What a Failed Georgia Means for Europe

The French philosopher André Glucksmann has been one of Europe’s most outspoken advocates in support of liberty of Russian political prisoners, such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky.  Here in City Journal is a translation of a thought piece by Glucksmann relating to Russia’s ambitions in terms of “spheres of influence,” European sovereignty, and of course the Georgia problem.

Independent Georgia must survive through this summer. Last year, the Russian army positioned itself just 20 miles from Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi–one hour on the highway by tank. Clouds are gathering: large military maneuvers, inflammatory media rhetoric, and a Russian veto in the UN Security Council that interrupted the work of neutral observers. The UN and the OSCE have packed their bags, leaving 200 observers, restricted to the Russian side. Pavel Felgenhauer, a military specialist based in Moscow, fears that the Russian military command will take advantage of the absence of observers in Georgia to concoct some pretext to invade and fulfill their fondest wish–to “hang Saakashvili by the balls,” as Putin threatened in 2008. (After all, didn’t Germany invade Poland in 1939 by trotting out two unfortunate Polish border guards, whom the Germans accused of “invading” the Third Reich?)

Andrei Illarionov, Putin’s special advisor until 2006, sharessimilar apprehensions. It’s hard to know what to expect. SergeiKovalev, an activist and a friend of the late Andrei Sakharov,dissuades me from trying to read the signs of the times. The Russianrulers are not strategists, he says; they settle their accounts day byday, attend to their own interests, and plan their gangsters’ businessmonth by month and year by year. But the current heads of the Kremlinwill never forgive the young Georgian leader his crime of pro-Westernsympathies.

Can President Obama and the European Union contain Moscow’sambitions and whims? Or will they purchase a fallacious and precarioustranquility by sacrificing Georgia’s independence? At stake is the verysovereignty of Europe: its energy independence. Energy has becomedecisive because for Putin, gas is now a weapon as powerful as adeterrent arsenal. Consider a popular songperformed by a military choir in Moscow. Its chorus depicts the”radiant future” that Gazprom is preparing: “Europe has a problem withus? We will cut off its gas; a big smile will rise in our eyes andhappiness will leave us no more.” Similar sentiments are expressedtoward the Ukraine and its desire to join NATO, as well as towardAmerican forces all over the world. The Russian public loves the song.

If Tbilisi falls, there will be no way to get around Gazprom andguarantee autonomous access to the gas and petroleum wealth ofAzerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. As for the global credibilityof President Obama, it will amount to no more than the empty-sleevedgestures of someone whose arms have been amputated.