When it comes to the deteriorating relationship between
Moscow and the West over Georgia, traditional diplomacy has been thrown over
for the gunboat variety.
American and Russian warships are milling around the Black
Sea while both sides are spewing threats and uttering belligerent rhetoric.
Britain�s politicians are being particularly antagonistic.
Leader of the Tories David Cameron wants to punish ordinary Russians with
restrictions on visa issuance. �Russian armies can�t march into other countries
while Russian shoppers carry on marching into Selfridges.� (He neglected to add
�armed with wads of cash to help prop up his country�s faltering economy.�)
The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has been trying
to create a European anti-Russian alliance and isn�t averse to whipping up
1940s sentiments. �The sight of Russian tanks rolling into parts of a sovereign
country on its neighbouring borders will have brought a chill down the spine of
many people,� he rather luridly told the BBC.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has threatened �a root and
branch review� of Britain�s relationship with Russia and advised Europe to find
alternative oil and gas supplies rather than allow Moscow to hold it to ransom.
In turn, Russia warns it may look to Asia for new customers.
As usual, European nations are being asked to take sides
regardless of any interpretation of right and wrong. To them it matters little
whether the initial aggressor was Georgia or Russia or whether South Ossetia
and Abkhazia have a genuine case for secession. They�re behaving like a mafia,
whose members are obliged to rally around one of their own regardless.
Russia was initially seduced into becoming a member of this
global democratic fraternity led by Washington. Moscow relinquished its empire
in hopes of being embraced by its new best friends as an equal. Instead, it was
initially perceived as toothless, corrupt and economically defunct.
Unaccustomed to being disrespected as a comparatively puny
world player, the Russian leadership determined to rise up like the Phoenix
from the ashes of its humiliation; a goal that was fuelled by soaring oil and
gas prices. Almost overnight, a sleeker, more sophisticated and much wealthier
But instead of welcoming this newly confident entity into
the fold, the fraternity made no serious effort to invite Russia to become a
member of NATO, the European Union (EU) or both, while its attempts to join the
World Trade Organisation (WTO) were hampered. At G-8 gatherings it was
tolerated by the world�s wealthiest nations like a poor relation.
In the West, the old Cold War mentality still prevailed. The
Soviet Union was no more but even though Mother Russia had a makeover she was
still treated, at best, as a nation of little consequence and, at worst, as a
The fraternity turned a deaf ear to Russia�s arguments
against invading Iraq and has been heaping pressure on Moscow to join with it
in punishing Iran, both countries in which Moscow had or has financial
interests. It also ignored Moscow�s opinion on Kosovo�s independence.
In the meantime, NATO broadened its mandate and instead of
shrinking into oblivion with the end of the Cold War, it began expanding by
absorbing former Soviet bloc countries and republics and widening its field of
operations to theatres outside Europe.
When the Bush administration began interfering in the
internal politics of Russia�s neighbours, Georgia and the Ukraine, while
encouraging NATO to sign them up, it�s no wonder that the Russian leadership
interpreted those moves as an existential threat. Then to add injury to insult,
the US appoints Poland and the Czech Republic to respectively host its
interceptor missiles and radar bases, irrespective of the reduction in Russia�s
In short, Russia is not the bad guy here. Prime Minister
Vladimir Putin believes the US was behind Georgia�s recent aggression in South
Ossetia. If so, then Moscow had no choice but to send a clear message that
Georgia and Ukraine may be independent and democratic but geographically they
fall within Russia�s sphere of global influence.
The Russian government is right not to want NATO peering
over its borders. This problem could have been averted had Moscow been welcomed
into the organisation or had the US kept its promise to former Russian
President Mikhail Gorbachev, who said �the Americans promised that NATO wouldn�t
move beyond the boundaries of Germany after the Cold War but now half of
central and eastern Europe are members.�
Last Monday, EU leaders met in Brussels to discuss the
crisis and adopt a united front although that may not be a simple task. Some
member countries led by Britain are keen to hurt Russia with sanctions or
isolation while others, including France, Germany and Italy, are reluctant to
sever links. �Old Europe� is thus far acting wisely.
The more that Russia is engaged within the global
marketplace and its economy is intertwined with others, the more it will be
obliged to listen to the concerns of the international community. On the other
hand, should Moscow be ostracised, it may decide it has little to lose by
forming new alliances and strategies harmful to Western interests.
Either way, Reagan and Yeltsin must be turning over in their
graves. They believed the Berlin Wall had collapsed forever, never imagining
that less than two decades later, another potentially greater and more
dangerous divide would take its place.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.