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Russia gets its act together


The question of responsibility for the hostilities in the Caucasus shouldn’t worry us too much. Less than a week after Georgia‘s invasion, two well-known French commentators said it was old stuff. An influential neo-conservative from the United States backed that view: knowing who started things "is not very important", wrote Robert Kagan. "This war did not begin because of a miscalculation by Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili. It is a war that Moscow has been attempting to provoke for some time" (1).

 

One hypothesis deserves another. If, on the day of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, somebody else than Saakashvili, a graduate of New York‘s Columbia Law School, had started a war, would western capitals and their media have been able to contain righteous indignation at such a symbolic act?

 

History is easier to follow when goodies and baddies are decided in advance. The goodies, such as Georgia, have the right to defend their territorial integrity against the separatist struggles of their neighbours. The baddies, such as Serbia, must accept the self-determination of minority communities or expect to be bombed by Nato. The moral of this story is even more enlightening when, to defend his country’s borders, the charming pro-American Saakashvili repatriates some of the 2,000 soldiers he had sent to invade Iraq.

 

On 16 August President George Bush, speaking with gravity, rightly invoked the "Security Council resolutions of the United Nations" including the "sovereignty and independence and territorial integrity" of Georgia whose "borders should command the same respect as every other nation’s".

 

Only the US has the right to act unilaterally when it decides (or claims) that its security is at stake. In reality, events have followed a simpler plan: the US plays for Georgia against Russia; Russia plays for South Ossetia and Abkhazia to "punish" Georgia.

 

Two Pentagon position papers have indicated a desire to prevent the resurgence of Russian power ever since 1992, when it was in ruins. To ensure that US hegemony, which began with the first Gulf war and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, became permanent, the Pentagon announced that it would be necessary to "convince likely rivals that they no longer need aspire to a greater role". If that didn’t work, the US would know how "to dissuade" them. And the main target was Russia, "the only power in the world which could destroy the US".

 

So can we chide Russian leaders for bristling against western help for the "colour revolutions" of Ukraine and Georgia, the inclusion of former members of the Warsaw Pact in Nato and the prospect of US missiles on Polish soil – all of which were elements of the old US strategy to weaken Russia, whatever its regime or its politics? "Russia has become a great power, that’s what’s so worrying," admitted Bernard Kouchner, France’s foreign minister (2).

 

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the architect of the US’ risky strategy in Afghanistan, recently explained the other part of the US grand design: "We have access through Georgia… to the oil and soon also the gas that lies not only in Azerbaijan but beyond it in the Caspian sea and beyond in Central Asia. So, in that sense, it’s a very major and strategic asset to us" (3). He can’t be accused of inconsistency: even in the days of Boris Yeltsin, when Russia was still floundering, he advocated driving it from the Caucasus and Central Asia so that energy flows to the West could be guaranteed (4).

 

Nowadays Russia is doing better, the US is doing less well and oil prices have taken off. Victim of its president’s provocative actions, Georgia has just been hit from three directions.   

 

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(1) Bernard-Henri Lévy and André Glucksmann, Libération, 14 August 2008, and Robert Kagan, Washington Post, 11 August 2008.

 

(2) Interview in the Journal de Dimanche, Paris, 17 August 2008.

 

(3) Bloomberg News, 12 August 2008.

 

(4) Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard, Basic Books, New York, 1997.

 

 

 

Translated by Robert Waterhouse

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