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Analysis: Georgia's major miscalculation?

  • Story Highlights
  • European leaders feel a special responsibility for preventing further escalation
  • CNN's Robin Oakley says Georgia's leader may have misjudged Europe's response
  • Oakley says EU nations now have "Georgia fatigue" that could affect NATO bid
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By CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley
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(CNN) -- There has been no doubt of Europe's priority in the conflict between Georgia and Russia: Bringing about a ceasefire on both sides and minimizing further bloodshed. Beyond that, nothing in this conflict is simple.

Diplomats accept Georgia's president initiated military action, perhaps to coincide with Olympics.

Diplomats accept Georgia's president initiated military action, perhaps to coincide with Olympics.

European leaders feel a special responsibility for preventing further escalation and several of them have condemned a "disproportionate" use of force by Russia. The European Commission has called for an end to all Russian military activity on Georgian soil.

But at the same time European diplomats accept that Mikheil Saakashvili initiated military action in seeking to reassert Georgian control of its breakaway province of South Ossetia, perhaps hoping that he could consolidate power there while the world was preoccupied with the Olympics.

At the time of the Rose Revolution in 2003, European lawmakers saw Saakashvili through similarly tinted spectacles, but nowadays they regard him as a somewhat headstrong figure who had already damaged his credentials as a democrat by the way in which he suppressed dissent in his country last November.

Georgia may claim that South Ossetia's leaders are controlled by the Russia's FSB security service but Europeans sense Saakashvili gave Russia the excuse it was looking for to intervene, insisting that its own "peace-keepers" in South Ossetia were under threat and had to be protected.

If Saakashvili thought that the Europeans in particular and the Western world in general would rally to his cause, he miscalculated. European diplomats have for a while been confessing a degree of "Georgia fatigue."

That was why several of the Europeans banded together at the NATO summit in Bucharest in March to frustrate U.S. President George W. Bush's demand that Georgia should be set on the first step there towards NATO membership.

It is unlikely now that when NATO's foreign ministers meet in December to look again at the question of Georgia and Ukraine being invited to join NATO's Membership Action Program they will be handing out any gilt-edged cards.

Saakashvili insists that the Russia action is "premeditated aggression." But European leaders do not echo his rhetoric when he goes on to claim that "If the whole world does not stop Russia today then Russian tanks will be able to reach any other European capital."

Whatever the provocations, they do not thank him for turning the "frozen conflict" over South Ossetia and its other breakaway region Abkhazia into a real one.

Most European leaders are in a phase of working to improve relations with Russia, not least because the EU countries are dependent on Russia now for nearly 40 percent of their energy supplies.

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They know that the Russian leadership has not taken kindly to their lectures on democracy and they are acutely aware of how irritated Russia was by most of the Europeans and the West backing the declaration of independence from Serbia declared by Kosovo. They also need to keep Russia on side in much bigger strategic questions like Iran's nuclear program.

In diplomacy the "many-sidedness of truth" is often apparent.

Those sympathetic to Georgia can point out the hypocrisy of Russia brutally suppressing separatism in Chechnya while fostering it in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But others recall the parallels the Russians continually emphasized over Kosovo with the breakaway regions of the Georgian state that have enjoyed de facto independence since the early 1990s.

Where the Europeans will draw the line is if Russia continues to violate the statehood and sovereignty of Georgia.

We have already seen sharp exchanges at the UN between U.S. and Russian representatives, with Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy, warning that "The days of overthrowing leaders by military means in Europe is over" and Europeans will certainly resist any Moscow-induced attempt to have the democratically elected Saakashvili removed by anything other than the actions of Georgian voters.

What Saakashvili has perhaps neglected is the bitterness the current Russia leadership feels not only over Kosovo but over the development of the US missile defence scheme in Europe, with installations planned in Poland and the Czech Republic, and over the steady expansion to the east both of NATO and the European Union.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his protege Dmitry Medvedev still smart for the humiliations suffered by the former Soviet Union during the Boris Yeltsin years. They remain firm believers in a Russian sphere of influence in which NATO and others meddle at their peril.

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NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer may condemn Russia for a "disproportionate use of force," echoed by Russia's traditional critics within the EU like Poland and the Baltic states.

But when it comes to anything more than supportive words, Georgia is likely to be disappointed by the European reaction. It is likely to look in vain to Brussels for practical or military help in regaining control of its separatist regions.

All About South OssetiaRepublic of GeorgiaRussiaMikhail Saakashvili

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