Russia’s aggression against Georgia and its recognition of its independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia demonstrates that the Kremlin has not reconciled itself to the new map of post-Soviet space, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said today.
“The president of Russia has said he was not afraid of a new Cold War. We do not want a new Cold War and he has a big responsibility not to start one … We need to raise the costs to Russia for disregarding its responsibility,” he said, speaking in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev.
The decision will deepen the divide between Russia and the west and threatens to rebound against the Kremlin. The news caused the Russian stock market to fall, with investors concerned that the country will face obstacles accessing international capital markets. “The loss of billions of dollars in paper value is confronting the Kremlin with a dimension to its geopolitical posturing that never existed during the cold war,” observers noted.
“The practical solution to an irreducible clash of cultures may be autonomy,” writes Ruth Wedgwood is a professor of international law and diplomacy at Johns Hopkins University. “But it does not include ripping strategic territory away from a democratic state.” Russia should be denied admittance to the World Trade Organization, suspended from the G8, and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi should be boycotted.
Furthermore, she suggests, “the billions of dollars in assets that belong to the Russian political plutocracy, including a reputed $40 billion hidden abroad by Putin himself, should be tracked down and made subject to international sanctions.”
Other analysts echo her sentiment that Russia’s plutocratic elite should be hit squarely in the wallet. “The oligarchy’s widespread corruption, disrespect for the rule of law and embrace of globalization make it a perfect target for Western ‘soft power’,” through subpoenas, indictments, asset forfeitures, judgments and travel restrictions impacting the business transactions of Putin’s associates.
“The EU should help forge a positive peace from a war which threatens the foundations of the European security order, and should actively engage with its Eastern neighborhood to resolve ‘frozen conflicts’ and avert new crises,” according to a report from the European Council on Foreign Relations, released for the 1 September emergency summit on EU-Russia relations.
The EU can “win the peace” by agreeing an international peacekeeping mandate in Georgia’s secessionist regions, and by leading post-conflict reconstruction efforts. The EU should reinforce its membership commitment to Ukraine and Moldova, and agree NATO Membership Action Plans for Georgia and Ukraine by December’s NATO summit.
But Bernard-Henri Lévy is scornful of European diplomacy efforts in the face of Russia’s indifference to international opinion and ‘extraordinarily brutal’ power in “casually destroying the military and civilian infrastructures of a young democracy“. He deplores the security clauses acknowledging the Russian army’s right to remain in Georgia as “as scandalous in principle as they are vague in their modalities of application.”
But US policy should bear some of the blame for the sequence of events leading up to the conflict, argues Charles Fairbanks, a Caucasus specialist at the Hudson Institute and former deputy assistant secretary in the State Department. A failure to confront president Mikheil Saakashvili over recent democratic regressions led “bellicose elements” in Tbilisi to draw the inference that U.S. warnings against war were similarly empty gestures. “The feebleness of our democracy promotion efforts bore poisoned geopolitical fruit, and we were surprised by that,” he argues.
To deny that Russia’s new imperialism is shaping events in the Caucasus is to ignore the public pronouncements of Russian leaders and a “decade of nationalist propaganda in the state-controlled media” that has contributed to a climate of chauvinist hysteria, writes Robert Horvath. He highlights the influence of Eurasianists like philosopher Aleksandr Dugin, for whom Russia is a unique Slavic-Turkic civilization and the antithesis of soft, decadent Europe. Eurasianism has become “a justification for the resurrection of an empire on the ruins of the Soviet Union and for a struggle to the death against the Atlantic democracies.”
Others are less convinced that Russia’s confidence and power are as robust as they seem. “A stable Russia would not have felt existentially threatened by its neighbors in tiny Georgia, nor by NATO,” writes Paul Berman. The conflict could precipitate a lurch towards conservative realpolitik in American foreign policy in a shift from the post-1989 consensus that the progress of democracy is in the U.S. interest. But, he fears, “a weakening of America’s commitment to democratic solidarity will also enfeeble Europe’s, and the echo effect will set in.”