Is there nothing the U.S. can do about Georgia?

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 19, 2008 

WASHINGTON — The United States and its European allies have condemned Russia for its incursion in Georgia, but their options for retaliating against the Kremlin are limited.

The United States has ruled out military action, and NATO on Tuesday declined to abolish cooperative programs with Russia in part because of misgivings about challenging a nation with vast oil and natural gas supplies, a large military and a huge nuclear arsenal. Other options under consideration would strike at Moscow's post-Soviet hunger to restore its lost international status, but analysts differ about their potential effectiveness.

"We don't really have a lot of good options at this point," said Dr. Jeffrey Mankoff, an adjunct fellow for Russia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Here's a closer look at two of the most commonly discussed options:

_ Expulsion from the G-8, an elite international forum that includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Russia became a full member in 1997 following the break-up of the Soviet Union six years earlier.

What would do: The leaders of the eight countries meet annually to discuss global topics — critics say it's little more than a "talking club") — but the G-8 doesn't having an international operating structure as the United Nations does.

Intended effect: Expulsion from a forum that includes the major industrialized democracies would hurt Russia's prestige and isolate it from most of the world's other major players. Republican Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has called for such a move.

Counterpoint: Some analysts argue that booting Russia out of the G-8 would be a largely symbolic penalty with little tangible effect. Big emerging nations such as Brazil, China and India aren't members, although some G-8 leaders say they should be.

_ Denying Russia membership in the World Trade Organization.

What it does: Comprising 153 members, the WTO is the world's rule-making body on international trade. It works to abolish tariffs and other trade barriers and to resolve international trade disputes.

Intended effect: Perhaps the toughest proposal under consideration, it would deny oil-rich Russia a role in determining world trade policies. Especially galling, from Russia's perspective, is the fact that Georgia and Ukraine, former Soviet republics, are already members.

Counterpoint: Some Russian politicians and business leaders are fearful that membership could hurt domestic industries by exposing them to more foreign competition.

Other options under discussion appear remote or unlikely. Among them:

_ A boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi on the Black Sea. Reminiscent of a boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow after the1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But the next games in Russia are a long way off, and some analysts say it's too early to contemplate a step that would penalize world athletes.

Freezing Russian bank accounts in the West and imposing a travel ban on Russian officials. Such measures are typically reserved for pariah states and thus far have gotten little serious attention as punishment for Russia.

Disbanding the NATO-Russia Consultative Council, which was created in 2002 to enable Russia and the 26-nation NATO alliance to participate in joint projects such as combating terrorism and military cooperation. NATO foreign ministers took a pass on that at their meeting Tuesday in Brussels.

Montgomery reports for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.

More from McClatchy:

NATO can't agree on sanctions against Russia

Pentagon, White House at odds over Georgia's need for aid

Russia seizes prisoners in raid on Georgia's main port

Rice warns Moscow about its bomber runs off Alaska

Tour of Tskhinvali undercuts Russian claim of genocide

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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