Georgia on Our Mind

September 16, 2008 Topic: Security Region: South CaucasusEurasia Tags: Enlargement Of NATOCommunism

Georgia on Our Mind

It’s not over yet—the Georgian conflict has pressing consequences for energy security, NATO and the European Union.


Whether provoked or entrapped, President Saakashvili's folly cost the United States $1 billion and counting. But that is only money. He has changed the world in ways neither he nor the West ever dreamed. If any compensation is found to tame Putin's Russia, it will not likely be by the actions of Western governments, but by capital fleeing from Russia and the price of energy continuing its precipitous decline. The Bush administration is a spent force with little credibility. Only a new administration might pursue a policy that has coherence, purpose, and international support. A number of issues emanating from the Georgian conflict will face the next president, including energy policy in Central Asia and power politics in NATO.

Following the conflict in the Caucuses, the energy equation of the region has radically changed. In Georgia, even if Saakashvili survives-that appears to be in doubt and will require huge Western help-he will face unremitting enmity from Moscow. Moscow was previously too weak to prevent the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline-the East-West energy corridor-to be built. But the notion that investors will put billions of dollars into a new pipeline for gas from Central Asia through the Caucasus before Georgia's relations with Russia are restored defies the imagination.


In any event, gas from Turkmenistan and other Central Asian countries is unlikely to be transmitted through Georgia on its way west. Georgia may be too bitter a lesson for these states. Pressure from Moscow makes it more likely that gas will continue to go through Russia onto the West or to Turkey.

In addition to this shifting energy landscape, NATO has suffered a serious setback: Expansion of the alliance has reached a dangerous fork. Giving membership prospects to Georgia and Ukraine later this year is more likely to endanger, not strengthen them. The two countries would be under constant pressure from Russia, damaging or destroying Ukraine's unity and Georgia's stability. Besides, it is unlikely that consensus could be achieved on the membership issue. Turkey, for example, has few illusions about Putin's Russia. But the Georgian war has cast doubt on Turkey's full cooperation with the United States on Russian issues and NATO expansion. Turkey does not like Russia's egregious intervention in the Caucasus, but is not particularly sympathetic to Shaakashvili's Georgia either. Increasingly, the Turks are skeptical of American foreign policy management, and are not interested in getting into a hassle with Russia. Russia is Turkey's leading trade partner and the supplier of the vast bulk of its imported energy (some $50 billion this year). The United States has expressed displeasure with Turkey's choice of energy suppliers-Iran and Russia-but has yet to tell Ankara how they realistically propose to make up for them. Turkey can make money whether energy comes through Georgia or Russia. The Turks remain committed to NATO, but the Russian relationship is a matter of realism for Ankara-not an alliance matter-unless the Russians were to attack a NATO member. Most likely, Turkey, along with several others, will seek to postpone any potential membership offer to Georgia and Ukraine.

Another international institution, the European Union, has also been impacted by the Georgian conflict. Although the EU is under attack in many quarters in the United States and Europe for its pusillanimous reaction to Russia's brazen behavior in Georgia, it has the real ability to do something important for Ukraine and Georgia-namely beginning a serious process to admit these countries to the EU. One must be skeptical that the EU is actually prepared to do that. The EU also has the practical ability to do something about Russian behavior. Whether they will seriously try to or not remains to be seen. The Russians have skillfully created tensions between the "old" Europe and the "new" one.

As for America, the Bush administration will continue to pay for Saakashvili's battle with the Russians and give Georgia strong moral support. But with a financial system in disaster, the administration's writ on controversial matters during their last months in office does not extend far.

Although the next president will have many foreign-policy challenges, cleaning up after the Georgian war needs early attention. Most importantly, the United States and its allies must create an effective Russian policy. They have to sort out their relations with an angry and internationally disruptive Russia, while ensuring Russian cooperation on pressing issues, such as stopping Iran's nuclear weapons program and energy security. Slogans and fulminations won't do the trick.


Morton Abramowitz is a former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and senior fellow at The Century Foundation.