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Analysis & Opinion
29.08.08 Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel: Evaluating The Damage
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov

Contributors: Stephen Blank, Ethan Burger, James Jatras, Eugene Kolesnikov, Edward Lozansky

With the Russian military operation to rebuff Mikheil Saakashvili’s attack on South Ossetia essentially over, and with Russia and the West engaged in a rhetorical fistfight over the conflict’s aftermath, time has come to sort through the debris of the international system that has demonstrated its ineffectiveness to deal with quarrels involving major powers. What kind of lessons will major powers draw for shaping the international system in the aftermath of the crisis? Are international institutions still relevant? What international body will emerge as the primary beneficiary of the post-conflict international environment?

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has demonstrated its weaknesses by failing first to restrain Georgia and then to engineer an end to the hostilities. The United States blocked the UN Security Council action to censure Georgia a day before Saakashvili launched his attack on South Ossetia, while Russia had to block U.S. attempts to pass a resolution condemning Russia’s rebuff of Georgia.

The UNSC debate quickly degenerated into a shouting match between Russian and American ambassadors, something that has not occurred since the height of the Cold War. As of this writing, the UNSC has failed to act in any meaningful way on the crisis in Georgia. And with the United States-Russia international cooperation breaking down over Georgia, the UNSC is poised to be sidelined for quite some time.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), long dismissed as an irrelevant talk shop, has managed, surprisingly, to be of some help in diffusing the crisis. The OSCE’s acting Chairman, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stoob, demonstrated professionalism and integrity in evaluating the situation on the ground by going to Georgia, South Ossetia and Russia, and providing an objective judgment of Saakashvhili’s responsibility for starting the conflict. The OSCE, though unable to engineer a ceasefire, acted fast to send additional monitors to the conflict zone.

NATO proved to be divided and cantankerous, with the United States and Eastern Europe set to punish Russia and provide direct military aid to Georgia, while France, Italy, Germany and even Great Britain urged restraint and continued engagement with Russia on Afghanistan and Iran. If anything, NATO demonstrated its limited ability to deal with crises involving nuclear powers when core NATO security interests are not affected.

It is the European Union, thanks to the energy and skill of the French president, which has become the primary vehicle for putting an end to the fighting. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his intrepid Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner worked tirelessly and pragmatically to engineer a ceasefire agreement and to diminish the destructive influence of the United States, which Kouchner fittingly described as a side in the conflict. The EU did not allow itself to be dragged into a fruitless debate on blocking Russia’s entry into the WTO or expelling Russia from the G8.
The CIS has gone “absent without official leave” on the crisis, and no former Soviet state, except Ukraine, has risked making statements in favor of either side. Even Belarus, a member of the Union State with Russia, has gone wobbly on Georgia and was preoccupied with releasing political prisoners to please Washington. The CIS appears to be one of the casualties of the conflict.

International law also appears to have suffered, as the United States applied double standards by treating the issue of Georgia’s territorial integrity and South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s right to self-determination differently from Western recognition of Kosovo’s independence and partition of Serbia, a case that could hardly be argued convincingly.
Russia’s case for intervening militarily on humanitarian grounds to compel Georgia to stop killing South Ossetian civilians has largely been ignored by the West.

Where does this leave us in terms of the viability of the existing international institutions and international law to handle situations like the one in Georgia? What kind of lessons will be drawn by major powers for shaping the international system in the aftermath of the crisis? Will it lead to more emphasis on both sides – the West’s and Russia’s – to rely more on ad hoc coalitions of the willing to pursue their international objectives, or will there be more efforts to increase the effectiveness of the existing institutions like the United Nations, the OSCE and NATO? What international body will emerge as the primary beneficiary of the post-conflict international environment? Where does it leave Russia and the CIS?

Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, & Scholar-in-Residence, School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C.:

Irrespective of the underlying facts of the present Russian-Georgian conflict, it seems likely that unless certain steps are taken, the crisis has the potential of spinning out of control, the consequences of which cannot be viewed favorably by responsible governments or individuals.

The Financial Times reports that foreign investors are withdrawing their capital from the Russian market. As a result, it aggravates the impact of the current credit crunch on Russia. Russia is part of the global market both in commodities and finances. It cannot function as an autarchy. The improvement of the quality of life for the Russian people depends on the health of the Russian economy. The Russian economy cannot survive in an atmosphere of mistrust.

Recent events demonstrate that existing institutions (the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United Nations, etc.) are not appropriate fora for addressing the issues that gave rise to the Georgian-Russian conflict. Perhaps it is an auspicious time for a special meeting of the OSCE’s Council of Ministers to examine whether agreement can be reached on changing the institution. Almost 33 years have passed since the Final Act was signed.

Europe (and the rest of the world) has changed. I would propose that the OSCE member states work to create a new document that would supplement (and in some cases, replace) the members’ existing obligations. Such a document would focus on economic and security issues. This does not mean that so-called Basket III issues are not important, but improvements in this area will probably only occur if there is progress in other areas.

A feature of this new agreement, which will need to be ratified in accordance with the domestic law of each member state, is that the OSCE would be able to take action if two thirds of its members favor a particular proposal. Eliminating the unanimity requirement would prevent the organization from acting where there is disagreement. This would likewise result in the OSCE establishing rules that would bind its members to take action during a crisis. One area that would need to be examined in great detail would be how to delineate the OSCE’s authority, so that it would not infringe on the exclusive functions of other international organizations.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s Parliament (the Sjem) applied a rule known as the liberum veto. The liberum veto permitted a single deputy to prevent the adoption of a piece of legislation. There are few difficult issues that can be decided unanimously. It is not mere coincidence that Poland’s system of government proved ineffective and contributed to its partition among Austro-Hungary, Prussia and Russia.

Eugene Kolesnikov, Private Consultant, the Netherlands:

Russia's quick and decisive action in response to the Georgian attack on Ossetia, followed by the recognition of Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence, put an unequivocal end to the tumultuous decades of Russian humiliation. Suspension of the WTO accession process, freezing relations with NATO, and the readiness expressed by president Medvedev to defend Russian vital security interests in spite of Western hysteria should dispel any illusions the West may have had that Russia will continue to dance to the tune of the Western flute.

More than a year ago, I wrote that things between Russia and the West are going to get worse before they get better, because a number of critical factors, including the Kosovo fall-out, NATO expansion and U.S. global missile defense, have not fully played out. I believed that the dubious Russia-West relationship would continue until a full-blown crisis developed, at which point Russia would prove that it was not bluffing and a new world power configuration would be confirmed.

Now that the crisis is unfolding, the critical question is whether things are going to get even much worse before they get better. In my opinion, there are two possible long-term and one short-term scenario. In the long-term conflict scenario, the West makes good on its rhetoric and expands and accelerates implementation of its containment policies, such as minimizing ties with Russia, expanding NATO, speeding up missile defense, increasing military posturing, and so on. This is a so-called “New Cold War” scenario. It is not very likely due to a multitude of serious risks, but it is possible.

The other long term scenario involves Western elites waking up from the sweet dreams of the 1990s, accepting Russia’s independence, and forging a new framework for United States-EU-Russia political, security and economic cooperation, recognizing Russia’s regained status. Which is exactly what president Medvedev offered in Berlin. This scenario is unlikely to play out in the short term.

So what is going to happen in the short term? I believe that it is most probable that the West will continue for some time to pressure Russia without crossing too many red lines in the false hope that Russia somehow returns to submission. In its recent editorial, The Economist advised exactly this by saying that the West should do nothing with Russia (other than keeping the pressure on).

This attitude of the West will inevitably lead to a new crisis, be it over Ukraine or something else, where Russia will again take decisive action that may cause escalation into the “New Cold War” scenario, or settlement on the principles of the second scenario proposed by president Medvedev. It is a shame that we probably have to experience another dangerous crisis or a series of crises before things really get better.

James George Jatras, Director, American Council for Kosovo, Washington, DC:

The George Bush administration’s recognition of the “independence” of the Serbian province of Kosovo can, in retrospect, be seen as the last, critical step in replacing accepted legal standards with the law of the jungle. Sputtering outrage from Washington – from President George Bush, Secretary Condoleezza Rice, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, and a host of others – at Moscow’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia only accentuates the new international context: the limits of American power that have been sorely taxed by Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, and a possible attack on Iran; a growing sense that Washington, in its actions in Kosovo, Iraq, and elsewhere has helped devalue the "rules of the road" of international behavior, which it now hypocritically accuses the Russians of breaching; and gratuitously provocative U.S. behavior toward Russia since the fall of communism, along with the fact that Russia isn't going to take it anymore.

The Russian action shows that there is no objective value to Washington's recognition of Kosovo, only a subjective standard. Ask the question: does Russia's recognition settle the question of Abkhazia's and South Ossetia's global status? Of course not. As Washington has done with Kosovo, Moscow will now try to get other countries on board. Suppose they get 20, or ten, or five. And Kosovo has 46? And Western Sahara has perhaps 47? The bottom line is that each claim of independence can be answered with "Well, that’s your opinion. You say it is, and I say it's not.” Independence stays in the eye of the beholder. What we have in effect are several regions in frozen conflict with no clear answer as to what they are. But it's pretty clear none of them will get into the UN.

Still, the extent to which Washington refuses to comprehend the sea change that has occurred beggars credulity. For example, a recent paper from the neoconservative-oriented Heritage Foundation suggests: “The West must also take the following additional measures: a new, international peacekeeping force must be created to preside over South Ossetia, probably under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Russian troops must not be allowed on sovereign Georgian territory; and the West must collectively offer resources and aid to Georgia as it rebuilds its damaged infrastructure."

Well, hey, good luck with that. The incessant demands that Russia “must do this,” and Europe “must do that,” and everyone else “must” do whatever Washington says, ring hollow when it is obvious to everyone that no one can make Russia do anything. Those, both in and out of government issuing demands they cannot enforce, seem not to appreciate how ridiculous they appear. But the rest of the world sees and takes note.

Are there any signs that a light bulb has flickered into illumination with anyone in the Washington establishment? Perhaps we can count the scrapping of a planned visit of U.S. warships to the Georgian port of Poti – which could have resulted in direct confrontation of American and Russian forces that was successfully avoided during the Cold War. Other than that, it’s business as usual. Especially with Sen. Obama’s selection of Sen. Joseph Biden – no less anti-Russian than Sen. McCain – as his “foreign policy brain,” the outlook is not hopeful during the next four years.
In my opinion (this is not a must), Russia should brass it out through the current crisis and force as much squirming among the Europeans as possible. For the short term, the major threat of escalation is Washington’s renewal of its demand that the Europeans agree on offering NATO membership to Ukraine and, unbelievably, to Georgia, as well as the missile system deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic. In that regard, NATO’s role in the crisis is only negative (what’s new?), and it’s unlikely that the OSCE or the UN can be of significant help. This is going get a lot worse before it gets better.

Finally, Russia should be open to reasonable negotiation when and if positive initiatives ever come from the Western countries. For example, in a recent column, Ted Galen Carpenter of the libertarian and noninterventionist CATO Foundation, suggests: “Rather than escalate the already alarming tensions with Russia, Washington needs to walk back its policy on Kosovo and seek a deal with Moscow. American officials have put themselves in the awkward position of arguing that quasi-democratic Georgia's territorial integrity is sacrosanct while fully democratic Serbia's is not. Washington should propose a mutual diplomatic retreat to Moscow, in which the United States would rescind its recognition of Kosovo's independence and urge the Kosovars to accept Belgrade's proposal for a negotiated status of ‘enhanced autonomy,’ which comes very close to de facto independence. Russia would be expected to adopt a similar policy with regard to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”

Certainly, Russia has said that its recognitions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are irrevocable. But it doesn’t hurt to talk – but only if Washington (unlikely) or the Europeans (maybe) suggest it first. Otherwise, forget about it and move on.

Edward Lozansky, President, American University in Moscow:

It looks like the Western leaders, and especially the two U.S. presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain are trying to outdo each other in condemning Russia’s recognition of independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Meanwhile, an impressive armada of U.S. and NATO military ships is docking in Batumi, or is on the way to the Black Sea, while Russia also sent three missile boats to fly the flag. At the same time, British Foreign Secretary David Milliband has arrived in Ukraine to promote the idea of building some kind of anti-Russian coalition, and other EU leaders are making very tough statements as well.

There is a great danger that if this verbal war continues, at some point the inflammatory rhetoric will spin out of control. To save face, the West might be forced to follow words with deeds, and we will arrive not just to at a new edition of the Cold War, but at something much hotter, perhaps close to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. So isn’t it time to cool it down? Especially if one takes into account that all sides had their share of, mildly speaking, “mistakes”?

Most objective observers agree that in this case Russia acted as a good student of America, and did almost exactly the same thing the United States did in Kosovo. I said “almost” because both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have more legal and historical rights to independence than Kosovo, which became a part of Serbia at the end of the 11th century. South Ossetia and Abkhazia, however, were never a part of Georgia until Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, an ethnic Georgian, handed over these territories as a generous gift to his native land. South Ossetia was turned over to Georgia in 1922 (obviously with the approval of another world criminal Vladimir Lenin) and Abkhazia in 1931. Stalin’s 50-foot statue, probably the last one in the former Soviet space, still dominates the town of Gori, the dictator’s birthplace. So, is the West ready to fight for preserving Stalin’s and Lenin’s legacies?

Many Americans blame George Bush for the disastrous state of U.S. foreign policy but to be fair, if one talks about U.S. - Russian relations, the blame for their very sad status should go to his father George Bush Sr. and to Bill Clinton as well.

No one else but arch-conservative Paul Weyrich, the founder of the Heritage Foundation, believes that this is the case. In 1989 and in 1990 I helped organize several trips to Moscow for Weyrich and his colleagues to explore the idea of Russia joining NATO after the collapse of communism, which we believed was imminent. On the Russian side, our interlocutor was the secretary of the Interregional Group in the old Soviet parliament, Arkady Murashev. This was the most pro-Western group of parliamentarians, which included Nobel Laureate Andrei Sakharov, Mayor of Moscow Gavriil Popov, and other democrats. Murashev brought the American group to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who told us that he was open to the idea of bringing Russia into NATO.

Weyrich had access to the White House, and he brought this message directly to the Oval Office. As he recalls, President George Bush was not very impressed, probably because his advisers, one of them Condoleezza Rice, were absolutely against it. “If he had had the foresight to disregard their counsel and push for Russia’s integration with NATO, how different history very probably would be today,” Weyrich said.

What we got instead was Clinton’s disastrous agenda of NATO expansion, something that George Bush Sr. had solemnly promised Mikhail Gorbachev not to do. We abrogated the 1972 ABM Treaty and did not invite the Russians to join the effort of building global missile defense, which they were also ready to do. Putin was expecting some reciprocity for joining the anti-terrorist coalition and his very impressive help to America in Afghanistan after 9/11. What he got instead was further NATO expansion to Russia’s backyard, and aggressive pipeline policy to weaken Russia’s position on the energy market.

Now the main thing on Bush’s and Rice’s agenda is how to punish Russia for its behavior in Georgia. Neither of them would admit, of course, that such behavior was a direct result of America’s injurious line of treating Russia as a defeated power, based on the false assumption that it will always be weak and would have no choice but to swallow its pride no matter what was pushed down its throat.

Well, as everyone knows things have changed dramatically, and before America takes some drastic actions let us take a deep breath and consider the following points: do we need Russia’s help to put pressure on Iran and to prevent WMD proliferation – or can we handle it all by ourselves? Shall we continue to ignore Russia’s legitimate interests and think that what is good for the West is automatically good for Russia – and if it is not, it is just Russia’s bad luck? Will the U.S. efforts to punish Russia backfire? Will they further destabilize a global order already facing rising threats from conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider Middle East?

It looks like the West practically abandoned the idea of having Russia as a strategic partner and is pushing very hard to make it an enemy. Why then would NATO keep encircling Russia and squeezing her out of the oil-rich Caspian region? The saddest story is that judging from McCain’s or Obama’s rhetoric, neither of them has any clue as to how to extricate us from this mess. America badly needs someone with a greater vision of the world, but there is no one on the horizon, at least in the 2008 presidential elections.

Professor Stephen Blank, the U.S. Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:

First, one must dispute the question. The EU's performance was pathetic. Though commendably, Sarkozy seized the initiative, he showed he could not even draft a proper cease-fire instrument, nor secure Russia's adherence to its own ceasefire (not surprising to those of us who know how Russia felt about the Saakashvili regime). As for the UN, it performed as it always does, i.e., badly and unconstructively. The OSCE's performance was less of a failure because it had less to do, but Russian forces have obstructed its efforts to bring monitors on the ground. NATO's response was no less anemic. In short, all international institutions suffered.

It would be just as fallacious to view Ossetia as just another example of Kosovo and double standards. That suits Moscow's script, but does violence to the historical reality. There is quite strong evidence (e.g., the size, scope, and speed of the Russian invasion of Georgia) that this was a planned provocation of Georgia with those ends in mind. This does not exculpate Saakashvili and his government, but NATO did not provoke Serbia into repressing Kosovoars, while Slobodan Milosevic needed no encouragement from anyone in those black arts.

Neither are Russia's continued occupation of Georgian territory and its Hitler-like doctrine of using force to defend alleged citizens who were in fact not citizens (I can give passports to every Canadian, which does not make them my citizens) in any way a resemblance of Kosovo. Until the West as a whole realizes that what would take place here was cold-blooded aggression, no institution will work. Institutions, (though professors will dispute this) do not keep the peace. Governments keep the peace, and as Donald Kagan reminds us, peace does not preserve itself.
So until the political will of a government to resist aggression is triggered, we will see further such actions by Russia, similar to its denial of Ukrainian sovereignty of Crimea. We should remind our readers that at the NATO-Russia summit, Putin said that Ukraine is not a state, and if it seeks to join NATO, it will be dismembered. Furthermore, that statement only builds on repeated statements of similar effect by his ministers and ambassadors throughout the Soviet bloc, to the effect that Moscow does not recognize these states as sovereign. Under the circumstances where governments will not act, security organizations are no less paralyzed and peace and security are violated with impunity. Most likely, therefore, no international body will emerge unscathed from this debacle. Certainly the CIS showed its inutility by its failure to say or do anything.

Russia's challenge as a so-called sovereign democracy, i.e. a state that like its ruler at home, answers to or is accountable to nobody, is clear, and has isolated Russia from other states that could, under different circumstances, be its partner. The costs to an elite dizzy from success may not yet register upon their consciousness or upon that of the Russian people. But they are beginning to come in, and will make themselves felt in both Russian foreign and domestic venues. Ultimately, this will be a war that everybody lost, Russia included.
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