Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Hope in Caucasus Spat

It was clear from the beginning that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe would not vote for the initiative that would have denied Russia its voting rights in the organization.

But what is most interesting about the resolution is what it revealed about each European country’s attitude toward Russia. Poland and the Baltic states comprise a bloc in Europe that advocates taking a hard line with Russia, but they have insufficient influence to force their position on the moderate majority in the assembly.

That majority is not particularly thrilled with Russia’s policies in general and its actions in the Caucasus in particular, but it feels that it would be counterproductive and even dangerous to close this important diplomatic channel between Russia and Europe, thereby irritating Moscow and provoking a harsh and counterproductive reaction.

Of course, Moscow interpreted the Parliamentary Assembly decision as Russia’s latest diplomatic victory. It is difficult to judge to what extent Russian diplomatic pressure influenced the final vote, but this is irrelevant. Far more important are the conclusions Moscow draws from the decision. Its most likely response will be to do nothing at all.

The logic of the wait-and-see position is simple: Time is working in Russia’s favor. The political liability of the Caucasus conflict is fading into the past and is being eclipsed by other problems and conflicts. European countries have no other choice but to work closely with the Kremlin, and Russia’s main European partners — Germany, France and Italy — will never allow the radical states to make their point of view the predominant one in Europe. As for Poland and the Baltic states, they will never be completely satisfied, so the best approach is to politely ignore them in those instances when they go out of their way to spite Russia instead of working to build better relations.

Despite its weaknesses, Parliamentary Assembly resolutions offer a good opportunity to begin discussions on the problems in the Caucasus with European partners. This type of dialogue would have been impossible a year ago because passions were running too high last fall, and too many questions were unresolved regarding the causes and consequences of the Russia-Georgia war. Now that those passions have cooled somewhat, Europe favors a more measured and objective analysis of what actually happened in August 2008. Attesting to that is the recently published report by a European Union commission that contains many points worthy of consideration.

The South Caucasus will always be of interest to Europeans because of its historical, cultural and geopolitical importance. The region is clearly more important for Russia, and its problems are inseparably bound up with many of our own domestic problems. But it seems that neither Russia nor Europe has a long-term strategic approach to the region. Russia, Georgia and European institutions are in a deadlock over the region, and the problem will not be resolved by itself. It requires political will, perseverance and the readiness to search for compromises with opponents.

If the Parliamentary Assembly resolution and the EU-commissioned report can be considered as positive gestures toward Russia, wouldn’t it be appropriate to consider what gesture Russia could make toward Europe in return? For example, Russia could issue its own report giving a critical reevaluation of its actions during the conflict. It might also show greater flexibility when discussing the problems of the region at the United Nations Security Council, or to in some way demonstrate its readiness for a substantive and serious discussion of the South Caucasus with its European partners.

Clearly, these negotiations would not be concluded quickly or easily. We have to take the positions of Russia’s perennial and numerous European opponents into consideration as well. They might perceive Russian flexibility as a sign of weakness and cause for stepping up pressure on Moscow.

Nonetheless, at this moment there is an opportunity to move away from the long-standing impasse over the Caucasus. Let’s hope Russia doesn’t miss this chance.

Andrei Kortunov is president of the New Eurasia Foundation in Moscow.