Posted on Aug 28, 2008
John M Grau
Things that appear to happen suddenly without a clearly defined cause are actually often rooted in long-standing reasons and long-ago conflicts. I was reminded of this fact when violence erupted recently between the Republic of Georgia and Russia.
Four years ago, I was one of a group of eight association CEOs gathered in a private room at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, Austria. We were there to meet with the U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - an organization I didn’t know existed until then.
Over the years, I’ve been invited to join several trade association international missions. A small group of trade association executives meet with foreign government officials and our counterpart associations to promote U.S trade and cooperation across borders. In most cases, we also meet with our United States ambassador in that country. I’ve been to the residences of our ambassadors in Italy, the Vatican, Ireland, Belgium and Austria.
The United States has three ambassadors in Vienna. One is to the OSCE, which was chartered by the United Nations during the Cold War to secure stability in the region and is concerned with early warning, conflict prevention and crisis management. It has 56 participating countries.
Our briefing that day in Vienna with Ambassador Stephan Minikes was one of the most spell-binding discussions I ever participated in. Minikes’s background prior to his appointment as ambassador included being legal counsel to the Chief of Naval Operations and 30 years in an international law practice. He brought a world map to our luncheon, mounted it on the wall, and began a lecture on the world political situation.
Minikes focused on the former Soviet republics bordering Russia. Places that you can’t spell or pronounce, like Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. He painted a picture that told us how dangerous these places were to world stability. And I won’t forget one point that he drove home to us that is relevant to today’s situation.
Minikes told us that Russia was livid over the expansion of the European Union, NATO and democratic reforms in these former Soviet republics. The closer they came to Russia's border, the more aggressive Russia would become. The republics of Georgia and the Ukraine were especially sensitive to Russian interests. He said that Russia would use the slightest pretext to justify intervening militarily or otherwise in these neighboring countries. It would become the front of a renewed east-west conflict.
So with the invasion of the Republic of Georgia, we see Minikes predictions coming true. He didn't predict the start of another world war. But his sobering assessment of this region of the world told us that we need to pay close attention to the events that happen there for many years to come.