Friday, 29 August 2008

Georgia: Schröder wades in

Just as all the serving heads of state and government in Europe were issuing various forms of instructions to Russia to withdraw her troops from Georgia – Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, published a long article in Le Figaro on 18 August, the same day that Angela Merkel was photographed visiting Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi – the former German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, has expressed support for the Russian position in the conflict. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Schröder said that Georgia had started the conflict by invading South Ossetia (something Sarkozy also conceded in his otherwise pro-Georgian article). Schröder also warned against early NATO membership for Georgia and said that the chances of it happening had now become extremely remote. Schröder referred to Mikheil Saakashvili as a “chance-taker” and said that he was sure that Russia was not trying to annex any territory. He said, “I think nothing of this demonisation of Russia. I think of Russia as part of Europe.” [Der Spiegel,16 August 2008]

Schröder’s interview has caused outrage in the German political class. One CSU politician said that Schröder has become totally unreliable on matters Russian and that his interview was an insult to Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the serving (Social Democrat) Foreign Minister. The same politicians said that the whole idea of a strategic partnership between Germany and Russia now had to be revisited. Many of Schröder’s enemies attack him for being the voice of Moscow in Germany, especially since he now works for the consortium building the trans-Baltic pipeline which will bring gas directly to Germany.

His intervention comes just as the current Chancellor, Angela Merkel, travelled to Tbilisi where she gave strong support to the accession of both Georgia and Ukraine to NATO. Previously she had been opposed to both: indeed, it was largely as a result of German opposition that neither country was invited to join at the Bucharest summit this spring. Merkel called on Russia to withdraw its troops immediately from South Ossetia and reaffirmed her government’s support for Georgia’s territorial integrity. [Handelsblatt, 17 August 2008]

As it happens, NATO is bitterly divided over the conflict in the Caucasus. According to diplomatic sources, the alliance cannot agree on who is responsible for starting the war. The Alliance members also cannot agree whether or not to support Georgia. The United States, Britain and Canada and the East European countries want a very firm anti-Russian policy; by contrast, Germany and France, while also basically anti-Russian, want to put the emphasis more on dialogue and diplomacy. One commentator wrote, “The Caucasus conflict has shown that NATO is a paper tiger.” [Cerstin Gammelin, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 19 August 2008; Richard Herzinger, Die Welt, 19 August 2008]

-- From The European Journal. Sign up for FREE to John Laughland's 'Intelligence Digest' to find out what’s really happening in Europe --

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