Can Georgia Transform Our World?

by Nikos | November 9, 2008

Thought Pieces


The Russians were clear after Kosovo was allowed by the international community to declare its independence: allowing a self governing territory to decide to become a sovereign country would have far reaching consequences. It is the Kosovo precedent that the Russians now invoke to support Abkhazia and Ossetia on their road to become sovereign countries.
The US is arguing that the territorial integrity of an existing country, such as Georgia, should be respected. The Russians seem to have recently perfected the argument that the West used to support the independence of Kosovo: The purpose of the international community should be to advance freedom and self determination. Respecting the territorial integrity of existing countries cannot be the overriding purpose of the international community. Territorial integrity has to be shelved when it does not serve the purpose of self determination and is unenforceable, for example when dealing with territories that have been self governed for a long time. Espousing self determination over respect for territorial integrity is a major brake with the past for Moscow. With the exception of the Austro-Hungarian Empire nobody advocated the respect of territorial integrity as the purpose of the international community more loudly than the USSR.
This brake with the past can indeed transform our world as only questions about what is purpose and what are only means for its achievement can. There are several other regions of what the Russians call their “near abroad” where this argument can transform self governed territories to sovereign countries. Next to Georgia is Azerbaijan, where ethnic and energy tensions can easily lead to the redrawing of the map. Naghorno- Karabakh, an Armenian enclave has been enjoying Russian support and self government for years. Across the pond from Georgia is Moldova, with part of its territory administered by the self proclaimed Dnieper Republic which is inhabited by a Russian speaking population. If territorial integrity has to yield to self determination and to facts created on the ground, Georgia is the first of mini crises that will balkanize the Caucuses. These mini crises will delay the development of the region and they will refuse the West pipelines to the Caspian oil free of potential Russian interference. However, they are unlikely to produce a Russian confrontation with the West. For one the West has no power in the region. The only NATO country with borders to Georgia is Turkey, an archenemy for centuries.
Our world will be transformed for ever if the arguments advanced on Georgia are applied in the Ukraine, which, unlike the Caucuses and the Caspian Region, is in the center of what some would call New Europe. Ukraine is a large country- the size of France. Ukrainians are deeply divided on their aspirations. The West of the Country wants to join the EU and NATO. The East is more loyal to Moscow than to Kiev (Ukraine `s capital). As a matter of fact, 17% of Ukraine`s population of 46 million are ethnic Russians. The Russian fleet is allowed to be anchored in Sevastopol, which is a Ukrainian city. This is allowed by treaty which comes up for renewal in 2017. Many in Kiev want the Russian fleet out and NATO in as soon as possible. This infuriates Russia. The anchorage of the fleet and the surrounding Crimean peninsula were handed to Ukraine only in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev, the Ukrainian born leader of the Soviet Leader without any regard to the feelings of its Russian population. Similarly the Russians blame the Soviets for the set up in the Caucuses. For one, Georgian suzerainty over Ossetia and Abkhazia would not have existed, they argue, absent the machinations of Georgian born Stalin.
To return to current affairs, both Ukraine and Georgia were assured only a couple of months ago in a Heads of States` meeting in Bucharest that they would eventually be admitted to NATO. If both countries had been admitted, on August 7, the Georgians would most likely have invoked Article V of the NATO Charter for the Alliance to come to their aid with military force. Events did not allow for this to happen. It arguably could have saved Georgia`s territorial integrity. There is now no conceivable scenario, diplomatic niceties aside, stopping Abkhazia and Ossetia from eventually exercising self determination. The Russian campaign has transformed the Caucuses. The real question is the future of Ukraine, with talks for ascension to NATO due to start January 1.
Georgia`s entry into NATO, assuming it renounces the use of force for reestablishing its sovereignty over Abkhazia and Ossetia without explicitly resigning from its national aspirations, could be “ yes able”. NATO and Russia have a good record of keeping frontiers quiet. The pipeline from Azerbaijan would be free of Russian interference. Russia will not be seen as threatening Georgian Democracy, without really giving much up. After all, Russia has no vote on who joins NATO.
Ukraine is another matter. Would “Old Europe” commit to defend the territorial integrity of a country with a large part of its population loyal to Moscow and wishing the reintegration of Russia and Ukraine? A positive decision by NATO would corner Russia. China would silently applaud it, because it would reaffirm the importance of territorial integrity, thus strengthening its hand on Taiwan, not to mention Tibet. India would also be happy thinking of Kashmir. But can “Old Europe” afford such a return back into the future in the name of territorial integrity, a principle that it abandoned in Kosovo?
The new US Administration will have NATO `s enlargement on top of its agenda next January. Senator McCain has absolute clarity of purpose. He always saw the need to contain Putin`s Russia before it could become again a superpower. Enlarging NATO and inviting both Georgia and Ukraine to join it would fit that purpose. An Obama Administration would not take a very different position. The two people opening competing for the job of Secretary of State in a Democratic Administration (Ambassador Holbrooke and General Clark) could not have been stronger in their condemnation of Russia. In his speech in Berlin Senator Obama exposed us to his thinking: Europeans have to step up to their NATO obligations and NATO has to face up to its responsibilities in new theaters, like Afghanistan. But if the Obama Doctrine of collective but global NATO responsibility is applicable on Afghanistan, why is it not on Ukraine, a country at the center of the “ New Europe “ that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union?
For almost all Republicans and Democrats with policy experience what happened in Georgia represents nothing new but rather the resurface of Russian imperialism that needs to be contained. Only the Neoconservatives agree with the premise of this article that the arguments voiced by Russia over Georgia can transform the world. They believe, as Richard Pearle stated, that Russia is using the arguments of self determination as a theme of a campaign similar to that launched by the Nazis to annex Sudetenland. The neoconservative recipe is the expeditious entry of both Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.
Russian behavior on the ground of Georgia proper will test the validity of the theory of resurgent Russian imperialism. The neoconservative argument is correct in its analysis of the war of ideas that we are experiencing. The policy recommendations, however, represent thinking by analogy, which is often both appealing and flawed. For one, Georgia is a small country, of unquestionable western orientation, with a democratically elected government which has received a disproportionately high amount of western investment and attention and has oil pipelines traversing its territory. Ukraine could not be more different. And the West cannot afford a new split over it, especially while the largest US, UK and French armada since World War Two is amassed in the Gulf of Iran.

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