The World from Berlin: 'NATO Is a Paper Tiger'
A blocked UN resolution, a limited statement by NATO -- the international community has not yet found its voice when it comes to Russia, German commentators write on Wednesday. Moscow, though, may still have a high price to pay.
Some Russian troops left Georgia on Wednesday. But these ones, near the Georgian town of Gori, looked to be going nowhere on Tuesday.
On Tuesday night in New York, Moscow blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution proposed by France that would have called for an immediate Russian withdrawal from Georgia. The resolution was seen as necessary by the West because Russia, since signing a cease-fire agreement last week committing itself to removing troops from Georgia, has done little.
"It has been several days since the agreement was signed and we don't see any signs of significant Russian withdrawal," said America's deputy ambassador to the UN, Alejandro Wolff. "That is the point of this resolution."
But the draft document, which ultimately was never put to a council vote, also made reference to the "territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders," an idea that Russia refuses to accept. Such wording would mean that South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both breakaway Georgian provinces backed by Moscow, would remain part of Georgia. Indeed, the recent conflict started on the night of August 7 when the Georgian military marched into South Ossetia in an effort to regain control of the province. The Russian response was massive, sending troops far into Georgia and launching numerous bombing raids on Georgian towns and villages.
The face-off in New York comes a day after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced it was planning to send an additional 100 military observers to Georgia to monitor the cease-fire. Both Russia and Georgia have agreed to the mission which will see 20 monitors sent immediately to areas "adjacent to South Ossetia" with a further 70 to 80 set to follow once the details of the mission are worked out.
It remains unclear, however, when OSCE monitors might be allowed back in to South Ossetia. Prior to the outbreak of violence, eight such monitors had been stationed in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. They were evacuated and Russia has not yet allowed them to return to their posts.
According to news reports on Wednesday, Russia may now be moving some troops out of Georgia. A journalist with Reuters reports seeing a column of Russian vehicles crossing the South Ossetian border heading north into Russia. But Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that not all conditions have been fulfilled for a Russian withdrawal. He said that "two things are necessary. One is the pullback of Georgian forces to their barracks…. We have not seen that happen yet … and secondly we need to be assured that our peacekeepers are not going to be attacked again."
His comments came not long after NATO announced it was freezing relations with Russia until the withdrawal of Russian soldiers from Georgia had been completed, as set forth by last-week's cease-fire agreement. NATO stopped short of abolishing the NATO-Russia Council, but did take steps to deepen the alliance's ties with Georgia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blasted NATO on Tuesday for supporting Georgia and said the alliance was "trying to make a victim out of an aggressor and whitewash a criminal regime, save a collapsing regime and is taking the path to the rearmament of the current leaders in Georgia." Russia's military staff reiterated the criticism on Wednesday saying that NATO's support of Georgia would encourage Tbilisi to strike again. "This is the key factor provoking attempts for yet another Blitzkrieg," deputy chief of the Russian General Staff Anatoly Nogovitsyn said at a press conference.
German papers on Wednesday take a look at NATO's response to the Russian-Georgian war.
Under the headline "NATO Is at a Loss," conservative daily Die Welt writes:
Tuesday's statement from NATO "is the absolute minimum that could be expected in reaction to Russia's cynical disregard of Georgian sovereignty. Moscow cannot have been overawed. It confirms the impression of Putin and Co. that NATO is a paper tiger at the moment, at odds with itself and unassertive."
"NATO's insistence that it still intends to welcome Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance remains little more than lip service as long as neither is offered a concrete timeline within the framework of a Membership Action Plan. This waffling will encourage Moscow to make life for wannabe NATO members difficult."
"It is still possible to return to a constructive relationship with Russia. But that can only happen from a position of Western confidence and unity -- and only if one takes Moscow's new hostility seriously and only if one bids farewell to the myth of Russia as a 'strategic partner.'"
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"The result of the NATO summit -- rather thin for a meeting on the foreign minister level -- shows one thing above all else: NATO is only now beginning to once again think about Russia. New members like Poland or the Baltic States may have been pointing out for a long time that Russia is once again following its old imperialist reflexes. But in the West, few have taken such warnings seriously. The issue of Russia seemed to have been set aside following the collapse of the Soviet Union."
"NATO must now figure out where the red line is when it comes to Moscow and how it can prevent that line from being crossed…. The alliance must also make a fundamental decision: Is the West prepared to accept a world that is once again divided into zones of influence dominated by the big and powerful? Or does one want to try and defend the new order which developed while Russia was weak -- one which gave smaller countries space to decide on their own futures?"
Germany's other financial daily Handelsblatt writes:
"The realization has come slowly -- but surely: The political partnership with Russia was an illusion. In reality, the country under the double leadership of (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin and (President Dmitry) Medvedev is a difficult comrade. Day after day, Moscow refuses to withdraw its troops from Georgia as promised. The Russian military isn't just destroying Georgia's infrastructure, but is also destroying Russia's image in the rest of the world."
"In the beginning, the Kremlin spin doctors managed to push through their interpretation that Georgia was the aggressor and that Russia was merely protecting its own citizens. But in the meantime it has become apparent that Putin had planned this war long before, prepared for it, and lured Georgia into a trap. South Ossetia and Abkhazia have already been swallowed up and Tbilisi has been humiliated. Now, Moscow is destroying Georgia's economy -- with little regard for the EU peace plan and the warnings from the West."
"Europeans and Americans are watching seemingly powerlessly -- but they are not without tools of their own. The suspension of the NATO-Russia Council is the first step, to be followed by a close look at Russia's WTO entry and its membership in the G-8. Putin and his comrades feel strong -- but Russia will be paying for this war for a long time to come."
-- Charles Hawley; 2:15 p.m. CET
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