Friday, August 29, 2008

Russia Plans to Formally Annex South Ossetia

The AP is reporting that South Ossetia has announced that it will be formally annexed by Russia:

TSKHINVALI, Georgia - Russia intends to eventually absorb Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia, a South Ossetian official said Friday, three days after Moscow recognized the region as independent and drew criticism from the West.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the region's leader, Eduard Kokoity, discussed the future of South Ossetia earlier this week in Moscow, South Ossetian parliamentary speaker Znaur Gassiyev said.

Russia will absorb South Ossetia "in several years" or earlier, a position was "firmly stated by both leaders," Gassiyev said.

My view is that the formal process will be nothing more than a recognition of the de facto annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Russia. Short of starting World War III, it is not clear that the West will be able to prevent this annexation.

On the other hand, I can see no good reason for the West to recognize Russia's actions. There are areas where Russia would like Western cooperation, which means that there are ways for the West to express its displeasure short of a full-scale deployment of NATO forces.

The deployment of NATO naval forces to the Black Sea is another way in which the West can present its discontent.

In Georgia, the vice speaker of parliament, Gigi Tsereteli, said the statement cannot be taken seriously.

"The separatist regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Russian authorities are cut off from reality," he said in Tbilisi. "The world has already become different and Russia will not long be able to occupy sovereign Georgian territory."

I suppose he has to say that, but I have to respectfully disagree. I think that Russia intends to annex the two provinces, and that they will do so. I don't see that internal nationalist Russian pressures will allow Medvedev and Putin to do otherwise.

Georgia has announced that they will suspend relations with Russia as a result of the Russian announcement:

Georgia said it would cut diplomatic ties with Russia after Moscow recognized its rebel South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions. A Russian Foreign Ministry source told RIA news agency Moscow would respond by closing its embassy in Tbilisi.

Reuters is reporting that the Europeans are unwilling to impose significant sanctions on Russia for its actions:

PARIS/MOSCOW (Reuters) - A defiant Russia said on Friday that international condemnation of its actions in Georgia was "biased," while the appetite in the European Union for imposing sanctions on Moscow appeared to dwindle.
European diplomats said they had received clear signals from the Kremlin that Russia would retaliate if the European Union imposed punitive measures over Georgia when EU leaders meet for an emergency summit next week.
A senior diplomat for EU president France said sanctions would not be adopted at the summit. That message contradicted remarks on Thursday by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who said sanctions were among the options on the table.

"The time to pass sanctions has certainly not come," the French diplomat said.

In particular, the Europeans are concerned about their oil and gas supplies from Russia. Of course, everyone denies that this is having any impact on how they see the situation:

European diplomats said they had received clear signals from the Kremlin that Russia would retaliate if the European Union imposed punitive measures over Georgia when EU leaders meet for an emergency summit next week.

Russian oil companies and government officials denied a British newspaper report that they were preparing to restrict oil supplies in response to sanctions.
Western policy-makers drafting a response to the Kremlin's actions are mindful that Russia supplies more than a quarter of Europe's gas and that its support is vital to maintain pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.

European diplomats said on Friday they were expecting Russian retaliation if the EU took punitive measures.

"They've been saying loud and clear that they feel they could do whatever they want with impunity," said one diplomat.

Russian threats have gone beyond oil and gas supplies at other issues of mutual concern:

Putin also hinted Russia's cooperation with the West on issues such as trade and nuclear non-proliferation could be at stake in the row over Georgia.

In the meantime, Russian President Medvedev is trying to sell a bizarre conspiracy theory by which the US "provoked" Russian intervention as a way to promote John McCain's candidacy. I don't see this conspiracy theory selling well in the US, even among Bush's staunchest critics. According to the BBC:

Mr Putin told CNN US citizens were "in the area" during the conflict over South Ossetia and were "taking direct orders from their leaders".

He said his defence officials had told him the provocation was to benefit one of the US presidential candidates.