Monday, August 11, 2008

Guest Blog: The Trouble With Appeasement

By Helen Szamuely

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.


Raedwald said...

I suspect one could find a hundred similar articles written over the past few years with 'NATO' 'the West' and 'the US' substituted for Russia in the role of aggressor and bully.

The lunacy, the unsustainable arrogance, of trying to extend the borders of Europe to the Urals is getting its comeuppance. The Georgians, silly enough to believe that the EU flag and a Bush visit would get them anything more than rhetoric, are the losers.

Appeasement it's most assuredly not . Appeasement's the rather jejune tag we'll be hearing rather a lot of from the puerile destabilisers. Russia has been humiliated and she's sore; it was those same destabilisers who now cry 'Appeasement' who were responsible for the idiotic humiliations in the first place.

Europe - I mean real Europe, whose boundary runs from the Baltic States through Poland to the Aegean and Istanbul - needs a stable and confident Russia as a trade partner far more than we need a sullen and bullied great state whose garden we are trespassing in.

NATO, as with the law of equity, is a shield and not a sword. And Georgia has just demonstrated why she should never be admitted to that club.

Oncewerefree said...

Georgian troops attack South Ossetia, indiscriminately killing and maiming civillians. The Russians intervene to defend those civillians and to uphiold the right of self-determination for the people of South Ossetia. How is that any different from the behaviour of Britain and the U.S.A. in Kosovo. If the U.S.A. does it, it is humanitarian, if Russia does it, it is bullying. No wonder the Russians think the Americans are hypocrites.

Anonymous said...

I understand that it was Georgia which attacked S. Ossetia

Here, one may comment on what Helen writes...that's nice.

Anonymous said...

"Kettles calling the pots black"

Bush, by trying to sideline Russia, has given Putin the opportunity to portray himself as standing up for Russia. We saw a similar thing in the 1930's elsewhere in Europe.

To be sure, the Russians are looking after themselves first in this dangerous situation - but then again, who do I remember talking about 'Regime Change' in the Middle East no so long ago?

What the Ukraine does next though will be equally important. It has its experience of Russian peoples settled in its territory by the old Soviet regime - is this why it is making noises about Russian warships and the Ukrainian Black Sea ports?

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Helen Zsamuely, has, like several others, fallen into the trap of equating the relationship between Vladimir Putin (let us be clear who is in charge) and the West, in 2008 with Adolf Hitler and Great Britain in 1938. I think there is very little parity. No one is suggesting, for instance, that Russia has designs on other countries that have seceded and embraced the West. Whereas Putin may not fully accept their independent status, his concerns are largely to protect the economic and military interests of Russia. We tend to forget about Finland in all of this. About one third of all Russian imports go through Finland, whereby it has peacefully and effectively co-existed with Russia and the Soviet Union for decades. They have also had to cope with their own mocking concept, “Finlandisation”, born out of a level of accommodaton was reached with the USSR and whereby a treaty was operated to the effect that Finland would agree to repel an invasion of Russia if threatened by NATO. Today, Finland is thriving, free and capable of producing all that we capitalist swine hold dear (Reach in your pocket for a moment, and pull out your cell phone if you will.)

This is an extract from an article in my blog, which is a response to Helen's piece.

Anonymous said...

Why don't we, for once, keep our noses out of it. This is not about appeasement for the UK, it is about not being sucked into every conflict in the world. It is not our job to be the worl'd policeman, the US wanted that job so let them do it if they want. It is not worth the life of a single British soldier regardless of what the do to each other in Georgia.

Sabretache said...

Well, as political polemic, it certainly deserves a few Brownie points from the orthodox UK/US foreign policy establishment. No doubt about that.

It was difficult but, in light of its appearance here, I persevered to the end. All I can say is, if that is deemed to qualify as serious credible analysis of post 'Cold War' developments and the relationship between the Western Alliance and Russia, then God help us through the epoch-defining conjunction of events that the world is now facing.

It was jingoistic, partisan, juvenile drivel, pure and simple - worse than the James Oates piece in fact, and that's saying a lot. As the basis for a Western response - disastrous in its self-righteous, wrath-of-the-righteous arrogance.

For anyone wanting a rather more thoughtful, sober-minded (if thoroughly scary) analysis , here are a couple of links:

War in the Caucasus: Towards a Broader Russia-US Military Confrontation?

The New American Cold War

Since cursory examination of the known facts makes it clear that Georgia could not have embarked on this adventure with clearance from the US; and since the Russian response was entirely predictable, I fear that something much bigger is brewing.

smilingronaldwheeler said...

Thanks for pointing up Helen that we should comment earlier on Russian bullying, say on energy and BP.
I support Hague. No harm in holding back comments. Especially when they are swamped by many others.

smilingronaldwheeler said...

Glad you highlighted overlooking commenting earlier such as energy and BP.
Hague is alright. Too mnay commenting now.

Anonymous said...

Dangerous rubbish that would be tolerable if there wasn't a minor war on. NATO had a clear raison d'etre for collective self-defence of Western democratic states against the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact forces. Poland and other Eastern European states are a natural extension. Georgia and Ukraine are not - they are within the traditional Russian sphere of influence and must make their own accommodations with both Russia and the West.

We must not be sucked into the trap of offering false hope to Georgia, which has been a major contributing factor in this flashpoint. This is a time for realism and de-escalation. Russia is often criticised, and often fairly criticised, for its attitude to its neighbours but in this case can claim a degree of provocation, particularly after the UK and US shot down the Russia-sponsored UNSC resolution last week. It is a lot harder to end wars than to begin them.

Russian interference and aggression must be constrained, but it is difficult for the West to set the bar for standards of international behaviour based on the Westphalian nation-state concept after Kosovo, Iraq and the tacit support of Israel in Lebanon. We must urge restraint and look closely at NATO, its boundaries and its purpose. NATO has become akin to an (effective) arm of the UN and that is a completely inappropriate role! NATO worked for the duration of the Cold War because the boundaries and doctrine were clear. If Georgia had been a NATO member we would either be in a catastrophic Article V war or reneging on this obligation and watching the disintegration of NATO.

This is not appeasement or any other rubbish. Politicians (and I am thinking specifically of Obama, Rice, Brown and Miliband - Bush is happier looking at volleyball palyers' backsides) must utterly resist the temptation to score cheap points or strive for geopolitical advantage by striking a Kennedyesque pose. JFK's rhetoric may have been lofty but he had served in a war and knew what the consequenses were, unlike any of our current "leaders". The dithering last week in the UNSC has probably contributed to a few hundred deaths already. It is time for realism and de-escalation.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the Tory use of the term appeasement is that history shows that they have practiced it repeatedly with "right wing" regimes & continuosly denouinced it in diplomacy with "left wing" ones (though Russia isn't actuallt left wing now by any real standard but some people are always fighting the last war. Not just Hitler but, as an extreme example, the refusal of NATO to accept that the Munich agreement was illegitimate throughout most of the cold war was justified on the grounds of needing to placte the German "right wing".

Regretably like the term "another Hitler", "appeasement" is a buzz word used when those in charge want to bomb somebody.

Russia went into Ossetia because, 2 hours after declaring a ceasefire, Georgia launched an attack as genocidal as the one Croatia, underv western officers, launched on Krajina. Iain has objected that we did not intervene in Ruanda. Russia is not merely not wrong to intervene in Ossetia it would have been morally wrong not to. Legally wrong as well since they had peacekeepers & were parties to the peace agreement.

Having ourselves interevened in Kosovo, not to prevent genocide, but, as Foreign Secretary Robin Cook admitted at the time, to assist the people engaged in genocide in Kosovo (& Croatia & Bosnia) we are in no position to censure.

Madasafish said...

Georgia started it. Fact.

All the rest is bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Listening to a Georgian diplomat stationed in London who was squirming to answer a direct question in Radio4 Today Programme- why Georgia had to attack Ossetia, and why Georgian troops are still firing at Russians across the border, I got the feeling that Georgia is attempting to internationalise the conflict bringing in the West. This diplomat kept on reminding about the gas and oil pipelines which West needs most and did not answer the question.

For once, the West should do nothing.of. I would even say that Georgia should not be welcomed into EU fold and NATO. It has demonstrated that it has a mean streak by its foray and violence in Ossetia.

We often commit mistake in thinking that these East European countries from former Soviet block can progress towards stable democracy. They have strong baggage of ethnicity and long memories which they are not prepared to shed and move forward. There are of course exceptions,and Georgia is not one of them.

Helen said...

Wrinkled Weasel,
First, could you spell my name correctly, please? It is kind of important to know that you are paying attention to details.

Secondly, I am more interested in appeasement displayed by the West towards the Soviet Union for many more years than the business with Germany in the thirties. So, I fear you are replying to the wrong point - the one I did not make.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Sorry about the name mix up. Please accept my apologies, but it was a temporary and mild attack of dyslexia, from which I and my children have to deal with on a daily basis and not, as you suggest, a lack of attention to detail.

You cannot use the word "appeasement" in isolation, and you know that full well. If you take the trouble to read the full reply to your piece on my blog, you will perhaps see why. If you are blind to the fact that commentators are making an analogy with 1938, you are missing the point by a very long way.

Anonymous said...

Well said Norman. Few things are easier to destroy than an oil pipeline & the fact that the Russians haven't bombed it proves Putin both has limited objectives & is a lot smarter than most western leaders.

Helen if the most important instance of "appeasement" was really our policy "displayed by the West towards the Soviet Union for many more years" it would seem to be a remarkably successful way of eliminating one's opponents.

Richard Edwards said...

I am afraid whatever the principle of the argument you are ignoring the wider context. There will be a lot of huffing and puffing over Russia's actions, but not much else. Why? Russia owns about $400 million of US government bonds. What happens to the US if they flex their superpower muscles and the Russians then seek to retaliate by liquidating all or a large part of their US Treasury holdings? My guess is that the dollar would collapse. The US and related economies would go down the tubes in a way that makes the credit crunch look a tea party. Think I am wrong? On the 7/11/7 a rumour started to circulate that the Chinese govt was thinking of diversifying its stock holdings out of US assets. The result was a plunge in the dollar and the Dow Jones dropped 360 points. China and Russia own a large chunk of the west. That is where the real balance of power lies. And one reason why Bush is in Beijing being super friendly at the mo.

Anonymous said...

I expect the tank traps are being craned into position in Prague and Budapest as I type this - well they can't expect any help from the West can they and it can surely only be a matter of time ...

Richard Edwards said...

Sorry that should have been billion not millions in my last comment.

Anonymous said...

Clearly our payment of £70+ million to the UN is money damn well spent!! Anyone seen Banky Moon?

Ross said...

Good article Helen.

After the war is over Georgia has to be rushed into NATO and a great big military presence established there.

Oh and Russia should be expelled from the G8 immediately.

David Lindsay said...

You are losing this one, thank God.

See, on how Russia is arguably engaged in an act of liberal interventionism.

But, especially, see the extraordinary comments from Daily Telegraph readers to, by Denis MacShane of the Henry Jackson Society and of the Euston Manifesto (deceased).

Just as Telegraph readers have never really bought into the theory that a country with neither a European language nor a Christian majority is somehow part of the West at all, never mind the West's front line, so they have never really bought into hostility to post-Soviet Russia, rightly identifying her instead as, in common with all the Slavs (not least including the Serbs), the bulwark, against Islamic and other threats, of the civilisation defined by the Biblical-Classical synthesis.

And today, they have at last started to say so.

Perhaps they have finally realised that Russia's enemies are old Marxists from back in the day. See, for example, the Harry's Place website, which has its roots in Straight Left, the most unerringly pro-Soviet faction within the old Communist Party of Great Britain and among its nominally Labour fellow-travellers, and which therefore opposes the present Russian Government out of support for the only viable alternative, namely the totally unreconstructed Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

Or see the BBC, uncritical cheerleaders for the National Bolsheviks, whose flag says it all: the Nazi flag with a black hammer and sickle in place of the swastika.

These are people who define themselves precisely by their opposition to the Biblical-Classical synthesis, which is the West.

And Telegraph-reading conservatives have either only just noticed, or only just started to say so. Either way, though, better late than never.

And welcome aboard.

Tapestry said...

Helen pushes all the right buttons. But be realistic. America will not fight Russia over Georgia or The Ukraine. Putin knows it.

If Russia is prepared to deploy her military there, they will overpower the Georgians. NATO and the US are bystanders to all intents and purposes.

However Russia could be drawn into an Iraq-style insurgency there that could last years. That is the only way the Georgians might win their freedom - by grinding down Moscow.

But as with the Chechnya the Russians are prepared to be totally brutal in return and make alliances with the worst of the worst of humanity to suppress civilian populations.

As regards the US, the only question to my mind, is whether they will make a stand over Kosovo.

If Putin had allowed Bush/NATO to walk into the Ukraine and Georgia, he wanted to try. Now he knows the defence of the russian hinterland is going to be determined, Bush will no doubt retire to safer ground.

But if Russia presses on, and starts to pressure Kosovo, then America might feel obliged to show some token resistance. Only then would the temperature of international relations go to boiling point.

Russian military power and her willingness to both take and inflict casualties is a fact that needs to be taken in account in making decisions as to the expansion of the EU and NATO. If that wasn't clear before, it certainly is now.

Anonymous said...

Great post Helen. The Russian targeting of cities and civilian area is now a straight forward war crime and needs to be investigated by the The Hague Tribunal immediately.

Colin said...

I suspect what we are seeing here is the results of EU arrogance / idiocy in thinking that Europe is anywhere they want it to be regardless of the consequences and having a succession of political pygmies at the helm of NATO since the late 90's (starting with George Robertson).

What NATO needs now is a titan in the mold of Manfred Worner, someone who can re-establish a vision for an organisation that has lost its way.

What the EU needs is to get back in its box and stop pretending that it has any real clout in the world. These two organisations (EU & NATO) are in reality very weak right now as a result of poor leadership, mission creep and a lack of real substance.

A strong US led NATO, rather than the EU in its various guises is what guaranteed peace in western Europe; despite the propaganda from Brussels.

I really fear that we are at the beginnings of a dark age in Europe. I just hope NATO will be in a fit state to step up once more and stand firm.

Anonymous said...

Iain, your guests and commentators can bluster all that they like. But my son will not fight for Ossetia.

Anonymous said...

Let's get Georgia in NATO today. Declare war on Russia. Re-establish the Polish empire. Bring back the Khanates. Bags of fun for everyone.

More importantly, anyone else notice Channel 4 News revealed that the Chinese faked the opening ceremony fireworks? Haven’t noticed the bbc refering to it at all.

Anonymous said...

Well the Russians have stopped proving NATO both useless & unnecesary. And they didn't even hit the pipeline, which considering how what a big, long, flamable target it is must have taken some care on their part.

I assume Mutley, since NATO spent 3 months in a bombing war overwhelmongly targeted on northern Serb cities & there is, in existence, a NATO funded "court" with the specific duty to punish war crimes there, you share my astonsihment that hundreds of NATO politicians are not currently in jail.

Russia has shown vastly more of both morality & respect for the rule of law than NATO did to Yugoslavia. This should not be forgotten by us & will not be forgotten by the world.

The world is becoming an ever smaller place & we need the honest rule of international law more than ever in history. Hopefully the western countries will come to recognise this.

David Lindsay said...

Oh, but they are incandescent and inconsolable! As well they might be. First no war against Iran, and now no war against Russia. Poor loves.

The War Party, we must always remember, is as it is because it has absolutely no stake in the lives of our Armed Forces, at least beyond a patriotic or a universally human stake in which the warmongers do not believe.

The officers are drawn from the old ruling class that the armchair warriors long ago displaced, but which they have to insist is somehow still in charge in order to justify their own existence on the wholly specious basis of "meritocracy" and the mind-blowing ridiculous fantasy that they themselves are somehow "anti-Establishment".

The other ranks, meanwhile, are drawn from the ruled, from those without "merit" (wealth and paper qualifications, defined as "merit" by those with material wealth and paper qualifications). There was much mockery, by the Nick Cohens and David Aaronovitches of the world, of "toffs" marching alongside trade unionists and others against the Iraq War. But very well they might have done, and very well they did.

So let them all die, and that in horrible agony. It will never have the slightest impact on the persons, families or circles of those who advocated and advocate the wars in the first place.

Laurence Boyce said...

As a matter of interest Helen, did you "stand up to the bully" two years ago when Israel was bombing the hell out of Lebanon. I ask merely for information . . .