One unknown in the continuing aftermath of the Umpteenth Russo-Georgian War is what kinds of pressures and responses the West could apply against Russia to force a more rapid withdrawal, and possibly even prevent a repeat in any other post-Sovite Republics. RFE/RL Executive Editor John O’Sullivan sat down with Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Iakobashvili to talk it over:
RFE/RL: You now have a situation in which Russia is in possession of Georgian territory. If Georgia, at that point, joins NATO — some point in the future — there isn’t any real prospect of NATO taking action of a military kind to remove the Russians. How do you think NATO or the EU can lever the Russians out, and by what other methods?
Iakobashvili: It seems to me that largely we are talking about political and economic measures, and not military. Most of Russia’s oligarchs, most of Russia’s government officials — in some cases they are the same — have their assets in the West. So, using a very strong connotation, you are holding their balls — just squeeze a little bit.
RFE/RL: So far, there’s been extremely little pressure of that kind.
This is probably because Russia actually has the west by the balls. Ignoring the enormous energy-shaped elephant in the room, if the Anglosphere pushes things too much, they might lose an alternate supply route to Afghanistan:
Russia played a trump card in its strategic poker game with the West yesterday by threatening to suspend an agreement allowing Nato to take supplies and equipment to Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia.
The agreement was struck at a Nato summit in April to provide an alternative supply route to the road between the Afghan capital and the Pakistani border, which has come under attack from militants on both sides of the frontier this year.
This was a possibility explored weeks ago by Christian, and just yesterday Péter (who has been discussing the problem of supply chokepoints in Pakistan for months) noted that militants aren’t even waiting for goods to enter Khyber or Spin Boldak—people are finding them now in Karachi and setting them ablaze. The importance of a northern supply route cannot be underestimated—especially if we’re to conjure the magic resources needed to supply another 3-5 brigades in Afghanistan.
But even pretending the West could “squeeze” Russia by threatening some of its oligarchs’ assets seems far-fetched. Vladimir Putin is already floating the idea of ditching some agreements made during Russia’s WTO ascension talks—right when Dmitri Medvedev was hinting that Moscow should cut ties with NATO.
That this is partially driven by Russia’s inability to offer the West much beyond oil and hackers is immaterial: the point remains that the West in fact has very little leverage to apply to Russia, beyond canceling their G8 membership. While some would argue that this is daft because Russia is a Great Power, in fact thinking Russia is Great in any way, shape or form is just batty. You can argue about regional powers all you want, but the point remains Russia shows very little interest in being a constructive partner in globalization (neither does China, but that’s a separate point). It’s nice to fall into a Barnettian fantasy-land typical of Navy guys about how everyone can come together because we’re all the same with the same interests, but it is inescapable that Russia has all the power in a very limited geographic area the U.S. simply cannot influence.
Outside that area, however, Russia has virtually none. Which just reinforces the point made many times in this space—nothing should be done about it, because in a very real sense nothing has changed.