Friday, March 21, 2008

Will Russia Recognize the Georgia Breakaway Regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia? - NATO/U.S. Policy in Eastern Europe

Reuters: Russia MPs urge recognition of Georgia separatists

Background
Georgia, a former Soviet colony, has two de facto independent states within it: South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Neither region is recognized by any country internationally. Both regions have strong economic and political connections with Russia, and Russia has peacekeeping troops in both regions. In other words, Russia has a lot of leverage in these two areas.

Russian MPs voted unanimously yesterday to urge the Kremlin to recognize the two regions as independent if Georgia succeeds in its goal to join NATO. Russia has already decided to send more peacekeepers to both breakaway states.

Why is Russia being provocative?
There are four main reasons Russia flaunting its influence and being confrontational:
• Possible NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine
Kosovar independence
• American approval of new shipments of arms to Kosovo
• The European missile shield

The first impetus for Russia’s actions is the same impetus for the measure passed by Russia’s parliament. The NATO head of state summit in Bucharest, Romania, is going to take place on April 2. There, several former Soviet states will apply for NATO membership. Three of them – Macedonia, Albania, and Croatia – will be ignored by Russia. Two of applications – Georgia and Ukraine’s – Russia seriously opposes. And on Wednesday, President Bush endorsed one of the country’s applications: Georgia’s.

The second force driving Russia to possibly recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia is Kosovar independence from Serbia and the international recognition that followed. Russia was one of a handful of countries that did not recognize the new Balkan country. Russia supported Serbia in its goal of holding onto Kosovo; they failed miserably. Russia was trying to assert itself in its former sphere of influence. Consequently, when it failed, the Kremlin looked very weak. Russia didn’t respond immediately, other than cutting off some energy from Eastern Europe. I warned at that time that we could expect Russia to either (a) cut off energy from Europe, (b) cause the U.S. problems at the United Nations Security Council or (b) recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It looks like options (a) and (c) could be realized.

Thirdly, President Bush yesterday announced the authorization of supplying Kosovo weapons. This was just another action that is brazenly against the Kremlin’s wishes.

Finally, the U.S. and Russia had conducted high level negotiations last week over the planned missile shield to be built by America in Poland and the Czech Republic, and, well, they were a total disappointment. There was nothing the Russian government was prepared to do to convince Washington to change their mind; there were no concessions Washington was willing to make to please Russia. The negotiations ended in a stalemate.

How Washington should proceed
There are two arguments that can be made here. One, that Georgia is a vital American and European ally and needs to be protected and included in NATO. Alternatively, one could argue, tensions with Russia are strained enough already and either concessions need to be made so Georgia can be included in NATO or Georgia shouldn’t be allowed to join NATO at all.

What would be best for humanity as a whole? The second option: Concessions from both sides. Russia agrees to tolerate Georgia’s NATO membership bid, and the United States consents to make compromises over the Europe missile shield program. Either the program would be given up completely or toned down.

Really, in this scenario, it would be the United States that wins. America and her interests are not protected nearly as much as one might believe because of the planned shield (although, it is important to note, Russia is not hampered in the slightest by this missile shield as well). Therefore, it is not vital for Washington to continue the shield. In return, Moscow would allow Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO.

In fact, it is unlikely the next president (of the United States) would continue the shield anyway. Meaning, America would lose next to nothing, keep Russia happy, and gain Georgia’s acceptance into NATO.

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