- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Despite harsh warnings by U.S. officials, Western nations have a slim range of options for punishing Russia for invading Georgia without damaging international institutions and their own interests, former U.S. officials and analysts say.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that Washington and its NATO allies would not let Moscow destabilize Europe or split the Continent with a new Iron Curtain.

“We have to deny Russian strategic objectives, which are clearly to undermine Georgia’s democracy, to use its military capability to damage and in some cases destroy Georgian infrastructure and to try and weaken the Georgian state,” she told reporters on her way to a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

NATO is expected to issue a statement Tuesday condemning Russia for responding to Georgian attacks in the disputed region of South Ossetia with a full-scale invasion. Washington has excluded Moscow from discussions among the Group of Eight industrial nations over Georgia, and Miss Rice and President Bush have made clear Moscow’s application for membership in bodies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) could be at risk.

NATO has already barred a Russian ship from joining a multinational anti-terrorism exercise in the Mediterranean and did not agree to a Russian request for an emergency meeting of ambassadors on the crisis in the Caucasus.

Asked whether such steps would have an impact on Moscow, Toby Gati, a former special assistant to President Clinton for Russia, said she doubted it. “You can’t punish people when punishment means denying them something they wanted but weren’t getting,” she said.

Ms. Gati said the Russians think that Western nations for years have offered them empty promises for membership in international institutions such as the WTO.

“The Russians are at the point where they don’t believe we will give them any benefits,” she said. “In that context, threatening to withhold something doesn’t give you any additional leverage.”

Critics of the Bush administration’s response to the Russian attacks have also called for Russia to be banned from the G-8. But Ms. Gati said denying a major economic power membership in the body would only weaken the institution and reduce Western leverage over Russia.

Others said Congress could vote down pending legislation dealing with civilian nuclear cooperation between Washington and Moscow, meant to bolster nuclear research in both countries, or oppose future arms control talks.

This might hurt the United States as much as Russia.

“Nuclear negotiation should not be held hostage,” said Strobe Talbott, a Russia expert and president of the Brookings Institution. “It is in our own interest that strategic arms reductions talks and other forms of arms proliferation and arms control measures continue.”

Dimitri Simes of the Nixon Center, another Washington think tank, said the Bush administration could play hard ball by asking Interpol to investigate money laundering by Russia’s ruling elite. But that could cause blowback for U.S. companies, he said.

“If Interpol were to look at accounts and properties of Russian officials, such as mansions in Miami beach, or brownstones in Kensington, the Russian ruling group would take it personally and there would be retaliation against European and U.S. investment and business people in Russia,” he said.

Georgian officials have listed a number of possible responses to the Russian attack including a request that the 2014 Winter Olympics not be held in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The European Union could also terminate a visa program that facilitates Russian travel to EU member states, said a senior adviser to Georgia’s president, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“There should be a positive carrot and stick approach,” the adviser said. “Punishment isn’t the right word. The West needs to show this kind of behavior has costs.”

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