West mulls few options in Georgia-Russia crisis
It gingerly considers how to set consequences for Russia and maintain cooperation.
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Mr. Cheney, known widely for his hawkish foreign-policy views, leaves Tuesday for stops in Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Georgia, which a reassertive Russia deems to be within its sphere of influence. Cheney's departure will be a day after the European Union takes up the Georgia-Russia crisis in an emergency summit.
The West is gingerly trying to decide how to calibrate consequences and maintain cooperation with Russia, which seems less prone to cooperation and more reactive to consequences. While the West might promise stronger commitments to countries in the former Soviet space, such pledges risk further complicating any Russian cooperation.
The West puts value on a Russia that is still needed in the fold of the international community – and is a source of energy.
How the West proceeds could affect the balance of power in a newly nervous Central Europe. It could also affect the course of international crises as varied as Iran's nuclear program and the Middle East conflict.
On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the 27-nation EU would consider imposing sanctions and other punitive measures on Russia at its snap summit Monday. The French government, which holds the body's rotating presidency, called the summit in the wake of the Russia–Georgia conflict.
In the weeks ahead, the US Congress is likely to look at options for boosting Georgia's defensive military capabilities. And some policymakers are pushing NATO to give up its post-cold-war preference for confidence-building measures with Russia and an aversion to potentially provocative steps involving the alliance's newest members and partners.
While some say the West's options are limited, others contend they are virtually nonexistent with a Russia bent on flexing its muscle and having Europe over a barrel – of oil, as it were.
"I just don't see that the West in general or the United States in particular has any cards left to engage Russia in some strategic game," says Igor Lukes, a professor specializing in contemporary Russian and Eastern European affairs at Boston University. "Cheney may have a well-deserved reputation for being hawkish, but the US is not going to confront Russia to maintain the territorial integrity of Georgia, and the Russians know it."
As for the prospects for sanctions from the EU, Mr. Lukes says the threats "ring hollow." Russia furnishes the EU with about half of its energy supplies – about 45 percent of Germany's energy supply alone, he notes. "The Europeans won't do anything to encourage a confrontation with Russia. They simply can't afford to do it," he says.