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You’re on your way out, Rice tells Russia

By David Matsaberidze
Monday, September 22
Georgian-Russian relations are still a bone of contention between EU and US leaders. The US is taking the more radical position towards Russia, while the EU, wary of its future relations with Russia, is trying to alter the contours of the future world order more subtly.

Georgia is trying to keep itself at the centre of international attention, with the President and other senior figures spending much time visiting different international organizations to inform them of Georgia’s needs and position. This has been made necessary by Russia trying to alter the terms of its existing and previous mandates under various agreements, but commentators are arguing that due to the firm stance of the US the Russian Federation might disengage from its confrontational mode.

On September 19, in an address to the George Marshall Fund in Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice slammed Russia for its premeditated actions in Georgia. Rice criticized Russia's foreign policy for being overly aggressive and its domestic policy as increasingly authoritarian. She stated that as a result of Russia's recent actions, its prospective membership of the WTO and OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] had been brought into question. Rice stopped short of publicly announcing that America would block Russia’s membership of these organizations, but other senior administration officials have confirmed that the US will indeed oppose Russian membership.

Rice sent a very clear message to the Russian Federation and the rest of the world, saying that US strategic goal now is to make it clear to Russia's leaders that their choices are putting Russia on a one-way path to self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance. As Rice further clarified, although Russia's leaders are making some unfortunate choices, still they can make different ones, adding that its [Russian Federation] choices will be shaped, in part by the actions of the United States,its friends, and its allies – both through the incentives provided and the pressure applied.

The Secretary of State’s comments were then followed by more radical statements from the White House. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared that Another Russian attack on Georgia once it has joined NATO would result in an American armed response. I have been a very strong proponent of the view that NATO is a military alliance not a talk shop … Article Five means what it says - so there is a commitment to go to the assistance of our allies if they are challenged, he concluded.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded to the statement by the U.S. Secretary of State by maintaining that the Georgian side has crudely twisted the facts of the Russian invasion and the developments leading up to it. He also said that every attempt that might be made to punish Russia, including the abolition of nuclear agreements, would be counter-productive. We think that international relations, including those relations between Russia and the United States, are in a phase of transformation. We don't want to see the United States speaking on behalf of the whole world. Washington has no authority to do this, Lavrov’s statement reads.

Russian President Dimitry Medvedev accused NATO of provoking the conflict with Georgia, adding that strains with the West do not mean Russia plans to isolate itself behind a new Iron Curtain. Medvedev told a gathering of civil society groups in the Kremlin that we are in effect being pushed down a path that is founded not on fully-fledged, civilized partnership with other countries, but on autonomous development, behind thick walls, behind an Iron Curtain. That is not our path. For us there is no sense going back to the past. We have made our choice”, he stressed, further adding that the NATO alliance's role in the Georgia conflict showed it was unable to provide security in Europe, underlining the need for a new security mechanism.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stated during a meeting with his French counterpart, Francois Fillon, in Sochi, that their policy, their basic approaches remain unchanged. We support private initiative, freedom of enterprise and rational integration into the world economy. I take any attempts to throw us back to the time of the Cold War as ... a direct threat to our modernization. Putin added that Confrontation is not Russia’s choice. There will be no politically-motivated market closures or withdrawal of economic ties by Russia …. We are thinking about other things, first and foremost about how to kick-start new economic growth, he concluded.

Despite the aggressive statements coming out of the Kremlin, Russia may step back. Rustavi2 reported that an article in Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazetta says that President Medvedev plans to dismiss Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The article says that Lavrov has become the “live symbol” of confrontation between Russia and the West, and that Lavrov may assume the office of Vice Premier but will no longer act as the face of Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry however has denied the reports of Lavrov's possible dismissal.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said, I think Georgia is going to prove to be a Pyrrhic Victory for Russia over the long term. Defense Ministers from all 26 NATO states are gathering in London to discuss possible reforms to the alliance. Reaffirming his support for Georgia becoming a full member of the alliance despite Russian opposition, he asked, why should we prevent a nation which has these aspirations from helping them come true? Gordon Brown has already said that if Georgia and Ukraine want to join NATO, we should make it possible. Scheffer clearly stressed that each phase of NATO enlargement will be based on the promotion of democratic rule of law and the defense of human rights.