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NATO Warns Moscow No ‘Business as Usual’ Amid Conflict

August 19, 2008 at 6:10 PM EST
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During a NATO meeting Tuesday, world leaders warned Russia that its recent actions against Georgia could endanger Moscow's diplomatic relations. Analysts examine how the West and Russia have clashed over the crisis.
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GWEN IFILL: The foreign ministers arrived at the hastily arranged NATO meeting in Brussels with one goal: pressuring Russia to withdraw from Georgia.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice led that charge, insisting that Russia stick to the terms of the cease-fire deal it signed over the weekend.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: It is time for the Russian president to keep his word to withdraw Russian forces from Georgia back to the Aug. 6-7 status quo ante and to return, in fact, all forces that were not in South Ossetia at the time of that — of the outbreak of that conflict.

GWEN IFILL: The U.S., Canada, and 24 other members of NATO have staked their unity and their prestige on the outcome.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: … this alliance, NATO, having come so far after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in achieving a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace, is not going to permit a new line to be drawn in Europe, a line between those who were fortunate enough to make it into the transatlantic structures and those who still aspire to those transatlantic structures.

GWEN IFILL: NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer echoed Rice’s tough talk.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER, Secretary-General, NATO: There can be no business as usual with Russia under present circumstances. And the future of our relations will depend on the concrete actions Russia will take to honor the words of President Medvedev to abide by the six-point peace plan, which is not happening at the moment, which is not happening as we speak.

GWEN IFILL: Russia’s foreign minister has insisted Russia is not occupying Georgia.

SERGEY LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia (through translator): Russia hasn’t occupied anyone, is not planning to occupy anyone. We don’t have any plans to annex anyone’s territory. We are fulfilling, through our peacekeeping forces, those functions set out in the agreements signed by conflicting sides, including Georgia.

GWEN IFILL: Secretary Rice is headed next to Poland to sign an accord to deploy a U.S. missile defense system. That move has been bitterly criticized by Moscow.

NATO attempts to influence Russia

Thomas Kleine Brockhoff
Financial Times
The most important step to me would be to either delay or oppose a Russia accession to the World Trade Organization, because, remember, Russia has been weak over the '90s and it is rich and strong now.

GWEN IFILL: For more now on how the U.S. and its allies are responding to the growing standoff with Russia, we turn to Chrystia Freeland, the U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times. She spent more than a decade covering Russia and Eastern Europe.

And Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, a veteran German journalist and commentator on transatlantic relations, he's now the senior director for policy programs at the German Marshall Fund.

Welcome to you both.

Chrystia Freeland, we heard Russia being scolded by NATO, Russia being scolded by the United Nations. Any evidence that Russia is listening?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, Financial Times: Not yet, although I do think that we have to remember that things are not as bleak as they could be. And when we talk about things being worse than they have been since the Cold War, I think we have to remember it's not as bad as the Cold War.

So Georgia is still a sovereign state, parts of it occupied, but Saakashvili has not been overthrown. And I do think that the line that we heard from NATO today, the line that we heard from Condoleezza Rice, from the secretary-general of NATO, was essentially the right thing to say, to say we are not going to accept a new line. We're not going to accept effectively a new Russian sphere of influence, a new sphere of authoritarianism.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff, what leverage does NATO or any other international organization, even the United States for that matter, have to enforce that line that they've drawn in the sand here?

THOMAS KLEINE-BROCKHOFF, The German Marshall Fund: Well, they have an arsenal at hand. They've indicated the first step. The first step is to threaten to suspend the NATO-Russia Council. There's other steps that West could take and depending on how Russia responds.

One step would be to stop maneuvers and training that NATO has done with Russia. And the most important step to me would be to either delay or oppose a Russia accession to the World Trade Organization, because, remember, Russia has been weak over the '90s and it is rich and strong now. And that's partly because it is integrated into structures, into business structures. So stopping it on that path will hurt Russia, and that would be very powerful signal.

GWEN IFILL: You just heard what Chrystia Freeland said, which is it's not as bad as it could be. The president of Georgia is still in office. No one has been overthrown. And, technically, no one is really occupied.

Do you think that we have reached the point yet where NATO or any other international organization, outside groups should be taking the kinds of steps you recommend?

THOMAS KLEINE-BROCKHOFF: It would be contingent on what Russia is doing next. First of all, they have to get out of Georgia.

And what I liked about today's statement, they were firm and yet measured. We're not moving back to a Cold War. We need Russia, Russia for energy security, but also for solving the Iran problem, and many other international -- in fact, any problem that has to do with the U.N. Security Council, because Russia is on it.

So there's no way to work around Russia. At the same time, we have to change their strategic calculus in acting.

Russia as a difficult player

Chrystia Freeland
Financial Times
They want to flex their muscles like neo-imperialists, but they also want admission to all of the Western clubs, including the nightclubs and the fabulous homes on the French Riviera.

GWEN IFILL: It's changing the strategic calculus, Chrystia Freeland, which I wonder about. If, indeed, the West needs Russia, how does the West go about changing that calculus if, in fact, Russia is now a rich nation without the same need it once had of the resources of the West?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: Well, I think Thomas was absolutely right to emphasize the WTO. And while it is certainly true that the petro-power of Russia today makes it a very different player, a very different actor from the Russia of the late '80s and the early '90s, which was really impoverished, I do think that Russia's integration into the global economy is also a potentially very powerful point of leverage.

One of the Russian oligarchs recently said to me that the tragedy of Putin is he wants to rule like Stalin but live like Abramovich, the wealthy Russian businessman who now lives in London and owns a soccer team and has sort of a fabulous, plutocratic lifestyle.

And I think that's a really good way of understanding a large part of the Russian elite right now. They want to flex their muscles like neo-imperialists, but they also want admission to all of the Western clubs, including the nightclubs and the fabulous homes on the French Riviera.

Those are some things that we can start taking away. And we can start saying, "If you are going to behave like an authoritarian state, we are not going to accept your leaders and your elites."

GWEN IFILL: Does the -- let me just follow up with you on that. Does the United States' democracy agenda, which allied itself so closely with Georgia, for instance, does it make it more difficult for these conversations to happen for threats even to have any weight?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: No, I don't think so. I think the democracy agenda is absolutely correct. I mean, I think the democracy agenda was very wrongly handled in Georgia itself and clearly in Iraq, as well, but actually a lot of this fight is about democracy.

We have been tending to see it as a question of Russia's strategic interests, Russian imperialism, but a lot of what is going on is the Russian government being concerned about its own regime and being very frightened that its efforts to build a more authoritarian state could be imperiled if ordinary Russians, especially richer, middle-class Russians, see prosperous democracies like Georgia and like Ukraine on its borders.

NATO's internal divisions

Thomas Kleine Brockhoff
German Marshal Fund
Russia thrives on divisions in the West. They exploit them. So one of the tasks of the coming months is to enter into a debate within the Western alliance on what this new Russia actually means for the West, what it actually is.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff, I wonder where NATO suffers a little bit from disagreements within its own ranks, and I'm thinking of Germany and Italy in particular.

THOMAS KLEINE-BROCKHOFF: It absolutely does. The Italians, the French, and the Germans are leading the camp of those countries that feel strongly that one shouldn't pressure Russia too hard, that it is doing the West no good in provoking Russia more than it already is, keeping the lines open has been something that even the foreign minister of Germany has been saying today in Brussels.

Now, that said, I do think we need, with the new administration in the U.S. coming in, a debate about who Russia is today, and how we deal with it, and actually also how we deal with the fact that, while we have some economic leverage over Russia, the overall situation has changed. The balance of power has changed.

The unilateral moment of the U.S. is over. And Russia has understood that. And the reason why they are in Georgia is because they could, because they thought they could get away with it.

GWEN IFILL: But how can the West join together to pressure Russia to do things like withdraw and keep its -- this six-point agreement, the cease-fire agreement -- if they can't agree among themselves about what tools to use?

THOMAS KLEINE-BROCKHOFF: Well, that's a precondition. Russia thrives on divisions in the West. They exploit them.

So one of the tasks of the coming months is to enter into a debate within the Western alliance on what this new Russia actually means for the West, what it actually is, and what the appropriate measures are. And one of the most important tasks is to stay together on it.

The leverage of the West

Chrystia Freeland
Financial Times
But the Russian economy is now integrated into the Western economy. Russian companies -- a couple of days after the war with Georgia started, a Russian steel company bought an American steel company. They are part of the world economy.

GWEN IFILL: Chrystia Freeland, does Russia even need the West?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: Absolutely. I mean, it depends a little bit on what Russia wants. If Putin were absolutely committed to building a 100 percent hermetic authoritarian state, sure, he could try to do it.

But the Russian economy is now integrated into the Western economy. Russian companies -- a couple of days after the war with Georgia started, a Russian steel company bought an American steel company. They are part of the world economy.

And although that connection has made them financially stronger, it does also create more leverage for the West in these conversations with Russia.

GWEN IFILL: Do you agree with that, Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff?

THOMAS KLEINE-BROCKHOFF: Absolutely agree, because the Russians, they want to be as rich as they've become. And we have leverage right there, and it's the strongest leverage.

Some people have been suggesting that we would now have to like move NATO troops into Poland and to the Baltics, of violation of our agreements that we have given with the Russians in the early...

GWEN IFILL: So there has to be a broader concern beyond just what's happening?

THOMAS KLEINE-BROCKHOFF: Yes. So I would say that's not necessary and that's not advisable. That's actually not good strategy.

What I do believe is that we should use the lever that Russia's integration in the international economy has given us that we didn't used to have.

GWEN IFILL: Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff and Chrystia Freeland, thank you both very much.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: Pleasure, Gwen.