14 August 2008

Is Saakashvili Russia's Milosevic?

(From RealClearWorld)

Is Russia's intervention in Georgia a police action, a la what NATO did in 1999, when it bombed Slobodan Milosevic into submission? That's one way to look at it.

During a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Director of Eurasia Group Cliff Kupchan presented just such a view.

"It may be that (Russia's) goal is to depose (Mikheil) Saakashvili," Kupchan said. "In their view, it's very similar to NATO's action in Kosovo: Lots of bombing, some boots on the ground, taking away some territories and eventually getting the president deposed.

"They may not get a pro-Russian government in Georgia, but maybe one that's more tolerable."

Whatever the case may be, Russia's relationship with the West is already damaged, but maybe not as severely as some might think.

"I see the U.S. cutting back on a lot of bilateral meetings and agenda," Kupchan added. "But I don't think it'll go bare-knuckle, like trying to revoke Russia's membership in the G-8 or their effort to join the WTO."

There will be more pricey consequences, however, for Georgia and other former Eastern Bloc countries vying for membership in NATO.

Besides Georgia, which failed in its bid to join the security alliance earlier this year, the events probably will have the most profound effect on Ukraine -- the largest and most pro-Western former Soviet republic. Like Georgia, Ukraine was turned down for a membership in April but was tacitly promised that it would be reconsidered.

That's much less likely to happen now.

"This event highlights the problems Ukraine has in joining NATO," said Ana Jelenkovic of the Eurasia Group, a global political risk consultancy based in New York. "Besides the strong Russian opposition, it's even more unlikely for Ukraine to join NATO now because there is just no support for it from a large part of Ukraine's population."

This issue will continue to drive a wedge between the founding (i.e. western) members and the newer members that used to live under the Russian jackboots. Georgia and Ukraine's bids failed primarily because of strong French and German opposition, despite support from the U.S. and other eastern European countries.

That's not going to change anytime soon, especially considering western Europe's growing dependence on Russian oil and natural gas. For instance, Germany now imports more than 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia.

As for Georgia, not only is its NATO dream dead, it had better be on its best behavior. Despite the U.S. pledge to fly massive humanitarian aid to Tbilisi and strong rhetoric in its defense, there is no question the Bush Administration is furious -- at Georgia -- over the skirmish. Especially after Secretary of State Condolezza Rice's recent warning to Saakashvili not to provoke Russia.

"The U.S. is sending the C-17, a very large plane and a symbolic action," Kupchan said. "But there will be fallout in the U.S.-Georgia relationship. The U.S. is standing by him for now, though some acrimony will come out later.

"Russia has just taken a massive step into realpolitik. This is a shot across bow into the entire region."

And whatever the Kremlin's designs are, the opportunity wouldn't have been there without Saakashvili's intemperance. Whether Russia intends to make him the 2000s version of Milosevic, that remains to be seen.

No comments: