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Caucasian Realpolitik

5 September 2008
The recent Caucasian conflict shows that among the great powers, Realpolitik still trumps principles and morality.

One of the things that stands out, for me at least, is the extent to which Cold War propaganda has not only revived, but seems to be believed by many without question. The media have often twisted the facts, but now they seem to have resorted to outright lies, which many people simply believe, and one can only assume that they do this because they want to believe them.

This article seems to be one of the few that approaches it from a different point of view than Realpolitik, and is therefore worth reading, especially by those who want to see beyond the propaganda.

clipped from
To most Russians, it was obvious from the
beginning that the latest war in the Caucasus began with an attack by Georgian
forces on South Ossetia, and that ultimately it was unleashed on the
initiative of the United States. To the West, meanwhile, it was just as clear
from the outset that the August war in the Caucasus represented
an assault on small, defenceless and democratic Georgia by huge,
aggressive and authoritarian Russia. This is what almost all the world media have
asserted, and continue to assert.
In Russia, Putin and Co. are putting into practice
an economic and social model that is more market-liberal even than in the US,
and even less socially oriented than in the US; in this sense, the Putins and
Medvedevs are more than worthy pupils of the Bushes).
such behaviour by the official Russian authorities was
almost certainly not the result of a consistently thought-out position of
defending justice and the right of nations to self-determination in the world
political arena.
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9 Comments leave one →
  1. sol permalink
    6 September 2008 9:39 am

    The social and political free market pratices of the current Russian administration are irrelevant to the invasion of Georgia.

    I have followed the conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for some time. With regard to their relationship to the Georgians, I sympathise with the Ossetians and Abkhazians. However, this does not give the Russians the right to a) unilaterally give passports to the citizens of another country because of their ethnicity; b) claim that these passport holders are now their citizens, and c) violate the integrity of Georgia’s borders to then protect those “citizens” when they engage in an armed uprising against their government and that government moves to settle civil unrest.

    The dissident Ossetians and Abkhazians have an obligation to work out a non-violent settlement with the government in Tbilisi that is recognisable in international law. The Russians have an obligation to get out of all of Georgia’s sovereign territory.

  2. 6 September 2008 11:11 am

    For anyone who gives a crap about reality should do some resarch on US imperialism. This avoidable atrocity is not unerstandable without an undertanding of US imperialism, which is a modern form of slavery.

  3. 6 September 2008 8:40 pm


    It’s all very well to talk about obligations, and sovereign territory, but the US recognition of the Kosovo UDI has changed international international relations quite radically, and damaged the Westphalian state system. Whether the damage is permanent, I’m not sure.

    But since the US has opened Pandora’s box in Kosovo, the whole situation has changed. No one is going to pay much attention to “obligations” any more. It would be nice if they would, but then they ALL should.

  4. sol permalink
    7 September 2008 12:39 am

    I agree that the US was wrong to recognise Kosovar independence. I can see that the Russians may be using that as an excuse to support the separation of the Ossetians and Abkhazian, but that still doesn’t make it right.

    It may come down to the fact that the US has the strength to kick the Russians out of Georgia and the question of whether or not the US is willing to do it. I think the US will avoid this because of the hypocrisy of Kosovo, but rather to avoid a war with Russia while situation in the Middle East is so unsettled.

  5. 7 September 2008 2:16 am

    I haven’t seen anyone deny that Georgia the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia first. Civilians were killed, although the initial numbers claimed by Russia seem to have been exaggerated. According to BBC reports something like 60% of the people living in those regions are Russians. It was a ridiculous and provocative act by Georgia and should be condemned.

    If Georgia thought that Russia was going to do anything other than hit back, hard, and if Georgia thought that Nato and the US would be able to protect them from a Russian response they were naive. (Or perhaps Cheney promised support to Saakashvili that he could not deliver?).

    I am not a fan of Russia and I don’t support their heavy-handed response, but as a UK citizen I am concerned at our government’s simplistic knee-jerk reaction which projects a false and simplistic line: “Russia bad, Georgia good”.

  6. 7 September 2008 7:05 am

    George Bush described the Russian response to the Georgian attack as “disproportionate”. I’m sure he was right, but he is the last person to point it out. It was far less disproportionate than the Nato bombing of the Danube bridges. Perhaps as disproportionate as the British response to the Argentinian attack on the Falkland Islands, where the sinking of the General Belgrano with the large loss of life was overkill.

    The authors of the original article stress the point that the Russian Government found itself on the side of justice by accident rather than design. The overkill makes it clear that the Russian government’s motives were no more benevolent than those of the US in Yugoslavia or in the Georgian affair.

    It is all very well to say that people should talk and find peaceful solutions, but for that happen all parties need to want to talk. The Georgian government ought to have thought about that before embarking on its attack.

  7. sol permalink
    7 September 2008 4:55 pm

    Just one historical clarification: Bush was not President at the time of the bombing of Serbia. He may have done other things wrong, but that one belongs to Bill Clinton.

  8. 10 September 2008 7:15 pm

    There’s plenty of blame to go around. My thoughts:

    U.S.–Our Kosovo chickens have come home to roost. Russia warned–repeatedly and specifically–of the international ramifications of our Kosovo policy. The West pushed ahead with this foolhardy policy, discounting Russian objections as we have become accustomed to doing in the post-Cold War era. I believe that if not for Kosovo, Putin would not have taken the action he did in Georgia. He was sending a message, more to us than the Georgians. Also, we have done the Georgians a disservice by encouraging their NATO membership. They consider themselves as the last outpost of Europe, and are anxious to align themselves with the West. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but geography is not on their side. Georgia is remote, and a visit there confirms just how far removed they are from Europe proper. It is hard to see how NATO could ever effectively defend Georgia, or for that matter, how their membership was ever anything other than a thinly-disguised attempt to contain Russia. The retreat into Cold War rhetoric by U.S. politicians is not at all helpful. And recent statements, such as Dick Cheney’s assurance to Georgia of NATO membership, only pours gasoline on the fire.

    Georgia–Their desire to shake off 200 years of the Russian yoke is entirely understandable. In some ways, Georgia was better off than other Soviet states in the old U.S.S.R. But they always resented the heavy-handed Russification of their land. Georgians are their own thing, as we say these days, with an ancient language, alphabet and culture. I was surprised to see that on all signs–whether they be for stores, businesses or street and highway signage–the subscript was in English, not Russian. In other words, the main message would be written in Georgian (which for Tolkein fans, looks much like Elvish) and then underneath that, it would be in English. I recall seeing only one rusty sign, on a remote backroad far from Tbilisi, where the subscript was in Cyrillic. I toured many churches and monasteries where the incredibly beautiful iconography had been whitewashed-over, so that the churches would be in the Russian style. Admittedly, this was all back in the 19th-century, but is an example of the accumulated indignities the Georgians endured under Russian domination. So, it is easy to sympathize with their desire to align with the West. But, as I remarked earlier, geography is not on their side. The simple fact is that Georgia, no matter the leader, will have to come to some arrangement/understanding with their powerful neighbor. I see no other way around it. For there is no country that can protect Georgia from Russia, or build it up to the point where it could defend itself from its neighbor to the north. Saakhashvili was foolish and naive; first to think that Georgia could deal with Russia with impunity, then to allow himself to be provoked into attacking in South Ossetia and then finally to believe the West would swoop down to protect Georgia.

    Russia–Putin and Medvedev are right to view the proposed NATO expansion into Georgia as they have. This is a part of the world where they have legitimate interests and security concerns. They were also correct to view Kosovo independence as setting a dangerous precedent. Their concerns are understandable. That said, Russian actions in Georgia are to be condemned. They have maintained a presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia all these years solely to keep their thumb on Georgia and to exert some control over the new nation, and to ensure that the situation there remained unsettled. Russian troops were already in parts of Georgia, anyway. In visiting Svaneti–totally within Georgia–I encountered a Russian tank and soldiers at a checkpoint on the main road (if you can call it that) betweeen Zugdidi and the Svanetian provincial capital of Mestia. There was nothing Georgia could do about it. Abkhazian claims for independence are marginal at best. South Ossetia’s are almost farcical. The only reason they have been given any credence at all has been due to Russian support. In the recent past, both regions had large Georgian minority populations, now ethnically cleansed under Russian oversight. Yes, Georgia foolishly attacked in South Ossetia (though they would ask how exactly do you attack your own country?). I also believe these attacks were cleverly provoked by Russia, who had their response at the ready. And certainly Russian reaction could be characterized as “disproportionate,” although it has been noted that it would be the hypocritical of the U.S. to make this charge (see Belgrade, south of Lebanon, Iraq, etc.)

    Abkhazia and South Ossetia–Not every mountain valley deserves independence. These regions and their claims for (in)dependence have been carefully exploited by Russia for their own purposes. Look for these regions to be absorbed back into Russia. One can make something of a case for Abkhazia (thought the Georgians can do the same). “South Ossetia” is just not credible. It is an underpopulated mountain valley, with a (until recently) sizable Georgian minority. It lies on the south slope of the formidable Caucusus Mountains. The only connection it has with “North Ossetia” is one tunnel cut through the mountains by the Soviets. Without the tunnel, there would be no practical connection between the two regions. Historically and geographically and by all practical considerations, South Ossetia is simply part of Georgia. The South Ossetians deserve no credit for being the willing dupes serving Russia’s larger ambitions.

  9. 11 September 2008 6:42 am


    Thanks very much for that background information.

    There’s more interesting material in a report of the visit of a WCC delegation.

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