The Russia–Georgia War: Causes and Consequences
Nicolai N. Petro
Abkhazia, Georgia, and the Crisis of August 2008: Roots and Lessons
East or West? Ukraine’s Quandary
Courting the Bear: A New Era for Russian–Western Relations
A ‘Reset’ for Relations?: Understanding Russian Grievances
Robert D. English
Blaming Moscow: The Power of the Anti-Russia Lobby
Andrei P. Tsygankov
NATO: The End of the Permanent Alliance
Western Values as Power Politics: The Struggle for Mastery in Eurasia
Russia’s Demographic Crisis: The Threat to ‘Sovereign Democracy’
Graeme P. Herd and Grace Allen
Pakistan: Anatomy of a Crisis
Imperial Footprint: America’s Foreign Military Bases
Holy and Contested City
Volume 11 ● Winter/Spring 2009—After Georgia
Western Values as Power Politics: The Struggle for Mastery in Eurasia
The aftermath of the August 2008 Georgia–Russia war saw a wave of Western media speculation about the possible onset of a “new Cold War” between Russia and the West. Militarily, Russian armed forces had overwhelmed their United States–trained Georgian opponents in a textbook integrated campaign that rolled back Georgian advances in South Ossetia and swept through large parts of Georgia itself with devastating ease. Yet, the more important victory achieved by Moscow was political and psychological. In Russia, the Georgia war was widely viewed as a proxy war against the West, one that both sides had been inevitably building towards for a few years. The overwhelming level of support among the Russian public, even among the intelligentsia, for Russian military action in Georgian territory was fuelled by the popular perception that Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, had operated for too long as an aggressive US puppet, fully supported by the Bush administration in Washington. Former Soviet republics such as Ukraine, Moldova and Azerbaijan watched with alarm as Moscow directly intervened militarily in the sovereign territory of a neighbouring country under the pretext of supporting the rights of Russian citizens abroad.
Although the Georgian military was routed and Russian troops severed all access from the south to South Ossetia and to Georgia’s other breakaway republic, Abkhazia, Saakashvili remained publicly defiant and continued to associate himself proudly with the West. On 8 September 2008, during a visit to Tbilisi designed to show US support for Georgia in the wake of the conflict, Vice-President Dick Cheney proclaimed, “our common values are what truly unite and bind our two peoples.” This “common values” theme has been emphasised by US and Georgian leaders for some time and alludes to the alleged solidarity of two democratic, Western-oriented countries. But the phrase itself has acquired a very particular meaning in Eurasia over the last few years, referring not only to Georgia’s self-styled and much-touted image as a democracy, but to the country’s newly acquired status as a privileged political friend and ally of the United States. Given the waning democratic credentials of the Georgian government in recent years, the “common values” meme now connotes, first and foremost, a geopolitical statement about Tbilisi’s foreign-policy orientation towards Washington.
Moscow has long contended that the Western emphasis on spreading “democratic values” in Eurasia is riddled with hypocritical stances and the promotion of double standards. The Kremlin has accused the West of seeking, under the guise of promoting democracy, to undercut Russia’s standing across Eurasia and project its direct influence right up to, and even within, Russia’s borders. Thus, the roots of the Georgia war, and an understanding of its political aftermath, lie well beyond the disputed enclave of South Ossetia that was attacked by Georgian forces on 7 August 2008. Rather, the Georgian conflict is nested within a set of broader international and regional dynamics in which the West and Moscow have been competing for influence for quite some time, using a range of different mechanisms, actors and international organisations as proxies. Throughout the 1990s, with the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union to include a number of former communist states, the transatlantic model of continuing Western integration and political liberalisation had appeared unstoppable as the boundaries of the Euro-Atlantic community pushed further eastward. However, the August 2008 war signals that a resurgent Moscow is now willing and able aggressively to check Western influence in Eurasia along all dimensions.
From this perspective, the greatest political reverse of the war was suffered not by Georgia, through the final secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and Moscow’s cynical recognition of their supposed political independence, for these territories had in effect been lost to Georgia since 1994; rather, the transatlantic community itself sustained the worst damage. The Georgia war revealed the short-sightedness of Washington’s Eurasia policy and exposed severe cracks within the transatlantic alliance over how to deal with a resurgent Russia. Even the lead-up to the war had undermined, perhaps irreparably, the credibility of NATO’s accession process as well as the organisation’s self-definition as a liberal democratic security institution with well-defined membership criteria. Lastly, the war also exposed how, for political reasons, US officials had abandoned democracy-building in Georgia in favour of forging a clientelistic relationship with a Tbilisi government that, in turn, skilfully used its democratic image to shape the foreign-policy preferences of its US patron.
In the rest of this essay I explore just how the West’s values agenda came to be undermined and then reframed as a geopolitical effort to compete for influence with Russia in Eurasia. Russia’s resurgence and active pushback against NATO expansion and the Western-inspired coloured revolutions played an important role in this process, but many of the West’s wounds were self-inflicted. In the case of Georgia, Washington could not distance itself from a regime that publicly flaunted its close ties and “shared common values” with the United States, despite observing a number of undemocratic actions by Tbilisi and its escalating nationalist ambitions prior to August 2008. And despite the relative popularity overseas of the new administration of President Barack Obama, there are few indications that the United States or the wider transatlantic community will be able to recapture the type of transformative power that they projected across Eurasia for much of the initial post–Cold War era.
Russia’s Sense of Betrayal
The Georgia war has to be placed within the broader context of Russian–Western relations since the early 1990s, particularly as they are now popularly understood in Russia. The United States is viewed as having squandered a golden opportunity to pursue true partnership after the Soviet collapse, electing instead to impose its dictates and self-serving policies while Russia was politically and economically weak. Western economic advisers and institutions insisted on passing a set of neo-liberal policies that transferred great chunks of Russian state wealth to connected insiders, creating dozens of billionaires in the midst of general economic hardship. Russia borrowed heavily from Western-controlled global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund to finance its transition from communism and accepted their conditions. Western non-governmental organisations (NGOs), committed to promoting their version of human rights, civil society and democratisation, established a presence throughout the country and openly criticised Russian political developments.
At the same time, the West set about absorbing many of Russia’s old east European satellites into NATO and the European Union, ignoring any objections from Moscow about its security concerns. NATO even bombed Serbia, Russia’s traditional ally, without United Nations sanction.
The weak regime of Boris Yeltsin was allegedly complicit in these policies and was propped up by the West. Whether the West could have more effectively aided Russia with its reform process is a matter of debate; however, the narrative that the West exploited Russia throughout the 1990s while ignoring Moscow’s interests was a powerful legitimating pillar of President Vladimir Putin’s foreign-policy agenda.
Just after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, there seemed to be a window of opportunity for invigorated US–Russian co-operation, especially on security matters. President Putin expressed his support for the US-led war on terrorism and agreed to allow, albeit with some reservations, the United States to establish military bases in the former Soviet Central Asian states to aid the American military effort in Afghanistan. Moscow even reached an agreement with Washington that allowed US special forces into Georgia in 2002 to train Georgian counterparts to fight Chechen militants who had massed in the country’s lawless Pankisi Gorge. In return, Washington refrained from criticising Russia’s renewed military campaign in Chechnya.
Soon after, however, US–Russian co-operation began to unravel and relations became increasingly acrimonious. In 2002, the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and pushed forward with plans for a missile defence system in east–central Europe. Moscow publicly sided with France and Germany in opposing the US authorisation for the use of force in Iraq in 2003, while new US national-security doctrines (including National Security Strategy 2002) that called for global force projection against terrorist and non-state threats set alarm bells ringing among Russian defence planners. As the United States became all-consumed with pursuing the global war on terror and the Iraq War, Russia was ignored or considered a minor priority.
At the same time, improving economic conditions in Russia and its growing state capacity, enabled by rising oil prices, empowered Moscow to reassert control over strategic domestic sectors and wield energy as a main lever of its foreign policy across Eurasia and Europe. Russia’s steady resurgence put it at odds with Washington’s self-proclaimed unilateralism. The further expansion of NATO to include the Baltic states and Black Sea countries (and the accompanying stationing of US military bases in Romania and Bulgaria), and the West’s seeming reluctance to accept anything short of independence for Kosovo in spite of sustained Russian objections, all contributed to the widespread belief that Washington was content simply to ignore Moscow’s opinions and interests. As former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev commented in a widely cited New York Times opinion piece just after the Georgia war,
Russia has long been told to simply accept the facts. Here’s the independence of Kosovo for you. Here’s the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, and the American decision to place missile defenses in neighboring countries. Here’s the unending expansion of NATO. All of these moves have been set against the backdrop of sweet talk about partnership. Why would anyone put up with such a charade?1
But the red line for Moscow was the so-called “coloured revolutions” across Eurasia under which old-guard regimes sympathetic to Russia were swept out of power after contested national elections and replaced by pro-Western political opponents. For Washington, the regime changes in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004 seemed to validate the Bush administration’s commitment to the aggressive promotion of democratisation overseas. At a time when the insurgency had undermined US goals in Iraq, the coloured revolutions seemed otherwise to validate the White House’s “freedom agenda”. As a result, US officials, embassies and USAID missions were quick to accept credit for shaping events in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, even if their role had actually been minimal. From Moscow’s perspective, these events signalled a clear Western intent to meddle in Russia’s back yard and expand transatlantic influence under the pretence of supporting democracy. The promotion of “Western values” seemed to carry a clear geopolitical aim of undermining Russia’s political influence in its own neighbours, and perhaps even within Russia itself.
Georgia’s NATO Longing
In Georgia, the new regime of the youthful and charismatic Mikheil Saakashvili did little to quell Moscow’s fears about Western designs on Eurasia. Accompanied by a circle of young, Western-educated reformers who spoke near-perfect English, Saakashvili immediately oriented his country towards the West and lauded the common values of Georgia and the United States. With impressive speed, he introduced a number of liberalising economic reforms, built up the institutional capacity of the Georgian state and waged a public campaign against corruption and criminality. At the same time, empowered by some initial successes in re-establishing state control over warlord-led regions such as Ajaria, the new Georgian president escalated the nationalist rhetoric regarding the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and called for their reunification with Georgia on Tbilisi’s terms.
For Tbilisi, the way to solidify its sharp turn westward was to gain admission, as quickly as possible, into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Georgia upgraded its relationship with the European Union and in 2006 signed a “European Neighbourhood Policy” agreement, insisting that it could speed up the programme’s five-year duration and implement all of the projects proposed by Brussels within three years. But it was the prize of NATO admission that Saakashvili wanted above all. In 2004, the Georgian military began to work with its counterparts in the NATO-led “International Security Assistance Force” in Afghanistan, while Tbilisi vigorously maintained its commitment to supply troops in support of the US military effort in Iraq (at a time when many other coalition partners were withdrawing). In late 2004, Georgia entered into a NATO “Individual Partnership Action Plan”, and in 2006 the Georgian parliament unanimously voted to back the pursuit of NATO membership.
Georgia’s bid for NATO membership was enthusiastically endorsed by Washington, but for the larger European NATO countries such as Germany, France and Italy it raised a host of thorny questions. Although NATO had expanded eastward several times before, Moscow viewed Georgia as a sphere of intense national-security interest. Georgian membership in NATO would not only antagonise Russia, but could also potentially entangle the alliance in Georgia’s unresolved internal conflicts through Article 5 commitments for mutual defence. Moreover, even countries generally sympathetic to Georgia’s entry bid—especially the newer NATO members such as the Baltic states, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic—observed real shortcomings in the quality of Georgia’s democratic governance, the authenticity of which, under NATO membership criteria, was a prerequisite for accession negotiations.
Blunder in Bucharest
After being re-elected president in January 2008, Saakashvili launched a final all-out push to secure a NATO “Membership Action Plan” (MAP) for Georgia at the alliance’s summit in Bucharest in April 2008. But the Bucharest meeting turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for both Georgia and NATO. Publicly deadlocked with Germany, France and Italy in the run-up to the meeting over extending MAP invitations to Georgia and Ukraine, US officials desperately sought some sort of additional face-saving commitment to give to Tbilisi. The result was an ill-crafted addition to the NATO declaration, inserted at the last minute at the insistence of the US delegation, which imprudently emphasised the inevitability of Georgian and Ukrainian membership:
NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO. Both nations have made valuable contributions to Alliance operations. We welcome the democratic reforms in Ukraine and Georgia and look forward to free and fair parliamentary elections in Georgia in May. MAP is the next step for Ukraine and Georgia on their direct way to membership. Today we make clear that we support these countries’ applications for MAP. Therefore we will now begin a period of intensive engagement with both at a high political level to address the questions still outstanding pertaining to their MAP applications.2
In one short paragraph, the conditionality process and credibility that NATO had established over the previous fifteen years were thrown out in favour of a statement of pure political support for Tbilisi and Kiev. Although it is all too easy to dismiss NATO conditionality as insignificant, NATO officials had gone some way in earlier rounds of expansion towards establishing the credibility of the membership process. Much like the EU accession requirements, NATO conditionality was an important instrument for promoting reforms in Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania on matters such as asserting democratic civilian control over the military, downsizing bloated communist-era force structures, increasing transparency in the defence budget, and restructuring ailing national defence industries. But the Bucharest declaration turned the established NATO negotiating process on its head: Georgia and Ukraine were promised inevitable membership with no prerequisites or specification of future conditions to be met. In fact, the Bucharest declaration seemed to validate Moscow’s pronouncements about the geopolitical aspirations behind NATO expansion and undermined the alliance’s own self-styled image as a liberal, democratic, security community.
Immediately following Bucharest, Moscow adopted a number of provocative policies in Georgia’s breakaway territories that signalled it was willing to raise the stakes and prepare for ensuing conflict. Prime Minster Putin formally repealed Russia’s participation in the Commonwealth of Independent States’ economic embargo on the territories, originally imposed in 1996, and officially established direct links with the de facto governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In May, Moscow sent hundreds of additional troops to repair the railway line from Ochamchire in Abkhazia to Sochi in southern Russia, while in early July the Russian energy giant Gazprom announced an agreement with the Abkhaz government to explore for hydrocarbons off the Abkhaz Black Sea coast. And as tensions escalated, reports circulated that Moscow had stepped up its campaign of granting Russian passports and social security benefits to citizens of the breakaway regions.
With Russia taking renewed steps in effect to annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the international community remaining passive about these developments, Saakashvili felt compelled to initiate a kamikaze-style attack against the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali on 7 August, the eve of the summer Olympic Games in Beijing. Not even the most optimistic of Georgian officials believed that the attack could possibly succeed militarily in the long run, but some hoped that the action could provoke a Russian response that would draw international condemnation and, at least, place Georgia’s conflicts on the international agenda. Sure enough, although Georgia’s assault was quickly countered in the most devastating of manners by the Russian military, with Russian troops even occupying briefly the Georgian cities of Poti and Gori, the international community, led by EU and French president Nicolas Sarkozy, had no choice but to try to broker a cease-fire between Moscow and Tbilisi.
An Unhealthy Relationship
If the Georgia war marked the culmination of the tensions festering between Russia and the West, it also exposed the unhealthy clientelism that characterised US–Georgia ties and Tbilisi’s effective capture of US foreign policy. For political reasons, the Bush administration, too, had come to parade publicly the “common values” it shared with the pro-US Saakashvili regime. These close ties and public pronouncements, however, masked the fact that the true state of democracy in Georgia had taken important steps backwards since the Rose Revolution of 2003. However, US officials rarely criticised such backsliding and turned from promoting democracy in Georgia to supporting outright the Saakashvili regime.
Saakashvili had come to power in the wake of the Rose Revolution, which swept from office the corrupt and stagnating regime of Eduard Shevardnadze. Contrary to popular belief, US officials were initially reluctant to back the regime change, as Washington looked favourably upon Shevardnadze, who had served as the Soviet Union’s last foreign minister and enjoyed a legendary reputation as having been instrumental in ending the Cold War. But when Shevardnadze refused to run a fair election, a well-organised opposition and civil society rallied thousands of protesters who demanded his resignation and new national elections. The Georgian opposition coalesced around the leadership of Saakashvili, who was swept into power in early January 2004.
That Washington strongly supported the new regime in Georgia, especially given its commitment to US foreign-policy aims such as the war in Iraq, is well known. Less appreciated, but even more important, is that the new regime in Tbilisi proved highly skilled in crafting an image of Georgia as an embattled democracy and in using it for maximum political advantage. The Georgian government, many of whose members had been educated or otherwise spent time in the United States, understood how Washington, D.C., operated and effectively navigated the city’s thicket of influential think-tanks and policy institutes. Georgian officials frequently travelled to Washington and briefed congressional staffers and US government officials in flawless English, touting their appreciation of US political values and employing colourful analogies tailor-made for American audiences. Tbilisi seemingly even had a direct voice in the 2008 US presidential campaign as Randy Scheunemann, foreign‑affairs adviser to Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, also remained a paid lobbyist with the government of Georgia until he formally relinquished the portfolio on 15 May 2008. Tbilisi’s numerous points of contact with the US government thus ensured that Georgia exerted an influence in Washington that was probably beyond what its small size and geopolitical position actually warranted; that influence certainly curtailed any official US criticism of Georgia’s own democratic shortcomings, which were being documented with increasing alarm by international democracy watchdogs and NGOs.
These shortcomings were becoming increasingly acute. In 2005 and 2006, Saakashvili was criticised by international observers for reasserting executive control over the judiciary and unduly interfering in the operations of opposition media outlets. On 7 November 2007, internal political tensions peaked when hundreds of government security personnel violently cracked down on thousands of anti-government demonstrators in the centre of Tbilisi, beating them with truncheons and spraying rubber bullets at them as they fled. Government officials referred to these crowds as political provocateurs and criminals, funded by Moscow, but international observers such as Human Rights Watch estimated that over five hundred Georgians were injured in actions that were widely condemned as excessive. But even as the events of November 2007 were noted with alarm in Brussels and other Western capitals, US officials played down the heavy-handed dispersal of the protests.
Part of the deal reached between Saakashvili and opposition leaders following the November events was the holding of early presidential elections in January 2008. The vote had some flaws, including falsification of the count, as Saakashvili cleared 50 per cent to triumph in the first round of balloting, but he most likely would have won a run-off comfortably against any of his main opponents. Much more problematic was the conduct of the May 2008 parliamentary elections, in which Saakashvili’s political party, the United National Movement (UNM), gained 119 of 150 seats with a certified 59 per cent of the vote. The final monitoring report of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) identified “a number of problems” with the election, noting irregularities in the vote-count, the intimidation of opposition candidates, the UNM’s improper control of the Central Election Commission and other state administrative agencies and resources, and a general lack of balance in media coverage.3 Yet Washington, again, remained notably silent about the quality of this critically flawed election.
Washington’s tolerance of Tbilisi’s democratic backsliding was a symptom of another problem that plagued the US–Georgia relationship, namely, the near capture of US policy on the south Caucasus by Georgia. Not only did Washington push for the disastrous commitment to Georgia at NATO’s Bucharest summit, but for years it unequivocally backed Georgia’s official policy of restoring its territorial sovereignty over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while refusing to consider any alternative to the federal solutions proposed by Tbilisi. As a result, Washington had no independent policy towards the two secessionist areas and was not viewed as a credible broker in conflict resolution by their leaders, who became increasingly dependent on Moscow. Although the US position satisfied Tbilisi, it prevented Washington from being able to assess soberly the deteriorating situation on the ground and the escalating tensions in the run-up to the August 2008 war. And although we cannot assess with certainty whether any parts of the US government promised support to Georgia if it launched a military campaign over the summer of 2008, the closeness of the US‑Georgian relationship appears to have prevented the United States from restraining Tbilisi.
On balance, the aftermath of the conflict has been largely favourable to Tbilisi. Georgia secured a commitment of $1 billion in US bilateral aid and a further $3.5 billion in pledges from international donors for budgetary support and reconstruction (a massive sum for a relatively small economy). In addition, the United States seems committed to rebuilding Georgia’s military, possibly even beyond the status quo ante in areas such as modernising its air defences. Before the end of the Bush administration, US officials also concluded a bilateral strategic partnership agreement with Georgia, although its exact details and commitments remained underspecified and subject to further consultations.
Despite these bilateral commitments, officials in Tbilisi remain apprehensive over whether Georgia will enjoy the same kind of privileged status with the Obama foreign-policy team that it had with Bush administration officials. Above all, Georgian advisers worry that the public “reset of US–Russian relations” between US secretary of state Hilary Clinton and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov may involve some sort of US compromise on Georgian issues in exchange for Russian co-operation in areas such as strategic arms control or Iran policy. Saakashvili himself melodramatically lamented in an interview with Newsweek in April 2009 that the Obama administration, unlike the Bush administration, had put pragmatic politics ahead of ideals in dealing with Georgia.4
The Limits of Western Influence
The Georgia–Russia war of August 2008 revealed much about the state of competition between Russia and the West for influence in Eurasia. On balance, the West’s soft power and influence are now in retreat, while the so-called values agenda has been enmeshed inextricably in the region’s power politics. By way of conclusion, three points are particularly worth noting.
First, the Georgia war and its aftermath indicate that NATO and the European Union have reached their outer limit of influence within the post-communist sphere. Through successful expansions into eastern and central Europe, the Baltic states and parts of the Balkans, these organisations helped to bring former communist countries into the Western fold, lock in important institutional reforms, and redefine entire regions as being associated with the transatlantic community (e.g., the Black Sea, Bulgaria and Romania). However, as is now clear, the capacity of both the European Union and NATO to promote institutional change is much reduced when dealing with countries that are not on the membership path. With no prospect of accession, partner countries have fewer incentives to reform themselves politically or economically along Western lines.
With the adoption of its most recent “Eastern Partnership” plan in 2009, the European Union is continuing to search for an effective vehicle to promote association with, and encourage European-style values and reforms in, the former Soviet countries of eastern Europe and the Caucasus. But because Brussels is offering these countries little hope of full EU membership, its leverage over them will remain well short of that which it enjoyed with EU candidate states. The same argument can be made of NATO’s assortment of individual country partnerships and co-operative initiatives with non-member countries. The challenge for both organisations is to develop a strategy, not just a list of priorities, for effectively engaging with areas of Eurasia that are unlikely ever to become members.
Second, Moscow’s relatively successful effort to conflate Western democracy-promotion with power politics has allowed it to take the lead in opposing Western-backed democracy projects and election monitoring throughout the region. Soon after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Kremlin cracked down on the activities of Western human-rights and civil-society organisations in Russia and created its own state-sponsored youth movement, Nashi, as a counter to the pro-Western student groups that had emerged in Serbia (Otpor), Georgia (Kmara), and Ukraine (Pora) with Western support. President Putin’s phrase, “sovereign democracy”, now quite popular among Eurasian regimes, captures a growing reluctance among regional governments to subject themselves to public scrutiny and Western efforts to meddle in their domestic political affairs. Russia’s strict 2006 NGO registration law, which limited the political activities of such organisations, has been mirrored by similar tough new laws that have been adopted or proposed by the governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Moreover, since 2006, Russia has spearheaded a campaign in the OSCE to weaken severely the activities of its election-monitoring division, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). It was the ODIHR’s preliminary assessment that the Georgian, Ukrainian and Kyrgyz elections had not been “free and fair” that gave impetus to the counter-government demonstrations which developed into the coloured revolutions. While threatening to withhold funding to the OSCE, Moscow has insisted, and is now supported by Armenia, Belarus and the Central Asian states in its initiative, that the ODIHR act in greater consultation with host governments, limit to fifty the number of its observers during elections, and refrain from publicly criticising election procedures in monitored countries. If these measures are implemented, vigorous election monitoring, as we have known it, will be dead. In fact, under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, Russia now sends abroad alternative teams of “election monitors”, whose conclusions about the quality of elections across Eurasia have differed dramatically from the assessments of the ODIHR.
Finally, perhaps the greatest indicator of the retrenchment of the West’s influence in Eurasia is the near-total cessation of US appeals under the Obama administration for democratisation to be improved in eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. In some ways, Obama’s stance on the “democratic values” issue has been forced. Any aggressive talk of democratisation or human rights automatically evokes the more aggressive direct interference associated with the Bush era, and draws attention to the United States’ own recent shortcomings on human-rights questions. Instead, Obama officials hope at least to salvage some of the traditional US values agenda by leading through example and regaining credibility on the world stage.
But recapturing the era of the 1990s, when the United States and the West enjoyed almost undisputed normative influence across Eurasia and other parts of the world, will be nearly impossible. The conflation of the Western values agenda with power politics has discredited that agenda. And the rise of alternative models of political and economic organisation—including Russia’s “sovereign democracy” and Beijing’s explicit doctrine of non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs—now offers Eurasian countries real alternatives to the Euro-Atlantic ideal of Westward orientation and political liberalisation. It remains to be seen whether policymakers in Washington and Brussels can successfully craft a new political strategy that effectively comes to terms with these changing regional dynamics.
1. Mikhail Gorbachev, “Russia Never Wanted a War”, New York Times, 19 August 2008.
2. NATO, “Bucharest Summit Declaration”, 3 April 2008 [http://www.nato.int/docu/pr/2008/p08-049e.html].
3. See OSCE/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, “Georgia, Parliamentary Elections 21 May 2008: OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report”, Warsaw, 9 September 2008 [http://www.osce.org/documents/odihr/2008/09/32898_en.pdf].
4. Anna Nemtsova, “Mikheil Saakashvili: Where Are My Western Friends?”, Newsweek, 11 April 2009.