The Russian assault on Georgia is less about that country than it is another past part of the old Soviet sphere, Ukraine. Had the West given some clearer signs of support to both and let it be known it wanted them in NATO “with a more definite timetable,” the Russians might not have interfered in Georgia.
So Dr. Liam Fox, the “shadow” (opposition) defense secretary for the British Conservative Party, told me on Saturday. Physician-politician Fox took time from a summer holiday in Spain with his wife to discuss by phone the Georgia crisis, the involvement of both NATO and the European Union, and the impact Russia’s strike in Georgia could have on oil and energy.
Fox, his party’s top spokesman on national security issues, also delineated the differences on Georgia between the opposition Conservatives and the ruling New Labour Party of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
“The position by [Conservative Leader] David Cameron has been considerably more robust,” said Fox, “The principles that Georgian sovereign territory have been violated, that Russian forces should leave, and the disrespect for international law have all been pointed out by [Cameron].”
Expelling Russia from the G-8 group of nations and restricting visas for Russian citizens to Great Britain are among the steps Cameron has called for. Fox contrasted these strong stances with no calls for action from Prime Minister Brown, who, he said, “has been noticeable by his absence [from the Georgia debate] and lack of leadership.”
When I read the reply from White House Press Secretary Dana Perino about my question that the European Union has been consulted on Georgia more than NATO and her insistence that NATO “is being kept in the loop,” Fox took exception with President Bush’s top spokeswoman.
“I think [EU President and French President] Sarkozy has been taking the lead and NATO has been hampered, taking something of a back seat, and we are witnessing a weakness in NATO at the present time,” he said, “I think you are seeing a weakness inside of NATO because of Afghanistan, and a feeling that it didn’t step up to the plate in Afghanistan. So the EU is seen as balancing, if not usurping, the traditional role of NATO in a crisis [like Georgia].”