Russia May Turn Focus To Pro-U.S. Ukraine After Beating Georgia

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Now that Russia has humiliated Georgia with a punishing military offensive, it may shift its attention to reining in pro-Western Ukraine, another American ally in the former Soviet Union.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (Front) and President Dmitry Medvedev's first order of business likely will be to try to thwart Ukraine's bid to join NATO.

``The Moscow authorities will use this opportunity to remind Ukraine of the damages of allying itself with NATO,'' said Geoffrey Smith at Renaissance Capital investment bank in Kiev.

The U.S. has long seen Georgia and Ukraine as counterweights to Russia's influence in the region. Opposition leaders in the two countries came to power after U.S.-backed popular protests in 2003 and 2004. Their ascension advanced an American strategy of expanding NATO to include both countries and securing energy routes from the Caspian Sea that bypass Russia. The BP Plc-led Baku- Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline to Turkey runs through Georgia.

The future effectiveness of that policy is now in doubt, with Georgia's U.S.-educated President Mikheil Saakashvili, 40, weakened by a five-day blitz that his American patrons were powerless to halt.

Medvedev, 42, and Putin, 56, say Russia began the offensive in response to a drive by Georgia to restore control over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Now Russia has ousted Georgian forces from there and from Abkhazia, another separatist region, and destroyed much of the central government's military.

Less Confident

``Georgia will be enormously more careful in its actions in the future, and much less confident of its relationship with the United States,'' said U.S.-based geopolitical advisory group Stratfor in a research note.

NATO is due in December to review the two countries' bids to join the Western military alliance. NATO leaders in April promised Ukraine and Georgia eventual membership while declining them fast- track status. Russia, which has also denounced U.S. plans to station missile defense sites in former Soviet satellites Poland and the Czech Republic, says the expansion of the Cold War-era alliance to its borders is a security threat.

NATO should affirm the potential of Georgia and Ukraine to become alliance members in the face of Russia's incursion into Georgia, senior U.S. officials said yesterday in Washington.

``Russia may find it convenient to raise the level of tension with Ukraine in the run-up to the December NATO review,'' Citigroup Inc.'s London-based David Lubin and Ali Al- Eyd wrote in a note to clients. ``If the conflict with Russia decelerates or reverses Georgia's integration with the West, a similar fate could also affect Ukraine.''

Divided Country

Ukraine has a large Russian-speaking population in the south and east that opposes NATO entry and looks to Moscow. Russian officials warn that if President Viktor Yushchenko pushes Ukraine into NATO, the nation may split in two. Russia has made its displeasure with Ukraine clear in recent years, cutting off gas supplies to the country in 2005 and reducing deliveries earlier this year.

The military operation in Georgia will serve ``as a warning'' to Ukraine that it should desist from petitioning for NATO entry, said Janusz Bugajski, director of the New European Democracies Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. ``Otherwise, Moscow may intervene to protect the allegedly threatened interests of the Russian population.''

Too Aggressive

An overly aggressive move by Russia against Ukraine might invite a backlash, said Renaissance Capital's Smith.

``If it reacts too violently against Ukraine, then it risks provoking the reaction it least wants: trade and investment barriers for its companies, a more antagonistic approach to energy transit, and above all, it risks scaring Ukraine into seeking western protection,'' he said.

Germany and France opposed NATO entry for Georgia and Ukraine because of the Georgian separatist disputes and opposition to membership among some Ukrainians. They now will feel their concerns have been justified, said Cliff Kupchan of New-York based Eurasia Group a political risk consulting firm.

``Considering both European reticence and possible fears about Ukraine, I think it is very much on the slow track,'' he said, referring to NATO membership for both states.

The assault by Russian artillery, tanks and bombers inflicted significant damage on Georgia's armed forces, which last month increased their size to 37,000 soldiers. Russia's military has 1.13 million personnel. The U.S. trained and equipped Georgia's military and in 2006 approved almost $300 million in aid over five years.

Army Regroups

``A substantial part of our military power has been destroyed,'' said Georgian National Security Council chief Kakha Lomaia. ``However, we did preserve the core of our army, and have managed to regroup it close to the capital.''

An airbase in Senaki was destroyed and three Georgian ships blown up in the Black Sea port of Poti, he said.

A month ago, about 1,000 U.S. soldiers joined 600 Georgians and 100 from Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Armenia in joint exercises at the Vaziani military base near Tbilisi. Russia repeatedly bombed the base during this month's war.

``The American role in the region has been weakened,'' Jan Techau, a European and security affairs analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said in a telephone interview. ``It's a reassertion of Russia's dominant role in the region.''

Ian Hague, a Bank of Georgia board member and fund manager with $1.8 billion in the former Soviet Union, said the attack on Georgia discouraged Western investments in energy infrastructure by raising the risk premium.

``It's somewhat reminiscent, in 1939, when Stalin attacked Finland,'' former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski told Bloomberg Television. ``I think this kind of confrontation is the best kind of answer as to why they are seeking to be members of NATO.''

Source: Bloomberg

Comments

Anonymous said…
Germany and France should not be able to stop Georgia and Ukraine from membership of NATO. Georgia and Ukraine are democratic and voted in their present leaders. If their present leaders elect to join NATO, then so be it. Germany and France have been problematic to the US many times as I recall!!
HOT said…
Russia and most of its people are selfish by trade. Russian corrupt government has unprecedented oil money and large military. Yet doesn't help any country in the world financially or medically. All Russia does is sell unlimited amounts of weaponry to conflict zones. I don't see a purpose of Russia being on Security Council Useless. So when Chechnya wanted to separate from Russia and Russia attacked NATO should have tacking away Chechnya area from Russia see how would they feel. Russia needs to learn that US and Europe don't give a crap and never wants to attack Russia. Russian leaders and most Russian people need to learn to love other cultures and their ways and help financially poor countries that doesn't have oil money to create peace in this WORLD. I hope it will never happen, but if Russia tries to take any part of Crimea that NATO and US help Ukraine. As for the ethnic Russian that leave there and want to be part of Russia and don't like Ukrainian culture please move to Russia, Crimea was part of Turkey not Russia. I will not argue US creates some issue in this World, but it makes up on its mistakes in other areas educating, food aid, medical, economical, and defense for all countries. So don't have the West Countries that are trying to help Ukraine instead of Russia issuing passports and then attacking. Please understand Russian people/culture per history known to leave under strict sup ration of controlling governments no freedom of speech and constant propaganda, why let Russian people think for them self, don't kill a person just because he said some thing bad about the president. I use to have Russian passport and leave in Ukraine with my mom never had bad thinking ideas of Russia, but when Russians continue their old ways of insensitivity of other cultures and stop being racists we all can relax and worry about global warming and people dying of starvation.