Georgia: The West's Phantom Pains By Elena Ponomareva

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

New talks on the settlement of the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia opened in Moscow on September 8, exactly one month after the massacre perpetrated by Georgian President M. Saakashvili, whom former German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Joschka Fischer had described as “the irresponsible fool from the Tbilisi presidential palace”. As decided at the snap EU Summit a week ago, the EU was represented by French President N. Sarkozy, French Foreign Minister B. Kouchner, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. Russia was represented by Russian President D. Medvedev, Foreign Minister S. Lavrov, First Vice Prime Minister I. Shuvalov, and Aide to the President Sergey Prikhodko.

The agenda, though broadly known, reflected a surprisingly narrow-minded and biased thinking. The EU politicians with their unsophisticated vision seem unable even to identify – least to condemn – the actual aggressor. They cannot admit that the mad Tbilisi ruler who has sent Georgia’s NATO-sponsored army to South Ossetia and thus inflicted unprecedented disgrace on his country is in fact their creature.

The EU decision-makers are bound by their own past mistakes, incompetence, and – in many cases – by their deeply entrenched habit to follow Washington’s lead. As a result, the EU politicians suffer from what Russian President D. Medvedev has described as phantom pains as they keep trying to apply the Allen Dulles-era stereotypes to the present-day Russia. They have a hard time realizing that “the evil empire” (R. Reagan), “the outposts of tyranny” (C. Rice), and “the global outsiders” (D. Cheney) exist only in the imagination of downright Russophobes.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the Georgian genocide against Ossetians (the established facts of using cassette bombs, the testimonies of victims), neither during the talks nor at the closing media conference did the EU envoys in any form condemn it.

As the British Independent wrote shortly before the talks, Europe would have to accept that there is no way to make Russia withdraw its forces from South Ossetia, but perhaps it may still be possible to convince it to pull out of Georgia proper. This is the case despite all of the efforts made by D. Cheney, the puppeteer of the US politics, to mobilize the global public opinion to condemn Russia. He lambasted Moscow during his tour of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine, pledged support for Georgia’s NATO integration, and even promised a $1 bn aid package to restore Georgia’s devastated economy and infrastructure. In a programmatic speech on the relations between the West and Russia delivered on September 6, Cheney made a maximally tough-worded threat that Russia would become a “global outsider” in case it continues to steer its current foreign-politics course.

In my view, Cheney actually attempted to address the EU: he described Moscow’s moves as an insult to Europe, called for a harsh response by the West, and suggested to immediately get Georgia and Ukraine involved in the NATO Membership Action Plan.

Truly speaking, Europe has reacted with the due pragmatism: the EU is not going to fulfill the demands of “the Washington hawk”. As for Cheney’s statements, they are quite explainable. First, the Russian campaign in Georgia has transformed the geopolitical landscape in the Caucasus and limited the potential to export the region’s oil via routes bypassing Russia. Secondly, the decisive and, typically, rather theatrical, phase of the presidential race in the US is commencing, and Mr. Cheney is simply doing his job. Thirdly, Washington realizes that it has made serious mistakes and is trying to shift the blame onto the increasingly assertive Russia which it portrays as a monster. Fourthly, the protracted economic and moral crisis the US is enduring makes the Administration resort to extraordinary solutions proven during the Cold War. But let us return to the theme of the Moscow talks.

Compared to the US demands, those of the EU appeared relatively cautious but were presented in an uncompromising manner. Moscow has agreed to three conditions:

  • Five Russian checkpoints on the Poti-Senaki line must be removed within a week;
  • Russia’s complete withdrawal from the buffer zones to the positions held prior to the outbreak of the conflict must take place within a month from the signing of the agreements reached and within 10 days from the deployment of international mechanisms including the EU observers;
  • The mandate for the presence of over 200 EU observers (!) in Georgia must be confirmed no later than by October 1, 2008.

What was promised to Russia in return? The EU agreed to be the guarantor of Georgia’s not using force. French President Sarkozy assured that ‘the weapons would remain silent” and showed some letter signed by Saakashvili in which the Georgian President promised not to use force. The truth is, however, that it is absolutely impossible to trust Saakashvili – we have seen his treacherous character on many occasions. Moscow’s policy in the Caucasus cannot rest on such unreliable foundations. The EU “guarantees” are also quite dubious, as we have seen in Yugoslavia. There were even greater numbers of EU observers in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, but the result was the murder or expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Gypsies, and Macedonians. Wouldn’t it be right to assume that the Russian army is the actual guarantor of the security of Russian citizens? Russian Tsar Alexander III was right when he said that Russia has only two allies – its army and navy.

Though Moscow clearly made concessions to its negotiation partners and showed being cooperative, Sarkozy reiterated the condemnation of Russia’s recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia during the talks and the media conference. Notably, Russian President Medvedev remained firm, and his uncompromising stance regarding the independence of the two Republics commands respect and instills optimism concerning Russia’s future. In a reference to the independence, he said this is a reality that should be taken into account by Russia’s European partners.

At the moment nobody emerged as a clear winner from the recent conflict in the Caucasus.

Brussels did not dare to “punish” Russia and plans the architecture of Europe so as to cooperate with it rather than to antagonize it. At the same time, the EU reaction to Russia’s recognition of the independence of South Ossetia an Abkhazia was harsh. Europe brokered a deal by which Russian peacekeepers must leave Georgia and postponed the final decision on its future of the relations with Russia till the November Summit in Nice. The EU plans to cultivate its relations with Georgia much to the benefit of the latter. Still, the European observers who will see the situation in situ will inevitably discover evidence implicating Georgia, and this can yet affect the EU position

Alexander Rar, an expert very knowledgeable about the inner mechanisms of the European policy, is right to say that “eventually the EU will recognize – perhaps not quite openly – the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, just as it will recognize Taiwan, Palestine, and Northern Cyprus”. However this will only happen after the relief of the European phantom pains.

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