Vol. 3 (1) - Winter 2009
The End of the
Frozen Cold War?
a former Minister of Economy (1994-2000) and former Member of
the Parliament (2004-2008) of the Republic of Georgia, is a
Senior Fellow at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and
International Studies, and
Senior Associate Fellow of the Joint Transatlantic Research and
Policy Center, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (Johns
Hopkins University-SAIS). His most recent book (with Eldar
Ismailov) is “The
Central Caucasus: Problems on Geopolitical Economy”
After the Russian incursion into Georgia many analysts ask
questions of whether or not the world is standing on the verge
of a new Cold War. Almost no one is asking a question of what
if the 20th century Cold War was never finished but,
rather, was just “frozen” and what we are witnessing now is the
process of melting. To the extent that on both sides of the
Cold War are the same countries as in the last century, and the
reasons and driving forces of the conflict - as well as the
Kremlin’s action style - have never changed, one may conclude
that what we see now is not a new Cold War but, rather, the
resumption of the old Cold War.
it is quite
probable that the old story may happen again and the West’s
softness towards Russia may lead to the “refreezing” of the Cold
War and the sacrifice of Georgia for an imaginary peace in
Europe and the whole world.
Cold War, Russia, USSR, Europe, US, Chechnya, Georgia
or Old Cold War?
Europe going to be a battlefield for a new nuclear rivalry?
This question became particularly topical after President Dmitry
Medvedev of the Russian Federation had declared his plans of
deploying Russia’s Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad Oblast
of the Russian Federation unless the US leadership
takes back its intention to set up a missile shield in Europe.
Undoubtedly, this maneuver, especially after the Russian
war against the small Caucasus state of Georgia,
is reminiscent of the old rivalry between the West and the
former USSR in the time of the Cold War. Many politicians
therefore, ask questions of whether or not the world is standing
on the verge of a new Cold War and, if yes, how it could be
avoided. Such questions, because of different reasons, were
Russia’s war against Georgia as well.
Almost no one, however, is asking the question of whether the 20th
century Cold War was never finished
but, rather, was just “frozen” and what we are witnessing now is
the process of melting?
dream and illusion
in Gorbachev’s, and later in Yeltsin’s epochs there developed an
impression that the Cold War came to an end and that the new
Russia irreversibly chose a track of co-operation with the
civilized world, along with democratic changes and transition to
a market economy. Yet the Russian aggression against Georgia in
August 2008 made it clear that the end of the Cold War was not a
reality but, rather, the West’s dream and illusion that the West
simply mistook for reality. In the late 1980s and early 1990s,
the collapsing USSR and its successor, a newly independent
Russia, were so weak in both political and economic terms that
they were greatly dependent upon the West’s economic assistance.
The desire to get this assistance forced Moscow to turn to the
West and Western values. At the same time, nostalgia for the
lost empire became increasingly strong in Russia. Many Russians
became obsessed with the complex of a beaten nation and the
desire to take revenge.
good example of how the West deliberately turned a blind eye to
Russia’s antidemocratic actions at times is President Putin’s
successful enterprise to make his Western partners believe that
the Kremlin’s war in Chechnya was just an antiterrorist
operation. Ironically, the Kremlin accomplished this goal with
relative ease, despite a flood of international human rights
organizations’ criticism that swept Moscow in response to its
actions in Chechnya.
light of the above-mentioned growing revengefulness of the
Russian society, the military operations in Chechnya drastically
increased the Kremlin’s esteem inside the country.
Coincidentally, this period was marked by a steady growth of the
oil price in the global market which led to a rapid
strengthening of Russia’s economy. Furthermore, whilst Europe
receives 40% of its natural gas supplies from Russia, Moscow
obtained a powerful weapon which forces the Western world to
accomodate the Kremlin. They did so by changing the G-7 format
into a G-8 format as a favour to Russia which, in turn, made the
Kremlin believe that it has re-obtained enough previous
influence to dictate its conditions to the rest of the world.
Russia’s Growing influence
true that Russia’s influence has noticeably grown but this
influence has not been strong enough to dissuade the US from
launching an antiterrorist campaign in Iraq, for example, or to
prevent the West from recognizing the independence of Kosovo.
These events awakened the Kremlin’s passion to show the world
that it was much stronger than anyone thought. If the US is
conducting a military operation in Iraq—a country which is so
far away from its shores—then why can Russia, as one of the
leading powers in the world, not embark upon a similar action in
neighboring Georgia? If many countries of the West recognized
Kosovo’s independence, then why can Russia not recognize the
independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and, thereby,
demonstrate to the world that it has truly re-obtained its
previous power and influence?
comes a further question. Why is it that Georgia has become
Russia’s first target? It is not difficult to find an answer.
Firstly, not only Georgia proper but also its two breakaway
regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have common borders with
Russia. Secondly, both regions have been ruled by Russia’s
puppet regimes, with their separatism being inspired and
fostered politically and economically by the Kremlin, and both
of these separatist regimes have been used by Russia as an
important base for preparing and implementing a military attack
against Georgia. Thirdly, Georgia’s Rose Revolution and Mikheil
Saakashvili’s government, which came to power as a result of it,
have been regarded by the Kremlin as a project of Washington;
furthermore, Georgia’s aspirations to NATO have broadly been
considered an insult to Russia’s national dignity. Fourthly,
Russia wants to dominate pipelines which are crossing Georgia.
The Kremlin’s efforts
against Georgia: Past, Present and Future
quite a long while, the West was unenthusiastic to acknowledge
and admit publicly that Tbilisi’s key problem in Abkhazia and
South Ossetia resided in Moscow. Whilst Moscow was extensively
distributing Russian passports in the separatist-controlled
regions and persecutions of ethnic Georgians were underway in
Russia, the West was still urging the Georgian government to
find a friendly settlement with Russia. It was only after
Russia launched an act of military aggression against Georgia
and occupied the Georgian territories that the Western world
realized that Russia was in conflict not only with Georgia but
also with Western values.
Having been euphoric after a quick military victory over
Georgia, the Kremlin recognized the independence of both
breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and disregarded
the fact that the vast majority of the populations in those
separatist regions were Russian citizens. Paradoxically, Russia
recognized the independence of two new states whose inhabitants
were not citizens of Abkhazia and South Ossetia but, rather, and
owing to the Kremlin’s efforts of Russia itself. Whilst the
Kremlin is fond of drawing parallels with Kosovo, it must be
remembered that before recognizing Kosovo’s independence,
neither the United States nor any other country had encouraged
the people of Kosovo to accept the US or any other country’s
the world would not commend Russia for the above steps and would
not recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia
should not be seen as something unexpected for the Kremlin.
Even if some openly anti-Western regimes support Russia’s latest
moves, they will still be unable to change the climate of modern
international relations. There arises another question. What
did Moscow count on when it was deciding to recognize the
independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia?
may foresee that after a certain while, the Kremlin will
instruct the puppet governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to
hold referenda about their incorporation into the Russian
Federation. The outcomes of such referenda might be quite
predictable and they could be justified, for example, by the
following logic. If the UN, the EU and most of the world’s
nations refuse to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, then
peoples of those states will have no choice but to request
joining with Russia, especially as the most of those people
already are Russian citizens. Moreover, Russia is not only a
subject of international law but also a permanent member of the
UN Security Council. In that capacity it will be in a better
position to protect the interests of the peoples of Abkhazia and
South Ossetia who will already be inhabitants of the new Russian
territories. In so doing, the Kremlin would accomplish the
objectives that it has been pursuing for a long while, on the
one hand, whilst on the other hand being able to “successfully
blame” the West for the extension of Russia’s borders into the
South of the Caucasus range because it refused to recognize the
independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and thereby “forced”
Russia to annex to Russia Georgia’s two historical regions.
Russia’s military aggression against Georgia, the Russian
occupation of the Georgian territories, Russia’s disrespect for
the cease-fire agreement signed by Presidents Sarkozy and
Medvedev and Moscow’s unilateral recognition of Abkahzia and
South Ossetia without any consultation with the world’s leading
G-7 nations is naturally reminiscent of the epoch of the Cold
the extent that on both sides of the Cold War are the same
countries as in the last century and the reasons and driving
forces of the conflict, as well as the Kremlin’s action style,
have never changed (one must keep in mind that in 2008 the
Kremlin took an attempt to replace the political regime in
Georgia by the same methods which it used in 1956 in Hungary and
in 1968 in Czechoslovakia), one may conclude that what we see
now is not a new Cold War but, rather, the resumption of the old
Cold War. In other words, we are facing the renewal of the same
situation which the West has mistakenly considered to be over.
It appears now that it was just frozen and the frontline of this
“melting” Cold War
is located in the Caucasus, in Georgia.
political price of Russian gas, notably during the winter (which
is the urgent problem of today),
is so high that the Western European countries, unlike some
Eastern European nations which are exposed to the immediate
danger of potential Russian aggression, apparently have chosen
to once again turn a blind eye to the reality and Russia’s
present policy towards the West and Western values.
Regrettably, it is quite probable that the old story may happen
again and the West’s softness towards Russia
may be justified by more self-deceptive assurances that Russia
is no longer the USSR and that democratic transformations and
Western values are not alien to Russia. In fact, such an
attitude may lead to the renewal of the process of “refreezing”
of the Cold War and the sacrifice of Georgia for an illusory
peace in Europe and the whole world. If this is true, then the
West’s financial and diplomatic support of Georgia may be
interpreted in a way that whilst the West feels an instinctive
sympathy to this small country in the Caucasus, by extending
this aid it wishes to pay it off.
best, the main challenge for the international community is the
elaboration of an effective means for the real—and not virtual
as it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s—completion of the
twentieth-century Cold War.
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