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.

The boot on Georgia's neck

Georgia is part of that grand sphere the Kremlin feels it has a right to control. South Ossetia and Abkhazia are the mechanism to exert that control. The two Georgian regions are being maintained in a permanent state of limbo, nominally still a part of Georgia but effectively controlled by a combination of militant separatists and the Russian military. That permanent instability makes it incredibly difficult for Georgia to engage independently with the outside world as Western nations with perilously little spine left are scared off engaging.

There have been steady attacks on Georgia from separatists, from the Washington Post:

“Georgia, meanwhile, said that its troops entered the South Ossetian "capital" in response to escalating attacks, which have been intensifying for a week -- and have been taking place for years, really -- as well as the Russian aerial bombardment of Georgian territory.”

The majority of Russian passport holders that we keep hearing about are no accident, from the Wall Street Journal:

“Russia in recent years has also granted citizenship to the separatists. That looks like premeditation now: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pledged yesterday to “protect the lives and dignity of Russian citizens, no matter where they are located.”

It is hard to imagine how Georgia can come out of this current conflict well. The separatists will probably become even more secure in South Ossetia. Our vacillation has created an ugly situation that we will struggle to rescue. Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post concludes:

"In any case, the time to deal with this conflict is not now but was two, or even four, years ago. For a very long time it has been clear that there was a security vacuum in the Caucasus; that this vacuum was dangerous; that war was likely; that Georgia, an eager ally of the United States, would not emerge well from a confrontation; and that a successful invasion of Georgia, a country with U.S. troops on its soil, would reflect badly on the West. Cowardice, weakness, lack of ideas and, above all, the distraction of other events prevented any deeper engagement. And now it may be too late."

However, Georgia's cause is not one we should abandon, from the Washington Post:

“The principles at stake, including sovereignty and territorial integrity, apply well beyond the Caucasus. To abandon Georgia and its fragile democratic Rose Revolution would send a terrible signal to other former Soviet and Warsaw Pact republics that to Moscow's dismay have achieved or are working toward democracy and fully independent foreign policies. The West has made that sort of mistake before and must not do so again."

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Thomas Sowell on capitalism

This, via The Corner, is a great quote:

"Many have argued that capitalism does not offer a satisfactory moral message. But that is like saying that calculus does not contain cabrohydrates, amino acids, or other essential nutrients. Everything fails by irrevelant standards."

Monday, August 04, 2008

White Diamond

This marketing campaign is infuriating. The TV version invites us to enjoy the "delicate fragrance of white diamond and lotus flower."

Diamonds don't have a fragrance!