Commentary

Europe Accepting Status Quo with Russia

The following Q&A with Andrei Illarionov was recorded on November 2, 2009 at the Riga Conference.

Q: Europe is resuming talks with Russia although the latter has not fully complied with the six-point agreement. Does this mean that they are already accepting the status quo?

A: It looks like yes. Some of the statements from the European capitals were very indicative. It looks like Europe has already changed its course. Not only Germany and France but even the UK changed its course radically. Europe seems to have taken a decision to accept the status quo: the Russian troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and recognition of independence of the states and resuming not only negotiations but contact with the Russian authorities. To my understanding this is a repetition of Munich. I don’t see any differences between these examples of history.

Q: In your comments at the conference you were very positive about what the US did for Georgia during the war. Could Europe have done more?

A: We cannot talk about what we would like from Europe to do and what Europe can really deliver. The more I know about Europe and Europeans the less optimistic I am about that. For me it was big surprise that the EU and President Sarkozy took this position. When he took this position on August 12, Sarkozy himself did not realize what he was to deal with. The unfolding issues in the follow-up negotiations with Russian partners probably revealed that his expectations were much more optimistic. That is why he was somehow forced to stick to this process and then [used] the very first opportunity to walk out of the document which he himself signed. That is why I would not rely too much on the positions of Europeans. We have seen how they behaved in Europe in the 1930s.

Q: And the statements which we heard at this conference about Georgia’s MAP are also quite pessimistic.

A: It is quite clear that there will not be MAP for Georgia, not only in December but in the foreseeable future and the messages made here by a number of officials are quite clear. Once again it reminded me of the position taken by the British and French governments in the 1930s towards Edvard Beneš, President of Czechoslovakia. And with this refusal to provide any security guarantees means you are all alone, inviting new aggressive measures from some neighbors.

Q: So, you, in inviting, mean a new war? This is a go-ahead for Russia?

A: For me there is no doubt. It is an invitation for another war.

Q: And where? In Ukraine?

A: I don’t know which particular direction, it is impossible to predict. But I think what happened in the last three months is a very clear indication [that]everybody who has some stake - with the exception of the Georgian government - has made everything possible for another war. The main purpose of the Russian war in Georgia has not been achieved yet. It has been made clear in the statements by Medvedev that Russia has and will act, including using military force, in all those regions that is suitable for itself. It’s exactly the same policy that has been pursued by two countries in Europe, by Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR. So, it was a tragedy of the Second World War, starting with the Sudetenland. Now 70 years later one of these powers has declared a policy resembling that of the 1930s and I don’t see any reason why this cannot reoccur. No one seems to have given up the idea of using force to achieving one’s purposes.

Q: Under these circumstances what’s the choice for Georgia in terms of security? There is no alternative alliance to NATO. If NATO is saying wait and meanwhile deal with Russia yourself….

A: There is a choice. But the choice has to be taken not just by the Georgian authorities but the Georgian people as well. It’s up to Georgian society whether or not to accept this challenge. If you look at history you will see what kind of alternative was available even in the 1930s. We see there were two very clear examples: one is the position taken by Edvard Beneš who listened too much and followed the advice of European governments while relying on their promises. He found that he was wrong. But he found this out too late for himself and for the country. The other person was also listening to the advice of European governments, but did not heed it and did his own homework. This was Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, the leader of Finland, who later became president and commander-in-chief. Unlike Benes, Mannerheim spent 30 years in Russia’s military service. That’s why he understood some of the instincts of those people with whom he would then have to fight later. So, when he found himself in the situation very much like Benes, he decided to fight. The Soviet-Finnish war was incredibly bloody, bloody for both sides, including for Finland. Finland lost the war, a substantial part of its territories was lost and a half million of its people were displaced out of a 3m population - which is a higher proportion than the displaced population of Georgia. But ultimately Finland was able to defend its independence and statehood.

Q: You’re saying we have to go with war with Russia?

A: I am not saying that. The Georgian society faces very clear choices right now to follow the path of Benes or that of Mannerheim. It’s your choice and my business is to show the alternatives as clear as possible. And the outcome will be up to the choices which the Georgian society will make.

Q: Talking about Finland, the term Findlandization comes to mind. What if Georgia opts for this option and becomes a neutral country?

A: It’s not an option. It’s the outcome of the second line. Because finlandization was possible after Finland successfully fought against the Soviet troops. There were two wars and two wars were lost and only after that findlandization and neutrality were possible.

Q: Talking about Georgia’s chances for NATO membership, David Backley Senior Vice President for EU, advised Georgia to somehow settle its relations with Russia. You were one of the Kremlin’s insiders and your opinion about how this can be achieved would be interesting.

A: They [in the Kremlin] have very publicly, very clearly said: they would like to see anyone except Mikhail Saakashvili as the head of Georgia. They even said that Mrs. Burjanadze would be much more convenient for them to negotiate with. Once again it’s a choice for Georgian society whether it is ready to compromise. But history shows that it will be a terrible mistake to think that they will stop with Burjanadze. Today will be Burjanadze and tomorrow will be somebody else. After that you may end up with Giorgadze. This is a compromise on the basic principles of a democratic society. If you compromise as the Czechoslovak President did, you will see the consequences.

Andrei Illarionov currently works as a senior fellow at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC. A former economic advisor to President Putin, Illarionov has become a vocal critic of the Kremlin in recent years.