The end of happy endings in the post-cold war.

PositionRussia on Georgia - Cover story


Russia's mauling of Georgia was a game-changing geopolitical development for Western democracies--above all, for Europe. For Russia, it is a conquest, and a diminished Georgia will need determined Western help to retain a fig leaf of viability. It is time to re-examine the assumption--left unexamined for too long--that time was working to bring about a happy ending to the cold war, with Russia moving along the lines that the West has been following since NATO enlargement a decade ago. Instead, Moscow has changed a national boundary by force of arms and will probably incorporate South Ossetia and Abkhazia into Russia. Some have described this action as a response to the West's recognition of Kosovo. European Affairs published articles at the time warning that the Kremlin would someday claim Kosovo as a precedent. But the two situations are profoundly different. In Georgia, the Kremlin has thrown down the gauntlet about breaking what was still formally accepted as a joint approach to European security shared by Moscow and Western capitals.

The guiding principle of Moscow's interest will no longer be cooperation with the West to promote security and integrate Russia into the international community. Instead, the Kremlin has redefined its commitment to its own, more traditional view of Russia's national interest. By force of arms, Putin has shown how far he will go to resist what he sees as further encroachment on the old empire of the Tsars. (This should not be confused with the larger Soviet empire: It does not include the Baltics, but it does include Ukraine.)

Russian leaders have promulgated new principles that include their intention of protecting their citizens and businesses anywhere in the world--mainly countries bordering Europe. And Russia will demand recognition of its "sphere of interest" on its borders, including the Caspian where Europe is hoping to get more access to gas and oil in competition with Gazprom.

In the long run, this choice could backfire on Moscow by cutting off Russia from the wider world which can help it modernize and prosper. But for the foreseeable future, relations between the EU and Moscow seem bound to become more openly competitive and more zero-sum. It is not a new cold war; it is a subtler rivalry for influence. In this game, the EU does not hold many good cards. Take sanctions, for example. Certainly for the decade to come, the Kremlin seems confident that it can get along without anything...

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