Some of us have been warning for some time: it is not that Russia has become stronger or very noticeably richer, it’s just that the West, particularly Western Europe has gone into appeasement mode again. By now, we should all know what happens when we appease a bully – the bullying increases. Russia was not allowed to get away with her bullying of the Baltic states and Poland by those countries standing up to her and there was a retreat. On the other hand, nothing happened when she broke business agreements and harassed Russian and business firms or when the government acquired control over the Russian media and started limiting activity on the part of others like the BBC Russian Service or when her troops crossed into Transdniestria (in Moldova), Abkhazia and South Ossetia (both in Georgia). The West said nothing when Russian planes started buzzing Georgian territory (and I don’t mean South Ossetian or Abkhazian either) and blowing up various installations; it said nothing when Russia turned off agreed supplies of gas or oil to countries it disapproved of, like the Baltic states, Ukraine and the Czech Republic.
Then came the final surrender: earlier this year at the NATO Summit Germany, France, Spain and the Benelux countries “stood up to the Americans” and did what the Russian government wanted them to do: rejected the notion of putting Georgia and Ukraine on the path to membership. The final communiqué actually reversed that stance and made it clear that NATO will consider this autumn the two countries as potential members but that gave the Russians a time limit on action that they knew they would get away with.
For some time there has been a build-up of Russian forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia as well as on the other side of the border. For those who are obsessed with Kosovo’s independence, may I suggest that you have a look at the time line? Russian intentions towards Georgia long predate that country’s independence.
Now, the inevitable has happened. The two countries are at war; Georgia has asked for a cease-fire and immediate negotiations but President Medvedev, determined to prove that he is as tough as his predecessor, now Prime Minister Putin, is refusing to acknowledge it. Russian jets are bombing cities in Georgia proper, including the outskirts of the capital, Tbilisi, and have sunk at least one Georgian boat. The idea that this is about the independence of South Ossetia has long been abandoned.
Can the West do anything to save an ally and to ensure that Russia does not destroy the only pipeline from the Caspian that she does not control? Let us not forget that little aspect of the conflict. Can the West make sure that Putin does not do what he has been threatening to do since 2000 and that is to restore the old Soviet geopolitical sphere under a slightly different name?
The further you go in appeasement, the more difficult it gets to stop the bully. We can do nothing for Georgia, though the Americans will be able to supply some technical assistance, such as anti-aircraft missiles. Our best hope is that Russia will get bogged down in another Caucasian war and might want out at a not too distant future.
There are other countries to consider. If Georgia is put under Russian control, its duly elected government is dismissed and the nascent democracy is destroyed, who will be the next on Russia’s list? Ukraine? The Baltic States? Eastern Europe? They are all worried and would like some assurance from their allies (I do not include Germany and France or the EU with its common foreign policy among these) that the same fate will not befall them.
It is time to stand up to the bully. Ukraine’s membership of NATO should be speeded up and Russia should be told that those energy agreements may be up for revision sooner than expected. The Kremlin needs to sell oil and gas and, at present, has no other outlet for it. Russia, we are told, is to be applauded for standing up for her interests. Fine. But it is time we stood up for our interests and, in the process, supported our allies.
Helen Szamuely blogs at EU Referendum
Guest blogs will in future only be posted at weekends. Please email me submissions of up to 500 words.