In February 2008, Senator Chuck Hagel wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, copied to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, warning that our policies with Kosovo, Serbia, and elsewhere in Europe could be brewing up a storm with Russia.
Here is the letter as a pdf, but I also post below.
Of particular note in Chuck Hagel’s letter relating vaguely to autonomous provinces in Georgia:
. . .Across the board, officials are clearly concerned about the consequences — including unintended and uncontrollable consequences — of a Kosovar declaration of independence. This includes a former senior Russian official known for his pro-Western views, who told me that, “there is no way that one cannot view a Kosovar declaration of independence as anything but a precedent” for other similar conflicts.
Hagel also writes:
At a time when our relations with Russia are badly frayed, our military is overly engaged, we’re dealing with serious fissures in NATO over Afghanistan, and European willingness to respond militarily to an outbreak of violence in Kosovo and the Balkans is uncertain, I urge you to proceed with caution, weighing carefully the potential implications of a diplomatic event that could stretch well beyond the Balkans.
We need to weigh our current policy against our strategic interests — in the Balkans, in Europe, with Russia, and in a shared, international understanding of national sovereignty under international law. It is not at all clear to me that a unilateral settlement of Kosovo can provide a lasting, stable solution for this region. We must think through all of the complexities ofthe Kosovo issue, the grave risk of violence against Serb minorities in Kosovo, and how to avoid isolating and alienating Serbia.
This letter warns the administration that its actions in the Balkans ran the risk of triggering blowback from Russia — and yet there is no evidence that the administration worried that Russia would exploit the model of Kosovo in other ways — particularly as we saw Russia assert the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
While many US Senators write to the President and other cabinet officers on requests for consideration of this project or that, Chuck Hagel was regularly provoking the administration with sensible, realistic assessments about America’s geostrategic choices and their consequences.
Many of these letters — if not all — seem to have been ignored. I have not been able as of yet to find a letter from Rice back to Senator Hagel — but Hagel’s letter is enough to show that the administration had more than adequate warning from Senate Foreign Relations Committee members that a Russia storm could be on the way.
— Steve Clemons