A Fragile Ceasefire, McCain’s New Cold War, and the Same Old Addiction to Oil

 In washington

As French President Nicolas Sarkozy landed in Moscow to discuss Georgia, Russian President Medvedev accepted calls for a ceasefire. The Russian leader accepted a six-point set of principles for ending hostilities between Russia and Georgia. The plan includes a return to the countries’ positions before this last weekend’s flare up and free access for humanitarian assistance. More than 2000 people are reported dead in the fighting and it will take time and sustained effort for the peace agreement to take hold.

As we reported yesterday, there is a Cold War feel in the air. John McCain’s foreign policy platform has for some time featured harsh language about Russia and a plan to kick Russia out of the G8. (Considering that the G8 works by consensus that means Russia would have to boot itself out!) McCain has also poked fun of Bush’s statement that Bush looked into Putin’s eyes and saw his soul saying instead: "I looked in his eyes and saw three things a K and a G and a B". Which I suppose may be kind of funny, but it’s an unwise thing to say, with Russian nuclear weapons still trained onto American cities, still on hair trigger alert.

McCain’s Cold War accent has grown more pronounced during the Georgia conflict. McCain called for a meeting of the G-7 excluding Russia to meet about the situation. He also wanted to “review measures NATO can take to contribute to stabilizing this very dangerous situation". And now McCain has decided that "Today We are All Georgians". Some of this may be retro Cold War bluster, some of it may come from McCain campaign ties to Georgia. As the Wall Street Journal reported:

In 2005, Mr. Scheunemann asked Sen. McCain to introduce a Senate resolution expressing support for peace in the Russian-influenced region of South Ossetia that wants to break away from Georgia, the records show.

Such resolutions of Senate support are symbolic but helpful to countries in their diplomatic relations. The Senate approved Sen. McCain’s resolution in December 2005, and the Georgian Embassy posted the text on its Web site.

Sen. McCain has endorsed Georgia’s goal of entering NATO, a matter for which the country hired Mr. Scheunemann to lobby. In 2006, Senator McCain gave a speech at the Munich Conference on Security in Germany in which he said, "Georgia has implemented far-reaching political, economic, and military reforms" and should enter NATO, a text of his speech on the conference Web site shows.

As if that is not enough Cold War intrigue, there is of course the resource war twist to the Georgia conflict. The South Caucasus region is a major conduit for oil and gas to the West. The U.S. is looking to this oil to reduce dependence on Russian and Middle East oil. Georgia itself is the site of three major pipelines. One analyst gives his perspective on the conflict: "The Russian invasion is not about South Ossetia. It is about regime change in Tbilisi, reimposing a 19th-century sphere of influence in the South Caucasus, limiting the autonomy of the countries there, and through all these devices maintaining control of energy transmission lines to the West."

So the Russian government could be motivated by it’s tight connections with that country’s energy industry. Sounds kinda familiar don’t it?

The Georgia conflict reflects two of the most dangerous dynamics of last century’s geopolitics: the Cold War and an addiction to oil. Let’s hope the next president can create the high-octane blend of smart diplomacy and renewable energy that can avert lethal conflicts as we ride onward into the rest of the 21st century.

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  • libhomo

    I think so much of the analysis of the situation is mistakenly based on the notion of Putin’s Russia being similar to the Soviet Union. From what I’ve seen, there is a new Russian, not Soviet, Empire and the historical lessons from pre-Soviet Russia would be of considerable use if any of our policy makers knew Russian history.

  • Jon Rainwater

    Thanks libhomo for your post. I was thinking a similar thing when I wrote this post. While the rhetoric is reminiscent of the Cold War (as are the US and Russian nuclear arsenals), the geopolitics are reminiscent of what the British called the “Great Game” between the British Empire and the Tsarist Russian Empire.
    Some Americans politicians are pointing to the Russian empire and unfortunately for some it’s combined with some rather wild saber waving and rattling. Today McCain told a Pennsylvania radio station: “I think it’s very clear that Russian ambitions are to restore the old Russian Empire. Not the Soviet Union, but the Russian Empire.”

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