Russia and the West: Living dangerously

THE tensions between Russia and the West have touched alarming levels. Two days after Moscow recognised Georgia's breakaway provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia as sovereign states, the European Union is considering sanctions against Russia.

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Published: Fri 29 Aug 2008, 10:44 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 3:55 PM

It is truly frightening how a resurgent Russia and the Western alliance led by the United States have within days managed to land themselves into an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. And we all thought the Cold war was over and the world had come back from the brink of a nuclear Holocaust. Clearly, the peace between the two blocs after the fall of Soviet Union had been built on far from solid ground.

All it needed for the explosion of conflict was a minor military incursion by Georgia into South Ossetia. And look where it has got the so-called civilised world. The Russian troops have dug themselves up in a hole in Georgia and they appear in no hurry to leave.

For the first time since the end of the Cold war, the US and Russian forces are facing each other and are within the walking distance of each other. And their warships on opposing sides of the Georgia conflict have taken up the positions in the Black Sea in a war of nerves. The situation is so tense that any minor incident could lead to full-fledged conflict between the two sides.

Which is why before this dangerous business gets out of hand, the US and Russia urgently need to talk. And Europe must do everything to persuade Washington and Moscow to calm the conflict down.

As we have argued before, an overzealous Georgia by invading the South Ossetia provided a perfect excuse to the Kremlin to hit back with a vengeance. The South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the provinces claimed by Georgia, have been for all practical purposes independent states with their own parliament and presidents since 1991. Georgia committed a huge political as well as military blunder by sending its troops into South Ossetia.

If that was a costly mistake by Tbilisi, Moscow may have committed another by recognising the breakaway provinces as 'independent and sovereign' states. This is not only bound to raise the issue of Chechnya's independence, much to Moscow's discomfiture, it has also put the Kremlin in direct confrontation with the West. Which is what Georgia's US-educated, hot-headed president wants.

It would be a personal victory for President Mikheil Saakashvili if this conflict results in Georgia joining the Nato or Western military alliance. Therefore, it's high time US President Bush and Russian Prime Minister Putin, who until this conflict broke out were very close and on first name terms, got on the phone and sort this mess out. Another world war on a non-issue is in nobody's interest.



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