Russia, Georgia and the Kosovo precedent

With apologies for returning once again to this miserable topic (for earlier recent treatments see this, this and this, plus the comments appended to each),  I recommend an article in the Irish Independent of 31 August by Sir Ivor Roberts ("Payback time as Kosovo chickens come home to roost") as a valuable and pithy statement of the case against US and UK government policy on Russia-Georgia in particular and Russia in general, including an account of the way that western blunders over Kosovo in the recent and not-so-recent past have come back to haunt us now. 

I have described Ivor Roberts's credentials and experience of Balkans and Caucasus affairs here,  and you can see extensive extracts from an earlier piece by him in The Tablet here.

If there are two things in Roberts's Irish Independent article that I would like to see copied out in 16-point Arial Bold Italics and pinned side by side above the desks of David Miliband and Gordon Brown, they are:

The Russians' dislike of encirclement is profound and historical. More recently, it has been fuelled by enlargement of Nato to take in the Eastern European countries formerly members of the Warsaw Pact. Georgian and Ukrainian ambitions for Nato membership — discussed but not agreed at the Nato summit in April this year, despite enormous US pressure — only added to the Russian anger.  Putin, who had been invited to the summit, made his position clear. Russia viewed "the appearance of a powerful military bloc" on its borders as a direct threat. Despite Bush's famous claim after his first meeting with Putin that he could look into his eyes and see his soul, he failed to read Russian red lines.

and —

we are clearly no longer in a uni-polar world. The rush to Nato membership by its former satellites and the foolhardy activity of Washington pets like Saakashvili make a traditionally paranoiac Russia distinctly unsettled and unpredictable.  Talking of a new Cold War and building "coalitions against Russian aggression", however, risks being self fulfilling. Engaging with, not isolating, Russia is the path to avoiding further confrontation. Be careful what you wish for, says the old adage.  [Emphasis added.]

 Engaging with, not isolating, Russia is, or should be, the path to a more secure and stable world, not only to avoiding more confrontation.  Hysterical talk about expelling Russia from the G8 and excluding it from the World Trade Organisation is heading in the diametrically wrong direction.  Is there really no-one in King Charles Street or No. 10 Downing Street able to grasp this?  No-one with even the most superficial knowledge of history?


1 Response

  1. Tony says:

    Thanks for link to Ivor Roberts' Irish Independent piece. 
    The LSE's Mary Kaldor here makes a persuasive case that  the real Balkan parallel for  South Ossetia and Abkhazia situation  is not Kosovo but Republika Srbska
    p.s. her " Walnut sauce Ossetian style"  looks…..interesting!

    Brian writes (belatedly):   With Tony's assistance I have corrected the faulty link in his comment above and thus been able to read Mary Kaldor's extremely interesting article.  Her viewpoint is persuasively pragmatic and human-centred, but in practice I don't think it's possible entirely to separate status factors from humanitarian ones;  self-determination is a very flexible concept which can be used pretty much in any way you like, and can't be applied blindly to every piddling little group that wants to separate from the country it finds itself in;  and no international parallels are ever exact (so Kosovo is every bit as analogous to South Ossetia as Republika Srbska but in different ways).  I think the only general rule that should be observed is that wherever separatism is an issue, it's always a mistake to try to bring it prematurely to a head and seek a permanent solution one way or another if doing so is likely to result in significant violence.  There's a lot to be said for sleeping dogs, especially if they are pit bull terriers. The Kosovo situation was reasonably peaceful and stable under international administration but still technically part of Serbia;  so was South Ossetia until Saakashvili recklessly barged in with military force to try to bring it back under Georgian government control.  Some problems are actually made worse by undue zeal for solving them immediately;  patience is often a better guide.