In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Britain accused of betraying Georgia and handing victory to Russia

Posted by seumasach on November 1, 2008


We wouldn’t be true Brits if we weren’t betraying someone, but in our view this is the “right betrayal”, as New Labour might put it. We recently speculated as to a possible shift in policy corresponding with the appointment of Mandelson. Is this it?

David Blair


30th October, 2008

Britain is preparing to “sell” Georgia and hand a “victory” to Russia by agreeing to start talks on a partnership agreement between Moscow and the European Union, according to senior European diplomats.


This would amount to a return to “business as usual” and a “clear signal” that Russia had escaped any lasting diplomatic penalty for invading Georgia in August, they said.

Only eight weeks ago, Gordon Brown helped persuade other European leaders to punish Russia for its strike into Georgia by postponing talks on a new “Partnership and Cooperation Agreement” with the EU. Aside from verbal condemnation and a general review of the EU’s relations with Moscow, this was the only tangible counter-measure imposed on the Kremlin after the war.

Both the Prime Minister and David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, reaffirmed Britain’s position during a European summit two weeks ago.

Yet European diplomats say that Britain has changed its stance. France, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, is expected to press for starting the talks with Moscow. British officials are said to have privately told other governments that London will not oppose this move.

A senior diplomat from a Central European country recalled how Mr Miliband visited Georgia shortly after the Russian invasion.

“That was the David Miliband we liked. But the signals we hear right now are that somehow the position has changed,” he said.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France will host an EU-Russia summit in Nice on Nov 14. This event could clear the way for negotiations with the Kremlin.

“Miliband was so strongly in favour of us from the first days of the conflict. Now he is making a U-turn within two weeks just to please Sarkozy. What happened in this world that caused this change?” asked the diplomat.

“Sarkozy wants to have a good summit. He’s an Emperor, he’s trying to celebrate his victories, he’s trying to say that Russia is doing everything it’s supposed to do, which is nonsense.”

Mr Miliband has insisted that Russia obey a six-point ceasefire deal, which ended the Georgia war on Aug 12, before any talks on the partnership agreement can start. Two weeks ago, the Foreign Secretary said the negotiations depended on “continuing Russian compliance with those commitments that it made in August”.

But Russia has broken point five of the ceasefire deal by failing to withdraw its forces to their pre-war positions. William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said the Government would be guilty of a “major U-turn” if it agreed to start the talks regardless. Mr Hague added: “It would show Russia that aggression pays off, that Britain and other European countries are incapable of holding a firm line against aggression and that Russia’s neighbours cannot rely on the EU to protect them from Russian bullying.”

The European diplomat said a change in Britain’s stance had been made clear in a series of meetings. “All our contacts with British diplomats confirm it, be it in Brussels or be it in London. The whole [British] diplomatic corps is saying the same in every country,” he said. “If we sell Georgia like that, we will have another war and who will be responsible for that?”

He added: “So we have two months of solidarity and then business as usual.”

A senior British diplomat based in a European country confirmed that London’s position had “evolved” in the last two weeks and said the Foreign Office had decided against blocking dialogue with Russia in the long term.

But a Foreign Office spokesman in London denied any policy change and described Britain’s stance as “clear and consistent”. “We want to have a productive relationship with Russia. But we will take stock of the situation with our European partners next week,” he added.

Another European diplomat said the talks were an important “symbol” and Russia would claim a “victory” if they started. “For Moscow, the signal will be clear – we are winning this,” he said.

He asked whether Britain’s position was linked to this week’s visit to Russia by Lord Mandelson, the business secretary. While leading a four-day trade mission to Moscow, Lord Mandelson identified a thaw in Anglo-Russian relations. “You have seen a desire to re-engage, to bring some thawing and hopefully in that context not only advance our economic relationship … but also to see a chance to resolve some of our political differences,” he said

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