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EithneMacDermott

EithneMacDermott

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Published by lamiradaaleste

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Published by: lamiradaaleste on Sep 08, 2008
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07/23/2009

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Where is Russia Now?
The Russian response – disproportionate, excessive, vindictive, - to the Georgianinvasion of South Ossetia was designed to do much more than simply chaseGeorgia out of South Ossetia, an action which, if left at that, would probably havebeen no more than a brief August diversion from the Olympics and the proverbial“silly season”. Instead, it went far further than that, invading Georgia itself, making amockery of the (admittedly extremely incompetent grandstanding) diplomacy andtruce brokered by the President of France, and holder of the EU
ʼ
s rotating Chair ofthe Council of Ministers, Nicolas Sarkozy. Indeed, it was finely calibrated to destroyGeorgia
ʼ
s military capacity, wreck its infrastructure, send an ominous message aboutthe potential lack of safety of any oil and gas transportation networks whichtransversed Georgian territory, the sort of networks intended to by-pass those underRussian control and influence.Of course, it was also intended as a public humiliation for Georgia
ʼ
s brash, ratherreckless, photogenic President, Mikheil Saakashvili, a poster boy for westerndemocratic values, who was seen as a western Trojan horse by the broodingRussians. Indeed, he is loathed by the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, moreusually seen as cool and measured, who is said to “lose it” when Saakashvili
ʼ
s namecomes up, a dislike that is cordially returned by Saakashvili, who detests Putin inturn, referring to the Russian Prime Minister as “Liliputin”, a remark which wasunwisely repeated to Putin. “Thank you for Stalin,” Putin sardonically remarked toSaakashvili during an earlier conversation, which drew the terse response “You
ʼ
rewelcome to him,” from Saakashvili. Personal relationships matter in politcs, as inlife, despite what some academic theorists tell us.Above all, the Russian response was designed to send a signal to the west to thinkagain about expanding NATO eastwards, and to let Georgia know that while ideals ofpolitical philosophy might offer dreams of a western orientation, geography decreesthat Georgia is still part of the Russian sphere of influence. This response signalsstrongly that Russia is back, and that it will assert its perceived right to express itsposition – forcibly if necessary – in areas it feels fall within its sphere of influence.There were several other reasons for the Russian response. The rather rashwestern recognition of Kosovo earlier in the year, over Russia
ʼ
s vehement protests,had reinforced Russian resentment. Russia felt that it was ignored, and taken forgranted, as it had been since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Government inMoscow warned that there would be consequences for the recognition of Kosovo.Despite the fact that the vast majority of Kosovars denied the right of the SerbGovernment in Belgrade the right to rule them, Kosovo was de jure still a part ofSerbia, and the recognition took place over the strong objections of Serbia, asovereign state with a functioning polity, which was and is a long standing traditionalhistoric ally of Russia
ʼ
s.Ominously, it also introduced the principle of the dismemberment of a sovereignnation state should a significant section of the population of a disputed region deny
 
the authority of the sovereign state to rule them. Borders had indeed changed inEurope since 1945, but only with consent, (Germany in 1990, or the severance of theCzech Republic and Slovakia in 1992), or, in the case where the nation state inquestion had imploded (as happened, among other things, in the former Yugoslaviain the 1990s). However, the recognition of Kosovo changed the rules, in that asovereign nation state could now have its borders changed against its will if asignificent section of a region disputed its authority, and looked elsewhere forvalidation or vindication. Thus, Russia was able to use this very argument when itrecognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia.However, the most important reason of all, was Russian humiliation and mingledresentment and a desperate longing for respect, both of which grew out of thechaotic conditions of the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The oldSoviet Union had lost an Empire, and an ideology, and its successor state, Russia,shorn of its penumbra of unwilling satellites, had not managed to find a respectablerole to replace what it had lost. Nor a role which gave it respect.The forms of democracy, market reform, and privatisation which prevailed during theperiod of the “Wild East” capitalism of the robber barons and oligarchs of the 1990shave tainted and contaminated the very idea of democracy, and market liberalisationin Russia. Economic conditions were so dismal that the state defaulted on itsinternational debt in 1998, and the rouble was drastically devalued as aconsequence. State salaries and pensions went unpaid, assassination was a dailyhazard for the rich and powerful, (and for investigative journalists, bankers andparliamentarians as well,) and corruption became endemic as organisations,bureaucracies, institutes and universities all sought to make ends meet in a state thestructures of which had all but collapsed.This was the world that Vladimir Putin became the initially unwilling ruler of, when hewas appointed to succeed Boris Yeltsin in December 1999. It the world that hesought to assert control over and indeed, bring a measure of stability to; initially, thismeant strengthening security within the state, extending control within the sphere ofpolitics, and securing the borders of the country. Later, when conditions improved, -and the Government
ʼ
s foreign debt paid off in 2005 - his Government increased statecontrol over the energy resources of the state, and eventually, felt assertive enoughto offer increasingly irascible opinions on international affairs, especially internationalaffairs as they pertained to the positions of the former “Near Abroad”, those stateswhich used to be either under Moscow
ʼ
s rule, or, at the very least, under Moscow
ʼ
sinfluence.For, as the old Imperium had ceased to exist, the Imperium
ʼ
s old enemy, NATO, hadmoved ever further eastwards, or so it must have seemed to jaundiced Russianeyes. First to join were the old Warsaw Pact countries – the old “Near Abroad”,Poland, the Czech Republic, those central and eastern European countries whichhad endured Soviet occupation since 1945. They, in turn, were followed, by theBaltic States, former unwilling states of the Soviet Union itself. Then, with the RoseRevolution in Georgia in 2003 and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine 2004, both
 
countries announced their intention to seek refuge under the umbrella of NATO whenopportunity presented itself.The “colour” revolutions, happening as they did, and the way in which they did, inwhat used to be states of the old Soviet Union, changed the direction and theexpression of Russian foreign policy. They viewed themselves as democraticindependent states with the sovereign right to seek their own futures. Russia viewedthem as western stooges, trojan horses, and the West as duplicitous in that it soughtto surround Russia with a reborn military alliance, NATO, originally designed toconstrain Russia, all the while protesting that it sought merely partnership, especiallyover matters such as Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea. Historic fears ofencirclement fused with modern resentments, and ancient Caucasian enmities(stoked by all parties) to create the series of traps that the Georgian adventureactually was.Of course, the Russian Government provoked Georgia through the actions of itsproxies in South Ossetia, and set a trap, but the Georgian Government of PresidentSaakashvili was not obliged to respond to provocation with an exceptionallyfoolhardy invasion. Saakashvili tried, ineptly, to set his own traps. US militarytrainers for a small, if enthusiastic army, do not equate to US military aid. However,he did win one round of the conflict, namely, that of public relations. Dishevelled,handsome, photogenic, fluent in a number of languages, and invariably available,Saakashvili gave a series of interviews to a fairly undemanding western media. Thecontrast with the Russians was striking as they denied access to the war zone, andtheir duuimvirate, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, were not availablefor the first fortnight to speak to the media.In the short term, the Russians have won. They have announced their return to theworld stage on their terms, shown their capacity to fight a short sharp war (again, thecontrast with the US is telling), asserted their claim to interfere – by force ifnecessary – in areas demed to be of national interest, demonstrated the impotenceof the rhetoric of the US, the inability of NATO to protect a state that wishes tobecome a client, the disarray and lack of unity in the EU, and the economic strengthof Russia (built largely on energy resources and control of the distribution networks).They have also concluded that wahtever sanctions the west can impose are notlikely to have much effect. Putin has argued that WTO membership would not havebenefitted Russia anyway; while the G8 would look silly without the world
ʼ
s largestcountry, where the country with the world
ʼ
s largest gas reserves and second largestoil reserves, was expelled.Yet, public perception was a battle the Russians lost. There have been otherconsequences, not all of them positive. Further salt was rubbed in when countrieswith which they might have reasonably considered to have been friendly sought todistance themselves from offering support (China, India and the various “istans” ofcentral Asia.) The stock market in Moscow took an almighty tumble, losing billionsand the rouble fell in value. Russia is isolated and distrusted and disliked, a positionvery familiar from its tortured history, and reassuring to those who seek the certaintyof Cold War style ideological dug-outs. Yet, this is not the new Cold War. Rather,

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