Testing NATO’s Ambivalence over Georgia

There’s a strong editorial in today’s Washington Post on Russia’s shooting down of a Georgian drone. Inasmuch as recognizing Kosovo, building missile shields, and talking about MAP status for Georgia and Ukraine at the NATO summit in Bucharest was seen as a “test” of Russia’s intentions, Moscow has decided to run its own tests against NATO’s bluster – correctly assuming that in general, the West is unwilling to stand up for the sovereignty of former Soviet states when the costs run too high.

Russian President Vladimir Putin read NATO’s ambivalence exactly as Georgia’s president predicted he would — as a sign of weakness. He has responded by escalating Moscow’s campaign against Georgia’s sovereignty, intended to force it back into the Kremlin’s sphere of influence. …

Mr. Putin clearly expects that Georgia’s would-be Western allies will take no concrete steps to defend it — and will shrink from any further step to bring it into NATO.So far he’s right. The Bush administration, the European Union and NATO duly issued statements last week expressing concern about Mr. Putin’s legal decree and asking that it be reversed. Yesterday, they said they were asking the Russian government for an explanation of the downing of the unmanned aircraft; Moscow’s initial denial of responsibility was hard to reconcile with the video of the incident posted by Georgia on the Internet. Yet démarches won’t change Russian behavior.The appropriate and proportionate response is for NATO to take its own concrete steps toward integrating Georgia and Ukraine. An alliance meeting in December is due to reconsider the issue; the Bush administration should insist that a decision on membership action plans for the two nations be made then. It should also propose a new international mechanism for resolving Georgia’s dispute with its provinces, one that cannot be dominated by Russia. If it shrinks from challenging Mr. Putin’s actions, NATO will allow a new line to be drawn in Europe — one that leaves Georgia and Ukraine on the wrong side.