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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Consequences Mount as Russian Invasion into Georgia Continues

As Russian troops continue to violate the cease fire agreement (photos here) and push deeper into areas of Georgia previously unaffected by the war, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defiantly sneered:

"One can forget about any talk about Georgia's territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state," Lavrov told reporters.
This was on the same day that both Lavrov and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met at the Kremlin with the leaders of Georgia's two separatist provinces; a clear sign some analysts believe that Moscow could absorb the regions.

Consequences of Russia's action continue to grow as Poland declared on Thursday that it had agreed to a long stalled deal with the U.S. on basing missile defense components on Polish territory.

U.S. and Poland set missile deal
By Thom Shanker and Nicholas Kulish
International Herald Tribune
August 15, 2008

The deal reflected growing alarm in countries like Poland, once a conquered Soviet client state, about a newly rich and powerful Russia's intentions in its former cold war sphere of power. In fact, negotiations dragged on for 18 months — but were completed only as old memories and new fears surfaced in recent days.

Those fears were codified to some degree in what Polish and American officials characterized as unusual aspects of the final deal: that at least temporarily American soldiers would staff air defense sites in Poland oriented toward Russia, and that the United States would be obliged to defend Poland in case of an attack with greater speed than required under NATO, of which Poland is a member.

Polish officials said the agreement would strengthen the mutual commitment of the United States to defend Poland, and vice versa. "Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later — it is no good when assistance comes to dead people," the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said on Polish television. "Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of — knock on wood — any possible conflict."
Meanwhile, the Kremlin appears to be dusting off it's Cold War playbook as it responds with the laughable propaganda that so many of us remember from earlier days:

Kremlin dusts off Cold War lexicon to make US villain in Georgia
by Charles Bremner in Moscow
London Times
August 15, 2008

Russians were told over breakfast yesterday what really happened in Georgia: the conflict in South Ossetia was part of a plot by Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, to stop Barak Obama being elected president of the United States.

The line came on the main news of Vesti FM, a state radio station that — like the Government and much of Russia's media — has reverted to the old habits of Soviet years, in which a sinister American hand was held to lie behind every conflict, especially those embarrassing to Moscow. Modern Russia may be plugged into the internet and the global marketplace but in the battle for world opinion the Kremlin is replaying the old black-and-white movie.

The Obama angle is getting wide play. It was aired on Wednesday by Sergei Markov, a senior political scientist who is close to Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister and power behind President Medvedev.

“George Bush's Administration is promoting interests of candidate John McCain,” said Dr Markov. “Defeated by Barak Obama on all fronts, McCain has one last card to play yet - the creation of a virtual Cold War with Russia . . . Bush himself did not want a war in South Ossetia but his Republican Party did not leave him any choice.” The Americans were now engineering an armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Dr Markov added.

That silly attempt to blame the Bush Administration for the war in Georgia is one that instantly gained credibility among the Bush haters in the U.S. who even at the worst of times are willing dupes for Russian propaganda.

But that notion is put to rest by the following excellent analysis offered by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor in the Carter White House and professor of National Security topics in courses I took at Columbia University in the late 1980's.

The lefties who so loved Brzezinski these past few years when he was criticizing President Bush won't be so eager to praise him now, but Dr. Brzezinski is right on target:

Staring Down the Russians
Time Magazine
Aug. 14, 2008

The end of the Cold War was supposed to usher in a new age in which the major powers would no longer dictate to their neighbors how to run their affairs. That is why Russia's invasion of Georgia is so tragic and so potentially ominous. Russia is now on watch: Will it continue to rely on coercion to achieve its imperial aims or is it willing to work within the emerging international system that values cooperation and consensus?

Moscow's ruthless attempt to suborn, subdue and subordinate this tiny, independent democracy is reminiscent of Stalin's times. The assault on Georgia is similar to what Stalin's Soviet Union did to Finland in 1939: in both cases, Moscow engaged in an arbitrary, brutal and irresponsible use of force to impose domination over a weaker, democratic neighbor. The question now is whether the global community can demonstrate to the Kremlin that there are costs for the blatant use of force on behalf of anachronistic imperialist goals.

This conflict has been brewing for years. Russia has deliberately instigated the breakup of Georgian territory. Moscow has promoted secessionist activities in several Georgian provinces: Abkhazia, Ajaria and, of course, South Ossetia. It has sponsored rebellious governments in these territories, armed their forces and even bestowed Russian citizenship on the secessionists. These efforts have intensified since the emergence in Georgia of a democratic, pro-Western government. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's resentment toward Georgia and its President, the U.S.-educated Mikheil Saakashvili, has seemingly become a personal obsession.

The international community has not done enough to push back. In recent weeks, a series of incidents along the fragile cease-fire lines that cut across Georgian territory helped prompt the escalation of violence, including Georgia's abortive effort to remove the "government" of South Ossetia, a small region with a population of about 70,000 people. That rash action was perhaps unwise, but it is evident from Russia's military response that Moscow was waiting for such an act to provide a pretext for the use of force. Large Russian contingents quickly swept into South Ossetia and then into Georgia, sending tanks to Gori and bombing Gori and the capital, Tbilisi.

Russia's aggression toward Georgia should not be viewed as an isolated incident. The fact is, Putin and his associates in the Kremlin don't accept the post-Soviet realities. Putin was sincere when he declared some time ago that in his view, the dissolution of the Soviet Union was "the greatest geopolitical disaster of the [20th] century." Independent democracies like Georgia and Ukraine, for the Putin regime, are not only historical anomalies, but also represent a direct political threat.

Ukraine could well be the next flash point. The Russian leadership has already openly questioned whether it needs to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity. Russian leaders have also remarked that Crimea, a part of Ukraine, should once again be joined to Russia. Similarly, Russian pressure on Moldova led to the effective partition of that small former Soviet republic. Moscow is also continuing to try to economically isolate central Asian neighbors like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. And the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have been the object of various threats from Russia, including economic sanctions and disruptive cyberwarfare.

The stakes are high. Ultimately, the independence of the post-Soviet states is at risk. Russia seems committed to the notion that there should be some sort of supranational entity, governed from the Kremlin, that would oversee much of the former Soviet territories. This attitude reflects in part the intense nationalistic mood that now permeates Russia's political élite. Vladimir Putin, former President and now Prime Minister, is riding this nationalist wave, exploiting it politically and propagating it with the Russian public. Some now even talk of a renewed Russian military presence in Cuba as a form of retaliation against the U.S. for its support of the independence of the post-Soviet states.

For the West, especially the U.S., the conflict between Russia and Georgia poses both moral and geostrategic challenges. The moral dimension is self-evident: a small country that gained its independence only recently, after almost two centuries of Russian domination, deserves international support that goes beyond simple declarations of sympathy. Then there are questions of geostrategy. An independent Georgia is critical to the international flow of oil. A pipeline for crude oil now runs from Baku in Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea, through Georgia to the Turkish Mediterranean coast. The link provides the West access to the energy resources of central Asia. If that access is cut, the Western world will lose an important opportunity to diversify its sources of energy.

The West needs to respond to Russia's aggression in a clear and determined manner. That doesn't mean with force. Nor should it fall into a new cold war with Russia. But the West, particularly the U.S., should continue to mobilize the international community to condemn Russia's behavior. Presidential candidates Barack Obama (whom I support) and John McCain should endorse President George W. Bush's efforts to oppose Russia's actions and form a bipartisan stand on this issue. It is unfortunate that some of the candidates' supporters are engaging in pointless criticism of each other's public statements on the Georgia crisis. This is too important for that.

It is premature to specify what precise measures the West should adopt. But Russia must be made to understand that it is in danger of becoming ostracized internationally. This should be a matter of considerable concern to Russia's new business √©lite, who are increasingly vulnerable to global financial pressure. Russia's powerful oligarchs have hundreds of billions of dollars in Western bank accounts. They would stand to lose a great deal in the event of a Cold War–style standoff that could conceivably result, at some stage, in the West's freezing of such holdings.

At some point, the West should consider the Olympic option. If the issue of Georgia's territorial integrity is not adequately resolved (by, for example, the deployment in South Ossetia and Abkhazia of a truly independent international security force replacing Russian troops), the U.S. should contemplate withdrawing from the 2014 Winter Games, to be held in the Russian city of Sochi, next to the violated Georgia's frontier. There is a precedent for this. I was part of the Carter Administration when we brandished the Olympic torch as a symbolic weapon in 1980, pulling out of the Summer Games in Moscow after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union had planned a propaganda show reminiscent of Hitler's 1936 Olympics in Berlin. America's boycott delivered a body blow to President Leonid Brezhnev and his communist system and prevented Moscow from enjoying a world-class triumph.

The Georgian crisis is a critical test for Russia. If Putin sticks to his guns and subordinates Georgia and removes its freely elected President — something Putin's Foreign Minister has explicitly called for — it is only a question of time before Moscow turns up the heat on Ukraine and the other independent but vulnerable post-Soviet states. The West has to respond carefully but with a moral and strategic focus. Its objective has to be a democratic Russia that is a constructive participant in a global system based on respect for sovereignty, law and democracy. But that objective can be achieved only if the world makes clear to Moscow that a stridently nationalistic Russia will not succeed in any effort to create a new empire in our postimperial age.

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