Georgia/ Russia: Blame Merkel?

Edward Lucas, The Economist’s Central and Eastern European specialist, says the current unpleasantness in South Ossetia was made possible by a spineless West.

Our fatal mistake was made at the Nato summit in Bucharest in April, when Georgia’s attempt to get a clear path to membership of the alliance was rebuffed. Mr Saakashvili warned us then that Russia would take advantage of any display of Western weakness or indecision. And it has.

In this view, the villainess in the piece would be Angela Merkel, whose economic politics are centre-right but whose foreign policy often diverges sharply from that of her Anglosphere colleagues. She said at the NATO summit in May that countries “entangled in regional conflicts” mustn’t become NATO members, and she stared down advocates of quick NATO membership for Georgia, including George W. Bush and Stephen Harper.

I should say that my own hunch, and that’s about all it is, is that a quick road map to NATO would not have staved off this week’s sudden and murderous confrontation. It could be NATO’s quick encirclement of Russia that has made Putin and his putative boss Medvedev more skittish. Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

It’s certainly true the Saakashvili regime in Georgia is ardently pro-West, eager to please the Bush White House even as it flies the flag of a European Union it cannot hope to join anytime soon. Did those ties speed Putin’s hand? Or did Western weakness and inattention leave Georgia out to twist in the wind? Or was war simply inevitable? That’ll be one of the debates of the week ahead.