BRUSSELS -- Speaking to RFE/RL on the eve of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to Russia on August 15, the foreign-policy spokesman of the Christian Democrat Union/Christian Social Union faction in the German Bundestag, Eckart von Klaeden, said Georgia has a "natural right" to choose its own allies. Von Klaeden spoke with RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent, Ahto Lobjakas.
RFE/RL: Do you think that NATO's failure to give Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP) in some way encouraged Moscow to attack Georgia?
Eckart Von Klaeden: No, I don't think so. The [NATO] Bucharest [summit] statement is on this point very clear. It says Ukraine and Georgia will become members of NATO. But this commitment stands on two pillars. One is that both nations have to fulfill the criteria to become, first, members of the Membership Action Plan program, and after that, of course, full members; and the second is that there is no direct or indirect veto of Russia.
The second point maybe has to be stressed more these days than before, but on the other hand Georgia and Ukraine have to fulfill the criteria and as long as they don't do this, it is not possible to offer them this program.
RFE/RL: If Ukraine -- and specifically Georgia -- meet these criteria, can they still join NATO at some point?
Von Klaeden: Of course, I don't think there's any need to change this policy. Otherwise, Russia could hinder [the NATO] membership of a country by attacking it and this is, of course, something that we have to strictly reject -- such ambitions. Of course, Georgia can, if they have passed successfully the Membership Action Plan program and fulfilled the criteria. This is what NATO has decided already in Bucharest with the votes of all its member states.
RFE/RL: Do you think the United States made a mistake when pushed for a quick MAP for Georgia in the run-up to Bucharest?
Von Klaeden: Our impression is, here in Germany, that the United States changed its position with regard to Georgia and Ukraine within the last two or three weeks before the summit. And, of course, changing such an important position is, I would say, a mistake, but I wouldn't blame the United States for the military action and the attack of Russia. I think both
sides of the medal in this argument -- one saying that [the rejection of the] Membership Action Plan encouraged Russia, others saying the pressure of the United States encouraged Georgia to do something to South Ossetia -- are both wrong, I think.
Not A Fair Comparison
RFE/RL: NATO's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoops Scheffer said on August 12 that NATO cannot get involved in Georgia because it has no mandate. Yet NATO does have a mandate in Afghanistan. Does this mean that Georgia
is not as important for Euro-Atlantic security as Afghanistan?
Von Klaeden: No, I think this is not the comparison de Hoop Scheffer made. He is just describing the situation regarding international law. In Afghanistan, NATO has under ISAF a mandate from [the UN] Security Council, and obviously [does not have one] for Georgia. I also think that NATO will not get a mandate for Georgia because one part of the conflict is Russia and Russia is a veto state in the Security Council -- so it is very, very unlikely that NATO would get such a mandate.
RFE/RL: Would it be fair to say then that Russia to a certain extent determines the limits of NATO's global mission?
Von Klaeden: I think this is the wrong category to think about it. If we think about the missions of NATO [under] the mandate of the UN Security Council, every veto power in the Security Council limits in that way the abilities of NATO to act on the global stage and so, of course, Russia also. But this is nothing new.
RFE/RL: Shouldn't NATO then try to go around the UN Security Council, circumvent it?
Von Klaeden: No, I think this is really too much speculation and I don't think that it would improve the situation if we would think about such steps now.
RFE/RL: Do you think the EU mediation effort conducted by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner achieved any added value or did it simply serve as a conduit for Russia to make its terms known to Georgia?
Von Klaeden: It is too early to say. I think the advantage of the French initiative as [the holders of] the presidency of the European Union is that they gained the prerequisites for a cease-fire. But the mistake they made was to question indirectly the territorial integrity of Georgia by saying that there could be negotiations about the final status of South Ossetia
and Abkhazia, but in the end Georgia rejected this and Russia accepted that, so there [was no] damage.
RFE/RL: How do you interpret the term "additional security measures" that the cease-fire agreement allows Russian peacekeepers to undertake? Can they go into Georgia proper at will?
Von Klaeden: No.
RFE/RL: Do you think that Russia is still fit to be a strategic partner for the European Union?
Von Klaeden: I think Russia is in some areas a partner, in other areas it is an opponent, in [still] other areas it is a competitor. I think it is wrong to think in the terms of the Cold War, and it is also wrong to think in the terms of the 1990s, when we all thought that we could integrate a democratic Russia with [some] deficits into the West. So we need, the European Union needs a common and differentiated answer to the Russian character.
RFE/RL: The EU seeks a "strategic partnership" with Russia. How do you conceive of that notion?
Von Klaeden: Regarding the term "strategic partnership" -- we have two definitions of that. One is the definition of the European Union, and the EU says it [encompasses] both interests and values, and then there is the definition from the Russian strategy, from the same year, saying strategic partners share interests but not values. So, the Russian strategy only talks about interests, but not about values. And a partnership can always be only as deep as both partners agree. So, in the end, it is about interests and not so much about values. For me, it's [been] clear for a long time, but it is, I think, now obvious."
Unity Is 'Main Muscle'
RFE/RL: But what precisely does the EU's leverage then consist of? How can it influence Russia's actions?
Von Klaeden: I think unity is our main "muscle." Because in the end, I believe, Russia has an interest in good relations with the EU. It wants to sell its energy resources to us, it needs us for the modernization of the country, and in the end that also would stabilize the political situation in the country. So, in the end, I think Russia has an interest in integration. And we have to hinder Russia to be successful with a "divide et impera" strategy towards the European Union. So unity is our main tool.
RFE/RL: Does this mean that the Baltic countries and Poland will have to fall into line with the German and French positions?
Von Klaeden: The other way around. Both. A common position needs compromises from every side.
RFE/RL: And what kind of compromises do you see Germany making in the near term?
Von Klaeden: I think we should wait for the meeting of [German] Chancellor [Angela Merkel] and [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev [on August 15] and then, I think, you will get some answers to that [question].
RFE/RL: And finally, do you think that the EU will now be forced to accept the existence of a Russian sphere of influence which marks the limits of the EU's own transformative power?
Von Klaeden: No, I think I don't think so. Thinking in [terms of] spheres of influence is Cold War or 19th-century thinking. Every free nation has the right to decide which alliance or union they want to join. On the other [hand], of course, it is the right of every union and alliance to decide whether those nations will become members or not. But it is the natural right of every free nation to decide which unions and alliances they want to join and there is no direct or indirect veto from someone