(CNSNews.com) – President Bush has hinted that Moscow’s invasion of Georgia may have consequences for Russia’s interaction with the international community, but a unified European position in support of that stand appears unlikely.
Europe has been split over ushering Georgia and Ukraine into NATO over Russian objections. Those divisions were clearly visible again when European Union (E.U.) foreign ministers held emergency talks in Brussels Wednesday.
Germany has led the opposition to beginning the NATO membership process for the two former Soviet states, and it was Germany again that again took a cautious line Wednesday on how the E.U. should react to the crisis in the Caucasus.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier advised against a lengthy debate about responsibility and blame, and against “strong statements and one-sided condemnations.”
In Berlin, government spokesman Thomas Steg told a press conference Chancellor Angela Merkel was “firmly convinced that this is not the time for looking into motives, for allocating blame, for denouncing anyone or for making final judgments.”
E.U. member-states formerly in the Soviet bloc pressed for a far tougher line, with Estonia’s foreign minister saying relations between the E.U. and Russia could not continue as though nothing had happened, and his Lithuanian counterpart declaring that there should be “consequences” for Russia.
But analysts say as long as Russia is Europe’s top energy supplier, resistance to antagonizing Moscow will remain strong.
The E.U. gets about one-third of its oil and 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia, which has in past years shown itself willing to threaten supplies for political ends
“As we’ve seen in the past, the Russians have put up prices, cut off supplies to Ukraine, and jeopardized supply to large parts of Western Europe that relies on Russian resources,” Brett Bowden, international relations specialist at the Australian National University in Canberra, said Thursday.
“There’s only so much threatening they can do,” he added. “As Europe comes out of summer and heads into winter, they’re going to be hesitant to go too far. Leverage is minimal.”
That has not prevented the ex-communist countries of eastern Europe from taking a strong stand against Russia.
Leaders of Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania – members of both the E.U. and NATO – on Tuesday joined Ukraine’s president on a visit of solidarity to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.
Russia sent forces across its southern border late last week after Georgia launched an offensive against separatists in South Ossetia, one of two Russian-backed breakaway enclaves inside Georgian territory. A ceasefire brokered by France, the current E.U. president, was signed on Tuesday but Russian forces have yet to withdraw.
Poland and the Baltic states in a declaration Wednesday urged NATO to begin the membership process for Georgia, saying this was the only way to prevent similar Russian aggression in the future.
A NATO summit in Romania last April postponed the decision on both Georgia and Ukraine, and their applications are due to be reviewed at a meeting in December.
‘Putting aspirations at risk’
Defying Moscow’s objections on their NATO membership is one option critics of Russia have put forward by as an appropriate Western response.
Other suggested reprisals include suspension of cooperation with Russia on the part of bodies like NATO (the NATO-Russia Council, established in 2002, is the main forum for advancing relations between the two), the E.U., the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; further delaying Russia’s World Trade Organization (WTO) accession; and – Sen. John McCain’s long-held position – expelling Russia from the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations.
Bush on Wednesday hinted that Russia may pay some price for its conduct.
He noted that Russia had – with U.S. support – in recent years “sought to integrate into the diplomatic, political, economic, and security structures of the 21st century.” Now, however, it was “putting its aspirations at risk by taking actions in Georgia that are inconsistent with the principles of those institutions.”
Russia’s seven G8 partners – the U.S., Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada – pointedly excluded Russia when foreign ministers held conference calls this week to discuss the Georgia situation.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband told BBC radio Wednesday this had sent a clear message to Moscow.
He said it was unprecedented, since Russia joined the then G7 in the 1990s, “for seven countries to come together without an eighth country ... I think that makes very clear to Russia that there are political consequences.”
Other visible responses include the decisions by both the U.S. and Britain to pull out of joint naval exercises with Russia, due to begin on Friday off the coast of Vladivostok. It was not immediately clear whether the remaining country involved in the four-way annual maneuvers, France, would follow suit. A Russian Navy spokesman earlier described the exercise as “a key event in international naval cooperation.”