Sunday, August 10, 2008

Why I'm still blogging about South Ossetia

I've spent much of the weekend reading blogs about the conflict, including Russian-language blogs of people supposedly there. Most of these are maintained by youth and read like angry propaganda. This widely cited blog is from a youth in Tskhinvali who was supposedly nice enough to emerge from his bomb shelter to make posts about how the women and children were being run over by tanks, even though the city was without power.

He's a member of one of several youth movements in Russia called New People to go with Young Russia and Nashe, the official "Putin Youth" government-sponsored nationalist organization. They held demonstrations in Moscow protesting "NATO-Georgian aggression." The photos posted showed teenagers gathered around a jar of red liquid labeled "Blood for Saakashvilli," while in the videos you can hear them chanting anti-Georgian and anti-U.S. slogans.

The liveblogging Russian youth are quite angry and nationalistic, seeing Georgia as merely a puppet of the U.S., and their actions despicable violations of international law. There are a few Georgians asking questions on the blogs who are getting told to go to hell.

The Russian media is state-controlled and producing some very one-sided coverage. Here's an English-language example.
What sounds more like "genocide", responding to an attack after publicly declaring a unilateral ceasefire (what Georgia did)? Or asking UN peacekeepers to leave the Kodori Gorge (in Abkhazia, not even S. Ossetia) so you can shell Georgian villages (What Russia did)?

Russia is now singling out Ukraine for selling Georgia weapons. However, the U.S., Turkey, Lithuania, France, and other NATO countries have sold the majority of the weaponry to Georgia.

So, one reason I blog is to try to balance what I perceived as very anti-Georgian efforts on the Net.

The other reason I blog is because of what an anonymous White House official told the NY Times yesterday: "Maybe we're learning how to shut up now."

In other words, we've been critical of Russia and others despite our own poor unilateralism, and made many promises to countries like Georgia, and now we are powerless to deliver any action. We can't "walk the talk."
We give billions to a country like Pakistan whose own internal security forces tried to assassinate Hamid Karzai and give aid to the Taliban while our own soldiers die trying to keep the Taliban out of Afghanistan. Yet we just keep giving more and pretend that things will get better. We do nothing.
We promise Georgia a NATO position in April, train their troops and pledge to support them because they sent 2,000 soldiers to Iraq. But now when the chips are on the table and their country is on the verge of invasion, we do nothing.
Even the Ukraine had the guts to tell the Russian Navy not to return to their Ukranian bases.

So, I mourn the newfound impotence of my country, whose President says The Case for Democracy was one of his favorite books. I mourn the dirt in the eye of Georgia who will now likely be kept at arms length and out of NATO.

I mourn for countries like Moldova and Azerbaijan who will have to think twice about reuniting with seperatist parts of their countries in order to move forward economically & politically. Moldova especially can learn from the Georgian precedent-- Moscow will intervene in your affairs.

I firmly support Georgia's efforts at joining the West and their fragile and imperfect democracy.


JSN said...

I have been watching the 24 hour English-language news station from Moscow, "Russia Today." There is absolutely no balance there. It's worse than Fox News re:Iraqi WMD.

If many Russians believe their own press, I am not surprised they are incensed. Claims of "genocide," "ethnic cleansing," and "war crimes" are constantly repeated. To the same degree, it looks like no one in the West cares at all about those issues. Too bad there isn't more skepticism, like there was of Pravda(?)[1].

I don't want Russian tanks in Georgia, but I am not entirely sure. India and Pakistan regularly get in low-intensity shooting wars (like Aug 1 - Aug 7 in S. Ossetia) and neither side tends to launch major attacks as a result. In the west, what do we usually encourage as a result of a military invasion?

I don't know, but I've been told that polls of South Ossetians (who cares what NATO or Moscow want?) show that super-majorities of them don't want to be in Georgia. Why should any leader really be supported if it is trying to impose its will on an unwilling population? Kosovo ended our ability to lean on the "territorial integrity" argument anytime soon.

Ossetian isn't spoken by many people, and it seems unusually bad for them to be divided by the border between two hostile countries. Like the Pushtun by the Durand Line and the Kurds by Sykes-Picot.

[1] The joke:
ex-Soviet Citizen #1: It's over, the Cold War is over, now that we are free I have learned that everything they told us about Communism was a lie!
ex-Soviet Citizen #2: Yes, but everything they told us about Capitalism was true.

JTapp said...

I have no illusions about S. Ossetian integration into Georgia. But, S. Ossetia is a lawless territory, not recognized by anyone, that's run by the mafia. As such, and since the fate of the territory was up in the air, it hampers foreign investment going into Georgia and forces them to spend resources protecting Georgians in S. Ossetia. It's like having a terrorist state on your border.

Recent attacks by S. Ossetians (under the watchful eyes of Russian "peacekeepers") including the roadside bombing of police vehicles force the hand of Georgia, as they would any state.

S. Ossetia wants independence, its leaders has made it clear that it doesn't even want to be a part of Russia. Its administration is run by ethnic Russians who served at various levels in the Russian government and FSB. Its citizens were granted Russian passports recently, as if to prevent Georgia from taking any actions against the country.

But the fact that Russia is not stopping with S. Ossetia, has opened a second front in Abkhazia and is blockading the coast despite an EU-agreed ceasefire signed by Georgia tells you what Russia's aim is-- regime change. That's what Lavrov said to Condi Rice, even after Russian denials of such goals the day before.

Will we sit back and watch a leader we've supported be deposed by an outside power that will undermine any democracy there?

JSN said...

I am against aggression. I like my saying "If they start it, we finish it." It is applicable to events like WWII, WWI and the first Iraq War. It does not apply to the Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq War II, nor, apparently, S. Ossetia.

I've never had a terrorist state on my border, but certainly Colombia doesn't launch large-scale rocket attacks into (allegedly) populated areas as a result of every FARC move. I don't pretend I know the best parallel.

My rules are consistent, and when someone on "my side" breaks them, I want them applied.

Maybe I just have an over-developed sense of justice and fairplay.

Bush said he regretted the "disproportionate response" by the Russians. Someone on Russia Today said that leaves open the idea that _some_ sort of response _was_ appropriate.

JSN said...

By the way, it looks like my view is official policy (first time I remember that happening).

If coverage on CNN and FOX are any indicator, especially when contrasted with the reports of Russian (I keep thinking to type Soviet) advances on the internet, then we have officially abandoned Georgia.

I am going to try to keep a fancy'ish map up-to-date on my blog