This may be a
turning point in Russia's relations with the US and western Europe. Aggression
against Georgia has disillusioned decision makers and the public about whether
Putin's Russia is a peace-loving nation. Implications may be widespread, the
first one being stronger American committment to placing missile defence shieldin
the countries of the former soviet-bloc.
Military action against Georgia - however limited in time, scale and impact it may have seemed from Moscow's point of view - was a symbolic resurrection of Russia's imperial ambitions and a single handed return to the status of a world super-power, enjoyed for the last two decades only by the US. While the Western leaders have desperately tried to stop the war in what is regarded one of the world's most fragile powder kegs, intellectual elites promoting friendly ties with the Kremlin, were stupefied. If politics, as many claim, is made on TVRussian tanks and armoured vehicles have inflicted more damage on Moscow than on Gori. Images of war can strike harder than bombs and bullets - and Russia did not convince the West it was right to asisst Georgia's breakaway provinces militarily.
Technically Russia won the war, but paradoxically, the victory will weaken Russia's position towards its western partners, primarily the US. And most probably it will evoke the cold war attitudes and open a "cold peace" - a period of mounting distrust, prejudice and criticism of Russian policies, which in recent years was set aside by an overwhelming wave of appeasement. A change is inevitable.
The first sign of the change is the missile defence deal between Poland and the US. Even if decision makers claim that the agreement was ready before August the 8th, there's little doubt that the war helped to strike the deal, after many thought an agreement was not possible in the near future. As a result, central and eastern Europe could face local arms build-up and possible hostile relocations of forces, but after the crisis in Georgia the public sympathy is on the side of missile defence shield.
Deterioration in political relations with Russia is obvious, but Europe has to try its best so as not to deepen the energy crisis, as it is largely dependant on Russian supplies. But in case of Georgia, Russia has demonstrated that it will not only use energy as a weapon but that it is also prepare to strike militarily. From now on, Europe will seek its energy independence more seriously and plans to develop nuclear power-plants and the search for alternative fuel sources in countries leading the anti-Russian camp will experience a boost.
Transatlantic partnership will only gain from the Georgian crisis. Criticism of the US-sponsorship of a maverick leader Saakashvili pales in comparison to unprecedented actions by post-soviet Moscow. Even if Europeans do not claim "We are all Georgians," they share the general view of the US that it is Russia who deserved to be punished. Remarkably, chancellor Merkel in Tbilisi repeated the clause from Bucharest - that Georgia is still on its way to NATO membership. A perfect timing to annoy Russia.
A symbolic date - 08.08.08 - may be remembered just as 9/11, and not as the date when Beijing Olympic Games started. Whether its repercussions will change the world as much as 9/11 did, is a very serious question, especially for us in Europe.
Marek Swierczynski is a journalist with a special interest in defence and security matters and and a member of the Polish Euro-Atlantic Society.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Wess Mitchell: How America Should Respond to Resurgent Russia
- Richard Holbrooke and Ronald D. Asmus: Only Transatlantic Unity Can Stop This War
- Nicholas Kirrill Gvosdev: The Transatlantic Divide Over the Caucasus Conflict