Georgia: Soft power and multilateralism tested to the limit
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.