Thursday, October 5, 2006

Georgia On My Mind...

While we all focus on vitally important matters such as the loathsome Mr. Foley’s IM habits, we would do well to pay some attention to the other leopards in the jungle.

One such leopard appears to have concluded that Georgia is a tasty morsel – and a morsel which quite possibly can be had.

No, I don’t mean the home of Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs, the Falcons, the Braves and peaches. I mean Georgia, the country located in the Caucasus Mountains, between Russia and Turkey. Swallowed by Russia in bite-sized chunks from the 1780’s to 1810: Georgia has since generally been part of Russia, both in Russian Empire and Soviet Union days. When the Czars fell, the Georgians saw their chance, declaring independence on 26 May of 1918.

The Red Army showed up in 1921, bringing freedom, socialism and brotherhood; plus prisons, executions and the secret police for anybody who didn’t want to be liberated. Some local stooges were rounded-up to petition for annexation to the Soviet Union, which they duly did. (It’s always possible to find sheep willing to be pro-leopard). Joseph Stalin, himself an ethnic Georgian, but a spiritual Muscovite - had few illusions about the love his countrymen bore for the Soviet Union (that man had few illusions about anything, other than trusting Hitler) -- so Stalin shot, deported and imprisoned as liberally in Georgia as anyplace else, if not more so.

Georgia formed part of the “unbreakable union of freeborn republics,” as the old Soviet national hymn (catchy tune) said, which, “welded forever” by “Great Russia” stood, until a miracle happened. Lenin’s prison house toppled, and the Union broke. The Georgians, having a proper appreciation of the Soviet “motherland, home of the free” -- bolted again on 9 April 1991…and here we are.

Quite naturally, there are plenty of Russians who want to undo the result of the Cold War and put Georgia and other wayward secessionists right back in the Bear’s claws where they traditionally belong. Had I been born in Moscow or St. Petersburg, quite possibly I would be one such person.
Looks like Russian president Vladimir Putin might be also. Hell, scratch “might,” I know he is.
Independent Georgia has plenty of problems, among them a couple of secessionist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see map). If you’re a neighboring great power with irredentist or imperialist ambitions, meddling with rebels and rebel-wanna bes is an excellent way to get a foot in the door and stir up some trouble, and the Russians are right in there pitching. Back on the 29th, President Putin entertained Mr. Sergei Bagapsh, the de-facto President of what amounts to independent Abkhazia, along with Mr. Edward Kokoity, who is in a similar position in South Ossetia, another bit of wayward Georgian real estate. The two rebel presidents met with President Putin at a conference on the “Economic Development of Southern Russia” in Sochi.
A better title for Putin’s pow-wow might have been: “Conference of Pot-Stirrers south of the Caucasus.” There is nobody prouder and more upon his dignity in this world than an official of a former rebel movement that actually manages to turn into a government when confonted by current rebels against his own government who are not yet quite in the big time. The Georgians have absolutely gone into diplomatic conniption overdrive over President Putin receiving the two rebel chiefs.
Meanwhile, the Black Sea Fleet is conducting naval exercises off the Georgian coast. The Georgians have asked the Russians to stop…but Russia’s not paying attention. Georgian businesses in Moscow are being raided in what the Russian Interior Ministry (that’s the police), are calling a crackdown on “ethnic” organized crime…
Why are the Russians picking on the Georgians this way ? One possibility is that Moscow doesn’t like Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili’s pro- NATO orientation. In general, the Russians are not happy about the 2003 “Rose Revolution” that got rid of the more pro-Russian President, Eduard Shevardnadze. Mr. Shevardnadze was USSR Foreign Minister back in Gorbachev days.
Pro-Russian is perhaps a trifle harsh: Mr. Shevardnadze was mostly pro-Shevardnadze, but he didn’t do a lot about the Abkhazia and South Ossetia rebels (who had Russian backing). The Russians, you see, have troops in Georgia, and Mr. Shevardnzdze was very aware of this. The Russian troops, some 4,000 of them, are supposed to leave in 2008. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.
The Georgians have tried to return the pinpricks. Back on the 27th, the Georgians arrested four members of the Russian GRU, the military intelligence service, along with some Georgians who were apparently working with them. This has landed the Georgians in worse trouble: on the 30th, the Russians announced they were suspending their troop withdrawals; on the 3rd of October, the Russians cut off air, road and rail travel into Georgia, and closed down the mail.
The Americans and EU have told Russia to play nice, but so far the Russians are not having any of it, although Putin has said the troop withdrawals will start up again. Meanwhile, the Georgians have thought better of grabbing the spies, and, through the Europeans, have handed them back over to Moscow.
On Tuesday, the State Duma (the lower chamber of the Russian Parliament), in effect gave Putin a blank check to fix the Georgians: their resolution telling Putin that he can take “even tougher measures” if he wants. Putin said, speaking of the spy dispute: "I would not allow anyone to talk to Russia in the language of provacation and blackmail." Yeah, Georgia trying to blackmail Russia. Sort of like Poland trying to blackmail Nazi Germany.
So what do the Russians want ? At a minimum, it was unwise for the Saakashvili government to be too pro-Europe, pro-American, and pro-NATO with Russian troops actually in country. It might have been wiser to deal for a Russian withdrawal, and only after that was complete move towards the West, and worry more about their own secessionists at that point.
As it stands, the Georgians are in an isolated part of the world, and far from help. Are the Russians going to be satisfied with some groveling, and a more pro-Moscow policy…or do they maybe want more ?
The omens are propitious from the point of view of Russia’s reassertion of some imperial control in the “near abroad.” The Americans are about to be paralyzed, as the Democrats tie Congress in knots and move ahead with plans to impeach, or at least to humiliate, President Bush. The resurgence of the Democrats will completely undercut American foreign and military policies: what’s left of American diplomatic bandwidth is shortly to be totally consumed by the aftermath of the North Korean nuclear test; the collapsing effort to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon (a diplomatic effort cannot succeed because the Europeans are not interested); the Left’s effort to force abandonment of the Iraqi government by cutting off funding for the war; and the resurgence of the Left in Latin America when Daniel Ortega wins the Nicaraguan presidential election.
The November elections in the US are the beginning of a cycle of American caution, and withdrawal from foreign engagement much like that of the post Vietnam period. It is time, then, for the Russians to begin their effort to reassemble the Russian imperial holdings. Georgia, as it was in the 1920’s, is a good place to start -- and now is the time.


louielouie said...

i could be wrong, but the next to last paragraph in the essay sounds like klintons third term in the white house.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Unfortunately, LL, that looks like a good bet.

Even more unfortunately, if we got a third Clinton term (however you want to put it), we might consider ourselves to be very lucky, considering the other available wackos in that party. Hilla's positively a moderate in Democratic terms.