Russia Must be Stopped in Georgia

Writing in the New York Times Denis Corboy, director of the Caucasus Policy Institute at Kings College London and former European Commission ambassador to Georgia, William Courtney, former U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia and Kenneth Yalowitz, director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College and a former U.S. ambassador to Belarus and Georgia, call upon the West to finally stand up to Russian aggression in Georgia, before it is too late.

Reports of military mutinies and Russian plots in Georgia, while still unclear, have heightened tensions which were already building this spring. The U.S. should lead preventive diplomacy now, underscoring to Russia the high costs of intervention in Georgia while seeking to engage Moscow in a broad security dialogue.

The West’s stake in Georgia is high. The United States and the European Union have made support for the independence of former Soviet states a hallmark of their foreign policies. In January, Washington elevated Georgian independence to a “vital” interest.

Already before the latest developments, the E.U. mission monitoring the cease-fire between Russia and Georgia registered extra Russian forces at the boundary between Georgian-controlled territory and the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Reports of gunfire across the cease-fire lines have increased. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is undertaking a large exercise, including amphibious ships of the kind already on patrol off the Abkhazia coast.

The Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, has asked NATO to cancel a long-planned NATO “Partnership for Peace” exercise scheduled for this week in Georgia. And in Luxembourg recently, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, expressed misgivings about the E.U. Eastern Partnership, which he characterized as “meddling in the region.” After Presidents Obama and Medvedev met on April 1, a senior U.S. official said they had “real disagreements” about Georgia.

Russian leaders probably see a good deal of unfinished business in Georgia. President Mikheil Saakashvili is still in power. Georgia continues to seek membership in NATO and control over the export of Caspian oil and gas through Georgia still eludes Moscow.

Russian leaders might think the U.S. and its allies have higher priorities than Georgia, what with the economic crisis and NATO’s problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Moreover, Russian leaders think they got away with a slight price for the August war — a short delay in their dialogue with the E.U. and NATO and some capital flight. Moscow may also misjudge ongoing political demonstrations in Georgia as a sign of weakened national resolve.

In fact, bitterness about the occupation of Georgia’s territory is the most unifying factor in its politics. And the costs to Russia of intervention in Georgia would be high. With an economy in free fall, Russia would lose access to needed international capital. The West would impose financial, technology and political sanctions. Western participation in the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi would be unthinkable.

Russia might also overestimate its leverage with the West. It sees Europe as dependent on Russian energy, and the West needs Russia’s help help on Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan. Important as these interests are, an intervention in Georgia would create a political firestorm in the West with pressure for sanctions.

What is urgently required is exactly what did not happen prior to the August war — vigorous preventive diplomacy.

The U.S. must signal to Moscow that steps to take over Georgia, including any plotting to overthrow Saakashvili, would kill any “restart” of relations. At the NATO-Russia Council meeting scheduled for this month in Brussels, and at the Obama-Medvedev summit set for July in Moscow, U.S. and NATO leaders should make clear the likely costs of any aggression. At the same time, they should offer to engage Moscow in a broad security dialogue on regional security, NATO and the OSCE in which mutual interests and intentions could be clarified and potential disputes averted.

Preventive diplomacy with Georgia is also important. The U.S. and Europe should firmly warn Tbilisi against overreacting to Russian provocations. Last summer’s foolhardy actions caused Tbilisi to squander international support. The West should also intensify efforts to foster political dialogue between Saakashvili and the opposition. In the long term, the development of Georgia as a stable and prosperous democracy is its best guarantee of security.

A year ago, Russian-Georgian tensions resulted in war. The signs now are not yet clear. What we do know, however, is that Georgia is weak and a real risk exists that Russia could again overreach. America and Europe ought to do all they can to lessen the chances of a new tragedy.

10 responses to “Russia Must be Stopped in Georgia

  1. There is a real threat and I see very little done by US or EU… I think this is a mistake, we will pay a higher rice for this mistake in the future…

    • Statement by Senator McCain
      08.05.09 11:47

      U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today made the following statement on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding the Situation in the Republic of Georgia:

      `It has been just eight months since the world’s attention was riveted by Russia’s invasion of neighboring Georgia. In the midst of the fighting, the United States, the European Union, and the international community decried the violence and called on Russia to withdraw its troops from sovereign Georgian soil. There was talk of sanctions against Moscow, the Bush Administration withdrew its submission to Congress of a nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia, and NATO suspended meetings of the NATO-Russia Council.

      The outrage quickly subsided, however, and it seems that the events of last August have been all but forgotten in some quarters. A casual observer might guess that things have returned to normal in this part of the world, that the war in Georgia was a brief and tragic circumstance that has since been reversed.

      But in fact this is not the case. While the stories have faded from the headlines, Russia remains in violation of the terms of the ceasefire to which it agreed last year, and Russian troops continue to be stationed on sovereign Georgian territory. I’d like to spend a few moments addressing this issue, Mr. President. It bears remembering.

  2. CommieBastard

    HurHur da rushans r bad and dey r not liek us. I haet dem. 3=====D

  3. Algymuff, Mark Ames (who wrote that article) does not seem to have a good grasp of the current situation in Georgia.
    Lets just have a look at the facts.
    In Georgia there are several popular newspapers that are highly critical of the government (including Qviris Palitra (Week in Politics) and Kronica) and several of the TV stations too, including Mze (Sun), Caucasia TV, and Adjara TV.
    His comments about the “highly respected” Nino Burjanadze also show his lack of understanding.
    She left the government due to the Presidents refusal to give her husband a safe seat in parliament. She is widely derided by the public in Georgia as a “political whore”.
    As the current governments handling of the situation shows, Georgia is far from being a “tin pot 3rd world dictatorship” described by Ames.
    In such “tin-pot dictatorships” (such as Russia).

  4. What, you mean when the opposition tried to storm a police station to free some thugs who had beaten up a pro government journalist.

    Imagine what would have happened in Russia?
    Real bullets, and tanks to boot.

  5. You just can’t stand the fact that Russia won in Georgia while the US is losing in Iraq and “Af-Pak.”


    Won? Gosh, we thought Saakashvili was still in power and hosting NATO exercises. What did we miss?

    You just can’t stand seeing the truth about Russia in print.

  6. The Russians are no longer losing troops in Georgia, while US and allied troops are being killed everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is only one country that wants to rule the world and is thus provoking conflict everywhere and it ain’t Iran or Russia. Ask Pat Buchanan who it is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s