What are the Global Consequences of Russia's Invasion of Georgia
Previously published on August 20, 2008
The escalation of the dispute over the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia has been a nightmare for residences of the Transcaucasian region. Although the Russian invasion is a reaction to Georgia's military action in South Ossetia, which killed Russian peacekeepers and residences who have been extended Russian citizenship, there is good cause to suspect Russia provoked the conflict in order to justify an invasion; however, the immediate concern for the international community is to protect civilians and ensure military action is halted on both sides. Meanwhile, the reactions of the American, Russian, and Georgian leaders take on a frightening resemblance to Cold War relations. Once immediate concerns over violence can be elated, how the West and Russia achieve stability will determine the consequences of these events.
Fortunately, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, acting as the President of the European Union, immediately took a rather impartial tone and began mediating a cease fire agreement. The actions of Sarkozy's leadership have helped save lives as well as halt advances by the Russian military despite reluctance on behalf of the Russians to fully withdraw from Georgia and allowed the global community the opportunity to formulate a reaction capable of discouraging future occurrences. Although the incident does involve European interests as nations like Georgia serve as a buffer zone from Russian influence, it is encouraging to see Europeans taking on a strong position of leadership in an international crisis instead of relying on US leadership. On the other hand, the United States should not be taking a backseat to this crisis, but rather, joining high level discussions between Russia and Georgia as a co-leader along side Europe.
Unfortunately, the US immediately took a rather one-sided approach by throwing undying support behind Georgia and simply cutting of relations with Russia. Although the world has good cause to believe Russia provoked Georgia into this conflict and the West views the magnitude of Russia's response as unjustified, it is difficult to mediate and resolve a conflict when a nation polarizes itself against the stronger of the two advisories. With such actions, America risks alienating Russia as though our partner is still our Cold War advisory. US leadership is important in this crisis, but regrettably, the Bush Administration has not demonstrated it is capable of the diplomatic leadership needed to push beyond the baggage that comes from Iraq. Most Americans, despite the invalid evidence for nuclear weapons and poorly rationalized justification for military action, likely perceive US action in Iraq as different from Russia's behavior in Georgia, but Russians probably do not. As the Bush Administration is prone to take on positions, which polarize issues and people, the lack of US leadership in this crisis may well add to the damage already done.
At the end of the Cold War, Russia lost its super power status along with much of its regional influence and economic strength. In tandem, Western influence expanded while former soviet states, such as Georgia and Ukraine, looked to Europe and the US as sources of opportunity. With Georgia attempting to join the EU and NATO, Russia has openly opposed the Georgian government because a Westernizing Georgia represents a potential threat to Russian sovereignty and influence. On the other hand, high energy prices and large reserves of crude have rejuvenated Russia's economic power. Meanwhile, energy producing nations understand the world supply of crude is measured in decades leaving these nations to become potentially irrelative in the future. Therefore, while nations like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela are extremely relevant, they likely perceive it is important to expand their economic and military power along with regional and global influence before they are left insignificant in the global community. Moreover, Russia likely sees the necessity and opportunity to aggressively address threats against its sovereignty and influence, so its government felt compelled to crush Georgia.
Furthermore, Western leaders look at the move as one designed to inspire fear in the region for nations asserting their rights of sovereignty against the near-Superpower. With Georgia providing a legitimate trigger and the Olympics distracting the world, Russia likely saw a good opportunity to take complete control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia as well as possibly dismantle the Georgian government. Russia has long voiced its desire to see the removal of President Saakashvili and reasserted its willingness to assimilate the disputed territories back into the Russia Federation while a lack of strong international focus may have allow them to annexed the whole nation. With control over a good portion of Europe's energy supply and the ability to take advantage of expanding industrial capacities in nations like Communist China, Russia has the potential to cause serious instability in the world. Although Russia would suffer from such a move, real and perceived US economic power has diminished to point Russia might be able to use Eastern, Middle Eastern, and South American markets to circumvent Western sanctions.
To resolve the Georgian conflict, the international body must ensure Russia feels consequences for overreacting to Georgia's military maneuver; however, it must also embrace Russia as a part of the international community. If Russia perceives it cannot achieve its interests or it cannot have its concerns addressed through international channels, Russia is less and less likely to seek resolutions through its alliances. Leaders are correct to condemn the fierceness of the invasion and take actions like canceling joint military exercises as announced by Defense Security Gates; however, over zealously pledging our uncompromising support for Georgia helps push Russia away from American interests. An unstable global community forces nations to gear their attention toward the threat of conventional warfare when the pressing threat is global terrorism. Above all, Russia's true motives are uncertain while the dispute over South Ossetia and Abkhazia continues, so it is imperative the international community works toward a solution that leads to stability.