of International Relations, as they have evolved in the last seventeen, if not indeed, the last sixty years. That is a difficult question to ask. For the simple reason that there does not appear to be, on the surface at any rate, points of dispute, which are so open and so prone to highlight the nature of Russian behavior as an international actor, as the Georgian War. In the case of Ukraine's joining NATO, it does not appear that the Tymoshenko Cabinet in Kiev has enough backing in terms of Ukrainian public opinion to venture forth on this particular policy. Nor is it entirely clear that if a government in Kiev were to embark on such a policy, presuming of course that it were in fact to be invited by NATO (not a sure thing by any means), that Moskva would in fact overtly oppose it with all the (many) means at its disposal. The Polish decision to host American anti-missile bases on its territory is a faite accompli. And, nothing that Moskva can do will change that decision by Warsaw. The same thing of course can be said about the membership of the countries of the Baltics in NATO. Or indeed, even the basing of American troops or ships in the same. However much Russia, may resent or indeed howl like a wolf, it cannot overturn that decision. Short of course of going to war with NATO, which is not something that anyone in Russia wishes to do of course...
So, where does our examination of items 'a' [Western / American Response] and 'b' [effectiveness of the same'], leave us? At this time, I would state once again that while Western governments will engage in extended amounts of finger pointing, and lecturing at Moskva, as well as symbolic pin-pricks, the fact of the matter is that Russia is impervious to any likely Western response, or responses. As for the potential build-up of a cordon sanitaire, against Russia, that seems to assume a much greater degree of hostility between Russia and the West, as well as a much greater degree of focus, and, energy on this subject than what one can see at the moment. Especially, since Russia holds in its hands many more cards than the USA and its allies does. The best examples being that, Russia can if it so wishes prevent NATO, from using its air space as well as a proposed land route through it, to transport materials to NATO's troops in Afghanistan. Russia may also of course withdraw from the contact group who is attempting to pressure Persia into giving up its nuclear programme. Or Russia may decided to back diplomatically, the current Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Or the Hezbollah in the Lebanon. Or to provide arms to the regime in Syria (for rumors on this subject, see Nikita Petrov's article in the Middle East Times, in www.metimes.com).
For the moment none of the above Russian responses to Western counter-moves, will come about, since Russia does not have, nor does it aim to become a counter to either the USA or to the West in global. Russia, and its elites are way too enmeshed in the nexus of ties: economic, and cultural, to attempt to go it alone. Other than on the Georgian issue, there is no hot button point of dispute between the two sides. Which does not mean of course that if, Washington were to say, attempt to re-build Georgia's military, that some of the above Russian counter-moves might come into play. They very well might. It is just unlikely that the Americans will throw good money after bad in the Kavkaz at this point. That is of course where the analogy with the Japanese in the 1930's, breaks down. For the Japanese, the conquest of Manchuria, was the first of many other faite accomplis. In the case of the Russo-Georgian War, there is not, as far as I can see, any Russian aspiration to say, break-up the Ukrainian State. Or to do the same with Kazakhistan. Until we are at the stage, the current war of worlds will remain merely a rhetorical and psychological exercise.