Earlier today, Russia sent troops into a breakaway region of Georgia “after Georgian troops sought to enter the capital of the pro-Russian enclave.” As Matt Duss noted at the Wonk Room, the invasion “raises some questions about how a McCain administration might deal with a crisis like this,” particularly because his top foreign policy adviser — Randy Scheunemann — has spent a number of years lobbying on behalf of Georgia and has publicly taken strong pro-Georgia, anti-Russia positions.
Last May, USA Today reported that Scheunemann’s lobbying firm, Orion Strategies, represented Georgia between 2003 and March 2008 and that Scheunemann himself lobbied McCain’s Senate staff on behalf of Georgia while working for McCain’s presidential campaign.
Also, freelance journalist Lindsay Beyerstein reported last month that Scheunemann serves as Worldwide Strategic Energy’s (WSE) point man on Georgia, helping the energy firm score deals with the Georgian government to assist in the development of its “hydrocarbon industry.” From a WSE internal document obtained by Beyerstein:
Randy Scheunemann is a registered representative of the Government of Georgia in the United States. Accordingly, Mr. Scheunemann has developed a very close relationship with President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili and many senior Georgian officials. The WSE team has also begun negotiating possible deals with the Georgian state-run oil company, National Oil Company of Georgia, to assist in the development of Georgia’s hydrocarbon industry.
So what then does Scheunemann do on Georgia’s behalf? He tries to get U.S. politicians on-board with Georgia’s full membership into NATO. In fact, he has had success with at least one Member of Congress, Sen. John McCain:
In 2005, Mr. Scheunemann asked Sen. McCain to introduce a Senate resolution expressing support for peace in the Russia-influenced region of South Ossetia that wants to break away from Georgia, the records show. […] The Senate approved Sen. McCain’s resolution in December 2005.
Sen. McCain has endorsed Georgia’s goal of entering NATO, a matter for which the country hired Mr. Scheunemann to lobby. In 2006, Sen. McCain gave a speech at the Munich Conference on Security in Germany in which he said Georgia should enter NATO.
According to Beyerstein, WSE’s internal document “was circulated to prospective investors in 2007,” and as USA Today noted, Scheunemann did not stop lobbying on behalf of Georgia until March 2008, but “he remains a principal at his lobbying firm, which still has Georgia as a client.” In fact, Scheunemann “had a phone conversation in November  about Georgia with Richard Fontaine, an aide in McCain’s Senate office.”
Helping a U.S. energy firm secure lucrative contracts with the Georgian government while lobbying American politicians for the former Soviet Republic’s NATO membership? As Duss noted, trying to play an honest broker in the growing Russia-Georgia crisis would prove to be more complicated than meets the eye for a McCain administration.
Indeed, Politico notes today that McCain took a harder line on Russia on its invasion of Georgia than the Bush administration did.