Russia’s New Neighbourhood Policy
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th August, 2008
Russian incursions into Georgia over recent days have left the EU sorely divided. France, as the current President of the Union, has been following a diplomatic course that has tried to charm the Russians into leaving, rather than threatenening them, whereas the former Baltic states and Poland have been notable in their forthright support for Georgian territorial integrity. The British government’s position has been somewhere in between — though David Cameron rather sneekily went off to Tbilisi to wave the flag of England and St George. It will be months or even years before the physical and human damage done by the conflict can be properly measured, let alone repaired.
But even more significant than the particular case of Georgia and the future of its separatist regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia is what recent events tells us about Russia’s attitude towards former Soviet territories. When the old Soviet Union broke up into fifteen separate countries, it all seemed unnervingly easy, after initial attempted crackdowns by Moscow in Lithuania et al. Now we are seeing that it wasn’t as easy as all that after all, and that Russia hasn’t just accepted the breakaway as the end of the story — at least, not when former territories such as Georgia and Ukraine have their sights set on NATO and maybe even EU membership.
Ukraine is the one we really have to watch. Hundreds of thousands of people in the Crimea have Russian citizenship and it is possible we will witness a rekindling of separatist activity there. As Sevastopol, where I was a couple of weeks ago, houses the Russian Black Sea fleet, this is potentially very inflamatory indeed. It is not only Kiev that needs to be worried about Russia’s new neighbourhood policy. The whole of Europe needs to be monitoring it and damping down tensions as well.