By Dr. Abdul
The fragile nature of Russo-Western relations has further strained following the Russo-Georgian brief war. After some relative calm between Russia and Western powers, the world woke up on August 08 when Russia clashed with Georgia to release South Ossetia form the Georgian forces. The Georgia crisis has further complicated Russia-US relationship, sharpened divisions in Europe and created splits within NATO over the wisdom of granting membership to Russia’s neighbors Georgia and Ukraine.
Post Georgia Conflict
The recent crisis over Georgia’s breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia proved again that it is impossible or even disastrous to try to resolve the existing problems in the blindfolds of the unipolar world. Russia called for a new “solidarity” of the international community and a strengthened United Nations, saying only in the post-Cold War world can the organization “fully realize its potential” as a global center “for open and frank debate and coordination of the world policies on a just and equitable basis free from double standards.”
Russian position is clear: it says it has a moral duty to defend the regions against what it called “genocide” by Georgia’s military. Russia seeks regime change in Tbilisi; maintain troops until the final settlement is reached on South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia’s elite cares mostly about serving private financial interests and maintaining power but the Georgian conflict might be seen as a “tipping point at which domestic propaganda is beginning to force action abroad.”
Russia intends to stay in Georgia until the issues are settled once for all. Moscow would not brook any challenge to its recognition of the unilateral declarations of independence of the two breakaway provinces. It would strengthen peace and stability and participants would reaffirm the non-use of force, peaceful settlement of disputes, sovereignty, territorial integrity and noninterference in another country’s affairs.
Georgia disputes this, claiming that the Russian side initiated the conflict and some western analysts have said Russia’s actions heighten the risk of Moscow attempting to exert more influence over other former Soviet territories, particularly Ukraine. West is talking about ‘unsentimental approach’ to deal with Russia. The USA and the European Union have backed Georgia, contending that the Russian response was disproportionate.
The USA has taken a stronger line towards Russia over the Georgia crisis than Europe has, but there is unlikely to be a transatlantic consensus on Russia until a new U.S. administration is formed next year. President George W. Bush has ordered the Pentagon to deliver aid to Georgia. U.S. presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama have both warned Russia of severe and long-term consequences from its conflict with Georgia.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates canceled two joint military exercises with Russia scheduled for this month. While dismissing the prospects for a military conflict, he warned Russia if it does not step back from what he called “its aggressive posture” in Georgia.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a former Soviet expert who has presided over a steady deterioration of relations with Russia, on Sept 18 spoke highly critical of Russia that the West must stand up to “bullying” by Moscow, which is becoming increasingly authoritarian and aggressive and Moscow had taken a “dark turn” that left its global standing worse than at any time since 1991. Rice has warned Russia’s integration into international institutions was at risk Rice said the door remained open for Georgia and Ukraine to eventually join the NATO alliance.
Russia and EU
EU has been less critical of Moscow’s actions than the USA. It was EU and French president who mediated between Russia and Georgia for a sort of understanding and settlement. The European Union, less inclined than USA to confront with Russia for ‘energy” and other economic reasons, has given the go-ahead for the start of talks with Russia on a new partnership agreement, following about 18 months of delays. The bloc’s foreign ministers approved a mandate for the talks at their meeting in Brussels.
While some EU member states accuse Russia of deliberately provoking the war, others believe both Russia and Georgia shared the blame. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that the meeting would decide “whether or not and how” the EU continued negotiations for a new partnership agreement with Moscow spanning areas such as trade, human rights and energy policy. Many members of the EU feel the EU should keep developing strong ties with Russia despite “serious questions” about its commitment to democracy, says a committee of peers.
The start of talks on a strategic partnership pact between Russia and the EU has been blocked for two years because of political disputes between EU member states and their neighbor. They say if Russia falls short of the standards it has accepted under the Council of Europe and the OSCE in the area of democracy and human rights, criticism by the EU might at times be necessary. The new partnership agreement would cover political and economic ties, including energy and trade. The breakthrough came after objections were dropped by former communist members of the EU, including Lithuania. Lithuania was the last member state blocking the talks, but gave way after being assured that its grievances over Russian energy supplies and tensions between Russia and Georgia would be addressed. Poland had previously blocked the talks, demanding that Russia lift an embargo on its meat exports. The EU hopes formally to launch the talks at an EU-Russia summit in Siberia next month.
European Commission said the crisis had dashed hopes of a fresh start between Europe and new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who took over in May from Vladimir Putin, now prime minister. Although trade between Russia and EU states has boomed in recent years, the political relationship has become increasingly strained. The talks are likely to address issues such as security of energy supplies and human rights. It would be “very difficult” for the EU to agree on any kind of sanction against Russia. It’s clear that Putin, not Medvedev, is in charge. EU foreign ministers discussed that in more depth at their informal retreat in Avignon, France, on Sept 5-6. Among the issues discussed are whether to continue with visa liberalization talks with Russia, but failed to do so.
Britain, a close U.S. ally, has had its own difficulties with Russia over the murder of dissident ex-KGB agent Andrei Litvinenko in London and the treatment of British oil major BP in a joint venture with Russian business tycoons. British relations with Moscow have also soured over rows about the British Council and Russia’s refusal to allow the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi as a suspect in the murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. In its report, the House of Lords European Union Committee acknowledged serious questions remain about the commitment of the Russian authorities to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, “especially in politically sensitive cases.” It added that it was important the EU “stands shoulder to shoulder” with its member states when they come into conflict with Russia on international issues.
Economic Control (WTO)
Moscow also wants to join the World Trade Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The West could try to hurt Moscow by barring it from the Group of Eight club of big economies.
One of the major irritants in Moscow’s realtions with the West has been the WTO. The working group on Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization will consider an updated version of the country’s proposal at the next round of talks in November, it includes 20 undecided questions, which are “primarily of a technical nature,” said Maxim Medvedkov, who leads the country’s negotiations on entering the WTO.The comments came after he told Izvestia that Russia “won’t die” without membership if Western pressure keeps it out for now. Medvedkov added that other countries wouldn’t “get what they want” by excluding Russia, the biggest economy outside the WTO.
West uses its various economic and financial institutions as a control chip to indirectly threaten Mosccow over conflict it has with pro-US nations in the former Soviet space. German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week signaled that NATO membership was still open to Georgia, while at the same time her foreign minister stressed important Western institutions must remain open to Russia. The European Union’s newest members have so far shown more solidarity with Georgia’s leadership than many of the bloc’s older members. A very pro-Russia, Russophile coalition inside the European Union places good business relations above European values of human rights, democracy, and so forth.
Many in German-Russian-Dutch joint venture working to bring Russian natural gas to Western markets cite a mutual dependency of Europe needing Russian gas and Russia needing European markets. Rice said Russia’s behaviour threatened its participation in a number of global diplomatic, economic and security bodies, including the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations, and jeopardized Moscow’s bid to join the World Trade Organization and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.
West Alliance (NATO) foreign ministers met to discuss a U.S. call to review relations with Russia. In one camp, the USA, the Baltic States and somewhat less vehement Poland and the Czech Republic have attacked Russian “aggression” and voiced alarm at Moscow’s claim of a duty to intervene on foreign soil to defend Russian citizens after handing them Russian passports. On the other side, France and Germany, which opposed granting Ukraine and Georgia a roadmap to NATO membership in April, have opposed any overt condemnation of Russia.
USA denies Russian entry into NATO with veto status. Splits within the European Union over who is to blame for Russia’s conflict with Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia make it virtually impossible to envisage the 27-nation bloc taking steps to punish Russia. In NATO too, the crisis has not fundamentally changed any minds either about how to deal with Russia or whether Georgia and Ukraine should be admitted to the alliance. The war if anything has divided the European Union’s member states.
Declaring that Europe’s security architecture “did not pass the strength test” in Georgia, Russia seeks a treaty on European security. President Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal in June for a new Treaty that would promote “an integrated and manageable development across the vast Euro-Atlantic region and work on the new treaty could be started at a pan-European summit and including governments as well as organizations working in the region. Russia wants something like “Helsinki-2”, or a follow-up to the 1975 Helsinki Treaty between all European nations, together with the U.S. and Canada, which evolved into the present-day Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the largest conflict-prevention and security organization on the continent. Despite a “difficult phase” in the relationship, both sides are bound by “an inescapable common interest”.
An Observation: Relations remain Strained
Policies of USA and Russia towards each other have remained stably hostile and this keeps reflected on their relations negatively affecting international scenario. Premier Putin has lambasted USA for the current economic and financial crisis. New president Dmitry Medvedev has said he would pursue Putin policy. It seems after years of perceived slights, Russia’s foreign policy has in recent years seemed to be based on thwarting the West. Obstructionism seems to be a priority even when Moscow shares Western goals, such as avoiding an Iranian nuclear capacity.
The anti-Islamic “terrorism” plank initiated by the US-led West and followed by others in the East, like India, could not bring about a steady relationship between Russia and USA and its European terror partners. The Kremlin’s relations with many Western states had grown fraught long before Russian military actions in Georgia this month triggered some of the sharpest rhetorical exchanges since the end of the Cold War. New energy and security alignments in the Caucasus and Central Asia have revived talk of a “Great Game” between Russia and the West in the region, while Georgian stand off still badly hit the ties.
Although the West considers Russia as a hurdle, problem and risk for them, they know the importance of Moscow on internatianal arena. Engagement of Russia by US-led West is asolutely necessary in resolving any international crisis. The facts are that the United States has to work with Russia on Iran, on nuclear problems of proliferation, on a whole raft of trade issues. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says there is not a single critical problem in world politics or the global economy that could be solved without Russia—not the nuclear conflict with Iran, the North Korea question and certainly not bringing peace to the Middle East.
True, Russia has already been on the negotiating and fighting courses with US-led West on a number of issues and the resultant tensions have been mounting steadily since Putin became Russian president in 2000. After initial flirtations, immediately after the Sept 11 event, the bilateral and multilateral ties have been strained badly. The Georgian war has once again exposed the fragile nature of Russia’s relations with the West.
*Edited at ABC – A Blog on Current Affairs