David L. Phillips is a senior fellow and the director of the Forum on Georgia and the Caucasus at the Atlantic Council of the United States. He's also the author of the recent report "Post-Conflict Georgia," which outlines the tasks facing the Georgian government and the international community in the wake of the August war with Russia.
Bidzina Ramischwili of RFE/RL's Georgian Service sat down recently with Phillips at RFE/RL's Washington headquarters to discuss the report, Russia's relations with the West, and Tbilisi's NATO aspirations.RFE/RL:
Mr. Phillips, you are the project director and author of the Atlantic Council of America's report entitled "Post-Conflict Georgia." You visited Georgia shortly after the August war and gathered firsthand material on the ground. It was not your first visit to Georgia. What was your impression? What changes did this conflict cause to the country and to the people of Georgia?
David L. Phillips:
I think that there has been an unfortunate and clear lesson demonstrated by the conduct of the West to date, which is: Western countries, particularly some in Europe, are not prepared to take on Russia.
When Georgia's involved in an armed conflict like that, it of course makes everyone feel vulnerable. And the Russians were able to demonstrate an ability to aggress against Georgia any time and any place of their choosing. So I think both the Georgian people and the leadership in Georgia took clear note of that and adjust their expectations accordingly.
The report includes important and detailed recommendations both for the Georgian government and the international community on how to deal with the results of this conflict. Could you please tell us, in a few words, what is the main message of your report? Phillips:
The main message of the report is solidarity with Georgia and the people of Georgia. The war inflicted great damage to the country's economy and, particularly at this moment, it's critical that the United States and other Western countries stand beside Georgia politically, diplomatically, and in the near term through financial aid, so that the country can begin the process of economic rehabilitation.RFE/RL:
For many people, the scale of Russia's aggression against Georgia was a surprise. What kind of surprises can we expect from Moscow in the future and will the West be able to tackle them? What kind of leverages does the West have with respect to Russia's ambitions in the Caucasus and its ambitions as a global player?Phillips:
Let's make no mistake about it. The events of August 7th and 8th didn't occur in a vacuum. There was a consistent effort by Russia over several years to provoke an armed conflict with Georgia. Clearly, there were miscalculations made on behalf of the Georgian government, but we need to be crystal clear. Russia was the aggressor; it attacked a sovereign state in violation of the international law and the UN Charter.
As far as what we can expect going forward, Russia has not achieved its primary objective, which is regime change in Georgia and to destabilize the country. Since they were not able to achieve that through military means only, one can expect continued pressure and efforts by Russia to create economic chaos in Georgia as a way of inflicting harm on the Georgian people and the government of Georgia.
What's very important at this stage is that the leadership in Tbilisi stay cool and calm and not respond to provocations that are ongoing and sure to come from Moscow.RFE/RL:
How dangerous is Russia's desire to regain its influence in the world? Can we expect a serious worsening of relations between Russia and the West? Can we expect a new Cold War?Phillips:
I don't think there is a new Cold War. I think that Russia is resurgent; it has identified strategic interests in the territories of the former Soviet Union. It's also flexing its muscles worldwide using its petrodollars to support its economic policies, and clearly there is a response by Russia to NATO's expansion, which is manifested by proposals to create new security arrangements that would transcend NATO's role in the past.
If in the next few years Russia continues to occupy Georgian territory and if it does not rescind its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it would be a shame on the international community to gather in 2014 in Sochi for the Winter Olympics.
Is Russia dangerous? It certainly is capable of being meddlesome, being provocative. It hasn't been helpful on key issues such as moderating Iran's nuclear program. Russia and the West have some important convergent interests when it comes to nonproliferation and the fight against terrorism. But if there's going to be cooperation between Russia and the West, Russia needs to be the kind of country which is reliable and which plays by the rules and abides by international norms. And clearly Russia under Vladimir Putin hasn't demonstrated that temperament and the trends are negative. RFE/RL:
How can the West make Russia do all this? What leverages does the international community have?Phillips:
I think there are two parts to the question: What leverages potentially exist and what leverages is the West prepared to exercise? There is a lot of potential leverage when it comes to Russia's membership in the [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development], which is a long-term prospect; its [World Trade Organization] aspirations; its seat within the G8. Europe also has a lot of leverage over Russia through the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, through the visa facilitation regime.
But I think that there has been an unfortunate and clear lesson demonstrated by the conduct of the West to date, which is: Western countries, particularly some in Europe, are not prepared to take on Russia. They are more interested in doing business as usual and having reliable energy supplies than in confronting Russia. It may be possible through cooperation and dialogue to move Russia in the kind of direction that we would like to see.
But if in the next few years Russia continues to occupy Georgian territory and if it does not rescind its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it would be a shame on the international community to gather in 2014 in Sochi for the Winter Olympics. So there will need to be some consideration by the U.S. and other Western countries as to their participation. I think also the International Olympic Committee has to consider, if Russia doesn't amend its behavior, whether or not Russia's violation of Olympic principles would allow Sochi to continue to serve as the host site for the Olympic Games.RFE/RL:
Many analysts say one of the main reasons for Russia's aggression against Georgia was Tbilisi's NATO aspirations. Does Georgia still have chances to get the Membership Action Plan (MAP) in December or in the near future? Phillips:
When you talk to the officials from NATO member states, they all reaffirm the commitment of the Bucharest communique, that Georgia will someday become a member of NATO. And they refer in consultations to a first review of Georgia's progress at the upcoming December meeting.
So the intention is there to broaden cooperation and to gradually bring Georgia into the alliance. But I don't think there is any realistic prospect of that happening in the near term, and clearly NATO is going to be very measured about making those commitments to Georgia because of the mutual-defense elements of the alliance treaty that would require it to come to Georgia's aid in the event of renewed conflict with Russia.
So there, too, it's a long-term endeavor, but the intention exists to bring Georgia into the alliance based on its capabilities and the conditions that exist at the time.
For RFE/RL's full coverage of the conflict that began in Georgia's breakway region of South Ossetia, click here