Russia backed into a corner

PHOTO: Church of Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

It’s easy and perversely comforting to think of the world as bipolar. Good vs. Evil. Communist vs. Capitalist. Democratic vs. Autocratic. USA vs. Russia. But the world isn’t so simple (despite what John McCain may think).

Despite whatever comfort simplified labels give us, Russia is not an evil imperial power hellbent on invading all of Europe. Nor could they. That doesn’t mean that Russia hasn’t gone too far in their war with Georgia (For the record: I think they have). Just that Putin isn’t Hitler2.0 and Georgia isn’t Czechoslovakia2.0.

That particular viewpoint isn’t a common one inside the U.S., which I think is a product of one-sided and simplistic media coverage. Luckily we have people like Seumas Milne of the Guardian to provides context for the conflict. Here are some of the good bits from his article:

You’d be hard put to recall after all the fury over Russian aggression that it was actually Georgia that began the war last Thursday with an all-out attack on South Ossetia to “restore constitutional order” – in other words, rule over an area it has never controlled since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nor, amid the outrage at Russian bombardments, have there been much more than the briefest references to the atrocities committed by Georgian forces against citizens it claims as its own in South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali. Several hundred civilians were killed there by Georgian troops last week…

In my experience, the news coverage would mention that Georgia instigated the war, but never delved into any of the details. It was simply a footnote for Russia, McCain or Obama bashing (we can’t even escape presidential politics when discussing a war on the other side of the world).

[The Russian-Georgian dispute] would be hard enough to settle through negotiation in any circumstances. But add in the tireless US promotion of Georgia as a pro-western, anti-Russian forward base in the region, its efforts to bring Georgia into Nato, the routing of a key Caspian oil pipeline through its territory aimed at weakening Russia’s control of energy supplies, and the US-sponsored recognition of the independence of Kosovo – whose status Russia had explicitly linked to that of South Ossetia and Abkhazia – and conflict was only a matter of time…

Russia sees what happened in Georgia as part of a pattern that has seen them become weaker and weaker in terms of security. With former Warsaw Pact nations joining NATO, countries that once were a security buffer have turned into launching pads for their chief rival.

By any sensible reckoning, this is not a story of Russian aggression, but of US imperial expansion and ever tighter encirclement of Russia by a potentially hostile power. That a stronger Russia has now used the South Ossetian imbroglio to put a check on that expansion should hardly come as a surprise.

I do think that surrounding Russia with deterrents to possible imperial expansion is a good thing, at least while it remained a bloodless pursuit. But we should try to put ourselves in their shoes. How would we react if Mexico invaded Cuba, or Brazil invaded Mexico?

2 Comments

  1. Ian

    I think that we also treat China the same. We don’t respect reasonable things either government does just because we disagree with much of their every day policy. Georgia starts a fight, I don’t see what the world expects Russia to do. Sure, they were heavy handed about it, but did you expect them to take it lying down. The same goes for China with Tibet. What do people honestly expect?

  2. Chris

    Ian,
    Yep.

    And it doesn’t help that because of Iraq, we’ve accelerated the destruction of international institutions like the UN.