Eu/us : Georgia-Russia Conflict Triggering Relationship Rethink

Article excerpt

The Russia-Georgia conflict is proving to be a catalyst for serious soul-searching on both sides of the Atlantic about what kind of relationship they want with Moscow and Tbilisi. While no consensus has emerged yet on which path to take, shifts in strategy look likely. These will perhaps be most dramatic in the US, which has had an unusually close relationship with Georgia since the latter's independence in 1991.

According toaHope Harrison, who worked in the White House in 2000 and 2001 at the National Security Council, "I noticed back then how much gratitude there was to former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze for his role in ending the Cold War. As a result, the Georgians grew increasingly confident in asking us for military and economic aid. Some of us felt they were too quick to ask us to solve their problems with Russia." America's inability to provide such military aid became patently clear last month when Russia invaded.aWashington's satirical newspaper, The Onion, summed up US military impotence with its biting headline: US advises allies not to border Russia'.

MOOD OF CAUTION IN US CONGRESS

While Republican presidential candidate John McCain responded to the conflict by boldly proclaiming "we are all Georgians," the mood on Capitol Hill is much more cautious. At a Congressional hearing, on 9 September, Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Howard Berman (Democrat, California) said "by all rights, we should be doing everything possible to reassure our friends in Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states and elsewhere in the region that they will not fall victim to similar acts of Russian aggression. But at this particular moment in history, the ability to provide that protection is under serious question." Democrat Congressman Bill Delahunt (Massachusetts) added "there is a real unease with this we're all Georgians' now".

This new caution, evident on Capitol Hill, is similar to the stance of EU nations like Germany and France, which have been extremely wary of offering Georgia NATO membership prospects. That said, the outgoing US administration of President George Bush continues to promote further eastward enlargement both of NATO and - less explicitly - the EU. Vice-President Dick Cheney said, on 5 September, after meeting Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, "the US fully supports the right of Ukraine to build ever stronger ties of cooperation and security throughout Europe and across the Atlantic". By contrast, the EU refuses to open the door to EU membership for Kiev.

One area where the EU and the US are united is their willingness to provide generous aid to Georgia to boost its economy. The Bush administration, on 3 September, announced a humanitarian and reconstruction aid package worth US$1 billion - or US$250 per Georgian citizen. Matthew Bryza, US deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told a Congressional hearing, on 10 September, "US$400 million of this is for humanitarian needs. We will give US$250 million quickly and we hope that the EU will pick up at least part of the rest of the tab". …