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The West's Russia Problem

August 20, 2008

As NATO's ways of resolving the tense situation with Russia over the Georgian conflict look very limited, the West cannot let up and must show Russia it is being taken seriously, says DW's Bernd Riegert.


NATO foreign ministers have to believe in the power of their words because, after all, they have no other means of asserting themselves against Russia.

Political sanctions have to be excluded because no one wants to cut the only avenue of negotiations with Moscow. Economic sanctions would only aggravate the situation. Russia could retaliate by reducing energy exports to Europe, which could upset the European part of NATO. In any case, the giant state cannot be economically isolated in the globalized economy.

Military force is clearly not an option. That is why all of the NATO member states are very happy that Georgia is not yet a member or formal candidate country. Foreign minister do not feel like letting themselves be drawn into the confusion of the Caucasus conflict. Thus only words remain.

Bernd Riegert

Frank-Walter Steinmeier is completely right when he says that NATO's role in the region is somewhat small. Do the NATO member states have to let Russia walk all over them then? Couldn't they throw the Russians out of the G8 group of highly industrialized nations and not even let them into the World Trade Organization?

Russia seeks revenge

That would probably only cause Russia to turn further away from the so-called Western camp. The Georgian conflict makes it painfully clear that NATO, Europe and the USA only have a very limited influence on a Russia that is becoming economically stronger and increasingly acting imperialistically.

One could give in to the understandable desire seek a punishment for Russia. But, in the end, what does anyone stand to gain from another ice age? But on the other hand, the EU and NATO cannot simply go back to normal when it comes to Russia. The Baltic states, Poland, the Czech Republic, all those that suffered under the former Soviet Empire expect more from the alliance.

It seems as though Russia is now looking to avenge all of the scandals that, in its eyes, it has had to suffer in the last few years: the expansion of NATO, war against Serbia, the attack on Iraq that violated international law, separation of Kosovo from the confederate Serbia, the missile defense shield.

The West must talk with Russia

From NATO's point of view, Russia's objections are nonsensical, but at the moment Russia seems to have more leverage. The strategic partnership with Russia that was once strived for is collapsing. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has refused to tolerate Russia drawing a line around its would-be sphere of influence. Now she has to hurry with suggestion on how to keep Russia from doing so. Because what happens if Russia decides, after Georgia, that maybe they have to rush to the aid of Russian citizens in Moldovan Transnistria or Ukrainian Crimea?

The American president and the European Union should push for an immediate summit with the Russian president and his prime minister in order to deal with the problem on the highest level. Only then would Russia feel that it is being taken seriously, only then can Russia and the USA resolve their quarrel over their plaything Georgia. That reminds one of the awful scenarios of the Cold War, when nuclear threats and arms races were dealt with at umpteen summits between the two superpowers. But maybe it just does not work any other way.

Bernd Riegert is a European correspondent for DW-RADIO (ah)

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