Biden, Georgia, Ukraine and war

By Paul Taylor
July 21, 2009

Officially, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is visiting Ukraine and Georgia this week to balance President Barack Obama’s warming relations with Russia and reassure Kiev and Tbilisi that Washington still supports their aspirations to join NATO (but in slow motion, please). Unofficially, his mission is to try to prevent another war in an unstable region that Russia regards as its backyard.

If that sounds over-dramatic, it’s not because hostilities look imminent in either country. Georgia is licking its wounds from last year’s August war over South Ossetia. Ukraine is mired in domestic power struggles ahead of a presidential election next January. And Moscow, while determined to reassert its influence in the former Soviet republics, has enough on its hands with the severe economic fallout from the financial crisis. A major Russian military exercise in the region was well flagged in advance and passed off without leaving raised troop levels or unusual military activity. 

The European Union monitoring mission deployed in Georgia after the conflict to build confidence reports that the situation on the boundaries of the Russian-backed breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is broadly calm, with regular talks and a hotline between the Russian command and the EU team used to defuse occasional incidents. The Georgian government has agreed with the EU to limit the activities of its army and police force in the area, while the Russians have replaced troops in South Ossetia with professional border guards. That reduces the risk of an incident over smuggling or stray cattle escalating into armed conflict. Georgia wants to involve the United States in the monitoring mission.

The EU has also diplomatically delayed the publication of a report it is compiling on the origins of the war until after next month’s first anniversary.

However, both Moscow and Tbilisi consider there is unfinished business. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin does not hide his desire to get rid of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and reverse the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia and the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine that overthrew post-Soviet rulers more pliant towards the Kremlin. Saakashvili is not resigned to the loss of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, nor to an indefinite wait for NATO membership. In Ukraine, there is the slow-burning fuse of a 2017 deadline for the closure of Russia’s main Black Sea naval base in the Crimea, and the status of the Russian-speaking majority in that region, some of whom have been given Russian passports. And there are frequent disputes over Russian gas supplies.

Biden, a forthright but seasoned foreign policy specialist, has a delicate task to calibrate his public and private messages in Kiev and Tbilisi. The Obama administration has put the explosive issue of Ukrainian and Georgian NATO membership on the back-burner, recognising that it is a red rag to Russia and deeply divisive in the alliance (as well as in Ukraine). Washington neo-conservatives view this as appeasement, but it is common sense. 

Biden needs to  reaffirm the West’s commitment to the territorial integrity and political support for democracy in both countries, while privately urging Saakashvili to focus on democratic governance reforms at home (which the president anticipated in a broadcast on Monday) and avoid provocations with the Russians. The Vice President needs to privately tell Ukraine’s divided leaders that their feuding and failure to tackle corruption are doing more to destroy their country’s prospects than any Kremlin-backed destabilisation.

That leaves some hard strategic questions unanswered. What would Washington do if an incident in Abkhazia or South Ossetia rekindled armed conflict between Russia and Georgia? How would the United States and the EU respond if unrest erupted in another potential flashpoint, such as Moldova, after a fiercely contested parliament election on July 29? What could the West do if Russia stepped up issuing passports to Russian-speakers in Crimea?

The Obama administration may have chosen to emphasise common ground and mutual interests such as nuclear arms control in improving relations with Russia, but the contest over what Moscow calls its “near abroad” is far from over.


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Biden’s mission may be to prevent conflict, but his and Obama’s trips have seemed to accomplish the exact opposite.

In the week after Obama’s visit, the Russians withdrew from negotiations on the maritime border between Ukraine & Russia in the Sea of Azov. The Russian military’s Chief of Staff declared that their navy was not planning on leaving the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol in 2017, as called for in a treaty signed by the two countries. Immediately on Obama’s departure, Russian President Medvedev made a high-profile visit to South Ossetia, with great coverage of his stop at a village occupied by Russian paratroopers. The village had been ethnically-Georgian but was ‘cleansed’ during the war by local thugs, acting under the protection of those paratroopers.

Obama goes to Moscow, Biden to Kyiv & Tiblisi. The Russians have read a message in this that may not be there, but that they’ve acted upon it nevertheless. A president to Moscow, a vice-president to Ukraine & Georgia tells Putin that there is a gradient in the importance of relationships between the USA and Eastern European states, with Russia at the top and others at the bottom. Following on from the three mentioned, we can now expect an ever-escalating series of provocative acts as Medvedev/Putin expand their scope for action in attempting to increase control over former Soviet colonies. The potential for violence in the area is being elevated, all from a simple imbalance of state visitors.

why aren’t the USA and NATO simply go to hell, then every one will be happily ever, believe me on that. USA must know their place USA + NATO too much sticking their noses into European business, USA resembles to Russia in terms of ruling & controlling by someone, although no one give a dame about USA, nonoless about Russia.
About Georgia perfect would saying that NATO + Russian tight up on that.
Many people will not be surprises if we find out that USA behind that mission
I remember back time when NATO screamed; “NATO hates Russia…;then after 2 months of the peace with Georgia NATO screamed again; “NATO love Russia, NATO needs Russia, NATO don’t wish to disturbs Russia because NATO afraid to provoke Russia o.. come-on people make up your minds, sounds like childlike NATO misters trying to share the buckets of the sends on the playground, THIS is NOIT appropriates behaviours for such an organisation, sounds like losers.
how can no one in NATO cannot understands this is not appropriates behaviours such an organisations.
Also inside of the NATO block not everything peachy, members are arguing a lots or disagreed on something, , although by NATO law(whatever NATO call that)says;” if one of NATO representatives disagreed on something, so is everyone”
this is not appropriates way to behave for such an organizations, NATO leads to believe anyone can do what ever they willing to do, no wonder the south Korea doesn’t respects NATO become threats alto the world
USA must looks after their own country’s problems, the USA got some situations in the states, quiet mass to clean up, please can the USA do to everyone favours; stop interfering with other countries business
As I observed in the Ukraine more democracy then in the States & even less of the
corruptions then in the States, besides the USA become alike Russia wants to rule by all Europe

Posted by victoria | Report as abusive

In Ukraine less corruption than in the States? Well…

In Ukraine, any elementary school student can open the door of the school with his or her foot and buy any grade. Two elementary schools students sit at the same desk, one gets “A”s and the other “D”s during the academic year. Two weeks before the end of the academic years a mom of the D-grader comes and buys “A” grade for her kid. And believe me, this D-turned-A-grader will be very successful in life because he knows the art of giving-getting bribes when he is 7-8 years old. This is a standard of that society. It is a totally corrupted-minded society starting from very early age. They have very low morale.

Posted by Oksana | Report as abusive

Ukrainian military exports
Without any exaggeration, Ukraine took an active part in the creation of the Georgian army. We started our cooperation with a war-boat which was given to Georgia as a present to keep Ukraine’s position in the growing market, and once, we even gave away a battalion antiaircraft missile system Buk which could also be of demand in Ukraine. Nevertheless, Russia shouldn’t be too worried about that since Ukrainian supplies of weapons to Georgia are nothing against trade with military equipment and weapons between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Around 22-25% of total Ukrainian exports goes to the Russian Federation.
“Zerkalo Nedeli” has received the newest information on the military interrelations between Ukraine and Georgia from director general of state concern Ukrspetseskport Serhiy Bondarchuk: “Our cooperation with Georgia in the sphere of trade with military equipment and weapons occupies an important place in the military-industrial sector of Ukraine. The supplies of weapons to Georgia and Azerbaijan have partially helped us to resolve the problems with modernization of the Ukrainian military equipment.
It is important to note that Ukraine supplied Georgia with exclusively defense equipment and detection systems. Among them: antiaircraft missile systems Buk and Osa-AKM, systems of passive radio reconnaissance Kolchuga-M, radio location systems 36D6-M, spare parts to weapons and military equipment. For instance, at the beginning of June , 2009 the large lot of spare parts to weapons and military equipment have been delivered to Georgia by motor ship “INA” specially for the Department of Defense . The cargo consisted of 13 portable antitank missile complexes (TOW) and 90 units of ground to ground guided missiles (GM). Simultaneously Georgia got several firefighting complexes for armoured units .
Any cooperation in the sphere of military equipment and armaments is very much dependent on big politics and personal contacts. In a word , our president V.Yushchenko keeps this area of cooperation under his personal control.
Additionally, we trained Georgian military specialists. Competition in this market as well as in the entire CIS military market has been growing and continues to grow. Georgia is a long-standing partner of Ukraine, and there have never been any limitations in the sphere of military and weaponry cooperation between our states. We acted according to international agreements bearing in mind that in the military market of CIS, it is not only profit that matters but also friendly relations and political partnership.
And the last most important thing to note is that state concern Ukrspetseksport is not an independent player. Our company along with its subsidiaries is a mechanism of implementation of the state military and armament policy and we act exclusively in the sphere of our jurisdiction.”

Posted by Juan | Report as abusive