The EU’s Russia Approach

It’s impossible to assess the longterm impact of Russia’s invasion of Georgia, but at least one immediate outcome is certain: increased European travel privileges for Eurasian and Central Asian dictators. Uzbekistan’s EU travel ban for government officials was lifted and that of Belarus’ President Lukashenko and his government suspended, due to the vast improvement in each country’s human rights record, obviously. (For background, see Marianna Gurtovnik’s WPR piece on Belarus’ recent parliamentary elections.)

Irony aside, new circumstances call for new measures, and the Georgia War certainly qualifies as a new circumstance. I think the EU’s handling of the crisis has been top notch, with the wide range of national interests combining to drive a policy that has been measured and prudent, neither too accomodating nor too reactive. Once the glare of the spotlights faded, Russia, for its part, has gone along with the program, too.

Now the EU must decide how to handle the longer term repercussions, beginning with the frozen EU-Russian partnership agreement negotiations, which Italy and Germany are calling for restarting. While Germany’s accomodation of Russia is often written off as the shameless pandering of an energy dependent country, it’s often overlooked that one of the principle arguments for globalized trade — as opposed to, say, a polarized Cold War between two opposing ideological blocs — is that increased commercial interdependence tends to function as a disincentive for conflict escalation. And that’s exactly the role that it played in this conflict.

Still, the argument for waiting to see how Russia approaches the Vienna talks for a permanent settlement of the Abkhazia and S. Ossetia question is a compelling one. Russia has in some ways backed itself into a corner by recognizing the two provinces’ independence, but with sufficient guarantees for their security, it wouldn’t surprise me if they make concessions on their troop presence. They’ve gained about all there is to gain from the war, and a display of reasonableness would actually cement those gains. What’s more, the EU’s demand that they pull their troops back to pre-conflict positions is really in Russia’s best interests, which makes it a pretty tempting carrot. They’ve already won the war. The last thing they want to do is lose the occupation.

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