Despite promises to withdraw their troops, Russian forces are still manning checkpoints in undisputed Georgian territory and demanding advance notification of all travel through the central Georgian city of Gori. Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utishvili commented: “This is ridiculous. If they ask you to get a Russian visa if you want to travel from Washington to Baltimore, that’s what it looks like.” How did we get here?

For the first time since the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was created in 2002, President Vladimir Putin attended the April 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest. His primary reason to attend was to pressure European Union countries into denying Ukrainian and Georgian accession to a Membership Action Plan (MAP) to join NATO. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose predecessor Gerhard Schroder is now an employee of Russia’s state oil company Gazprom, led a Franco-German coalition to defer a decision on Georgia’s MAP status until December 2008. This effort not to provoke Russia was a reverse of a previously long held German position supporting an open-door policy for NATO.

After Russia’s invasion of Georgia, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, as the current president of the European Council, negotiated a six-point cease-fire agreement. However, the agreement had extremely vague terms. It also allowed Russia to keep an unspecified number of soldiers in sovereign Georgian territory for peacekeeping purposes in an undefined “buffer zone” outside of the disputed South Ossetia region. The agreement contained no enforcement mechanisms to ensure and end to Russian violence. Russia has since cited the terms of the agreement as justification for their own U.N. resolution that would allow their troops to stay in Georgia.

But there have been some positive signs from EU nations. Despite the fact that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has shown no interest in foreign affairs and has made no significant contribution to the crisis, Conservative Party leader David Cameron has been strong. He pulled his MPs out of their alliance with Putin-aligned parliamentarians in the Council of Europe and flew to Tblisi before the British foreign secretary. He has called for Russia to be expelled from the G-8 and suggested that the EU defer partnership agreements with Russia. Central and Eastern European powers have also been forceful in response. Poland and the Baltic nations issued an unequivocal Joint Presidential Declaration condemning Russia’s actions immediately after the outbreak of the crisis.

The EU still has some leverage if it can summon the will to use it. EU spokesman Martin Selmayr said, “We can’t send stormtroopers, but we have a trade and economic policy we can discuss. We are an economic force.” Heritage senior policy analyst Sally McNamara argues the West must take the following additional measures:

  • A new, international peacekeeping force must be created to preside over South Ossetia, probably under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
  • Russian troops must not be allowed on sovereign Georgian territory.
  • The West must collectively offer resources and aid to Georgia as it rebuilds its damaged infrastructure.

Michal Totten reports from Georgia that refugees fleeing to Tblisis from Russian occupied Gori are being asked by Russian troops: “Are you going to the American side?” Totten then asked one victim:

“So the Russians view you as the American side, even though there are no Americans here.”
“Yes,” she said. “Because our way is for democracy.”

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