Post-mortem on Europe’s first war of the 21st century

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

Last month’s war between Russia and Georgia has “shattered any remaining illusions over the frontiers of the normative map of Europe,” according to Michael Emerson of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

“Europe’s first war of the 21st century” brought about Georgia’s “definitive loss of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” Emerson writes in an August paper. 

The author criticises Russia for plotting a “trap for Saakashvili to fall into”. Tracing the roots of the war, he points to Putin’s policy of weakening Georgia during his presidency. 

He argues that Georgia’s actions gave Russia “the pretext to invade Georgia in order to destroy President Saakashvili politically and to cripple Georgia’s statehood and economy”. 

Moreover, Emerson slams Saakashvili’s “folly”, lamenting his “military and political blunder in falling into that trap”. But he also blames the United States for “having failed to restrain its protégé,” Georgia. Direct consequences of the Russian occupation of Georgia are threats to both the country’s economy and “the transit of oil and gas from the Caspian to the West”. 

As far as the EU is concerned, Emerson advises the bloc to “step up its policies to integrate Ukraine” before Russian leaders are encouraged to “move on from ‘success’ in Georgia to pursue comparable objectives and tactics in Ukraine and Moldova”. This may be the motivation behind Russia’s attempts to dissuade Ukraine from becoming a NATO member. Ukraine could see its “statehood” “destroyed” by Russia, states Emerson. 

The author also offers the “wider view” that Russia is using all means “to change the map of Eastern Europe in favour of a hybrid neo-imperialist/neo-Soviet strategy”. But although Russia’s petro-wealth and petro-power allow its officials to speak in this manner, its economy is extremely “vulnerable and weak beyong its natural resource sectors,” he opines. 

If the current “macho realpolitik” continues to satisfy the present leadership, then Russia risks being seen by the West as a “duplicitous bully and semi-pariah state,” Emersopn claims.

At the extraordinary EU summit on 1 September 2008, “Sarkozy warned that if Moscow did not keep its word over withdrawal, EU leaders would get together and make another decision”. It is “in Russia’s own interest not to isolate itself from Europe,” Emerson concludes. 

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