EU: Maybe we'll kick Russia out of the G-8

Europe has begun discussing tough sanctions on Russia for their imperial invasion of Georgia, and it has Vladimir Putin worried.  Normally mild-mannered Germany has broached the idea of freezing Moscow out of the G-7, and Britain has implored its fellow EU partners not to let Russia bully them through energy deliveries.  The mood on the Continent has taken a distinct turn away from Russia, and may get worse:

European heavyweights Germany and Britain questioned Russia’s ties with global institutions on Sunday, a day before EU leaders meet to decide what action to take over the Kremlin’s intervention in Georgia. …

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the rotating EU presidency, called the summit so the bloc can respond to Russia’s intervention in Georgia and its recognition of independence for two breakaway regions.

“In the light of Russian actions, the EU should review — root and branch — our relationship with Russia,” Brown wrote in a comment published in Britain’s Observer newspaper. He made no mention of possible EU sanctions against Russia.

Referring to Russia’s role as a supplier of more than a quarter of Europe’s gas — which some analysts say has tempered European condemnation — Brown said: “No nation can be allowed to exert an energy stranglehold over Europe.”

Eckart von Klaeden, who holds the foreign policy brief for Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in parliament, said leading industrial nations should meet as the G7, without Russia, until Russia complies with international demands.

Putin noted that he expects some kind of action, and worries about the potential fracture from the West:

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has urged EU leaders to show “common sense” and ignore calls for sanctions, while acknowledging Russia was nervous about what’s in store.

“If I were to say that we don’t care, that we were indifferent, I would be lying,” Putin said in an interview to Germany’s ARD television.

The powerful former Kremlin leader offered assurances, saying Russians troops “of course will leave these positions where we are now… We will not remain there forever” and declaring that Russia recognises Ukraine’s borders.

This could get ugly, and quickly.  Putin has already threatened the lines of communication recently opened into Afghanistan, which makes the NATO mission more difficult.  Russia can also cut off, restrict, or increase the price on oil and gas flowing into Europe.  More than a quarter of Europe’s energy comes from Russia, and they can do considerable damage to the EU economy.

However, they do that at the risk to their own.  Russia relies on free trade with the West for its own needs.  Putin and Medvedev want entry into the WTO, but now may get excluded from the G-8, a major step backwards in integrating themselves into the global markets.

Georgia struck a note of moderation into this debate.  They want sanctions on Russia, but do not see any point in isolating Moscow.  The Georgians want sanctions targeted to the Russian government — diplomatic sanctions, travel restrictions, and the freezing of assets abroad.  That may be a good first step, and a way to pressure the two leaders in Moscow into re-thinking their plans to create version 3 of the Russian Empire.

In any case, Europe and the US must continue pressuring Moscow into retreating from Georgia.  The pressure thus far has produced a counterproposal for international peacekeepers through the OCSE to replace Russian troops in Georgia proper.  This could be a face-saving way for Putin out of this crisis, but until the last Russian soldier leaves Georgia, one has to consider any of these offers for what it allows Russia, and not how it supposedly restricts Russia.  France made that mistake earlier this month, and the West and Georgia cannot afford to make it again.