- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

There is good news and bad news in the Russian invasion of Georgia. The good news is that Russia has replaced the United States on the world’s list of bad boy unilateral actors. The bad news is that we will now have to seriously re-evaluate our relationship with Russia. It also means a probable setback in using international pressure to curb Iranian nuclear ambitions as Russia was a strong partner in that endeavor. First and foremost, we must get them out of Georgia. In this, there are options.

The first and worst option would be the Kosovo solution. UN peacekeepers would occupy the two breakaway provinces until a referendum could be held. This would be to the Russians’ liking since both would undoubtedly vote for independence which would make them virtual Russian satellites. The Georgians would reject it out of hand. The Russians would argue that what was good enough for Kosovo is good enough for South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Georgians would reject such a situation out of hand. However, a variation on the theme might give some time for passions to cool down. This variation would be to make both provinces UN protectorates until a peace conference could be convened to try to settle the issue. The demilitarization of the conflict would give both Russia and Georgia a face saving out, but it is not clear that the Russians want an out.

A second and equally harsh solution would be for the United States to announce that it is putting in expeditionary airfields and prepositioned sets of armored brigade equipment in order to protect Georgian democracy as well as the Trans-Georgia pipeline. Obviously, this would be seen by the Russians as a further tightening of the noose.

The chance that they would back down is offset by the fact that they might well preemptively occupy the rest of Georgia, or punish our European allies by withholding oil and natural gas. However, if the United States announced that it was considering such a move if the Russians do not back down and participate in a peace conference aimed at resolving the issue, it might well consider negotiations. None-the-less, this is a risky option. In war games where the Russian side has been presented with such options, the players representing the Russian point of view have usually acted badly if confronted with such a build-up as a done deal. But they have shown some interest in bargaining if it was presented as a western option.

The third option holds the smallest risk. That would be to continue diplomatic isolation, encouraging the Russians to back off. Harsher sanctions could include a boycott of the Russian-hosted Winter Olympics and expulsion from the G-8 and WTO. Russia wants to be taken seriously again and we need her for dealing with both the Iranians and North Koreans on the nuclear issue. A carrot and stick approach is likely our most rational option, but the Russians should be reminded that we are not without options.

One thing is certain; appeasement is not an option. Russia needs to know that in a global world, browbeating one’s neighbors is unacceptable. Some Russian apologists claim that the Russians are feeling disrespected by the West in general and the United States in particular, but the memory of the Russian leadership elite is selective. The United States has supported Russian entry into the G-8 and the World Trade Organization. It has given Russia ample credit for its useful role in containing Iranian nuclear ambitions. In addition, President Bush has gone out of his way to show respect for Vladimir Putin when he was Russia’s president.

Russia has already seen some of the consequences of its Georgia adventure. Just a few days after its troops crossed the Georgian border, Poland approved the U.S. plan to put part of the anti-ballistic defense shield on its soil. The oafish Russian response, replete with threat of nuclear retaliation further tarnished the Russian image.

If Russia is determined to go back to Cold War confrontational posture, we know how to handle that; we had forty years of practice. The single greatest Russian threat is to withhold energy supplies from Western Europe. But Europe is deliberately growing more energy independent by using increasingly more alternative energy, including nuclear power. A Russian boycott would hurt Russia more in the long run than it would Europe. The Russians have a clear choice: continued prosperity or containment.

  • Gary Anderson has directed and participated in a number of war games examining NATO expansion.
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