Reigning in Russia
On August 29, leaders of the South Ossetian independence movement informed members of the Western press that they would be absorbed into Russia in the near future. In part, there was a demand for it among the non-Georgian population within the region. But more relevant is that Russia would actually consider such a move.
While Russia has tried, unsuccessfully, to build an image as a source of regional stability, it has simultaneously been acting to advance its own agenda at the expense of the neighboring states it purports to be helping. Their willingness to essentially conquer the land that belongs to another sovereign state without due provocation or security concern, for seemingly no purpose other than to scare former Soviet states into submission, reflects what many feared: Russia plans to re-establish itself as a world power.
At the end of the Cold War, Russia was clearly weak. The economic collapse that helped bring about the demise of the Soviet Union left former member states feeling crippled. Russia, the country which retained control over the vast nuclear arsenal and the UN Security Council seat, was reduced from being the heart of a great power to a nation barely able to sustain itself without significant outside aid. So naturally, its influence in the world dropped, and it took fewer opportunities to advance an anti-Western agenda. But now, with dramatic economic growth driven by oil, and restored military confidence after successfully crushing the Islamist insurgency of Chechnya and Ingushtia, Russia has shattered its image as a diminished power, and has made clear that it is a force to be reckoned with.
While the United States cannot directly confront Russia using military means, our lack of response to their invasion of Georgia is outrageous. A number of options to contain the Russian threat, and indeed help push Russia back on to an acceptable path, are available to us. For instance, returning to a G7 configuration over the recently created G8 model, or permanently ending all NATO-Russia dialogs would be worthwhile first steps. By isolating it from the West, we send the unequivocal message that the reckless disregard for internationally recognized borders and the unjustified slaughter of civilians to advance a radical political agenda is unacceptable.
If Russia’s economic and diplomatic opportunities are limited, and it is not allowed to advance in the direction it presently wishes, it will be more inclined to moderate its behavior. It may never be a reliable ally in the same way that Israel or Poland are, but it can cease to become a disruptive force that creates chaos in the surrounding region.