And of course Act I was Iraq, wasn’t it? We said there would be permanent consequences, and Mad Vlad duly decided to invade Georgia because the precedent was set in 2003. George W Bush decimated the international order by invading a sovereign (albeit belligerent) nation, which posed no threat to the outside world, yet was admittedly butchering its own people. We didn’t like the idea of invading Iraq then because resolving totalitarian behaviour in such a simplistic fashion never works; particularly when done in a purely maverick fashion, it sets the wrong example for the wrong people to follow. Of course the principal reason for invading Iraq was never WMD, it was strategic. The neocons in charge in Washington wanted to send out a message a) that they could reshape a region historically belligerent to them into their own image and b) wanted to set up a permanent, regional base of operations for controlling the oil. Eerie isn’t it, how the Russian attack on Georgia has such deep parallels with that scenario?
Putin has, as expected, taken full advantage of the idiocy of the Bush administration. Where NATO said it would eventually admit Georgia, not a single ally has now come to its aid (regardless of whatever Saakashvilli initiated in South Ossetia pre-invasion), and the credibility of the alliance has been destroyed. But having put all his eggs in one basket economically whilst President of Russia, and now facing a drop in the oil price, he’s also engineered an event which is guaranteed to boost the price back up again. Using and abusing the language of human rights, Putin holds almost all the cards, whereas Bush’s dispatching of American forces to Georgia on a ‘humanitarian’ mission (right, so there won’t be any covert activity going on then) puts us all in ever more danger. The last time American and Russian forces were in such close proximity was in the former Yugoslavia, and World War III was only avoided by a whisker by all accounts. This time…?
Putin is being slated worldwide as a neo-Adolf Hitler, using ‘abuse against our citizens in a foreign land’ as a pretext for annexation. I’m not sure that’s the case – I think he’s playing a much cagier game than that. There’s also this rather fundamental issue, as identified by Mikhail Gorbachev:
What happened on the night of August 7 is beyond comprehension. The Georgian military attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali with multiple rocket launchers designed to devastate large areas. Russia had to respond. To accuse it of aggression against “small, defenceless Georgia” is not just hypocritical but shows a lack of humanity.
The Georgian leadership could do this only with the perceived support and encouragement of a much more powerful force. Georgian armed forces were trained by hundreds of US instructors, and its sophisticated military equipment was bought in a number of countries. This, coupled with the promise of Nato membership, emboldened Georgian leaders.
You have to remember that Gorbachev is a man acutely aware of history, and throughout his tenure as the last Soviet President, was pragmatic to a fault. It’s a story I’ve heard too many times to ignore – Saakashvili attacked South Ossetia first, triggering the Russian response, however disproportionate and unacceptable. Whilst this action could quite easily be seen in part as revenge for sidelining Russia in attacking Iraq in 2003, it’s uncomfortable to realise just how much the world media is trying to erase out any mention of unacceptable behaviour by Georgia, and how that behaviour, as Gorbachev identifies, was a direct result of American interference around Russia’s borders. That should not excuse Russia’s behaviour, which some reports are likening to Serbia’s in Bosnia and Kosovo. Putin’s and Russia’s slide through authoritarianism towards extreme nationalism had been downplayed abroad until the murder of Alexander Litvinenko; by then it was so re-entrenched in the Kremlin that such an invasion was probably inevitable.
However as with the American atrocities in Fallujah, history is being airbrushed again by the media. The Russian invasion of Georgia is being shown simplistically as an aggressive act when it’s in large measure a response to the United States’ regional policy, which Putin sees encircling him, and has increasingly promised an unwelcome response to. Anti-missile ‘defence shield’ in Easter Europe? Who really believes that’s to be used against North Korea or Iran, and how transparent it was to finalise the missile ‘defence shield’ deal with Poland just days after the Georgian invasion:
after the deal was announced, both US and Polish officials attempted to play down any connection to the Georgian war.
“This is not linked to the situation in Georgia,” the chief US negotiator John Rood told The Associated Press. “We had made these arrangements for this round of negotiations before the conflict in Georgia, and so we just merely continued with the schedule we had.”
That’s probably true, except the Georgian war has without question been a direct result of this process. Seumas Milne expands on the extent to which Georgia’s regime really is a similar puppet of the Americans:
The CIA has in fact been closely involved in Georgia since the Soviet collapse. But under the Bush administration, Georgia has become a fully fledged US satellite. Georgia’s forces are armed and trained by the US and Israel. It has the third-largest military contingent in Iraq – hence the US need to airlift 800 of them back to fight the Russians at the weekend. Saakashvili’s links with the neoconservatives in Washington are particularly close: the lobbying firm headed by US Republican candidate John McCain’s top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, has been paid nearly $900,000 by the Georgian government since 2004.
But underlying the conflict of the past week has also been the Bush administration’s wider, explicit determination to enforce US global hegemony and prevent any regional challenge, particularly from a resurgent Russia. That aim was first spelled out when Cheney was defence secretary under Bush’s father, but its full impact has only been felt as Russia has begun to recover from the disintegration of the 1990s.
Over the past decade, Nato’s relentless eastward expansion has brought the western military alliance hard up against Russia’s borders and deep into former Soviet territory. American military bases have spread across eastern Europe and central Asia, as the US has helped install one anti-Russian client government after another through a series of colour-coded revolutions. Now the Bush administration is preparing to site a missile defence system in eastern Europe transparently targeted at Russia.
By any sensible reckoning, this is not a story of Russian aggression, but of US imperial expansion and ever tighter encirclement of Russia by a potentially hostile power. That a stronger Russia has now used the South Ossetian imbroglio to put a check on that expansion should hardly come as a surprise. What is harder to work out is why Saakashvili launched last week’s attack and whether he was given any encouragement by his friends in Washington.
Saakashvili’s own account:
For years Georgia has been proposing 21st-century, European solutions for South Ossetia, including full autonomy guaranteed by the international community. Russia has responded with crude, 19th-century methods.
I have staked my country’s fate on the west’s rhetoric about democracy and liberty. As Georgians come under attack, we must ask: if the west is not with us, who is it with? If the line is not drawn now, when will it be drawn? We cannot allow Georgia to become the first victim of a new world order as imagined by Moscow.
And again his attack on South Ossetia is airbrushed away, as he continues to paint the same, flawed narrative which his colleagues in America, Britain and many quarters of the EU are pushing. Is Putin aiming for a world order dictated by him? Doubtful – he’s clearly also not interested in a renewed Cold War. But he is using the tools at his disposal to enforce a multi-polar order, which the Bush administration wants to prevent, as Milne details. We dismiss those tools at our cost. We haven’t a clue what we’re doing, and are largely operating with an unchanged, Cold War mentality of containment. NATO has lost its way, with its (former?) desire to invite Georgia into it, without a strategic reason to befit 21st century circumstances. The EU is gobbling up former Warsaw Pact countries, not even requiring them to abide by human rights norms, and then using them to place military armaments on Russia’s doorstep. As Adrian Hamilton says:
Russia does pose a problem to Europe and the West. Its fierce form of nationalism poses a host of questions about resources, defence and the future of a whole host of individual countries through the Caucasuses and central Asia. But until we make up our own minds of what it is that we represent and what our associations are for, we’ll never be able to meet that challenge.
He’s probably right, and the US and its sister, Western institutions need to gain some perspective and a viable 21st century strategy fast, because time’s limited:
Moscow appeared to raise the temperature further by saying Poland’s agreement to host a US missile defence system exposed it to attack. Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of the Russian general staff, was quoted by the news agency Interfax as saying: “Poland, by deploying (the system), is exposing itself to a strike – 100%.”
Earlier, he had reiterated Russia’s warning that placing missile defence structures in Poland and the Czech Republic would bring an unspecified military response.