Sunday, August 31, 2008

Russia's Actions Raises Ukraine Issues For EU

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Russia's actions in Georgia have turned the prospect of EU membership for Ukraine into a hot issue.

EU Enlargement Affairs Commissioner Ollie Rehn

Ukraine is hoping a summit with the EU in early September will for the first time recognize it as a potential member of the elite club. It also wants talks on a free-trade zone and visa-free travel for its citizens to the EU.

Such moves, say Kiev and its EU backers, would help bind Ukraine to Europe and pre-empt any Russian attempts to meddle with its western neighbor.

However, EU nations are divided.

France and Britain along with Nordic and eastern European nations want the EU to bring Ukraine into the fold. Germany, Spain and Austria have long been reticent, arguing that Ukraine is not ready to join and fearing a westward flood of cheap labor.

Their reluctance has meant that the EU has long refused to offer Ukraine even a long-term prospect of membership. Instead, it was grouped with North African and Middle Eastern nations in a "neighborhood program" that offers deep economic ties but no prospect of future membership.

The Russian invasion, however, has cause some to rethink that strategy.

"Discussion about Ukraine's candidate status is not on the agenda at the moment," EU Enlargement Affairs Commissioner Ollie Rehn said in a speech in Helsinki last week.

But he added: "We should not say 'never' to Ukraine."

Rehn suggested that the country "may be the next focus of political pressure for Russia whose doctrine of 'the near abroad' harks back to the sphere of interest policy of the past."

For the sake of European stability, he said, EU governments must "deliver a clear political signal that Ukraine's rapprochement toward the EU is possible."

On a visit to Kiev last week, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband accused Moscow of succumbing to "the temptations of power politics" with its invasion of Georgia and warned President Dmitry Medvedev not to start a new Cold War.

The EU-Ukraine summit will be hosted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Sept. 9 in the French spa town of Evian.

Kiev said it needs greater guarantees of safety from Moscow. "Current events in Georgia have clearly shown" that the European neighborhood program "has completely failed," Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Yelisyeyev told reporters in Brussels last week.

That program also includes Georgia and is designed to draw Russia's nearest neighbors closer to Western Europe without greatly upsetting Moscow.

Yelisyeyev said after "what has happened in Georgia, [continuing] like nothing has happened is a mistake. Under these circumstances, we cannot have business as usual."

Tomas Valasek, a researcher at the London-based Center for European Reform, said the EU must change course and "refocus on Central-Eastern Europe, on Ukraine and on Moldova."

"EU enlargement was a good idea before the war in Georgia, and the conflict has only underlined its importance," he said.

Source: The Moscow Times

Canada's Secretary of State Guergis to Visit Georgia, Ukraine And Poland

OTTAWA, Canada -- The Honourable Helena Guergis, Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade), will visit Tbilisi, Kiev and Warsaw from August 31 to September 3, 2008, to demonstrate Canada’s solidarity with Georgia and concern for people affected by the recent fighting, as well as to consult with key leaders and partners.

Canada's Secretary of State Helena Guergis

During her visit, she will also have the opportunity to obtain first-hand information on developments on the ground.

“Canada is very troubled by what is happening in Georgia,” said Secretary of State Guergis. “Canada steadfastly supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and strongly urges Russia to do the same—by complying fully with the six-point peace plan brokered by President Sarkozy on behalf of the European Union.”

In response to the crisis in Georgia, Canada is providing a total of $3 million to trusted humanitarian agencies that are assisting those affected by the conflict.

Source: Foreign Affairs - Canada

David Miliband And David Cameron Blunder Over Russia

LONDON, England -- The most frightening sight in recent weeks has not been the media’s metamorphosis of Russia from genial, if rather uncouth, bear into snarling wolf, but the knee-jerking of British politicians.

David Miliband (L) and David Cameron.

In Kiev and Tbilisi, David Miliband, the foreign secretary, and David Cameron, the Tory leader, displayed their lack of historical perspective, posturing on politico-economic faultlines of which they appear to have barely schoolboy understanding.

Russia is a huge country not as far away as we would like, about which our politicians know far too little. That is most acute when it comes to the “near abroad”, the former Soviet republics to which George W Bush – and now Miliband and Cameron – would like to extend the Nato membership that the West refused Russia.

It has been said that Russia fears a new encirclement. It does, but it is more than that: for Nato forces to enter Ukraine would for most Russians be tantamount to invasion. For Cameron to equate Estonia and Ukraine, as he did last week, is stupidity.

Estonia’s history, language and culture are markedly separate. Forced into the Soviet Union in the second world war, it has also over the centuries been part of Sweden, and ruled by the Teutonic knights. Its language is related to Finnish.

Ukraine is another matter. Its name comes from Old Slavonicu kraju, meaning “on the edge” – in other words, borderlands.

We stopped saying “the Ukraine” to make it sound more like any other country. To Russians it doesn’t. “The” Ukraine had no independent existence before 1991. Like most borderlands it has been almost continuously fought over, since the early Slav kingdom of Kievan Rus fell to Mongol invaders.

Parts of it belonged for centuries to the vast Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, then much of the west to the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Today, those are the most westward-looking regions, where the language mostly spoken is Ukrainian rather than Russian and the religion is Uniate Catholicism rather than Russian Orthodox.

Kiev, however, remains an anchor in Russo-Slav identity. Far older than Moscow, Kievan Rus gave us the word “Russia”; a statue of its first ruler, Rurik, dominates Moscow’s Pushkin Square. Kiev has totemic status, as Winchester or Runnymede does for England. Of all the losses suffered since the fall of the Soviet Union, those of Ukraine and Belarus have been hardest for Russians to suffer.

Fifty per cent of Ukraine’s population speaks Russian (compared with the 17% who are ethnically Russian). Many Russians – including the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn – see Ukrainian as little more than a dialect, no different from Geordie’s relationship to southern English.

Stalin, the Georgian who became Russia’s greatest imperialist, gave the Ukrainians extra territory in 1945 because he considered them inseparable from Russia. He vetoed seats in the United Nations for Canada and Australia unless Russia’s “dominions” got them too. And they did. Never in his wildest dreams did he expect them to vote their own way, let alone achieve independence.

Georgia in Moscow’s eyes is merely a testing ground – from which it emerged victorious. If Ukraine is invited into Nato, the risk is not just a crisis over the Black Sea port of Sebastopol, leased until 2017 to the Russian navy, but also a Russian annexation of the whole Crimean peninsula.

That is no more improbable than it would be difficult. Access from Ukraine proper is by a narrow causeway over marshland that could be taken by one battalion of paratroops. Meanwhile, the city of Kerch in the east is less than three miles across water from Russian soil.

Russian annexation would be locally popular. Crimea was not part of Ukraine before 1945. Ninety per cent of its population speaks Russian. Its historic population – the Tatars – were exiled by Stalin and replaced by Russians.

That would invite a Ukrainian civil war, almost certainly bringing in the pro-Moscow breakaway region of Transdnistria in neighbouring Moldova.

This is a minefield over which Miliband and Cameron are trampling without a map. John McCain may see “KGB” written in Vladimir Putin’s eyes but that doesn’t mean what it used to. Russia may be a corrupt pseudo-democracy but it is not communist.

This is a turf war. Russia no longer challenges America for global hegemony but that doesn’t mean it’s going to sit quietly while Uncle Sam parks tanks on what it considers to be its front lawn.

To borrow a line from a new John le Carré book: “To ignore history is to ignore the wolf at the door.”

Source: The Sunday Times

Analysis: Will Europe Stand Up To Moscow?

LONDON, England -- European Union heads of state and government meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss what to do following Russia's crushing of Georgia. Can they make a better job of facing down Russia's new assertiveness than NATO's foreign ministers did?

The Russian military in South Ossetia on August 29.

Moscow's response to NATO's warning that normal relations could not continue was to swat it away with a contemptuous "See if we care." Russia simply announced in return it was severing its working arrangements with NATO.

Since then both sides have been maneuvering. To the amazement of most European diplomats Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claimed to CNN that the U.S. had pushed Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili into provoking the crisis as a U.S. presidential campaign tactic.

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband rushed to Ukraine, the other potential NATO candidate in Russia's "near abroad." But that wasn't just to signal to Moscow not to push things too far in targeting other former Soviet Republics and to indicate support for President Victor Yuschenko.

It was also to warn him not to fall for Russian provocation in the Crimea, where Russia leases port facilities until 2017, and so give Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin any pretext for intervening there.

How tough are EU leaders prepared to play? What sanctions might they have in mind against Russia over the violation of the Georgia cease-fire agreement? After all, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, currently in the six-monthly revolving EU chair, has insisted that there would have to be "serious consequences" for any breaching of the terms he negotiated with Medvedev.

The EU has scheduled for September 15, for example, a meeting to discuss a new EU/Russia partnership. What will the Brussels conclave decide about that?

Will the EU call for Russia to be punished for re-drawing borders in the Caucasus by being excluded from the G8 grouping of leading industrialized countries? After all the others who constitute the original G7, including the UK, France, Germany and Italy, have condemned what Russia did in Georgia.

Will the EU leaders threaten to oppose Russian membership of the World Trade Organization? While the U.S. State Department has suggested Russia will now have great difficulty getting into the WTO the European Commission is saying that it still believes Moscow's admission is both right and possible.

One little snag there though for Russia. Georgia is already a WTO member, in possession of a veto.

Will the EU leaders in Brussels offer to speed Georgia and Ukraine into the EU?

Linked to those questions is another. How hard will Russia play it in return? Already before the weekend there were leaks suggesting Russia would start turning off the pipelines which supply many EU countries with more than a third of their energy supplies. What might that do to oil prices at western pumps?

Russia's action in Georgia may be costing it economically. There has been a sharp fall-off in inward investment. But in the current volatile energy market Russia is not without retaliatory weapons, at least in the short term.

EU ministers won't have forgotten that just after Prague signed up to participation in the U.S. missile defense plan in July a sudden "technical difficulty" with the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline resulted in a 40 percent drop in supplies to the Czech Republic. Similarly supplies were cut to Estonia during a row over the removal of Red Army memorials.

If the EU hand looks a little weak and its leverage limited, things have not been going entirely Moscow's way. Russia did not get quite the fulsome degree of support it had hoped for from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, for its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

This loosely- knit group, which Moscow would like to mould into some kind of counterweight to NATO, includes former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. But it also numbers China among its members -- and Beijing, with Tibet in mind, is not too keen on precedents encouraging the recognition of breakaway regions.

The Dushanbe meeting supported some elements of Russian intervention but called for a peaceful resolution of difficulties and stressed the importance of territorial integrity.

So what are we likely to see at the end of the Brussels meeting? Even well in advance French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is conceding that the EU is split on sanctions against Russia and may impose none.

Sarkozy called Russian recognition of the enclaves "simply unacceptable" but added: "Nobody wants to go back to the time of the Cold War. NATO is not an adversary but a partner of Russia. As for the EU, it seeks to build with this country a close and positive relation. It is for Russia today to make a fundamental choice."

Baltic nations and Poland, a close ally of Ukraine, will be pushing for tough language and action. But Germany, Italy and even Britain do not believe that isolating Moscow is a sensible way forward.

Because of the difficulties in securing agreement it seems likely that the focus will be more on helping Georgia than on penalizing Russia. The meeting is likely to approve sending a civilian monitoring mission to Georgia, increasing aid there and in Ukraine and Moldova and relaxing visa restrictions on Georgians.

As for encouraging noises to Ukraine about eventual EU membership, those can be expected too. Russian opposition to that idea has so far been comparatively muted. But remember that the EU is currently in an anti-enlargement mode after Romania and Bulgaria were rushed in prematurely.

And there is that awkward little matter of the new EU constitution, rejected in a referendum earlier this year by Ireland's voters. There can be no more enlargement, Sarkozy has insisted, until a new constitution has been agreed by all 27 existing members.

Source: CNN Europe

The Mouse That Roared: Georgia's Attack On South Ossetia Sets Russia And The U.S. On A Dangerous Course

EDMONTON, Canada -- Pipsqueak Georgia's harebrained and disastrous attack on tiny South Ossetia has produced a full-blown crisis pitting the U.S. and NATO against Russia.

Russian General Yuri Baluyevsky warns his nation has the right to launch a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" against enemies.

In an act fraught with danger, U.S. and NATO warships are delivering supplies to Georgia, watched by Russian men of war. The U.S. Congress may soon vote $1 billion for America's embattled Georgian satellite.

The western powers have resorted to fierce Cold War rhetoric. They are playing with fire. Russia has some 6,600 strategic nuclear weapons, mostly aimed at North America and Europe.

Besides the U.S., which invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and whose air force just killed 90 Afghan civilians, 60 of them children, is in no position to lecture Moscow about aggression.

France's conservative president, Nicolas Sarkozy, blasted Russia and shortly will hold a European summit over Georgia in Brussels. As usual, the Harper government faithfully echoed Washington's words.

Poland agreed to emplace a U.S. anti-ballistic missile system only 184 km from Russia's border, provoking Moscow's fury. Ukraine and Poland are loudly backing Georgia.

Russia's chief of staff, Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, warns his nation has the right to launch a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" against enemies, in line, he tartly noted, with the Bush administration's own policies.

Topping off this war of words, two of Sen. John McCain's closest right wing allies, senators Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, went to Georgia and called for "tough" measures against Moscow. They urged isolating Russia for "aggression" and admitting Ukraine and Georgia to NATO.


McCain's allies give a good preview of what his foreign policy would look like. Lieberman and Graham, leading proponents of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, had the chutzpah to insist, "Russia must not be allowed to control energy supplies."

This ugly mess recalls how the great powers blundered into both the first and second world wars over obscure locales such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Danzig Corridor.

The obvious lesson: Act with extreme caution. Few are listening as rhetoric sharpens.

The Bush administration -- most likely VP Dick Cheney -- almost certainly planned or knew about Georgia's attack on Russian-backed South Ossetia launched under cover of the Beijing Olympics.

Whether the White House was trying to inflict a quick little military victory over Moscow, or whipping up war fever at home to boost John McCain's prospects in the presidential election, is uncertain.

This crisis over a mere 70,000 South Ossetians and 18,000 Abkhazians could have been resolved quietly by diplomacy. Instead, the Bush administration turned it into a major confrontation by accusing Russia of aggression.

Washington, which rightly recognized the independence of Kosovo's Albanians from Serb repression, denounced Russia's recognition of Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence from Georgian repression.

Meanwhile, Moscow, which crushed the life out of Chechnya's independence movement, piously claimed to be defending Ossetian independence.

Things may get worse. The U.S. is pressing Ukraine to join NATO, though half of its 48 million citizens oppose doing so. Ukraine's constitution mandates a neutral state.

Russia allowed Ukraine to decamp from the Soviet Union with the understanding it would never join NATO, and allow Russia's Black Sea Fleet to operate from Crimea.

Russian political expert Sergei Markov rightly notes that Washington and NATO see Ukraine as a rich new source of troops for Iraq and Afghanistan, wars from which he says NATO leaders cannot withdraw their soldiers without committing "political suicide."

"Old Europe" is trying to avoid a clash with Moscow, while "new Europe" -- Georgia, Poland, the Czechs, and Balts -- frightened of Russia's growing power, eggs on the U.S.-Russia confrontation.

Not only did the clumsy U.S. attempt to expand its influence into Moscow's backyard backfire badly, Washington's childish, petulant response is as inflammatory as it is powerless.

The Georgian crisis and empty threats against Russia have aroused strong nationalist passions in Russia, which sees itself increasingly isolated and surrounded by the U.S. and NATO.

Nationalist hysteria, jingoism, and fevered rhetoric are coming from both sides. We saw such lunacy before: In August 1914, and September 1939

Source: Edmonton Sun

Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov: "If We Lose Sevastopol, We'll Lose The Caucasus"

MOSCOW, Russia -- Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov is convinced that a new Black Sea Fleet agreement must be signed with Ukraine.

Sevastopol was never given to Ukraine during the Soviet Union, says Moscow mayor Yuriy Luzhkov.

"I submitted a proposal to finish the new agreement by September. Russia needs to invite Ukraine to the table to consider this agreement," RIA Novosti quoted Luzhkov as stating.

The Moscow mayor referred to Ukraine's recent actions as a "blatant disregard" for the present agreement due to the country's NATO aspirations. He added that Russia is "losing Sevastopol."

"If we lose Sevastopol," said Luzhkov. "We'll lose the Caucasus."

In May 2008, at a celebration marking the Black Sea Fleet's 225th anniversary, Luzhkov reiterated earlier calls to reintegrate Sevastopol and the Crimean Peninsula into Russia.

"Sevastopol was never given to Ukraine," said Luzhkov. "I have carefully studied all the main documents." After the speech, Ukraine's security service declared Luzhkov persona non grata.

Recently, Ukraine's government stated a new agreement must be signed with Moscow that will regulate such issues as the Black Sea Fleet's participation in armed conflicts and ensure Ukraine's soverign right to monitor the fleet while on Ukrainian territory.

Several weeks ago, Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko signed an order stating the Black Sea Fleet's commanding officer must inform their Joint Chief of Staff if Russian ships plan to leave Ukrainian territory.

Russia's Interior Ministry referred to the order as "another serious anti-Russian maneuver" breaking the agreement on cordial relations between Kiev and Moscow.

Source: Kommsomolska Pravda

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Where’s Next In Vladimir Putin’s Sights?

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia’s aggression towards Georgia, its long-range missile tests and the fiery rhetoric coming out of both Moscow and western capitals in the past week have provoked comparisons with the cold war. How worried should we be?

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

A graffito daubed on the wall of a Georgian army base at Senaki by Russian soldiers who looted the place last week reads, “Thanks Uncle Sam for the uniforms”. The Russians could not resist a swipe at America for arming, training and even dressing the Georgian armed forces.

Uniforms were not the only US kit that the Russians seized from the defeated Georgian army in the short but vicious war that appeared to have put paid to the country’s hopes of joining NATO. At Poti, the Black Sea port occupied by Russian troops, five US Marine Corps Humvees were captured.

They had been awaiting shipment back to America after being used in a military exercise with the Georgian army. Now their fate is uncertain. A Russian general called it a “detail” but his relish in the capture of American military hardware was a telling example of how East-West antagonism has been revived.

By late last week the sabre-rattling was reminiscent of the cold war at its most chilling: the Russians were test firing long-range missiles, NATO vessels were steaming into the region and Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, was being accused by Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, of an “evil imagination” for voicing suspicions that the Kremlin, having gobbled up the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and Ossetia by officially recognising their independence, might move next on Ukraine or Moldova.

Today’s Kremlin is far different from the geriatric institution of the 1970s, when Soviet citizens were locked behind the “iron curtain” deprived of even the slightest whiff of the West.

Russian leaders these days are being advised by a slick New York-based public relations giant, their subjects free to gorge themselves on as much western decadence as they want, having long ago dumped the communist gospel.

Yet the crude nationalism that has replaced reverence for the hammer and sickle may pose a danger to the rest of the world if the Kremlin, skilled at manipulating it, were to lose control.

Britain’s relations with Russia have been at a particularly low ebb since the poisoning in London of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent, a murder that the government believes was ordered by Moscow; and relations will not have been helped by the visit last week of David Miliband, the foreign secretary, to Ukraine, the former Soviet Union’s bread basket, “to assemble the widest possible coalition against Russian aggression”.

Is this mere hot air? Is there any real danger of the cold war, when the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction hung over the world, being revived – and who should be the most worried about it?

When Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, announced his country’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia last week, he stood beneath a two-headed Russian eagle.

As a national crest, it seems an appropriate symbol for the contradictory instincts that have pulled Russia in two different directions for centuries and, as the past few weeks have shown, continue to do so.

One side wants Russia to adopt western standards in government and business, the other wants to bring back a modified Soviet model and go it alone, believing that “westernisers” have brought only humiliation for Russia. Today these “hawks” – in other epochs they were called “isolationists” or “Slavophiles” – have the upper hand.

Vladimir Putin, the former president who has recently switched roles to become prime minister, said that Russia was frustrated because: “There’s a feeling that the West treats Russia merely as a loser in the cold war, which has to play by the winners’ rules.” The intervention in Georgia was Russia drawing a red line.

Relations with the West have been strained by NATO giving membership to Moscow’s Soviet-era satellites as well as to the former Soviet Baltic republics. They have become vociferous critics of Russia within the American-led alliance.

At the same time, Russian officials have complained that Moscow’s cooperation with the West on key international issues such as the fight against terrorism, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea have failed to translate into a qualitative change in relations. “We cannot endlessly retreat with a smiling face,” said one Kremlin official.

Edward Lozansky, a former Soviet dissident who became head of the American University in Moscow, explained the prevailing view: “Putin was expecting some reciprocity for joining the antiterrorist coalition. What he got instead was further NATO expansion to Russia’s back yard and aggressive pipeline policy to weaken Russia’s position in the energy market.”

Not surprisingly, the Russian occupation of Georgia has turned into one of the most popular ventures ever undertaken by the Kremlin. But who was behind it?

Kremlin politics these days seem as opaque as they were in the cold war and, although tempting, it would probably be wrong to view Putin and Medvedev as the embodiment of that double-headed eagle.

Nevertheless, French diplomats report a comment by Putin over lunch with President Nicolas Sarkozy in the Kremlin not long after the crisis erupted.

He apparently described Medvedev and himself as “a good cop, bad cop routine”. It was the “nice” Medvedev who announced last week that Russia was not afraid of another cold war; and although Putin was widely believed to be calling the shots, Medvedev seemed to be emerging as his own man, winning popularity among the public because of the Russian “victory” in Georgia.

It prompted suggestions that Putin was getting jealous which inspired him, so the theory goes, to allege that America had goaded the Georgians into war to help the prospects of the hawkish John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate.

Some believed, nevertheless, that the crisis had strengthened Putin more than Medvedev and one Russian newspaper reflected the extent of public support for him by using a picture of a fist with the middle finger raised at America. Yet the peculiarity of this “new cold war” is that America, for once, seemed hardly to notice.

When Barack Obama, the US presidential candidate, stood up to deliver his speech at the Democratic convention in Denver last week, he was never likely to dwell long on foreign policy before an audience concerned mostly about domestic economic problems.

Even so, he gave short shrift to the crisis in Georgia, a measure of America’s startlingly relaxed response to Russian aggression. In his 44-minute address, Obama devoted just two sentences to the Russian threat, with a bland promise of “tough, direct diplomacy . . . that can curb Russian aggression”.

The candidate’s swift dismissal of what may prove the next US president’s most difficult foreign policy challenge confirmed a curious effect of the Russian invasion of Georgia.

Despite warnings from numerous US officials that Moscow’s actions represent a serious long-term threat to the West, neither the US media nor most of the American public have shown the remotest interest in the turmoil in the Caucasus.

Indeed there was a widely expressed belief that this was a crisis that Europe ought to be able to handle. “The sooner Europe equips itself to confront the challenges of a resurgent Russia, the better,” declared Sally McNamara, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

Nevertheless, President George W Bush will this week send Dick Cheney, his vice-president, to Europe and Georgia in the hope of stiffening backbones against the Russian menace.

Widely regarded as the only western politician who is more frightening than Putin, Cheney will visit Azerbaijan and Ukraine – and also Italy to try to dissuade Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from cosying up to Moscow.

Yet the timing of the Georgian invasion and the prospect of a change of US administration in January have severely reduced the prospect of decisive American action and are already creating potential headaches for both Obama and his Republican rival, Senator John McCain.

“There’s the danger that things could be left in such a poisonous state that the next administration has no options and finds it difficult to get on a productive track,” said Robert Einhorn, a former arms control negotiator.

No one in America appears to have the stomach for a military response and, as officials reluctantly acknowledged last week, Putin was plainly aware that Washington offered little as a short-term threat. It was left to the Europeans to try to prod the bear back into the cage and Miliband, at least, was talking a big game.

However, some believed that his appearance in Kiev, where he was accused of ratcheting up the tension with his call for solidarity, was as much electioneering as it was a gesture of support for Ukrainian independence: there had been dismay in the Labour ranks that David Cameron, the Tory leader, had beaten Miliband to Tbilisi for talks with Mikhail Saakashvili, the embattled Georgian leader.

One respected Labour backbencher said: “David Miliband was caught short. Now he is running around trying to play catch up.”

Certainly his suggestion that the question for Russia was ultimately “whether it wants to suffer isolation and loss of respect” will not have left Medvedev and Putin quaking in their boots.

France holds the European Union’s rotating presidency until the end of the year and Sarkozy is deeply frustrated by Russia’s refusal to abide by the ceasefire agreement that he brokered.

He sees tomorrow’s extraordinary EU summit in Brussels as a big test of the newly enlarged Europe to pull together and would be happy with a communiqué “firmly” condemning Russia’s “unacceptable” recognition of Abkhazian and Ossetian independence.

The prospects for an agreement among 27 countries on anything, let alone sanctions against Russia, were not good. Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states, still pained by memories of Soviet domination, were in favour of a tough response to the Russian “bully”.

But Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who was brought up in communist East Germany and has bitter recollections of the experience, joined the French and Italians in advocating caution, not wanting to risk Russian retaliation.

The key to their timidity is energy security. Europe relies on Russia for about 40% of its gas. With bills already soaring, politicians cannot afford to lose that supply. As the Kremlin’s relations with its former satellite states have deteriorated, it has shown that it is not afraid to use these tactics.

After the Czech Republic agreed to allow the United States to build bases for an antimissile shield in the country, Russia’s Gazprom cut supplies drastically. It blamed the shutdown on “technical” reasons.

Adopting similar tactics with the bigger EU countries would, however, be a huge gamble. Not only would Russia lose billions in revenues, it would also alienate its most important customers and catalyse European investment into alternative energy sources or providers.

“There’s always the possibility and the fear in people’s minds,” said Julian Lee, at the Centre for Global Energy Studies. “The Russians haven’t cut off gas supplies to consumers in western Europe before, but that is no guarantee they won’t do so.”

Gazprom’s answer to the paranoia is simple: it points out that even in the depths of the cold war it has never failed to fulfil a contract to western Europe. Alexei Miller, Gazprom’s chief executive, has also said: “Gazprom relies as much on Europe as Europe depends on our gas.”

Fears that Russia would shut off the pipelines that run through the Caucasus and supply the West have also proved groundless so far. The ountries that have most to worry about are the ones in Russia’s “near abroad”, especially those that do not have the protection of NATO, which regards an attack on a member nation as an attack on the whole alliance.

Ukraine and Moldova – which is already host to the Russian 14th army in its separatist Transdnistria region – are consequently next in the firing line.

The tension in Ukraine between its divided population, 17% of whom are Russian ethnically and live in the east and south of the country, has been building for years, particularly since the “orange revolution” of 2004. This had overturned the result of the presidential election which had been rigged in favour of the pro-Moscow candidate.

Crimea, where the Russian navy has a lease on a base at Sebastopol until 2017, is the obvious flashpoint. Ukraine has angered Russia by saying that it will not renew the lease.

It has also introduced restrictions on Russian vessels entering or exiting Sevastopol after ships based there took part in shelling Georgian coastal defences and landing troops there during the first week of the conflict.

Ukrainian officials fear that Russia is just waiting for a single act that it can portray as intolerable provocation to use as an excuse to seize the peninsula. The results of such an action could be catastrophic for the people of Ukraine, as Georgians know to their cost.

Last week hundreds of Georgian refugees from South Ossetia, displaced by the war and a wave of ethnic cleansing, were sheltering in tents erected in a dusty sports stadium waiting for permission to go back to their battered and looted villages.

They were a fraction of the tens of thousands who fled and are now scattered in schools, government buildings or with relatives across the country.

The economy is certain to shrink as foreign investment, which had begun to make Georgia feel prosperous, is frightened away. When winter approaches the unemployed queues will lengthen. “We’re looking at a creeping catastrophe,” said Peter Semneby, the EU ambassador.

And the Russian eagle, it seemed, was looking away from the West.

Source: TIMES Online

Ukraine Not Russian `Target' After Georgia Dispute

MOSCOW, Russia -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rejected suggestions that Russia may target pro-Western Ukraine after recognizing Georgia's breakaway regions.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claims he will not target Ukraine.

Russia has ``long recognized'' Ukraine's borders, Putin said yesterday in an interview with Germany's ARD television. He also said Russia will honor its oil- and gas-export contracts, and he repeated criticism of U.S. involvement in Georgia.

The Crimea in southern Ukraine on the Black Sea, with its Russian-speaking population and a Russian naval base, ``is not a disputed territory,'' and didn't have an ethnic conflict, as South Ossetia had, the former Russian president said. His comments were posted on the Russian government's Web site.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Aug. 28 he assumes that Ukraine and Moldova are the next ``Russian targets'' after the Kremlin recognized the independence of Georgian breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Ukraine, like Georgia, has allied with the West and is seeking to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The U.S. has long seen Georgia and Ukraine as counterweights to Russia's influence in the region.

Problems among Tatar, Ukrainian and Russian populations in the Crimea are an internal issue for the Ukraine, Putin said.

Russia will honor its agreement with the Ukraine that allows Russia's Black Sea fleet to remain in the Crimea until 2017, he said, offering reassurance Russian navy will eventually leave.

Export Obligations

Separately, Putin said Russia remains ``a very reliable partner'' and will honor its export obligations.

Russian oil companies were ordered by the government to cut supplies to Germany and Poland through the Druzhba pipeline and executives from OAO Lukoil were put on alert for the weekend, the London-based Daily Telegraph reported yesterday, citing an unidentified business person. The cut may come as early as Sept. 1, the newspaper said.

``We hope that our partners will honor their obligations as well as we do, and intend to do in the future,'' Putin said, referring to Russian oil, gas, timber, metals and fertilizer exports. Russia ``guarantees'' that Germany will get its 40 billion cubic meters of gas this year, he said.

Yet, ``if someone wants to break these ties, we can't do anything about it,'' he said. ``We don't want it.''

South Ossetia

Russia's decision to unilaterally recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on Aug. 26 drew condemnation from world leaders, with President George W. Bush asking Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to ``reconsider this irresponsible'' decision. Medvedev called his decision on the breakaway regions an ``obvious'' move to protect his country's borders.

``There is no difference'' between Kosovo, which the European Union recognized on the order from the U.S., and South Ossetia and Abkhazia cases, Putin said. If EU recognized Kosovo, it should then recognize Georgia's breakaway regions, he said.

``If European countries continue this policy, we will soon have to talk about European issues with Washington,'' he said.

EU should stop ``serving'' the U.S. foreign policy interests, as this won't bring any benefits for its member countries, Putin said.

European governments should send more observers to the security zone and `` set up impartial monitoring of the acts of the current Georgian government,'' Medvedev said today in a telephone conversation with U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, according to an e-mailed statement from the Kremlin.

War Zone

Putin repeated his accusations in an Aug. 28 interview with CNN that the U.S. orchestrated Georgia's attack on South Ossetia to benefit a presidential candidate.

The U.S. allowed its instructors, which were training Georgian army to use the new arms, into the war zone, suggesting the U.S. were aware and even involved in Georgia's plan to attack South Ossetia. This was done to ``organize a small victorious war,'' he said.

``And if that failed, they wanted to create an enemy out of Russia and unite voters around one of the presidential candidates,'' Putin said. ``Of course it's the candidate of the ruling party, because only the ruling party would have such an administrative resource.''

Spurce: Bloomberg

Friday, August 29, 2008

EU Must Give Kiev Accession Hope

LONDON, England -- The pledges of support given this week to Ukraine by David Miliband, the UK foreign secretary, and other European Union ministers must be followed by concrete action.

Ukraine wants desperately to become a member of the EU.

It is not enough for the EU to warn that Russia might try to build on its military victory in Georgia by targeting Ukraine and other vulnerable ex-Soviet republics. The west should respond – and the EU must play a big role in that response.

Brussels promised Kiev much when pro-west president Viktor Yushchenko triumphed in the 2004 Orange Revolution. It has delivered rather less, increasing aid, political contacts and economic ties. But the EU has denied Kiev the big prize of a pledge of possible future membership. It is time to think again.

First, the Georgian crisis shows Russia’s vulnerable neighbours need support in resisting Russian aggression. While EU membership brings no security guarantees, it confers the political backing of a 27-member bloc.

Next, a membership promise would boost Ukraine’s pro-west reformers in their struggles with opponents, including powerful Russia-oriented lobbies. Working for a clear common goal, Ukrainians could find it easier to set aside their political differences. This in turn could help stabilise Ukraine, leaving it less open to hostile interference.

Finally, there would be a delay of many years before Ukraine met entry standards. That would leave enough time for EU leaders to overcome the current anti-enlargement mood. A union which had by then successfully absorbed today’s wave of new members would be well-placed for further expansion.

None of this need be overtly anti-Russian. Moscow has not raised serious objections to Kiev’s EU bid. Russians investing in Ukraine would be glad to see their assets safe inside the EU. If and when membership came close, Ukrainian-Russian trade would have to conform to EU rules. But that need not be too onerous.

Also, an EU move now would help head off the difficult issue of Ukraine’s NATO membership bid. Ukraine (like Georgia) had consideration of its membership action plan put off at NATO’s summit. This was the right decision.

While united over EU accession, Ukrainians are split over NATO. This reflects divisions in attitudes to Russia, with many Ukrainians wanting to stay out of an alliance widely seen as anti-Russian.

Only when Ukrainians clearly make up their minds in favour of NATO should the alliance accept Kiev’s bid. But on the EU their minds are made up. Brussels must now summon the courage to offer a positive response.

Source: Financial Times

Battered Ukraine Stocks Get Dubious Label From Analysts

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's equity market has become one of the world's worst-performing exchanges, following a year-to-date decline in shares of more than 50%, leading analysts to dub it the "China of eastern Europe."

Ukraine's benchmark PFTS index fell 5.5% to close at 513.84 Thursday, because of tensions in the region. Russia's invasion of Georgia has led many to fear that Ukraine might suffer the same fate, since, like Georgia, it is frequently at odds with Moscow and has a significant Russian-speaking population.

This has taken the market's total year-to-date decline to more than 50%, leading to the comparison to stocks in China, where the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index has declined about 55% this year.

Some of the worst hit stocks have been in the steel industry over fears the companies will require increasing government support. On Wednesday shares in Avdeevka Coke fell 7%, and dropped an additional 2% Thursday, while shares in Enakievo Steel fell 10% Wednesday but recovered to rise marginally Thursday.

The share-price declines also match the drops in neighboring Russia. Russian equity valuations have also been hit hard this year, with Russia's leading MICEX index losing 19% of its value in the past month.

However, the sharp selloff in Ukrainian equities has some analysts forecasting a rebound in valuations, with Alfa Bank projecting a rally within the next two months.

In a report Thursday, calling Ukraine the "China of eastern Europe," Alfa Bank analyst Denis Shauruk said the fall in valuations offered investors a good opportunity to pick up Ukrainian stocks on the cheap.

"For many, this may look like a disaster, but for those who view underperforming stocks and indexes as the perfect buying opportunity, this is a clear signal to buy," he said.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

One Against All

MOSCOW, Russia -- President Dmitry Medvedev’s surprise recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has drawn near universal condemnation from the West, and at best lukewarm acquiescence from elsewhere. But despite such unanimity, Western powers have failed to come to agreement on due punishment for Russia among themselves.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

As the West overcomes initial shock, it is beginning to look like a new consensus has emerged. From the early days of the South Ossetian conflict, the West, or at least Europe, seemed to be divided on the issue.

On the one side, the United States, the United Kingdom, and a number of East European countries took a position of uncompromising (and from the point of view of many in Russia, hypocritical) opposition to Russia’s actions in South Ossetia.

That was tempered by a more nuanced approach from some (mostly Western) European countries. These included some traditional Russian allies. Germany, Russia’s largest trading partner and collaborator on the Nord Stream gas pipeline, initially called for restraint and an end to violence, but avoided blaming Russia for the conflict.

France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is reputed to enjoy remarkable personal rapport with Vladimir Putin, flew to Russia to broker a peace deal. Italy’s foreign minister warned against forming an “anti-Russian coalition” and said Italy’s position was “close to Putin’s.”

However real or imagined this division was, it was one Russia seemed keen to play up, and even to broach talk of a Russian-European “bloc.” Speaking the day after Dmitry Medvedev’s announcement, Col. Gen Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Studies and a senior military analyst, listed a string of countries in “Old Europe” that he said were not interested in a conflict.

Ivashov is known for his conservative and often anti-American views, but the sentiments he expressed are widespread. That makes the shift in European diplomatic rhetoric following Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia all the more significant. The European leaders were unanimous in condemning the move as “absolutely unacceptable.”

Perhaps more significant than universal expression of “regret” at Russia’s decision was the direct criticism of Russia’s actions in Georgia that accompanied it. The Italians, previously so “close to Putin,” felt compelled to warn against the “ethnic-based balkanization of the Caucasus.”

On August 27, the day after the recognition, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kuchner said that in a certain way, “ethnic cleansing” was taking place in South Ossetia in villages previously held by the Georgian side.

It is, of course, difficult to image how else Europe’s leaders could have reacted. However, diplomatic expressions of disapproval do not necessarily mean Europe is now more united than it was.

Nor will they necessarily translate into concrete action. Nonetheless, there is a sense that Sarkozy’s peace plan has failed, and that the moderate West European approach has been discredited.

The most active and visible European statesman in the wake of recognition has not been Nicolas Sarkozy, but Britain’s far more hawkish Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

Perhaps aware that Russia has burned its bridges in Europe, some are urging it to look for allies elsewhere. Even Ivashov seemed to be hedging his bets. “When people speak of the ‘international community’ they only mean the West,” he said, “but the West is not the only option. Today we need to build alliances in the south and east, where many countries share Russia’s interests and concerns.”

That may prove to be a vain hope. Reactions to the recognition in other parts of the world have been lukewarm at best. President Medvedev thanked his colleagues at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization for their constructive support, but none of them actually went so far as to recognize the two republics.

China, Russia’s most powerful potential ally and certainly the only country with the clout to really offer a counterbalance to the West, is wary of offering encouragement to its own separatists in Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan.

Nor has Russia’s move garnered support from Latin America, Southeast Asia or Africa. Only Belarus, which on Thursday evening announced it would recognize both republics by the weekend, has answered the call.

While Russia has apparently condemned itself to diplomatic isolation, Britain’s David Miliband busied himself organizing a response, setting off for Kiev to “gather support for the widest possible alliance against Russian aggression.”

If his choice of language reflects a hardening of resolve, the choice of destination shows how, at least for the West, the crisis has moved beyond the Caucasus.

With its large Russian population in the East, and especially in Crimea, which is also home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, many fear that Ukraine could be the Kremlin’s next target. NATO yesterday issued a statement reiterating that its members “support territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of our states-partners like Ukraine and Georgia.”

That is not an offer of NATO membership, but it could well entail other solidarity measures. “I don’t think a MAP offer for Ukraine has become any more feasible than it was,” said Richard Wilson, senior fellow at the Europe Institute for Foreign Relations, “but there could be an EU-Ukraine agreement including a solidarity clause that would do some of the security work NATO would do.”

More immediate measures could include delivering on (so far neglected) visa facilitation commitments, with an eventual eye to a visa-free regime. Much of this is likely to be discussed at a Ukraine-EU summit on September 9.

It is unclear, however, how reliable a partner Ukraine will prove in Miliband’s alliance. The foreign secretary met with President Viktor Yushchenko, who loudly backed Georgia in the recent conflict and has pressed all the harder for NATO membership since it began.

But there is a presidential election next year and Yushchenko’s popularity ratings are at their lowest ever. What’s worse, said Kiril Frolov, head of the Ukrainian department at the Moscow Institute of CIS countries, is that his support for Georgia has divided the country, and could even prove to be political suicide. “Yushchenko’s visit to Tbilisi contributed to a schism in Ukraine between the West, who supported it, and the East, where most people were disgusted.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the prime minister, had a chance to be a unifying figure, but she squandered it when she approved Yushchenko’s decree limiting the movements of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

And that gave Viktor Yanukovich a chance to resurrect himself politically.” Yanukovich, who was almost a spent force in Ukrainian politics, seized the opportunity with both hands. He has now called on Ukraine to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and appears to be a strong contender for next year’s elections.

Much will happen before those elections, and with tensions rising, Russia’s current diplomatic isolation matters. Russia is in danger of being drawn into a confrontation without allies – or at least one that its allies want no part of. Russian military analysts are aware of the problem, and it may be some form of comfort that they, at least, have little appetite for further hostilities.

Despite its success in Georgia, the Russian military is not ready for any major confrontation. “Only about twenty percent of the armed forces are combat ready,” Anatoly Tsiganok, a military analyst, said at a press conference Wednesday. “The 58th Army (which fought in South Ossetia), the airborne forces, elements of the air force and elements of the Northern and Pacific fleets.” Asked how many wars Russia could fight simultaneously without allies, he answered "one."

Source: Russia Profile

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yushchenko Plays A Risky Game As Russia Turns Its Gaze On Black Sea

LONDON, England -- The last time a British government faced an international crisis over Crimea, the Foreign Office had no hesitation in dispatching gunboats to put the belligerent Russians in their place.

Ukraine threatened to end Russia's lease on the Sevastopol base after ships based there were sent to attack Georgia.

But when David Miliband, prior to his visit to Ukraine this week, took the wise precaution of first checking with Whitehall officials as to the current availability of British gunboats, all he received by way of reply was an embarrassed shuffling of feet.

The might of the Royal Navy, which once struck terror into the hearts of even the most recalcitrant dictators, has been reduced to such a parlous state by the parsimony of Gordon Brown's Treasury that the prospect of Britain sending warships to confront the Kremlin's latest intrigues in the Black Sea is almost non-existent.

The fact that the Government's military options are so limited explains why Mr Miliband was so keen to stress the need for international consensus in dealing with the Kremlin's latest Caucasian land grab.

Moscow's decision to recognise the breakaway Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia took everyone by surprise, not least Mr Miliband who had been led to believe that Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, who has spoken often of his commitment to the rule of law, would never undertake so rash an action.

Only last April, Moscow declared its support for a United Nations Security Council resolution reaffirming Georgian sovereignty. Mr Medvedev's natural disposition is to respect the territorial integrity of sovereign nations, a point he made repeatedly when the West decided to recognise Kosovo's declaration of independence.

But one of the more revealing aspects of Russia's recognising the breakaway republics is the extent to which Mr Medvedev is in thrall to his prime minister, Vladimir Putin, the Richlieu of the Kremlin.

Despite being elected Russia's president, Mr Medvedev's every action is controlled by Mr Putin - even the appointment of his diary secretary.

And having taken the unilateral step of redrawing Georgia's borders more to Moscow's liking, there is growing concern throughout the West that the Kremlin intends to extend its geographical revisionism further afield, with the all-important Russian naval port of Sevastopol in the Crimea its top priority.

It was no accident that Mr Miliband chose Ukraine as the location for his ground-breaking speech on the challenges facing the West in the post-Cold War era.

Ukraine's post-Soviet relationship with Moscow has been every bit as fractious as Georgia's, particularly since the 2004 Orange Revolution brought to power the decidedly pro-Western government of President Viktor Yushchenko, which has joined with Georgia in seeking the twin holy grails of EU and Nato membership.

This is not playing well in Moscow where, emboldened by its success with the Georgians, the Kremlin has now turned its attention to provoking discord in Crimea.

Compared with Georgia, where Russian interests are mainly confined to protecting the small minority of Russian passport holders who remain, the stakes are far higher in Ukraine, where the Sevastopol naval base is regarded as a crucial strategic military asset, providing Moscow with its only access to the Mediterranean.

At present the base is leased from the Ukrainian government until 2017, but now the Yushchenko government is seriously considering tearing up the agreement after Russian warships based at Sevastopol were used to attack Georgian positions during the recent fighting over the breakaway republics.

While officially the purpose of Mr Miliband's Ukraine mission was to set a template for how the West should handle Russia, the subtext of his visit was to urge the Ukrainians not to fall into the same bear trap as the Georgians.

But, as Mr Miliband discovered during his discussions with Mr Yushchenko - still suffering from the after-effects of dioxin poisoning at the hands of Russian agents during the 2004 election - and his even more hard-line prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, far from being cowed by Moscow's Georgian intervention, the Ukrainian government seems to be almost itching for a fight with Moscow.

Not content with tearing up the lease agreement on Sevastopol, Mr Yushchenko is seeking to place restrictions on the movements of Russian naval ships.

In its current belligerent mood, the Kremlin is not going to take such provocation lying down, and Russian soldiers have already been busy handing out passports to Crimeans to bolster the numbers of Russian "citizens" who might conveniently require Moscow's protection should Russia genuinely fear for the future of its Sevastopol base.

The Ukrainian government's action is foolhardy, to say the least. And before Mr Yushchenko provokes Moscow any further, he would do well to remember that the last thing the West needs right now is a new Crimean war.

Source: Telegraph UK

Alarm Bells In Ukraine

LONDON, England -- The British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has travelled to Ukraine to discuss what he termed "a coalition against Russian aggression".

All smiles for the cameras: But the Ukrainian president and his prime minister have a tense relationship.

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has warned that Moscow may indeed set its sights on Ukraine - a situation he described as "very dangerous".

Ukraine's leadership currently pursues pro-Western policies.

President Viktor Yushchenko and Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko are both committed to Ukraine's eventual integration into western institutions, including Nato and the European Union.

Neither organisation has so far provided a "road map" to membership, any realistic prospect of Ukraine joining may be many years away.

This, along with the divisions entrenched in Ukrainian society and politics, are factors Moscow will try to use to its advantage in the fight for influence over Ukraine with the West.

Fractious parliament

Mr Miliband might be aware that opinion polls before the recent conflict suggested that as many as two-thirds of Ukrainians are either opposed to Nato membership, or have no fixed opinion. Attitudes to the European Union are much more positive.

President Yushchenko's popularity is at rock bottom. Opinion polls give him extremely low, single-digit levels of support.

His chances of re-election in the next presidential vote are very slim.

Forging a coalition with such a weak leader, in a country with such a fractious parliament, could be difficult.

Even more so when the other key figures - especially Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko - have been decidedly ambiguous over the Russia-Georgia dispute.

Mr Yushchenko has criticised Ms Tymoshenko's silence, with his allies even suggesting she was a "traitor" working for Russia's interests.

Her position is likely to be based on the pragmatism for which she is known.

She could not launch a bid for the presidency next year (and she is likely to do so) on an anti-Russian ticket.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian opposition leader, Viktor Yanukovych, has warned that Ukraine must not be drawn into disputes between Russia and third countries.

Naval fleet

From the Russian perspective, the issues are more clear-cut.

Firstly, Russia will not countenance any further expansion eastwards of Nato.

Some Russian politicians have even suggested restoring Russian influence in the Caucasus could serve as a model for Ukraine - which matters much more than Georgia.

Russia has a powerful tool at its disposal, namely the large ethnic Russian population in Crimea - also, significantly, the home of Russia's Black Sea naval fleet.

Mr Yushchenko has restricted fleet operations, and suggested Russia should pay more for its presence. He also insists it must leave when an inter-state treaty expires in 2017.

From Russia, there are regular calls for the annexation of Crimea, which was transferred from Russian to Ukrainian jurisdiction by the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, in 1954.

Russian separatism in Crimea appeared to have waned by the mid-1990s. But recently there have been consistent attempts to resuscitate it.

Reports suggest that over recent years, Russia has quietly issued many of the ethnic Russians in Crimea - legally citizens of Ukraine - with Russian passports.

In Moscow's view, this makes them Russian citizens, and gives Russia the right to act to defend them.

This was precisely the policy adopted towards South Ossetia and Abkhazia - separatist regions internationally recognised as parts of Georgia, but whose populations are described by Moscow as its own.

Alarm bells

Inflating the concept and definition of citizenship in this way opens the way to serious consequences

After all, well over 20 million Russians currently live outside the borders of the Russian Federation.

In some countries they form a significant minority of the population. Russia's government began to enunciate this policy some year ago, but it drew little attention in the West.

No-one is seriously forecasting armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. But the mere notion sets alarm bells ringing.

In the West, because Ukraine is the major transit route for Russian oil and has en route to markets in central and western Europe.

And, in Ukraine itself, it is encouraging an important rethink of national defence strategy and military doctrine.

Constitutionally, Ukraine is a neutral country, one that voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons and that has pledged never to host NATO bases.

Nonetheless, leaks from the Ukrainian defence ministry suggest the country plans to bolster air defence systems in Crimea and the eastern regions bordering Russia.

Fighters currently deployed in other regions are likely to be moved to the Crimea. Large increases in spending on defence are expected to be announced as early as September.

Source: BBC News

Analysis: Is Ukraine The Next Domino?

LONDON, England -- Western politicians are currently scrambling for air tickets to Kiev. Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband rushed to Ukraine soon after Russia announced its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney will follow.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yuschenko has made it clear that he would welcome closer ties with the West.

They want to shore up the Western-leaning President Viktor Yuschenko, amid fears that his country could become the next frontline in the power struggle between Russia and the West. It is in part a deliberate signal to an emboldened Moscow not to overreach. But EU nations will only be taking their support so far, for geographical, practical and political reasons.

Conflict between Russia and Georgia, a tiny country of around 5 million citizens, was one thing. Conflict with the 47 million strong Ukraine would be a different matter, with much wider ramifications. What do you think of Russia's relationship with the West?

While Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili, at least for the moment, seems to have the bulk of the Georgian population behind him, Ukraine is much more divided about relations with Moscow. There is a huge energy dependency. Around 17 percent of Ukraine citizens, according to the census, are ethnic Russians. Even the country's political leadership is divided.

Although they were allies in Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution and both would like to see Ukraine in the EU, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has distanced herself from Yuschenko's eagerness to enter the embrace of NATO. She has also criticized his presidential decree restricting the movements of Russia's Ukraine-based Black Sea fleet, based in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, where there is a heavy concentration of ethnic Russians.

Yuschenko flew to Tblisi to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Saakashvili over the conflict in Georgia, while Tymoshenko focused on calls for a cessation of hostilities.

Miliband used his visit to Kiev to insist that Russia's re-drawing of the map in the Caucusus was a moment of truth for Europe, marking the end of a post-Cold War period of geopolitical calm. But significantly Miliband also urged Ukraine to avoid giving Russia a pretext to intervene in the Crimea, where Kiev accuses Russia of trying to stir up trouble -- just as Saakashvili had accused Moscow of doing in South Ossetia before launching his military assault.

The Ukranian port of Sebastopol is leased to the Russian Black Sea fleet until 2017 and Yuschenko has urged that Russia should be asked for a higher rent and be subject to more restrictions. Miliband may be making the toughest warning noises he dares to Russia, but he also urged that "the Ukrainian government should ensure that the letter of the agreements are stuck to until 2017."

In recent years Ukraine has sought an uneasy balance between courting the West and not too overtly angering Moscow. But lately Yuschenko has grown bolder, offering to co-operate in the U.S. missile defense shield in Europe, despite the chilling threats from Moscow to Poland over its planned participation. NATO and EU leaders would not want him to get much bolder than that.

While a majority of Ukrainians, according to opinion polls, would like to see their country in the EU, they are sharply divided about joining NATO. Only last April EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso complained about the country's lack of political stability (a key qualification for membership). Disputes between president and prime minister over relations with Russia, he suggested, were holding up progress.

There is a regular EU/Ukraine meeting next month and Kiev will be looking for strong signals that it will meet a favorable response over its membership aims. Miliband declared in Kiev: "My visit is designed to send a simple message: we have not forgotten our commitments to you."

Ukraine allies like Poland will be pushing for those words to be reinforced with action, but EU commitments tend to come with rather vague timetables, and to become entangled in wider issues.

Poland's prospects of speeding its membership prospects will depend on who wins the internal EU argument between those who, with an eye to their energy supplies, want to see the conflict with Russia cool down and those who want to send a strong signal to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, in that order, that they have already gone too far.

Source: CNN Europe

Leonid Kuchma Built A Prosperous Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- On Aug. 9, Leonid Kuchma turned 70 years old. For 10 years, from 1994 until 2004, he was the president of Ukraine. He arrived as the savior of his nation, but the Orange Revolution ended his second term. His legacy is rich but multifaceted.

Leonid Kuchma was Ukraine's President from 1994 till 2004.

After Russia's attack on Georgia, Ukraine may be the next target. Moreover, the country is deeply divided politically. Against this backdrop, the merits of Kuchma become even more apparent.

Recently, I saw Kuchma again at the Yalta European Strategy, the annual conference that his son-in-law, Victor Pinchuk, organizes every year to promote Ukraine's integration with Europe. This year, he had former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as the keynote speaker. Last year, it was former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Kuchma looks good, much healthier than when he was in office. I asked him to characterize himself. True to his personality, he answered with one word: "pragmatist."

Indeed, he may be called a dead-pan realist. He saw people exactly for what they were -- neither worse nor better. His great realism helped him to act rationally, but people regretted that he did not embellish them.

In his extensive writing, Kuchma has summarized his wisdom: "I know the history of Ukraine, and I know the character of its people -- both the strong and the weak sides. Ukrainians in general know themselves very well. We praise ourselves less than we curse ourselves.

And what do we curse ourselves for most? For the fact that there are three bosses for every two Ukrainians. You know the old saying: In a struggle for power, people are ready to destroy one another and everything around them."

"What was your greatest deed?" I asked.

"I saved the integrity of our country," Kuchma responded. When he was elected president in the country's free elections in July 1994, Crimea was toying with separatism. Through complex negotiations with many small steps, Kuchma peacefully exhausted this disorganized attempt at secession.

"What else are you most proud of?"

Kuchma stated the obvious: "The construction of a market economy in Ukraine and the fact that we achieved financial stabilization."

The year before he came to power, Ukraine recorded hyperinflation of 10,200 percent. The Soviet-style command economy had ceased to function, and no new economic system had been established. Economic chaos prevailed, and output was in near free fall. Ukraine had no international reserves, only unregulated debts.

At the time of Kuchma's election, the CIA issued a National Intelligence Estimate titled, "Ukraine: A Nation at Risk," which postulated that Ukraine might not survive as a state.

Kuchma asked the International Monetary Fund to help him sort out state finances and did what it took to save his country. Without hesitation, he carried out the necessary market economic reforms and privatized most of the economy.

By 1996, he had defeated inflation and introduced Ukraine's national currency, the hryvna. In 2000, when Viktor Yushchenko was prime minister, economic growth finally took off. Since then, it has averaged 7.5 percent a year -- no mean feat.

In 1996, Ukraine adopted its constitution, which finally brought some order to the chaotic government proceedings. As the former manager of the largest Soviet rocket plant in Dnepropetrovsk, Kuchma has always been perfectly organized.

Kuchma's domestic successes brought international recognition. Kuchma not only got along well with Clinton, he worked well with Boris Yeltsin, and they agreed on the intricate division of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet.

Like so many other great leaders, Kuchma was at his height during his first two years and seemed to do it all, but he remained in power for 10 years, overstaying his welcome.

History has shown that it is difficult for strongmen to understand when it is time to go, and the temptations to abuse power are great, not least to interfere with the media.

His darkest period was from 1997 to 1999, when his prime ministers were Pavel Lazarenko and Valery Pustovoitenko. Lazarenko looked upon government as his business, being the most blatantly corrupt top politician in Ukraine.

Pustovoitenko was the country's quintessential bureaucrat, and this in a country in which corruption and bureaucracy were the greatest flaws.

What was the worst chapter of his political career? Kuchma responded with one phrase -- "the Gongadze affair." In November 2000, socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz presented audiotapes in the parliament that had been made by one of Kuchma's bodyguards.

In the recordings, a voice resembling Kuchma is heard complaining vehemently about the muckraking journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, who had since been found dead.

Although a Kiev court in March convicted three former Ukrainian police officers in the Gongadze murder case, law enforcement officials were never able to identify those who ordered the killing. Nonetheless, Kuchma's previously high popularity plummeted, never to recover.

The opposition against Kuchma built up for four years and led to the Orange Revolution in November and December 2004, but it ended with the peaceful and democratic election of Yushchenko as president.

During the next year, Kuchma kept out of the public limelight, but he did not leave the country and stayed in his old house on the outskirts of Kiev.

Last year, he published a book about his view of Ukraine, "After Maidan," referring to the Ukrainian word for Independence Square, where the Orange Revolution took place. After the book was published, Kuchma appeared in public again.

As the luster of the Orange Revolution dims, Kuchma looks ever better. After all, he allowed democracy and all its freedoms to be secured. No one doubts any longer that Ukraine will stay independent and economic dynamism will continue.

For the last three years, Ukraine has adopted very little legislation, apart from the legislation needed to enter the World Trade Organization this year. If Yushchenko does not change his policies, his term will have been one in which no government could accomplish anything. Naturally, this leaves a black mark on the Orange Revolution.

Since Tymoshenko became prime minister, Yushchenko has vetoed nearly all her decisions, notably all decisions on privatization. Inflation rose to 31 percent in May because the Central Bank insists on an inadequate exchange rate policy with a dollar peg and therefore maintains high, negative real interest rates.

Whatever you say about Kuchma, he was a man who could make decisions and get things done. His second term, from 1999 to 2004, was Ukraine's most productive in terms of both legislation and economic growth.

He managed to rule Ukraine, which is a difficult art. Whatever happened under his rule, he created a functioning democracy. One reflection of Ukraine's democratic strength is that both Kuchma and his predecessor, Leonid Kravchuk, remain public personalities. Kuchma's 70th birthday is an opportunity to celebrate his contributions. Few people have done so much for their country.

Source: The Moscow Times

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Son Of Ex-Georgian President Says Kremlin Brutality Never Changes

EAST HAMPTON, NY -- Immediately after the Russian Federation attacked Georgia, the presidents of all four European Union member countries located on Russia’s borders gathered in Tbilisi to show their solidarity.

Redjeb Jordania, son of the former Georgian president, now lives in USA.

This action speaks volumes in and of itself: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, together with non-EU member Ukraine, profoundly mistrust and fear a Vladimir Putin-led nation, as well they should, considering the long history of Russian expansion and subjugation of independent neighboring nations.

To remain with the Georgian example, this invasion is but a repeat of what happened in 1921, when my father, Noe Jordania, was president of Georgia.

Then, as now, our country was resolutely democratic, which was and remains anathema to the Russian totalitarian regimes.

That year, breaking a non­aggression treaty signed a scant few months before, the Bolshevik Red Army supported by the Ossetians then living in Georgia attacked and occupied the Georgian republic and forcibly incorporated it into the Soviet empire just as the czars did in 1805, under the pretext of protecting that tiny country from the Persians and the Turks.

At various times in history, all the nations bordering on Russia suffered a similar fate.

On the domestic front, with few exceptions, everybody fears Putin, knowing full well that anyone opposing or criticizing the Kremlin power runs the risk of being murdered like the journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the ex-­KGB operative Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned and permanently disfigured like Ukraine’s president Victor Yushchenko, jailed like the businessman Mikhail Khodorovsky and many others, or, at best, badly beaten or roughed up like the world chess champion Gary Kasparov and his supporters who challenged the leadership in recent elections.

The sad thing is that while individually Russians can be and often are wonderful people, as a nation they seem unable to shake their acceptance and support of autocratic, dictatorial regimes.

The events in Georgia demonstrate once and for all that Russia has remained basically the same throughout the centuries, whether it is called Czarist Empire, Soviet Union or Russian Federation.

Hopefully, the whole world will finally realize that Russia never did and still does not function according to the democratic principles of the Western world.

Russia is authoritarian, to say the least, and always has been.

Putin’s official title has morphed from prime minister to president, after a travesty of an election where practically nothing changed in the power structure.

He may seem himself as the forceful leader of a great country, but in reality he is very simply a ruthless dictator in the lineage of Stalin, Lenin, Peter the Great, Ivan the Terrible and practically all his predecessors in the thousand­year Russian history.

His country and the world deserve better.

Source: Kyiv Post

Testing For A New 'Cold War' In Crimea

LONDON, UK -- The Russian military operation against Georgia and its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have led to concerns amounting at times to near panic about whether a new Cold War is under way.

The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said that he does not want a new Cold War but is not afraid of one either.

So is the conflict a turning-point heralding a new age of confrontation or just a limited Russian action to resolve two border disputes left over from the Soviet era?

Or something in between, a sign of uncertainty on both sides which will mean tension but not the kind of ideological struggle and military stand-off that was the Cold War itself?

New test

A good test of Russian intentions could come in Crimea, the territory jutting out in the Black Sea. It is part of Ukraine.

The French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said: "It's very dangerous. There are other objectives that one can suppose are the objectives of Russia, in particular Crimea, Ukraine and Moldova."

The problem over Crimea is this. Crimea was handed over to Ukraine from the Russian Soviet Republic by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954. However ethnic Russians still make up the majority of its nearly 2 million inhabitants. It is also home to the Russian navy's Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol, on which Russia has a lease until 2017.

Sevastopol has resonance in Russian history, from the siege by the British and French in 1854-55. There have been small demonstrations there recently calling for Crimea to be returned to Russia. Valery Podyachy, head of the Sevastopol-Crimea-Russia Popular Front, said: "While Russia sent aid to flood-hit Ukrainian regions, Ukraine failed to help Russia to force Georgia to peace, and took an openly hostile stance."

There is the potential therefore for trouble. If Russia started to agitate on behalf of its "brothers" in Crimea and argued that it must have Sevastopol (even though it is building another base), Crimea could provide certainly a test of Russian ambitions and possibly a flashpoint.

Western worries

This fear of future Russian actions partly explains the Western worries. The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has gone to Ukraine talking of forming "the widest possible coalition against Russian aggression in Georgia".

Mr Miliband is positioning himself at the hawkish end of the Western response. He said in a speech in Kiev that events in Georgia had been a "rude awakening" and that a "hard-headed engagement" with Russia was needed. But he added: "The Russian President says he is not afraid of a new Cold War. We don't want one. He has a big responsibility not to start one."

The US Vice President Dick Cheney is going to Georgia. Nato has met to declare that there can be no "business as usual" with Russia.

People are looking up the principles laid down by US diplomat George Kennan after World War II that called for the "containment" of an aggressive Soviet union.

The other view

There is another view, though, and this holds that while Russian intentions are not to be trusted, it cannot be wholly blamed for what happened in South Ossetia.

The former British ambassador to Yugoslavia, Sir Ivor Roberts, said: "Moscow has acted brutally in Georgia. But when the United States and Britain backed the independence of Kosovo without UN approval, they paved the way for Russia's 'defence' of South Ossetia, and for the current Western humiliation.

"What is sauce for the Kosovo goose is sauce for the South Ossetian gander."

The borders issue

Behind all this also lies the problem of European borders. During and after the Cold War, it was held (and still is) that borders, however unreasonable to the inhabitants, could not be changed without agreement.

This has given governments a veto. Serbia tried to veto the break-up of Yugoslavia. Georgia has not allowed Abkhazia and South Ossetia to secede. Ukraine holds on to Crimea etc.

The potential for a clash between the competing interests of local people and central governments is obvious.

The fear that borders may unravel also helps explain why the Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has upset Western governments so much.

Their problem, however, is that they offer no solutions to those disputes beyond best intentions and a status quo policed by peacekeepers, a status quo that can easily be upset.

Source: BBC News

French Diplomat Concerned About Russia's Intentions Toward Ukraine, Moldova

PARIS, France -- French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is expressing concern that Russia, riding high after its victories in Georgia, may target other neighbors, such as Moldova and Ukraine.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is concerned about Ukraine and Moldova.

"There are other targets that we may assume to be Russian targets, in particular Crimea, Ukraine, Moldova," Kouchner, whose country holds the European Union presidency, tells Europe 1 radio, according to Bloomberg News and Reuters.

AP says Kouchner also called on Moscow to reverse its "irresponsible decision" to recognize the independence of two breakaway regions in Georgia.

The United States, which has sharply criticized Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's decision, just delivered 34 tons of humanitarian supplies to Georgia.

Source: USA Today

British Leader Arrives In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is visiting Ukraine offering solidarity in a growing battle of words with Russia.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband at No. 10 Downing Street

The timing came shortly after Russia formally recognized the independence of Georgia's breakaway areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, further inflaming relations with other former Soviet states and Western powers.

Ukraine leaders' interest in joining NATO has increased tensions with Russia.

Miliband has said that would use the Ukraine visit to assemble the "widest possible coalition against Russian aggression in Georgia," the Times of London reported Wednesday.

He added that Russia's recognition of the separatist regions "further inflames an already tense situation" adding: "We fully support Georgia's independence and territorial integrity, which cannot be changed by decree from Moscow."

Ukraine President Victor Yushchenko described his country as a hostage in a war waged by

Russia against old Soviet bloc states. He added that the brief war between Georgia and Russia had exposed serious weaknesses in the powers of the United Nations and other international bodies.

But a large Russian-speaking population in Ukraine and polls showing that up to two-thirds of the country's population oppose NATO membership may limit his options, the BBC reported Wednesday.

Source: UPI

Europe's New Dividing Line?

WASHINGTON, DC -- In the wake of Russia's invasion of Georgia, the United States and its trans-Atlantic allies have rightly focused on two urgent and immediate tasks: getting Russian soldiers out, and humanitarian aid in.

U.S. senators Joe Lieberman (L), and Lindsey Graham, denounce Russian actions in Georgia during a visit to Warsaw, Poland.

But having just returned from Georgia, Ukraine and Poland, where we met with leaders of these countries, we believe it is imperative for the West to look beyond the day-to-day management of this crisis. The longer-term strategic consequences, some of which are already being felt far beyond the Caucasus, have to be addressed.

Russia's aggression is not just a threat to a tiny democracy on the edge of Europe. It is a challenge to the political order and values at the heart of the continent.

For more than 60 years, from World War II through the Cold War to our intervention in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the U.S. has fostered and fought for the creation of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.

This stands as one of the greatest strategic achievements of the 20th century: the gradual transformation of a continent, once the scene of the most violent and destructive wars ever waged, into an oasis of peace and prosperity where borders are open and uncontested and aggression unthinkable.

Russia's invasion of Georgia represents the most serious challenge to this political order since Slobodan Milosevic unleashed the demons of ethnic nationalism in the Balkans.

What is happening in Georgia today, therefore, is not simply a territorial dispute. It is a struggle about whether a new dividing line is drawn across Europe: between nations that are free to determine their own destinies, and nations that are consigned to the Kremlin's autocratic orbit.

That is the reason countries like Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States are watching what happens in the Caucasus so closely. We heard that last week in Warsaw, Kiev and Tbilisi. There is no doubt in the minds of leaders in Ukraine and Poland -- if Moscow succeeds in Georgia, they may be next.

There is disturbing evidence Russia is already laying the groundwork to apply the same arguments used to justify its intervention in Georgia to other parts of its near abroad -- most ominously in Crimea.

This strategically important peninsula is part of Ukraine, but with a large ethnic Russian population and the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol.

The first priority of America and Europe must be to prevent the Kremlin from achieving its strategic objectives in Georgia. Having been deterred from marching on Tbilisi and militarily overthrowing the democratically elected government there, Russian forces spent last week destroying the country's infrastructure, including roads, bridges, port and security facilities.

This was more than random looting. It was a deliberate campaign to collapse the economy of Georgia, in the hope of taking the government down with it.

The humanitarian supplies the U.S. military is now ferrying to Georgia are critically important to the innocent men, women and children displaced by the fighting, some of whom we saw last week. Also needed, immediately, is a joint commitment by the U.S. and the European Union to fund a large-scale, comprehensive reconstruction plan -- developed by the Georgian government, in consultation with the World Bank, IMF and other international authorities -- and for the U.S. Congress to support this plan as soon as it returns to session in September.

Any assistance plan must also include the rebuilding of Georgia's security forces. Our past aid to the Georgian military focused on supporting the light, counterterrorism-oriented forces that facilitate Tbilisi's contribution to coalition operations in Iraq.

We avoided giving the types of security aid that could have been used to blunt Russia's conventional onslaught. It is time for that to change.

Specifically, the Georgian military should be given the antiaircraft and antiarmor systems necessary to deter any renewed Russian aggression. These defensive capabilities will help to prevent this conflict from erupting again, and make clear we will not allow the Russians to forcibly redraw the boundaries of sovereign nations.

Our response to the invasion of Georgia must include regional actions to reassure Russia's rattled neighbors and strengthen trans-Atlantic solidarity. This means reinvigorating NATO as a military alliance, not just a political one. Contingency planning for the defense of all member states against conventional and unconventional attack, including cyber warfare, needs to be revived.

The credibility of Article Five of the NATO Charter -- that an attack against one really can and will be treated as an attack against all -- needs to be bolstered.

The U.S. must also reaffirm its commitment to allies that have been the targets of Russian bullying because of their willingness to work with Washington. The recent missile-defense agreement between Poland and the U.S., for instance, is not aimed at Russia.

But this has not stopped senior Russian officials from speaking openly about military retaliation against Warsaw. Irrespective of our political differences over missile defense, Democrats and Republicans should join together in Congress to pledge solidarity with Poland, along with the Czech Republic, against these outrageous Russian threats.

Finally, the U.S. and Europe need a new trans-Atlantic energy alliance. In recent years, Russia has proven all too willing to use its oil and gas resources as a weapon, and to try to consolidate control over the strategic energy corridors to the West.

By working together, an alliance can frustrate these designs and diminish our dependence on the foreign oil that is responsible for the higher energy prices here at home.

In crafting a response to the Georgia crisis, we must above all reaffirm our conviction that Russia need not be a competitor or an adversary. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Democratic and Republican administrations have engaged Russia, sending billions of dollars to speed its economic recovery and welcoming its integration into the flagship institutions of the international community.

We did this because we believed that a strong, prosperous Russia can be a strategic partner and a friend. We still do.

But Russia's leaders have made a different choice. While we stand ready to rebuild relations with Moscow and work together on shared challenges, Russia's current course will only alienate and isolate it from the rest of the world.

We believe history will judge the Russian invasion of Georgia as a serious strategic miscalculation. Although it is for the moment flush with oil wealth, Russia's political elite remains kleptocratic, and its aggression exposed as much weakness as strength. The invasion of Georgia will not only have a unifying effect on the West, it also made clear that Russia -- unlike the Soviet Union -- has few real allies of strategic worth. To date, the only countries to defend Russia's actions in the Caucasus have been Cuba and Belarus -- and the latter, only after the Kremlin publicly complained about its silence.

In the long run, a Russia that tries to define its greatness in terms of spheres of influence, client states and forced fealty to Moscow will fail -- impoverishing its citizens in the process. The question is only how long until Russia's leaders rediscover this lesson from their own history.

Until they do, the watchword of the West must be solidarity: solidarity with the people of Georgia and its democratically elected government, solidarity with our allies throughout the region, and above all, solidarity with the values that have given meaning to our trans-Atlantic community of democracies and our vision of a European continent that is whole, free and at peace.

Source: The Wall Street Journal