LONDON – The war in Georgia has clearly exposed the security vacuum in the surrounding region, as well as a lot of raw nerves. Russia’s hasty decision to recognize the “independence” of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was a shot across the bow for every former Soviet country, and has intensified speculation about who might be “next” – and how to prevent Russia from multiplying the supposed Kosovo “precedent” in other ex-Soviet countries.
Having established itself as the main broker in the conflict, the European Union has many urgent priorities in Georgia itself. But it should also be thinking ahead about how it can demonstrate a stronger commitment to security, democracy, and prosperity in the European “neighborhood.” The most effective way of dealing with a newly assertive Russia will be for Europe to issue a collective refusal to accept a bipolar Europe of distinct Russian and EU spheres of influence.
The place to start is Ukraine. Fortunately, the EU-Ukraine summit on September 9 in Evian, France, provides the perfect opportunity.
Many Ukrainians now hear domestic echoes of the lead-up to war in Georgia. Ukraine has its own potentially separatist region in Crimea, and the country’s Russian minority numbers some 8.3 million (the largest minority in Europe). Half of Ukraine’s population is Russian-speaking in various degrees. Although the Ukrainian constitution bans dual citizenship, the government has had to launch an inquiry into alleged covert Russian passport-holding in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Ukrainians note that Russia justified its invasion of Georgia, as the Nazis justified their dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, as being necessary to “protect” a minority to whom they had just given citizenship.