West Backs Away from Georgia in Hope of Gaining Russian Support on Larger Objectives Elsewhere     Print Email

The United States and the European Union have both changed their positions on the conflict in Georgia, informing Kiev the West needs to seek greater cooperation with Russia, according to a usually well-informed online intelligence service, Stratfor.

Its sources report that Georgia was given this message on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of NATO in Brussels on March 5. The report says that Georgian Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri was told that NATO cannot protect his country militarily from Russia, even though Georgia is still promised eventual membership in the alliance. The warning reportedly came from both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

It has not been confirmed or denied by any of the governments involved. The reasoning for this policy clarification – which amounts to a warning to Georgia and a concession to Moscow – that Western governments are intent on improving relations with the Kremlin in order to get Russian help on goals such as a halt to Iran’s nuclear program and energy security for the EU. The EU Commissioner urged Georgia to seek a working relationship with Russia, which has recognized Georgia’s breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and maintains more than 3,500 troops there.

The Obama administration has been seeking ways to improve sour U.S.-Russia relations – for example, by suggesting that better cooperation against Iran might convince Washington to reconsider the need for missile-defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. Moscow has complained that the system could be used to blunt Russia’s nuclear weapons. Now, Washington seems to be retreating from its earlier effort to push through NATO membership for Georgia.

A shift of this sort, if confirmed, will gratify the Kremlin, which felt that NATO was coming too close to its borders, and also please Germany, France and other EU capitals that judged the Bush administration policies as too aggressive and liable to goad Russia into a push-back mode against Europe.

The Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008 seemed to confirm European fears – and Russian confidence that NATO was unready to defend Georgia militarily.