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The West should be seeking to improve cooperation with Russia rather than getting agitated about Moscow's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, according to veteran Social Democratic politician Egon Bahr.
The war in the Caucasus region poses a challenge to European stability, Bahr said
Bahr was Deputy Minister of the Chancellery under the then German Chancellor Willy Brandt and is acknowledged as playing a major role in Brandt's "Ostpolitik," which sought to normalize relations with Eastern European nations by rapprochement. DW-WORLD.DE spoke to Bahr about how the West should respond to Moscow in the wake of recent events in Georgia.
DW-WORLD.DE: Russia has recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states despite the warnings from the West. Is a new Cold War on the cards?
Egon Bahr: No, and there also wasn't any danger of that when Kosovo declared its independence. A fundamental principle of international order is that no state or group of states can split an internationally recognized country, such as Serbia, in that case, and Georgia, in this one. Kosovo has not become a member of the United Nations and neither will Abkhazia. Kosovo is recognized by around 40 nations -- 160 have not done so. The number of countries that recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia is likely to be even lower. In principle, a new state can only become independent when the United Nations recognizes it as such.
Egon Bahr helped shape German-Russian relations in the 1970s
The Russian government seems to be counting on the fact that the uproar in the West about its actions in Georgia will die down again. What should the West do in the current situation?
First of all, the West should be sticking by its principles, rather than getting all worked up. International order has to be preserved. Treaties have to be observed. That means no violence, detente and cooperation rather than confrontation. Secondly, it is important to maintain cooperation with Russia. We would, for example, not be able to keep supplies going to Afghanistan without the cooperation of the Russians. The same goes for the Americans.
But the United States has sided with Georgia...
I assume that the situation will settle down noticeably after the US elections at the latest -- no matter who becomes president. Every new administration needs time to get established. By summer of next year we will be able to see how the topic of Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be addressed.
Russia's actions in Georgia have been compared with the rolling of Soviet tanks into Prague in 1968. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has even talked about the first annexation in Europe since Hitler and Stalin's era. Do you agree with these comparisons?
Will the uproar about Georgia be shortlived?
In my opinion, such comparisons are foolish and misguided. With all due modesty, we in the West did not react in such a foolish and agitated manner back then when Soviet forces rolled into Prague. On the contrary, we decided to continue the process of detente. Two years later, we signed the Treaty of Moscow. No Soviet tanks have rolled since then -- at least not beyond the Soviet or rather Russian borders.
Do you believe that the detente that you worked towards is now in danger?
Yes, from the separate treaty between America, Poland and the Czech Republic to establish US missile systems at the eastern edge of NATO. That affects all of us -- not just these three countries. The validity of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) hangs in the balance as a result. The CFE Treaty led to the greatest reduction in conventional weapons in history of mankind. For 18 years, it formed the basis of stability in Europe. This stability is now imperiled because the West has not yet ratified the modified treaty.
Because Russia doesn't want to withdraw its troops from Georgia.
No matter what the outcome is of the negotiations over the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the world will accept it. In this respect, there is no reason to delay the ratification of the CFE Treaty any longer.