Influencing Russia

Stephen DeAngelis

August 15, 2008

I haven’t written anything about the conflict between Russia and Georgia because this blog is not a political or security blog, although I occasionally touch on those subjects. There are others better suited to discuss the ramifications and consequences of what is happening in Georgia. On the other hand, this blog does deal with globalization, development and resilience. In the post entitled The End of Intervention, I touched on the importance of influence in trying to maintain international order. Applying influence is also the subject of a recent op-ed column by Charles Krauthammer concerning how the international community can affect Russian behavior [“How to Stop Putin,” Washington Post, 14 August 2008]. Krauthammer begins his column by stating that he is not impressed with the terms of the French-brokered cease-fire (and his concerns have been subsequently confirmed). Krauthammer’s purpose in writing his column was to persuade Western governments that they must use their influence to stop Putin’s long-term objectives in Georgia.

“His objectives are clear. They go beyond detaching South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia and absorbing them into Russia. They go beyond destroying the Georgian army, leaving the country at Russia’s mercy. The real objective is the Finlandization of Georgia through the removal of President Mikheil Saakashvili and his replacement by a Russian puppet. … Russia says it will not talk to Saakashvili. Thus regime change becomes the first requirement for any movement on any front. This will be Putin’s refrain in the coming days. He is counting on Europe to pressure Saakashvili to resign and/or flee to ‘give peace a chance.’ The Finlandization of Georgia would give Russia control of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which is the only significant westbound route for Caspian Sea oil and gas that does not go through Russia. Pipelines are the economic lifelines of such former Soviet republics as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan that live off energy exports. Moscow would become master of the Caspian basin. Subduing Georgia has an additional effect. It warns Russia’s former Baltic and East European satellites what happens if you get too close to the West. It is the first step to reestablishing Russian hegemony in the region.”

There is nothing particularly new in Krauthammer’s assessment. Turn on any news channel and you can hear the same thing from a dozen pundits. Nevertheless, Krauthammer wants to stress to Western governments that they do have moves they can make. He puts forth four:

“What is to be done? Let’s be real. There’s nothing to be done militarily. What we can do is alter Putin’s cost-benefit calculations. We are not without resources. There are a range of measures to be deployed if Russia does not live up to its cease-fire commitments:

1. Suspend the NATO-Russia Council established in 2002 to help bring Russia closer to the West. Make clear that dissolution will follow suspension. The council gives Russia a seat at the NATO table. Message: Invading neighboring democracies forfeits the seat.

2. Bar Russian entry to the World Trade Organization.

3. Dissolve the G-8. Putin’s dictatorship long made Russia’s presence in this group of industrial democracies a farce, but no one wanted to upset the bear by expelling it. No need to. The seven democracies simply withdraw. (And if Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, who has been sympathetic to Putin’s Georgia adventure, wants to stay, he can have an annual G-2 dinner with Putin.) Then immediately announce the reconstitution of the original G-7.

4. Announce a U.S.-European boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi. To do otherwise would be obscene. Sochi is 15 miles from Abkhazia, the other Georgian province just invaded by Russia. The Games will become a riveting contest between the Russian, Belarusan and Jamaican bobsled teams.

All of these steps (except dissolution of the G-8, which should be irreversible) would be subject to reconsideration depending upon Russian action — most importantly and minimally, its withdrawal of troops from Georgia proper to South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”

I’m not so sure about the fourth step. Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the Soviet Olympics following the invasion of Afghanistan only hurt U.S. and boycotting country athletes and accomplished little else. If the West can convince the IOC to move the 2014 venue to one used in the recent past, like Salt Lake City, then it may have some effect. Otherwise, keep athletics out of politics. Krauthammer continues:

“The most crucial and unconditional measure, however, is this: Reaffirm support for the Saakashvili government and declare that its removal by the Russians would lead to recognition of a government-in-exile. This would instantly be understood as providing us the legal basis for supplying and supporting a Georgian resistance to any Russian-installed regime. President Bush could cash in on his close personal relationship with Putin by sending him a copy of the highly entertaining (and highly fictionalized) film ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ to remind Vlad of our capacity to make Russia bleed. Putin would need no reminders of the Georgians’ capacity and long history of doing likewise to invaders.”

This can’t become a U.S./Russia confrontation. The rest of the developed world must pull together and speak with one voice if a successful and peaceful solution to the crisis is to be found. That may mean letting France take the lead, since Sarkozy has already established his credentials. Krauthammer, however, is not so sure about France (or Europe). He asserts that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s task is to get European agreement on as many counter-steps calibrated to change Russian behavior as possible and begin imposing them immediately. He continues:

“Most important of all, … prevent any Euro-wobbliness on the survival of Georgia’s democratically elected government. We have cards. We should play them. Much is at stake.”

This is a good time for the world to pull together. Millions of impoverished people are counting on the benefits of globalization reaching them and these could disappear if the world is again split into separate trading blocs. Putin could certainly hold the West hostage to Russia’s oil and natural gas, but he wants the revenue, influence, and international power that selling that oil to the West brings Russia.