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August 17, 2008

WHAT HATH PUTIN WROUGHT? Germany Offers Support for Georgia's NATO Bid:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is offering strong support for Georgia, saying the country is on track to become a member of NATO. Merkel flew to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on Sunday, two days after she met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Plus this: Ukraine to join in US-led missile shield in Europe:

Ukraine has agreed to take part in a missile defence system designed by the United States to protect Western countries. The government in Kiev defended its decision for military co-operation with the West, saying Russia cancelled a bilateral treaty with Ukraine earlier this year.

A few days ago, Poland and the United States reached agreement on the siting of missiles on Polish territory. These, together with radar installations in the Czech republic, make up the missile shield. Russia is fiercely opposed to the defence system and has threatened retaliatory measures.

It seems that Putin's bullying is having precisely the opposite effect he intended.

UPDATE: Making Putin Pay. "In the past 48 hours, the West has begun to push back. If its leaders stay the course, they may yet turn Mr. Putin's meager military success into a significant political defeat."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Randall Parker offers an innovative suggestion: "17% of the people in Ukraine are Russians. So that's about 7.8 million people who could be offered financial incentives to move over the border into Russia. A lot of people. But NATO could offer money as a much cheaper way than weapons to make Ukraine a more secure place. . . . The Baltic states ought to consider buying out their Russian citizens. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania could avoid future trouble by paying Russians hefty sums of money to leave. Russia has massive open spaces. The influx would not create a strain since Russia is shrinking by 400,000 people per year." I don't think this'll do the trick -- and would you take that deal? I wouldn't. Of course, that would make a point of sorts, too.

MORE: Kevin Drum thinks that Putin blew it:

My take, roughly, is that Putin screwed up. The West was never going to actively approve of the Russian invasion, but if Putin had limited himself to a short, sharp clash in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it would have been an almost unalloyed victory. The murky status of the provinces combined with the fact that Saakashvili sent in troops first would have kept Western reaction to a minimum, and Russia's message would still have been sent loud and clear: don't mess with us in our sphere of influence.

But then Putin got greedy — or just made a mistake — and sent Russian troops into Georgia proper. This was almost certainly militarily unnecessary, and it succeeded mainly in uniting virtually everyone in outrage against Russian aggression. Putin can pretend all he wants that he doesn't care about Western opinion, but he obviously does — and what's more, Western unity makes a difference in concrete terms too. Poland's quick turnaround on missile defense is probably just the first example of this. The U.S. has gotten lots of bad reviews for its handling of the situation, but in the end, the countries on Russia's border are more firmly in our camp now than they were even before the war.

Even militarily, Putin's overreach might have been a mistake. Sure, the Russian Army is in better condition than it was ten years ago, but it's clear now that its performance in Georgia was still only so-so, despite the fact that Georgia is a minuscule country and the Russians have had this operation planned and ready to go at a moments notice for weeks (maybe months). In the end, Russia is still basically Mexico with nukes, and their ability to project power even along their own borders is limited.

I certainly hope he's right.

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