Thursday, 14 August 2008

Georgia on our minds

It's as difficult to know what's going in Georgia -- have Russian troops stopped fighting? or are they pushing on to Tbilisi? -- as it is to untangle the causes of the conflict.

Nonetheless, Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili insists in the Wall Street Journal that "The War in Georgia Is a War for the West":

Ostensibly, this war is about an unresolved separatist conflict. Yet in reality, it is a war about the independence and the future of Georgia. And above all, it is a war over the kind of Europe our children will live in. Let us be frank: This conflict is about the future of freedom in Europe.
No country of the former Soviet Union has made more progress toward consolidating democracy, eradicating corruption and building an independent foreign policy than Georgia. This is precisely what Russia seeks to crush.

And this is precisely what Czech president Edvard Beneš said in 1938 when he sought the support of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain against Hitler's plan to annex the Sudetenland supposedly protect ethnic Germans -- and as Lindsay Perigo notes, the scam used by Vlad Putin in Georgia is markedly similar to Hitler's (he's making Ossetia "safe" for ethnic Russians), while the reaction of Bush has proceeded along the same lines as Chamberlain's.

Frankly, it's hard to know whether Georgia is worthy of support, and whether or not Russia is reverting to imperialist type. Writer Robert Tracinski however is unequivocal:

Georgia's attempt to reassert its control of South Ossetia was not an act of "provocation." It was a desperate, last-ditch attempt to push back a creeping Russian takeover.
Georgia is too small to hope to defeat the Russian army in an all-out war. President Saakashvili apparently hoped that a military action against the separatists in South Ossetia would serve as a warning to the Russian government, which might be afraid of inviting the world's condemnation by escalating the conflict.
Instead, the Russians have shown no shame. Like Al Capone at the height of Prohibition, Russia's new gangster nomenklatura is flush with cash—from oil instead of alcohol—and drunk with a sense of regained geopolitical power. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, still openly wielding the full power of the state, despite his supposed replacement by figurehead President Dimitri Medvedev, gave a
brazen speech in which he accused [the U.S.] of having a "Cold War mentality" and declared: "The very scale of this cynicism is astonishing—the attempt to turn white into black, black into white and to adeptly portray victims of aggression as aggressors and place the responsibility for the consequences of the aggression on the victims." If ever there were a study in psychological projection—attributing your own vices to others—this is it.
In fact, all of the statements from Russian commanders or political leaders give no sense that they genuinely regard themselves as victims somehow forced into a conflict they wanted to avoid. The actual character of Russian statements about Georgia is a conspicuous gloating. They are invading Georgia because they can. They are the larger country with the bigger army, so who is going to stop them?

If not, then who's next?

The invasion of Georgia is a warning about Russia's designs on Ukraine, a much larger and more strategically important country, closer to the heart of Europe, which also has a large ethnic Russian population that Putin would like to draw under his control.

So, what's to be done?

In response to this crisis, we must immediate speed up Ukraine's absorption into NATO, including plans for placing NATO bases and other Western military assets there as a direct deterrent to a Russian takeover. The nations Russia regards as the "near abroad" it wants to dominate, we should regard as the West's buffer zone to protect us from Russian aggression.
Above all, this crisis is a warning that we have to stop treating Russia as a civilized nation, a "partner" that recognizes common interests. We have to realize that Russia is once again our enemy, though thankfully a smaller and less dangerous enemy than in the 20th century. We are in a new Cold War with Russia—call it Cold War Lite—and we need to recognize that fact.

I'd suggest it's less Cold War than Old War -- this is the same familiar imperialist Russia that goes back to Peter the 'Great' -- but on ever other point, Tracinski's warning should be well taken. And while the parallels with the onset of the Second World War can hardly be missed, it should not be forgotten either that the small spark that set off the conflagration of the First World War began with one of the many ethic conflicts in the Balkans -- like the Caucasus, another patchwork of generational hatreds. (You can read the whole Tracinski piece online here, but do be aware the blogger at that location has posted it without attribution, apparently to present it as his own work.)

UPDATE: Brendan O'Neill offers an opposing view:

The problem with the fairytale script that is being cut-and-pasted on to the horrendous massacres of people in South Ossetia and Georgia ["a straightforward tale of a plucky independent republic (Georgia) standing up to a ‘bully wreaking havoc’ (Russia)"] is that it is almost entirely wrong. Georgia is no free-spirited, democratic republic, but an increasingly authoritarian regime that bans overly critical media outlets and criminalises opposition parties. Russia is acting not from an imperialist, expansionist standpoint but out of desperation, behaving recklessly because it feels its sovereign authority challenged by numerous ex-Soviet republics.
And, most importantly, far from Western involvement being the solution in Georgia, there has already been far too much of it: Washington’s arming, goading and cajoling of former Soviet republics has intensified instability across the Caucasus and Central Asia and around the rim of one of the most populous, powerful nations on Earth: Russia.
The bloodshed that occurred over the weekend, as Georgian forces bombed the breakaway territory of South Ossetia and Russia responded by attacking Georgia, can be seen as the destructive outcome of Washington’s increasingly hungry and erratic foreign policy. What is missing from much of the Western morality tale of Georgia vs Russia is any serious assessment of Washington’s role in militarising former Soviet republics and giving a green light to their anti-Russian posturing. From the Ukraine to Uzbekistan to Georgia, Washington has backed a string of dodgy ruling parties and dictatorial leaders as they have upped the ante with their former rulers in the Kremlin. The end result has been more authoritarianism in the East and unpredictability in world affairs.
Georgia, like many of the former Soviet republics, is a state with no real reason to exist...


  1. Is Brendan describing Soviet activity in Cuba?

  2. nah, Freemack--he's just another apologist for totalitarianism, who can't resist the opportunity to blame America while he's at it.
    So predictable....

  3. every leftard carries a dictator's swagger stick in his knapsack.

  4. Robert Winefield14 Aug 2008, 15:54:00

    Brendan writes:

    "and Russia responded by attacking Georgia..."

    An almost unbelievable response time wouldn't you think?

    Heavy armor in the form of BTR80s and BMP2s supported by Main Battle Tanks (T-72s) and attack aircraft (all well maintained, & supplied with fuel and ammunition) - roll into a nation in and around the Caucasus mountain range and manage to penetrate to within 40 miles of the capital within 2-3 days.

    My opinion: either that mechanized army is the fastest mobilizing attack force in history or the Russians were expecting to attack.

    For a comparison, compare how long it took for the battle hardened, lavishly equipped US Army to respond to Hurricane Katrina in force...

    Very fishy.

  5. The typical leftist explanation, of the sort that The New Republic, Joe Klein at Time, and others are trying to sell.

    By golly, we sure as heck wouldn't want to make poor widdle ow Russia (or big bad wolf Russia in other versions of the leftist fairy tale) mad now would we. Sure enough if you irritate a mafioso by surrounding his neighborhood with police stations he might do something drastic. Better to just move out or let the thugs police the neighborhood themselves, huh.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Robert:
    'For a comparison, compare how long it took for the battle hardened, lavishly equipped US Army to respond to Hurricane Katrina in force...'

    But this is not a valid comparison, as we all know George Bush doesn't care about black people.

  8. An almost unbelievable response time wouldn't you think? -Robert Winefield

    Not when you consider that Russia noticed a Georgian military buildup months ago and warned them , openly, that a Georgian attack would be repelled by the Russian army. People accuse the Russians of planning this but there's no doubting that a fair bit of planning and preparation was done by the Georgians.

    This was reported in May:

    The Russian MoD warned that it would send even more soldiers - but within the agreed limits - if the Georgian side continued, what the MoD called, “a further military build-up” in the region. Link

    Also, do not forget that armed Russian peacekeepers were in Ossetia under a UN mandate and under the treaty of Moscow 1994. Some of these peacekeepers were killed on the night of 080808. I guess the world is used to peacekeepers doing nothing when hostilities break out like in Rwanda.

    Now I consider myself a bit rightish but don't you think that this crisis highlights the caution that needs to be exercised when considering countries for membership in NATO?

    You don't want to wake up the next morning and find out that some lunatic has attacked Russia and is now calling for your help.


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