NATO and the EU must learn from Caucasus crisis

The conflict between Georgia and Russia was a foreseeable one that should encourage NATO members to redefine the transatlantic alliance, argues Thomas Kunze from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

NATO and the EU must learn from Caucasus crisis
Photo: DPA

It was only a matter of time before events would unfold as they did this week in the southern Caucasus region. Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili, valued by the United States because of his anti-Russian stance, tried to bring the secessionist and quasi-independent republic of South Ossetia and its 80,000 inhabitants back under Georgian control.

Saakashvili gambled big, but ended up only provoking Russia – which had been waiting for just such an opportunity to teach Tbilisi a lesson. As a result, both South Ossetia and Georgia have been plunged into a humanitarian and political catastrophe.

At the NATO summit in Bucharest only four months ago, the United States and other new members of the transatlantic alliance pushed for a Membership Action Plan for Georgia. If more sceptical leaders – German Chancellor Angela Merkel included – hadn’t prevailed back then, there would now be the situation that NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had explicitly warned against: he stressed that new alliance members should bring “added value, not added problems.”

The European Union signed an agreement with Georgia in 2006 under the auspices of the European Neighbourhood Policy with the aim of improving the country’s access to the EU’s single market. At the same time, the EU hoped the agreement – along with similar deals sealed with Armenia and Azerbaijan – would help solve the territorial conflicts in the troubled region.

The recent outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Georgia poses a serious setback for EU efforts. But even in the context of the growing rivalry between Moscow and Washington in the Caucasus and the damage to Russian and Georgian ties, the solution to the present territorial conflict is only possible via European mediation. There is no way around having EU foreign policy take on more responsibility in the region.

Russian interest in the contested territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are clear: Moscow wants to keep and strengthen its influence in the “near abroad” after pulling out troops that were stationed there during Soviet times. Its methods for pursuing such a policy include making use of the “Russian citizens” in those republics, garnering the moral and political support of the elites, as well as offering direct financial support and economic investment.

If the EU becomes more involved in the Caucasus region’s energy and security interests, this cannot succeed in confrontation with Russia. A security structure for an enlarged Europe – taking in former Soviet republics – will only be possible in cooperation with the Russian Federation. The promise that NATO would not expand eastward following the reunification of Germany – made to both the Soviet Union and later Russia – has been broken. A further expansion into the former Soviet territory would pose a considerable risk to the alliance’s security policy.

In light of new asymmetrical threats around the world, NATO members in the coming years will not be able to avoid thinking about redefining transatlantic relations so that it includes both Russia and the former Soviet republics.

Dr Thomas Kunze is the director of the Europe and North America department of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Berlin. Translation by The Local.


Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

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‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.