Russia's War With Georgia May Revive U.S.-Europe Rift (Update1)
By Mark Deen and Reed V. Landberg
Aug. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Russia's attack on Georgia may reopen a U.S. rift with European Union leaders over how the trans-Atlantic alliance should deal with its main Cold War adversary.
While President George W. Bush dispatched U.S. air and naval forces to deliver ``vigorous'' humanitarian aid to Georgia, the EU's foreign ministers have carefully avoided assigning blame for the conflict and plan to send non-military monitors to the region only later this year.
Europe's caution in responding to Russia's first major offensive since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union illustrates differences with the U.S. over the military role of the EU and the development of trade and energy links with Russia.
``Both Europe and the U.S. have serious concerns about Russia and will try to sing from the same hymn sheet,'' said Mick Cox, an international relations professor at the London School of Economics. ``Yet the differences of nuance are there, and they matter. Russia is keen to exploit them.''
With memories of the trans-Atlantic spat over Iraq still fresh, all parties want to avoid a repeat. Even so, the EU's proximity to Russia and economics make it harder for the bloc to rebuff its neighbor.
Trade between Russia and the EU jumped 23 percent in 2007 to $284 billion, making the EU Russia's biggest trading partner and Russia the bloc's third-largest partner. The EU also depends on Russia to supply a quarter of its natural gas.
The EU sought to improve already-strained ties with Russia by opening up a major round of talks in June on a framework to govern relations.
That's also why French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew to Moscow this week and sent his foreign minister to Tbilisi on behalf of the EU to help broker a cease-fire. Modifying peace proposals under Russian pressure, Sarkozy touted an accord and said he wanted to avoid re-igniting the Cold War.
The line from the U.S. has been harder. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday that the U.S. will re-examine ``the entire gamut'' of its military cooperation with Russia and canceled joint military exercises. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Russia that any breach of the cease-fire would deepen Russian ``isolation.''
``Condoleezza Rice and Mr. Gates forget that Russia is our next-door neighbor,'' German Social Democrat lawmaker Gert Weisskirchen said in an interview. ``We can't afford and don't want to address Russia in terms that risk reviving Cold War sentiments.''
One consequence of the South Ossetia conflict may be that membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for Georgia will be put off ``for some time,'' said Charles Esser, an energy analyst at the International Crisis Group in Brussels.
Bush pushed at NATO's summit in Bucharest last April for putting Georgia and Ukraine on a fast track to join, a plan opposed by Germany and France. Eventually NATO offered them a looser partnership. Russia called even that plan a ``direct threat'' to its national interest.
``All the talk of NATO enlargement is over,'' Cox said. ``The powerful voices against it in Europe will bring it to a halt.'' NATO foreign ministers will gather Aug. 19 in Brussels to discuss how to respond to the situation.
In parallel to the falling out over Iraq in 2003, divisions exist in Europe over how hard a line to take with Russia. Countries subject to Soviet rule during the Cold War are pushing for a tougher response, while the richer Western Europeans want to play down conflict.
``The divisions within Europe are more pronounced than those between two sides of the Atlantic,'' said Charles A. Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. ``There's a host of new democracies in Europe that continue to worry they will again fall prey to Russian expansion.''
Poland and the Baltic states, all once held within the Soviet Union's embrace and now members of the European Union, rallied behind Georgia yesterday.
``Russia's aggression against sovereign neighboring country Georgia shows to the whole world that the peaceful period after the end of the Cold War has ended,'' Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said. ``Russia's actions increase security risks.''
Poland today won a U.S. pledge to help improve its defenses in exchange for basing interceptor missiles on its territory. Estonia's government yesterday said it will boost defense spending.
With Europe's two largest military powers, Britain and France, struggling to meet commitments abroad, the softer EU tone also reflects lack of force. The British army is overstretched with about 11,000 combat troops spread between Afghanistan and Iraq, while France's similar-sized fighting force is spread among Afghanistan, Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia and Africa.
Even the U.S., which has 150,000 soldiers tied down in Iraq and a force of 36,000 in Afghanistan, probably can't spare many more to shore up Georgia.
``The Americans can't do very much,'' said Jan Techau, a security analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. ``The Europeans are united in powerlessness.''
To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Deen in London at firstname.lastname@example.org; Reed Landberg in London at email@example.com. Last Updated: August 15, 2008 06:32 EDT
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