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NATO's 'Caucasus Council'

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political observer Andrei Fedyashin) - The emergency NATO Council session held in Brussels on August 19 at America's request to give Russia its "comeuppance" did not go smoothly. It took the ministers several hours to hammer out the final communique.

In the end it turned out to be utterly predictable: the bloc's 26 members decided that they would, after all, live with Russia, but they should talk to it in a tactful, but tough way. They heard the Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili (who, addressing the bloc's headquarters, pressed for all thinkable punishments, including Russia's expulsion from many international organizations), but refused to give a hearing to our Ambassador, Dmitry Rogozin.

The latter had sought a meeting with NATO ministers and ambassadors every day since August 8 to explain the Russian position and actions. Rogozin threatened to spoil the party so much that he was barred from the meeting and was not even allowed to hold a press conference on the heels of the emergency meeting. Still, NATO officials have never tried to conceal the fact that their task was to protect the interests of the bloc and its members rather than to provide information and political objectivity.

Speaking of the outcome of the meeting, Russia knew all along what NATO's political response would be.

At U.S. insistence, the bloc agreed to form a NATO-Georgia Commission (similar to the one it already has with Ukraine) to coordinate the strengthening of military ties with Tbilisi, and confirmed it was ready to admit Georgia to NATO at an unspecified future date. But NATO failed to back George Bush and curtail military cooperation and high-level meetings with Russia.

The U.S. was counting on much more. U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, upon arrival in Brussels confirmed Greater Europe's fears that the Americans had fallen prey to another bout of "diplomatic frenzy" which happens each time after major setbacks. Europe is not happy when America behaves like this because it is prone to get carried away and opens all the cards. The Old World prefers the slowly-slowly, softly-softly approach. Rice, however, declared that NATO would not allow Moscow to win a "strategic victory". "We have to deny Russian strategic objectives, which are clearly to undermine Georgia's democracy... We are not going to allow Russia to draw a new line at those states that are not yet integrated into the Transatlantic structures."

If one strips away the usual "democratic litany" what Condie said was that the U.S. and NATO must not allow Russia to prevent a new enlargement of the bloc by taking in Ukraine and Georgia. This is Washington's long-term strategic objective: to close the NATO ring in the region where Russia is most vulnerable.

"Russia's strategic victory" was meant to come as a horrible revelation to European ears. True, Russia has never concealed that not allowing Georgia and Ukraine, especially under their present regimes, to join NATO was its "strategic objective." The Europeans do not mind admitting them, but not all of them are quite sure that it is necessary and worthwhile to quarrel with and break relations with Moscow over Yushchenko's Ukraine and Saakashvili's Georgia. What is the point? NATO has moved up to Russia's borders already.

The European ministers in Brussels were faced with a classic conundrum: "punish or pardon." Some NATO members formed "interest groups" even before the meeting on this issue. For example, Old Europe (Germany, France and Italy) was loath to continue rocking the "Transatlantic foundations." But it was being pressed to go further than it wanted.

The Europeans had, in fact, wondered for some time whether Bush would depart calmly or try to make his mark in history by springing yet another surprise. Much to Greater Europe's chagrin, "friend George" is not someone who goes quietly. He had to bring Saakashvili's Georgia into NATO through the slaughter of civilians in Tskhinvali. Now that it has turned into an indisputable disaster for Saakashvili, Washington is trying to bring pressure to bear on NATO allies and prevail over the Kremlin which refused to have another puppet government controlled by NATO, or rather Washington, on its doorstep. Washington is genuinely surprised as to why Moscow disagrees with such an elementary thing...

NATO's political response, as expected, boiled down to mere symbolism because NATO's European old-timers were not ready to curtail links with Russia. Against this background, one finds some of NATO's actions perplexing. According to our General Staff information unveiled during the meeting, U.S., Polish and Canadian naval ships would enter the Black Sea by the end of August. An encounter between Russian and NATO ships in times of crisis is not conducive to an early settlement of the "Caucasus conflict."

However, despite some disagreements between the Europeans and Washington, no one should have the slightest doubt that America, be it the America of George Bush or Barak Obama, will cease to be the Old World's main ally. Illusions about a Transatlantic rift are no more than illusions. Russia should not kid itself about "Europe's growing dependence" on its gas, oil, timber and other commodities. That will never be a prize "for good behavior".

There is nothing wrong with somebody in Europe, the European Union, NATO, the UN, the OSCE and so on giving Moscow bad marks for behavior. Instead of feeling outrage, we should long have done the same. We can even give marks on the European scale, although clearly, we have not yet adapted it to our way of thinking.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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