The Georgia-Cyprus Parallel

Nikolas Gvosdev, writing at the Atlantic Council, is the latest analystI’ve seen make the case that Cyprus — and not Kosovo — is theprecedent to study when considering the aftermath of the Georgia War.

Sothe fact that Georgia-Russian talks may have broken down in Geneva maynot have much of an impact on Europe’s relations with Russia, just asnon-resolution of the Cyprus issue over the last three decades has notdramatically affected either the U.S. or European relationship withTurkey. In other words, we already have a precedent of the Westperfectly willing and able to compartmentalize such problems. Europeanstates can easily proclaim their support for Georgia’s territorialintegrity and reunification of South Ossetia with Abkhazia withdeciding to not make this an issue in their relations with Russia. Thisis a precedent which certainly will not be to Tbilisi’s liking.

Thereare a number of distinctions between the two cases, but on closerinspection,even the distinctions turn out to reinforceGvosdev’s argument. At the time of the Cyprus intervention, Turkey wasalready a formal NATO ally and a much needed bulwark against Sovietexpansion into the Middle East during the Cold War, which mitigated theWest’s response. And while the history of the Cyprus conflict isthorny, Turkey’s intervention came amidst an already destabilizedsituation, was in response to a coup attempt by Greek Cypriots, andcould arguably be defended as an attempt to prevent the annexation ofthe island by Greece.

Russia, on the other hand, is not an ally. But it is a much neededpartner in a number of essential areas, including energy (for the EU)and non-proliferation (for the U.S. and EU), which explains thedifficulty the West has had in formulating a response to theGeorgia War with some bite to it. As for the war itself, Russia clearlyused a disproportionate response to both bleed and humiliate itsneighbor. But its initial positions within South Ossetia were part of aUN-mandated peacekeeping force, and its case for the invasion being aresponse to Georgia violating the terms of that mandate is compelling.

That Russian troops will remain in the two breakaway provinces seemsevident. The question is whether there’s any way to walk back Moscow’simpetuous recognition of the protectorates as sovereign states withouta global solution to their status in relation to Georgia. Matt Eckel,in an unrelated post at Foreign Policy Watch on the impact of falling oil prices on the three”petro-state problem children” (Russia, Venezuela and Iran), arguesthat the tightening revenues will probably be temporary, and thereforewon’t dramatically shift policies. But they will open someopportunities for engagement:

Low prices. . .might create some temporary diplomatic openingswhere there were none before, or widen those that were previously toosmall to exploit.

That brings us to the final distinction between Turkey’s Cyprusintervention and Russia’s Georgian intervention, namely the differenteras in which they took place. Globalization means that Russia could bemade to feel the costs of its intervention much more quickly thanthirty years ago. Time has been accelerated, and I’ve argued beforethat it isn’t necessarily on Moscow’s side in this one. That would seemto offer some hope of a satisfactory settlement, whereby Russia isoffered some face-saving guarantees in return for more responsiblebehavioor on its periphery.

But globalization also means that the West can no longer put the costof the Georgia War on Russia without assuming any of it itself.Globalization has been called the inheritor of deterrence, because intheory it should work to discourage armed conflict throughincreased commercial integration. But deterrence not only discourageddirect armed conflict between the two ideological Cold War blocs. Italso limited the fallout of armed conflict by proxy when it did occur,both between blocs, but also among allies, as illustrated by Turkey’s Cyprus intervention. By making everyone partners, globalization generalizes that effect.

If the Abkhazia/S. Ossetia charade lasts thirty years, it will meanthat the model for globalization will have to be adapted to include amechanism whereby it actually rewards limited war by reducing theoptions to “punish” it.