Western Elite Divided Over Georgia

The positions of the US and the EU countries on Georgia appear identical but actually stem from different motivations. For the US, admitting Georgia to NATO opens an opportunity to gain another foothold which the global superpower needs in the process of spreading its influence eastwards. Washington's desire to see Georgia urgently integrated into NATO’s military and political infrastructures is widely believed to be due to the plan to use it as a base for the US and Israeli attack against Iran. Georgia's formal NATO membership would ensure permanent US control over its territory.

To qualify for admission to NATO, candidates are required to be free of unsettled territorial disputes with other countries. Russia's recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia has put an insuperable obstacle in the way of Georgian NATO aspirations. As long as NATO continues to espouse the territorial integrity of Georgia within the borders inherited from Soviet era, it cannot join NATO unless the charter of the alliance is changed. In case Washington's push for Georgia's admission outweighs formal considerations, the result will be the recognition of the fact that the existence of the two newly independent Republics and Georgia's territorial integrity are in fact unrelated. It is unlikely that any Georgian President – they are invariably vehement nationalists – is going to agree to such a price for NATO membership.

A while ago, French Foreign Minister B. Kouchner began to send warning signals over Moscow's potential activity in the Crimea. The positions of the West and the Western-patronized Ukrainian leadership in the region are even more vulnerable than those of Georgia in the case of South Ossetia. The majority of the population in the Crimea will definitely side with Russia in case a conflict erupts between the pro-Western official Kyiv and Russia. It is a serious question from whom NATO and the US would be protecting Ukraine under the circumstances, considering that the contours of the country would start to slide, the Ukrainian army in its eastern regions would be perceived as occupational by the local population, and in the Crimea the resistance to it would be practically all-embracing.

Washington and Brussels must be fully aware of the situation. By dealing a devastating blow to the army of a NATO candidate in the Caucasus, Moscow has indicated to the West with utmost clarity that it is not going to tolerate any further NATO expansion eastwards. This is the reason why the US and its Central European allies are trying to revamp the situation before it is too late.

B. Kouchner's references to alleged Russian plans to occupy the Crimea betray a lack of self-confidence among a part of the Western elite. On the one hand, “the old Europe” is wary of the strengthening of US satellite states in NATO and the EU – this is the explanation behind Europe’s cautious approach to admitting Ukraine and Georgia to NATO. On the other hand, the leaders of West European countries are afraid that gaining influence over Ukraine would boost Russia's economic and geopolitical potential and the situation in West Europe would be seriously affected as a result.

It is understood in the capitals of “the old Europe” that Russia's resolute response in the Caucasus has put an end to the epoch of NATO “broadening” in the form of absorbing new European countries tightly controlled by the US. From the standpoint of “the old Europe”, this is a positive development. Hence the widening gap between the major EU countries and the US concerning the membership of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO.

By the way, Saakashvili was never invited to the recent EU snap Summit because France, which currently presides over the EU, blocked the move for which Poland and the Baltic countries were actively pushing. B. Kouchner said the conflict should be defused, not fueled. French President N. Sarkozy emphasized that the conflict in Georgia was no reason to show muscle and its resolution was not in the hands of NATO. The statement by such a generally pro-US politician as N. Sarkozy is open to a variety of interpretations, one of them being that the European countries are increasingly concerned that arrangements in the Caucasus aligned with the US interests are causing damage to the economic security of the EU. Two factors will continue to determine the position of “the old Europe” on Georgia.

1. Europe's interests in the relations with Russia are not limited to the pan-Atlantic interests but include an independent purely European component;

2. There is a fear of Russia's growing economic might and a general lack of understanding as to what objectives it will be used to achieve.

The balance of the two factors will shape the positions of Germany, France, and other major West European countries when the decision on the Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Georgia and Ukraine will be made in December, 2008.

On the whole, Russia's resolute reaction in Georgia drastically reduced the probability of the MAP for Ukraine this year. The basic reason is that West European countries are not ready to embrace NATO expansion at the cost of a possibly “hot”, not cold war with Russia.

What conclusions should Moscow draw from the above?

1. It is important not to overreact in dealing with Europe in the Caucasian context. Efforts aimed at an irreversible settlement and the demands to prosecute those responsible for the aggression must be combined with a constructive dialog which Russia needs no less than its European counterparts do. Importantly, dialog must be sustained with every European country independently. The purpose is the isolation of pro-US regimes in Europe.

2. It probably makes sense to go on helping N. Sarkozy to carry out his peace-brokering mission while demanding an unbiased assessment of the activities of all parties to the conflict in the Caucasus.

3. The campaign of pressure on Saakashvili's regime must continue all the way to the logical completion and Russia should seek to take those who organized the aggression to account in court. From the information standpoint, the dictatorial, nationalistic, and fascist nature of the current regime in Georgia should be revealed to the global public opinion.

4. If the advent of new mediators in the Caucasus is inevitable, Russia should think with great scrutiny whom it can entrust with the mission – the EU as a whole, particular West European countries (France, Germany, etc.), the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the CIS, or particular CIS countries (for example, Kazakhstan has indicated being ready to take the role).

The price Moscow should request to be paid for its consent to a candidate for the mediation mission in the Caucasus is the candidate's readiness to recognize – in some form – the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

[Source: Strategic Culture Foundation, Moscow, 08Sep08]

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