Read the first five paragraphs of the NATO statement on the Russian invasion of Georgia and you will find not a hint of who invaded whom. The statement is almost comically evenhanded. “We deplore all loss of life,” it declared, as if deploring a bus accident. And, it “expressed its grave concern over the situation in Georgia.” Situation, mind you.
It’s not until paragraph six that NATO, a 26-nation alliance with 900 million people and nearly half of world GDP, unsheathes its mighty sword, boldly declaring “Russian military action” — not aggression, not invasion, not even incursion, but “action” — to be “inconsistent with its peacekeeping role.”
Having launched a fearsome tautology Moscow’s way, what further action does the Greatest Alliance Of All Time take? Cancels the next NATO-Russia Council meeting.
That’s it. No dissolution of the G-8. No blocking of Russian entry to the World Trade Organization. No suspension of participation in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics (15 miles from the Georgian border). No statement of support for the Saakashvili government.
Remember: At issue is not military action, only measures — painless for the West — that would significantly affect Russia. In Soviet days, Russia didn’t care because it was at the center of a self-enclosed autarkic system that included 15 Soviet republics, all of Eastern Europe and a collection of overseas colonies. With these all gone, post-Soviet Russia is infinitely more dependent on the international system. It has political/economic pressure points. Yet with Georgia occupied, its infrastructure stripped and its capital under siege, NATO pushed not one of them.
Russian TV is already trumpeting “a crack in the NATO camp.” More like a chasm. Writing in the Times of London, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband even opposes expelling Russia from the G-8 — a perfectly calibrated and long-overdue measure. And a German diplomat says the Georgia issue should not have been brought to NATO in the first place, but instead to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a completely toothless consultative body, and to the United Nations, where inaction is guaranteed by the Russian veto.
To their credit, the French tried to do something. Unfortunately, President Nicolas Sarkozy was snookered by Moscow. Article V of the cease-fire agreement he brokered, allowing Russia the right to “implement additional security measures” within the borders of Georgia, is a blank check for Russian occupation.
So much for Old Europe. New Europe, with fresher memories of Russian oppression, was not so supine. The presidents of the Baltic republics (plus Ukraine and Poland) flew to Tbilisi to express solidarity with the Saakashvili government. Ukraine threatened the Russian fleet with loss of its Crimean base, and even offered to turn two ex-Soviet radar stations over to the West. And Poland dropped its dithering over details of a missile defense battery, agreeing almost overnight to American terms.