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Russia Feeling Lonely After 8/8

sco082808.jpgSomewhere deep down in the labyrinthine hallways of the Kremlin, I like to imagine the silovik team currently handling the country’s foreign policy (this week) vigorously debating which foreign leader can most quickly be flown into Tskhinvali for a photo shoot, press conference, and official recognition ceremony (Kokoity might even share a three-liter bowl of wine with the visiting dignitary). Should we bring in Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus? Naw, we’re getting close to the annexation date, so that won’t look so good! How about our main man in Tehran? No can do, apparently he’s been on the phone with Washington all day discussing a deluge of new energy deals. Hugo Chavez of course wants to come over immediately, but Putin just won’t put up with another six-hour episode of Aló Presidente. OK, perhaps they haven’t run out of ideas yet, but following Dmitry Medvedev’s disappointing trip to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Tajikstan, the first round of diplomacy to attract additional nations to sign on for the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia appears to have been in vain. Putin’s reaction: blame the whole war on the United States. My reaction: what person in the Kremlin would have ever thought for a second that China would sign up for this one?

Although China has numerous well known and publicized separatist issues its dealing with on its own, the fact that Russia assumed that they could achieve recognition of these territories with no forewarning represents what is in my opinion an enormous miscalculation. Also, as soon as it was clear that Beijing was not on board, the rest of the Central Asian members of the SCO also fell silent. Their statement, though not critical of Russia’s actions, illustrates the strain in the relationship: “[We] express grave concern in connection with the recent tensions around the South Ossetian issue and urge the sides to solve existing problems peacefully, through dialogue, and to make efforts facilitating reconciliation and talks.“Yevgeny Volk tells the FT that this statement “shows Russia’s isolation,” while others describe it as a diplomatic slap in the face.There is no possible way that anyone who understands China’s view of the sovereignty narrative would think that Beijing would endorse Moscow’s recognition. So the question that comes to mind is who is setting Medvedev up for failure? This leads one to wonder if we’re in a situation where the hubris or group-think of a few men in the Kremlin has just come face to face with reality. Because it is hard to believe that any country could so injure its long-term ability to develop soft power and affect outcomes in its near abroad at the level Russia has without some new, cataclysmic miscalculation, or such an overwhelming fear that would require an external event of this magnitude.I continue to stress that what concerns me as much as the damage to Georgia is the damage to the long-term interests of Russia. If as Rogozin says, August 8th will go down in Russian history as a way similar to 9/11, then the only way that comparison is apt is that Russian foreign policy has just been similarly hijacked by groups ill-prepared to make good decisions for the country’s future. Enjoy the decline in soft power.What the United States and Europe have to do at this moment is engage in an emergency reassessment of how 8/8 has changed the power relationships in the world, and #1 on that list should be a reexamination of all policies and strategies with regard to Iran. Russia has just handed Tehran a tremendous opportunity to burst out of its isolation, as the attack on Georgia has highlighted the critical importance of a non-Russian controlled energy conduit to the West, which will likely make the Americans a much more friendly negotiator in the future.Does anyone have Ghaddafi’s phone number handy? He could tell a good story about how to come out of the cold….