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Roadmaps to the Abyss…. and Beyond: The US Signs a Charter with Georgia

Les médias européens, y compris La Libre Belgique, n’affichent pas aucun reportage sur la signature vendredi à Washington.d’une Charte de Partenariat Stratégique entre les Etats-Unis et la Géorgie malgré le fait que cette acte de Drang nach Osten pose un défi important pour le consensus dans l’U.E. et l’OTAN.. Est-ce que le silence signifie une manque de compréhension de nos journalistes et rédactions ou un complicité par censure?


Une Note par Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.



Roadmaps to the Abyss…. and Beyond: The US Signs a Charter with Georgia


by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.



Though largely ignored by the world media, including the publishers of the newspaper hosting this blog, La Libre Belgique, on Friday in Washington the United States signed a Charter on Strategic Partnership with Georgia. The full English text of the document appeared on the website of Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs


The five pages of the agreement are written in what used to be called the ‘wooden language’of Soviet diplomacy. For us former Kremlinologists, it is just a question of rolling up our sleeves and this “special English,” to borrow from the lexicon of the Voice of America, reveals many, though clearly not all, of its secrets.


Charter of Strategic Partnership - Georgia



In the past few weeks, while this Charter was under negotiation, Russian media discussed the likelihood that the Americans were talking with the Georgians about the establishment of a permanent military presence in the country. The document signed yesterday does not make mention of anything so sensational.


Instead what we have here is a text of commonplace principles committing the parties to furtherance of ‘apple pie’ and ‘motherhood’ objectives such as improved regional and world security, greater prosperity, improved democracy, greater contact between peoples and the like. Yet, within this vacuous jargon there are some key terms that indicate content which may be not so benign.


The preamble mentions specifically “bolstering Eurasian energy security” and what this means is spelled out in Section III on ‘Economic, Trade and Energy Cooperation.” Here we read about a joint US-Georgian effort to “increase the physical security of energy transit through Georgia to European markets.” That involves going beyond the existing oil and gas pipelines bringing Azerbaijani hydrocarbons to Georgia for transport onward to Turkey. The next step will be “to develop a new Southern Corridor to help Georgia and the rest of Europe diversify their supplies of natural gas by securing imports from Azerbaijan and Central Asia.” This “Southern Corridor” may be understood to mean the Nabucco gas pipeline that has received in the past strong US, UK and, to a somewhat lesser extent, EU backing.


The Nabucco and similar projects are designed to ensure direct supply of Central Asian gas to Europe via routes that do not pass through Russian territory. In that respect, they directly compete with Russian energy exports and with Russia’s overall standing in the region it considers its backyard. For that reason, such projects have met with robust diplomatic and commercial counter-thrust by Vladimir Putin’s government, including a major increase in the price the Russians are paying to the Central Asian producer countries to make any defection from loyal cooperation with the northern neighbor economically unjustified as well as politically risky.


In the initial big freeze in EU-Russian relations following the Georgian crisis of August, for a time the EU spoke aloud of the need to revive the Nabucco project. That faded when the Sarkozy-brokered settlement of the conflict in the Caucasus took effect, when the OSCE report on Georgian bombing of civilians in Tskkhinvali on August 8th was published, vindicating Russian explanations of the casus belli and showing up the tragic adventurism of the Georgian leadership. In the wake of all this, the Europeans adopted a more accommodative policy towards Russia.


The onset of the worldwide credit crunch in early autumn made it all the more unlikely that cash could be raised for a private-government financing of Nabucco. But then the release of information in November from a UK consultancy hired to perform a hydrocarbon audit in Turkmenistan indicated that the country might well hold the second largest reserves of natural gas in the world after Russia, and this no doubt rekindled determination in Washington, at least, to raise high again the standard of a non-Russia route to market for Central Asian gas, whatever the security implications for EU-Russian relations.


Of course, it is one thing to confirm vast gas reserves in Turkmenistan and another to bring that gas to the surface in commercial quantities. Many billions of dollars in industrial and gas-transport infrastructure will have to be constructed in Turkmenistan and a good many years will go by before they can raise their output to levels sufficient to fill the planned Nabucco pipeline. In this respect, the Bush administration's policy of promoting Nabucco against determined Russian opposition is as irresponsible as its promotion of an operationally unproven missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic against still more fierce Russian opposition. For the Neoconservatives in Washington it is clearly a race against time.


Section I of the Charter, setting out its guiding principles, speaks of support for “each other’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders.” The subtext is complete rejection of the de facto independence of two of Georgia’s regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have lived outside Georgia’s control for the past 16 years, which were defended so fiercely by Russia in August against a Georgian attempt to reimpose its rule by force and which have now both been officially recognized by Moscow as sovereign states.


Within this Section, the agreement not only puts forward a provocative challenge to the Russians but seeks to force down the throats of the Europeans relationships with Georgia that have been explicitly rejected by the consensus of EU and NATO members this past autumn. The stated objective of the parties to the Charter is “full integration of Georgia into European and transatlantic political, economic, security and defense institutions as Georgia meets the necessary standards.”


In case anyone was confused by the way Section I spoke of fully reciprocal support for each other’s sovereignty, etc, thereby equating a lion and a mouse, Section II, dealing with Defense and Security Cooperation,” highlights American appreciation for Georgia’s “important contributions to Coalition efforts in Iraq as demonstrating Georgia’s potential as a net provider of security.” The Charter commits the United States to further training and equipping Georgia’s armed forces so as to make them NATO compatible and to hasten their admission into NATO. As Georgia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vashadze explained to reporters after the signing ceremony, direct US assistance could take the place of the Membership Action Plan (MAP) which European members of NATO refused to grant.


Given the opacity of the text in general, Section IV on ‘Strengthening Democracy” makes fascinating reading.


The list of ‘things to do’ to strengthen democracy in Georgia is at once a frank recognition that Georgia today is a corrupt state without rule of law where the media do not function freely, where the courts do not work, where judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers need training, where there is inadequate respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. There is said to be a need for greater transparency in government and accountability of the executive to the legislature. We are told there is trafficking in persons and narcotics, money laundering and cyber crime, and that the political pluralism in Georgia is insufficiently developed.


This, then, is the rotten country which the US has tried to foist on Europe for rapid entry into NATO before the Bush Administration leaves office in what can only be qualified as complete contempt for its European counterparts.


Finally, Section V on “Increasing People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges” sets a priority on extending educational and social exchanges such as the Fulbright Program, Future Leaders Exchange Program, etc but proceeds to a curious non sequitur: “In Georgia’s post-war environment, the United States and Georgia intend to restore damaged cultural-heritage sites and media outlets, and to foster continued contacts between the residents of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia.” How exactly this can be done in the face of total opposition of the inhabitants of these two regions, backed up by Russian military support, is not at all clear.


Charter of Strategic Partnership - Ukraine


The agreement signed yesterday mirrors a similar Charter signed with Ukraine on December 19, 2008. The structure and language of the two documents are nearly identical, including the laundry list of failings of Ukrainian democracy that have to be fixed. I will restrict my comments to the few specific topics in the Charter which concern only the Ukraine.


In the Section on ‘Increasing People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges’ there is a special joint commitment that has been put up to satisfy precisely the anti-Russian bias of the Yushchenko administration in Kiev: “To promote remembrance and increased public awareness of the 1932-33 Great Famine.” This coded language is anti-Russian insofar as the official Ukrainian remembrance seeks to identify Stalin’s anti-peasant campaign as being genocidal intent against the Ukrainians (by the Russian majority of the Soviet Union) when the reality was an inhuman policy of the Stalinist regime directed against the agricultural populations of all the subject peoples, including first and foremost the Russian peasantry who also died by the millions.


However, the real ‘punch line’ of the Charter signed with the Ukraine comes at the very end in the remark the “Ukraine welcomes the United States’ intention to establish an American diplomatic presence (American Presence Post) in Simferopol.” The opening of this outpost in one of the most sensitive areas of Ukraine for its relations with Russia must be recognized as being particularly provocative, the stick in the eye, the joint baiting of the Russian bear.


It is not only super-patriots like Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov who publicly regret the 1954 transfer of the historically Russian Crimean peninsula from the Russian Federation to the Ukrainian SSR. It strikes a chord with most Russians in the RF today and with the population of the Crimea itself, which remains ethnically Russian with an admixture of Crimean Tatars. At the same time, the Crimea remains the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, where it has been headquartered since 1784. President Yushchenko’s public commitment to dislodge the Russians when their lease expires in 2017 is a hotly contentious issue between the countries that has major security implications for the Russians. US diplomats in Simferopol engaged “in a wide range of political and cultural activities,” the usual cover for espionage, are sure to raise the tensions locally, regionally, and internationally.


By Way of a Conclusion


The signing of Charters of Strategic Partnership between the United States and Georgia, on the one hand, and Ukraine, on the other, is one further proof of the ability and firm intention of the Bush Administration to use every moment of the time remaining on its watch to undermine European and world security by pursuing its Neoconservative, ideologically blinkered foreign policy objectives of cutting down to size any country or group of countries in the world that could conceivably challenge America’s worldwide hegemony.


What happened yesterday is a direct affront to the consensus of the United States’ most supportive co-members of NATO, who intentionally sidelined NATO membership for Georgia and the Ukraine following the irresponsible attack on civil populations and Russian peacekeepers in the breakaway republic of South Ossetia by Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili on August 8th. Smiles or no smiles, whether implementing an unapologetic unilateralist foreign policy in its first term in office or during the supposedly more conciliatory second term, George Bush and his Secretary of State continue their ‘in-your-face’ assault on decency, civilized dialogue and consensual decision-making in the international arena.


One may ask what is the position of the incoming Obama Administration on all this? As reported by the Associated Press, Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze, says he believed the current administration consulted the incoming Obama administration. However that may be, we are entitled to wonder whether the nominee Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and the re-processed foreign policy advisers from the Clinton administration who constitute the security team of the President-elect have the civic courage to reverse yet another set of wrong-headed policies of George W. Bush.


Similarly one may ask when we will hear Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht and other European leaders speak out against the Americans’ flagrant contravention of Europe’s collective will and genuine security interests.



© Gilbert Doctorow, 2009



G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University. His latest book  Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12 is scheduled for publication in April 2013 and will be available from Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.

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