Zero Hour Approaches
Russia has signed treaty by which it has promised unambiguously to remove every last Russian soldier from Georgian territory outside the formal borders of Ossetia and Abkhazia that it has recognized by October 10th, less than two weeks from now.
The United States has threatened Russia in the most blunt manner possible that the NATO allies will not tolerate any deviation by Russia from this promise. The highest-ranking U.S. diplomat on Russia, Daniel Fried, has stated:
If the Russians have not complied by October 10 there would be a very strong reaction. The problem with Russia’s invasion of Georgia is that it is not just a little hiccup or bump in the road. It is a major problem because Russia has tried to change international borders by force and that is quite a sobering thought. Russia is going to have to choose how far outside the international community it wants to place itself. There was a strong sense the Russia challenge had to be met and that no country in Europe should be left alone and isolated in dealing with Russia. Let’s be very careful that we don’t suddenly find ourselves slipping into a position of de facto recognizing what Russia has done.
Zero hour approaches.
Five days after it withdraws its troops from Georgia proper, Russia must appear in Geneva Switzerland to face interrogation by the world community over the 7,500 troops it insists on leaving in Ossetia and Abkhazia, twice as many as were there before the crisis began. The civilized world insists that Russia return to the status quo ante of late July, before the military crisis developed. If Russia cannot satisfy the world that its actions in seizing Ossetia and Abkhazia are legitimate, it will face permanent international pariah status similar to that faced by Iran.
But maybe that’s what Russia wants. It shows no signs of even considering the possiblity that it might be wrong on Georgia, and instead is actually escalating the confrontation with the West by, among other things, loaning Hugo Chavez $1 billion to buy weapons, sending nuclear bombers and ships in the Caribbean and announcing a plan to embark upon development of a “Star Wars” spaced-based weapons system. Does Russia really think that NATO will then simply back down and give Russia what it wants, terrified of Russian power?
We in the West find it difficult to imagine how such a thing could be possible, but we forget two key facts about Russia.
First, Russians are more than capable of acting irrationally. The USSR embarked upon a suicidal arms race with the U.S., not only when it was obvious it could not win but when it was equally clear that brutal suffering would be imposed upon the people of a the country as a result. Who can explain in rational terms why Soviet dictator Nikita Khruschev would take off his shoe and pound it on the table at the UN, and meet no censure for this action at home? Who can rationalize the election by the Russian people of a cadre of proud KGB spies to rule them so soon after the KGB destroyed the USSR?
Second, Russians lack the basic flow of information and self-criticism necessary to make good decisions even when they are inclined to act rationally. Just as in Soviet times, Russians have cut themselves off from both foreign information and domestic dissent, leaving them very much like the infamous Emperior with his “new clothes,” standing naked before the world.
Russia has made it perfectly plain that the only language it understands is the verbiage of blunt trauma. Only when presented with overwhelming physical force combined with steely resolution of purpose will Russia back down — but in that event it will back down each and every time, as it balked at moving into Tbilisi and removing the hated Saakashvili from power, as the Kremlin undoubtedly originally planned to do, when surprised by speedy intercession by the NATO allies.
Let’s be clear: We have the ability to inflict that trauma, without breaking a sweat. Russia is an impoverished nation, and the little money it does have comes from just one source: American demand for oil. Russia cannot survive a protracted economic cold war any better than the USSR did, and its military is hollow charade compared to the overwhelming power of NATO.
Russia must remove all its forces from the territory of Georgia proper according to its written promise, or it must suffer dire retaliatory consequences that the Russian people themselves will feel. It must then negotiate the fate of Ossetia and Abhazia in good faith, and if it refuses to recognize international boundaries that all civilized nations of the world acknowledge, it will then consign itself to status of international pariah, relegated to being dismissed as lightly as places like Iran and Venezuela and excluded from the conferences of the great nations of the world.
There is no alternative. As Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said recently:
I think there is a profound ideological difference between the European Union and the Russian Federation. Russia, through its deeds, has shown that it lives in a different century. Russia has thrown us an ideological challenge. Any further attempt to redraw borders in Europe by force or by subversion will be regarded by Poland as an existential threat to our security and should entail a proportional response by the whole Atlantic community. We need to make NATO’s traditional security guarantees credible again. NATO needs to recover its role, not just as an alliance but as a military organisation.
Poland’s president, for his part, has clearly stated that Russia intended to topple the democratically elected president of Georgia when it invaded last month. All of Russia’s former slave states in Eastern Europe, having had their minds concentrated by the Georgai atrocity, are of one mind on this question. From Ukraine to Latvia, they speak with one voice in calling for the West to rally against Russian aggression. Russia stands alone, and NATO is at war, whether it knows it or not. The Eastern Europeans, our canary in the mineshaft, have sent out the clarion call.
NATO must respond. That is what is it there for.
Even Barack Obama seems to understand that. At last week’s presidential debate, he stated:
I think that, given what’s happened over the last several weeks and months, our entire Russian approach has to be evaluated, because a resurgent and very aggressive Russia is a threat to the peace and stability of the region. Their actions in Georgia were unacceptable. They were unwarranted. And at this point, it is absolutely critical for the next president to make clear that we have to follow through on our six-party — or the six-point cease-fire. They have to remove themselves from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It is absolutely important that we have a unified alliance and that we explain to the Russians that you cannot be a 21st-century superpower, or power, and act like a 20th-century dictatorship. And we also have to affirm all the fledgling democracies in that region, you know, the Estonians, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, the Poles, the Czechs, that we are, in fact, going to be supportive and in solidarity with them in their efforts. They are members of NATO. And to countries like Georgia and the Ukraine, I think we have to insist that they are free to join NATO if they meet the requirements, and they should have a membership action plan immediately to start bringing them in.
Russia’s abhorrent actions have reverberrated across the world and echo now even in the minds of those who heretofore, like Obama, did not have the slightest interest in the country. Only now that Russian tanks have moved into action does the world see that the warnings this blog has been sounding for three years now were serious.
But talk is cheap, and the time for talk is past. Now is the time for action.