Russia is now demanding that NATO halt its planned military exercises in Georgia. On a visit to Armenia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the planned NATO exercises risk further undermining stability in the troubled Caucasus region. That is a bit rich, given that Moscow has effectively dismembered Georgia and is perpetuating the conflict by continuing to deploy forces in the region.
But what should NATO do? There is obviously no point in undermining the emerging détente between the US and Russia, promoted by the Obama administration. Yet at the same time, the thaw in relations should not allow Russia to play its bullyboy games. I told a journalist today:
The new relations could oblige NATO to reconsider the exercises in Georgia, as long as this is done not just to please Russia but because we are rethinking how to engage Russia and Geogia.
It is worth elaborating a little on this. The strategic context has clearly changed and NATO probably needs to appreciate this. The alliance cannot afford to be out of synch with its largest stakeholder. NATO’s Russia policy cannot be about Georgia alone, just as the West’s China policy cannot only be about Tibet. But any review of policy must not be seen as bowing to Russian pressure or stepping away from NATO’s “open door” policy – which welcomes new, peaceful democratic members if they wish to join.