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    Central Asia
     Aug 19, 2008
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China seeks Caucasian crisis windfall
By M K Bhadrakumar

A geopolitical convulsion measuring six points on the Richter scale is bound to produce aftershocks. The reverberations of the conflict in the Caucasus are beginning to be felt. We may be unwittingly bidding farewell to the "war on terror". In any case, the international community has lost interest in Osama bin Laden.

The United States has spotted a promising new enemy on the horizon and an engrossing war may be offering itself, with infinite possibilities.

Needed: a new war doctrine. As often enough, Britain may be putting it all together. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband


said in Churchillian tones, "The aggressive Russian force beyond South Ossetian borders has been something that really shocked many people ... The sight of Russian tanks in Gori, Russian tanks in Senaki, the Russian blockade of the Georgian port of Poti, is a chilling reminder of times that I think we had hoped had gone by." US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to the Georgian capital Tbilisi, promptly echoed Miliband, recalling the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

But, that is looking ahead. For a start, Poland has met with success, finally, in locating a guarantor for its historically indefensible kresy (eastern borderlands) along the line from Dniester to the Dnieper River. Last Friday, the United States and Poland reached an agreement of "mutual commitment" whereby the two countries will come to each other's assistance "in case of trouble". At first glance, it may appear doubtful Warsaw can do much if Venezuela's Hugo Chavez causes trouble for Washington. But that's a minor detail. What matters is that the US has appeared as a lone ranger in the strategic space between Germany and Russia. And it happened as an offshoot of the conflict in the Caucasus.

Missiles in Poland
The deal provides for the US augmenting Poland's defenses with Patriot missiles in exchange for the placing of 10 US missile defense interceptors on Polish soil. Poland, in other words, received security guarantees from Washington in return for its consent to the deployment of the US missile defense system in the central European country.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk felt elated enough to proclaim, "We've crossed the Rubicon." He underscored that the US was stepping into a historic role that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was simply incapable of fulfilling. "Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later - it is no good when assistance comes to dead people. Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of any possible conflict," he explained.

The "mutual commitment" clause is a direct reference to Russia, even though Washington and Warsaw have played down any connection. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev denounced the US-Polish deal as a threat to Russia. He added caustically that "any fairy tales about deterring other states, fairy tales that with the help of this system, we will deter some sort of rogue states, no longer work." The chairman of the Russian parliamentary foreign affairs committee, Konstantin Kosachev, warned the agreement would spark "a real rise in tensions in Russian-American relations". Russia's deputy chief of the general staff, General Anaotoli Nogovitsyn, said, "Poland in deploying [the US system] opens itself to a nuclear strike. That is 10%." He said the US-Poland deal "cannot go unpunished".

But Washington is proceeding according to a plan. It swiftly seized the cascading anti-Russia rhetoric to press ahead with the deployment of the missile defense system in Poland, overriding Moscow's objections and disregarding the fact that the US and Russia are still notionally negotiating. In Cold War-style, behind the smokescreen of rhetoric, Washington took unilateral advantage. And a third positioning area for the missile defense system has become a reality.

Germany remains neutral
The US-Poland deal harks back to Britain's historic role as Poland's guarantor against German "revanchism". From Washington's perspective, Germany's reluctance to be drawn into the US's containment strategy toward Russia is growing by the day. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's consultations with Medvedev in Sochi on Friday reveal that Bonn is trying to be even-handed - urging Moscow to embrace diplomacy while resisting Washington's demands to confront Russia.

Germany's point person for Russian affairs in Berlin, Andreas Schckenhoff, has said neither the European Union (EU) nor Germany proposed to take sides. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Die Welt newspaper, "If the EU wants to play a role in reaching peace, it needs open channels of dialogue to Tbilisi and to Moscow." The Germans do not hide their compulsions. To quote Der Spiegel, "Calls from some EU member states, particularly those in Eastern Europe, to deal harshly with Moscow by scrapping talks with Russia on a new strategic partnership have put Germany in a tricky position. Germany is heavily dependent on Russian energy and remains an advocate of closer European ties with Moscow."

Last Wednesday's emergency meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Brussels brought out the schism in Europe over the "Russian question". Britain, the Baltic states, Poland and Sweden pitched for denunciation of Russia, but the EU merely adopted the German proposal for augmenting the strength of the contingent of European "monitors" in Georgia from 100 to 300 and to provide humanitarian relief.

Steinmeier dissociated from the US saber-rattling by counseling Europe should "look into the future and take a role in further stabilization". France, Italy and Finland backed Germany. The EU consensus not to resort to sanctions against Russia or even finger-point at Moscow came as a setback to the US. Rice arrives in Brussels on Tuesday for urgent meetings with her NATO and EU counterparts.

US pressure on the EU
Rice is sure to try to rally European opinion and to make a strong pitch for Georgia's membership of NATO. But major European powers apprehend Moscow will take NATO's further expansion into the territory of the former Soviet Union as a grave provocation. If Washington succeeds in overcoming their reluctance, US diplomacy registers a signal victory. Moscow seems to estimate Europe may ultimately succumb to US pressure. Its decision to go slow on withdrawing troops from the Georgian hinterland needs to be seen in this perspective.

Rice's mission to Brussels is a defining moment. If it succeeds, the US's containment strategy towards Russia will have been taken a huge step forward. On the other hand, if Rice fails, Washington might as well abandon hopes regarding the alliance's expansion for the foreseeable future.

In short, the war in the Caucasus is straining the US's transatlantic leadership. The Europeans do not have threat perceptions regarding post-Soviet Russia. With the continent's economies showing weak growth, Europeans view Russia as providing strong stimulus. (German exports to Russia registered a 50% increase in 2008.) Even right-wing think-tanks like the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Germany have drawn a red line that the US is pulling Europe needlessly into its strategies aimed at extending its influence into the Baltic and Caucasus regions "by bringing additional pro-American oriented countries into the [NATO] alliance".

China strains to be neutral
However, the European powers are not the only ones facing a hard time over taking a stance on the Caucasus. China is similarly placed. Chinese President Hu Jintao received Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on August 9 in Beijing and hosted a dinner in his honor. Yet, Chinese accounts of the meeting left out any reference to the Caucasus. (The Georgian assault on South Ossetia began on August 7-8). Hu told Putin, "China and Russia are forging ahead with the partnership of strategic cooperation toward their established goals, and the development of both countries is faced with opportunities and challenges at the same time."

Hu stressed three aspects of Sino-Russian strategic cooperation: promoting multi-polarity and democratization in international relations; enhanced Sino-Russian political cooperation both bilaterally and within the multilateral framework; and economic cooperation in a spirit of "mutual benefits and a win-win outcome". Putin, on the other hand, drew Hu's attention to "Russia's friendly policy toward China" and signaled Moscow's keenness to "elevate the practical cooperation with China to a new height".

Something was amiss. It seems Putin briefed Hu about Moscow's concerns in the Caucasus and Hu listened. At any rate, on the very next day, when a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman made his first comments, he merely expressed China's "grave concern over the escalation of tension and armed conflicts" and called on the "relevant parties to keep restraint and to cease fire immediately".

In effect, the spokesman kept equidistance. He concluded by saying that China sincerely hoped "relevant parties" would resolve disputes peacefully through dialogue "so as to safeguard regional peace and stability". He was in no mood to judge the "disputes" as such. Meanwhile, on August 11, a group of Georgians held demonstrations in front of the Russian Embassy in Beijing, though the "crowd was persuaded to disperse and leave, and no extreme actions took place".

On August 13, a Chinese spokesman repeated that the "disputes be resolved peacefully through dialogue so as to achieve regional peace and stability". This has become the Chinese mantra regarding the Caucasus crisis. The Chinese spokesman repeated it on August 14, while he "welcomed" Moscow's announcement on halting military operations. Again, Chinese media accounts have been extensive but balanced.

But disapproves of Moscow
What stands out, on the whole, is that Beijing has refrained from taking a position supportive of Russia. If anything, the only 

Continued 1 2  

Iran gambles over Georgia's crisis
(Aug 16, '08)

Utterly pointless Europe (Aug 16, '08)

The bear is back
(Aug 16, '08)

1. Iran gambles over Georgia's crisis

2. The bear is back

3. Utterly pointless Europe

4. Gold and the out-of-whack economy

5. India-Pakistan relations in free fall

6. Is perpetual war our future?

7. Putin for US president - more than ever

8. Russia marks its red lines

9. Georgia under web fire

10. Georgia's Israeli arms point Russia to Iran

11. How Tenet 'betrayed' the CIA on Iraq

(Aug 15-17, 2008)


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