Policy memo on US reaction to Russian-Georgian troubles

At the end of the academic year I continue publication of series of my academic papers that might be interesting to read later. End of March 2008 about a week before NATO summit in Bukharest took place I wrote a sumulation memo. Most talked about topic of the NATO summit was the issue of granting Georgia and Ukraine NATO membership accession plans (MAPs). Even though the US was urging the allies to grant Ukraine and Georgia MAP, key Eropean countries like Germany and France opposed this move, because they were evidently afraid to stir Russian resentment.

I my memo, written a week before the NATO summit I made two suppositions: 1) NATO grants Ukraine and Georgia MAP, 2) Russia recognises Georgian breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Based on these two assumptions I wrote a class memo on a possible US’s course of actions.

The United States must produce the proper and balanced reaction to the hostile appropriation of the territory of the American ally in the Caucasus, Republic of Georgia by Russian Federation. The challenge is to provide unequivocal support for the US ally Georgia, but at the same time avoid the danger of military confrontation with Russia and work out a long term strategy in order to deal with the problem, providing a face-saving alternative for the opposite party.

Most immediate threat for the US’s interests in the region is military defeat of Georgia inflicted by Abkhaz and South Ossetian forces, backed by Russia or with direct involvement of the Russian military. This could jeopardize US’s international standing as its ally is attacked, while at the same time US cannot afford full-scale hostilities with such nuclear power as Russia. Another important consideration should be that if we allow Russia go with this move, it might feel potent to undertake similar moves in Ukraine and elsewhere, that would cause major destabilization in Europe. Oil supplies from the Caspian region, most notably Baku-Ceynan pipeline that goes via Georgia to the West may be in jeopardy.

10 April 2008 Russian parliament officially recognized independence of Georgian breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia cited recognition of Kosovo by the US and its allies in February 2008 and NATO enlargement as key factors allowing it to do this.

Georgia has long been a devote ally of the United States and the only country in the volatile Caucasus region that has made significant progress toward democratic development. Georgian military detachment in Iraq is the third largest after the US’s and Britain’s.

Georgian allegiances with the US and the West in general have hardly been accepted by Russian leadership and contributed to the decline of Russian-Georgian relations. There have been numerous border incidents in recent years, Georgian authorities provided evidence that they were carried out by Russian side, while Russians denied their involvement. Russia has tried to use its energy supplies to Georgia as a means of political pressure, during winter 2006 cutting the gas supplies pipeline and announcing about sharp gas prices increase days before 2007 year start. In autumn 2006 following detention of the alleged Russian spies from Russian military bases in Georgia, Russia barred Georgian nationals from receiving Russian visas until March 2008 and on a made up pretext refused to import Georgian products, imposing an unannounced economic embargo that had severe economic consequences for Georgia.

The main threat to the Georgian statehood, however, came from the leverage Russia acquired on Georgia using its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These are two tiny regions (population of Abkhazia is ca. 250,000, population of South Ossetia is ca. 70,000) adjacent to Russia. Russia has been fueling separatist sentiments in these regions by supporting them economically, militarily and most notably by granting their citizens Russian citizenship in the past three years. At the same time Georgian nationalist government in the beginning of 1990s bears large part of the blame for the eruption of violence in these regions and its consequences.

Russian policy in these regions was to use Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a means of interference with Georgian internal politics, but at the same time to avoid their recognition in practice. Following Kosovo recognition in February 2008 and granting Ukraine and Georgia Membership Accession Plan to NATO in April 2008 to both of which Russia was fiercely opposed Russian leadership was induced to act resolutely in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in order to retain regional power status among CIS countries and for internal political reasons.

US Department of State must clearly condemn Russia’s move to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia and urge Russia to engage in talks with Georgia in order to retract this move and reach a peace agreement. The US must call for UN Security Council meeting and offer corresponding resolution. The US should offer mediation in the talks between Russia and Georgia and send strong signal by diplomatic channels to Russians, that the US is considering serious measures to isolate Russia on international stage, unless it immediately engages in talks. The US must confer with its key allies in EU to work out a concerted set of efforts to resolve the crisis diplomatically, but also show the firmness to defend our interests and those of our allies. Neither Kosovo recognition, nor NATO enlargement can be allowed to be subjects of talks between the US and Russia.

At the same time the US must urge Georgia to refrain from undertaking military campaign unless there is well-founded evidence that it could be short and successful. It must be noted that as there is a number of other dormant conflicts in the Caucasus region, the way how this crisis is resolved is going to affect other places as well. It is not in the interests of the United States to engage directly in any of the possible military conflicts in the region. We must avoid military confrontation with Russia in this conflict or in other possible conflicts in the region in near future, so it is better to discourage Georgia from openly attacking Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The US should press ahead with establishing itself and/or EU as a mediating side in the talks between Russia and Georgia. Ultimate aim should be retracting Russian recognition and gradual weakening of Russian influence in the breakaway regions. The framework for the talks should be founded on mutual concessions: the US does not allow Georgia to gain control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia while Russia withdraws its military forces from them. This would appeal to the populations of these regions, undermine Russia’s grip on them and at the same time be regarded as a completely neutral approach. While dealing with this crisis, we should remember about other conflicts in the region and take into account broader agenda in the Caucasus.

If warning about possible international isolation does not work, the US should consider measures of curbing Russian influence on international stage and providing political support for separatist movements in Russian North Caucasus and elsewhere. The US should not allow reincarnation of some type of a USSR and incorporation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia could be seen as one of such moves.

Provided no leverage works as we expect, the US should minimize the damage that Russia’s move did by stepping up efforts to stop similar type of events in Ukraine and elsewhere. Also the US must provide generous economic support for Georgia. Major overhaul of the American foreign policy approach to Russia will have to be made that will envisage the recent changes and provide long term containment strategy toward Russia.

To my surprise, this memo of mine was graded between C+ and B-, I was really hoping for a better grade, even though realized, that it was far from ideal. Besides being not ideal it probably also didn’t make much sense:)

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