European Union leaders will meet on September 1 in Brussels for a crisis summit in response to Russia’s war on Georgia. If allowed to succeed, the subjugation of Georgia will almost certainly be followed by steps to bring Ukraine and Moldova within a Russian sphere of influence, as well as bolder moves against the Baltic states. “Protecting” the life, rights, and “dignity” of Russian citizens — the pretext for attacking and dismembering Georgia — can be reused with slight variations to intensify political, economic, and military pressures on Russia’s neighboring countries.
In that eventuality, the EU will face a series of crises unmanageable with the EU’s existing instruments; a roll-back from its own eastern neighborhood; the ultimate discreditation of its would-be common foreign and security policy; and an even heavier dependence on Russian-controlled energy supplies. By the same token, stopping Russia’s re-expansion before it engulfs Georgia would allow the EU to prevent those chain-reactions and develop a strategy of its own in Europe’s East, in coordination with the United States and NATO.
NATO’s August 19 emergency ministerial meeting was rated a fiasco by unanimous consent of friend and foe (“Empty Words,” Wall Street Journal, August 20; “NATO Miowed,” Washington Post, August 21; “A mountain gave birth to a mouse,” Russia’s NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin — see EDM, August 21). At first sight it may seem that the upcoming EU summit could be compromised by the same West European governments that caused the NATO meeting to fail. Developments since August 19, however, have changed the atmosphere in the EU significantly. These developments include: Russia’s official “recognition” (i.e., open annexation) of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, its occupation of inner Georgian territories, its sponsorship of a further round of ethnic cleansing, and its open contempt toward the “armistice” brokered by the EU’s currently presiding country France on the EU’s behalf.
All this has made it almost impossible and downright risky for the EU to fail to rise to the challenge from Russia in Georgia. Some of the leading policy makers in the EU finally recognize at least some of the stakes involved. French President Nicolas Sarkozy (deeply embarrassed as mediator and self-declared “guarantor” of the Russia-Georgia “armistice”) and his Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, and other top officials have in recent days condemned Russia’s forcible seizure of territories and changes of borders in Georgia. They have all pronounced these moves invalid and “unacceptable” to the EU and urged support for Georgia’s territorial integrity. Miliband somberly observed that Russia is not reconciled with the post-1991 map of Eastern Europe; and Kouchner specifically noted that the Crimea, Ukraine itself, and Moldova are potentially the “next Russian objectives” (international news agencies, August 26-28).
Significantly, Miliband and Merkel made these statements during working visits in Ukraine and Estonia, respectively (international news agencies, August 26-28). The Czech former president Vaclav Havel observed — during commemorations of the 1968 Soviet invasion — that Russia, the largest country on earth, wants more territories from small neighboring countries and claims to feel insecure unless it annexes or controls its weak neighbors (CTK, August 21).
A sense of indignation is building up in the EU as more information emerges about ethnic cleansing of Georgians from South Ossetia and the Russian-occupied “security zone.” Meanwhile, Moscow is blocking the EU assistance teams’ access to Russian-controlled areas of Georgia. The Russians want themselves to distribute EU aid, apparently in order to force the EU to apply to Russian occupation authorities (a form of de facto recognition) and to hide the devastation they have wrought. Kouchner is now calling for EU sanctions (as yet unspecified) against Russia. He is doubly indignant as a long-time protagonist of humanitarian intervention and as the minister who was misled (alongside his president) by the Russians into underwriting the sham “ceasefire.” Unapologetically, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov has dismissed Kouchner’s assertions as “hopelessly confused” and stemming from a “sick mind” (Interfax, August 27).
The EU is not yet grappling with the impact of the Russian war and occupation on Georgia’s capacities for oil and gas transport to Europe. That impact is substantial at least in the short term and may well aggravate, if Russia keeps parts of the heartland in its grip as it now does. Moreover, even a partial control of Georgian energy transport routes would give Russia the upper hand over Azerbaijan. The upcoming EU summit would be remiss if it does not commit the EU to protecting freedom of movement through the Azerbaijan-Georgia oil and gas pipeline and rail corridor, ruling out any Russian presence along that corridor.
The EU’s ability to conduct foreign policy now faces its most important test ever. The relevant EU institutions as well as the major West European governments had until now tolerated Moscow’s assaults and encroachments on European values and interests, while Russia stopped short of direct military actions. Now the Kremlin has crossed even that threshold in the apparent belief that the EU is too divided, too dysfunctional, and too energy-dependent to respond, while NATO is undergoing a crisis of its own. Thus far, the response to the invasion of Georgia could only deepen Moscow’s disdain for the EU’s foreign, security, and energy policies. Russian pressures will intensify, unless the EU’s September 1 summit decisions demonstrate that the Kremlin needs to take the EU seriously.