So it seems that Georgia just doesn’t know when she’s beat – although quite what the real situation is there nobody seems to know, as there’s so much disinformation around. Who’s at fault here – Russia or Georgia? The answer’s simple – it’s both.
What’s likely to be most instructive now is not how Russia acts, nor Georgia, but how the West (and especially the European Union, supposedly so keen to act more decisively in the international arena on issues just such as this) responds to those actions. So far, it’s hard not to agree with anti-EU blog EU Referendum on the EU’s slowness.
Because the EU, lest we forget, has its own former Soviet states as members these days. For EU citizens in the likes of Latvia, Lithuania and – espcially – Estonia (as well as throughout the rest of the former Warsaw Pact countries that are now within the European fold), the situation in Georgia is likely to seem all too familiar. Yes, Georgia struck first – but so did the Hungarian revolutionaries in ’56, the Czechs in ’68…
No, the comparison’s not perfect – it’s deeply flawed and obscured by ideology and the memories of the last couple of generations’ attempts to shake off rule from Moscow (plus it’s still not entirely clear just what it was that provoked Georgia into acting – was it actually Russian agents, or simply pissed-off Ossetians, fed up with still being a part of a country they’ve been trying to leave for a decade and a half?). But such concerns are going to be there nonetheless – and the longer the West goes without some kind of decisive action to bring the conflict to an end, the more those concerns are going to grow.
If Russia truly is invading Georgia proper (as some reports have begun to suggest), then the EU and the rest of the West are faced with their toughest call in an age. As far as I can tell, NATO has no jurisdiction in Georgia while she’s not a member – and a physical stand-off between NATO peace-keeping troops and Russian forces would only further underscore the “New Cold War” rhetoric that’s being spouted on both sides of the divide (remember Russia’s displeasure over the proposed US missile shield?), making for a potentially disastrous PR move. The UN is also obviously a no-go, what with Russia being on the Security Council. Which means, in terms of a Western military response to prevent further escalation, that the only option is another Kosovo/Iraq-style operation that will, in terms of international law, be illegal. And so further piss Russia off.
At the moment, it’s hard not to see the West being played expertly by both sides: Russia’s so far managing to act with impunity within its traditional sphere of influence (just like the good old days), while Georgia’s getting to play the martyr and ratchet up Western guilt, knowing that any country that Russia’s attacking is pretty much guaranteed to have the West on its side. (Der Spiegel goes further, arguing that the current situation also serves the purposes of the EU and US. The US? Maybe, as a belligerent Russia may increase eastern European support for its missile shield. But the EU? I don’t see how this can end well for the EU… Too much potential for pissing off Russia on one side and showing the ex-communist EU member states and wannabe member states that, when it comes to the crunch, Brussels simply hasn’t got the balls to stand up to Moscow.)
And so the only relatively safe route I can see at the moment – if we’re to avoid the Georgia situation bubbling over and causing problems in other regions along the Russian fringe – is to get China to mediate. China’s got very little interest in the Caucasus, is just as coldly cordial to Russia as to the West, and is desperate to put on a good show while the Olympics are on. She’s also pretty much the only country big and powerful enough for both Russia and the West to bother listening to.
So, come on, China…