For the historically literate, the picture of Eastern Europe today is disturbingly reminiscent of the view circa 1939. That was the year that Nazi Germany – having provided pseudo-justifications based on staged provocations – invaded first Czechoslovakia and then Poland. Throughout the entire period leading up to these military invasions, the Western world weakly stood by and did nothing but “dialogue.”
As hundreds of Russian tanks poured into his country, CNN reporter Susan Malveaux asked Georgian President Saakashvili:
MALVEAUX: Have you reached out to them? Do you feel there’s any room for negotiation or at least to begin a dialogue or discussions?
The problem has been that Russia has done its “negotiating” with tanks.
The UK Telgraph runs a story by Josh Bolton the editors titled, “The US fiddled while Georgia burned.” And this is undoubtedly true (as Bolton himself acknowledges). But at least the US’ “fiddling” involved doing something (in the sense of trying to get Georgia admitted to NATO, which would have circumvented this entire sad affair). Europe stood by and did absolutely nothing while Georgia burned. And the so-called “cease fire agreement” that France proffered essentially allows Russia to remain in Georgian territory for as long as they like. Many believe that the presence of Russian forces only a few miles from the Georgian capital is a naked attempt to topple the democratic government.
Just as with Iraq, European intransigence to sound diplomatic policy led to war. By refusing to accept the United States’ demand to require meaningful weapons inspections on Iraq, the U.N. in general and France and Russia in particular took every option but open war off the table for America. And by refusing to allow the U.S.-backed Georgian bid to join NATO, our European “allies” left a democratic and pro-Western former Soviet State vulnerable to precisely the sort of attack that totalitarian Russia launched.
Josh Bolton describes the European diplomatic initiative in shades of the infamous Munich Agreement:
The European Union took the lead in diplomacy, with results approaching Neville Chamberlain’s moment in the spotlight at Munich: a ceasefire that failed to mention Georgia’s territorial integrity, and that all but gave Russia permission to continue its military operations as a “peacekeeping” force anywhere in Georgia. More troubling, over the long term, was that the EU saw its task as being mediator – its favourite role in the world – between Georgia and Russia, rather than an advocate for the victim of aggression.
After Neville Chamberlain returned from signing the infamous agreement with Hitler, and appeasing an evil tyrant in the name of “peace in our time,” an embittered Winston Churchill observed:
“You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.”
Josh Bolton believes that “the extent of the wreckage [of Georgia] reaches far beyond that small country.” He goes on to write:
The West, collectively, failed in this crisis. Georgia wasted its dime making that famous 3am telephone call to the White House, the one Hillary Clinton referred to in a campaign ad questioning Barack Obama’s fitness for the Presidency. Moreover, the blood on the Bear’s claws did not go unobserved in other states that were once part of the Soviet Union. Russia demonstrated unambiguously that it could have marched directly to Tbilisi and installed a puppet government before any Western leader was able to turn away from the Olympic Games. It could, presumably, do the same to them.
Fear was one reaction Russia wanted to provoke, and fear it has achieved, not just in the “Near Abroad” but in the capitals of Western Europe as well. But its main objective was hegemony, a hegemony it demonstrated by pledging to reconstruct Tskhinvali, the capital of its once and no-longer-future possession, South Ossetia. The contrast is stark: a real demonstration of using sticks and carrots, the kind that American and European diplomats only talk about. Moreover, Russia is now within an eyelash of dominating the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, the only route out of the Caspian Sea region not now controlled by either Russia or Iran. Losing this would be dramatically unhelpful if we hope for continued reductions in global petroleum prices, and energy independence from unfriendly, or potentially unfriendly, states.
It profits us little to blame Georgia for “provoking” the Russian attack. Nor is it becoming of the United States to have anonymous officials from its State Department telling reporters, as they did earlier this week, that they had warned Georgia not to provoke Russia. This confrontation is not about who violated the Marquess of Queensbury rules in South Ossetia, where ethnic violence has been a fact of life since the break-up of the Soviet Union on December 31, 1991 – and, indeed, long before. Instead, we are facing the much larger issue of how Russia plans to behave in international affairs for decades to come. Whether Mikhail Saakashvili “provoked” the Russians on August 8, or September 8, or whenever, this rape was well-planned and clearly coming, given Georgia’s manifest unwillingness to be “Finlandized” – the Cold War term for effectively losing your foreign-policy independence.
And now we are already beginning to see not only “how Russia plans to behave in international affairs for decades to come”, but right in the here and now.
In a statement about Poland that ought to send shivers up the spine of any thinking human being, a top Russian general added to the rhetoric of President Dmitry Medveded:
Only 24 hours after the weapons agreement was signed Russia’s deputy chief of staff warned Poland “is exposing itself to a strike 100 per cent”.
General Anatoly Nogovitsyn said that any new US assets in Europe could come under Russian nuclear attack with his forces targeting “the allies of countries having nuclear weapons”.
He told Russia’s Interfax news agency: “By hosting these, Poland is making itself a target. This is 100 per cent certain. It becomes a target for attack. Such targets are destroyed as a first priority.”
Russia’s nuclear rhetoric marks an intense new phase in the war of words over Georgia. The Caucasus conflict has spiralled into a Cold War style confrontation between Moscow and Washington in less than a week.
The stand off between the two cold War powers was underlined by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who dismissed US claims that the silo is a deterrent against ‘rogue states’ like Iran as “a fairy tale”. He told reporters at the Black Sea resort of Sochi: “The deployment of new missile defence facilities in Europe is aimed against the Russian Federation.”
Poland and a few other former Soviet Republicans who do not want to become future Russian republics are moving toward official relationships with the United States and Western alliances such as NATO. We must stop attempting to appease rogue and tyrant states for the sake of going along to get along in the short term and clearly and strongly back Western-leaning democratic states.
Again, Bolton is right on target:
Europe’s rejection this spring of President Bush’s proposal to start Ukraine and Georgia towards Nato membership was the real provocation to Russia, because it exposed Western weakness and timidity. As long as that perception exists in Moscow, the risk to other former Soviet territories – and in precarious regions such as the Middle East – will remain.
Obviously, not all former Soviet states are as critical to Nato as Ukraine, because of its size and strategic location, or Georgia, because of its importance to our access to the Caspian Basin’s oil and natural gas reserves. Moreover, not all of them meet fundamental Nato prerequisites. But we must now review our relationship with all of them. This, in effect, Nato failed to do after the Orange and Rose Revolutions, leaving us in our present untenable position.
By its actions in Georgia, Russia has made clear that its long-range objective is to fill that “gap” if we do not. That, as Western leaders like to say, is “unacceptable”. Accordingly, we should have a foreign-minister-level meeting of Nato to reverse the spring capitulation at Bucharest, and to decide that Georgia and Ukraine will be Nato’s next members. By drawing the line clearly, we are not provoking Russia, but doing just the opposite: letting them know that aggressive behaviour will result in costs that they will not want to bear, thus stabilising a critical seam between Russia and the West. In effect, we have already done this successfully with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Diplomacy is always worth pursuing. But diplomacy that is not backed with power and the willingness to use it is meaningless, and will always be recognized as such by tyrants and terrorists.
As we look at Russian totalitarian imperialism in Eastern Europe, and contemplate the looming menace of a nuclear-weapons-armed Iran, we must realize that much of the world is in the same mindset that the world was in in 1938. Only by recognizing that we must stand strongly against such developments will we be able to avoid the next catastrophic global harvest of death.
This is as certain as the fact that World War III follows World War II.