Passivity in Europe: The Monster Next Door Stirs and Probes for Weakness

The Russians put on an impressive display as they castrated the US trained Georgian Military.  Flushed with an easy victory, the Russian Military is resplendent with resurgent pride and professionalism and only too glad to emerge from the wilderness of ignominy after Afghanistan and Chechnya.  It’s not that the conflict wasn’t terribly one, it was, it’s that the presumed disrepair of the Russian Armed forces after the fall of the Soviet Union has been put behind them. Much treasure has been poured into the Russian military and the return on this investment is quite good if not startling.  The Russian army is a lot better than the West gave it credit for and that’s a disheartening revelation. Clearly a confident thug in the region is in no one’s best interest: but that’s today’s new normal.


“The Russian incursion into Georgian territory — and the air campaign against Georgian military targets — show a confident Russian military,” Jane’s analyst Nathan Hodge wrote in a report. “This is not the degraded Russian military of the 1994-1996 Chechen War, when Russian fighting units were plagued by corruption, poor leadership and lack of funding.”


This begs the question of what Russia intends for this new, confident, fighting force and for what purpose has it been raised up?  The Russians government just claims it’s to defend Russia and its allies against the possibility of foreign aggression from passivist NATO or perhaps an attack from Kosovo or someplace like that.  Perhaps they’re alarmed at the Islamic Terrorists running lose in the world today and the possibility that they might attack an office building in Minsk or a chicken farm in the hinterland perhaps:  and the Russians just want a force that can give the “terrorists “a moment of pause.  Perhaps Russia has become much more serious about the resurrection of its former “sphere of influence”. It’s hard to tell.


The resurgent military deployed in Georgia gives Russia a credible threat of force as it seeks to check the pro-Western aspirations of its neighbors. Backed by the U.S., the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in April promised Georgia and Ukraine, both former Soviet republics, eventual membership in the military alliance.

“The Russians regard the Georgian episode as merely the start of a sustained campaign to restore their country’s sphere of influence,” wrote Jonathan Eyal, director of International Security Studies at London’s Royal United Services Institute, on its Web site. “It is now impossible to persuade the East Europeans that a Russian threat is remote.”


The British are looking askance at the recent Russian moves and are beginning a dialogue in “Old Europe” that is as familiar as it is terrifying:  We have another threat emerging that we have to deal with and at what point does diplomacy become appeasement and an enticement for further aggression?  Now that’s a good question and it’s taken long enough to work its way into the British Press but I dare say that the other members of the EU are likely not on the same page as Brittan right now. In fairness to its fellow EU members, these are not easy questions to answer but they must not only be asked but answered by the EU lest events get out of hand.  Europe needs to ask itself a question: Are the Russians going to take over the old buffer zone countries and in the 21’st century will the EU allow that to happen?  No one knows the answer right now.


A former British ambassador to Tbilisi said that NATO might have to send troops to the region. Donald McLaren, who was Ambassador to Georgia from 2004 to July last year and is now retired, told the Today programme on Radio 4: “I think we shouldn’t be too complacent or too scared in a situation like this.”

He suggested that a peacekeeping force made up of troops from the US, Britain, France, Germany and Russia should be sent to Georgia to replace the Russian units. If Moscow rejected such a proposal, he said, NATO had only two choices: “To give up and surrender and say to the Russians, ‘It’s your backyard, you’ve won’, or to put men on the ground to protect Georgia’s sovereignty and the east-west oil and gas pipeline from the Caspian and Central Asia.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that there was no prospect of troops being deployed to Georgia.

NATO diplomatic sources said that no one within the alliance was speaking about sending troops. “We have no mandate to act in the Caucasus,” a source said. Even the European Union, which is to hold a summit next month, has downgraded its most likely response to the Russian military presence in Georgia from deploying peacekeepers to sending observers.


It’s very much analogous to the bully on the play ground who must learn that you will defend yourself and will not become the victim and the easy prey the bully is counting on.  Naturally the scale is much larger.  The bully on the schoolyard may give you a black eye with his fists and you might return the favor with yours,  but nations in the 21 first century have weaponry available that’s staggering and capable of unimaginable destruction. Today’s combatants in Russia, Europe and the USA can chose from economic warfare, cyber warfare, covert warfare, cold warfare, hot warfare and so on while limiting the conflict to military targets, economic targets, social and cultural targets, or the population as a whole.  Putin, like the school yard bully, is probing for his limits, and if we in the west know what’s good for us: he had better find them soon.  A bully without limits or credible fear of the consequences can make peoples life a living hell if they don’t understand that conflict is unavoidable in this world and that defending civility and national borders in this world is not optional.  We’ve all been down this road before and we’ve all said that Hitler should have been opposed much sooner and the cost would have been much less and yet here we are again.


Britain led a chorus of support for Ukraine on Wednesday as western fears rose of possible Russian attempts to build on its victory in Georgia by threatening neighboring states.

Speaking during a visit to Kiev, David Miliband, the UK foreign secretary, called on the European Union and Nato to prepare for “hard-headed engagement” with Moscow following its military action in Georgia.

“Russia must not learn the wrong lessons from the Georgia crisis. There can be no going back on fundamental principles of territorial integrity, democratic governance and international law,” he said.

Mr Kouchner warned that the situation was “very dangerous” because Russia might now be considering other targets such as the divided state of Moldova and Ukraine, with its strategically important Crimean peninsula.


The old saying goes that “those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”  Clearly this has gone beyond a conflict between Georgia and Russia and morphed into a regional conflict with broad geo political consequences.  The Age old question of where to draw the line rears its ugly head as old Europe reluctance to face the bully threatens old alliances, and even European self respect, as the wily Putin adroitly works his will.  What will it take for the Europeans to face the monster and take a stand?  How many will fall before the new Russian army, or simply give up and surrender to the inevitable?  No sane person wants war but unfortunately, not everyone is sane.  The only way to find out if Putin is out for empire or just to see what he can get is to stand up to him and be ready for either outcome.  It’s better to get this out of the way as soon as possible because the countries involved will harden their positions of either belligerence or passivity around the events now being exclusively directed by Russia.  Can the EU face the Russian Monster in 2008 or will it shrink into denial and despondency while the seeds of World War III germinate next door?  Has Europe learned from the past?  Has Europe been mastered by the past?  Time will tell.

Check out these fine articles from Bloomberg, The Times Online, and the Financial Times:


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