Thursday, 14 August 2008

Ring Around the Russia

Things seem to be getting worse before they get better in Georgia. At the moment, according to Georgia, there is a 100-vehicle tank convoy heading again toward the capital, and Russia now controls 1/3 of the country. The Sarkozy-brokered EU cease fire agreement doesn't appear to be working.

As the world tries to figure out what to do about this mess, I was struck by something in John McCain's editorial, entitled, We Are all Georgians, in the Wall Street Journal today. McCain's editorial was strongly worded and stark, and there's speculation tonight that President Bush's decision to send Secretary of State Condoleeza Rise to Tblisi was driven by not being a desire to not be overshadowed by McCain. Meanwhile Obama seems to be nowhere to be found.

McCain's editorial is almost like a little trip down memory lane, presenting a renewed us-versus-them approach when it comes to Russia. But most interestingly, it seems to display a complete misunderstanding of current geopolitics. Either that or he's being deliberately disingenuous.

McCain goes from deriding Sarkozy's cease-fire in the fifth paragraph (calling it a "French-brokered" ceasefire rather than an EU one is no accident, especially when it's followed with a complaint about its softness on the Russians) to then saying two paragraphs later that "there are the stirrings of a new trans-Atlantic consensus about the way we should approach Russia and its neighbors." He then lists as evidence of this the fact that the leaders of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Latvia flew to Tbilisi to demonstrate their support for Georgia and minced no words in condemning Russia. But the reaction of these states isn't any surprise, when they're all former Soviet satellites that are terrified of Russia invading them as well.

But the main states of Europe are far from agreed on the best course of action, and they certainly aren't on board with the US response. As American troops prepare to move into Georgia to provide humanitarian aid, across Europe today the papers expressed alarm at the US flexing its muscles on Russia's border. For instance The Times of London headline this morning read "Echo of Cold War," and the paper condemned the "sabre-rattling" by Dick Cheney.

Now that the US has called an emergency meeting of NATO, in which it will reportedly demand that Georgia and Ukraine be given a commitment to full membership in the future, it looks like we're heading for a showdown. The transAtlantic alliance is anything but solid and strong. NATO membership for these two states is very unpopular in Europe, where there is a belief that Ukraine and Georgia fall naturally within Russia's sphere of influence, and that to surround Russia with a hostile military alliance is an unwise provocation. Europe is, after all, more sympathetic with Russia than the US. While it knows Russia is probably the greatest foreign military threat it faces, at the same time European nations tend to understand that Russia just wants a little respect, and ringing the country with NATO is not the way to do that. Many both within and outside Ukraine strongly believe that the country is within Russia's sphere of influence (Russian is, after all, the native language of 30% of the population) and attaching it to NATO would be the ultimate insult and provocation to Russia. Combine that with the missile defense agreement the US just concluded with Poland yesterday and it's not hard to see why Russia feels under threat.

And it was telling that though Secretary Rice is skipping a visit to Moscow and flying straight back to the United States (so much for using her fluent Russian), German Chancellor Angela Merkel is going to personally visit Russia this weekend. The German government has been notably reluctant to blame Russia.

So the Atlantic is anything but in agreement. However the fact that the Eastern European nations were so quick to run to the US for guarantees during this crisis, and that Georgia is also putting all its eggs in the US basket and poo-pooing EU attempts to broker peace, is telling. None of these former Soviet and Warsaw Pact states trust Europe to safeguard their independence. Though many of these states are now part of the EU, they seem to have no faith in the union to protect them against Russia, immediately coming to the US when a crisis hits. And without an EU peacekeeping force to enforce it, an EU-brokered ceasefire agreement is hard to take seriously.

Once again, Europe seems unable to deal with a crisis in its own backyard.But this time, the US seems unable to deal with it either.

1 comment:

Tarik said...

It's all well and good to understand where Russia is coming from, but you can also understand that Russia is dangerous and needs to be stood up to.