More than words

The Baltic Times
August 21, 2008

Well we knew it wasn”t going to happen, it all seemed too good to be true.

It seemed that French President Nicholas Sarkozy had brokered a peace deal that would get Russia out of Georgia.

There was the expectation that troops would be gone within days of the agreement. In fact, according to reports, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev told Sarkozy that by Aug. 15, Russian troops would either be back home or be pulled back to a buffer zone along the border.

Yet here we are a week later and Russian troops are still entrenched not only in the break away regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia but, according to some reports, in Georgia proper. There are even reports of Russian troops near the Georgia capital of Tbilisi.

Worse, Russians are now claiming that the terms of the Frenchbrokered U.N. peace deal was not what they agreed to last week. The Russian ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, said that Russia should be allowed to stay on the Georgian side of South Ossetia while negotiations for a permanent peace deal take place.

Churkin also objected to the language of the peace plan that reaffirms Georgia territorial sovereignty.

It”s a pretty safe bet that Russian troops are not going anywhere, any time soon. As Russia is a permanent member of the U.N. Security council with full powers of veto, the U.N. is toothless to do anything about it.

How will NATO fare in dealing with this conflict? The thing to remember is that despite widespread condemnation of Russia”s actions by NATO countries, there is difference of opinion within the organization.

On the one hand the Atlantic nations and all of the former Warsaw pact countries see this as an aggressive war by Russia. Their view is Russia should leave Georgia immediately and let Georgia – possibly with international peacekeepers – resolve the problem.

Then there are countries like France and Germany who see that Russia does have a point and believe the Georgians started this conflict, though the Russians have now overreacted.

Given this, it”s remarkable that NATO”s 26 foreign ministers where able to agree on a in a joint statement that there would be no normal relations with Russia as long as Moscow had troops in Georgia. It”s not just words, NATO is sending a peacekeeping force of 100 personnel. It may seem like a symbolic gesture, but consider this: during the whole previous cold war NATO and Soviet forces avoided meeting each other in the same theater.

One cannot but to admire the energy and commitment of Sarkozy, who has worked tirelessly to solve this problem and then moved on to increase France”s commitment to NATO forces in Afghanistan flying personally to Kabul to meet French troops, but it seems that he is facing an intractable problem for which there are no easy solution.

One thing is for sure, with Georgia refusing to give up any territory and Russia refusing to budge this is one story that won”t be ending soon…