Georgia conflict: Russia asserts itself

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Russia’s invasion of Georgia has shown the world that the US, the EU and NATO are all “paper tigers” in that region, writes former US ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro William D. Montgomery for Belgrade media service B92.

His 17 August analysis argues that Russia has used the South Ossetia crisis to “clearly define what it considers its sphere of influence and dare anyone to challenge it”. He cites the West’s failure to significantly impact upon events on the ground as proof of success in this regard. 

Russia has “transformed itself into an authoritarian power determined to re-establish its hegemony over its ‘near abroad’,” Montgomery believes. He outlines a number of other motives for Russia’s behaviour during this “key moment in international affairs”: 

  • The “crushing defeat for the Georgian military and Georgian policy altogether” represents Russian punishment for President Mikheil Saakashvili “for his efforts to reassert control [over South Ossetia and Abkhazia]” and “for cosying up to the United States and NATO”. 
  • Russia has “ensured that the breakaway enclaves will stay free of Georgian control for the foreseeable future”. 
  • It has “reminded all of the countries of the Russian ‘near abroad’ that it is once again a major world power to be crossed at one’s peril”. 
  • It has “demonstrated that ignoring [its] objections to Kosovo independence has definite consequences”. 

Montgomery also mentions an increased perceived risk of deeper involvement in the region for NATO countries. 

Seeking the roots of the crisis, the former ambassador highlights “a remarkable lack of appreciation [in the West] of the implications of Russia’s drift towards authoritarianism and aggressiveness”. He claims that the US failed to realise that its policies of engagement and support for democratic change towards Russia’s neighbours was becoming “increasingly dangerous” and considered by the Kremlin to be “a major provocation”. 

He calls on NATO to “think hard about its policy of strong engagement of potential new members such as Georgia and Ukraine,” and suggests that NATO and the EU make “a list of measures” they are willing to take “to send a strong message to Russia about the consequences of the Georgian action and anything similar”. 

Montgomery concludes that the relationship between Russia and the West has now deteriorated to the extent that further confrontation, which “no one wants or needs”, appears “more and more certain”. 

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