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What to Do About Russia and Georgia

McCain and Obama differ on how to deal with Russia's aggression. What do their statements imply about a future presidency?
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Emergency personnel in front of buildings destroyed in an air raid in Tkviavi, Georgia.

Click here for images from the conflict


The crisis between Russia and Georgia has escalated intensely over the last few days. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said Monday that Russian troops had effectively cut his country in half, according to reports from

The Associated Press


He also announced a cease-fire and troop withdrawal from South Ossetia and Abkhazia (the separatist areas in dispute). Calls for a Russian cease-fire from the West have gone unanswered by Russia.

Russia remains a critical player on the world stage, a member of the G-8 and the United Nations Security Council. What do recent comments by the presidential candidates Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) tell us about future U.S.-Russia relations?

McCain continued beating on that drum Monday during a press conference in Erie, Pa.:"

Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin must understand the severe, long-term negative consequences that their government's actions will have for Russia' relationship with the U.S. and Europe. The United States and our allies should continue efforts to bring a resolution before the U.N. Security Council, noting the withdrawal of Georgian troops from South Ossetia, and calling for an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgian territory. We should move ahead with the resolution despite Russian veto threats, and submit Russia to the court of world public opinion.


Those are strong words. McCain basically wants the U.S. and our NATO allies to work together to embarrass Russia in the world's eyes. Russia may not react kindly to such scrutiny.

It is interesting to note that McCain mentioned NATO instead of the European Union. NATO originates from an effort to contain the former Soviet Union through military coordination during the Cold War. He appears ready to take the mantle and re-establish a Cold War.

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Obama, like McCain, issued stronger statements on Saturday than his original one Friday. It included condemning Russia's invasion of the sovereign territory of Georgia, supporting the boundaries and independence of Georgia. He said in a statement: "

As I have said for many months, aggressive diplomatic action must be taken to reach a political resolution to this crisis, and to assure that Georgia's sovereignty is protected. Diplomats at the highest levels from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations must become directly involved in mediating this military conflict and beginning a process to resolve the political disputes over the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A genuinely neutral mediator -- not the Russian government -- must begin a process of negotiations immediately.


However, Obama avoided the strong references to military action from alliances like NATO and stopped short of calling for a U.N. resolution to embarrass Russia.

This distinction would not go unnoticed by the Russians. The EU has been willing to work with Russia on a variety of agreements that include securing natural gas from Russia. NATO, on the other hand, has been working to organize many former Russian satellites and clients for inclusion in the alliance. These maneuvers come as a provocation to Russia.

Russia's loss of influence and the threat of a greater NATO alliance in Georgia serve as a root to the current crisis. Saakashvili has relied heavily on friendships with Bush and McCain. Saakashvili had pushed for inclusion into NATO, and some opine it


in the Russian reaction to invade Georgia.

The U.S. has had a rocky relationship with Russia for several years. Since the former Soviet Union dismantled, a Moscow-led Russia has struggled with a loss of identity and a loss of political power and influence. Much of that influence was exercised through the Warsaw Pact -- the U.S.S.R's answer to NATO -- which fell apart in 1991.The present discord between the U.S. and Russia can be traced to our involvement in Kosovo.

The U.S. and NATO quickly recognized Kosovo's independence earlier this year. This shocked many at the U.N. who had spoken against recognizing the country, including China and Russia. Subverting the U.N. process comes as another attempt by the U.S. to spurn Russia and run an end-around its U.N. veto in the Security Council.

Aggravating Russia carries some risk. Russia continues to be a nuclear power and has vast resources in natural wealth. The bull market in commodities has reinvigorated a Russia that experienced economic disaster in the 1990s. Russia may want to show its renewed strength.

For example, it has supported Iran's recent efforts to develop nuclear power reactors. Iran claims the reactors are needed for energy, while the U.S. fears Iran's terrorist ties and it becoming a nuclear power. Russia's stance has put the U.S. and its allies in an awkward position and weakened our ability to negotiate with Iran.

The next U.S. president must decide how to deal with Russia. Do we continue to thwart Russia by undercutting its political influence or work with it to increase nuclear security in the world?

McCain appears to be more comfortable suggesting military action to resolve conflict than Obama. Voters may be deciding on whether or not to restart a Cold War.