Saturday, August 30, 2008

Russia, Georgia, and Backwards Priorities

I have no special expertise on the Georgian conflict, nor much sympathy for either side. I am, however, struck by the fact that most of the international condemnation is aimed at the most defensible, not the least defensible, part of what Russia has done.

Russian recognition of two breakaway provinces, both of which seem to have been effectively independent for over a decade, may or may not be a good idea, but I find it hard to see any reason to be outraged over it. The current governments there may be better or worse than the government of Georgia, but they pretty clearly have more support from the local population--and in any case, governments don't decide what other governments to recognize primarily on the basis of whether they approve of them. Yet it is the Russian recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia that western governments have been expressing outrage over.

What is outrageous, in terms of international law and norms as I understand them, is the fact that the Russian military continues to hold territory well inside Georgia and well outside South Ossetia. That is both a violation of public Russian promises and an invasion of undisputed territory. But nobody--at least, none of the nations that are condemning Russia at the moment--seems to be paying very much attention to it.


Stephen Smith said...

Given that South Ossetian/Abkhazian support for Russia is largely due to the tremendous subsidies Russia pours into the regions, I think it's the citizens of Russia who are getting the raw deal in all of this.

Of course, though, the whole affair has also given the citizens of Russia more money in terms of energy transit revenue, now that all the Western oil companies are fleeing Georgia – a surely not-unintended side effect of the war. But while everyone (Russians, South Ossetians, and Abkhazians) may be happy now, they're only feeling into Putin's deranged Dutch disease, which is going to come back crashing down on their heads (if it already hasn't started) eventually.

Stephen Smith said...

Sorry – scratch out "side effect" and replace it with "consequence." I don't believe it was just a side effect – I think it was the reason for the invasion to begin with. It's actually quite brilliant – they kick the West out by raising the risk premium on Georgian pipelines without actually attacking any Western assets.

Unknown said...

This difference would make sense for you if you carefully read the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement signeed by Georgia. According to the article 6 Russia has right to undertake ADDITIONAL security measure it finds suitable to ensure peace. In other words Russia can place its troops where it wants within Georgia's territory for indefinite period. Of course such moves would draw enormous outrage but acording to agreement Russia has this right.

Anonymous said...

Where can I carefully read that agreement? Have been looking for it, but to no avail.

Anonymous said...

1. No recourse to the use of force.
2. Definitive cessation of hostilities.
3. Free access to humanitarian aid (addition rejected: and to allow the return of refugees).
4. The Armed Forces of Georgia must withdraw to their permanent positions. [116]
4. Georgian military forces must withdraw to their normal bases of encampment.[citation needed]
5. The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation must withdraw to the line where they were stationed prior to the beginning of hostilities. Prior to the establishment of international mechanisms the Russian peacekeeping forces will take additional security measures. [117]
5. Russian military forces must withdraw to the lines prior to the start of hostilities. While awaiting an international mechanism, Russian peacekeeping forces will implement additional security measures (addition rejected: six months).[citation needed]
6. An international debate on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and ways to ensure their lasting security will take place. [118]
6. Opening of international discussions on the modalities of lasting security in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (addition rejected: based on the decisions of the UN and the OSCE).

Anonymous said...

South Ossetia and Abkhazia never wanted to be a part of the fascistic Georgian regime. They didn't want to leave russia when the USSR collapsed that's how the war started in 1990. What Russia does now by soon taking South Ossetia into its arms is something they should have done 18 years ago. Finaly Ossetia that was devided into North and South by Stalin will be Reunited. This is a right the Ossetians have. But off course this right only applies when it fits NATO and the US best.

Unknown said...

But aren't the two elements intertwined? To my knowledge, Georgia, like the West, is yet to acknowledge the independence of the two separatist states. Until they do, the Russian occupation of Georgia would seem to be justified as leverage to the force Georgian capitulation on the independence issue. Since the USA is completely in bed with the Georgians, it would make sense for them to focus on the first issue and ignore the second, since like Georgia, they are still living a fantasy world that presumes and eventual Georgian/Ossetian/Abkhazian reunification. If the Russians are still occupying Georgia proper after Georgia comes to terms with independence of the two provinces, then, and only then, will we have cause for concern.

August said...

Michael Totten has reported the situation is much different from what has been reported, with Russian/Ossetian attacks beginning the day before any Georgian movement.

Not that I think it simplifies things.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

The assumption that current governments of the breakaway regions have the support of local population is a huge one indeed.

The local population of those regions has been mixed one for centuries and included large ethnic Georgian communities. What you see today is the result of ethnic cleansing of Georgians by pro-Russian paramilitary troops in Abkhazia in 1993-1994 and the most recent one in South Ossetia (the term itself is a Russian name of the historically Georgian region located in the heart of Georgia).

Please remember that those "nations" consist of about 70 thousand ethnic Abkhaz and even less so ethnic Ossetians. Those ethnic groups were historically used by Russian empire to leverage its control over Georgia. The whole male population of those two groups residing in the regions today are servicemen of local "armies", - military groups created, armed, trained and managed by Russian military.

I believe the main reason why use of brutal military force by Russia and its invasion into Georgia has caused such a reaction is because this is a clear attempt to redraw international borders by unilateral use of force, a step that undermines the so called international law. The most recent such a unilateral act was made by Hitler claiming Sudetenland. No wonder setting such a precedent causes very serious concerns among Eastern European nations.

Turning blind eye on this and continuing business as usual with Russia will make things much worse and definitely not better. It has already triggered arms race in Eastern Europe. And it is very naive to believe that military phase of the conflict in Georgia is over. It will take very, very strong international efforts to make the so-called cease-fire hold. Otherwise there is a serious risk of Afghan or Chechen style guerilla warfare of a large scale in the region very close to the European Union.

al fin said...

Russia has shown its true nature, as a predatory nation. With its claws unsheathed, Russia prowls the region looking for more prey.

The tragedy of Putin's gross mismanagement of the country, is the accelerating demographic collapse of the Russian people. Muslim people's are moving into the motherland in the west, and Chinese people are moving into eastern siberia. Russian people are quickly disappearing from the Earth, never to be seen again.

Russia has always had stupid Tsars.

Daniel A. Nagy said...

While I have very little sympathy for the actions of the Russian government in the Caucases, let me correct two factual mistakes in your post:
1. The most recent such unilateral act was the American invasion of Iraq. Before that, the NATO invasion of Serbia.
2. Those "pro-Russian paramilitaries" that have ethnically cleansed Abkhazia, were actually Chechen separatists.

In the Caucasus, the law of vendetta is very much alive and various ethnic, tribal and clan loyalties are still extremely strong. Hence the eternal gang-warfare. Empires have always tried to exploit it to their advantage. Russia is no worse than all the other empires and no better either.

al fin:
Hatered is a bad adviser.

Daniel A. Nagy said...

Thanks for the text of the ceasefire agreement! It seems like Dr. Friedman is mistaken: the recognition is indeed in violation in that it precludes talks on their status to which the RF has committed. Whereas holding territory easily falls under "additional security measures".

Jonathan said...

I'm glad to see you commenting on this, especially as I've been feeling much the same way ever since the conflict started.

No doubt there's much going on in Russia to be alarmed about, but for Western governments to feign outrage over its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia just seems silly and hypocritical.

dWj said...

It is rather more than reasonable to suggest that the ceasefire was signed by Georgia under duress. The impropriety of the initial Russian action would carry over to any action whose propriety is justified solely by the ceasefire agreement.

If a government whose policy I were determining were criticizing the recognition of the independence of the breakaway regions -- and I suspect it would be -- it would be in the hopes of bartering the recognition of those regions for something else to be gained from the Russians. Dr. Friedman is right that it rather makes sense that the two regions end up independent of Georgia.

On some level I'd kind of like to see Georgia recognize Chechen independence, but that's a level that doesn't involve the pre-frontal cortex in any serious manner.

Jonathan said...

dwj: "On some level I'd kind of like to see Georgia recognize Chechen independence..."

Nice one.

TheReviewish said...

It seems to me that this also brings up the issue of what a good standard should be in recognizing an independent region.

This has come more into the forefront recently with pushes for independent regions in Bolivia and Kosovo.

Not that the individual factor of each case shouldn't be considered, having no criteria at all seems to have been rather haphazard.