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Opinion: Relations Between West, Russia at Crossroads

The recognition of the self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Russia will considerably damage ties between the West and Moscow, says DW’s Ingo Mannteufel.

A pen with it's cap off lying on a book with the word opinion underneath it.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has done it: the Russian Federation has given diplomatic recognition to the rogue Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. With this move, Russia is not only ignoring all the warnings of Western governments handed out over the past few days, but is also in violation of international law by disregarding the sovereign borders of its European neighbor, Georgia.

Of course, the Russian president considers himself to be in the right, since the Georgian government tried to remove the separatists' regimes from Georgian territory using force, but the Kremlin is alone in this view.

Through this decision, Russia has resorted to dangerous self isolation. The recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia will certainly cause considerable damage to the relationship between Russia and the West.

Closeup shot of Ingo Mannteufel with DW logo in the background.

Ingo Mannteufel

The Kremlin is delusional if it assumes that the West will simply be pacified after a short while. Russia has, without a doubt, the potential to cause considerable damage to Western interests: in relation to Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear problem, as well as the energy supply. But that also applies to the West.

Now the danger exists that both sides can come up with more problems for the other. The West could react by allowing Georgia or the Ukraine to join NATO, or by blocking Russia’s WTO membership. Russia could stop supporting the West in Afghanistan, or could form an international gas cartel. The ammunition on both sides is considerable.

What is unfortunate is that no one is being helped by the heightening of the dispute -- neither Russia nor the West. Even South Ossetia and Abkhazia won't get anything through the recognition of their independence by Russia, since it's only valid in Moscow.

It, however, cannot be assumed that NATO and the EU nations will simply stop their daily dealings with Russia. All of the Western governments have already made that clear in their warnings over the past few days. Western nations will find asymmetrical answers to Russia acting alone and defying international principles. Here Russia has clearly underestimated how much control Western nations have over Russian interests.

At first glance the Georgian conflict was rather insignificant from an American and European perspective. However, this recent Russian action will surely lead to NATO and the EU consolidating and unifying their Russia policies. Russia's critics will be there to take it all in, and advocates of a moderate course will be silenced. That is clearly visible from the reactions of both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Germany has long belonged to the EU nations which have been firm in their cooperation with Russia. Now all of that could change.

Ingo Mannteufel is the head of Deutsche Welles's Russian online and radio departments (mrm)

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