South Ossetia: Russia and Georgia's dangerous game

South OssetiaIn war, everyone loses.

During the early 1990s, as the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia’s sphere of influence contracted until the waters of Europe were washing soggily up on Russia’s beaches. Capitalist or Communist, Russians have always been exceptionally jingoistic.

As more and more of the ex-Soviet Union’s satellites fled into the arms of the west, happy to get away from the tyranny and oppression, the Russians upped their violence.

In 1994, Russia invaded Chechnya. Over the next 15 years, Russia obliterated the country and imposed a succession of puppet leaders following staged elections. The war became a sordid misery of rape, looting, and bribery. Russian parents attempted to keep their children away from the draft by bribing officials. The destruction wasn’t only in Chechnya, but resulted in bouts of terrorism (like the killing of 334 hostages – including 186 children – by Chechen rebels at a Beslan school in 2004).

Along the way, Russia strong-armed their position in the UN Security Council to defenestrate the ability of the UN to negotiate in break-way provinces around the world.

The most obvious one is Russia’s continued rejection of independence for Kosovo, one of the ex-Yugoslav states, and a victim of the civil war that erupted in the region after the collapse of communism in the 1990s.

However, the inability of break-away regions to seek independence through the UN has affected regions as diverse as Aceh (part of Indonesia) and Cabinda (an exclave of Angola). It also affects South Ossetia, a break-away province of Georgia.

Russia’s Perfect War

Russia wants a war. Russia needs a war.

Fascist leaders, who have declared their infallibility, always need a handy external scapegoat when internal policies result in high inflation, capital flight and increasing poverty. Hugo Chavez and the mullahs of Iran have the US, Robert Mugabe has the UK.

Russia needs an enemy.

In April 2007 Estonia, another ex- slave-state of the Soviet empire, decided to distance itself from their past. The Bronze Soldier situated in the centre of the capital of Estonia, and commemorating the Soviet invasion of Estonia at the battle of Tallinn, was moved to a graveyard.

The result was what is potentially the world’s first cyberwar.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s increasingly dictatorial leader, went on the offensive: “Those who are trying to belittle this invaluable experience, those who desecrate monuments to the heroes of the war, are insulting their own people and sowing discord and new distrust between states and people.”

Violent clashes at the Estonian embassy in Russia were followed by a systematic and aggressive attempt to bring down the entire Estonian Internet infrastructure; disabling the websites of government ministries, political parties, newspapers, banks, and companies.

But the Estonians are part of the EU. Russia cannot launch a real battle against them and expect to get away with it.

Georgia is perfect.

An unstable ex-Soviet nation, filled with internal conflicts and corruption. A weak and divided nation with few friends in the West.

A return to the Cold War?

Western Europe is in a bind. High oil and gas prices tie them to Russia. Putin has been more than happy to turn off the gas when he needs to make a point, and Europe sources a significant amount of gas from them.

Russia has been spoiling to return to the spot of global player they lost in the 1990s. They have complained about a targeted missile-shield base to be stationed in Poland. They have supported dictators in as many countries as they can find. Oil money gives them the cash they need to afford influence. And the US moral stature has been severely compromised by the ongoing humiliations in Iraq.

Russia feels that now is the time.

But it is different from the Cold War. Russia is not offering a different and attractive ideology, as Communism was to the huddled vassals of the Colonies. All Russia offers now is thuggery and bullying.

The support is attractive to dictators, but not to their people. The more Russia stomps about, the more rising countries like Poland, India and Brazil feel the need for a stronger alliance with progressive democracies.

Small countries, in particular, have every reason to believe that their right to independence has more support in the West than in the cold hands of Russia.

At moments like this, most world leaders reach for their phones to find out what the US is going to do. And this is the perfect opportunity for the US to do nothing.

George W Bush is a stranded president at the tail-end of an unpopular term in office. Congress won’t support him and an election is on the way. With the world economy tightening, there is little space for a united European and US intervention either.

In other words, all the fledgling titans are going to have to figure this one out themselves.

Russia can’t really afford a full-scale war with Georgia. Even though Russia – unlike the US – won’t bother attempting to rebuild any nation they bomb to bits, it still costs money to hold a country in submission. Georgia is quite large.

More than likely, after bombing each other’s infrastructure for a bit, and butchering each other’s civilians, the aggressors will go home. In the worst-case scenario, it drags in every other break-away region hoping to fall back into Russia’s embrace.

Unfortunately, it will show once again – as if we needed further proof – that the UN is a useless talk-shop, hopelessly outdated in dealing with the factional conflicts of today.

The moral high-ground

Perhaps this is an opportunity to create perspective. People have become so over-exposed to the horror of Iraq that most have forgotten what a real war looks like.

South Ossetia is a real war. No attempt will be made by either side to minimise civilian casualties. Neither side will attempt to offer material support to the refugees. Neither side will attempt to clean up the mess afterwards. Both sides will torture. Both sides will rape.

And those who refuse to hold these belligerents to the same standards that the US has been held to are shit-heads. The hypocrisy and emptiness of their ideals will be demonstrated. Not a hatred of injustice or abuse, but the self-loathing of the spoilt child.

There is no moral high-ground in war. There is no justification for slaughter.

In this war, as in every other war, everyone loses.

30 replies »

  1. Thank you, thank you!

    I was hoping someone would address the Georgian war, and your analysis gives me insights into why Russia feels this is the right time. I wonder if you’re like me in that you feel nations tend to have norms of behavior that survive ideological and governmental structural changes? The Russian, Chinese, Serbs, etc. look pretty much the same to me as they always have. A few countries — Germany, the UK, Japan — appear to have changed because of ruinous and instructive wars. We’ll see.

    Anyway, I agree wholeheartedly that the Russians are a threat because they have been since they were simply a tribe of Rus. Their geopolitical situation hasn’t changed, either (though global warming might give them that warm water port they’ve always wanted — in Murmansk).

    Good job!

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  3. I have a somewhat different take on this:

    In short:

    here are a few facts worth noting about Georgia and the current behavior of its president, Russia, and decision makers in Washington:

    First, let’s be clear: there are two reasons only we care about Georgia: the oil pipelines that go through its territory, and the opportunity it provides to run aggressive policies towards Russia.
    Second, let’s also be very explicit: this conflict is not unexpected: it is a direct consequence of our policies, in particular with respect to Kosovo (and to all those that will claim that “no one could have predicted” this, let me point out to this comment, or this earlier one, or this article). I would even go so far as to say that it was egged on by some in Washington: the neocons.
    Third, our claims to have the moral high ground are totally ridiculous and need to be fought, hard. This is not about democracy vs dictature, brave freedom lovers vs evil oppressors, but a nasty brawl by power-hungry figures on both sides, with large slices of corruption. The fact that this is turned into a cold-war-like conflict between good and evil is a domestic political play by some in Washington to reinforce their power and push certain policies that have little to do with Russia or Georgia. That needs to be understood.

  4. The impotence of the UN is not just a current problem. As an enforcement agency for breakway nations, this impotency was a built-in “feature” at its birth.

    This situation is a continuing point of discussion among those who seek status quo ante from the US in the case of Hawaii independence. The US has acknowledged that it illegally and forcefully annexed the sovereign nation of Hawaii at the end of the 19th century. A friend, who is doing research surrounding the admission of Hawaii as a US state in the late 1950s, has come across some revelatory documents dating from the time of the initial organization of the UN in the Truman era, regarding the US’s strong-arm tactics about the (non)disposal of their own colonial lands like Hawaii, which might sue for independence at some future date.

    While not desiring that the US fall into the insanity of mass slaughter and chaos which could lead to a Nazi-style nation-collapse, it is still my deepest wish for the UN that at some time in the (near) future it will gain enough power to enforce the return of Hawaii as an independent nation, should the residents sue for this. The ability fo Hawaii to seek return to independence is crucial to its future viability.

    As I see it, the biggest practical problem for Hawaii is its limited living space. As a set of islands, Hawaii is currently becoming so developed that should there be a major planetary crisis, I doubt the agricultural land could grow enough food to sustain the population. More importantly in our current times, there is no way that Hawaii as a US state can control burgeoning population-growth effects such as the number of automobiles, the steep rise of housing costs caused primarily by the uncontrolled growth of second- and vacation-only homes, and the like. Unique and effective control solutions implemented by island nations such as New Zealand or Singapore are currently unconstitutional in lands under US-control, as illegally restrictive to interstate commerce.

    It is obvious to many who like me who live in Hawaii that there will be a breaking point for us at some future time. Here’s hoping that at that point, either US law, out of understanding and compassion for our situation in the islands, can change to provide for our circumstances, or that the UN has become strong enough to allow us our independence and survival.

  5. While i find the Scrogue take on just about everything to be spot on, this piece is one of the worst geo-political analysis i have ever read. Honestly, it sounds like it came from PNAC.

    The Russians have complained about the ballistic missile defense shield since they were still Soviets. Gorbachev was ready to disarm completely at Reykjavik, except Reagan would not give up star wars. There is a good reason for their dislike for the ABM system: it is an offensive weapon. It is not designed to stop a single, rogue missile, nor is it capable of stopping a full Russian launch. It is, however, capable of stopping (assuming it works) most of a Russian/Soviet retaliatory strike. It was always meant to give the US first strike capability.

    When the Soviet Union collapsed, the US (in particular) was beloved…until the economic rape and pillage began. And oh how we cheered that on. Clinton’s support of Yeltsin (who stole elections like candy from a baby) didn’t help. NATO enlargement – a pet project of the Clinton administration in its bumbling of foreign policy – didn’t help much either. At a time when peace was supposed to reign, we crept up on Russia’s borders.

    But let’s look at Georgia for a moment. Perhaps a Scrogue should write a post about what “democracy” in Georgia (don’t take it from me, i only know a couple of Georgians) has actually looked like. In a country as poor as Georgia, there must be a good reason why a massive percentage of the budget has gone towards reoutfitting the Georgian military with Western hardware. Or failing that, someone could look at Cheney’s map of the world and see the proposed pipelines.

    The Chechan wars (technically, there have been two not one) have been utter hellholes. But we never said anything about that because A. the Russians were killing Muslims and B. because keeping our mouths shut was a fair trade for Afghan intelligence (in the case of the second Chechan War).

    If someone can tell me how V.V. Putin is any worse than the current crop of US leadership, i’ll happily listen to his/her moral outrage. I won’t even expect a twinkling of understanding as to how he could be so admired in Russia. (I won’t expect it because unless you actually experienced Russia in the glory decade of “freedom” and “democracy”, you haven’t a clue.)

    This is not meant to be a defense of V.V. Putin. He is Stalin 2.0 (btw, 1.0 is still quite popular). But it seems to me that it is the West that truly needs wars and enemies on all fronts, perhaps because we only look sterling in comparison to others…and only when we frame the comparisons.

    And by the way, Kosovo is a corrupt, narco-mafia state supported by the US for the sole reason that it makes an excellent place to bring drugs into Europe. We don’t give a fuck about freedom or independence around the world. We never have and i doubt that we ever will, as we don’t know the first thing about either.

    But never mind, those bad-warlike-jingoistic Russians are out to get us again. They’ve always been that way, and they hate us for our freedom. Saddle up the white horses, we’re on our way!

  6. On Friday morning, Georgia used cluster munitions against the residents of Tshinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, killing 1400 of its residents. This is a war crime. Not an isolated act of ethnic cleansing that Stalin, Beria and other Georgian despots before Saakashvili have practiced, but a continuation of genocide. The spectre of genocide should not be allowed to rise over Transcaucausia again! God bless Russia for intervening to save the Ossetian people from the murderous regime of mad dog Mikheil Saakashvili. Yes, he is so damn smooth, he talks beautifully, and yes, he is “our son of a bitch,” but do we really want to let him exterminate the Georgia’s tiny Abkhaz and Ossetian ethnic minorities (90k + 70k in total) just to stick the Russians in the eye??? And don’t forget, Ossetians are Christians!

  7. I would like to add that Russia recently (before the Georgian invasion) tabled a resolution at the UN Security Council that included all sides “renouncing the use of force” in and around South Ossetia. That resolution was blocked by…any guesses, anyone? Ok, The United States, Britain, and Georgia.

  8. “And those who refuse to hold these belligerents to the same standards that the US has been held to are shit-heads.”

    My point is being made for me. That Russia and China continue to block legislation at the UN against the atrocities in Darfur and Zimbabwe (amongst others) is ignored. That how votes play out at the UN has nothing to do with the points under discussion and only about the jostling between the voters themselves is also ignored.

    Jerome and Lex, is it not enough that the war is wrong? Why are you trying to justify it by blaming those not party to the fighting? Surely the actual fighters bear culpability?

    Or are you the type of people who justify a bar fight by blaming other patrons in the bar?

  9. Lex:

    Clearly, you feel strongly about this issue. If you feel up to it, would you please write something that isn’t full of personal attacks. I love learning things and I love new information, but I can’t learn anything from what you wrote. It’s way too emotional and, being so, I have no way to evaluate the assertions. In addition, very little is backed up.

  10. I am with some of the other commenters; Georgia is not the ‘innocent’ here. Please check out the following links; (I could also say come to my blog but that wouldn’t be polite now would it [s] )

    yikes, I was going to give you a few other links but blogger is being a pain in the you know where… at any rate…looks like you got a few links to show that Russia is not necessarily ‘the bad guy’ as is painted… of course, they ‘are’ attacking’ but don’t leave the mess of Georgia out..


  11. JS,

    I’m not emotional about the issue…it’s just another war. What i was emotional about is coming to S&R to read an extraordinarily slanted post full of unbacked assertions, historical omissions, and manipulations of fact.

    Why are you trying to justify it by blaming those not party to the fighting? Considering the fact that US taxpayer funds purchased a great many of the Georgian munitions being used and at least one US citizen has already been captured by Russia and George W. Bush has called Georgia “a beacon of democracy”, i’m not sure whether the statement should be filed under omission or manipulation. Does it not matter that a good amount of evidence points to US involvement in the toppling of Georgia’s previous government and the installation of the current government?

    Certainly, Russia and China have blocked UN Security Council resolutions that should have been passed, but to paint them as bad guys for doing it is way off base. How many Security Council resolutions concerning Israel has the US vetoed? Which is a bigger geo-political mess: Zimbabwe or the Middle East?

    The above is my biggest problem with this post. It leads the uniformed reader to see the bad of what others do, when, in fact, that evil is the same thing that we do day in and day out. And that is the rhetorical style of Bill Kristol. It is much the same as clamoring for war with Iraq because they possess weapons that make them a threat, without mentioning who gave them the weapons.

    If the real point of the post was to exemplify just how bad war is and how all sides in war are wrong, it was lost in all the words describing how bad one side of this is without even bothering to mention the other sides and the complexity of the issue (and all the other issues that are related).

  12. It is very easy to point to others wrong doing, but let look into the facts. Yugoslavia torn a part by coalition led by USA, Kosovo break of from sovereign Yugoslavia with a blessing of USA, Iraq invaded by USA on basis of being a terrorist state, Afghanistan war with Taliban created by USA to oppose USSR now led by USA leading coalition, Israel suffer from Palestinian terrorism backed up by USA and the list can go on and on.. So let me ask you who is creating the wars?

  13. Gene – your point will be a little more credible if you extract Afghanistan and the Taliban. They were legitimately implicated in the 9/11 attacks.

    And if I recall my history, the US didn’t exactly invent the dynamics that tore the artificial construct that was Yugoslavia apart.

    There’s plenty of actual evidence for you to use here. You don’t help yourself by over-reaching.

  14. JS OBrien – > I think that you watch 2 much CNN.
    West countries , led by US want to control oil and all other valuable resources on the earth. USSR was no better, but now situation is even worse because you have only one world policemen – NATO.
    Thats bad, so I support big comeback of Russia and China (also India). Now US and EU are scared because they now realize that soon new policeman will arrive, that is much stronger. NATO was acting very aggressively in last 10-15 years and that must stop. Did US find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq ??? Surely not. That was war for oil.
    Dr. Slammy – > You’re also CNN clone. You must read more and understand that ‘war on terror’ is another White house & CNN buzzword that is used by US to attack any country that confront them. I don’t blame you, because Western Media is doing great job in keeping people dumb and uninformed of reality.

    What US is doing last years is the same that Germany was doing before WWII, just in more sophisticated way.

    I pray the GOD for Russia, China and India to unite against US imperialism.(and nowadays EU is nothing more that US satellite )

  15. As I read pro-USA comments it’s very interesting to notice that writers of those comments have their brain washed with CNN & BBC brain washers. I can’t imagine that pragmatic US citizens can be so stupid to believe that their country is spending billions of dollars for bringing ‘freedom and democracy’ to the rest of the world. ????!! I don’t approve Russian actions but if US can do the same, why Russia can’t.
    Why is NATO putting it’s rocket shield in Poland and not in Turkey , Romania and Bulgaria which would be more closer to ‘evil’ Middle-East countries (because we all we know that rocket shield is there to eliminate Russian nuclear power and to allow US to easily grab Russian oil reserves and rule the whole world).

    Now we (not pro-USA oriented) can hope that Russia will install nuclear weapons in Syria, Cuba and Iran, so money hungry US officers wouldn’t realize their evil dream.

    For The Free World!

  16. Niksa, I wasn’t going to respond to the twaddle of incontinence spouting out of you, but I feel that some accuracy is needed here.

    1. Russia has well over 5,000 nuclear missiles.
    2. The US is placing a grand total of 10 interceptor rockets in Poland
    3. The interceptors have no explosives in them, but do their work by simply smashing in to any oncoming missile and destroying them via kinetic energy
    4. The closing speed of an oncoming missile and the interceptor is some 24,000 km/hr – i.e. they would cover the distance between Poland to Iran in a little over 7 minutes; this has been described as being like trying to stop a bullet with another bullet – it’s difficult.
    5. In other words, the interceptor must be targeted and fired well within 7 minutes in order to respond and hit the missile high enough so that it doesn’t cause any collateral damage on the ground.
    6. The situation of the interceptors – THEREFORE – has to be sufficiently far to give the interceptors enough time to respond, and sufficiently close in order to do any good … that spot happens to be POLAND.
    7. There are only 10 interceptors, more than sufficient to cope with Iran, but hopeless for stopping anything coming out of Russia.
    8. So all the noise from Russia about this being aimed at them is so much sword-rattling bullshit.

    And last, but not least, go fuck yourself.

  17. Niksa:

    Dr. Slammy – > You’re also CNN clone.

    And you, apparently, are on crack. I appreciate commenters who have differing opinions, but you have an obligation to know a little about me before you start whipping out stuff that’s this ludicrous. So go back and re-read more of my posts, and pay particular attention to the places where I blast the crap out of … CNN.

    You must read more and understand that ‘war on terror’ is another White house & CNN buzzword that is used by US to attack any country that confront them. I don’t blame you, because Western Media is doing great job in keeping people dumb and uninformed of reality.

    Thank you for patronizing. Again, you might go back and actually read what I’ve had to say on the subject. That you regard me as some kind of flag-waving apologist for the very policies I’ve spent thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of words indicting tells us what we need to know about your credibility.

  18. Dr. Slammy – >

    1. US did supported brake up of Yugoslavia. In 1998. and 1999. US was supporting terrorists on Kosovo (know as UCK or KLA). There are proofs that US gave them weapons and trained them to fight against legal Serbian forces on Kosovo ( you must know that KLA is well know criminal organization involved in drug dealing and human trafficking in Europe). Hashim Thaci, Kosovo’s current Prime Minister, was formerly the political head of the KLA, and now mafia and US controls the Kosovo.
    In those days US wasn’t talking about Yugoslavian territorial integrity (which was a member of UN) but supported separatists and terrorists. Why doesn’t US support South Ossetia and Abkhazia nowadays ? Just because it’s not in their interest. US is using double standards.
    Now Kosovo is US satellite where they created one of biggest military bases in Europe (Bondsteel). The main purpose for the Bondsteel military base is to provide security for the construction of the Albanian-Macedonian-Bulgarian oil pipeline. So it’s clear that US didn’t care about Albanians. This was just a part of a plan for US to control Caspian see and oil.
    2. US did support Croatia in 1995. The end result was US participation in an unprecedented act of ethnic cleansing, resulting in a quarter of a million Serbs fleeing from their homes. Croatian soldiers had been trained at Fort Irwin, California, and additional training assistance came from a private company of mercenaries, the American Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI)

    I hope that now you see the role of US in breaking Yugoslavia.

    I read somewhere that you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America’s version of the colony is the military base, and today America has about 1,000 military bases all around the world. You get the point ?!

    whythawk -> No need for that kind of vocabulary (but fuck u 2)

    Then why Polands feel safe from Russians after signing rocket shield deal with US ??? if it’s not there for Russians and can’t save them from Russia nuclear attack ???

  19. 1. US did supported brake up of Yugoslavia.

    I don’t believe I said that the US didn’t support the breakup of Yugoslavia. Clearly that’s something we supported. But our support was hardly the impetus or the only or even the main cause of the breakup. Yugoslavia was not a historical nation, it was a concocted state that served Soviet interests and its existence (given all the ancient rivalries that were being forced together) was always uneasy.

    I read somewhere that you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America’s version of the colony is the military base, and today America has about 1,000 military bases all around the world. You get the point ?!

    Again, you’d do well to assume less about what I think and read more of what I have written. My opinions are hardly secret – I’ve written more words on US policy than I can readily count, and most of them have been highly ciritcal of our foreign policy throughout the course of the last century especially. So much of what we’re having to deal with today is the result of mistakes we made decades ago.

    I love conversations with smart people who disagree with me – that’s where learning and perspective come from. But I’ve never been really big on being lectured at by people who know little but assume a lot.

    So stick your attitude back in the holster and do a little research – if you’re going to come at me, you need to do so from an informed position. I’ve posted over 400 articles since starting S&R. Go for it.

  20. Brother, GWB declared the US right to attack anyone anytime it felt threatened – even when the threat is non-existant. This is the green light to every tin pot would-be dictator on earth and, in fact, justifies all and any “terrorist” act. One man’s pre-emptive strike is… another man’s reason for a pre-emptive, premptive strike. This is MAD writ larger than ever, with EVERYONE in the game. Thanks Yanks, for making the world more dangerous than ever.

  21. And thanks to you, Max. There’s 300 million of us Yanks, and we’re all equally and directly responsible for the policies you talk about. Even those of us who vehemently opposed Bush well before Iraq and who have lost untold hours, weeks and months (and years) of our lives fighting tooth and nail to keep the asshat in check.

    BTW, what nation are you from? Your IP indicates Australia? Wait a minute – isn’t that the place where John Howard was running loose up until last year?

    Hmmm. Remind me again, if you can see all the way down here from way up on your high horse, what role Howard (which is to say, all you Ozzies) played in enabling George Bush.


  22. Dr. Slammy – >
    “Yugoslavia was not a historical nation, it was a concocted state that served Soviet interests”

    It’s true that Yugoslavia was artificial creation, but it didn’t serverd Soviet interests. Yugoslavia was founder of Non-Aligned movement in 1960, and Tito ( Yugoslavia leader in that time) confronted with Stalin and USSR. So Yugoslavia was always between East and West.

    “I’ve written more words on US policy than I can readily count, and most of them have been highly ciritcal of our foreign policy throughout the course of the last century especially. So much of what we’re having to deal with today is the result of mistakes we made decades ago.”

    I am glad I hear that. Sorry if I offended you – I didn’t mean to ( I got a wrong expression by reading some of your comments ). And I ‘m well informed about whole Balkan region because I live there.

  23. What’s good enough for Kosovo is good enough for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, surely! I almost feel sorry for American voters (all 15% of the the population… 20%? 25%, tops!). No matter who they vote for they always get a heat-seeking Republicrat! And yep, I’ll bet a yen to a shekel that the John McPain/Sarah Stalin ticket gets the “majority” nod. And they call this farcical system a beacon of democracy!

  24. For goodness sake America, register to vote and CHANGE the status quo in your distorted “democracy”! Foreigners respect your Constitution more than YOU do!