Russia's Folly: How their annexation of South Ossetia shows their weakness

Don't hurt meThere’s a game I used to play with my geopolitics university students. I’d get them to form a circle and then I’d ramble about in the middle linking them up with black cotton thread. It would form a dense and incomprehensible jangle, tying them up in improbable ways. I’d always leave a few free.

Then I’d get one of the untied students to “attack” one of the tied students. As he moved towards the other, he would have to cross the threads in the middle and would quickly draw others into the conflict.

The thread, I told my students, are the ties of international trade and politics. And Russia has just played silly-buggers with everyone else’s party.

Punishing America

When the US invaded Iraq in a so-called pre-emptive strike, Russia and China vetoed the chance for the US to put it to the UN. Neither Russia nor China were particularly interested in Iraq, but the principle at stake was crucial to both of them.

If it becomes acceptable to physically intervene in the activities of a sovereign state – no matter what cause is given – then the actions of China and Russia in pacifying their own self-declared zones of control (Chechnya, in the case of Russia, and Tibet for China) become something in which the rest of the world can intercede. And it isn’t only these two big nations. The list of contentious break-away regions is quite large. Indonesia and Aceh, the Yugoslav republics, India / Pakistan and Kashmir, Sri Lanka and the Tamil … hell, even Canada and Quebec, or the UK and Scotland.

Most recently, South Africa joined China and Russia in refusing to allow sanctions against Zimbabwe using the claim that this would be intervening in an internal conflict.

But the US did invade Iraq and, in so doing, triggered the collapse of the central state and unleashed a civil war. It hasn’t been declared outright illegal. Given the US’ global power and their importance to most nation’s, this was never likely. But that is, in any case, merely symbolic.

Simply declaring the US guilty and telling them to leave Iraq wouldn’t achieve any sort of solace for Iraqis. It would leave them with a violent and unstable country, locked in civil war. The US’ default punishment has been to stay there and sort out the mess they caused. The US electorate may not like it, but – too bad – their president led them into it, and now they all have to pay for it. The total cost of the war, so far, is estimated at around $1 – 2 trillion over a 10 year period. Savour that and consider whether the punishment fits the crime?

But the US is a big nation and, even at that price, it amounts to only 0.7% of GDP. Hardly anything to really feel.

The whole point of not coming out with a ruling, though, satisfied all sides to the conflict. If there is no clear ruling on intervention, and everything is left vague, then the US can have their little war in Iraq, Russia can continue killing Chechnyans, and China can continue subjugating Tibet. Plus, no one has a precedent on which to base direct intervention in Iran or North Korea.

Until Russia invaded Georgia, seized their break-away provinces and made them her own.

Russia’s Folly

Russia’s invasion of Georgia was premised on the following: that they were acting as peace-keepers to prevent genocide amongst a break-away region nominally under their protection and that is home to a large number of Russian citizens. We’ll ignore the fact that they only received their Russian passports conveniently recently…

In the first hours of the conflict, the Russian media declared that Georgians had targeted South Ossetian civilians and killed some 2,000 of them. This left both Europe and the US stuck in simply demanding that the Russians act with restraint. Then it turned out that “only” 150, or so, people had been killed and that Russian troops were looting and destroying Georgian homes and pushing 115,000 of them out of South Ossetia. Human Rights Watch then declared that Russia had deliberately dropped cluster bombs over civilian areas. Human Rights Watch continues to monitor the ongoing onslaught by Russian troops on Georgians within their zone of control. It’s chilling.

Now, there are some pointed differences between the US invading Iraq and Russia invading Georgia, not least of which is that the US, at least, has tried to rebuild Iraq, while Russia is simply looting and trashing Georgia.

However, Russia’s original claims have changed. Firstly, they have wrecked the Georgian’s ability to put their point across with active DOS attacks against their telecommunications infrastructure. Then they promptly, and unilaterally, “recognised” the South Ossetians and Abkhasian’s independence, and they now accuse the US of “forcing” the Russians to invade. Meanwhile, they continue to hold large parts of Georgia, and blockade their main port of Poti, in contravention of the cease-fire they signed with Georgia. And, just this morning, Russia has announced that they will integrate both Abkhazia and South Ossetia into the Federation and any independence will be short-lived.

The Russians have declared they will provide $ 400 million to rebuild South Ossetia. The US has sent aid to Georgia. Russia’s intervention in the Caucasus now stands revealed for the land-grab it always was.

Since Russia would veto any UN attempt at international redress, what stands to punish Russia? Especially considering that the US and Europe have no real appetite for war with the Russian bear.

Punishing Russia

All the punishments are already happening, again, by default.

Firstly, Russia has uncorked the separatist genie. Russia has plenty of regions that wish for independence. Even worse, is that so many of them share borders with South Ossetia. They include Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan. Now Chechnya has been bombed into submission, but the other states may consider this an opportune moment to push for their own independence.

Russia’s only support so far has come from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) that consists of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Russia. I haven’t seen any press from China suggesting that they’re into this and, given their own internal breakaway regions (Taiwan, Tibet, and the Uighars in Xinjiang), I’m not too sure they’ll stand around for too long.

Update: China didn’t. As soon as Russia announced their annexation, China withdrew and now Russia is relying on the even more insignificant Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) to validate her claims. The CSTO comprises Russia and the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

So Russia is politically isolated. Worse is that, as in my tied up students example, small countries attempting to escape Russia’s embraced have rushed into alliances with Europe and the US. Poland, which had been cagey about hosting a US defensive missile system, signed up immediately. Ukraine has called for closer ties with the EU and even Turkey has looked nervous.

Financially, Russia declared that their oil wealth kept them safe. Not so. Investors are fleeing as rapidly as Georgia’s refugees. Something like $ 16 billion have left the country in the past weeks. Investors were already nervous given Putin’s bellicosity over listed companies and the war appears to have been the last straw. In order to keep the economy afloat, the government is considering a bailout.

But Russia is significantly smaller than the US. All posturing aside, Russia’s economy is only 6.1% the size of that of the US. Their military expenditure is 4.8% of total US military spending. Crushing Georgia may have been easy for the Russians, but they’re kidding themselves if the US really takes them seriously.

So, here we have Russia, isolated, with a collapsing economy and only one product to sell. They have given an excuse to every separatist movement inside the Russian Federation to call for their own independence, and the Europeans an excuse to raise prices on energy and push for energy-self-sufficiency.

As ye sew, so shall ye reap. Or, in American, go fuck yourself.

23 replies »

  1. Now, there are some pointed differences between the US invading Iraq and Russia invading Georgia, not least of which is that the US, at least, has tried to rebuild Iraq, while Russia is simply looting and trashing Georgia.

    Oh, lord, that is funny…too funny actually. Let’s see, the US first started destroying Iraq in 1991; it is now 2008. At this point, the US is saying that Iraq should pay for its own reconstruction, because we’ve done enough. But didn’t Iraq lead the ME in infant mortality, etc before 1991? What is Iraq’s ranking now? Some concrete examples of US reconstruction successes should be provided for that assertion.

    The price tag for the Iraq occupation may only represent 0.7% of GDP, but it should be noted that every dollar of that cost has been borrowed…and the miracle of compound interest is a double-edged sword. My seven month old niece will be paying for the Iraq occupation.

    The independence of ethnic nations is a can of worms no matter which end you open it from; and it is always manipulated by the “great” powers for their geopolitical gain. Right and wrong in these cases can only be created by the political slant of the commentator.

    True, Russia has bound itself – geopolitically – over Georgia, but what Russia had to lose must be considered. Realistically, they had nothing to lose. The US would have continued to push itself up to Russia’s borders with a military presence one way or the other…we have been for the last 17 years, after all.

    I notice that there is no mention of what the US lost in this, and how it got tangled up. Georgia’s army was equipped and trained by the US (there were US military personal in Georgia at the time even). Our client state got smacked around badly, and we didn’t come rushing in to help. So either we couldn’t or we left a “friend” to get badly battered.

    The whole thing did push other Eastern European countries closer to the US, but at the same time showed that the US is not going to actually back any of these new clients. And short of a nuclear volley, the US is in no position to do anything. We are not about to put troops on the ground in Eastern Europe/Russia. So we have a war mongering President reduced to saying, “stop it,” and issuing the most hypocritical pronouncements (even for a US president) one is likely to ever hear.

    I’m really confused by the neo-conservative foreign policy stance being taken by Scholars and Rogues, but i look forward to articles about how well the surge is working; reasons for invading Pakistan; and the coming endorsement of John McCain. On the other hand, neo-liberal foreign policy really isn’t any different than neo-conservative foreign policy, so maybe i shouldn’t be surprised.

  2. Hello Lex,

    You should know that S&R doesn’t “take a stance.” There are a number of writers and other media producers who post here. As a rule, we try to pick smart writers who know stuff. Most of them lean at least a bit towards the progressive side, but not all, and not on all topics. Unlike the way Fox News is for conservatives, I’m afraid you won’t be able to visit here and be assured of seeing stories that agree, at all times, with you. I won’t agree with all of them. I doubt a single one of the scrogues will agree with everything written.

    We hope the articles you don’t agree with will be at least thought provoking. At the very least, we hope they help you sharpen your own skills in rebuttal.

  3. Lex, my argument isn’t about the “official” punishment that any authority meets out to transgressors, merely that – in the field of geopolitics – one reaps what one sews.

    There isn’t one answer as to how nations should behave. So, your niece will be paying for the US invasion of Iraq. Well, and good. What do you think should be the appropriate penance for the invasion? You think the US gets to remove their troops say, “Oops, sorry, that wasn’t us, it was George Bush and we elected a new president now, so it’s no longer our responsibility.” As you say, the money has been borrowed and spent. You don’t get to say, “Well, I used the money, I don’t want to pay any more.”

    Russia will now sit with precisely the same problem. However, as I clearly point out, while I feel that the US will deal with their costs reasonably easily (albeit with lower growth and higher debt), the Russian costs could decimate their country.

    The Cold War, as you may recall, was won by the US’ ability to simply outspend the USSR until their economy melted down.

    As for being a neo-conservative? I find that extremely amusing.

  4. among some tribes, if I save your life, I become responsible for you. Your continued life would not be possible, otherwise. Not being responsible for your own actions gives you a new freedom, you have a protector.

    In our desire for others to enjoy our standard of life, action, we have selected an ongoing job. It’s not over yet.

  5. Thanks for your piece. This is very positive signal. America is weak and not going to fight back so far. The rest of deliberations about ‘isolated’ and ‘collapsing’ Russia sound very childish. Russian public debt ten times lower than US (5.9% in GDP terms), foreign reserves already more than 500 bln dollars, gdp growth rate about 8%. I would wish every country ‘collapsing’ like that.

  6. Only a fool like Saakashvili would mess with Russia. Like Saddam did with the US, when he insisted on acting like he had WMD when he didn’t.

  7. To play with the students is the right occupation and place for you. Still… poor students..

  8. Alex, I remember a story that Donald Trump told when he was a billion dollars in debt. He was walking in New York and saw a drunk sleeping under a pile of newspapers, and he thought to himself, “Hey, that guy’s worth a billion dollars more than I am.”

    Point is this, the US economy is highly diversified and entirely integrated into the world’s trading system. It can recover rapidly, and is already doing so. Russia has exactly one product to sell (oil) and the rising value of that alone has generated Russia’s wealth. There is no substance to their economy, and they have no friends.

    Like Venezuela, Russia is wasting its money on pointless expropriations of private businesses, centralising the economy inside the state, and wasting cash on expensive “look-at-me” projects. Inflation is spiralling.

    It took less than a year for the US’ surplus under Bill Clinton to turn into a deficit under Bush. And the US deficit can turn as quickly, given the scale of the US economy.

    Russia, reliant entirely on exports of oil to Europe, is as dependent on them, as the EU is on Russia.

    Russia’s bolshiness comes from weakness, not strength.

  9. “Take Britain’s 43-year-old Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. Last week, he was still urging that Georgia be ushered into Nato, over the objections of many of his seniors that if we had allowed the country into the alliance last spring, we would now be at war with Russia. To which the young bloods retort that if Georgia had been part of the alliance, the Russians would not have dared to invade. The response of the old hands, such as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Tory foreign secretary, is: “Get real.” There is no way Britain or other founder members of Nato, such as France or Germany, would go to war over South Ossetia, they say, which is why – say some – Georgia’s application should be turned down.

    Behind the dispute over Nato membership for Georgia lies another: should we recognise that Russia has a legitimate interest in what happens around its borders? Max Hastings put the view of the older “realists” in the Daily Mail: “Many Western strategists believe the US is foolish to have pushed Moscow so hard, so close to its frontiers. Why is it acceptable, they ask, for the West to commit troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, but unacceptable for the Russians to act tough on their own doorstep?” He went on: “It is madness to offer security guarantees [that Nato membership implies] to any nation unless one is prepared to fight for it.”

    To younger “romantics” such as David Cameron, 41, who wants to “accelerate” Georgia’s application to join Nato, that smacks of Cold War thinking. The Tory leader was swiftly invited to Georgia after he described Russia as a “massive bully”, and wrote on his return: “We must not return to the days of Yalta, when whole nations were allocated according to spheres of influence. If we go along with that in the case of Georgia, where will it apply next? Ukraine? Estonia?” According to some critics of the Cold War veterans, their vision comes from even further back – from the 19th century, when the Council of Vienna divided up Europe among the Great Powers.

    There must be none of that when the European Council meets in Brussels tomorrow, believes another relative youngster, David Clark, chair of the Russia Foundation. “By reverting to a foreign policy based on military force, power politics and the imposition of a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, Russia poses a significant threat to the values that underpin the modern European state system,” he said. This was echoed by Oliver Kamm, chief leader writer of The Times, who said in his blog: “Russian policy is a brutal amalgam of realpolitik, consistent ethnocentrism, and an uncomplicated desire to undermine Western diplomacy. The Caucasus has been the victim, under leaders who’ve been responsible as well as others who’ve been disreputable.”

    According to Mr Clark, a former special adviser to the late Robin Cook,the EU needs “firm action … to make Moscow think again. Anything less would send a dangerous signal of weakness.” Like the rest of this camp, he believes Georgia, Ukraine and “all European democracies that wish to join and are willing to meet the conditions of membership” should be welcomed into Nato.

    To sceptics such as Simon Jenkins, that is simply giving hostages to fortune. “Turning its border into a zone of bluff and counter-bluff, so Nato can boast 10 extra flags outside its headquarters,” he wrote in The Guardian, “has proved destabilising and provocative …. With Russia, Nato is playing with fire.” He is not alone in feeling Western Europe’s mature democracies are being dragged into a messy, unwinnable wrestling match with the Russian bear.

    Much to the disappointment of the new Cold Warriors, all talk of sanctions against Russia at tomorrow’s EU summit has now ceased. In what some saw as a rebuke to Mr Miliband, Downing Street said yesterday: “We have support for Georgia’s membership in principle. There is a process in place to enable that to happen, should Georgia meet the conditions of Nato membership.” The statement did not convey an urgent desire to welcome Mr Saakashvili into the alliance.

    Possibly optimistically, observers have also detected a new, slightly more temperate approach from Moscow. On Friday, Vladimir Putin called for the EU to be “objective”, and denied previous defiant claims that Russia did not care if sanctions were imposed. This may reflect alarm following a summit between China and four Central Asian nations, at which Moscow’s plea for support was ignored.

    Old-fashioned diplomacy, it turns out, could have a role.”

    “And far from being opposed to the Government’s dossier, she says he was convinced that Saddam lied when he told the UN that he was no longer developing WMDs.

    She said: ‘David believed the Iraqis were not being forthcoming during our inspections about their potential for making weapons. If they weren’t up to anything, why did we have to be accompanied by minders? And why were people scared to talk to us?

    ‘David’s position on the invasion was that it was regrettable but necessary because UN sanctions had failed. He said he was misquoted and his words were twisted and taken out of context.”

  10. Whythehawk is correct in his assessment. I would also like to add that Russia’s economy is less than 20% of ours. Despite their growth, their GDP has only increased 2% since 1989. Putin and his gang of oiligarchs are getting rich while the poor are still at the bottom. There has been a rush at the door the past couple of weeks to pull money out of Russia, and their foreign exchange buffer is melting in real time.


  11. whythawk,
    Could you please elaborate on ‘Russia is wasting its money on pointless expropriations of private businesses’? Please don’t mention YUKOS.

    ‘Putin and his gang of oiligarchs are getting rich while the poor are still at the bottom’
    IMF has a drastically different opinion on that matter. According to its data Russian average wage increased from USD 112 (2001) up to USD 413 (Oct 2006) and continue rising. Share of people living below subsistence droped from 27.3% to 15,8% during the same period. BTW this success is a main explanation of huge Putin’s popularity among Russians.
    ‘There has been a rush at the door the past couple of weeks to pull money out of Russia’.
    So what? Russia is a net investor, it has more investments abroad than foreign investments in the country.

  12. Alex, why can’t I say Yukos? How about BP’s investments? Or Mechel Steel? Or how about the peculiar assassination of Alexander Litvinenko? WTF?

    And don’t wave IMF data around quite so vigorously if you’re not going to consider some other numbers: population shrinking at 0.4% (fastest shrinkage in Europe), income share between richest and poorest 20% puts them behind Mexico, the poorest 20% of Americans earn about $ 2,600 a year, while the Russian richest 20% earn $ 2,800 a year.

    Russia’s economy, to reiterate, is 6.1% the size of the US. It is an impoverished and miserable place with ever-eroding property rights. It may be an exciting emerging market investment opportunity – but it is an EMERGING market, just like Nigeria. Russia needs to climb down out of this faster than anyone.

    And let me turn this around and ask you, dearest Alex, why – if the US is wrong for invading Iraq – is Russia right for invading Georgia? Georgia, the Ukraine and Poland – not to mention poor old Estonia – prefer trading with the US and Europe than with Russia – and this SOMEHOW justifies a Russian invasion?

    So, therefore, by that logic, if China trades with Mexico, the US has a right to invade Shanghai?

    Want to know the value of China’s trade with Mexico … just in case you were thinking of invading?

  13. ‘Alex, why can’t I say Yukos?’
    Because I know some details about this company which make me wonder why Khodorkovsky is not imprisoned for life. YUKOS like many other oligarchs’ companies made fortunes out of stealing assets, tax evasion and racket. If Russian government wants to bring law as a standard of business conduct it has no choice other than to confront criminals.
    ‘How about BP’s investments? Or Mechel Steel?’
    All the same. BP made a deal with thugs from ALFA Group and know seeking help from Kremlin to fix its own mistakes. Did Kremlin made BP to accept this ‘partnership’? Why it now has to take sides in this criminal feud? Further, Mechel and ther metallurgy companies established a monopoly schem on local market. In your opinion state should not take care of that?
    ‘Or how about the peculiar assassination of Alexander Litvinenko?’
    Are we talking about business? You reference to this murky affair is just a sign of severe lack of arguments.
    The World Taekwondo Federation? I thought Koreans are running this business. You say Russians?
    ‘And don’t wave IMF data around quite so vigorously if you’re not going to consider some other numbers’
    I am considering this data on daily basis and paid for it quite well, so why don’t you stop giving free advices and try to find customers.
    ‘ just like Nigeria’
    Let’s stop here for a moment. How many emerging economies (EE) are capable of developing its own space program which is today vital for key NASA projects? How many EE have comparable level of scientific and technological development? And last but not least – how many EE has nuclear arsenal?
    It’s obvious you are making huge and very intentional ‘mistake’ in your assesment.
    ‘And let me turn this around and ask you, dearest Alex, why – if the US is wrong for invading Iraq – is Russia right for invading Georgia?’
    Please specify where I wrote that Americans were wrong for invading Iraq. I don’t remember this occasion, refresh my memeory ot take your words back.
    ‘Georgia, the Ukraine and Poland – not to mention poor old Estonia – prefer trading with the US and Europe than with Russia’.
    OMG, check statistics before making irrelevant claims.
    ‘So, therefore, by that logic, if China trades with Mexico, the US has a right to invade Shanghai?’
    Your explication about foreign trade and ‘rights to invade’ is missing facts and logic, nevertheless it’s potentially interesting concept.

  14. Alex,
    What is your job description that allows you to use IMF data on a daily basis and get well paid for it? Also, what is the definition of “well paid?” If the IMF always got it right, we wouldn’t see such great volatility in the currency markets, and I do happen to know more than a little about the currency markets of developing countries. Perhaps I’m not as well informed as you, but if I’m wrong about the directions of the market, I don’t eat.

  15. Alex, a rating agency? How wonderful. I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or shake your hand and give you a hug. It’s thanks to the errors in the major rating agency reports that my little operation now has a UK office 😉

    Now, where were we? I was positing that Russia will be regarded by the international community as being in the wrong but that, unlike the US over Iraq, they are much less able to withstand international opprobrium. Further, that even if the multinational organisations (like the EU or G7) fail to organise their collectivised fat posteriors, that markets would move against Russia. I further eluded to the way the Russian government is squandering cash as only unaccountable centralised states can by pursuing vendettas against (for instance) Yukos.

    You, by my estimation, object to this. I assumed you objected to my entire argument, but it appears you only object to the idea that Russia can’t afford it. But then you went on to rubbish my Yukos example by virtue of the fact that the owners of Yukos got their ill-gotten gains in an ill-gotten way. Of course they did. Russia is completely corrupt. But spending money is spending money. Whether it is on destabilising markets by undermining property rights, or on peculiar assassinations, or even more peculiar wars. Whatever the justification.

    So far, facts on the ground regarding investor pull-out and the Russians gradual attempt to find a way to climb down appear to be verifying my original position.

    Your original complaint was my concern that “Russia would collapse”. It is in no-one’s interest that this happen, but the Russian state is fragile and volcanic. Hence, the EU would be loathe to implement sanctions (and probably won’t) but markets …. as Jeff would know better than I, emerging market investors are tough-skinned. But they’re not usually completely suicidal.

    Unless, of course, your reports are telling them Russia is a good bet? Or am I being terribly, terribly rude?

  16. I didn’t realize that the US “won” the Cold War…it seems that it was a combination of Gorbachev quitting the game and Reagan negotiating. Reagan’s negotiating was what made him loathed by the neo-conservatives, because he didn’t grind Russia into the ground. Clinton, however, did his best.

    While i will not argue about how Putin has run Russia (and i was there for his spooky, terrorism fueled rise), claiming that his oligarchs are basically raping and pillaging is comical compared to what happened in the 90’s. And all that with the blessings of the planet’s erstwhile defender of liberty. It should also be noted that many of Putin’s biggest Russian detractors are the guys who ran away with a whole nation’s assets so that they could buy English football clubs.

    Is Russia in great shape, economically? No. Not by a long shot as they are far too dependent on mineral resources. But they are not a debtor nation (as they were when Putin took office). And there is no doubt that life has improved for most Russians compared to what they lived through under Yeltsin.

    And as i said in my original comment, Russia has entangled itself badly in Georgia. But again, what did she have to lose? The question i posed – which wasn’t answered – is who is more entangled: the US or Russia? The fact remains that our newest puppet got smacked around badly and we didn’t lift a finger…because we can’t.

    The Russian Empire vanished some years ago. (though i realize that a good many people miss having such an enemy so much that they can’t give it up) The issue that should be on our minds is the future of the American Empire. An empire that looks eerily similar to the last days of the Russian/Soviet Empire…without leadership that can read the writing on the wall and at least try to save the nation.

    Sorry, i shouldn’t have said neo-conservative. I should have stuck with neo-liberal. Or even suggested Brzezinski.

    J.S.- i don’t want some sort of ideological purity or consistency. But analysis that only considers one side of the coin and seems to consistently reach towards predetermined conclusions is what has gotten the US into so many foreign policy blunders. I realize that Americans care not one whit for history, but the rest of the world remembers things (hell, the Georgian conflict has been brewing since 1800: a grudge passed from father to son in the grand, Caucasian tradition). When we fail to include relevant history in our analysis/decision making, we end up making huge mistakes.

    Remember Brzezinski’s grand plan to entangle the Soviets in Afghanistan by fomenting a local revolution and funding it? In the short term it worked just as he planned. In the long term it ended up putting us in the same situation that we put the Soviets into. And now we’re doing the same basic thing all over Eastern Europe. We have neither the will nor the ability to finish what we’re starting…

  17. Starting? There’s free-will involved here to, you know. Ukraine, Poland, Georgia – they’re not client states, they’re independent nations. That is what Russia objects to. Russia doesn’t want its ex-colonies behaving as if they can choose their friends.

    And the reason the Yeltsin years were so tumultuous is the same wall that every ex-soviet state hit. The USSR talked up their economy. No-one really knew how to value the place. As soon as the looting started and the best bits were flogged for next to nothing, there was nothing of value left and the market rated it accordingly.

    To describe the US as “eerily similar to the last days of the Russian/Soviet Empire” is plane silly. I was going to go and look up some numbers, but I’m not going to bother, it isn’t worth debating this point.

    Further, Georgia launched this battle against everyone’s advice (both EU and US). There is no way that anyone wants a war with Russia. Not because the US or EU would lose, but because it would be astonishingly damaging. Russia already feels hard done by and they are nuclear armed. This is one place where diplomacy and a whole bunch of ludicrous sounding sabre rattling will work better.

    And, lastly, “I realize that Americans care not one whit for history” – I’m not American, and historical justifications are hindsight speaking to justify present-day machinations. They’re what keep people stuck in poverty and recrimination. They are the last refuge of the scoundrel.

  18. “…grudge passed from father to son in the grand, Caucasian tradition.”

    Hmm. Your point being…what exactly?

  19. Lex:

    Don’t you see, though? Your rebuttal has added great interest to this thread and is helping to educate us all. I think that’s what S&R is about. This thread is marvellous, and it’s because S&R writers are somewhat unpredictable. I enjoy this. I hope you do, too.

  20. Elaine, my point being that in many parts of the world things that happened long ago have a tendency to simmer until they boil over. We have a habit of involving ourselves in these grudges without factoring in all of the relevant information. This is a good example. Georgians and Russians have never gotten along very well, so by arming the Georgians and giving them the wink, wink, nudge, nudge we should expect that they’ll take whatever opportunity arises to settle their grudges. And that wasn’t a racist statement. Of all the people i’ve met, Caucasians are the only ones more proud than Russians at how long they can/will carry a grudge.

    They are client states. When we pour massive amounts of our tax dollars into building their military; ignore their farcical elections and repressions; and send our soldiers to train their military…ignoring possible/probable CIA involvement in their “democratic revolutions”…they become client states.

    And the independence argument is bunk unless we apply it across the board, which would give places like Ossetia the right to independence just like Kosovo.

    Well, we’ll just have to see how long the American empire does last.