Part of the continuing discussion on Russia since the invasion of Georgia
This article was published by Guardian Comment is Free on 18th August 2008
We cannot remain deaf to cries for help from countries threatened by Moscow. To do so would be to repeat Chamberlain's mistake
The tone is changing on Russia. While bien-pensants in London for whom Georgians are an irritating, faraway people of which they know nothing are explaining away Putin's invasion, across the Channel reality is kicking in.
In today's Le Figaro, President Sarkozy is adopting a much tougher tone. He now says all Russian troops must clear out of Georgia and says he will call a full EU council if this does not happen.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, visited Tbilisi and said Georgia will join Nato. Die Zeit's weekend headline was "The Russian Danger" and its publisher Helmut Schmidt is sending a clear signal to the pro-Russian German foreign office that it is time the scales fell from its eyes.
As Sir Roderick Braithwaite, the astute former ambassador in Moscow and a man sympathetic to Russians pointed out some time ago, Russia has done far more invading than it has been invaded. Napoleon and Hitler failed to conquer Moscow but Russian armies – Tsarist and Soviet – have occupied every European capital east of the Rhine.
Hence the very different perspective on the Russian air-sea-land assault on a UN member state from EU nations closer to Moscow. Barely noticed in the crisis last week were the visits by the presidents of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Ukraine to stand alongside President Saakashvili as a gesture of solidarity.
The Russian response was to threaten Poland with nuclear weapons as the terrified Poles signed an agreement with America on kinetic (unarmed) missile defence shield bases. When Carl Bildt, Sweden's experienced and balanced foreign minister, expressed concern about Russia's behaviour, Moscow's response was to threaten a naval re-militarisation of the Baltic.
Future trouble looms over Ukraine's sovereign coast line on the Crimean Black Sea where the Russian warm-water fleet is stationed.
President Sarkozy's remarks that Russia had some rights in Georgia sent a chill down the spine of Baltic states which have Russian speaking citizens, installed after Stalin's invasion of these small countries in 1940. Finland, which fought a war with Russia in 1940, shivers at what the new Putin doctrine might mean.
The huge Polish diaspora in North America, Britain and elsewhere will see all its atavistic fears about Russia resurface. It is unlikely that Obama or McCain will risk alienating this voting bloc by adopting anything other than hard, harsh language on Russia – just as Sarkozy and Merkel have had to harden their tone and start to speak more like David Miliband, who is being reported in the continental press as being authoritative and tough on Russia in contrast to more uncritical lines from some European foreign ministers.
Putin may have thought that sweeping the Georgian pawn off the board was the end of the game. Alas, it is is only the beginning, and Britain cannot betray Poland and its fellow EU and Nato allies as Chamberlain did in the 1930s.
About this article
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Monday August 18 2008. It was last updated at 14:30 on August 18 2008.