Shanghaied by Moscow
So far, Russia's gamble that its policy toward Georgia would not result in significant, major repercussions appears to have paid off.
The biggest hurdle that Russia had to overcome was whether its friends and partners in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization would take a stand against Moscow's actions. This was especially critical, in my view, because at the Yekaterinburg summit earlier this year, Russia had put together a coalition of India, Brazil and China to oppose independence for Kosovo. The end of summer meeting of the SCO, in the final analysis, gave Moscow a pass for its behavior, with the overriding impression that countries that have chosen to make themselves U.S. "satellites" are not immune from the precedent America set down for Kosovo. Certainly, no SCO member or observer refrained from attending the summit to protest America's actions. Nor is there any indication that Brazil, India or China is planning to cancel the meeting of BRIC ambassadors in New York this month.
What else? Since the United States was planning to move ahead with deploying missile defense assets in central-eastern Europe over Moscow's objections, it is not as if Washington would be prepared to offer any sort of trade or deal on this matter to get Russia to reverse its course in the Caucasus. Nor, despite all the talk about sanctions, have any major U.S. companies decided to pull out of the booming Russian market.
The biggest loser in this process is the European Union, which decided all it could do was condemn the Russian actions and decided to suspend talks on the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. The "carrot" of the partnership pact had already been significantly weakened when it was held up over the Polish-Russian dispute over meat imports, conveying the signal that if an agreement with the EU could be held up by a molehill, then introducing a mountain was no big deal. On top of that, it is abundantly clear that the major powers of Europe do not conduct their bilateral relations based on directives from Brussels. I had argued, earlier this year, that the EU's decision to allow individual member states to chose to recognize or not recognize the independence of Kosovo was a "silver lining" for the Kremlin, because it reinforced the notion that if the EU could not agree as "the 27" to any common policy, each individual state could do what it wanted.
Georgia may discover that the world can live with two self-proclaimed new republics on its territory backed by the support of an interventionist neighbor. After all, Cyprus has had Turkish military forces on its soil since 1974, and a self-proclaimed "Turkish Republic of North Cyprus" since 1983. No matter that there are UN Security Council resolutions calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces and for Cyprus' territorial integrity to be respected. NATO has never conditioned Turkish membership in the alliance on its withdrawal from the island; on the other hand, the EU did not allow the fact that the island is de facto partitioned to affect its decision to bring Cyprus into the EU.
In spring 2006, Tim Potier wrote in The National Interest, "America can do little to alleviate the hostility of the Abkhaz and Ossetian people towards a return to Tbilisi's rule. Moreover, there may be nothing that Washington can offer Moscow in return for its full cooperation with the reunification of Georgia. Consequently, Washington may seek to trade the independence of those areas for the removal of Russian forces and Georgia's eventual entry into NATO." No one is going to admit this openly, certainly not in Washington, where the watchwords are rolling back Russia or restoring Georgia's territorial integrity-but given the lackluster response so far, is this where we are headed after 2009?
Nikolas K. Gvosdev is a senior editor at The National Interest.