The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

The US takes a hard line at the UNSC

August 10, 2008

Early reports suggest that the US UNSC draft resolution condemns the Russians and calls for a return to the status quo prior to the Georgian offensive, a message the US has also publicly delivered through diplomatic channels.

This comes as the Georgians insist they’ve pulled their forces back and call for cease-fire negotiations. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov disputes Georgian claims that their forces have left South Ossetia, the Russians continue air raids into Georgia, and the Russians now say that they’ve sunk a Georgian missile boat that attempted to attack elements of the Black Sea Fleet.

No wonder, then, that the US accuses the Russians of seeking “regime change” (I’ll pass on any irony contained therein).

The United States suggested on Sunday that Russia was interested in “regime change” in Georgia after Moscow rejected Tbilisi’s offer of a cease-fire in the separatist region of South Ossetia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the president of Georgia “must go,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the Security Council.

Khalilzad then looked straight at Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin and asked if Moscow was looking for “regime change.”

“Is the goal of the Russian Federation to change the leadership of Georgia?” he said.

Churkin did not directly address the question but said there are leaders who “become an obstacle.”

“Sometimes those leaders need to contemplate how useful they have become to their people,” Churkin told reporters later.

“Regime change is purely an American invention,” he said. “We’re all for democracy in Georgia.”

In Moscow, Lavrov said the departure of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was not a must to solve the crisis but that Russia no longer saw him as a partner.

Khalilzad told reporters the telephone call between Rice and Lavrov was “disturbing,” adding that the days of overthrowing European governments by force were over.

The U.S. envoy said he would introduce a U.N. resolution condemning Moscow, even though Russia is a permanent council member with the power to veto it.

Whatever the merits, this escalation in rhetoric–and the forthcoming UNSC draft resolution–can’t possibly be helpful. Talking tough to the Russians in the absence of any real leverage doesn’t do much other than to antagonize them when, to be blunt, US officials ought to be focusing on frank discussions with the Russians and Georgians about what each side will accept.

A quick tangent: the current line on those “dark skinned” bodies seems to focus on whether or not they were mercenaries.

Another tangent: recall earlier speculation about the connection between Russian rhetoric and western justifications for recognizing Kosovo’s independence? CNN: “The agreement, however, would have to include political changes for South Ossetia, [Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory] Karasin said. “They no longer believe they can live safely in the state of Georgia,” he said.”

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.