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The EU And The Georgian Crisis

This post is a summary of Eurocomment’s Briefing Note vol. 6.3

The Georgian crisis has a long way still to run. Enough has already happened however to confirm it is one of the most serious threats to European security since the end of the Milosevic wars. It is also, like the Yugoslav crisis, a major test of the European Union which, in the absence of any other credible power broker, has been obliged to take the lead in trying to resolve the crisis. Despite uncomfortable echoes of 1991, when another Bush administration let it be known that the European Community, as it then was, should take primary responsibility in the Western Balkans, the EU’s response has so far been both firm and constructive. This paper explains how and why.

It begins with an account of the EU’s initial response to the crisis, which broke when President Saakashvili ordered Georgian troops into South Ossetia on 7 August, and Russia reacted by invading Georgia. With the United Nations Security Council paralysed by Russian-US discord and the United States unwilling (and unable) to intervene on Georgia’s behalf, the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and the EU were left to clear up the mess. This Nicolas Sarkozy did by persuading both parties to accept a six-point ceasefire agreement. The agreement, which is quoted in full on page 4, is far from perfect, but the fact that both Russia and Georgia agreed to it means that it has become the basic point of reference throughout the crisis so far.

EU foreign ministers endorsed the French Presidency’s action at a special meeting on 13 August and authorised both the Commission and the high representative to examine ways in which the EU could help to underpin the agreement financially and politically. Despite this show of unity, there were significant differences between the member states. The hawks, including the UK, Sweden and the EU’s ten Central and Eastern European members, favoured a robust response, including sanctions, while the doves, led by Germany and France, insisted on the need to maintain a dialogue with Russia. To some observers this looked like a re-run of 2003, when the EU had been disastrously split on the eve of the Iraq war. This situation is however very different: the United States has provided Georgia with humanitarian relief and military equipment to replace what was destroyed in the war, but has left it to the EU to handle the situation diplomatically, the hawks are fewer and weaker, and the doves are both more numerous, more coherent and better connected with Washington than was the case five years ago.

The divisions within the EU were nevertheless real and threatened its credibility. Nicolas Sarkozy therefore decided to convene an extraordinary meeting of the European Council on 1 September. Not everybody approved of this decision, but Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, accompanied as it was by a series of statements by Russian leaders about Russia’s rights within its sphere of influence, dispelled any remaining doubts about its relevance.

To read more of this briefing, please click on this link.

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