Page 1 of 2 China seeks Caucasian crisis windfall
By M K Bhadrakumar
A geopolitical convulsion measuring six points on the Richter scale is bound to
produce aftershocks. The reverberations of the conflict in the Caucasus are
beginning to be felt. We may be unwittingly bidding farewell to the "war on
terror". In any case, the international community has lost interest in Osama
The United States has spotted a promising new enemy on the horizon and an
engrossing war may be offering itself, with infinite possibilities.
Needed: a new war doctrine. As often enough, Britain may be putting it all
together. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband
said in Churchillian tones, "The aggressive Russian force beyond South Ossetian
borders has been something that really shocked many people ... The sight of
Russian tanks in Gori, Russian tanks in Senaki, the Russian blockade of the
Georgian port of Poti, is a chilling reminder of times that I think we had
hoped had gone by." US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to the
Georgian capital Tbilisi, promptly echoed Miliband, recalling the Soviet
intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968.
But, that is looking ahead. For a start, Poland has met with success, finally,
in locating a guarantor for its historically indefensible kresy (eastern
borderlands) along the line from Dniester to the Dnieper River. Last Friday,
the United States and Poland reached an agreement of "mutual commitment"
whereby the two countries will come to each other's assistance "in case of
trouble". At first glance, it may appear doubtful Warsaw can do much if
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez causes trouble for Washington. But that's a minor
detail. What matters is that the US has appeared as a lone ranger in the
strategic space between Germany and Russia. And it happened as an offshoot of
the conflict in the Caucasus.
Missiles in Poland
The deal provides for the US augmenting Poland's defenses with Patriot missiles
in exchange for the placing of 10 US missile defense interceptors on Polish
soil. Poland, in other words, received security guarantees from Washington in
return for its consent to the deployment of the US missile defense system in
the central European country.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk felt elated enough to proclaim, "We've
crossed the Rubicon." He underscored that the US was stepping into a historic
role that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was simply incapable of
fulfilling. "Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which
assistance comes at some point later - it is no good when assistance comes to
dead people. Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very
first hours of any possible conflict," he explained.
The "mutual commitment" clause is a direct reference to Russia, even though
Washington and Warsaw have played down any connection. Russian President Dmitry
Medvedev denounced the US-Polish deal as a threat to Russia. He added
caustically that "any fairy tales about deterring other states, fairy tales
that with the help of this system, we will deter some sort of rogue states, no
longer work." The chairman of the Russian parliamentary foreign affairs
committee, Konstantin Kosachev, warned the agreement would spark "a real rise
in tensions in Russian-American relations". Russia's deputy chief of the
general staff, General Anaotoli Nogovitsyn, said, "Poland in deploying [the US
system] opens itself to a nuclear strike. That is 10%." He said the US-Poland
deal "cannot go unpunished".
But Washington is proceeding according to a plan. It swiftly seized the
cascading anti-Russia rhetoric to press ahead with the deployment of the
missile defense system in Poland, overriding Moscow's objections and
disregarding the fact that the US and Russia are still notionally negotiating.
In Cold War-style, behind the smokescreen of rhetoric, Washington took
unilateral advantage. And a third positioning area for the missile defense
system has become a reality.
Germany remains neutral
The US-Poland deal harks back to Britain's historic role as Poland's guarantor
against German "revanchism". From Washington's perspective, Germany's
reluctance to be drawn into the US's containment strategy toward Russia is
growing by the day. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's consultations with
Medvedev in Sochi on Friday reveal that Bonn is trying to be even-handed -
urging Moscow to embrace diplomacy while resisting Washington's demands to
Germany's point person for Russian affairs in Berlin, Andreas Schckenhoff, has
said neither the European Union (EU) nor Germany proposed to take sides.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Die Welt newspaper, "If the EU
wants to play a role in reaching peace, it needs open channels of dialogue to
Tbilisi and to Moscow." The Germans do not hide their compulsions. To quote Der
Spiegel, "Calls from some EU member states, particularly those in Eastern
Europe, to deal harshly with Moscow by scrapping talks with Russia on a new
strategic partnership have put Germany in a tricky position. Germany is heavily
dependent on Russian energy and remains an advocate of closer European ties
Last Wednesday's emergency meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Brussels
brought out the schism in Europe over the "Russian question". Britain, the
Baltic states, Poland and Sweden pitched for denunciation of Russia, but the EU
merely adopted the German proposal for augmenting the strength of the
contingent of European "monitors" in Georgia from 100 to 300 and to provide
Steinmeier dissociated from the US saber-rattling by counseling Europe should
"look into the future and take a role in further stabilization". France, Italy
and Finland backed Germany. The EU consensus not to resort to sanctions against
Russia or even finger-point at Moscow came as a setback to the US. Rice arrives
in Brussels on Tuesday for urgent meetings with her NATO and EU counterparts.
US pressure on the EU
Rice is sure to try to rally European opinion and to make a strong pitch for
Georgia's membership of NATO. But major European powers apprehend Moscow will
take NATO's further expansion into the territory of the former Soviet Union as
a grave provocation. If Washington succeeds in overcoming their reluctance, US
diplomacy registers a signal victory. Moscow seems to estimate Europe may
ultimately succumb to US pressure. Its decision to go slow on withdrawing
troops from the Georgian hinterland needs to be seen in this perspective.
Rice's mission to Brussels is a defining moment. If it succeeds, the US's
containment strategy towards Russia will have been taken a huge step forward.
On the other hand, if Rice fails, Washington might as well abandon hopes
regarding the alliance's expansion for the foreseeable future.
In short, the war in the Caucasus is straining the US's transatlantic
leadership. The Europeans do not have threat perceptions regarding post-Soviet
Russia. With the continent's economies showing weak growth, Europeans view
Russia as providing strong stimulus. (German exports to Russia registered a 50%
increase in 2008.) Even right-wing think-tanks like the Konrad Adenauer
Foundation in Germany have drawn a red line that the US is pulling Europe
needlessly into its strategies aimed at extending its influence into the Baltic
and Caucasus regions "by bringing additional pro-American oriented countries
into the [NATO] alliance".
China strains to be neutral
However, the European powers are not the only ones facing a hard time over
taking a stance on the Caucasus. China is similarly placed. Chinese President
Hu Jintao received Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on August 9 in Beijing
and hosted a dinner in his honor. Yet, Chinese accounts of the meeting left out
any reference to the Caucasus. (The Georgian assault on South Ossetia began on
August 7-8). Hu told Putin, "China and Russia are forging ahead with the
partnership of strategic cooperation toward their established goals, and the
development of both countries is faced with opportunities and challenges at the
Hu stressed three aspects of Sino-Russian strategic cooperation: promoting
multi-polarity and democratization in international relations; enhanced
Sino-Russian political cooperation both bilaterally and within the multilateral
framework; and economic cooperation in a spirit of "mutual benefits and a
win-win outcome". Putin, on the other hand, drew Hu's attention to "Russia's
friendly policy toward China" and signaled Moscow's keenness to "elevate the
practical cooperation with China to a new height".
Something was amiss. It seems Putin briefed Hu about Moscow's concerns in the
Caucasus and Hu listened. At any rate, on the very next day, when a Chinese
Foreign Ministry spokesman made his first comments, he merely expressed China's
"grave concern over the escalation of tension and armed conflicts" and called
on the "relevant parties to keep restraint and to cease fire immediately".
In effect, the spokesman kept equidistance. He concluded by saying that China
sincerely hoped "relevant parties" would resolve disputes peacefully through
dialogue "so as to safeguard regional peace and stability". He was in no mood
to judge the "disputes" as such. Meanwhile, on August 11, a group of Georgians
held demonstrations in front of the Russian Embassy in Beijing, though the
"crowd was persuaded to disperse and leave, and no extreme actions took place".
On August 13, a Chinese spokesman repeated that the "disputes be resolved
peacefully through dialogue so as to achieve regional peace and stability".
This has become the Chinese mantra regarding the Caucasus crisis. The Chinese
spokesman repeated it on August 14, while he "welcomed" Moscow's announcement
on halting military operations. Again, Chinese media accounts have been
extensive but balanced.
But disapproves of Moscow
What stands out, on the whole, is that Beijing has refrained from taking a
position supportive of Russia. If anything, the only