South Ossetia Roundup #2

This is one of a series of periodical roundups of posts regarding the South Ossetian War between Russia and Georgia. If you have anything you’d like me to include, get in touch either in the comments to this article, or by email to cabalamat (at) googlemail (dot) com.

Alex Massie thinks it’s Georgia’s fault, even if that country does have a better human rights record than Russia:

Russia may have provoked this crisis, and one may be properly critical of, indeed deplore, many aspects of recent Russian policy in the Caucasus or the Ukraine, but the immediate responsibility for this crisis must be borne by Tbilisi. That Georgia  – despite recent crackdowns on the opposition – remains a more free country than Russia (according to Freedom House) doesn’t require us to immediately endorse their view of the situation.

But the Russians might be over-reacting anyway:

That said, if Russia does, as the Georgians claim it intends to, land troops on Georgia’s coastline then this would on the face of it, seem a clumsy over-reaction, transforming the conflict from the defence of Ossetians who want to be Russian into an aggressive war against Georgia. Moscow may not care about that, of course and, thinking it unlikely to receive much sympathy in the west anyway, may think it worthwhile to use a bigger stick than might be thought wise or necessary…

Massie also suggests that NATO was wise to refuse Georgia entry, and that would only have emboldened Saakashvili:

Russia has taken advantage of “western weakness” by responding to a Georgian offensive. Given that Saakashvili has been bold enough to send his troops into South Ossetia even though his determination to join NATO was thwarted last year, one can only assume that he would have been even bolder had his country joined the alliance. And if a Georgia vs Russia conflict is dangerous now, it scarcely bears thinking how much worse it might be if Georgia were a NATO member.

View from North Britain thinks there should be a referendum:

Perhaps the conflict can only be resolved by organising a UN organised referendum to the people of South Ossetia, with both Georgia and Russia promising to recognise the result. If the previous referendums are an indication then South Ossetia would be a free independent country.

However, both Russia and Georgia would be against this.

Georgia would lose territory and give impetus to two other autonomous regions in its borders Abkhazia and Adjara to follow the same route.

Russia would be concerned that an independent Ossetian state in the south, would ultimately lead to the loss of its region of North Ossetia wishing to join the new country. It would also give impetus to Chechnya and possibly other Caucaus regions to declare independence from Russia.

Meanwhile, the South Ossetians are caught in the crossfire between the war and politics of Georgia and Russia.

Doug Merrill is being evacuated from Tbilisi.

Lenin even-handedly says both countries share the blame:

There must have been widespread bemusement last night as newspapers dramatically announced that Russia had invaded Georgia. In fact, it’s a little bit more complicated than that, since Russian troops were already in South Ossetia as part of a fragile ‘peacekeeping’ coalition. The Russian government is (dishonestly) arguing that its actions are merely the extension of its peacekeeping remit, even as it strikes beyond South Ossetia’s borders. The headlines subtly changed, at any rate, to omit talk of an invasion. Even with that change, there seems to be an odd reluctance to acknowledge the weirdest fact about this: Georgia seems to have ‘invaded’ South Ossetia in a deliberate act of provocation, and – according to Reuters – are now attacking Ossetian separatists with jets and troops.

I’d agree that both countries have been far to ready and enthusiastic about using force; however I disagree with Lenin here:

One can only imagine that the pro-US Georgian leadership, which has , had some sort of assent from Washington before acting in this way. After all, if it truly intends to withdraw 1,000 of its troops from Iraq to attack the South Ossetian independence movement, I would expect they had to ask Bush nicely first.

I doubt if America knew of the Georgian action in advanced, or woulsd have approved if it had known. Possibly Georgia misread the signals it was getting from America.

Martin Wisse says the USA has come out on Georgia’s side:

Well, Bush’s big speech on the subject seems to confirm that the west has firmly chosen the Georgian side in the conflict and consistency of principle be damned.

Wisse disagrees with any Manichean narrative painting the Georgians as good guys and the Russians as baddies:

The conflict between Georgia, South Ossetia (not to mention Abkhazia, the other breakaway region) and Russia is complex and should not be reduced to some black and white schematic pitting good Georgians vs bad Russians, but that seems to be the spin being decided upon it by western media. So yestersday we had the CIA connected Jamestown Foundation talking about “The Goals Behind Moscow’s Proxy Offensive in South Ossetia“, ignoring that this time it was Georgia that unnecesarrily escalated the conflict. At the Guardian’s Comment is Free, it was Svante Cornell who got the opportunity to say it was all Russia’s fault while at Crooked Timber, as always a reliable weathervane for the sensible transatlantic academic/liberal blogosphere, it was Maria Farrell who did the same.

Part of the reason newspapers do this is in order to get a simple narrative where everything makes sense. Of course, in the real world things can’t always be reduced to such simplicity.

Nosemonkey looks at the geopolitics of the conflict, with lots of maps of gas pipelines, to support the theory that Georgia provoked Russia because it thought the West would back it:

Georgia, meanwhile, knowing her own strategic importance, seems merely to have overplayed her hand and acted too soon – perhaps assuming that her new Western partners (most of whom have funded the country’s existing pipelines via the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) would be quicker to protect their investment, perhaps assuming that Russia under Medvedev would be slower to act about such things than Russia under Putin.

I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more about gas pipelines, and Europe’s dependence on Russian energy, in the coming days.

Political Betting has an overview of the Sunday papers, most of which feature the conflict on their front page.

This entry was posted in Europe, Georgia, Iraq, politics, Russia, warfare and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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