The Eclectic One

…Because labels are a poor substitute for thinking

Georgia, Russia and America’s interests

Posted by Bill Nance on August 20, 2008

I just read a terrific article on the Georgian Crisis I would heartily recommend to everyone.

-hat tip to Glenn Reynolds-

I’m no expert on Georgia, but there are a few observations I’d like to make, observations you may not be getting from the MSM, which seems to have been completely bamboozled by the Georgian propaganda ministry machine.

History and Geography:

Georgia is is a small country located on the Black Sea, and bordered by Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. Some good maps can be found here and also here.

The country is culturally Christian, but was a possession of the Ottoman Empire until the 19th century when it was annexed by the Russian Empire. It broke off from the Soviet Union in 1991, and since, has been dealing with serious economic troubles, political unrest and major disputes with its ethnic enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which both have close ties to Russia. (Russia has issued Russian passports to all residents of South Ossetia). the BBC has an excellent timeline for the country I would encourage you to read.

Since independence, relations between Georgia’s and Moscow have been quite hostile, with Russia doing all it can to economically isolate the country, whose economy was previously dependent on cheap energy supplied by the Soviet Union.

In case you have been living in a cave, here’s a good account of recent events in the country.

My take:

First, the whole region of the Caucasus and the Blah-kans is a festering hellhole of ethnic squabbles over what happened 300-500 years ago. Only the Arabs could could match this level of stupidity (they’re still pissed-off about the crusades for God’s sake). And, just for fun, we can add in religion to make it extra-special interesting!

Georgia itself was a part of Russia for a long time, and is strategically located on the Black Sea. Historically, access to the Black Sea has been a critical strategic goal to Russia, going back as far as Peter the Great.

One look at a map should tell you why the Russians were loathe to let it go in the first place when the USSR broke up.

As to the South Ossetia region, again, look at a map. It’s a great big chunk out of the border region of Georgia, who rightfully is very concerned about defensible borders. The South Ossetia region is not just a chunk, but it’s also on the wrong side of the Caucasus mountains (for the Georgians) which is a natural defensive barrier against the Russians. (Not that Georgia is going to hold off the Ruskies there, but they could sure as hell make it painful to get across those mountain passes)

What was Georgia (and specifically President Mikheil Saakhashvili) thinking?

The Georgians took one hell of a risk trying to take back the region, which the Russians consider a client state, and in which they had troops to both stabilize the region and prevent Georgia from doing anything stupid, (Like they just did). One thing they were obviously hoping for was a fait accompli, after which they would try to get a better deal then they had, as well as a nice chunk of the territory BACK. Another thing they were hoping for was that the NATO countries, and specifically the United States, would pull their chestnuts out of the fire and save them from serious Russian reprisals.

Resurgent Russian ultra-nationalism fueled by oil money and rife with rule of Kleptocrats and former KGB types should make everyone nervous. Putin and his cronies are NOT nice guys. But neither is Saakhashvili.

He knew damn well Russia wasn’t going to tolerate his actions, and the attempt itself seriously calls into question his judgment and his reliability as an ally. -Your friends don’t attempt to drag you into a diplomatic crisis and possibly an armed confrontation with a country who has nuclear weapons.

But what is the United States going to do and what should it do?

This is not the Cold War, and Russia is not the Soviet Union. We should be concerned about Russia’s belligerence towards its neighbors, and I certainly agree that Russia has gone far past the point of appropriate response to Georgia’s attempt to wrest back control of South Ossetia. We can, and should, along with our allies, put the heat onto Russia to at the least back off to previous troop locations and to stop interfereing with Georgia’s economic development aspirations.

But that’s ALL we should do with Georgia. We don’t have a dog in this fight. Because of its location, Russia has not unreasonable desires for a cooperative Georgia. I’m sure Putin and his pals would like to make the whole country it’s bitch, and I’m not saying the latter is appropriate or shouldn’t be strongly opposed. But opposition to the Russians making Georgia a new client state is not the same as going back to a cold war relationship with Moscow.

I’m not going into the pipelines issue, but the links I provided should illuminate the facts surrounding it. However, the gas pipelines add a lot of tension to the entire situation and clearly give the Europeans a far larger stake in the country than we have.

I’m all in favor of supporting people’s aspirations and rights to self-determination. I support Georgia’s unquestionable right to be a free nation, free of deliberate attempts to throw a monkey wrench into its internal affairs by a revanchist Russia. But we have our OWN interests to look out for, and an escalation of tensions and further polarizing our relations with Russia (with whom we have an DIRECT interest in trying to bring into the fold of democracies) is not one of those interests.

-Nuff said

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One Response to “Georgia, Russia and America’s interests”

  1. […] by Bill Nance on October 1, 2008 As I’ve written in this blog repeatedly, the recent Russian invasion of Georgia is a lot more complicated than most […]

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