Sunday 10 Oct 2021 | 08:57 | SYDNEY
Sunday 10 Oct 2021 | 08:57 | SYDNEY

How to hit Russia with the diplomatic frying pan?


Rory Medcalf


19 August 2008 09:18

Enough hand-wringing. The counsels of despair dominating Western commentary over the Russian assault on Georgia have overlooked the sliver of good news from this brutal little war.

It will come as no consolation to the victims, but the Georgia conflict has served as a wake-up call to those in Europe who may still have been in doubt about the unreconstructed nature of Russian security and foreign policy. The initial ineffectualness of EU diplomatic responses aside, it is notable that Europe seems finally to be beginning to close ranks and harden its stance about the unacceptability of coercive, zero-sum Russia behaviour.

British outrage may not be all that surprising — the relationship has been in the freezer since the Litvinenko poisoning — but this opinion article by Conservative leader David Cameron argues for some substantial diplomatic (yes, those words can go together) measures, including expelling Russia from the G8 and imposing visa restrictions. Striking a blow at the right to shop in London may sound trivial, but for Russia’s elite it isn’t.

Germany has often been seen as pro-Russian, not least because of its energy imports. Yet, because of last week’s events, it has taken a surprisingly strong stance in favour of NATO membership for Georgia. And France’s warning of ‘serious consequences’ for EU-Russia relations will please Washington. At last, the core powers of ‘Old Europe’ — France and Germany — have no excuse to differentiate their positions from the mistrust of Russia long held by ‘New Europe’ and, less noisily, the Nordics. This should be a relief to Ukraine and the Baltic states. And even to Georgia.

The big challenge now is to identify what the US, Europe and others (Australia?) will be willing to do. A wake-up call is one thing. In theory, it delivers time to try to constrain and discourage Russia’s coercive diplomacy before Moscow’s confidence and power grow much stronger. But the question remains: how? Or more precisely, how to confront Russia without risk of greater instability, or even conflict?