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Q&A on WTF Is Going on with Russia And Georgia, Part II: What's The World Going to Do About It?

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[Warning: This is the second half of a two-part series and it's just as long as the first part. Again, if you're not into reading, this isn't for you].
In the first part of this forum, I asked three regional experts -- Alex Grigore'ev-Roinishvili, Julie Roginsky, and Daria Vaisman -- their opinions on what caused the current conflict between Russia and Georgia in South Ossetia. Next, I asked them what the world will do about it, if anything at all.

6. How far will Russia go with this invasion? How much heat are they willing to take from the international community? Will the international community give them any heat?
Alex Grigor'ev-Rionishvili: "This is the key question which has no answer. As of now Russia is keen on destroying Georgia's military capability and infrastructure. The question is of course what can and what would the international community do?"
Julie Roginsky: "If the Russians want regime change in Tbilisi - and judging by what their ambassador to the U.N. said recently, that is a likely possibility -- they may go as far as they need to in order to get Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili deposed. The international community has rhetorically been giving the Russian lots of heat but there is practically very little the West can do, as evidenced by the fact that the Russians chose to invade on the same night as Putin and Bush were photographed sitting together at the opening games of the Olympics in Beijing. Economic and geopolitical realities make Russia too important for the West to intervene."
Daria Vaisman: "Russia looks like it will continue until it achieves its end goal, which is, depending on whom you ask, either gaining control of the conflict zones or destabilizing the country completely. The thing is, Russia is good at muddying the waters by throwing the language of the West back at the West. As of today, Putin is claiming that Georgians committed genocide against the Ossetians. As badly as the Georgians may have acted, this was not a literal definition of genocide. But this way, Russia can point to the NATO bombings in Belgrade over their treatment of Kosovo as a precedent for Russia's actions now. And the international community realizes that it would, sadly, be nuts to get directly involved. I think the most we'll see is what we have now, which are harsh words from Bush to Russia, and a variety of international diplomats trying to broker a ceasefire."
7. Is Georgia a NATO country? Will NATO send troops there to fight the Russians?
AGR: "Georgia is not a NATO member. If it were, Article 5 of the NATO Treaty would have automatically brought the rest of the Alliance in. More or less along the lines how it happened when another Alliance was attacked in August 1914 -- very quickly and according to agreements forged --Archduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary attacks Serbia, Russia supports Serbia, Germany supports Russia, France supports Russia... It is a crucial foreign policy question -- how does the West deal with Russia now. A mistake would be to treat it as the former Soviet Union. No summer break for folks in DC or Brussels, that's for sure."
JR: "No, Georgia is not yet a NATO country and that is the partial reason for the timing. Putin is banking that instability in Georgia will lead NATO not to accept Georgia as a member state in the near future. Though the U.S. has been training the Georgian army and the Georgians have more troops in Iraq than anyone aside from the U.S. and Britain, they are not part of NATO and it is doubtful NATO will send troops there."
DV: "Georgia is not a NATO country. In fact, this April Georgia was denied a Membership Action Plan, the next phase towards full NATO, along with Ukraine. So NATO is under no obligation to send troops."
8. What's Russia's ultimate goal? Do they want to take over Georgia completely? Do they want to annex South Ossetia? Are they looking just to force Georgia to change governments? How likely is any of this to happen?
AGR: "The Russians would most likely be fine with a strengthened status quo in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, strengthening those places "interdependence", weakening Georgia militarily, and producing chaos in Georgia's internal politics."
JR: "It's hard to say. If the tanks continue to roll into Georgia proper throughout the week and if they end up in Tbilisi, the goal will almost certainly be regime change. They will not want to annex Georgia but will want to set up a pro-Russian government that will not want to join NATO and will cooperate with the Russians, rather than the West, on oil production and export mechanisms in the Caspian sea. Again, this is likely to happen because there is no one to stop the Russians and, as of this morning, they have refused to agree to a Georgian-requested cease fire."
DV: "See above, but briefly: they want Georgia back in their sphere of influence. They want to have more control over the breakaway states, and they want to prevent Georgia and their other former states from joining NATO or moving too closely to the West. To understand Russia's thinking, remember how the US felt about Cuba's relationship with the Soviet Union starting in the 1960s. And Russia has already called for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to step down. What's amazing is that after years of playing dirty tricks behind the scenes, they've chosen to exert themselves in such a straightforward way. "

9. What's the West doing to stop this? What's the UN doing?

AGR: "Nothing besides the US helping Georgia to airlift its 2,000 troops from Iraq to Georgia."
JR: "Both the West and the U.N. are condemning Russia's actions but practically, there is not much we can do. The Europeans are too dependent on Russian natural gas and the United States is too dependent on them on the issue of Iranian proliferation. Also, our military is obviously otherwise engaged at the moment and no one is looking to start Word War III with the Russians."
DV: "(see above)"
10. Should anyone try to stop Russia? If so, how? If not, why not?
AGR: "This is the crucial question of what the West can do and how. Whether one wants it or not Russia is using the Kosovo example to legitimize its actions. There is even talk in Moscow on establishing an international crimes tribunal against Georgia."
JR: "Obviously, this is the kind of Russian muscle flexing not seen since the end of the cold war. The fact that the United States cannot really come to the aid of a democratic ally like Georgia, which even went so far as to send troops to Iraq to help us, says quite a bit about our capabilities at the moment, both militarily and diplomatically.
The Russian market dropped significantly after the invasion of South Ossetia and it remains to be seen whether economic considerations may have more of an effect on Russian behavior than military or diplomatic threats.
From a practical standpoint, it is possible that the U.S. will use its displeasure with Russia on this issue to persuade it to play ball more closely with the West on the issue of Iranian nuclear proliferation -- which means that we will have essentially sacrificed our ally Georgia in exchange for closer cooperation on Iran, a more pressing issue for us these days."
DV: "(see above)"
11. How will this affect someone's investments in Russia? In Georgia?
AGR: "Would you invest in Georgia now?"
JR: "The Georgians have been very aggressive about personally reassuring Western investors since this crisis began but it is difficult to invest in a regime that may no longer exist after this crisis is over. If you are going to invest in Russia, make sure you have your good friend Vladimir Putin on speed dial, lest he decide to one day nationalize your company and seize your assets."
DV: "I don't think it will affect investments in Russia too badly. Businesspeople I know working in Russia expect the country to be a loose cannon politically and a relatively solid and dependable presence economically. I think Russia has shown that to be increasingly the case for the duration of Putin's tenure. For Georgia things will be much worse. Georgia, which is a gorgeous country, had built up its economy largely based on real estate and other forms of FDI [foreign direct investment]; since it doesn't have the natural resources of many of its neighbors, it had worked extra-hard to reform its business sector, rout out corruption, overhaul the tax system, and otherwise show what a safe and lawful place the country was for business. But even the most risk-taking investors will probably think twice before buying real estate in Georgia now."

12. What's a bigger deal: South Ossetia or Abkhazia? Who has more oil and gas? Are there any other ethnic groups in Georgia we should be aware of that are trying to break away?

AGR: "None have either oil or gaz. Abkhazia is important for transport reasons. There are no other ethnic groups in Georgia striving for independence but there are significant half a million each communities of Armenians and Azeris in Georgia. A consistent democratic minority policy is yet to be developed in Georgia."
JR: "They are both big deals. Abkhazia is the bigger region and fighting has already spread there. The real issue is the pretext they both serve for the re-establishment of Russian hegemony in the former Soviet Republics."
DV: "Abkhazia has always been the bigger deal, because it is geographically more distinct from Georgia than is South Ossetia, has access to the sea, and can more or less survive economically on its own. Neither place has oil or gas as far as I have ever heard. And there are lots of other ethnic groups in Georgia, but they are well-integrated into the country. The thing about Abkhazia and South Ossetia is that the conflicts have now become primarily about ethnicity, but there were many Georgians and children of mixed-parents living in regions before. Really, they are independence movement that have became conflated with ethnicity."
13. Since Americans of all political stripes like to think of themselves as the center of the world, is this something Bush caused?
JR: "Well, Bush did famously look into Putin's eyes and 'saw his soul', so at the very least let's accuse him of being a not-so-great judge of character (and judging by the soul comment probably not too good with the pick up lines at the bar in his single days)."
DV: "Amazingly, it isn't. How nice to be able to blame Stalin instead of Bush for once!"



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