Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Responding to the Georgia/Russian conflict

These past few days of seen an disturbing escalation in violence in South Osetia, leaving innocent people under rubble and sending shockwaves through the Atlantic Community. The situation in the region is clearly complex and has been slowly simmering since the Iron Curtain finally fell in the early 1990s. Though many point the finger at the Georgian governments intrusion into South Osetia as the spark the started the fire, the international community is in clear agreement that the Russian response and continuing actions are both illegal and brutally disproportionate.

While a military response from the U.S. or Europe is unlikely, there are plenty of other responses that should be immediately considred by Georgia's allies to the West. David Clark of the Guardian offers three clear punitive measures for Russia's strong handed response: No compromise on Georgian membership in NATO, revoking Russia's privileged membership in the G8, and withdrawing Russia's planned host-status for the Winter Olympics in 2014 at Sochi. These measures would make clear that Russia cannot enjoy the perks of the international community while its leaders thumb their nose at international law and human rights.

Sceptics within Nato, like Germany, will see the conflict as evidence that Georgia is an unreliable partner best kept at arm's length. This is entirely the wrong way of looking at it. Georgia's security concerns are real, and Russia is the cause. The onus should therefore be on Russia to reduce the security fears that drive the desire for Nato membership by withdrawing unwanted troops and becoming part of a political solution to the frozen conflicts. If it will not do this, it has to accept the consequences.

...As so often with bullies, the Russian government's behaviour disguises deep insecurity and a craving for respect. This makes it more susceptible to our opinions than we often think. Further aggressive steps against Georgia would certainly be a reason to reconsider whether Russia should continue to enjoy the prestige that comes with membership of the G8.

Another possible response ties in nicely with our current Olympic obsession. Russia is due to host the Winter Olympics in 2014 at Sochi and hopes to use the event, like the Chinese, as an expression of its power on the world stage. There would be very good grounds for asking the International Olympic Committee to consider whether a country that was actively working to dismember a neighbour only a few kilometres from Sochi was an adequate standard-bearer for the Olympic ideal."

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