The World from Berlin 'In the Caucasus, It's About Oil'

The longer Russia continues pounding positions in Georgia, the greater President Mikhail Saakashvili's miscalculation seems. Moscow, many German commentators write on Monday, is using the conflict to teach Georgia -- and the West -- a lesson.

Georgian tanks heading for the South Ossetian front on Monday.

Georgian tanks heading for the South Ossetian front on Monday.

Hardly an hour has gone by in the last few days without some world leader or organization weighing in on the ongoing conflict in the Caucasus. US President George W. Bush said that Russia's use of force against Georgia was "disproportionate." US Vice President Dick Cheney warned Russia that further violence would severely harm Moscow's relationship with Washington. NATO has likewise blasted Russia and the European Commission has asked for an immediate cessation of hostilities. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a cease-fire and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is in the region to broker one.

So far, though, the results have been difficult to see. According to reports from Georgia, Russian planes spent much of the early morning hours bombing targets well inside Georgia proper while Russia has accused Georgia of shelling the Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway region of South Ossetia. On Monday afternoon, the Georgian Interior Ministry said that Russian troops had advanced 40 kilometers into the country.

But what should happen next? It is a question that has many in Europe scratching their heads. The current flare-up in violence began on Thursday night when Georgian troops advanced into South Ossetia, ostensibly to damp down violence in the region. But President Mikhail Saakashvili has made no secret of his desire to bring the province, which seeks independence, back into the Georgian fold. And Russia has been clear that it would defend South Ossetia -- and the neighboring renegade province of Abkhazia -- were it attacked.

Now that the two have called each others' bluffs, there are many in Europe who would like to see broader European Union efforts to establish peace in the region. German commentators take a look at the conflict on Monday.


The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was doubtless playing with fire … as a strong reaction from Moscow was predictable. Saakashvili, however, faces a dilemma since NATO's Bucharest summit. The alliance offered Georgia the prospect of membership, but some NATO states attached very problematic conditions: Tbilisi was told that the unresolved conflicts with separatists as well as Russia's opposition were hurdles."

"Saakashvili evidently concluded that he would have to tackle the problem head on. But Russia is showing that it intends to use the right of veto it was indirectly acceded before the Bucharest summit by, above all, France and by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. These signals to Moscow were a fatal error."

"It is high time for a broader peace plan with the participation of the EU, the US and Russia. The Georgians have long been asking for international mediation in the conflict. They should be taken at their word."

The business daily Handelsblatt seeks a more robust response:

"Those like Chancellor Angela Merkel who had reservations about accession to NATO should now rethink their position. One should not, though, ignore the serious mistake Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili made in sending the troops into South Ossetia. Given that many people died, it was actually a crime. But Russia's reaction should be condemned just as strongly. It is cynical …."

"Russian policy is taking a big risk the the West now really will integrate Georgia into NATO and, above all, the EU. But should Russian policy in Georgia succeed and Tbilisi not join NATO, then Ukraine is threatened with a similar fate …."

"Europe needs Georgia and Ukraine if it wants to remain independent of Russia's ever more monopolistic oil and gas deliveries. While the West blocks Iran and Armenia is pledged to Russia, there are no pipeline routes for the rich resources of the Caspian Sea other than via Georgia -- or via Russia. Oil once again plays an important role in this war."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung quotes George Kennan, the diplomat who helped formulate America's Soviet policy in the 1950s:

"'Russia can have at its borders only enemies or vassals.' The weekend of war in the Caucasus confirms this quote. But the question must be asked: What sort of Russia is it that, under Putin's puppet Dmitry Medvedev, uses it military might to occupy two renegade provinces just to teach the West a lesson?"

"There's a second lesson for President Saakashvili -- a man prone to self-aggrandizement. His country's ties to the West are not strong enough for the Caucasus war to lead to a wider dispute. The US will not allow itself to be dragged into the war…."

"But Medvedev and Putin, too have failed to get a message. NATO is not interested in seeing vassals or enemies on Russia's borders. NATO is an alliance of democratic countries. Those who join the alliance do so of their own free will primarily because they want more stability and to protect their countries from the kinds of dangers that Russia has been unable or unwilling to eliminate in the Caucasus."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung picks up on a phrase used the American military during the Iraq invasion:

"The goal for Russia's military machine went beyond gaining control of South Ossetian territory, beyond preserving or boosting Russia's 'image.' Above all, the goal is to spread 'shock and awe' in the neighborhood, but also in Brussels, Beijing and Washington. Regardless of whether Medvedev or Putin is in charge, Russia won't now and won't ever 'allow itself to be trifled with.'

"Western diplomats now 'working on a solution' may mutter among themselves that Georgia's President should have known that. He knew something else, too …. That time was working against Georgia, at least since the Albanian Kosovars succeeded in getting their independence recognized by major states, with other countries possibly trying to follow their lead."

Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"In the Caucasus, the West is defending the principle of the territorial integrity of an independent state and Russia, by contrast, the right of peoples to self-determination. In both cases, however, it is about old style power politics. In Kosovo, the ring of NATO states surrounding Serbia blocked the deployment of Russian troops on Serbia's side. But in the Caucasus, Russia has a military presence."

"Because Georgia is becoming the most important transit country for an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Turkey, routed only a few kilometers from South Ossetia's southern border, Moscow is flexing its military muscles. The attention America now pays to Georgia isn't due to the beauty of the landscape…. In the Caucasus, it's about oil, too. And that promises nothing good for the local population."


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