Deterioration of the situation in Georgia
Delivered in Plenary - 7th May 2008
Russia has a new President today, but Vladimir Putin’s new job as Prime Minister will enable him to maintain his grip on power and supervise his protégé Dmitry Medvedev. As result, Russian foreign policy will not change.
A flood of petrodollars is making Russia a resurgent power but, regrettably, it sees everything in zero-sum terms. Putin’s foreign policy priority – to reconstruct something looking like the old Soviet Union – has been focused on what Russia patronisingly refers to as its ‘near abroad’ – the former Soviet republics in the Baltics, Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus, where Russia is determined to retain its sphere of influence. They are being punished for looking westwards towards NATO and the EU, rather than towards Moscow.
Georgia, under the Western-oriented reformist President Saakashvili, has suffered considerably from Russia’s heavy-handedness. Aside from using trade and energy supplies as diplomatic weapons, Putin has consistently sought to undermine Georgia’s territorial integrity through tacit support for the breakaway, self-styled republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The arrival of yet more Russian soldiers in Abkhazia – supposedly as peacekeepers but undoubtedly combat ready – and the shooting down of a Georgian drone recently has provocatively increased tension in the region.
However, given the West’s rush to embrace an independent Kosovo without any UN resolution or international agreement, Russia’s actions – regrettably – have a certain logic. Recognition of Kosovo has opened a can of worms and given Russia the moral high ground. We should not be surprised that Russia sees this as a precedent. It would indeed be tragic if, through our approach to Kosovo, we have irreparably damaged Georgia and precipitated armed conflict in a country whose territorial integrity we should be defending very strongly.