31st Oct 2020


The West must stop bullying Russia

  • Georgia currently has the highest average growth rate of military spending in the world. (Photo: KFOR, Helmut Vogl)

I was part of a TFF fact-finding mission to Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhasia in 1993. That the 7 August war would happen was predictable, albeit not the exact time.

One can see this easily if one begins to look at the wider time frame, going back some 20 years.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Let's have another look at just how successful the West was with the dissolution of the terrible Soviet Union, overseen by the visionary leadership of a man we should still all be deeply grateful to, namely Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.

In 1989, Gorbachev withdraws from Afghanistan and set Sakharov free. There is no reaction in the West. His entire philosophy of change deprives the West of its beloved enemy.

Gorbachev then suggests an entirely new security structure, a 'European House' with the OSCE and the UN as centerpieces. The triumphalist West ignores it.

Gorbachev asks for economic support in the West for his perestroika and glasnost gambits, to create what would have been an open social democratic-inspired society. The G7 decides to ignores it and gambles on Yeltsin, a populist with no similar vision or charisma.

The West, understandably, wants to unite Germany, but this represents a great threat for historical reasons in the eyes of the Russians. Russia is however promised that NATO will not expand.

The Warsaw Pact is dissolved, but despite promises, NATO remains and expands rapidly. Moreover, it maintains its right to pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons.

The Clinton administration begins a huge US military expansion programme in 1992, building bases, positioning advisers and infiltrating ministries with 'advisors' and people from mercenary firms in Eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia, and all around Russia. Russia's protests about its 'near abroad' are ignored.

Serbs are cast in the role of the perennial and sole bad guys during the Yugoslav wars of the 90s - as the Russians of Yugoslavia - expansionist and dangerous vis-à-vis smaller allegedly freedom-loving democratic actors such as Croatia's Franjo Tudjman, Bosnia's Alija Izetbegovic, and Kosovo's Agim Ceku.

NATO's bombing of Serbia and Kosovo violates all international law, takes place without UN Security Council mandate and leaves a thoroughly destroyed country behind. Russian arguments for a negotiated solution are ignored.

And now we are seeing the imposition of Ballistic Missile Defence, BMD, which is not a defensive system at all, but instead allows US territory to be protected against retaliation if the US launches a nuclear attack on another country. Russia thinks it is a bad idea - as bad as a similar system set up by the Russians across the border in Mexico would appear to the Americans.

As a show of respect for democracy, the deal has been made with Poland despite a full 90 percent of the people against BMD being situated on their territory. Russian worries about the system are repeatedly ignored. The system is supposed to protect us against rogue actors such as Tehran, but when Moscow offered to site the BMD on its territory closer to Iran, the US declined the offer, confirming Russia's fears that BMD is in fact aimed at her instead.

Then this year, the US and most EU member states decide that Kosovo shall be an independent state. All substantial Russian arguments for a negotiated compromise and predictions of that secession stimulating secession elsewhere are ignored.

Russia­ is increasingly being seen as the great new threat from whom NATO will protect us, despite the country having military expenditure that is roughly five percent of that of NATO, seven percent of that of the United States, and 13 percent of that of the EU.

US strategy and interests

Where is Georgia in all this?

As early as 1993, while visiting US offices in Tblisi, I was told that this Caucasian state was a centerpiece of US strategy and interests in the region. Georgian officials meanwhile told me that they were just waiting for Georgia to be selected to host the huge oil and gas pipelines, and then it would become a regional power to be reckoned with.

The US has since conducted a series of comprehensive train-and-equip programmes organised by the Pentagon, US Special Forces and US Marines, with Georgia becoming a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace member in 2004. One might also mention in passing that often neglected in any discussion of Georgian defence, is Israel's considerable military support for Georgia and the fact that her defence minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a former Israeli with close links to the country's defence industry.

Despite Georgia's deep poverty, the country's military spending is substantial. In late June, the Georgian government increased the defence ministry's budget of 513 million laris (US$315 million) by 442 million laris ($US260 million), according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Georgia currently has the highest average growth rate of military spending in the world. Some independent experts are worried that the spending is not fully accounted for, while others say that it could undermine the peace processes with the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The military budget of Georgia increased 50 times over the period from 2002 (US$18 million) to 2008 (US$900 million), reaching almost nine percent of Georgia's GDP.

Georgia, a very loyal partner in the US war on terror, is also the third largest occupying force in Iraq, present also in Afghanistan and has been to Kosovo. It would be naive to think that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had not obtained Washington's green light for his attack on South Ossetia.

Consideration of history

This region is as complex as the former Yugoslavia, with as much history of traumas, ethnic quarrels, minorities within minorities, economic and constitutional crises and corruption. The future is bleak for us all if wars similar to those in the Balkans in the 1990s were to break out in the Caucasus once more, dragging in Russia and Europe. Bleak­ that is, unless somebody stops to think instead of merely reacting and justifying their own participation in this sorry game of militarism and power politics.

To diffuse this crisis, there needs first to be at least a little consideration of history. Next, some little empathy with non-US and non-EU actors. There must also be recognition that Western actions are not always innocent in their consequences. We must understand the utter counter-productivity of militarisation and its psycho-political effects.

Additionally, it would be helpful if Western mainstream media would stop re-cycling the Cold War stereotypes of an ever-aggressive Russia and disseminating, Pravda-style, only what Western militarist elites say.

The art of reading and asking good questions should re-enter international journalism and foreign policy reporting, freeing the profession from complicity in any future war in the region - a war that would certainly be much larger than what we have seen thus far.

Above all, we must remember that negotiations are far superior to threats and fear-mongering.

The Russians have now said: This far, but no longer. It would be wise of the West to listen to the warning. It is not in its own best interest to continue bullying and humiliating Russia.

Jan Oberg is Director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research in Lund, Sweden


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

I'm an 'election observer' - but what do we actually do?

There is a persistent problem of 'fake observers.' Often the government of the country they are observing, or even the election management body itself, pays for these observers, holds fancy dinners, and puts them in five-star hotels.

Belarus - dictators win when democracies appease

The sincere and simple personality of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, currently the most famous Belarusian opposition leader in the world, is truly fascinating, writes Lithuania's minister of foreign affairs, Linas Linkevičius.


What American decline means for Europe

The decline of the US and the rise of China have immense consequences for Europe. Above all, it means that all member states must be committed to making enormous efforts to close ranks in terms of trade and security.

Post-Brexit UK vs EU on Ukraine's future

Boris Johnson hopes that the new partnership demonstrates to his counterparts on the continent that, despite quitting the EU, Britain will remain a key player in European security affairs via a commitment to upholding Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Orban's bluffing on a rule-of-law mechanism - here's why

Viktor Orban is threatening to block the coronavirus recovery fund and the next EU budget if rule-of-law conditionalities are not to his liking. But a lack of EU funding would threaten the very fundamentals of his system and his cronies.

News in Brief

  1. Polish government rows back on abortion ruling
  2. EU threatens legal action against Poland on rule of law
  3. 'Several dead' after earthquake hits Greece and Turkey
  4. Hungary faces EU court over asylum restrictions
  5. Polish PM urges end to abortion protests to 'protect elderly'
  6. EU to fund cross-border hospital transfers
  7. Some 140 migrants drown on way to Spanish islands
  8. EU central bank preparing new rescue measures

Backroom deal will make CAP reform a catastrophic failure

MEPs will vote this week on a supposedly historical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which accounts for over one-third of the EU's annual budget. But as it stands, it is set to become a historical failure of catastrophic proportions.

Amazon's spying on EU workers just tip of iceberg

Amazon is leading an assault on workers' rights in Europe, using big data and surveillance to crush efforts by workers to improve their conditions. It's symptomatic of a climate of impunity around breaches of privacy that benefit corporations over workers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. Nice attack: EU urges world leaders to stop hate speech
  2. Europe is back in (partial) lockdown
  3. Gender equality still 60 years away, warns study
  4. I'm an 'election observer' - but what do we actually do?
  5. Deal in reach on linking EU funds to rule of law
  6. EU Commission's Covid-19 expert offers bleak outlook
  7. Belgium's collaboration with Sudan's secret service: my story
  8. What do ordinary Belarusians want from the EU?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us