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Georgia: Soft power and multilateralism tested to the limit

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Paul Mason | 17:05 UK time, Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The diplomatic ramifications of the Georgia peace deal are still ramifying. Almost every major western power, and most of the west's multilateral groupings, have had the fundamentals of their policy shaken or challenged. There is a strong economic aspect shaping the responses too, and it goes way beyond the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. I'm going to try and do a scrapbook style collation of thoughts and links here...

First, Europe: the EU foreign ministers meet today. Instead of the usual opportunities for diplomatic platitude they have to decide if they support the Georgian peace plan engineered by Sarkozy or not. Step forward Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister:

"It would be negative for Europe to create a sort of coalition against Russia. It's important that Europe is the 27 (member states) and that it does not divide into groups and little cliques".

The Italian government has reportedly said it is "Close to Putin's Position".

FACT: When Russia turned off the gas to Ukraine in January 2006 there was a more or less immediate gas shortage in Italy. Italy's energy major ENI is planning a major joint venture with Gazprom in Libya.

Next Germany's foreign minister, Frank Walter Steinmeyer: asked should Russia be kicked out of the G8: "It just doesn't seem to me to be very smart in such a time of crisis to decide whether we should revert to the previous situation."

FACT: Former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whose government agreed a 1.2 billion loan to Gazprom, went on in 2006, on leaving office, to join its supervisory board.

Now step forward the leaders of four former Warsaw Pact countries. They have turned up in Tblisi to - well, these are the words of Polish president Lech Kaczynski:

"We came to fight because a northern neighbour wants to suppress a small country. We want to tell it 'No!',"

Poland began a new round of talks today to site 10 US missile defence batteries: a move which, though sanctioned by Nato, is not part of the NATO defence arrangements but a trilatreral deal together with the Czech republic.

FACT: "Space Daily" informs us that Poland has previously suggested that the price for missile defence sites would be for the USA to completely modernise its conventional armed forces, which are at present still substantially equipped with 90s era post-Cold War equipment. As late as last May the Polish government suggested the US offer was "unsatisfactory".

The EU is, in other words, strategically divided over its response to the Georgia-Russia war. Yet the EU's ability to bridge between the USA and Russia in this crisis, with Sarkozy as EU President, has arguably been one of its more effective diplomatic gambits. The EU is now said to be mulling sending EU-badged peacekeepers. There are some who see the EU's military ambitions negatively, such as the Sun's former political editor, who this week called it "a European army of chocolate soldiers from 27 bickering member states".

However NATO's top diplomats have recently been calling for the EU military apparatus to become more aligned and congruent to the Nato command structure.

Okay, next: America. Helene Cooper's NYT analysis has been cited non-liberals as insightful on the State Department's considered take on this:

"While America considers Georgia its strongest ally in the bloc of former Soviet countries, Washington needs Russia too much on big issues like Iran to risk it all to defend Georgia."

Of course the State Department will not longer be run by the same people come January, and this new reality is not going to go away anytime soon. From it's public statements so far, the McCain presidential campaign has talked tougher than the Bush administration. "You got a guy who is ready to be president on Day 1 who understands the world for what it is," said McCain ally Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Now, in case you missed it, here is McCain's most succinct and telling soundbite to date (yesterday):

"Today we are all Georgians."

He has called for Russia to be expelled from the G8.

Obama's line has been to call for a review of Russia's application to join the WTO, but not G8. In fact the whole Washington policy community looks, from here in London W12, a little stunned by the events. Not so much because they came out of the blue sky of summer - many foreign policy gurus have been warning about Russia - but because for the first time since 1989 a rival nuclear power has proved capable of creating strategic facts on the ground in a region the USA has invested time, money and diplomatic effort to bring into its own orbit.

Let's look quickly at the multilateral institutions: the UN, NATO and OSCE:

The Security Council has proven understandably powerless in the Georgia crisis.

NATO, an institution whose internal speeches, conferences and communiques have suddenly become worth watching, has been grappling with itself to outline a new strategic posture. Much of its effort in the past decade has gone on converting former Warsaw Pact armies into forces that can a) provide national security on Russia's borders and b) project expeditionary force into places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, as I reported on Newsnight Monday, the USA also has faster-moving bilateral deals in process: the missile defence deals with Poland/Czech Republic, the project to create Joint Task Force East in Romania and Bulgaria, with "forward operating bases on the Black Sea" and regular naval excercises in the Black Sea/Caucasus region.

In this context NATO has struggled to maintain unity on enlargement. April's Bucharest summit saw President Bush blocked by an alliance of France and Germany, which prevented the fast-track membership process for Georgia and Ukraine.

Nato's European member states, in other words, simply replicate the division that now exists within the EU on foreign policy, between a German-French-Italian axis that is conciliatory to Russia and a Baltic-Polish axis that wants, albeit metaphorically for now, to "fight" as the Polish president put it, over Georgia.

The OSCE, little known outside diplomatic circles, has in fact been playing a crucial role in overseeing peacekeeping operations in Georgia-South Ossetia. It was born as a dialogue forum during the détente stage of the Cold War and developed into a tool for overseeing the demilitarisaton of East Europe and then capacity building and peacekeeping after the conflicts that marred the post 1989 period.

However even this is precarious: this is how Russia's Vladimir Putin defined Moscow's change of attitude to OSCE last year:

"They [unnamed Western States] are trying to transform the OSCE into a vulgar instrument designed to promote the foreign policy interests of one or a group of countries. And this task is also being accomplished by the OSCE's bureaucratic apparatus, which is absolutely not connected with the state founders in any way. Decision-making procedures and the involvement of so-called non-governmental organizations are tailored for this task. These organizations are formally independent but they are purposefully financed and therefore under control."

Before finishing this tour-d'horizon of the diplo situation on Wednesday 13 August there is one final point of friction that has got lost in the mainstream coverage: that over drones, their shooting down and their origin.

The Russian armed forces are claiming to have shot down two Georgian UAVs since the conflict started. I believe the British Army has a grand total of nine of these things (correction, it has three) It is now clear that Georgia has "several" and that they are of Israeli origin.

Israel has acknowledged the sale of these platforms but is, at present, being highly cautious about getting itself dragged in to the stand-off. In December 2007 it decided to end sales of "offensive" military equipment to Georgia, concerned that this would provide Russia with the pretext to arm Iran with S300PMU (state of the art) systems which can shoot down both aircraft and ballistic missiles.

This is how far the conflict's ramifications reach - and none of the responses are set in stone. We'll be covering this on Newsnight tonight.

However what I think it does do is blow out of the water a stance I have repeatedly been briefed by UK officials over Russia and Gazprom. The theory was that although the UK is becoming "dependent" on Russian gas, by letting the Russians buy into the UK downstream market the UK would create "interdependence". They can't turn the gas off if they are dependent on the west for revenue, is Foreign Office orthodoxy.

Now it is clear Britian is considering, and I am told pushing, trade sanctions as part of the G7 response to Russia's offensive in Georgia. If this happens it will test to the limit the theory of interdependence.


  • Comment number 1.

    Oil and gas are the key. Military action costs money. Less than 10 years ago the oil price was $10 per barrel. Now with oil at over $100 per barrel, Russia is raking in the money - from? the west.

    We need to get the oil price down or Russia will recreate its old empire.

  • Comment number 2.

    I think events in Georgia have shown yet again, how ineffective the EU actually is, when will it ever be the case that countries within the european union decide to unite against tyranny.
    Russia is flexing it's muscles and America is forced to respond, because the EU is like a dog chasing it's tail.
    It seems politicians can all find a reason to criticise George Bush, but lack the decision making skills he has to simply say; this is not right and must end now!! If the EU can't even agree on a statement of intent then we'll end up giving a green light to other nations who believe because they have resources we all need, they can do as they please, to whomever they please.

  • Comment number 3.

    Apropos Stalin's question: "How many divisions does the Pope have?"

    How many divisions does the EU's 'soft power' have?

    When the going gets tough, soft power is about as useful and productive as a soft... oh, never mind.

  • Comment number 4.

    ...and I forgot to mention that we are reaping in Georgia what we sowed in Kosovo.

  • Comment number 5.

    The EU actually does has some divisions! The Eurocorps, which "belongs" both to the EU and NATO actually has 5 divisions earmarked. Within that there is the genuinely multinational Franco-German brigade. There is also the European Gendarmerie Force, an initiative by five EU countries to create an armed police intervention force modelled on the French CRS. Interestingly Poland has recently committed itself to both these initiatives.

  • Comment number 6.

    The EU actually does has some divisions!...

    is it allowed to fight at weekends or after 6pm?

    ...they are dependent on the west for revenue, is Foreign Office orthodoxy....

    but they are not dependent. how long do you think russia could 'hold out' not supplying us gas? A winter? How long could a uk govt 'hold out' before there were riots in the streets here as oaps drop dead from cold? i'd give it a week.

    as old russia experts used to say 'russian clocks -very slow'.

  • Comment number 7.

    Paul, I am aware that the EU has divisions, but you'd have to agree that they are as likely to be as effective against the Russians as the Vatican's Swiss Guard (and just as likely to be deployed!).

    My question - cunningly cloaked in weak joke - was: when the chips are down, does the EU's 'soft power' have any, um, impact in the 'real world'? You know, that messy, unreliable and sometimes violent real world that exists outside the EUrocratic think-tanks and funding agencies?

  • Comment number 8.


    Have I said that before? You can't fix the group behaviour until you fix a critical percentage of its individual members. All social structures must fail, under pressure, unless the individuals who make up the society are mature, competent socialised beings, who understand what makes self and other tick. In the short time between human birth and puberty, the accent is on DOING rather than BEING; mastering of activity rather than quiescence. We are very bad at being human, and no one is addressing the problem. R D Laing was writing chilling words to this effect IN THE 60s! All we did since then was get worse. Dawkins calls us: 'The Fifth Ape' - I call us 'The Ape Confused by Language'. Desmond Morris termed our society: 'The Human Zoo' but it's worse - the zoo keepers were chosen by the dumbest of the dumb animals, FROM AMONGST THEIR OWN RANKS. This is not a formula for success. We have all watched American 'Affluenza' virus (Oliver James) infect the UK, and it is only a matter of time before it sickens the whole globe. The truth IS out there, but I suspect that's where it will stay.

  • Comment number 9.

    No matter what media has to say now it is only up to the independent investigation what truly has ahppened in South Ossetia. Here is the first document published.

  • Comment number 10.

    Inspite of the European and American experiences in dealing with the Russians in WW1, WW2 and the Cold War; they are now either looking bewildered or pretending to be such as their own hidden agendas are being played out.

    The oprative words here is border security.
    In WW1, Imperial Russia's withdrawal from the Allied Forces was possible on the assurance that Germany make no forays into Russia. In WW2, Russia was a major force in the Allied War efforts as she strived to drive out the Germans from her territory. During the Cold War, no Western democracies dared cross the Iron Curtain to aid the Hungarians and the Czechs. If there is consistency here: Russia's "drawing lines in the sand" are something to be reckon with.

    The break-up of the old Soviet Union is one tumultuous occassion. Boder realignments are to be expected as these are corrections or adjustments to what was a hurried and not well thought-out procees of breaking up.
    It is beyond comprehension and common sense that Georgia, a country with a history of appeasement with and subservience to Russia, insists on dominance over South Ossetians. A group of people who have no interest in the "greater" republic of Georgia.

    What is more galling is Georgia claiming that it is a democracy in peril, a self-infliction from its very own provocative act of invading South Ossetia. Georgia is even publicly claiming to be the West's vanguard in opposing Russia.

    Georgia's deluded and pretentious claim of self-sacrifice for the West is nonsense and it's misleading her citizens. Ask the South Vietnamese and Cambodians about their association with USA prior to 1975.

    The EU's initial effort of getting Georgia to sign a unilateral declaration of ceasefire is an example of EU light-headedness in matters of grave importance. Why would Russia care about Georgia's promise of disengagement when Georgia had lost in the actual shooting fight itself?

    Europeans should revert to its usual and likeable "business as usual" self and quickly recognise Russia's new borders. In time soon, USA will flip-flop when it changes its president.

  • Comment number 11.

    Re 5
    The Eurocorps, which "belongs" both to the EU and NATO actually has 5 divisions earmarked.

    What for? Football?

    We have already seen how flimsy NATO is. Europe is a joke (militarily). Unfortunately Russia knows this.

    Yep the Georgians were a little bit silly thinking they could regain a bit of their territory. Yep the Russians got annoyed. But there is Kosovo. Maybe the Georgians need to think a bit more broadly.

    US et all can get annoyed but logistically supporting Georgia beyond words is a non starter.

    The only plus is that a few people round the world will see Russia for what it is. Unfortunately a few undesirables will also notice.

  • Comment number 12.

    sizzlestick #10

    I agree with your posting.

    Why are we getting involved? The mess Georgia is in is entirely of their own making and they are being taught a lesson by the Russians, and so is the West in the process.

    Russia had right on their side when they counter attacked and destroyed the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia. The sensible thing is for the West to recognise that Georgia was in the wrong. Our leaders however prefer to look as stupid as the Georgian President.

    We need Georgia as an ally like we need a hole in the head. They are a liability who though their provocative and warlike behaviour by making war on South Ossetia have caused this totally unnecessary crisis. They invaded and Russia counter attacked. What were the Georgians thinking??? Did they honestly believe that they could throw the Russians out of South Ossetia without bringing about their own destruction?

  • Comment number 13.

    busyby2 (#12) "The mess Georgia is in is entirely of their own making"

    That's very hard to believe given that politically, geopolitically strategic Georgia (4.6m not much bigger in population than Eire) is very much a Western creation in The Great Game. But as Russia's CSTO only has Armenia to the South between it and Iran given that Georgia and Azerbaijan are no longer members. Russia has created half the necessary corridor into Georgia to ensure that it can get down to the Gulf with enough of its 23,000 or so tanks if SCO hopeful Iran needs them. Or at least, the USA should see it that way I suggest. In fact, adding up the relevant CSTO/SCO forces, I fear the USA/EU is now much more talk than walk.

  • Comment number 14.

    JadedJean #13

    I wrote that "The mess Georgia is in is entirely of their own making" and you responded by writing:

    "That's very hard to believe given that politically, geopolitically strategic Georgia (4.6m not much bigger in population than Eire) is very much a Western creation in The Great Game"...

    But the boundaries of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia were detemined by Stalin and I thought it was generally accepted that his aim was to divide and rule and to ensure that each constituent part of the USSR could not stand independently.

    It seems odd, not to say extremely perverse, that the West should be defending the boundaries of Stalin's synthetic creation. Border alignments are surley to be expected and should be positively encouraged by the Western democracies. After all, Georgia will remain divided and unstable if their borders are not re-aligned.

    I fail to see why people regard Russia's move as a threat. We in the West have been busy reducing the power and influence of Russia ever since the the break up of the USSR. In fact it is the West that has been behaving in an increasingly aggressive and hostile way towards Russia. We have for example actively supported Ukraine and Georgia against Russia and that has rather upset them!

    We should have been trying to build bridges with Russia but instead we have been going out of our way to create tension. Our leaders seem determined to restart the cold war.

  • Comment number 15.

    busby2 (#14) Apart from the borders bit (Stalin wasn't all powerful, he was just premier of a powerful democratic-centralist National Socialist sate) I agree. If interested, see some of my other posts on Friday. The USA is heading for trouble both domestically (its demographics/human capital portend trouble by mid century) and abroad. The USA doesn't don't have a large and able enough population to field effective conventional forces relative to the massive armies of SCO members and oservers, and Europe's going the same way. The USA is all talk and bluster I fear. We could save ourseves a lot of anguish by just inviting the Chinese over now I reckon.

  • Comment number 16.

    busby 14.
    you are right and here in the states it seems that the media has jumped in a little quickly with what looks to me like a deliberate attempt to stir it up(just a little) for I presume the benefit of Mc Cain.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    Hi to all.Pleasure to join in this Blog.

    Georgia Alcohol Addiction Treatment

  • Comment number 19.

    I don't think Russia would ever turn off the gas and oil to Europe. We pay our bills and they want to be seen as good economic partners.

    I never believed the USSR would invade Western Europe and don't believe Russia would invade its neighbours now. This is a Western myth. Why this paranoid view is allowed to persist, I don't know.

    The West does not like the lack of democracy in Russia but works happily with Saudi Arabia. Please explain.

    Georgia provoked Russia knowing that Russia would be demonised if it responded. But Russia was just waiting for Georgia to slip up so it could take these territories 'legitimately'. What has the West been able to do? Nothing.

    In England there is anti-Russian feeling bordering on racism. This is historic but perhaps it is time to examine this knee jerk response.


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