South Ossetia roundup #4

Russia says it is ending the fighting:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an end to military operations against Georgia, the Kremlin says.

He told officials he had taken the decision to end the campaign after restoring security for civilians and peacekeepers in South Ossetia. However, Russia has been highly critical of Georgia’s leadership, and there were no signs of imminent talks.

Before the announcement, there were fresh reports of Russian warplanes bombing the Georgian town of Gori. Witnesses told the BBC that several people were killed when a bomb hit a hospital in the town, which is 10 miles (15km) from the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

Bob From Brockley takes Georgia’s side, but in a nuanced way (via Freeborn John):

I am wary of articulating the sort of strong solidarity with Georgia that Marko Attila Hoare has put forward, because Saakashvili’s government is not exactly a model of democracy. But my basic sympathy for their position is only strengthened by the disreputable red-brown alliance that has sprung up in defence of Putin’s invasion: alongside Clark, the semi-fascists Justin Raimondo and Lew Rockwell and his Ron Paulista supporters. And my sympathy is strengthened too by the decent advocacy of people like Dennis MacShane and Mark Kleiman. […] Anyone who defends either Beijing or Putin because their attackers are “neocons” is wrong.

I disagree, however, with Bob when he says this:

Distantly related: Thanks to Arieh for this article on Lithuania which hunts down octogenerian (Jewish) ex-Partisans, for alleged war crimes in the fight against Nazi occupation, while letting at least three real Holocaust war criminals go free.

The current war in South Ossetia is not an issue of black and white: both sides have their moral failings, and have are responsible for breaches of human rights. However, there are different shades of grey. And the Russians, in my opinion, are more in the wrong than the Georgians are. Similarly, World War II was also a metter of shades of grey, and the Lithuanians arguably suffered worse from the Soviet Union than they did from Germany. So if the modern Lithuanian government wants to be more harsh on people who committed war crimes on the Russian side than people who did the same on the German side, then while that’s unjust, I really cannot get too worked up about it.

Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham, notes that South Ossetia is not the only example of Russia’s harmful influence:

Russia has never accepted the loss of the old Soviet empire. Like British Right-wingers who dream of the days when the Union flag fluttered over parts of the world where English was spoken, the Russians still feel the loss of status when the end of communism forced the Kremlin to disgorge the Baltic states, Ukraine and Georgia.

Russia under Putin has energy wealth and thus the money to spend on arms and aggressive foreign policy. Moscow continues to bluster and threaten the Baltic states, has cut off energy supplies to countries it wants to lean on and, as Britain knows, has bullied the British Council, interfered in BP and Shell’s commercial operations, and even harassed the British ambassador when he went out to buy food for the embassy cat. And then there is the Litvinenko murder, where the response of Putin was to put the man Scotland Yard wanted to question into the Duma with the immunity of an MP.

At the UN, Russia sabotages efforts to solve the Kosovo problem and lined up with Mugabe. In other international bodies, the Russians refuse to co-operate except on their own terms. The most bizarre example is the Council of Europe, which admitted Russia as a member even though Russia refuses to accept the authority of the European Court of Human Rights.

MacShane also correctly notes that Eurosceptics must face their share of the blame for Europe being weak:

The idea of a common foreign policy and the means to implement it in the Lisbon Treaty are anathema to Eurosceptics; but a disunited EU will be easy meat for Russia and leave America without a partner of weight to face down Russian bullying.

There are some people who want Europe to be weak. Two of them are called Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao. And British Eurosceptics are therefore either conscious or unconscious traitors, both to Britain and more importantly to Western Civilisation.

Liberal Conspiracy notes that Saakashvili is not without blame:

You can however hardly blame Russia’s initial response to what was a naive, foolhardy and apparently murderous gambit by Saakashvili. As korova notes, back at the end of last year Saakashvili’s approval ratings were hovering around the 16% mark. For all the talk of Georgia and its wonderful emerging liberal democracy, Saakashvili has presided over, like in Russia itself and China, a virulent rising of nationalism, promising in effect that both South Ossetia and Abkhazia would remain a part of Georgia, and even potentially be re-taken. If last Thursday/Friday’s events were him putting his plans into effect, then it has backfired in a way that he must have surely at least contemplated it might.

For all the overwhelming support that Saakashvili is now receiving from the West, they must privately be fuming that such an apparently suicidal mission was even contemplated, let alone attempted, although it would be hugely surprising if America or intelligence agencies didn’t have even an inkling of what was shortly going to happen. It will almost certainly kill Georgia’s chances of joining NATO for years, if not decades, and the West’s desire to encircle Russia through the alliance, for that is undoubtedly what it is, cannot yet be realised.

I doubt if any Western governments would be particularly saddened if Saakashvili is forced to resign as a result of this crisis. And I think it’s unlikely he’ll still be in charge at the end of this year.

This entry was posted in Britain, Europe, Georgia, Russia, USA and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to South Ossetia roundup #4

  1. Thanks for the link. On Lithuania, I agree it ain’t black and white. Lithuania is a rather healthier democracy than many other former Soviet colonies. It is true that it is arguable that Lithuanians suffered more under Soviet imperialism than under the Nazis IF by Lithuanians we mean ethnic Lithuanians. According to wikipedia:

    Meanwhile the Nazis “only” killed some 50,000 non-Jewish Lithuanians.

    74,500 Lithuanian citizens were murdered by the Stalinists in the four decades of Soviet rule.

    However, even if it were true that the Soviet years were worse than the Nazi years, that would not justify not caring about Nazi war crimes, unless you don’t care about Lithuanian Jews.

    As for the alleged war crimes of these elderly Jews: they were barely armed partisans, who killed 38 Lithuanian civilians in one village in the course of their fighting. Although any civilian deaths is too many, no one serious would really say this is something that should be investigated for possible war crimes charges.

    What makes the double standards worrying is the growing climate of antisemitism in Lithuania. Just last week, for example, a Jewish community centre was defaced in Vilna (where my great-grandparents came from, incidentally), daubed with swastikas and anti-Jewish graffiti.

  2. PLEASE IGNORE MY PREVIOUS COMMENT – I WAS TRYING TO USE HTML TAGS TO DISASTEROUS EFFECT! HERE IS WHAT I WANTED TO SAY:

    Thanks for the link. On Lithuania, I agree it ain’t black and white. Lithuania is a rather healthier democracy than many other former Soviet colonies. It is true that it is arguable that Lithuanians suffered more under Soviet imperialism than under the Nazis IF by Lithuanians we mean ethnic Lithuanians. According to wikipedia:
    “Out of approximately 210,000 Jews (208,000 according to the Lithuanian pre-war statistical data), an estimated 195,000 – 196,000 perished before the end of World War II (wider estimates are sometimes published); most from June to December of 1941.”

    Meanwhile the Nazis “only” killed some 50,000 non-Jewish Lithuanians.

    74,500 Lithuanian citizens were murdered by the Stalinists in the four decades of Soviet rule.

    However, even if it were true that the Soviet years were worse than the Nazi years, that would not justify not caring about Nazi war crimes, unless you don’t care about Lithuanian Jews.

    As for the alleged war crimes of these elderly Jews: they were barely armed partisans, who killed 38 Lithuanian civilians in one village in the course of their fighting. Although any civilian deaths is too many, no one serious would really say this is something that should be investigated for possible war crimes charges.

    What makes the double standards worrying is the growing climate of antisemitism in Lithuania. Just last week, for example, a Jewish community centre was defaced in Vilna (where my great-grandparents came from, incidentally), daubed with swastikas and anti-Jewish graffiti.

  3. cabalamat says:

    they were barely armed partisans, who killed 38 Lithuanian civilians in one village in the course of their fighting. Although any civilian deaths is too many, no one serious would really say this is something that should be investigated for possible war crimes charges.

    Murdering 38 people would count as a very serious crime in peacetime, and if an armed band kills 38 unarmed civilians in wartime that’s clearly a breach of the Geneva Convention, i.e. a war crime.

    As to whether such should be prosecuted, I vaguely remember there were some war crimes trials from WW2 that were conducted in Britain in the 1990s that had to be abandonned because the witnesses were dead or senile, or the accused was unfit to stand trial. So it seems a bit pointless to do so, so long after the crimes have taken place.

    What makes the double standards worrying is the growing climate of antisemitism in Lithuania. Just last week, for example, a Jewish community centre was defaced in Vilna (where my great-grandparents came from, incidentally), daubed with swastikas and anti-Jewish graffiti.

    Obviously if that sort of behaviour and attitude is growing, it’s worrying. Any idea why?

  4. I am not saying the killing of 38 civilians is OK. Clearly it is not. But they seem to me to be fairly minor crimes by any reasonable matrix in the context of the other killings that took place during that horrible conflict: the hundreds of thousands of Jewish civilians rounded up in Lithuania, forced into ghettos, arbitrarily shot down in the ghettos, taken to concentration camps and gased or worked to death; the tens of thousands of non-Jweish Lithuanians killed by the Nazi war machine; the tens of thousands of dissenters killed by the Soviet occupiers; let alone, further afield, the bombing of Dresden or Hiroshima to the Nazi death camps. Why start with people that took up arms after fleeing the ghetto, who killed small numbers of civilians, in unclear circumstances, when there are still people alive who aided and abetted in taking Lithuanian citizens to the camps?

    According to a Jewish blogger in Lithuania:
    “The official Vilnius Museum for Genocide Victims only mentions Jews twice, once in a table of deaths caused by the Nazis. The word ‘Ponar’, a place where 70,000 Jews perished in a matter of three years, is nowhere to be found. This is the atmosphere in which the Vilnius Jewish Community finds itself under attack.” http://rokhl.blogspot.com/

    Antisemitism is on the rise in many post-Soviet states, and it would be wrong to select Lithuania as exceptional. It is nowhere near as virulent as anti-Roma racism in some of these states. But it is a very worrying trend.

    Why is it growing? That’s a huge question, and I wish I knew. I believe it is to do with globalisation and the insecurity people feel because of that.

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