By Dan Hamilton
The European Union has entered diplomatic no-man's-land by deploying more than 200 monitors to areas of Georgia next to the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, replacing Russian forces that invaded Georgia in August. The EU's Georgian deployment is a test of its ability to manage relations with a resurgent Russia, and to develop a more credible approach to the volatile "in-between" lands that stretch along EU borders from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
The EU faces some tough challenges. Moscow has not only refused to make good on its commitment to remove its forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it has actually recognized the two Georgian provinces as independent countries, given many of their citizens Russian passports, and deployed a sizable contingent of its own forces. EU efforts to initiate mediation talks in the conflict fell apart in Geneva Wednesday due to disagreement between Georgia and Russia over participation of the two breakaway regions.
In the short term, the EU is well-advised to maintain its position as "honest broker" in the conflict. This allowed it to mediate and engineer the current ceasefire, and despite this week's setback offers an opportunity to work with all sides to tackle the unresolved issues of status for the provinces and security for people across the area.
In the longer term, however, the EU must review its approach to Russia and the region as a whole.
The message to Moscow is straightforward. If Russia continues to bully its neighbors and cling to outmoded spheres of influence, the international community will hold Russia accountable. If it uses its energy wealth to invest in its people, build a more sustainable economy grounded in the rule of law, tackle its truly stunning health and demographic challenges, and build better relations with its European neighbors, the EU and the U.S. stand as willing partners.
The EU's message to smaller neighbors demands more from Brussels. The EU has an interest in preventing violence along its eastern borders. It needs to address wider Europe's remaining conflicts, most of which are labeled "frozen" but are really festering sores that have dragged down small young democracies and blocked their economic development. The EU also has an interest in projecting stability eastward so that instability does not flow westward. It needs to discourage its neighbors from irresponsible behavior and to engage with them in ways that reduce the region's vulnerability to Russian pressure and forge closer links to the EU itself.
EU enlargement has been the bloc's greatest foreign policy achievement. EU leaders remain reluctant, however, to acknowledge that a turbulent Europe without walls and barriers requires vigorous efforts to extend the EU's brand of democratic stability even further eastward. Now that EU forces have been forced to deploy to the eastern shore of the Black Sea, the magnitude of wider Europe's challenge - and the need for a more dynamic response -- may become clear.
Dan Hamilton, director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins SAIS, is the host of Next Europe.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.