Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Russian Ambition beyond Georgia

Figure 1 (Source: "Situation Report, Russo-Georgian Conflict", Institute for the Study of War)

The Russo-Georgian conflict will impose further impact across Eurasia. This is not just a skirmish over South Ossetia, but strategic contests between Russia and the West over geopolitics, democracy promotion, and energy.

The Economist argues that the West make it clear not to accommodate Russian expansionism and authoritarianism (“The War in Georgia: Russia Resurgent”; Economist; August 14, 2008). Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt denounced Russian claim to save its citizens as Hitler’s justification of Nazi invasions. The Economist says it is Russia that triggered the South Ossetian dispute. Unlike Iraq, President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia has never been regarded a threat the region.

In response to such an intolerable act, the West must impose pressure on Russia, through restricting Russian access to international clubs such as OECD, WTO, and G8. More importantly, the Economist insists that the West not delay NATO membership of Georgia and Ukraine. I would argue that this is a vital point in post Cold War democracy promotion in Eastern Europe.

From this perspective, Leon Aron, Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, comments about the peril of Russian czarism (“What Russia's War Reveals”; USA Today; August 13, 2008). Aron points out that Russia has been restrained enough not to punish pro-Western regimes in the Baltic, Ukraine, and Georgia, until quite recently, despite increasingly authoritarian trend under Putin. But Kremlin has crossed the line, and assault on Georgia inflicts substantial impact on former Soviet states.

Aron warns that Ukraine would be the next target for Russian assault. He mentions Putin’s remark at the NATO summit in Bucharest this April, “George (US President Bush), Ukraine is not even a real state!” This implies that Prime Minister Putin does not respect Ukrainian sovereignty at all. This is a critical challenge to the United States and NATO allies as Georgian Rose Revolution and Ukrainian Orange Revolution are successful case of democratization through Western influence. Therefore, Leon Aron urges that the next US president be ready against Russian ambition in former Soviet republics.

Figure 2 (Source: “The Dangers of the Safe Route: Caucasian Pipelines”; Economist; August 14, 2008)

Martha Brill Olcott, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out that Russian aggression will have implications to elsewhere in the Trans-Caspian region ("Beyond Georgia: The Ripple Effects of Russia's Attack"; Plank; August 11, 2008) . Azerbaijan will need to seek Russian support regarding territorial dispute with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan may explore closer relations with a pro-Russian regime if Mikheil Saakashvili were ousted. This will have a vital impact on power contests in oil abundant Central Asia.

Furthermore, the Economist points out that Georgia offers pipeline to the West bypassing Russia and Iran (“The Dangers of the Safe Route: Caucasian Pipelines”; Economist; August 14, 2008). Figure 2 illustrates this.

Russian ambition is beyond Georgia. Also, problems are beyond geopolitics, energy, and democracy. Russia intimidates a small democracy which is no threat to the region including Russia itself. America and Europe should not tolerate Putin’s czarist adventure, even though Russia is an indispensable partner in non-proliferation talks with Iran and North Korea.

More dreadfully, increasingly self-assertive Russo-Chinese alliance will challenge our liberal world order. Is the Russian assault on Georgia a dawn of conflict between liberal democracy and authoritarian capitalism? The Georgian conflict has so many implications to global security.