By Paul Woodward
“Russia’s relations with the West plunged to their most critical point in a generation today when the Kremlin built on its military rout of Georgia by recognising the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states,” The Guardian reported.
“Declaring that if his decision meant a new cold war, then so be it, President Dmitri Medvedev signed a decree conferring Russian recognition on Georgia’s two secessionist regions. The move flouted UN Security Council resolutions and dismissed western insistence during the crisis of the past three weeks on respecting Georgia’s territorial integrity and international borders.
“Tonight, Medvedev accused Washington of shipping arms to Georgia under the guise of humanitarian aid.”
A news analysis in RFE/RL said: “Even though Medvedev tasked the Russian Foreign Ministry with drafting treaties on friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance with both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, South Ossetia is almost certainly likely to be subsumed into the Russian Federation sooner rather than later. Indeed, its de facto president, Eduard Kokoity, was quoted by kavkaz-uzel.ru on May 20 as saying that ‘the primary aim of South Ossetia is unification with North Ossetia within the composition of Russia. We have never made any secret of this.’
“North Ossetian President Teimuraz Mamsurov too has described unification of the Ossetian nation within a single territorial entity as righting a historic injustice. The appointment last week of Russian Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak to oversee post-conflict economic reconstruction in South Ossetia indicates that Moscow will continue to call the shots there.”
The Times reported: “Russia played a trump card in its strategic poker game with the West yesterday by threatening to suspend an agreement allowing Nato to take supplies and equipment to Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia.
“The agreement was struck at a Nato summit in April to provide an alternative supply route to the road between the Afghan capital and the Pakistani border, which has come under attack from militants on both sides of the frontier this year.
“Zamir Kabulov, the Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan, told The Times in an interview that he believed the deal was no longer valid because Russia suspended military cooperation with Nato last week over its support for Georgia.”
Having just returned from Georgia, Ukraine and Poland, two of US presidential candidate John McCain’s leading supporters, senators Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “The first priority of America and Europe must be to prevent the Kremlin from achieving its strategic objectives in Georgia. Having been deterred from marching on Tbilisi and militarily overthrowing the democratically elected government there, Russian forces spent last week destroying the country’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges, port and security facilities. This was more than random looting. It was a deliberate campaign to collapse the economy of Georgia, in the hope of taking the government down with it.
“The humanitarian supplies the US military is now ferrying to Georgia are critically important to the innocent men, women and children displaced by the fighting, some of whom we saw last week. Also needed, immediately, is a joint commitment by the US and the European Union to fund a large-scale, comprehensive reconstruction plan – developed by the Georgian government, in consultation with the World Bank, IMF and other international authorities – and for the US Congress to support this plan as soon as it returns to session in September.
“Any assistance plan must also include the rebuilding of Georgia’s security forces. Our past aid to the Georgian military focused on supporting the light, counterterrorism-oriented forces that facilitate Tbilisi’s contribution to coalition operations in Iraq. We avoided giving the types of security aid that could have been used to blunt Russia’s conventional onslaught. It is time for that to change.”
Anatol Lieven wrote in The Times: “If the events of the past fortnight in Georgia have demonstrated one thing clearly, it is that Russia will fight if it feels its vital interests under attack in the former Soviet Union – and that the West will not, and indeed cannot, given its conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Other Western threats are equally empty. Russia itself pulled out of co-operation with Nato. If a real threat is made of expulsion from the G8, Russia will leave that organisation too – especially since a club that does not include China and India is increasingly meaningless anyway. The threat of being barred from joining the World Trade Organisation is a bit stronger – but Russia has done so well economically without membership that this goal too has lost much of its allure.
“Moscow has reminded Nato of the importance of Russian goodwill to secure the supply lines of the US-Nato operation in Afghanistan through Central Asia.”
A commentary for Eurasianet on the implications for Iran from the widening gulf between Russia and the West said: “The Iranian Foreign Ministry adopted a decidedly neutral tone when addressing the Russian-Georgian conflict, resorting to diplomatic platitudes that countries use when they don’t want to commit themselves. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi stated simply at an Aug 12 briefing that Tehran was ‘following current developments in the Caucasus and urge[s] the belligerent parties to resolve their disputes through peaceful means.’
“Since then, Iranian officials have uttered nary a word about the conflict. The low-profile approach seems to indicate that pragmatists in Tehran have control of the foreign policy wheel. Iranian neo-conservatives who are loyal to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have voiced discontent with Tehran’s current policy. ‘Our reticence only aids the camp that wishes US regional adversaries to remain silent while US supporters come to the support of [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili,’ noted an Aug 16 commentary published in Kayhan, a newspaper that is strongly supportive of Ahmadinejad.
“Experts in Tehran believe the Iran’s foreign policy establishment is playing a waiting game in the expectation that deepening US-Russian acrimony will open up new diplomatic avenues that Tehran can use to end its international diplomatic isolation.”