Monday, August 11, 2008

Russian Intentions Clarify

Any pretense that Russia was only defending the break away region of South Ossetia is now gone. Russia has bombed the Georgian capital and ground troops have crossed the border with Georgia and are now pushing towards the central Georgian city of Gori. This has vast implications far beyond the borders of Georgia.

The NYT is reporting that Russia has expanded the war beyond the borders of South Ossetia despite a Georgian withdraw from the region and diplomatic overtures to end their offensive:

Russia, emboldened by windfall profits from oil exports, is showing a resolve to reassert its dominance in a region it has always considered its “near abroad.”

The military action, which has involved air, naval and missile attacks, is the largest engagement by Russian forces outside its borders since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia escalated its assault on Sunday despite strong diplomatic warnings from Mr. Bush and European leaders, underscoring the limits of Western influence over Russia at a time when the rest of Europe depends heavily on Russia for natural gas and the United States needs Moscow’s cooperation if it hopes to curtail what it believes is a nuclear weapons threat from Iran. . . .

CNN is reporting that U.S. Ambasador to the UN Khalilzad "told the Security Council that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili 'must go.'"

Russia's motives and the import to the West of its actions are analyzed by Chatham's House James Sherr in the Telegraph:

. . . Russia's brutal demonstration of power in South Ossetia, a breakaway region of its southern neighbour Georgia, marks the latest – and most alarming – sign of the Kremlin's determination to reclaim control over former Soviet states.

These former satellites have now been left in no doubt that Russia must be regarded as "glavniy", or number one, if they wish to avoid the fate of Georgia. Central to Vladimir Putin's nationalistic policy is a conviction that the power of the West – seemingly unassailable at the end of the Cold War – is on the wane. The current crisis demonstrates that the Cold War has not been replaced by common values between East and West, but by the revival of hard Realpolitik.

. . . The aim of Russia's policy, succinctly expressed in 1992, is to "be leader of stability and security on the entire territory of the former USSR". What has changed in recent years is not the aim – endlessly reiterated in 16 years of presidential declarations, "foreign policy concepts" and military doctrines – but the "correlation of forces". As Yeltsin declared to Russia's intelligence services in 1994, "global ideological confrontation has been replaced by a struggle for spheres of interest in geopolitics". Back then, Russia had little to struggle with. Today, that is no longer the case.

If Western interests are not to be irreparably damaged, we will need to understand that they are being tested on three overlapping levels: local, regional and global. Georgia is not just a square on a chessboard, but a country that is extremely important in its own right. For two reasons, the West cannot be indifferent to what happens there. First, despite the uncultivated instincts of its president, Georgia's political culture is fundamentally democratic, its people (80 per cent of whom support Nato membership) profoundly pro-Western, and its sense of national identity almost indestructible. Georgia can be defeated by Russia, but it can no longer submit to it, and therefore war between Georgia and Russia would be a frightening prospect even if no wider interests existed. Second, the only energy pipeline in the former USSR independent of Russian control passes through Georgia. There will be no meaningful energy security, let alone diversification of energy supplies, if these pipelines become vulnerable to sabotage, like those in Iraq, or to takeover by shadow businesses fronting for Russian interests.

But Georgia is equally important to Russia. Russia has only controlled the nationalities of the north Caucasus when it has dominated the south Caucasus. Despite the so-called "normalisation" in Chechnya, the north Caucasus remains, to Russia's leaders, the Achilles heel of the Russian Federation and, after the slaughter of schoolchildren in Beslan in 2004, a subject of nightmares for Russia's people. Russia's determination to hold sway in South Ossetia and Abkhazia must be seen in this light. But it also serves another purpose: as a means to deny Georgia admission to Nato. In their own right, these territories mean far less to Russia than they do to Georgia. So long as this is the case, Georgia risks finding itself hostage to Russian intentions, and so for that matter do the OSCE and Nato. And so Russia would like everyone to think.

"Everyone" includes Ukraine, whose government, like Georgia's, aspires to Nato membership. Unlike Georgia, Ukraine has no territorial conflicts, but it has a potential territorial dispute, Crimea. What is more, Russia's Black Sea Fleet – and along with it, its intelligence services – is authorised to remain there until 2017. In 1997, Ukraine's sovereignty over Crimea was recognised by a treaty signed by Presidents Yeltsin and Kuchma. Yet after Nato's summit in Bucharest last April, President Putin let it be known that Crimea and other questions long regarded as settled could be reopened if Ukraine ceased to be a "friendly" (ie, non-Nato) state. After the events of last week, Ukraine is even more concerned about Russia's wish to destabilise it.

Russia's regional objectives are therefore straightforward. It aims to show its neighbours, by means of the Georgian example, that Russia is "glavniy": that its contentment is the key to "stability and security", and that if Russia expresses its discontent, Nato will be unwilling and unable to help. It aims to show Nato that its newest aspirant members are divided, divisible and, in the case of Georgia, reckless. It aims to show both sets of actors that Russia has (in Putin's words) "earned a right to be self-interested" and that in its own "zone", it will defend these interests irrespective of what others think about them. For Russia, the broader implications are also becoming straightforward. To its political establishment, to the heads of Gazprom and Rosneft, to its armed forces and security services and to their advisors and "ideologists", the key point is that the era of Western dominance is over.

Far from rejecting "globalisation", as Westerners might suppose, their view, in Foreign Minister Lavrov's words, is that the West is "losing its monopoly over the globalisation process". The Beijing Olympics are reminder enough that the cresting of what Russians call Western "democratic messianism" and the rise of "sovereign democracies" is not purely a Russia-driven process. But the West needs to know that Russia is determined to play a significant part in that process and that it is now able to do so.

The West will not have adequate responses to these events until it draws adequate conclusions. The first is that the era of democratic "coloured revolutions" is over. A few years ago, the Kremlin rightly feared that Georgia's Rose Revolution and Ukraine's Orange Revolution might destabilise the political elite in Russia itself. Today, the issue is whether these countries will be able to achieve their minimal objectives. Given today's harsh "correlation of forces", the issue for Tblisi is not whether it is right to use force against separatists but whether it is wise. The issue for Kiev is not whether its prime minister threatens its president but whether their divisions threaten the independence of the country. The issue for Nato and the EU is whether their "currency of influence" buys "stability and security" in this region and, if not, whether it is time to change it.

The second conclusion is that Nato must revisit the assumptions upon which its enlargement policy has been based. Contrary to the view that Nato remains a Cold War institution, the fact is that it has evolved too much. It moved east on the new-age assumption that Russia would adjust and gradually join us in addressing "common" (and distinctly soft) security problems rather than decide to pose a distinct set of hard and soft security problems itself. We now find ourselves confronting a zone of Realpolitik in partner countries, and some unnerving active measures in new member states Рand virtually no one is prepared for it. Until recently, Nato was proud that it had no policy, let alone vision, for resolving the region's territorial conflicts beyond clich̩: "autonomy", "respect for territorial integrity", "negotiation" "non-use of force". Until there is a policy, there cannot be a favourable outcome.

The third conclusion is that Russia is exasperated with the West and also contemptuous of it. In the Georgian conflict, as in the more subtle variants of energy diplomacy, Russians have shown a harshly utilitarian asperity in connecting means and ends. In exchange, we appear to present an unfocused commitment to values and process. Our democracy agenda has earned the resentment not only of Russia's elite but of the ordinary people who are delighted to see Georgia being taught a lesson. Our divisions arouse derision. Russians have no worries about the emergence of a unified EU energy policy, and they are losing their worries about a unified commitment to Nato enlargement. The war in South Ossetia, and the movement of conflict beyond it, should be a reminder that contempt has consequences.

The final conclusion is the need to focus on what is at stake. Is our relationship with Russia the most important issue? If so, what happens to that relationship if we demonstrate that brutality works and that "zones of interest" can be formed against the interests of the countries that reside in them? What happens to our wider scheme of interests in Central and Eastern Europe and the Black Sea and Caspian regions? Today, those questions are now being asked. But it is late to be asking them.

Read the entire article. (H/T BrugesGoup Blog)


MK said...

i wonder when the left will be gathering in numbers outside Russian consulates with caricatures of evil Putin and marching day in and day out against Russia’s illegal war.

After all if it’s good enough for Iraq, where they opposed the liberation from a real tyrant why not Georgia from the Russian tyrants. From what i’ve read Russia isn’t bringing democracy, schools and hospitals to Ossetia like America did in Iraq. Perhaps that, along with the ousting of an actual tyrant, is what grated the most with the left.

Joanne said...

We are going to wish someone put a bullet in that man's head when there was the chance.

Joanne said...

"Is our relationship with Russia the most important issue?"

What relationship? Unless the world is filled with morons, which of course, it has its fair share, there has only been a facade of a relationship. Russia supplies and supports the enemies of America and Europe, so who is kidding who?

When John McCain sees Putin, what does he see? KGB!!! No one is fooling anyone here.