Saturday, August 09, 2008

More on South Ossetia

Alex Massie takes a rather dubious position on the crisis in the Caucasus.

"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."

On that logic you could hold Britain responsible for the 1939 outbreak of war with Germany after they invaded Poland. You might even hold us responsible for the Falklands. In both cases there were massive provocations, including the invasion of our sovereignty, but we were the ones who turned it into a war.

Edward Lucas, in the Times, characterises the current situation like this, and Alex doesn't appear to disagree:

"In short, it looks more and more as though Georgia has fallen in to its enemies' trap. The script went like this: first mount unbearable provocations, then wait for a response, and finally reply with overwhelming military force and diplomatic humiliation."

Svante Cornell, in the Guardian, provides a more detailed description:

"In recent years, the Kremlin had escalated its interference in Georgia's territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia - bombing Georgian territory twice last year, illegally extending Russian citizenship to residents there, and appointing Russian
security officers to their self-declared governments. South Ossetia's government in particular is practically under Moscow's direct control, with little if any ability to
act independently.

But this flare-up is a direct consequence of Russia's deliberate and recent efforts to engage its small neighbor in military conflict. In April, Russia's President Vladimir Putin signed a decree effectively beginning to treat Abkhazia and South Ossetia as parts of the Russian Federation. This land grab was a particularly galling move because Russia is in charge of both the peacekeeping operations in the conflict zones, and the negotiations over their political resolution. The mediator had now clearly become a direct party to the conflict.

Moscow then sent paratroopers, heavy weapons and other troops into Abkhazia. Although these measures constituted military occupation of Georgian territory, Georgia failed to respond militarily. Instead, with European aspirations in mind, Georgian leaders listened to western calls for restraint, and put their faith in half-hearted western diplomatic initiatives."

Of course, the immediate responsibility still lies with Georgia...

Also, there is this:

"As I say, there's plenty to dislike about recent Russian policy, but one thing might also be worth remembering: the Osettians (and the Abkhazians) want to be Russian, not Georgian. This may seem daft or incomprehensible to many people, but there it is anyway and one might think it something worth mentioning from time to time even if, clearly, it's also an inconvenient truth."

Russia isn't really looking to make them independent or a part of Russia. Keeping South Ossetia as a permanent thorn in Georgia's side, creating a permanent confrontation that prevents their neighbour saying no to Russia's "influence" is the objective. No side in this conflict is really fighting for South Ossetians' self-determination. Given the chaotic ethnic mix of many countries in that region, particularly Russia, it's questionable how such a principle could really function anyway.

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