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Opinion: West Should Redefine Ties with Russia

The West has to find a response to Russia after the conflict with Georgia. But demonizing Russia won't help, says DW's Ingo Mannteufel.

Opinion

The Georgian conflict significantly worsened the relationship between the NATO countries of the West and Russia. Signs of escalation on both sides are unmistakable.

The NATO-Russia Council will be suspended by the West until Russian troops have pulled out from Georgia proper. As a countermove, Russia is calling back its NATO representatives and canceling all planned maneuvers with NATO for 2008.

And that's not all. An agreement regarding a Georgia resolution has not been achieved by the UN Security Council, and in Warsaw, Americans and Poles are signing an agreement to station a missile shield -- a move that the Russians perceive as a threat.

A foreign policy rival

The deterioration of the West's relationship with Russia is accompanied by heated social discussions in which Poland and Eastern Central Europe in particular are painting Russia as an aggressive imperialistic power -- as if the Kremlin were on the verge of attacking the former Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact states.

Ingo Mannteufel

Ingo Mannteufel

Indeed, there is no doubt that the invasion of Georgia proper by Russian troops, as well as the air strikes on Georgian targets outside of South Ossetia, were excessive. Russia went too far. And the US and EU States are rightfully asking that Russia's unacceptable overreaction now be corrected. Nevertheless, it is wrong to answer Russia with an equally irrational reaction.

It's always been known that Russia is and will remain a difficult partner. Russia already took over the job of protector state over Abkhazia and South Ossetia years ago. Saakashvili's attempt to reconquer the separatist South Ossetian region with military force was a dangerous undertaking from the outset and one that was destined to end in a political and humanitarian disaster.

It borders on political naivite to believe that Russia would act differently than it did.

An uncomfortable partner

Now a clear Realpolitik is needed with Russia, without yielding to Moscow in Georgia. Georgia's independence and territorial integrity must be protected. Europe's interest in peace and stability requires it.

At the same time, it doesn't help to demonize Russia now and practice a consequent policy of containment and orbit, because having a good relationship with Russia is in our own interests when it comes to other issues.

These include energy supply, Iran's nuclear program, the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the Middle East and the North Korea conflict.

The Caucasus conflict should not be made into the lynchpin for the definition of the West's relationship with Russia. Consideration of Russian interests in the Caucasus conflict doesn't have to mean submission to Russian policy, but rather is an intelligent approach that is in Europe's best interest.

And when it comes down to it, harsh Realpolitik is the only thing Russian politics understands.

Ingo Mannteufel is the head of DW's Russian online and radio programs. (ls)

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