War and vacation in Europe

20. August, 2008

Foto: Jim Sneddon

The unified position taken by the Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine has marked out a new form of cooperation that is dictated by the actual events. This can be seen as a good starting point for coming together to seek out ways of reducing the split between European countries, and convincing them about the seriousness of current situation.

The Western part of Georgia is subject to the activities of the Russian military and South Ossetian paramilitary gangs as the armed forces and military equipment are moved around. Georgian villages have been pillaged and fully or partly burned down. There has been a targeted process of setting fire to the forests in the Borzhomi National Park. Ukrainian and Turkish airplanes and helicopters have been barred from entering Georgian airspace to help put out the fires. The Russian military has joined with forces from Abkhazia to cross the borders of the autonomous republic and to occupy nearby villages in the area of the Enguri River, as well as the Enguri hydroelectric power plant, which is now under their control.

This list of the Russian military activities over the last three days, alas, is nothing new or atypical under conditions of war and occupation. Sadly, that is how the events in Georgia must be described. The war between Russia and Georgia has changed the relationship between European countries and Russia. Perhaps less noticeably, but inevitably, however, it has also changed relations and interaction among European countries. If we fail to see and understand that it does not mean that the situation and the circumstances have not changed. Politicians and foreign affairs experts have said publicly that a new era of history has begun. I would like to take a detailed look at what these new pages of history really mean, because each country in the Transatlantic space will be forced to write something on those pages.

Holiday Season in Foreign Policy

It is, in a sense, ironic. August is a very lazy month in the halls of the international institutions in Brussels (the EU and NATO). Equally lazy and relaxed has been the reaction and response of European organizations to Russia’s actions in Georgia. The most ironic thing is that this is an issue not only of Georgia’s future, but of Europe’s future, too. And yet Europe continues to behave in accordance with the holiday mood.

The inability of the EU and NATO to give a timely response when its ally and partner, Georgia, asked for assistance that is more than just proclamations[1], has been interpreted as the beginning of the end of the mission and role, which most member states perceive these institutions to have: the EU and NATO as a security guarantee.

The United States and European countries have split into two. There are those who feel that emotions should be left alone, that relations with Russia should not be risked, lest Russia slam the door and the formats of relations and dialogue, which have been established with such difficult and heavy efforts, will be lost. Others, for their part, believe that Russia has crossed all possible lines in the sand and that irrespectively of slammed or open doors, relations with Russia must be based on the principle that the action must be commensurate to the response. In other words, Russia’s invasion of independent Georgia must be perceived as aggression, as a threat against the fundamental principles of the free world, and, potentially in the future, as a threat against the borders of other countries which must be defended in accordance with those principles.

The first group is usually made up of the traditional group of countries, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium. In the other group are the United States, Sweden, Finland, the Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine. Basically those countries that are on Russia’s border and occasionally experience the sound of Russian military exercises at an arm’s length from their borders.

Russian Strategies

I believe that the strategy of the first group of countries, which is based on the assumption that success in relations with Russia will create an equal approach of partnership, that Russia will listen to what is said and will react in a way that is desirable for the West if the West listens to what is said and reacts in a way that is desirable for Russia — that strategy has now failed. Here I am thinking about long-term failures, not ones related to contracts related to gas and oil product deliveries in the next few years. The answer here is based on a very elementary strategic fact — Russia does not form relations with others on the basis of partnership. The things that it does are subordinated to the goals, which it wants to achieve, and as long as one goal or another is more important than others, Russia will logically allow itself to ignore less important goals.

I truly cannot understand those who claim that Georgia itself was to blame for the war and for the arrival of Moscow’s tanks in its territory. The idea that it was possible for Georgia to prevent the Russian attack is a weak one, at least if we think in a more long-term perspective. On the contrary, I think. It was Georgia’s active military defense and international offensive in political and media terms that prevented or at least, as it appears now, hindered Russia’s attempt to carry out its maximal plans vis-à-vis Georgia. It is likely that this maximal plan was aimed not only at achieving a complete control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but also at using military methods to destroy and destabilize the domestic political situation up to the point where it becomes possible to replace Georgia’s government and president with one who is line with Moscow’s plans. Then there would be a long-term guarantee of the most important goal. Georgia would forget about joining NATO and the EU, it would raise no objections against the capacities of Russia’s Black Sea fleet on its shores, and it would stop creating competition to Russian-controlled oil and gas transit routes toward Europe. And yes, Russia would have one more satellite country.

Russia has won on two front lines. One is in Georgia, where Russia managed to do far more than Georgia and its allies had ever imagined. It has used the advantage of physical superiority to conquer its positions and to remain in those positions irrespective of what morality and international public opinion suggest about behaviors and norms in the century in which we currently live. The victory on the second front line has been won thanks to the split between EU and NATO member states on the basis of their economic interests — interests, which offer short-term economic benefits, but in the long-term mean political and value-based losses. Russian politics are based on the approach and methods of realism. Accordingly, it has managed to use Georgia to begin drawing a new geopolitical map in Europe, one for which Russia is the chief architect.

The unified position taken by the Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine has marked out a new form of cooperation that is dictated by the actual situation. This can be seen as a good starting point and combination for coming together to seek out ways of reducing the split, consolidating European countries, and convincing them about the seriousness of this situation, about the new geopolitical combinations, which satisfy Russia’s interests, but not our interests in the EU and NATO.


[1] Giorgi Kandelaki, Senior Adviser, Analytical Group Administration of the President of the Republic of Georgia raksts

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