Sunday, August 10, 2008

Georgian Conflict Manipulated by U.S./NATO/Russia

With the advance of Russian troops and tanks into the Georgian city of of Gori, and the accompanying denunciation of the Bush Administration, which seeks a UN Security Council condemnation of the move, the crisis around the South Ossetia-Georgia conflict seems primed to enter a new, more dangerous stage.

The U.S. says there's no chance they will intervene militarily (but who knows what kind of CIA covert operation is in the offing), and the Germans are trying to be some kind of peace broker. Meanwhile, the latest breaking news via BBC is that the Georgians have totally pulled out of South Ossetia, and Russian forces occupy Tskhinvali.

But make no mistake: this is a very complex and dangerous situation. To even pose it as "now" Russian tanks are rolling in is to echo U.S./Nato propaganda.

The South Ossetian province of Georgia is not ethnically Georgian. They have sought their independence and/or autonomy from Georgia for some time now. (Think of Georgia as a kind of baby Russia, with its own oppressed ethnic groups.)

It was Georgia that reneged on an autonomy agreement and referendum with South Ossetia. (There is another breakaway Georgian province in the mix, too: Abkhazia.) On the other hand, Georgia has been a victim of "great Russian chauvinism" ever since Tsarist times. Lenin, just before his death, failed to out-maneuver Stalin on the question of national sovereignty for the then-new "Soviet Georgian Republic," who pressed forceable "union" between Soviet Russia and Georgia (and other former Russian provinces). The abuse of national rights by a portion of the Bolshevik party got so bad that Lenin asked Stalin to be removed as General Secretary of the Communist Party, in order to push a reassessment of national relations between Soviet Russia and its neighbors -- one that would respect the national sovereignty of other countries. But Lenin died suddenly, and the request to remove Stalin and change relations with Georgia was suppressed, only to surface years later as part of the famous Khrushchev revelations.

Now, both Russian and the U.S./NATO are cynically utilizing the conflict as a proxy for their own great power confrontation. This is dangerous posturing, similar to the use of the Serbs, Bulgarians, Turks and Greeks in the Balkan Wars that preceded World War I. The lust for U.S. dominance in every corner of the world is the major destabilizing factor of our time. In the east, it has stirred up the hornet's nest of radical Islamic fundamentalism (after first courting the very same insurgents it supported against a then Westernizing Soviet Union, and then abandoning them).

In old Europe, nationalist and revanchist causes rooted in centuries-old resentments and inequalities are being cynically manipulated by the U.S. and NATO allies and Russia. The last time such matchsticks were lit within Europe itself we witnessed the horror of the Bosnian War, with its genocide, concentration camps, and massive relocation of displaced civilians. The time before that... World War I.

From the UK Guardian:
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president turned prime minister, in his public statements seemed to put more importance on Georgia's ambitions to join Nato. At its summit in Bucharest this year, Nato agreed that Georgia would become a member of the western military alliance, which would not have gone down well with the Kremlin.

What is not in dispute is that Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, overplayed his hand or walked into a Russian trap, but that is almost besides the point. James Sherr, an analyst at the Chatham House thinktank, argues that what the episode shows is Russia's determination to protect its owns interests whatever it takes....

On Politico, Ben Smith looks at how Barack Obama and John McCain, the two US presidential hopefuls have reacted to the crisis. He notes that Obama took a very mainstream position, calling for negotiations, but that McCain took a much more confrontational stance towards Russia.
Then we have this from Steve Clemons at The Washington Note on "American culpability" in the crisis:
My own view is that the U.S. has displayed a reckless disregard for Russian interests for some time. I don't like Russia's swing to greater domestic authoritarianism and worry about its stiffened posture on a number of international fronts -- but Simes convinces me in his important Foreign Affairs essay, "Losing Russia," that much of what we are seeing unfold between Russia and Georgia involves a high quotient of American culpability....

By pushing Kosovo the way the US did and aggravating nationalist sensitivities, Russia could in reaction be rationally expected to further integrate and cultivate South Ossetia and Abkhazia under de facto Russian control and pull these provinces that border Russia away from the state of Georgia.

At the time, there was word from senior level sources that Russia had asked the US to stretch an independence process for Kosovo over a longer stretch of time.... The U.S. rejected Russia's secret entreaties and instead rushed recognition of Kosovo and said damn the consequences.

Now thousands are dead. The fact is that a combination of American recklessness, serious miscalculation and over-reach by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, as well as Russia's forceful reassertion of its regional national interests and status as an oil and gas rich, tough international player means America and Europe have yet again helped generate a crisis that tests US global credibility.
With a lame-duck president, as with the war drums beat over Iran, it's hard to know how far Washington will go in pushing a bellicose foreign policy. But the recklessness of a certain element within the Pentagon/CIA/Executive branch establishment, and the obliviousness and cowardice of many other actors there, means that no one should rest easy these days.

Once some people get the taste of war and conquest, they don't like to let go.

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