Georgia - Time to react

by Mart Laar Mart Laar was the Prime Minister for Estonia from 1992 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2002.
Many credit Laar for leading Estonia through lightning economic reforms that won Western praise and ultimately laid the groundwork for rapid economic growth and acceptance to the European Union.
Laar is by education a historian. He has written several books, among them “War in the Woods: Estonia’s Struggle for Survival”.

Russia's aggression against their small neighbor Georgia has signaled to the World that the history has returned. As the "new Europe" has warned soon several years Russia has grown more and more imperialistic and is targeting to restore former Soviet Empire. The new Russia is using methods of old Russia. In 1939 Soviet Union attacked its small Nordic neighbor Finland, accusing at the same time Finland in aggression against Soviet Union. The war was not declared and the change of the democratic government put as a goal. Only fierce resistance of Finland and international intervention saved Finland from destruction. Finland lost several its territories but kept independence.

In Georgia Russia also has at-least not yet achieved its main goal in Georgia - removal of democratically elected President and Government from power and replacement him with somebody who will bring Georgia back to the Russian influence. When in Czechoslovakia 1968 West ignored Russian aggression, then now it intervened at-least diplomatically, pressing Russia to sign the ceasefire. Unfortunately Russia and its allies are ignoring it. Big parts of Georgia outside of separatist areas are occupied by Russian army and separatists forces, it looks that they are not having intention to return to the positions held before the conflict. Georgian villages in South-Ossetia are looted, burned and people killed. Russian peacekeepers do not intervene. We can call it Srebrenica -2.

Looking beyond the wreckage of Gori and Tskhinvali to the long-term implications for European relationship with Russia, it is clear that there can be no return to the status quo as it existed before the start of this conflict. Until Russian tanks rolled across the Caucasus it was common in parts of Europe to put recent tensions with Moscow down to a series of unfortunate misunderstandings, where West largely had blame itself. This was not an "accidental war", as some prefer to see it. It was the culmination of a deliberate strategy by Russia to undermine the sovereignty and independence of its neighbors and begin to restore its former sphere of influence by force. It is wishful thinking to imagine that its ambitions are limited to South-Ossetia or even Georgia. The Kremlin's 'national greatness' project dictates that the whole of Eastern Europe, including countries that are now part of the EU and NATO, should be subservient to the interests of Russia.

It is quite wrong to see Russia's behavior as reckless and unpredictable. The ground for this war was carefully prepared over a period of years in which the Kremlin probed and tested the willingness of western governments to resist its encroachments. It used energy cut-offs to intimidate Ukraine and Lithuania, waged cyber war against Estonia, imposed trade sanctions against Poland and grabbed foreign energy investments at home. In Georgia is supported build-up of separatist armed forces and provoked them to attack Georgia, introduced aggressive economic blockade against Georgia and tried to undermine Georgia's Western-minded government, launched missiles to Georgian territory and shot down Georgia's reconnaissance plane. Having failed to encounter a concerted pushback in response to any of these measures, it was inevitable that Russia would finally resort, once again, to the use of hard military power in pursuit of its interests. Russia calculated this step very carefully. Through our inattention and weakness, it is we in the EU who have been reckless.

It is time to face up to some uncomfortable truths about our relationship with Russia. The most important of these is to recognize that the current Russian political elite does not share our most cherished European values. It rejects multi-party democracy, human rights and freedom of speech as the basis of its domestic political system. More importantly than that, it denies sovereign independence, self-determination, the rule of international law, peaceful diplomacy and voluntary integration as that basis of inter-state relations. Since these principles form the basis of the modern European state system, we are faced with a fundamental clash of political values. Russia's determination to reintroduce power politics, including the use of war as an instrument of policy, is a direct threat to the very foundations of the EU. We cannot afford to ignore that any longer.

We cannot reverse that impression and defend our value system effectively with the EU's existing approach to Russia. The selfish and short-sighted bilateralism by which certain countries have put their own concerns before those of Europe as a whole needs to be replaced by a policy of real solidarity. We need to see off Russia's abusive use of gas and oil supplies by developing a single European energy system with a real external policy. We should also realize that the time is not right to extend the privileges of strategic partnership to Russia or perhaps even allow them to benefit from accession to the WTO. Instead, we should focus on integrating with those democracies in Eastern Europe that share our values and want to be part of the EU.It would be sheer folly to conclude that Georgia and Ukraine should now be kept out of NATO. It was precisely the failure of the Bucharest Summit to back the promise of membership with real substance that encouraged Russia to believe that it had an opportunity to prevent the inevitable. If we reward Russia's aggression by continuing to keep Georgia and Ukraine in the waiting room and denying them membership action plans, we should not be surprised if the result is more aggression.

So the West must find clear policy towards Russia. The best way to start is to really start to play real role in Georgia and Ukraine. Helping these countries to protect their independence is best way to protect European values and guarantee peace and stability.

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