EU Relations Will Test Russian Intentions After Georgia Invasion

The OSCE seems to have serious doubts about Georgia’s role and there are even suggestions that the conflict was provoked by Vice President Cheney in order to boost McCain’s cause in the US elections.

Rash initiatives by the Georgian government in South Ossetia were almost certainly the trigger for the Russian action, but a trigger which Moscow had long been anticipating. The campaign was surely a far-reaching and thoroughly planned operation to damage the regime of President Mikhail Saakashvili, to assert Russia’s right to dictate political developments in its near abroad and to block NATO expansion in Ukraine and the Caucasus.

The tensions had been building for some time, apparently including a mounting level of cyber attacks on Georgian official websites similar to those previously experienced by Estonia, and reprisals against Russian sites by so-called “hacktivists” who specialise in DDOS – Distributed Denial of Service, where websites are sabotaged by swamping.

It is the scale of Russian actions in Georgia which may prove deeply counter-productive for Moscow. It seems likely to strengthen the US presence in the region and will raise the level of scepticism about Russia’s good faith in its international dealings. It will no doubt give quite a boost for those who wish to build new oil and gas pipelines which bypass Russia. Much will depend on how quickly the Russians withdraw from occupied Georgian territory and engage with OSCE and EU. There is no denying, though, that NATO expansion now looks much more challenging than it was before August 8. European members of the Alliance will have no enthusiasm for extending the guarantees of Article 5 to the Caucasus.

The European Union has acted quickly with its ceasefire proposals, some strong words and convening of a special summit in Brussels, where deep divisions of opinion were papered over and a united Franco-German position carried the day.

Europe is at pains to stress that the EU makes common cause with the Americans, but its rhetoric has been much more cautious. Sanctions have been rejected and dialogue sustained. If President Sarkozy and his colleagues can make real progress in their talks with the Russian leadership, even to the extent of launching a programme to resolve the “frozen conflicts” of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, then that would be a very considerable achievement

Russia needs the EU quite as much as the EU needs Russia, if only to counterbalance and moderate American policies in the region. While keeping the pinch of salt to hand (and remembering the black belt), it’s interesting to see what President Medvedev had to say to Euronews in defending the Russian position and expounding on the EU-Russia relationship.