The Russia-Georgia crisis has caused a substantial erosion in Russia-U.S. relations. In order to move forward in such a challenging diplomatic environment, the United States should fully support the French initiative to achieve a cease fire.
President Bush recently announced the launch of a U.S. humanitarian mission to Georgia and criticized Russia for what he deemed as its violation of the ceasefire. This accusation struck deeply with many Russians who viewed the intelligence on which the speech was based as false or outdated.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy will meet with Dmitry Medvedev in an effort to move the Russian leadership toward a cease-fire agreement already signed by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. Even if a ceasefire is reached, continuing turmoil in South Ossetia, which refuses to return to Georgian control, and Abkhazia, where the political situation remains unclear, will keep tensions high.
Although U.S.-Russian relations have steadily deteriorated over the past number of years, the current conflict between Russia and Georgia marks a dramatic worsening of relations. Masha Lipman argues that the West’s inability to prevent Russia from projecting its force is very disquieting.
As Russian forces move deeper into Georgia, it is clear that despite questions over who started the conflict Russia’s ambitions are far larger than attaining the two Georgian separatist regions- South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russia’s military campaign in Georgia is Vladimir Putin’s boldest move to reassert Russian dominance across its borders. Robert Kagan explains, “This is the culmination of Putin’s efforts to pull Georgia back within Russia’s sphere and exert control over it... There won’t be a pro-Western Georgian government who wants to join NATO by the time that Putin is finished with this.”
With the escalation of violence between Georgia and Russia, and the apparent ceasefire of military operations by Russia, the role of the United States in the build-up and outbreak of the conflict has been largely muted.
Russia’s use of military power to obtain geopolitical objectives in Georgia is reminiscent of strategy pursued by 19th century superpowers to gain resources and power on the international stage. The West must make it clear to Russia that their long-term relationships are at stake if the country does not withdraw its military.
Russia’s use of force against Georgia – a close ally of the U.S. in a strategic region for oil and gas transport – is the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall that Russian forces have violated another country’s sovereignty and international law. A resurgent Russia is testing the will of the international community to hold it responsible for its actions.
Despite President Bush's condemnation of Russia's continued attacks on Georgia, the international community has yet to form a united response to the crisis. Western powers must make it clear that Russia will pay a high price for its actions through political and economic sanctions and possible suspension of the NATO-Russia relationship.