Friday, August 15, 2008

Impressive contortions

What exactly has been happening in the Caucasus over the past week is far from clear. However, the most likely series of events is as follows: Georgia sends troops into the semi-autonomous region of South Ossetia (whether in reaction to provocations, or simply in an attempt to reverse the course of South Ossetian independence is not clear); Russia responds by bombing Georgian towns and villages and by sending Russian troops, artillery and tanks first into South Ossetia and Abkhazia and then, as Georgian resistance is brushed aside, into Georgia itself; the Russian fleet moves into positions off the Georgian coast, sinking Georgian shipping; finally, with the Georgian army effectively neutralised, Russian forces occupy parts of Georgia as peace deals are hammered out.
In other words, in reaction to Georgian activities in South Ossetia - which is after all a part of Georgia, and not Russia - Russia has invaded Georgia, massively reduced its military capacity and occupied its territory. If the Republic of Ireland had invaded first Northern Ireland, and then the mainland United Kingdom after the UK sent troops to Ulster, would that make the UK the aggressor? I simply don't see it.
Which isn't to say that I'm not impressed at the verbal gymnastics shown by those who believe that Russia is really the innocent party in this. Take Mary Dejevsky in the Indie today.
They began with the repeated references to Russian "aggression" and "invasion", continued through charges of intended "regime change", and culminated in alarmist reports about Russian efforts to bomb the east-west energy pipeline. None of this, not one bit of it, is true.
When a foreign power sends troops into a neighbouring country, in contravention of that country's wishes, that is an invasion. It's definitional.
Take "aggression" and "invasion". Georgia declared itself to be in a state of war with Russia. War, regrettably, is war, and a basic objective is to reduce, or destroy, the enemy's military capability. This is what Russia was doing until it accepted the ceasefire. The positions it took up inside Georgia proper can be seen as defensive, not offensive. Gori houses the Georgian garrison on South Ossetia's border.
Yikes. Georgia declared itself to be 'in a state of war' with Russia after Russia had sent thousands of troops into South Ossetia and Abkhazia and had shelled, bombed, and otherwise reduced Georgian towns and positions. It was a description not a declaration! And saying that the invasion and occupation of another country is defensive is a bit of a semantic push as well.
If you exclude Chechnya, which Russians have always regarded as part of Russia, then neither Putin, nor Medvedev, had sent troops outside Russian borders before this point.
Well, I'm pretty sure that's not true - there were after all Russian soldiers in South Ossetia and Abkhazia before the latest contretemps. And they're in Sudan too, though I suspect Dejevsky means simply that Russia hasn't invaded anyone in the last 8 years - unless you count Chechnya, which is a bit of a big exception. And anyway so what?
The Kremlin would probably be delighted if Georgians eventually punished their President for his misguided enterprise, but Russia seems to accept that Georgians decide what happens in Georgia.
You what?! Pretty clearly they don't do they? Isn't that rather what this entire invasion is about? That Russia believes it has the right to decide what happens in Georgia, whether you believe it is Georgian membership of NATO, Georgian control of oil pipelines or Georgian treatment of ethnic minorities that set the Russians off.
Why was it so difficult for outsiders to believe that Moscow wanted precisely what its leaders said they wanted: a return to the situation that had pertained before Georgia's incursion into South Ossetia – and does it matter that its intentions were so appallingly misread?
Mary Dejevsky, author of such pieces as Russia would be more dangerous without Vladimir Putin; A fight with Russia we cannot hope to win; Putin's handover of power is no mere sham (how's that one looking by the way?); and the sort of boiler-plate ne plus ultra of Don't blame Russia - it's our fault as well clearly has something of a mindset when it comes to Mother Russia. If she can't see why we might profitably treat with caution the avowed motives of Putin's Russia, I suspect she looks a little harder.

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