Russia-West crisis enters 'breathing period'
Contradictory messages are rampant as the EU and US reconsider security pledges to Georgia while new players such as Iran and Turkey enter the game.
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"The US will continue to support Georgia, but with everything else going on, we can't afford to be reaching," says a senior US official.Skip to next paragraph
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At the EU helm, France is preparing for a key meeting on the crisis in Geneva next month. Issues over how to seat the leaders of Abhkazia and South Ossetia will be tackled there. At the same time, France and Russia on Sept. 20 in Sochi agreed to deals in natural gas, nuclear energy, civilian rocket launchers, and grocery stores.
Moreover, monitors from the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are preparing to deploy in Georgia. But in Vienna last week, the size of the OSCE group and its access to buffer zones, Abhkazia, and South Ossetia remained contested.
European officials are also beginning to suggest that while the EU has taken the lead, it cannot offer security support. "We can limit the damage, but we can't concentrate on solving the main problem of Georgia and Russia," says Thomas Gomart of the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. "A lot of us feel Afghanistan and now Pakistan are more serious problems."
NATO-Georgia ambivalence is also evident. Some 24 NATO ministers visited Georgia last week in a show of support. But Georgia's desire for a NATO membership plan this December seems unlikely in the interval when the new US president takes office. One senior German official, when asked if Georgia would become part of NATO, simply said, "No."
Tehran has hinted that it could be a delivery host for energy if pipelines were rerouted farther south, a suggestion Russia would not appreciate. And Istanbul is seeking a greater role as a mediator within the Caucasus.
A US official with extensive Moscow experience suggests that it is time for a renewal of private dialogue with Moscow that gives everyone time to "walk out of this." He adds: "I don't think we are going to see Russia take dramatic new steps anytime soon. They were feeling a lack of respect and they made their point."