Georgia and Russia can avoid war – if the West helps
War could mean more pressure on already sky-high oil prices.
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Second, Russia must recognize that its long-term interests are best served through peace in the eastern Black Sea region. Russia is not and will not be another USSR, but some of its current actions are reminiscent of that era.Skip to next paragraph
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Russia should recall its successful diplomacy of the early 1990s. In fact, at a meeting on June 6 in St. Petersburg, Russian President Medvedev and Georgian President Saakashvili said the two countries could resolve their differences. It was a promising step, but with no follow-through thus far.
Third, Georgia and Russia require outside help. As Sens. Joseph Biden and Richard Lugar recently stated, "Georgia cannot win this standoff alone." They called on Europe "to get off the fence," and the US to lead an intensive effort to internationalize the negotiations and the Russian peacekeeping missions in Abkhazia and a second separatist region, South Ossetia.
In order for that to happen, the US and Europe need to rebalance their priorities: Russia has taken advantage of US and European preoccupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Europe's slow rolling of Georgia's ambitions to join NATO and the EU.
The US and the European Union should recognize the risk of war and jointly commit more resources to work with Russia and Georgia to avert it. This requires energizing the Friends of Georgia group at the United Nations (France, Germany, Russia, Britain, and the US), and reaching out to Black Sea states such as Turkey and Ukraine.
The US and the EU should also offer substantial assistance for reconstruction in Abkhazia. Deeper US and NATO support for Georgia's security, including training, exercises, and equipment, and launching the NATO Membership Action Plan, will give Georgia more confidence to take political risks to help solve their issues with Abkhazia.
In March, President Saakashvili offered an encouraging framework for a solution – broad autonomy for Abkhazia in return for accepting Georgia's writ. According to a May 31 Le Monde press report, President Putin called it a "good plan."
To calm the storm that seems to be gathering dangerous momentum in the region, the US and Europe should give the Abkhazia issue new priority and work with Russia and Georgia to resolve this crisis.
Both US presidential candidates should endorse these efforts. The interests of regional peace and unimpeded energy flow demand no less.
Kenneth Yalowitz and William Courtney are both retired career diplomats and former US ambassadors to Georgia. Yalowitz is now the director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College.