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South Ossetia

Once again, I want to strongly recommend OpenDemocracy, this time for its series of articles on South Ossetia and its consequences. Today's article is by my good friend Ivan Krastev, arguing inter alia that Russia may be a loser as well. At the start of the war they ran a good piece by Caucasus vetern Tom de Waal, "An Avoidable Tragedy". See also these pictures by the children of South Ossetia, and the various other pieces they have done on the region. And in general, keep an eye on the open_democracy feed, or however you prefer to read it.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 20th, 2008 10:28 am (UTC)
Interesting article, and thanks for pointing me at it.

I've a passing interest in the Caucasus (I was within 6 weeks of being posted to Armenia, back in the mid-90s, to set up the computer infrastructure for the Midland Armenia Bank - a job, thankfully, that didn't materialise, as I would have been utterly hopeless at it). My view of the current conflict is that Russia wanted to achieve a number of objectives. Primarily, to dismantle the Georgian military infrastructure, thus ensuring that the Abkhazi and South Ossetia insurgents can continue to break away and (ultimately) rejoin Russia. Secondarily, and almost as important, to restore Russian militaristic and nationalist pride (after its misadventures in Chechnya and elsewhere). Thirdly, to contribute to the likelihood of regime change in Georgia, although I'm not convinced they care very much who leads georgia - they just want it to be weak and internally divided. And fourthly, to circumvent the possibility of Georgia joining NATO.

"Stinging" though niternational criticism has been, I doubt Russia's leaders care very much. Post-cold-war, "democratised" Russia, is basically transforming from a left-wing Communist oligarchy into a right-wing, Nationalist (and plutocratic) one - and history shows us that right-wing nationalist states are frankly a lot more efficient - and a lot more prone to territorial expansionism. Russia is a stronger country now than 20 years ago, by some margin; in contrast, the US is weaker, and any US-led protests about pre-emptive "protectionist" military action on foreign soil without UN approval are laughable in a post-Iraq-2003 world.

I don't expect Russia to "lose out" significantly. Russia is intent on muscling its way back onto the world stage, not gainging influence through diplomacy. I suspect, however, they are still looking to play a short-to-medium term game, and what will be interesting is to see how their relations with China (who want to play the long game, and are very good at it) will go. Virtually all China lacks is energy supplies, and the gas fields of Central Asia plus the oilfields of the Caucasus are obviously very tempting, so one can expect to see China support Russia verbally while remaining very cautious about expansionism leading to conflict on its borders.

Who WAS the idiot who blethered on about the "end of history" in 1990?

Aug. 22nd, 2008 08:37 am (UTC)
I don't know about Russia not losing out. In the past few year, from a western perspective, they've gone from 'emerging democracy' through 'unpredictable state' and now to 'regional bullyboy'.

Companies are beginning to get wary of Russia as a safe country to invest in, as the Russian shenanigans over international joint ventures in oil production over the past few years show that contracts are not worth the paper they're signed on.

European nations are very wary of relying on Russia for energy, what with the pipeline diplomacy of recent years.

The UK is very wary of Russia, as its ruler seems to have no problem with Russian operatives killing British citizens in London.

China might play the long games with Russia, but I don't think they'd trust them for a minute - and trust goes a long way in diplomacy.
Aug. 20th, 2008 12:40 pm (UTC)
Very thoughtful indeed.
Aug. 20th, 2008 08:57 pm (UTC)
Many thanks for the links
Thanks for the kind words & links. I agree that IK's piece is very interesting.

Tony, openDemcoracy
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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