The end of the cold war was supposed to usher in a new age in which the major powers would no longer dictate to their neighbors how to run their affairs. That is why Russia’s invasion of Georgia is so tragic and so potentially ominous. Russia is now on watch: Will it continue to rely on coercion to achieve its imperial aims, or is it willing to work within the emerging international system that values cooperation and consensus?
Editor’s Comment — Zbigniew Brzezinski eptomizes the coming end of the anti-Bush alliance. While he has in recent years been one of the most clear-eyed critics of the administration’s Middle East policies and its misconceived War on Terrorism, when it comes to Georgia, Brzezinski speaks as an old Cold Warrior.
Instead of heeding a call to form a bipartisan approach in pushing back against Russia’s imperial ambitions, now would be a good time to reflect upon the fact that the strategic blunder that laid the foundations for the current crisis was the Clinton administration’s squandering of an opportunity to bring Russia in from the cold. The failure of America and Europe to embrace Russia when it was weak has fed enduring resentment. It suggested that what had been cast as an ideological struggle was a mask for much more deeply rooted antagonisms and cultural prejudices.
At a time when people are talking about the end of the post-Cold War era, we should be considering how that era failed by allowing a Cold War assumption to endure: that strategic alliances need to be based on shared hostility rather than a mutual desire for cooperation.
In less than a week of military operations sparked by Georgia’s assault on its breakaway province of South Ossetia, Moscow is emerging as the immediate winner. A still-stunned West is looking for ways to censure Russia for its “disproportionate” incursion into Georgia that has reshaped the strategic game in the Caucasus and beyond to Russia’s great advantage.
“If the Russians stop hostilities now, they will have redrawn the whole strategic situation in the Caucasus, to the detriment of the Americans,” says François Heisbourg, special adviser to the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “No one will invest in Georgia, in oil pipelines, in new ventures [there] now…. The game is over. In the new version of the Great Game, the Russians can cash in.” The scope of the “victory” is substantial: Moscow controls territory and leverage, has incapacitated the Georgian military, denied Tblisi its much-hoped-for NATO status, and put the Georgian leader it despises – Mikheil Saakashvili – into a tough position.
The Bush administration mixed strong rhetoric with modest action yesterday in response to Russia’s continued military incursion in Georgia, warning that Moscow’s international aspirations are threatened if it does not honor a negotiated cease-fire in the conflict.
President Bush announced the start of a humanitarian aid program for Georgia using U.S. military airplanes and ships, although officials said the effort so far includes only two scheduled flights. One shipment arrived later yesterday and another is to land today. He also dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for a diplomatic trip that will take her to Paris and then to Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi to show “America’s unwavering support.”
“The United States stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia,” Bush said during an appearance at the White House. “We insist that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected.”
Yet Bush’s statement, along with the moderate measures that came with it, served to underscore the limited options available to the United States, which has neither the wherewithal nor the willingness to enter into a military conflict with Russia on its territorial border.
It was nearly 2 a.m. on Wednesday when President Nicolas Sarkozy of France announced he had accomplished what seemed virtually impossible: Persuading the leaders of Georgia and Russia to agree to a set of principles that would stop the war.
Handshakes and congratulations were offered all around. But by the time the sun was up, Russian tanks were advancing again, this time taking positions around the strategically important city of Gori, in central Georgia.
It soon became clear that the six-point deal not only failed to slow the Russian advance, but it also allowed Russia to claim that it could push deeper into Georgia as part of so-called additional security measures it was granted in the agreement. Mr. Sarkozy, according to a senior Georgian official who witnessed the negotiations, also failed to persuade the Russians to agree to any time limit on their military action.
On Monday, President Mikheil Saakashvili, his army in retreat and his Western allies still surprised by the intensity of the Russian attack, was the very picture of vulnerability, dodging Russian military jets.
By Wednesday he seemed an almost preternaturally reinvigorated man, once again raising the temperature in Georgia’s bitter disagreements with Russia, and invoking special ties with American democracy and freedom.
Moments after President Bush appeared at the Rose Garden to say that the Pentagon would begin a humanitarian aid mission to support Georgia, Mr. Saakashvili was on the phone with a Western reporter, talking fast. “This is a turning point,” he said. Soon he appeared on national television, his tousled hair combed back flat and wearing a freshly pressed suit, assuring his country that the worst had passed.
No matter that Russian troops were 30 miles away, milling on the road outside the capital, meeting no resistance. Mr. Saakashvili was in cocky form in an interview later in the evening with reporters, expounding on Nazi propaganda, Orwell and the film “Dr. Strangelove.”
Russian troops, in clear violation of a cease-fire agreement set only on Tuesday, embarked Wednesday on what Georgian officials called a deliberate and systematic attempt to demolish what remains of the Georgian military.
The actions ignited an angry response from the United States, with President Bush demanding that Moscow withdraw its forces from Georgia.
The president also announced that U.S. military aircraft and ships would begin delivering humanitarian aid to the former Soviet republic in a “vigorous and ongoing” operation and that U.S. officials would expect unfettered access to Georgia’s ports and highways.
The sudden war in the Caucasus brought Georgia to heel, reasserted Russia’s claim as the dominant force in the region, and dealt a blow to U.S. prestige. But in this part of the world, diplomacy and war are about oil and gas as much as they are about hegemony and the tragic loss of human life. Victory in Georgia now gives Russia the edge in the struggle over access to the Caspian’s 35 billion barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of gas. The probable losers: the U.S. and those Western oil companies that have bet heavily on the Caspian as one of the few regions where they could still operate with relative freedom.
At the core of the struggle is a vast network of actual and planned pipelines for shipping Caspian Sea oil to the world market from countries that were once part of the Soviet empire. American policymakers working with a BP-led consortium had already helped build oil and natural gas pipelines across Georgia to the Turkish coast. Next on the drawing board: another pipeline through Georgia to carry natural gas from the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea to Austria—offering an alternate supply to Western Europe, which now depends on Russia for a third of its energy.
Then the main pipeline that carries oil through Georgia was completed in 2005, it was hailed as a major success in the United States policy to diversify its energy supply. Not only did the pipeline transport oil produced in Central Asia, helping move the West away from its dependence on the Middle East, but it also accomplished another American goal: it bypassed Russia.
American policy makers hoped that diverting oil around Russia would keep the country from reasserting control over Central Asia and its enormous oil and gas wealth and would provide a safer alternative to Moscow’s control over export routes that it had inherited from Soviet days. The tug-of-war with Moscow was the latest version of the Great Game, the 19th-century contest for dominance in the region.
A bumper sticker that American diplomats distributed around Central Asia in the 1990s as the United States was working hard to make friends there summed up Washington’s strategic thinking: “Happiness is multiple pipelines.”
Now energy experts say that the hostilities between Russia and Georgia could threaten American plans to gain access to more of Central Asia’s energy resources at a time when booming demand in Asia and tight supplies helped push the price of oil to record highs.
American soldiers will withdraw from cities across Iraq next summer and all US combat troops will leave the country within three years, provided the violence remains low, under the terms of a draft agreement with the Iraqi Government.
In one of the most detailed insights yet into the content of the deal, Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, has also told The Times that the US military would be barred from unilaterally mounting attacks inside Iraq from next year.
In addition, the power of arrest for US soldiers would be curbed by the need to hand over any detainee to a new, US-Iraqi committee. Troops would require the green light from this joint command before conducting any operation.