Russia invaded Georgia on August 8, Europe's frozen conflicts were
quickly brought out of the deep freeze. In an immense demonstration of
Russia's military and political power, Moscow crushed Georgian defenses
in South Ossetia and moved quickly into Georgia proper. As the European
Union's (EU) biggest political figure and current President of the
European Council, French President Nicholas Sarkozy quickly assumed
control, negotiating a six-point ceasefire after visiting both
capitals. However, Russia continues to flout the cease-fire agreement
and divisions have emerged among Europe's capitals as how to approach
Russia in the wake of this crisis.
President Sarkozy at the Helm
Tbilisi and Moscow, Sarkozy negotiated a cease-fire agreement whereby
Russia would withdraw its troops from Georgia on August 18. Under the
vague terms of the cease-fire, Russia has said that an unspecified
number of soldiers will be allowed to stay on sovereign Georgian
territory for peacekeeping purposes in a "buffer zone" outside South
Ossetia. Containing no enforcement mechanisms, the cease-fire agreement
was fatally flawed from the beginning. Therefore, it should come as
little surprise that Russia failed to live up to its obligations and
withdraw its troops on August 18. It has since moved SS-21 ballistic
missiles—which are capable of hitting Tbilisi—into South Ossetia,
destroyed ships in the Georgian port of Poti, and bombed a vital
Russia also rejected a French-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution
that called on Moscow to go back to its pre-war position. Moscow has
said that it is determined to keep its troops inside Georgia proper and
that it no longer recognizes Georgia's territorial integrity.
is highly probable that Tbilisi signed the cease-fire agreement under
European pressure and assurances by Sarkozy that an eventual peace
agreement would ensure a Russian retreat to its pre-war position.
However, it looks increasingly as if the cease-fire agreement has
contributed to Moscow's confidence that it can redraw Georgia's
borders, as it has bluntly stated that it will not return to the status
quo ante. In fact, Russia rejected the U.N. resolution and put forward
its own resolution, citing the terms of the cease-fire that it should
be allowed troops on Georgian soil.
far, the EU has handled this crisis poorly. Sarkozy negotiated the
cease-fire on Moscow's terms, providing no enforcement mechanisms and
thereby assuring Russia will implement the terms (if at all) at its
leisure. By allowing Russia to contravene the cease-fire, the EU has
sent Russia the message that the worst it can expect is a slap on the
wrist and that its actions will likely go unpunished. If Europe wanted
to demonstrate strength, resolve, and leadership, it should have
deferred leadership of this crisis to one of its Central or Eastern
European powers who understand the region better. The Joint
Presidential Declaration of Poland and the Baltic Nations, which
condemned Russia's action in unequivocal terms immediately after the
outbreak of the crisis, now stands in stark contrast to the
softly-softly, failed approach of France and Germany.
The EU can
still have leverage if it so desires. As EU spokesman Martin Selmayr
said, "We can't send stormtroopers, but we have a trade and economic
policy we can discuss. We are an economic force."
The EU should hold the emergency summit threatened by Sarkozy last
week, withdraw its support for Russia's membership of the World Trade
Organization, and halt any negotiation of an EU-Russian trade and
With Tony Blair's
departure from Downing Street, Britain lost its star performer on the
international stage, and America lost a strong and trusted friend in
Europe. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has shown little interest in
foreign affairs and has made no significant contribution regarding the
crisis in Georgia. A beleaguered Brown has allowed Sarkozy and the EU
to call the shots on Britain's behalf and only dispatched the foreign
secretary to Tbilisi long after other European leaders had made the
trip and the agenda had already been set.
There are some welcome
signs, however, that the U.K. will quickly return to the foreign policy
stage after the next election. David Cameron, leader of the
Conservative Party, steered a steady ship when responding to the
crisis. He made a symbolic gesture by pulling his MPs out of their
alliance with Putin-aligned parliamentarians in the Council of Europe.
Cameron also flew to Tbilisi before the British foreign
secretary, he called for Russia to be expelled from the G-8, and he has
stated that the European Union should defer its negotiations on a
privileged partnership with Russia. In an op-ed in the influential Times newspaper,
he asked flatly: "Russia's actions have laid down a formidable
challenge to the West. … The question is simple: Will the West step up
to the plate?" With a virtually unassailable lead in the polls,
Cameron's leadership on this issue is a positive sign of what the
United States can expect from a future Conservative government.
an extraordinary meeting of NATO foreign ministers on August 19, some
positive steps were taken to demonstrate solidarity with Georgia.
However, collectively these steps fall short of standing up to Russia
in any significant way. In fact, Moscow's ambassador to NATO derided
the outcomes of the summit as a "mountain that gave birth to a mouse."
The following three primary decisions were taken by NATO:
- NATO-Russia Council (NRC) meetings will be put on hold, freezing direct contact between NATO and Moscow;
- A NATO-Georgia Commission, a joint commission offering enhanced cooperation between NATO and Georgia, was established; and
- Russia must withdraw its troops to their positions pre-crisis, the status quo ante.
NATO statement is a shot across Russia's bow and significantly
expressed support for Georgia's "democratically elected government."
However, a more robust response would have been to accelerate Georgian
(and Ukrainian) accession to the Membership Action Plan (MAP). Moscow
successfully pressured Germany to form a coalition to deny Georgian and
Ukrainian accession to MAP at NATO's Bucharest Summit in April 2008. In
a shameful act of appeasement, Chancellor Angela Merkel led a
Franco-German coalition to defer Georgia's accession to MAP until
December 2008 in a failed attempt to avoid "provoking" Russia. This act
reversed the previous German position supporting an open-door policy
for NATO and stood in direct contrast to President Bush's visible
support for Kiev and Tbilisi at the summit.
Chancellor Merkel's recent trip to Tbilisi, where she publicly affirmed
Germany's support for Georgia's membership in NATO, should ring hollow
in light of their previous actions. President Saakashvili should also
bear in mind that Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schroder, is now a
Gazprom employee who described President Putin as a "flawless democrat"
while occupying the chancellery.
did not mislead Europe at the Bucharest Summit with regard to its
aggressive intentions toward Georgia and Ukraine. For the first time
since the NRC was created in 2002, President Vladimir Putin attended
the annual NATO summit, primarily to intimidate and threaten Georgia
and Ukraine. He even threatened to aim nuclear missiles at Ukraine if
it sought NATO membership.
NRC was created in 2002 to "serve as the principal structure and venue
for advancing the relationship between NATO and Russia."
Russia's invasion of a sovereign nation with clear Euro-Atlantic
aspirations stands in complete violation of the spirit and principles
of the NRC. Merely suspending its meetings do not go far enough, and
Russia has already responded by cutting off all military cooperation
with NATO. Combined with the European Union's economic clout, NATO has
the political and military wherewithal to matter in this conflict.
Russia must be given the message that NATO unequivocally supports
Georgia in this crisis and that its actions will not be tolerated. This
must be done by accelerating Georgian and Ukrainian accession to the
MAP and rejecting the continued use of Russian troops as peacekeepers
in the region.
The West must also take the following additional measures:
new, international peacekeeping force must be created to preside over
South Ossetia, probably under the supervision of the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe;
- Russian troops must not be allowed on sovereign Georgian territory; and
- The West must collectively offer resources and aid to Georgia as it rebuilds its damaged infrastructure.
Russia's Geo-Strategic Ambitions
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is correct that Russia's reputation
on the international stage has been badly damaged by this crisis as
well as its failure to adhere to the agreed upon cease-fire. However,
it is unlikely that Moscow cared much about its reputation when it
engaged in this old-fashioned big-power politics. Moscow has provoked a
confrontation with Europe and America in Georgia, and it is one that
cannot be ignored or go unpunished. It is true that Washington has
important goals to achieve elsewhere in the world that would benefit
from Moscow's cooperation. However, it is improbable that the United
States can count on Russian cooperation, especially if Russian national
interest is not explicitly involved. In both its symbolism and reality,
the war in Georgia is a signal of Russia's geo-strategic ambitions and
a preview of what the West can expect from Moscow in the future.
Minister of Defense Franz-Josef Jung stated in February 2008: "NATO is
not only a military alliance. It was and still is a community based on
values. Our door is open to those who are prepared to adopt the
principles that govern our Alliance."
Jung, "The World in Disarray—Shifting Powers, Lack of Strategies,"
Munich Conference on Security Policy, February 8, 2008, at www.securityconference.de/konferenzen/rede.php?menu_
2008=&menu_konferenzen=&sprache=en&id=203 (March 17, 2008).