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European Council of Foreign Relations analyst Andrew Wilson: West should deliver strong answer to Russia as idea that Russia should not be challenged is erroneous

de Anne-Marie Blajan, transl. V.O.     HotNews.ro
Luni, 18 august 2008, 18:46 English | Regional Europe

Andrew Wilson
The conflict in Georgia - a mistake on the part of President Saakashvili but also a disproportionate reaction of Russia - provides a strong lesson to the West. That is, it should have intervened earlier, more boldly and with solidarity, believes analyst Andrew Wilson of the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR) in statements made for HotNews.ro. Russia should receive a strong answer from Western powers who should drop the erroneous idea that Russia must not be provoked.

What has happened in Georgia factually is a question that analysts have been raising for the past week. They themselves reply that no precise answer is available. 

There are already certain myths growing up about the war. It needs to be clearly established just how many casualties there were, what weapons were used, whether war crimes were committed. A proper international enquiry is the way forward – rather than relying on Georgian or Russian PR, says Andrew Wilson, Senior Policy Fellor at the ECFR.

It is known who started it all -  the first move was Georgia's - and who answered foolishly: the Russian answer was disproportionate, Wilson says.

Wilson agrees that Mikhail Saakashvili has fallen into a Russian trap, as Moscow has kept provoking him for the past year and had prepared its answer to the Georgian act. Saakashvili's decision was, however, a mistake, a rushed and reckless decision.

Some say there were mixed signals from the Americans, and Europe was divided. But Saakashvili should have known that. He may have thought that the Olympic Games were taking place and that Russia would not react or that in the context, as Russia would be the host of the next Olympic Games, it would not react. It is hard to know how he thought and it's hard to believe that he thought he would win - Wilson considers.

The fact is that this mistake would cost Saakashvili. Russia wants to overthrow him. That would not happen directly, yet this adventurous action combined with the resulting defeat would determine the fall of the Georgian president. The Georgian opposition wants him removed, but how long it would take for that to happen it's hard to tell. The opposition does not want to move too fast, because it would not want to pose as unpatriotic, considers the ECFR analyst, who believes early elections may take place in Georgia.

On the other hand, the confrontation was less determined by the fact that Georgia provided an alternative to Russian energy routes through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Still, a project such as the planned Nabbuco pipeline is hard to accomplish, while Russia should not have veto rights over such projects, according to the analyst. Pressure on Azerbaijan may be decisive. Without Azerbaijan there can be no BTC or Nabucco.

Russia wanted to manifest its sphere of influence in its neighborhood, to show it is a key power. The message it wanted to send to neighboring countries, to Ukraine, Moldova, was: Russia is back, Russia is in power, Wilson says.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that commitments made at the Bucharest NATO summit remain valid while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Tbilisi on Sunday that Georgia would become a member of the Alliance. Still, what are the chances that Georgia receive the Membership Action Plan and become a candidate country for NATO accession?

Wilson believes that NATO members would react differentiatedly: some of them, a minority, would say that in the current circumstances Georgia must become a candidate country, proving that Georgia needed it; while France and Germany, who agreed with providing MAP in principle, but not now, would not change their position. And Bush, now ending his term, would not have the power to influence them and all should expect what the new US President has to say.

One thing is certain following this Russian show of force: the West must deliver a firm and strong answer to Russia, to take measures effectively. Asked whether the elimination from the G8, non-acceptance in the WTO or withdrawal of the right to organize the Sochi winter Olympics in 2014 - possible "sanctions" considered by analysts over the past week - would have any effect, Andrew Wilson said that Russia must be applied conditions. It should not be eliminated from the G8, full stop, without the possibility of changing its behaviour to forestall that, but must be faced with conditions, to be told what it may happen unless it takes some measures. Russia would be more sensitive to a threat like the elimination from the G8 and losing the right to organize the Olympic Games in Sochi.

The conclusion of this Russian-Georgian confrontation is that Western powers should get involved earlier, more boldly and with solidarity. There have been warnings on Georgia's side, and the West should have reacted sooner. Georgia is not a far away country, but the EU and NATO have divergent positions regarding Russia and many NATO and EU member states must rethink their policy on Russia, says Wilson.

Analyst Andrew Wilson of the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR), Senior Policy Fellow is specialised in transition and democracy in former Soviet republics and especially Russia, Ukraine and Belarus and is author of several books and studies.























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