The incursion into two Georgian provinces by Russia has been interesting for several reasons. One, it highlights how America is no longer the global policeman it once was. Two, it accentuates the selective outrage of the Left. And three, it shows that Russia is far from ready to join the civilised West.
When in the past America intervened around the world, as in Iraq, the left parroted the usual denunciations: “No war for oil” and other such silly protest slogans. Yet when a nation such as Russia goes to war, and oil is clearly a major part of the motivation, the left falls silent. Evidently only when America or capitalist nations are involved will the left raise its voice.
Of course Georgia has no oil, but it is a major transit nation between oil and gas from the Caspian Sea, and the Black Sea. Russian talk about feeling besieged by Nato is unconvincing. This is simple old fashioned Russian imperialism. Unfortunately while Putin left the Olympics to command the troops in this invasion, Bush was left chatting with the US volleyball team in Beijing.
But the US has started to finally move somewhat. Condoleezza Rice is now heading to France to engage in discussions before proceeding to Georgia, and the US has pledged aid to the beleaguered nation. But military intervention of any kind is quite unlikely.
Since many would be unaware of the current conflict and its background, two recent articles are worth drawing on to help provide the context to this geo-political hotspot. A recent Wall Street Journal article by Gary Schmitt and Mauro De Lorenzo lays out some background information.
They begin this way: “Given the cutthroat politics Moscow has practiced at home and abroad in recent years – with only the softest protests from the U.S. and its allies – no one should be surprised by Russia’s decision to conquer the two breakaway regions of Georgia. Nevertheless, it should once and for all disabuse policy makers in Washington and Brussels of hopes that Russia intends to become part of the post-Cold War condominium of democratic peace in Europe. The point of the Kremlin’s invasion of Georgia, which now threatens the capital city of Tbilisi, is to demonstrate to the world how impotent that security order has become.”
They continue, “For Moscow, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s mistake in finally taking the bait of Russian provocations and ordering his troops in South Ossetia last week was the opening they sought – and for which they had been planning for some time. . . . Russia has been ‘at war’ with democratic Georgia for some time. Driven to distraction by Mr. Saakashvili’s assertiveness and Georgia’s desire to join NATO, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin first tried to bring the country to its knees through economic warfare beginning in 2005. He cut off access to Russian markets, expelled Georgians from Russia, quadrupled the price of Russian energy to Georgia, and severed transport links.”
While Georgia has been undertaking pro-Western reforms and democratisation, Russia has been getting increasingly hostile: “Unable to bend Tbilisi to its will, the Kremlin in recent months ratcheted up the pressure and provocations in South Ossetia and Abkhazia – reinforcing Russian forces and Russian-backed paramilitaries, violating Georgian air space with Russian jets, shelling Georgian villages and outposts, and passing a resolution to treat the two provinces administratively as part of Russia. Starting in 2004, Russia began issuing passports to the residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a fact that today serves as one of the main pretexts for the ferocity of Moscow’s military campaign.”
“However, Georgia’s ‘impertinence’ in seeking NATO membership and building close ties with Europe does not fully explain Moscow’s blatant display of brute power. In a speech before the Munich Conference on Security Policy in February last year, Mr. Putin made it clear that Russia would no longer accept the rules of the international road as set by the democratic West. It was an in-your-face challenge to the U.S. and Europe, and we blinked. With the exception of John McCain, who warned against ‘needless confrontation’ on the part of Moscow, no American or European official at the conference made any attempt to push back. Ever since, Moscow’s contempt for NATO, the European Union and Washington has only grown.”
A recent article by Charles Krauthammer explains what is really at stake here: “The real objective is the Finlandization of Georgia through the removal of President Mikheil Saakashvili and his replacement by a Russian puppet. Which explains Putin stopping the Russian army (for now) short of Tbilisi. What everyone overlooks in the cease-fire terms is that all future steps – troop withdrawals, territorial arrangements, peacekeeping forces – will have to be negotiated between Russia and Georgia. But Russia says it will not talk to Saakashvili. Thus regime change becomes the first requirement for any movement on any front. This will be Putin’s refrain in the coming days. He is counting on Europe to pressure Saakashvili to resign and/or flee to ‘give peace a chance’.”
He continues, “The Finlandization of Georgia would give Russia control of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which is the only significant European-bound route for Caspian Sea oil and gas that does not go through Russia. Pipelines are the economic lifelines of such former Soviet republics as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan that live off energy exports. Moscow would become master of the Caspian basin. Subduing Georgia has an additional effect. It warns Russia’s former Baltic and East European satellites what happens if you get too close to the West. It is the first step to re-establishing Russian hegemony in the region.”
Oil and domination is what this is all about. While the left remains silent, those concerned about this new form of Russian imperialism and anti-democratic polity need to be very concerned. In the rest of his article – which deserves to be read in full – Krauthammer offers some proposals as to how to deal with this new Russian threat.
The Russians of course are not stupid, and picking the Olympics as the time to launch its invasion was quite clever. Unfortunately too many eyes have been focused on Beijing, when they really should be fixed on Moscow and Tbilisi. The Cold War may be over, but forces inimical to freedom and democracy will always threaten us. Eternal vigilance is indeed the price of liberty.