Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Stop the bear-an Analysis by Mart Laar of the huge Russian threat to Europe

By Mart Laar via International Herald Tribune and SOS Georgia

Though Russia has not yet achieved the main goal of its attack against Georgia - the removal of the democratically elected president and his replacement with somebody who would bring Georgia back under Russian influence - it appears that the fighting is slowly coming to an end. A cease-fire has been signed, though Russia and its allies are ignoring it.

Looking beyond the wreckage of Gori and Tskhinvali to the long-term implications for Europe’s relationship with Russia, it is clear that there can be no return to the status quo.
Until Russian tanks rolled across the Caucasus it was common in parts of Europe to put tensions with Moscow down to a series of unfortunate misunderstandings. Warnings from new European Union member states on Russia’s growing aggressiveness were not heeded. Prospects for an improvement in relations were talked up with reassuring phrases about “common values,” “enhanced dialogue” and “strategic partnership,” as if the only thing missing was a bit of diplomatic effort on our part.

For the sake of Europe, we must now dispose of these illusions. This was not an “accidental war,” as some prefer to see it. It was the culmination of a deliberate strategy by Russia to undermine the sovereignty and independence of its neighbors and to begin to restore its former sphere of influence by force. It is wishful thinking to imagine that Russia’s ambitions are limited to South Ossetia or even Georgia.
The Kremlin’s “national greatness” project dictates that the whole of eastern Europe, including countries that are now part of the EU and NATO, should be subservient to the interests of Russia.

Nothing in the Western response to the attack on Georgia will convince Russia’s leaders that this objective is beyond them. On the contrary, they are likely to feel emboldened by the experience to go further unless the West grasps what is happening and establishes clear limits.
It is quite wrong to see Russia’s behavior as reckless and unpredictable. The ground for this war was carefully prepared over a period of years in which the Kremlin probed and tested the willingness of Western government to resist its encroachments.
It used energy cut-offs to intimidate Ukraine and Lithuania, waged cyberwar against Estonia, imposed trade sanctions on Poland and grabbed foreign energy investments at home.
In Georgia, Russia supported a build-up of separatist armed forces and provoked them to attack Georgia; introduced an aggressive economic blockade against Georgia; tried to undermine Georgia’s Western-minded government; launched missiles against Georgian territory, and shot down Georgian reconnaissance planes.

Having failed to encounter a concerted pushback in response to any of these measures, it was inevitable that Russia would resort to hard military power. Russia calculated this step very carefully. Through our inattention and weakness, it is we in the EU who have been reckless.
It is time to face up to some uncomfortable truths about our relationship with Russia. The most important of these is to recognize that the current Russian political elite does not share our most cherished European values. It rejects multiparty democracy, human rights and freedom of speech as the basis of its domestic political system.

More important, it denies sovereign independence, self-determination, the rule of international law, peaceful diplomacy and voluntary integration as the basis of interstate relations. Since these principles form the basis of the modern European state system, we are faced with a fundamental clash of political values.

Russia’s determination to reintroduce power politics, including the use of war as an instrument of policy, is a direct threat to the very foundations of the EU. We cannot afford to ignore that any longer.

We cannot reverse that impression and defend our value system effectively with the EU’s existing approach to Russia. The selfish and short-sighted bilateralism by which certain European countries have put their own concerns before those of Europe as a whole needs to be replaced by a policy of real solidarity. We need to counter Russia’s abusive use of gas and oil supplies by developing a single European energy system with a real external policy.
We should realize that the time is not right to extend the privileges of strategic partnership to the Russians or perhaps even allow them to benefit from accession to the WTO. Instead, we should focus on integrating with those democracies in Eastern Europe that share our values and want to be part of the EU. These measures are necessary for restoring the integrity of a European state system based on democracy and the rule of law.

Unfortunately, the EU’s failure to act in a timely fashion means that such tools of “soft power” are no longer sufficient on their own. Russia has reintroduced military force into the equation, so the defense of democratic Europe needs to acquire a harder edge.
It would be sheer folly to conclude that Georgia and Ukraine should now be kept out of NATO. It was precisely the failure of the Bucharest summit to back the promise of membership with real substance that encouraged Russia to believe that it had an opportunity to prevent the inevitable.

If we reward Russia’s aggression by continuing to keep Georgia and Ukraine in the waiting room, we should not be surprised if the result is more aggression.
No one should be in doubt any longer about what is at stake in our relationship with Russia. This is a moment of danger and choice for Europe. Do we have the willpower to stand up for our way of life and everything we have built, or will we succumb to power politics and autocracy? If we remain paralyzed by indecision, the choice will be made for us.

Mart Laar was the prime minister of Estonia from 1992 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2002 .

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