Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Georgia vs Russia.

I was very much in two minds whether to post on the Georgia conflict. I posted a comment on Dave Justus's page in response to this -

I think that the historical analogies are pretty appropriate here. This is an act of aggression from a major power that will probably have a huge effect on the world in years to come.

That, truly, would have been a powerfully predictive statement had it been made say seven years back in relation to a totally different situation. And, Dave, it was not Iraq but Kosova that I was thinking of...

Anyhoos, it seems that Dave's spam filter is far more accurate at trapping comments from the probligo than it is at removing the occasional little pseudo-porn things that get attached to some of his earlier posts. But this is not about Dave, it is about Georgia.

Now for some reason (probably directly linked to Presidential stateents), the American press has gone into full-blooded "Commies under the bed again!!!" mode. There is much noise, smoke and mirrors in the news from there - most are more interested in the Presidential candidates than the actual events themselves.

So, let's take a look a little further afield.

One of the best sources I have found is Der Spiegel. Over the past month they have run a series of stories, starting with a visit by the German Foreign Minister to Georgia in July.

Spiegel proves the following thumbnails -

A brief history...

Since peeling away from Georgia in a 1990-1992 war, South Ossetia has been de facto independent. Russians participated in a mixed peacekeeping force following a ceasefire agreement in 1992. Although under international law the breakaway region of Abkhazia is part of Georgia, it is financially backed by Russia. Most Abkhazians hold Russian passports.

Both in 1992 and 2006 South Ossetians voted for independence from Georgia, but the referenda were not recognized by the international community. President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia has repeatedly announced his intention to bring the renegade region under the control of the central government in Tiflis.

The Russians -

Friction between Russia and Georgia over control of the Caucasus regions has redoubled during past months. Georgia accuses Russia of wanting to annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia is in a difficult position. Moscow warned the West against recognizing Kosovo's declaration of independence earlier this year, saying that similar declarations among former Soviet satellites would result. The Russian argument that South Ossetia has a right to autonomy, however, was never extended to Chechnya. The West recognized Kosovo over Russian protest. Now the Kremlin's revenge may well be to officially acknowledge South Ossetia's independence from Georgia.

The US -

The US takes Georgia's side in the conflict. Americans consider President Mikhail Saakashvili a faithful ally, and US military advisors support him given Georgian participation in the Iraq war. US President Bush has accused Russia of a "disproportionate" response and US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said Russia was following a "campaign of terror." Russia has rejected the accusations.

The UN -

The UN Security Council could not agree on a position regarding the situation proposed by Russia Friday. The Russian document urged Georgia and South Ossetia to cease fighting immediately. Russia requested the council's Friday emergency meeting. Since then, debate in the Security Council has degenerated into a tit-for-tat between Russia and the United States.

Members did not reach an agreement on the text proposed by Russia. The Security Council nevertheless expressed its alarm over the escalation of the conflict. The Russian proposal requested "immediate cessation of violence" and a return to the negotiating table. Georgia, backed up by the US, viewed the proposal as hemming its opportunity to defend itself. So no agreement was reached.

There is a very interesting interview with Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba including -.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why did the situation suddenly escalate now to the degree it has?

Shamba: After the recognition of Kosovo, the situation intensified and Georgia understands that it is losing South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Further talks will only serve to distance the two republics even further from Georgia. That's why the Georgians themselves have started to aggravate the situation, violating previous agreements and applying constant pressure. That has led to a counter response and the situation has gotten out of control. We actually expected this in Abkhazia, but now it is happening in South Ossetia.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: You're not concerned that Russia is just using Abkhazia as an instrument for its own geopolitical interests?

Shamba: Everyone exploits somebody. Is Georgia not used by the USA? The true battle is between the large international powers. On the one hand, Abkhazia and Georgia are levers in this fight, and on the other, Abkhazia and Georgia also use these powers for their own gain. The exploitation is mutual.

What is apparent out of all of this is that after giving assurances of non-aggression, Georgia (well its politicians anyway) decided that everyone would be watching China and the Olympics so a little side-show of their own should go unnoticed.


And they have gotten spanked.

To round this off, Spiegel also publish an op-ed from New York Times, written by one William Kristol. He closes on this note...

When the “civilized world” expostulated with Russia about Georgia in 1924, the Soviet regime was still weak. In Germany, Hitler was in jail. Only 16 years later, Britain stood virtually alone against a Nazi-Soviet axis. Is it not true today, as it was in the 1920s and ’30s, that delay and irresolution on the part of the democracies simply invite future threats and graver dangers?

Say what? A Nazi-Soviet Axis? While Hitler was in jail, he was talking with Stalin? At the same time he was preaching the dangers of Socialism he was plotting with Lenin? I think Mr Kristol's view of history has gotten a bit cock-eyed. Perhaps he needs glasses...



Dave Justus said...

Not sure why your comment went into Spam, I have fixed it. Apparently my spam filter understands only trouble comes from New Zealand :)

I will agree that the situation isn't necessarily uncomlicated. However, while I don't agree with everything Georgia has done in South Ossetia, it is a whole lot less then what Russia has done in Chechnya, so I think belief that Russia is just there to help the poor South Ossetians is incredibly naive.

It seems interesting that you are hesitent to condemn Russia's invasion of Georgia given other views you have previously stated. It seems to me that Russia has not followed the principles you have alluded to in whether or not a conflict is just. I would find it interesting if you would explain that.

I will point out though that regarding the Willian Kristol peice, you are apparently ignorant of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Indeed, 16 years after 1924, which would be 1940, the Nazi's and Soviets had agreed to divide the several countries between them and not attack each other. It was only when Germany betrayed this pact and invaded Russia that Russia joined the allies against Germany.

The probligo said...

Yeah, Dave. On the Molotov-Ribbentrop comment - I had this vague unease that there was something missing. I was just too whacked last night to even start checking. Thanks for the correction.

I didn't want to drag Chechnya into this wrangle. That, along with Georgia, is an essence of ideological over-reaction. It is just plain wrong.

As I said at the beginning though, the comparison is not with Iraq it is with Kosova. There are also, in my mind, parallels (not equivalences, parallels) between the Russian reaction in Ossetia and the Israeli reaction to the kidnap of three soldiers.

I think that if you reflect on the quote I gave from the Akhasian Foreign Minister you will see that I am not thinking Russia is just there to help the poor South Ossetians. I think that he absolutely hit the nail fair square.

Hence, you are wrong to say that I do not condemn the Russian action. I do. With the same vehemenence that I condemn Georgia's action; with the same vehemenence that I condemn Serbia's invasion of Kosova; with the same vehemenence that I condemn Israel's attacks on Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank; with the same vehemenence that I condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait; and - just to put your mind at rest - the same vehemenence that I condemn US shilly-shallying and prevarifications over the justification for invading Iraq.

I think that Solzhenetzin had it right - whatever morality that might have existed in the global politic has long since died. If I can continue that idea another step, the corpse is now exuding all the foul stench of political expediency and self-interest. That self interest is not on the behalf of the nations but the politicians themselves. To that extent there is little difference between the actions of Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and Putin in Russia, and Blair in Britain (yes we are talking history here), or Chavez in Venezuela, and even GWB (the great man himself) will have to answer to history for his actions.

Dave Justus said...

"Hence, you are wrong to say that I do not condemn the Russian action. I do. With the same vehemenence that I condemn Georgia's action"

Saying everyone is wrong I guess qualifies as condemnation, but it isn't really a useful one. Sometimes you have to pick a side, take a stand.

The easy choice I suppose is to say, no one is perfect so I don't have to support anyone. That takes away any responsibility.

The choice of not choosing, of not taking a stand does have consequences however.

The probligo said...

Dave, there are no "rights" in many of these disputes.

As a general rule, I would tend to support the "side" that is looking to establish its own identity.

Hence, to take a different example, I would tend to side with the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey; in this instance with the Ossetians.

I have no idea why Georgia wishes to claim Ossetia, other than the usual "historical" garbage, and the oil pipeline of course. If you follow that historical line of thought, Hitler could have justified invasion of Britain on the grounds of liberating the Celtic (his Aryan ideal was Celtic) peoples who were so cruelly defeated and suppressed by the Romans in 55BC. Well I mean to say, Israel's claims in the Levant are older...

There is a very strong feeling that the US administration is trying hard to find "two wrongs" that can be used to make a "right". I have little doubt that Rice's public message to Georgia will be "Our unflinching and unbending support". Behind closed doors the diplomacy will be quite different. Something along the lines of "You stupid bunch of mindless bastards." and Georgia's response "Well, we got your attention, huh!".

Barbara said...

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