Moscow’s Georgian Diversion

In an apparent drive to assert the new, “independent” foreign policy outlined by foreign minister Lavrov on September 26, Moscow has finally decided to further exacerbate the tensions that already exist in its relations with Tbilisi, and to create a mini-crisis on its border with Georgia – mainly, it seems, as a sop to growing nationalist feeling within the Russian Federation, and in order to divert the West’s attention away from embarrassments connected with recently-disclosed facets of Russian energy policy. Using Tbilisi’s detention of four Russian military officers accused of espionage, the Russian authorities have now recalled their ambassador and are undertaking a partial evacuation of Russian service personnel in Georgia.

The Russian government is expending a great of aggressive rhetoric on this new campaign, accusing Georgia of being a “bandit state”, and talking of preparations for war.

Moscow’s principal aim in these hysterical outbursts is, it seems, to embarrass the United States into taking sides in the manufactured conflict. It’s also, no doubt, a routine “testing of the water”, in the wake of TH Ilves’s victory in the Estonian presidential election – the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are now led by presidents who were either born in the United States or were educated and brought up there. Since the Baltics are now firmly in the EU and NATO, a showdown with one or all of them would not be in Moscow’s best interests any more (Moscow even uses the old insulting phrase “near abroad” less frequently now in relation them) – so Georgia has been singled out as a “next best” option. The implications for European security are, however, just as serious.

The current standoff with Georgia shows how little, in fact, the foreign policy aims of Moscow have really changed in the 15 years since the Cold War is supposed to have ended, and how closely the sights of Russian political leaders are still trained on an eventual restoration of “old” borders. Some of this geopolitical thinking looks back rather a long way. As Paul Goble told an audience recently,

No Russian that I have ever met thinks the borders of the Russian Federation are the proper borders. A poll last spring found that 74 percent of high school graduates in the city of Moscow think the proper borders of the Russian Federation are those of the Russian Empire in 1914. Which means Poland, Finland, the Baltic countries, and part of Turkey, and there are several people in the Russian state Duma who want negotiations restarted about Alaska.

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