Russia's gains in Georgia may leave it more isolated
In the coming weeks, the West will be shaping a long-term response to what many see as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's bid to change the post-cold-war world.
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Capital flight from Moscow between Aug. 8 and Aug. 15 – estimated as high as $17 billion – may have caught the Kremlin by surprise, created worry among new millionaires in Russia, and given Mr. Putin pause. "To investors the message is clear," says Pierre Briancon of French daily Le Monde. "Russia has become a major risk."Skip to next paragraph
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But for Moscow, isolation is the most unwanted outcome. "We know that isolation is significant because the Russians have complained about it for over a decade," says Charles Kupchan of the New York-based Council of Foreign Relations. "The West has treated Russia like an object and not a player. Russia has sought to be at the table. So now the West faces a catch-22: We can threaten Russia's exclusion from the international community, but that threat is one of the main causes of Russia's anger."
Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Moscow-based journal Russia in Global Affairs, affirms that the Georgia conflict has isolated Russia. "The big minus is something we previously suspected, but now know for sure: that Russia is completely alone. The notion of 'strategic solitude' has been discussed in our academic journals for some time, but now it's clear that Russia finds itself without any sympathy in the world."
As seen generally in Western capitals, the Georgian crisis illustrates the problem: Moscow used disproportionate force to seize both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, treated the cease-fire in a cavalier fashion, yet wants acceptance by the international community and argues it is being victimized when it doesn't achieve that acceptance. Russia wants to be great, and will sacrifice for this status. But in the current globalized world, it must work with others. Russia can't be "great" in the 19th century sense, in the 21st century. Today, as in the rising China example, big powers must work with others, despite flaws. Russia has yet to find this path.
"Russia is unable to be attractive for others. This is their basic problem," says Thomas Gomart of the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. "Their only supporters on Georgia are Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Syria. They want to be compared to the US and feel they should be. But they are unable to set up an alliance process; no one wants to go with them. They have to play a great game, but have to be alone."
For now, Russia holds all the cards in Georgia. The Kremlin is reveling in its skillful handling of operations; national pride is high. Moscow essentially brushed aside phone calls on Aug. 25 by Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France and the EU, about where its troops can be positioned inside sovereign Georgia according to an EU-brokered cease-fire.
"We are watching them say one thing and do another. And the more they create confusion, the more unpopular they are" in the West, says Mr. Gomart. "But Russia right now doesn't care."