August 21, 2008

The Path of War

By now, it is abundantly clear that Russia started a full-scale military aggression against Georgia at the end of last week. The significance of this fact is, however, much greater than the further fate and fortune of a small state in the South Caucasus. In essence, this marked a crucial turning point in recent history after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the establishment of Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia, a turning point for Russia itself, for its closer neighbours and for the broader relationship between Russia and the West.

11.08.2008, Kaarel Kaas
Postimees
By now, it is abundantly clear that Russia started a full-scale military aggression against Georgia at the end of last week. The significance of this fact is, however, much greater than the further fate and fortune of a small state in the South Caucasus. In essence, this marked a crucial turning point in recent history after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the establishment of Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia, a turning point for Russia itself, for its closer neighbours and for the broader relationship between Russia and the West.
The most apt comment on the events of the past few days came from Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt who maintained that no state has a right to intervene militarily in the territory of another state simply because there are individuals there with a passport issued by that state or who are nationals of that state. This argument – protection of its citizens – has been used by Russia to justify its brutal attacks all across Georgia.
“Attempts to apply such a doctrine have plunged Europe into war in the past – and that is why it is so important that this doctrine is emphatically dismissed. /…/ We did not accept military intervention by Milosevic’s Serbia in other Yugoslav states on the grounds of protecting Serbian passport holders. And we have reason to remember how Hitler used this very doctrine little more than half a century ago to undermine and attack substantial parts of Central Europe,” stated Bildt, one of the most influential and competent politicians specialising in the Caucasus.
Russia has publicly and casually chosen the path of war to influence its neighbouring countries – the Near Abroad. This circumstance has not gone unnoticed or unrecorded in any capital from Bishkek to, for example, Tallinn. The message sent was particularly brutal and, at the same time, completely clear. In short, the essence of its content was the following: Moscow will get its way using whatever means necessary and remaining utterly unmoved by the statements of the international community; the USA and the West as a whole will not save or help you, because nobody is interested in fighting a war with Russia for some small, faraway places with unpronounceable names.
Considering the instrumentarium Moscow uses to achieve its aims, the ongoing war is a logical conclusion of the foreign policy pursued by the Russians for the past decade. First there were the shameless intelligence operations Russia actively carried out in its neighbouring countries, interfering in their internal affairs. Let me remind you of the scandal involving the then Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas – the scandal largely orchestrated by Moscow erupted just before NATO was to enlarge in order to include the Baltic states.
Then followed the blatant attempts by Russian spin doctors to manipulate Ukrainian state authorities. Here the Orange Revolution and the failed efforts to turn Viktor Yanukovych into President of Ukraine in the autumn and winter of 2004 provide suitable examples.
After that came the liquidation of political opponents living abroad and covert military intervention in Georgia. In a short article like this there is not enough space to list all the ‘unidentified’ planes and helicopters that have attacked Georgia in recent years and all the comings and goings of military ‘volunteer’ instructors/spies in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
By the way, the surname of the current Russian Prime Minister and former President Vladimir Putin includes the Russian word for ‘path’ – ‘put’, a gloomy and symbolic concoction of a name. In the light of the present events in Georgia, the path Russia has chosen – the path of war – has turned out to be a clear and present danger to the national security of Estonia. The developments in Georgia constitute an extremely dangerous precedent that could have a direct impact on our future.
Against this background, let me add a short comment to our domestic debate on whether to slash our defence budget or not: any further suggestions to reduce our defence spending would not only be – to put it mildly – irresponsible, but plainly moronic.
In a situation like this, what is it that Estonia must be, could be and should be doing?
First, the issue of Russian aggression against Georgia must be raised repeatedly and very straightforwardly on every possible level of diplomacy in cooperation with other Baltic states, Poland and, perhaps, Sweden. If the words the outside world uses do not have any effect on Moscow, we must ourselves exert every effort to influence our allies, friends and partners in the West. If Russia acts like a pariah state, it must be treated as one – this also applies to the way Russia is communicated with.
Second, it must be made unequivocally clear to the European Union that Russia will not enjoy visa freedom with the EU and that Russia and the EU will not conclude a new partnership agreement. A strategic partnership can only be built on a shared worldview. Europe and Russia have no such thing, as the columns of Russian tanks that entered the sovereign territory of Georgia have so graphically demonstrated. The decision-making mechanisms of the EU are still consensual and Estonia should not hesitate any more to use its right of veto, if necessary. Last Friday a chain of events was triggered that crossed the red line for us; we must make this absolutely clear to our partners in Europe.
Third, it should be taken under serious consideration whether the issue of imposing financial sanctions on Russian officials, military personnel and agencies that organised and committed aggression against Georgia should be raised. Moscow’s actions have proved once again the validity of the following claim made by one of the grand old men of American diplomacy – George Frost Kennan – more than 60 years ago: impervious to logic of reason, Moscow is highly sensitive to logic of force.
The opportunity to own and spend money can be seen as a right, but also as a privilege that can be used to gain leverage. An unexpected discovery that their bank accounts in Western Europe are inaccessible might slightly shake the excessive confidence of many a figure in Moscow. In terms of economic and financial impact on each other, Russia has almost no bargaining chips, while Europe has plenty. Russia’s gas weapon, however, should not be dreaded greatly, because Gazprom’s huge profits are almost entirely generated by its supplies to Europe. Without these revenues, Russia would be unable to subsidise the gas price for its own citizens.
And fourth, the Russian elite yearns and cares for the civilised Europe with its Eiffel Tower and Harrods department stores much more passionately than for the highly-praised Arbat and the Nevsky Avenue. If certain Russian senior officials were to realise that treading the path of war means visa refusal and hence no access to Europe, such a discovery might bring surprisingly effective results.
By the way, all these simple methods have on previous occasions been applied to the Yugoslav leadership and many other individuals who have not resisted the urge to use tanks for visiting their neighbours.
Should Russia be granted exceptional treatment just because it is Russia? Common sense suggests there is no reason to do that. All the more so since Moscow’s own treasure trove of rhetorical devices contains the claim that the principles of international law apply to everyone uniformly, equally and universally. The time has come to explain the universality principle to Russia.
The author expresses his personal views in this article.

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