Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The real story behind the invasion of Georgia

Ever since Russia suddenly decided to invade Georgia, the news coverage has been sub par to say the least. For someone who is not very familiar with world politics, it was simplistic. For someone who knows a thing or two about it, the coverage was extremely confusing and seemingly misleading at times. Reactions from experts and politicians have also been confusing and disconcerting. Barack Obama wanted to discuss the issue in the U.N. Security Council, which obviously would have been a waste of time (as much as it was a waste of time to discuss the most recent Iraq invasion in the security council). At least the intentions with this statement were good. More worrying, though, were John McCain’s rash reactions to the crisis, when he all of a sudden invoked cold war rhetoric during a rush of emotions (without understanding the conflict). At a time when Russia feels humiliated, angry and emboldened at the same time, this is not the time for such talk, especially not when you have nothing to back it up with.

We may never know all the details behind this story, but I am about to present what I believe to be the most credible theory of what happened recently in Georgia. I believe that both countries were wrong in taking the actions that they took, and I believe that Russia set an ingeniously refined trap for Georgia that in retrospect seems like the work of fiction. I also believe in the right of self-determination of peoples, which is the foundation on which the state of Israel was founded. As a result of this natural right having been invoked in the region, and exploited by Russia, the following results will crystallize within a few months:

1. A new country called Abkhazia will be created

2. South Ossetia will be a de facto Russian province

3. Georgia and the Ukraine will not become NATO members

The political and ethnic map of the Caucasus region is very complicated. Georgia is no exception, and the country has several ethnic groups within its borders. The inhabitants of South Ossetia and Abkhazia never wanted to be a part of Georgia in the first place when the Soviet Union collapsed, and this is really the foundation for the problems we see today. Naturally, the fact that there are ethnic Georgians living in these provinces makes the situation more difficult. Abkhazia wants to be an independent nation, and South Ossetia seems to want to be a part of Russia.

For many different reasons, Russia feels like it has been disrespected and humiliated by the west for years. It feels as if relations with the west have been entirely on the west’s terms. What has been particularly worrying for Russia is the expansion of NATO countries within its former sphere of influence. Russia has been wanting to get back on the world stage for a while, and decided to make its comeback through the invasion of Georgia. It is clear that they have been planning this for a while, and one tangible example of how they go about their planning can be seen in the education of Vladimir Putin – he has a Ph.D. in how to utilize natural resources for strategic benefits.

What Russia wanted to accomplish was to stop the expansion of NATO in its back yard, scare its neighbors into obeying its old big brother once again, decrease American influence in the Caucasus region, and to restore Russian military and general national prestige in the world and at home. Russia definitely does not want a return to the Cold War, but the country probably wants to be able to run its own show in and around Russia once again, and it does not mind seeing American influence continue to decline around the world. Russia decided to make an example out of the Georgian regime and planned the invasion for years. After the plan was executed, it seems to have worked very, very well.

Georgia obviously wanted to keep the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as its territory, and was trying desperately to get Russia off its back once and for all. If it could gain the support from the west through strategic energy initiatives (like the famous pipe line that the Kurdish rebels like to destroy) and gain NATO membership, it believed it could be untouchable by Russia, which has dominated Georgia for centuries.

A few years ago, Russia started the campaign to annoy Georgia as much as it could without being overtly hostile. At some point, this strategy must have become tied together in the minds of the Russian leaders with their strife to regain Russia’s standing in the world. At some point, the strategy of making an example of Georgia became the strategy of killing four or five birds with one stone. The practice of invading a foreign country by claiming to protect your own citizens who live in that country, is a practice that has been used by several countries in the past, including the United States, Great Britain and France. This is what Russia did after it had given out Russian passports to South Ossetians. The legal grounds for this are rather loose, although they cannot be dismissed. Russia, it could be argued, had established a very thin, but nevertheless, legal ground for invasion.

The next step was to break out the two provinces from Georgia, which it did first by crushing the Georgian army. After that it decided to also weaken the Georgian army for the future by destroying many military installations. Then Russia moved to recognize Abkhazia as an independent nation, which was actually a very significant move. Russia did not like what Kosovo did when it declared independence, but decided to use this event to their favor instead. It does not matter that only a few countries have recognized Abkhazia, because now the country has a standing in the world, and could call for international help if Georgia were to invade it. As a result of all this, Abkhazia will definitely never again be a part of Georgia. Remember, there are many countries that have never recognized Israel as a country. Russia has created a legal ground for the existence of Abkhazia.

With respect to South Ossetia, I believe Russia will simply use brute force to dominate that region. There are Russian soldiers there now, and who’s going to kick them out? If the Ossetians continue to be friendly towards Russia, this region will also never again be a part of Georgia.

I believe that Russia definitely made its point with respect to new members of NATO. I can’t see any new Eastern European countries joining the organization in this climate. European countries also would never let them in right now for fear of angering Russia, so it’s a moot point anyway.

Conclusion: Russia won, Georgia lost. The U.S. lost some influence, and the EU gained some by being actively engaged in negotiations (although France, as the current leader of the EU, did not do such a great job).

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