Saturday, August 9, 2008

Where is the EU's soft power?

The news from the Caucasus is becoming very serious and very muddled, as such things always are. Some reports talk of 1,500 dead; others insist that the figures are lower than that.

To the usual fog of war there is the problem of conflicting political statements. Russia, who has sent a large contingent of troops to South Ossetia is talking angrily about Georgian misdemeanours and about the fact that Russian peacekeepers were fired at. The Russian troops, announced a tight-lipped President Medvedev, went in to support those peacekeepers.

This is an interesting twist on the usual tale, which is about Russian troops going in because they have been invited by the peace-loving people of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, fill in your own country.

According to the BBC Russian Service, President Medvedev has also announced that the Georgians will be forced to agree to a peace settlement. The South Ossetian government has announced that Georgian fire is preventing the transportation of wounded to hospitals.

The Russian operation, which involves contingents of the 58th Army, is conducted by General Vladimir Boldyrev, recently appointed to the overall command of the Russian land forces.

Also according to the BBC Russian Service, the Russian Ministry of Defence, has accused Ukraine in supporting Georgia in its ethnic cleansing of South Ossetia. At the moment, such accusations are to be taken very seriously.

One wonders whether this could have been avoided by a greater display of courage by certain West European countries, such as Germany, France, Spain and the Benelux, who made it clear at the last NATO Summit that they were prepared to act on Russian instructions if it meant "standing up to America" and, of course, ensuring no break in that energy supply.

Come to think of it, where is the soft power of the EU? This war is unfolding reasonably close, yet neither the EU nor its member states, whose leaders are, of course, on holiday or in Beijing, seem to have any ideas beyond wringing their hands and pleading with all sides to be good little children and play nicely with each other.

The UN, that supposed source of international law and good behaviour, is divided as Georgian and Russian representatives are trading insults. How familiar it all looks.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador, said Georgia was deliberately targeting Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia and accused Tbilisi of "ethnic cleansing".

"Tbilisi is using a tactic of scorched earth. A number of towns in South Ossetia have been fully destroyed according to some reports," he said.

"Georgian snipers are not letting through ambulances, not allowing the medical services to get on with saving people."

Irakli Alasania, Georgia's envoy to the UN, rejected Churkin's charges and accused the Moscow of aggression.

"Russia is openly challenging the international community and jeopardising established international order and stability," he said. "We demand the Russian Federation immediately terminate aerial bombardments, immediately pull out the occupying forces, and negotiate ceasefire," he said, adding that Saakashvili was ready for direct peace talks with the Russians.

Towards the end of the meeting, he turned directly to Churkin, and asked, "Are you ready to stop the fighter jets who are in the air who will soon be bombing my comrades in Georgia, and what will the security council do about this now? How are we going to address this?"

He received no reply.
Insults are also traded on the BBC Russian Service Forum though there is one interesting comment on it. If you want to know who really is the aggressor, says one contributor, look at the movement of the refugees. Which way are they running? This is an extremely important point. Back in the days of the war in Croatia (not much noted in Britain, where too many people think that the Yugoslav wars started in 1999 in Kosovo) Croat refugees ignored the age-old enmity between themselves and Hungarians as well as the supposed Slav brotherhood. They ran to Hungary away from the Serbs.

It looks like the South Ossetians are running to North Ossetia, which would make a good deal of sense - they are more or less the same people, though being a tribal nation, the Ossetians fight a good deal among themselves. However, Al-Jazeera adds an interesting and little-noted detail:
Moscow began to transport on Saturday South Ossetian refugees - whom it considers as its own citizens - into the neighbouring Russian province of North Ossetia.
So, are those refugees fleeing or are they being bundled into coaches and lorries and transported?

4 comments:

James Rogers said...

You should have pointed out that the United Kingdom sided with Germany in rejecting Georgia's MAP/NATO progression at Bucharest. It was not simply those bad continentals v. the righteous Americans and British. All Europeans need to get their act together in dealing with the new Russia—before it's too late...

Helen said...

I didn't point that out because it wasn't quite like that. Britain did not side with anyone but sat on the fence. When you say all Europeans need to get together, do you have any suggestions as to which side they should unite on? The German/French or the Danish side?

Helen said...

One more thing: there is no new Russia. This is the old Russia. Just ask the Georgians.

James Rogers said...

Sitting on the fence, as you put it, when the argument was not going in the American direction, is as good as supporting the German position.

When I say Europeans need to 'get together', I mean that they need a single foreign/defence policy, preferably under Anglo-French leadership—and working in partnership with the United States. The key is to get Britain and France seeing the world similarly. This is not impossible, and should be within our grasp (unless one is a defeatist). A weak and incoherent Europe will be like a chain and ball around the United States' foot, bogging it down and damaging the power and capability of the West.

It was possible for Europeans to work together during the Cold War—and with the United States—so it should not be impossible now. There will be disagreements, and hiccups, but far more cooperation is desirable. Aggregating the power of the entire European Union to project abroad serves Western interests, as even the United States is starting to realise.

But you're right. Russia's policies are not so new, but merely a continuation of the past. The only thing different is that the Kremlin has grown rich from the European gas revenues pouring into the Moscow regime's coffers, which is being transferred into geopolitical leverage. More's the pity.