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NATO divided over Georgian conflict Wednesday, 27 August, 2008

Posted by Farbod in Features.
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Press TV – NATO divided over Georgian conflict.
By Yusuf Fernandez, Press TV, Madrid

Georgian tanks near Tskinvali on August 8

On August 19, NATO foreign ministers convened in Brussels to discuss the Georgia crisis, following intense pressure from the US. The final declaration accused Russia of using “disproportionate” military force and “deliberately destructing civilian infrastructure”, but said nothing about the Georgian aggression against South Ossetia that began on August 8 and initiated the conflict.


In recent weeks, the US political establishment has demanded that Russia be “taught a lesson”. American officials have called on NATO allies to punish Moscow for its military operations in Georgia. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned, “There need to be consequences for Moscow’s behavior.” Relations with Russia, which has had a partnership with NATO for more than a decade, will not be the same for years to come, he continued.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also stepped up her anti-Russia rhetoric. “We have to deny Russian strategic objectives, which are clearly to undermine Georgia’s democracy, to use its military capability to damage and in some cases destroy Georgian infrastructure and to try and weaken the Georgian state,” she said. “We are determined to deny them their strategic objective.”

Washington disagrees with Moscow over the terms of the cease-fire agreement. The US insists Russia withdraw all the military forces it has sent into Georgia since August 7. Moscow says, however, that it will maintain a military presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It also asserts that it can deploy troops in a buffer zone surrounding the two regions, citing a provision of the agreement that allows for unspecified security measures.


A NATO spokesperson stated that its 26 foreign ministers had “reiterated full support for the territorial integrity of Georgia”, thereby rejecting the demands, supported by Moscow, for the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

NATO has also suspended joint activities with Russia, including military exercises and some political-level meetings, until Russian troops withdraw from Georgia. However, according to experts, this may be ineffective as NATO has a far greater interest than Russia in cooperation. Suspension will not affect Russian actions in the current, or any future crisis.

A permanent commission has been established to develop economic and social cooperation between member states and Georgia. Critics claim that NATO does not need another social work project to deplete resources. In addition, the commission could potentially coordinate work to rebuild the Georgian army after its defeat by Russians although the declaration does not specifically mention such military assistance.


The August 19 NATO meeting highlighted deep-seated divisions within NATO, despite the unified declaration that followed. The United States, Britain and many Eastern European states, including Poland and the Baltic states, pressed for a tough stance in support of Georgia. During the conflict, the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined President Yushenko of Ukraine in a symbolic trip to Tbilisi to “stand up against the spread of imperialist and revisionist policy” by Russia. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, these nations have established close relations with the US and support NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine. US President George W. Bush has broken the commitment made by his father to Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would never expand beyond Germany. If Ukraine and Georgia gain NATO membership, any future dispute between these nations and Moscow would pit the United States and Europe against Russia.

The Polish government recently signed an agreement with the United States after 18 months of postponements regarding the installation of an anti-missile system in Polish territory. Moscow views the anti-missile system as a direct threat and intends to take countermeasures. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated that, “This decision clearly demonstrates everything we have said recently. The deployment of new anti-missile forces in Europe is aimed at the Russian Federation.”


Countries including France, Germany and Italy, however, are reluctant to alienate Moscow. They partly blame Georgia for the crisis, which began with its attack on South Ossetia. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told The New York Times that “Russia is a great nation. Look how we have been treating it. We need firmness, not threats. We must not threaten them, because it will not work. Because everyone knows we are not going to war.” Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado also said he favored maintaining NATO’s “crucial” relations with Moscow. Turkey, which owns the third largest army in the alliance, has strengthened its relations with Russia in recent years and did not allow US battleships to enter the Black Sea during the conflict.

Germany, the strongest power in the European Union, explicitly criticized Georgia’s military offensive. The Germans fear that NATO’s eastward expansion could seriously jeopardize German-Russian cooperation. A research group linked to Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party warned in 2006 that the USA was seeking “to include more pro-American oriented countries into the Alliance” to strengthen its own domination.

Prior to the NATO meeting, president of the European parliament and CDU member, Hans Gert Poettering, said, “We have to be prepared to talk… we cannot afford to isolate Russia.”

In an interview published in Der Spiegel magazine, former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that relations with Russia should not be put in risk because of the Georgia crisis and categorically opposed Georgia’s NATO membership. “Imagine if we were forced to intervene militarily to defend Georgia as a NATO country, on behalf of an obvious gambler, which is clearly the way one should characterize (Georgian President Mikheil) Saakashvili,” he said. “The starting point of the military confrontation was Georgia’s march into South Ossetia. We should not confuse things.”

Germany’s fundamental economic and geo-political interests differ significantly from those of the US. European countries, particularly Germany, are heavily dependent on Russia for supplies of gas and oil and as an increasingly key market for trade.

Germany, France and other countries have consistently blocked US efforts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. While the final declaration of the Brussels meeting promises to consider Georgia’s accession to NATO in December, a European diplomat told The New York Times that the prospects were virtually nil. “It is impossible,” he said.

The lack of consensus meant that the final declaration did not express robust support for Georgia or displeasure with Moscow.

This German and French position has been criticized by hawkish Polish President Lech Kaczynski. In a recent interview, he said that policies of the European Union toward Moscow were dictated by Paris and Berlin and it was a joke to claim that the Union had a common stance.


Russia reacted with scorn to NATO’s declaration. Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, described it as “empty words” and said that “a mountain gave birth to a mouse.” Russian Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov condemned US support for what he calls “Saakashvili’s criminal regime”, saying that the US wanted to make a victim of the aggressor. He warned the United States and NATO that they had to make a choice between working with Georgia or with Russia then laughed off US calls to isolate Russia. “I don’t know how they are going to isolate us,” he said.

The decisive Russian reaction to Georgia’s brutal attack against South Ossetia has fundamentally altered the world’s strategic landscape. Moscow has drawn the line and has made clear that it will no longer tolerate the eastward expansion of NATO witnessed since the early 1990s. The London Daily Telegraph wrote on August 12 that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin “is sending an emphatic message with global consequences. The curtain has fallen on the era when NATO steadily expanded into Eastern Europe and onwards to embrace the former republics of the Soviet Union, and Russia was able to respond with nothing more than bluster… The balance of power in Europe has fundamentally changed.”

The US does continue in its attempts to create insecurity in Russia by pushing aggressively to widen NATO’s role and influence in the Caucasus region and beyond. Such bellicose US plans go against Europe’s needs and interests. Paris and Berlin have once again shown more caution than Washington as well as consideration for the Russian point of view. The profound divisions between Europe and the United States, which became evident during the Iraq war, have resurfaced. After the disastrous US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Western European political and economic circles have increasingly identified the United States as the main source of instability and tension in Europe.



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