Sunday, October 26, 2008

Question of Russian aggression in Georgia revisited

American blogger Glenn Greenwald was recently smeared by a right-wing journal for daring to suggest that the events in Georgia were not a simple black and white matter of Russian aggression. Greenwald blogs:
Every time the major party candidates now mention Russia/Georgia -- including in the debates -- there is full, unequivocal agreement on everything, all premised on the comic-book, Good v. Evil narrative that Georgia is our stalwart democratic ally which, through no fault of their own, was victimized by an expansionist, war-seeking Russia, and we owe them our full protection and unwavering support. There is never a word of criticism toward Georgia or an acknowledgment of the role it played in provoking the conflict, in starting the war. That is the truth that cannot be spoken.
I made this point here at Jotman during the debates. First, when I live-blogged the first debate. And again, when the issue resurfaced in the second presidential debate. I live-jotted the latter debate also, typing my instant-reaction commentary in red:
BROKAW: Q: How to avoid another cold war?
McCAIN: Russia's behavior outside norms. I warned about Putin. KGB in his eyes. (Not smart to attack a leader you might have to work with, painting him as another Hitler). Got to make Russia realize penalties for naked aggression into tiny Georgia. (Use sticks, says nothing about carrots) Russians have to understand these activities not acceptable.
OBAMA: Resurgence of Russia, one of central issues. For most part I agree with Senator McCain. We have to provide moral support to all the nations that were former Soviet satellites. We have to help these countries improve their economies (What? I guess Obama is grasping for Polish-American votes or whatever. I don't think now is the time to extend foreign aid to more countries, and annoy Russia). Russia: energy key in dealing with Russia.

BROKAW: Russia = evil empire?
OBAMA: I would call it "evil behavior."
McCAIN: Maybe. If I say yes, that would mean we are back to the old cold war. But if I say "no," it excuses the bad behavior ... Georgia and Ukraine are gateways into Europe. Russia needs to recognize it's facing a firm USA. (I disagree completely with McCain, but I liked his response as sounded sincere or credible -- given that Obama was equally full of it on this one).
Watching the debate, it was evident that Obama was now talking about Russia like a foreign policy hawk. Obama's position had shifted considerably, however. When fighting broke out, whereas Obama had called upon "both sides" to use restraint; McCain blamed only the Russians. (The candidates' respective positions on the conflict in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of fighting are presented side-by-side at Time Magazine, and were discussed by Zogby of the Huffington Post.)

The present controversy concerning the US candidates' position comes down to three basic issues: 1) the role Georgia appears to have played in starting the war; 2) the question as to whether the US had given the Georgian president assurances of support, thus emboldening Georgian president Saakashvili to attack; and 3) the question as to whether Georgia is actually a democracy.

First, as to who started the war, the NY Times reports, "In the field, there is evidence from an extensive set of witnesses that within 30 minutes of Mr. Saakashvili’s order, Georgia’s military began pounding civilian sections of the city of Tskhinvali, as well as a Russian peacekeeping base there, with heavy barrages of rocket and artillery fire. The barrages all but ensured a Russian military response, several diplomats, military officers and witnesses said." Clearly, Georgia either caused the outbreak of the war, or at least shares a lot of the blame.

Second, as to whether the US emboldened Georgia to strike Russia, FT reports that the US had trained Georgian commandos involved in the initial strikes against Russian troops stationed in South Ossetia. Eyewitness reports tell of Georgian aggression. A scholar at Monterrey Institute claims that the Georgian operation had been planned months ahead. An August 8 article in The Nation by Mark Ames noted that the US and UK blocked a Russian-sponsored UN resolution opposing "the use of force" tabled at the outbreak of hostilities; Ames viewed this as evidence that "United States and Britain" were "backing Saakashvili's invasion." The same article refers to a Georgia-hosted investor's conference that was a propaganda coup for Georgia and evidence of advanced planning. Wired correspondent Nathan Hodge -- who like the Monterrey scholar and blogger Greenwald has been also been smeared for not being sufficiently anti-Russian in his coverage of events -- reported how things he had heard and saw during a 2006 visit to Georgia seemed indicative of a willingness on the part of Georgians to seriously consider military options in respect to South Ossetia.

Third, McCain tells us Georgia is a shining beacon of democracy, but this recent NY Times story shows why this label may not be appropriate. This video --from a blog post at Wired -- shows "a sound weapon" used against some protesters on Nov 7, 2007. The scenes in the video are far more suggestive of a police state than any budding democracy. Finally, the Economist Unit ranked Georgia 9th from the bottom, giving it a score of "104" on its 2006 Democracy Index. With that score, Georgia did not make the "Flawed Democracy" category.

Although it is largely tangential to these points, I really think American leaders should exercise a little bit of humility when it comes to interpreting Russia's relations with former Soviet Republics. For example, whether the American leaders like to admit it or not, Georgia has long been to Russia something akin to what Panama has been to the the US.
I blogged the Georgia-Russia crisis extensively. If you are interested in looking up what I wrote, you might start with this page.


  1. Your USA/Panama, Russia/Georgia analogy was useful! I had to think about that for a moment, and revisit the late 80s.

    I'm not as familiar as with the Russia/Georgia conflict as you appear to be... but here in the States, the impression I keep getting from the reports I've read, and the news stories I've seen on the topic, paint a picture of an imperialist Russia. They seem to be carrying much of the blame. But, as I see it, Georgia's original invasion of South Ossetia seemed to be what started the "fight." Russia was simply defending South Ossetia from a Georgian invasion, right? Just as the USA has done, and will continue to do whenever any of its allies is attacked, especially those without the military might to properly defend themselves.

    So, when I hear people like McCain, or Condoleeza Rice talk about Russia/Putin/Medvedev as some kind of rabid despot, I cringe, because it all sounds so incredibly hypocritical, and annoying.

    Unless I'm missing something entirely here...

  2. Hi, Jotman !

    thanks for an interesting thought provoking jot ! :)

    I agree with you mostly. especially in the main premise - that both candidates should not use this issue merely for their better score in election campaign. or perhaps even "watch their mouth" and mind US' own tactics and actions.

    one addition or perhaps correction: the comparison with Panama is not precise for several reasons. 1st and the most obvious - US doesn't share border with Panama. and then, as I recall, Panama never really requested US for any protection or something. while Georgia did some centuries back. and in fact it is fair to say that nowadays sovereign and independent Georgia own its very existence to Russia - otherwise it would have been either exterminated by Ottomans and Persians, or ripped apart and converted to Islam, and assimilated in both of them (as some its parts has been, as well as Armenian and Azeri).
    so, you can't really compare it like that ! the only comparison you can make is - 2 independent relatively recent events: invasion of Panama by US, and so called "invasion" of Georgia by Russia. or even more precisely - the REASON ("protection of its own citizens") - not even the GRAVITY of situation in Panama or S. Ossetia (where much more civilians were purposely targeted).

    otherwise, Panama's "relations" with US are completely incomparable with Georgia's relations with Russia. and I say RELATIONS - coz apart from recent 1-2 decades, Georgia has much longee history of relations with Russia than perhaps even the history of existence of US.

    one more thing...

    your remark:
    >>> I disagree completely with McCain, but I liked his response as sounded sincere or credible -- given that Obama was equally full of shit on this one <<<

    reminded me of something. if you can search for George Carlin's video on youtube where he talks about bullsh1t - there is a spot there, where he mentions about Bill Clinton. it was something like that:
    "this country is full of sh1t... and that's why we've elected B. Clinton. coz he said: 'folks, I am full of sh1t and how do you like that !' and most of people thought: 'hmmm, at least he is HONEST !' " LMAO !

    so, I guess your remark about more "sincere" - seems like from the same category of "lesser evil" ...

    anyway, they all are full of sh1t.
    US elections in reality is just a huge entertainment show. "oh, yeah - we have free choice!" well, following your enthusiasms and "positive thinking" - at least it is a VERY GOOD show ! :)

    "The REAL owners of this country know the secret - it is called 'American dream'. because one has to be asleep to believe it !"
    - George Carlin

  3. It is very interesting to compare the US-mainstream-views, that you mentionend, with the debates that are / were lead on German blogsites.
    The question, who started, cannot be answered easily. According to UN-sources, ossetian milita shelled georgian villages on August 1st, 6th and 7th. (About 1000 children were sent to North Ossetia on the 3rd and 4th!)
    The de facto border has never really been quiet. So when did this whole mess start? Sure, Gamzachurdia called Ossetians, when they were demanding autonomy (which, in Soviet times, meant Moscow's authority in counterbalance to the Soviet republics), "unthankful guests". But this was a time, when many peoples in the former Soviet Union became very chauvinistic and wanted to built up their own states. In the Russian Federation, this wasn't only Tshetshnia... And in multiethnic Georgia, there weren't just regions or villages, but even quarters of Tbilisi, that claimed independence... But why did Moscow support separatism in the South Caucasian countries, while it fought bloody wars in the North Caucasus ("their own" territory).
    Fact is, the South-Ossetian government under the Kokoity-clan is rather to be described as a state-controlled mafia than whatever. A large part of their "income" was from smuggeling (with only 3% taxes at the Roki-tunnel, the border to the Russian Federation). This "business" was over, when Saakashvili started to let the de facto border effectivly be controlled. (Whereas before, under Shevardnadze, I was able to enter Tzhinvali without seeing any border guards.)
    Did you know that about a 1/3 of all Ossetians south of the High Caucasus lives in "the rest" of Georgia? It isn't only and not even mainly an ethnic conflict. (I know Ossetians in Georgia, fundamentally opposing Kokoity's and the Kremlin's politics.)
    While they were able to openly speak Ossetian or Russian in Tbilisi (as well as many other of the ~60 minorities in Georgia, many of whom use Russian as a lingua franca), it would have been very unwise to use Georgian in the Russian public...


  4. Watch us explode,

    Yes, hypocrisy is too much.


    At the very least, I think the situations have enough in common to expose the breathtaking hypocrisy of John McCain in particular.

    Anonymous 2,

    Despite the appalling number of points where their foreign policy positions are in agreement, there remain various issues concerning which McCain and Obama disagree. And differences. Intelligence and temperament, and judgment are important differences -- even if they agree too much on everything else. Although it remains unclear to me to what extent Obama will prove a reformer, I feel the alternative to Obama is simply too dreadful to contemplate.


    Great photos at your blog. Interesting points of history, and regarding the Ossetians.

  5. Jotman

    >>>"Although it remains unclear to me to what extent Obama will prove a reformer, I feel the alternative to Obama is simply too dreadful to contemplate."<<<

    that's the whole trick ! McCon and Pi(pe)lin are too extreme and therfore, majority of brainwashed american public choose "lesser evil" Obomba.

    however, using Biden's words: "mark my words" - watch out for Obomba ! he is a dark horse. I suspect that CFR and neo-cons have simply used him to achieve their goals. and perhaps his rule will see a much bigger events than during Bush's rule !

    so, that's the whole point - that there is no in reality so called "free choice" in US elections !


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