As John McCain formally accepts his nomination for president, Russian coverage of the event and the campaign in general has been distanced and sometimes condescending. Instead, the Russian media has mainly been focused on the events in Georgia.
Putin may have succeeded Boris Yeltsin, but he decided to adopt the leadership style of Yury Andropov. This style is reflected in Russia’s current dealings with Georgia, which represent a major foreign policy shift for the country. However, these actions will prove to be harmful for Russia and will reignite its own current ethnic separatist movements.
Although U.S.-Russia relations have deteriorated, options for cooperation still exist. Particularly in the area of nuclear nonproliferation, collaboration is essential and may be the best way to ameliorate relations. Russia, the U.S., and Europe should start with negotiating the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), which will provide a starting point for brokering a new consensus.
Unlike what has recently been alleged, the world is not experiencing a new Cold War. Today’s chill in U.S.-Russia relations rests on Russia’s belief that what is good for the West is inherently bad for Russia. Jumping headlong into a confrontation would be a bad idea though for the West. Instead, Western leaders should show that we can gain more from partnership.
The Russia-Georgia conflict is a watershed for a new era in geopolitics. As America scrambles to react to the crisis, Russia will continue to challenge Western influence in the former Soviet space. In turn, both will turn to Europe, and Europe’s ability to defend its own interests will be the most severe test yet for the Union. All the while, China, Iran and others watch with keen interest.
The search for a way for all parties in the Russia-Georgia conflict to sit down at the negotiating table is gradually beginning. There is real promise that an EU forum can establish an acceptable format and most likely, Russia is ready to make some concessions. Nevertheless, excessive pressure on Moscow will only strengthen its internal conservative forces and thus exacerbate its hard line stance.
Although in the short term the basis for a ceasefire has formed between Russia and Georgia, the conflict has entirely transformed the region. Russian peacekeepers can now no longer operate alone in the separatist regions. In addition, South Ossetia and Abkhazia cannot revert back to Georgia. Finally, the already deteriorating Russia-U.S. relationship will now face a new set of challenges.
A united Europe could play the pivotal peacemaker in the Russia-Georgia conflict, strengthening cooperation in the continent’s east. However, both unity and independent action on Europe’s part are unlikely. Therefore, the Russia policy of the next U.S. president will be essential for ensuring stability in the region.