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Viewing cable 09MOSCOW1591, IMPLICATIONS OF REARMING GEORGIA FOR U.S.-RUSSIAN

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MOSCOW1591 2009-06-17 14:02 2010-12-01 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow
VZCZCXRO1322
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHMO #1591/01 1681409
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 171409Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3852
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 001591 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/10/2019 
TAGS: PREL MARR PGOV RS GG
SUBJECT: IMPLICATIONS OF REARMING GEORGIA FOR U.S.-RUSSIAN 
"RESET" 

REF: A. MOSCOW 1225 
B. MOSCOW 0840 

Classified By: Ambassador John R. Beyrle: Reasons 1.4 (b, d). 

1. (C) Summary: A decision to move towards a more robust 
military relationship with Georgia will imperil our efforts 
to re-start relations with Russia, if it is not carefully 
calibrated and deployed. While Medvedev understands the 
strategic and personal benefits of crafting a productive 
partnership with the U.S., this impulse is trumped by the 
GOR's "absolute" priority placed on expanding Russian 
influence in the Eurasian neighborhood, preventing NATO 
enlargement, and demonstrating Russia's great power status. 
The Russian political class and populace is united behind 
these principles, with the August war confirming for the 
leadership that the international community lacks the levers 
to coerce a change in Russian behavior. Russian criticism of 
PfP exercises was both sincere -- anger over the "business as 
usual" approach with Saakashvili -- and tactical, designed to 
raise the costs of CIS cooperation with the West, but was not 
matched by a change in military posture. However, given 
consistent warnings over the consequences of weapons sales to 
Georgia, we believe a lethal military supply relationship 
with Tbilisi would come at the cost of advancing Georgia's 
territorial integrity, and could lessen Russian restraint on 
weapons transfers to Iran. We believe that keeping the focus 
on Georgia's economic and democratic development, while 
continuing our military cooperation with Tbilisi through 
transparent PfP programming with European partners, and 
non-lethal bilateral mil-mil training and assistance, is the 
only viable -- if very long-term -- strategy to induce better 
Russian behavior and restore Georgian territorial integrity. 
Critical to this effort will be building ballast in a 
U.S.-Russian relationship that serves as a break on Russia's 
worst instincts. End Summary 

Showdown Over Georgia? 
---------------------- 

2. (C) If not carefully calibrated and deployed, a decision 
to move towards a more robust military relationship with 
Georgia has the very real potential to trigger a dispute on a 
set of issues that are both neuralgic and strategic for the 
Russian political and military establishment, endangering the 
Administration's effort to undertake a fresh start with 
Moscow. While Medvedev appears seized with taking charge of 
the U.S.-Russian account and placing it on a new footing 
during the July summit, this policy impulse will be 
subordinate to Russia's "strategic interests" in its Eurasian 
neighborhood, as defined by both Medvedev and Putin. Russian 
intransigence on the UNOMIG rollover is a conspicuous 
illustration of this. We cannot accept this Russian 
calculus, but we need to understand what drives the Kremlin 
and White House: 

-- Russia places an "absolute" priority on expanding its 
influence and deepening its integration with neighboring 
states, as part of a self-conscious policy to combat the 
West's "creep" towards its borders (ref a). Inevitably, the 
question of Russia's status in the Eurasian "neighborhood," 
and the presumed zero-sum competition for influence along 
Russia's borders, will remain our most contentious bilateral 
issue and the likeliest stumbling block to improved 
U.S.-Russian relations. 

-- Russia opposes any further enlargement of NATO. The 
August war in Georgia signaled Moscow's readiness to expend 
materiel and men to achieve this goal, even at the cost of 
international opprobrium. The fact that NATO membership for 
both Georgia and Ukraine is not a front burner priority has 
not tempered Moscow's stance, since the Russian leadership 
sees this as a temporary reprieve, brought about by European 
reservations and not by a change in policy by the Obama 
Administration. 

-- Absent a standstill agreement on NATO, which Medvedev 
hopes to achieve through discussions over a new European 
Security Treaty, Russia presumes that we seek its strategic 
neutering. Our principled rejection of a Russian sphere of 
influence is read here as a denial of Russia's status as a 
great power, and another example of U.S. "double standards," 
rather than a repudiation of a Warsaw Pact mentality. 

-- Russia judges that we lack the bilateral or multilateral 
levers to coerce it into moderating its stance on Georgia or 
reversing its recognition of the conflict territories. 
Moscow assumes that we have too many strategic interests in 
common to credibly threaten Russia with a cut-off in 
relations -- a move that Europe (both old and new) never 

MOSCOW 00001591 002 OF 003 

seriously contemplated in the wake of the Georgian war. 

-- Russian leaders enjoy a policy carte blanche on Georgia, 
with respect to domestic public opinion. Polls consistently 
show that Russians overwhelmingly welcome Moscow's resurgent 
foreign policy, revile Saakashvili, and blame Euro-Atlantic 
institutions for Moscow's worsening relations with former 
republics and Warsaw Pact partners. There is absolutely no 
difference between Medvedev and Putin when it comes to 
Georgia. 

Russian Warnings Over Mil-Mil Relations 
--------------------------------------- 

3. (C) Russia has used the previously scheduled Cooperative 
Longbow/Cooperative Lancer PfP exercises and U.S./NATO 
discussions of Georgian military reform to hint at a 
political price tag for continued cultivation of Georgia as a 
NATO aspirant. While Russian Ambassador to NATO Rogozin's 
characterization of the exercises as "an absurdity and 
madness" were discounted in NATO circles, he accurately 
channeled Moscow's anger over what was seen as a "business as 
usual" policy towards Saakashvili, as well as Moscow's 
strategy of raising the potential costs of participation by 
other CIS states. Medvedev labeled the exercises 
"muscle-flexing," an "outright provocation," and "a mistaken 
and dangerous decision," while Putin questioned the "reset" 
in U.S.-Russian relations, pointing to the exercises as a 
"signal in a different direction." Even mild-mannered DFM 
Ryabkov fulminated publicly against the "cheap and 
unconvincing arguments" used to justify PfP. Pro-Kremlin and 
opposition politicians emphasized that a "return to last 
August" or a "new Cold War" might flow from a continued NATO 
embrace of Tbilisi. Despite the harsh rhetoric, however, 
Russia did not place its troops on alert during the 
exercises, which proceeded smoothly. 

4. (C) When it comes to weapons sales to Tbilisi, Russian 
actions have been harsher. For those few Russian officials 
willing to believe that the U.S. did not directly goad 
Georgia into attacking, it is an article of faith that 
Georgia's military relationship with the U.S. triggered 
Saakashvili's fateful miscalculation on August 8. While 
accusing Georgia of 30-fold increases in military spending 
(at 7-8 percent of GDP), in addition to illicit purchases 
from Ukrainian and Israeli middlemen, and an overconfidence 
spawned by U.S. assurances of support, the GOR called for an 
arms embargo against Georgia in the war's aftermath. 
Invoking OSCE and UN conventions against the provision of 
offensive weapons to conflict zones, Medvedev then 
promulgated a January presidential decree allowing for 
unilateral sanctions against countries that assist Tbilisi in 
its "remilitarization." Both Medvedev and Putin appear to 
believe that the U.S. already has supplied Tbilisi 
surreptitiously with arms, which illustrates the invidious 
role, as well as dominance, of the security services in 
running Russian policy in the Caucasus. 

A Better Focus: Economy, CBMS, and PfP 
-------------------------------------- 

5. (C) From our perspective, the challenge is to 
demonstrate that the U.S. will protect its legitimate 
interests in the Caucasus -- including support for Georgian 
sovereignty, territorial integrity and the democratically 
elected government of Georgia -- without triggering a 
tit-for-tat military escalation that we cannot win, but that 
Georgia can surely lose. From our vantage point, a 
burgeoning military supply relationship with Georgia is more 
of a liability for Georgia than a benefit. It would do 
nothing to secure a long-term resolution of Abkhazia and 
South Ossetia, allowing Russia to "justify" its military 
buildup in the conflict territories, increasing the 
insecurities of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian populations 
already distrustful of Saakashvili, and driving the 
separatist leaders further into Moscow's arms. It would 
almost certainly raise the temperature, rather than 
maintaining the unsatisfactory status quo long enough for 
economic development and confidence-building measures to chip 
away at the current hostile standoff. The ramifications of a 
policy clash on weapons sales could also be felt elsewhere, 
with Moscow seizing a pretext to move forward on the delivery 
of S-300s to Iran. 

6. (C) As we have argued separately (ref b), the U.S. will 
be most effective in countering Russian actions by acting in 
concert with Europe to help Georgia demonstrate to the Abkhaz 
and South Ossetians that autonomy with Tbilisi is better than 
submission to Russia. Russian corruption, heavy-handedness 
and reliance on criminalized local leaders ultimately will 

MOSCOW 00001591 003 OF 003 


play to Georgia's advantage. While Georgia cannot reconquer 
its lost territory by force, it can establish itself as a 
democratically vibrant and economically successful model for 
the region. By keeping the international focus on economic 
assistance to Tbilisi and on creating credible international 
monitoring regimes, we can create the time and space to 
intensify cooperation with Russia in other areas of strategic 
interest, adding ballast to the U.S.-Russian relationship 
that could make Moscow think twice about exacerbating 
tensions in the Caucasus. 

7. (C) This is not to say that the U.S. should be 
constrained in providing bilateral non-lethal military 
assistance, training, or other equipment clearly directed at 
assisting Georgia's basic requirements to control its 
borders, maintain law and order and counter terrorism. In 
addition, we believe that PfP exercises and programs should 
be pursued as part of the standard NATO toolbox for 
cooperation with non-member states, notwithstanding Russian 
rhetorical umbrage. The value of building Georgian capacity 
for international peacekeeping, counter-narcotics, 
civil-military emergency preparedness, and anti-terrorism 
operations is obvious. PfP has the advantage of greater 
transparency and reinforcing a common U.S.-European approach 
to Georgia; conceivably, when relations stabilize, Russia 
could be included as an observer. While Russian forces will 
remain concentrated in the neighboring territories for the 
near-term, our goal of securing a Russian drawdown and then 
departure will not be accomplished through a U.S. military 
sales relationship or lethal training program. Instead, we 
should hold Medvedev accountable to the principles of his 
European Security Treaty initiative, which are based on 
respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty. 

Comment: U.S.-Russia Relations Matter 
------------------------------------- 

8. (C) We in no way accede to Russian redlines by 
acknowledging that Georgia could never win a military 
confrontation with Russia, and should not be encouraged to 
pursue a strategy that focuses on military force as the 
underpinning to a stronger, more stable country. We 
recognize that our suggested approach would be deeply 
dissatisfying to Saakashvili, but we see no short-term fix to 
the generational estrangement triggered by the August war and 
no way to neutralize the advantages of geography, size, and 
capabilities enjoyed by Russia. Instead, consistent and 
coordinated initiatives by the U.S. and Europe to assist 
Georgia, implement monitoring regimes, and persuade Russia to 
engage credibly will be better advanced in an environment 
where the U.S. and Russia are not in a hostile standoff. Our 
assessment is that if we say "yes" to a significant military 
relationship with Tbilisi, Russia will say "no" to any 
medium-term diminution in tensions, and feel less constrained 
absent reverting to more active opposition to critical U.S. 
strategic interests. 
BEYRLE