Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The case for Appeasement

from the London Daily Telegraph, 17th August 2008

I love reading the Spectator, although I instantly recoil at almost all its judgments. A friend and colleague directed me towards an article which is online now (and I guess will be in the dead-tree version tomorrow).

It is a good article, although as you might expect from a Russophile – which is what westerners accuse me of being, to the bewildered amusement of my Russian staff – I do not share all the author’s conclusions. I do, though, agree with him on expansion of the UN Security Council (with rapid adoption of QMV and an abolition of the veto – yes, I know, it’ll never happen) and the replacement of G8 with G12 (plus India, China, Brazil and Turkey).

But to the theme of his article: Georgia. All of us, however near or far from the Russia-NATO debate, have had our own little moment of intellectual ferreting-about, trying to find le mot juste for the causation of ‘Russia’s Most Excellent South Ossetian Vacation’.

Understanding the ebb and flow of Caucasus politics is somewhat like trying to understand the Schleswig-Holstein Question; of which Lord Palmerston memorably said: “Only three people understood the Schleswig-Holstein Question. The first was Albert, the Prince consort and he is dead; the second is a German professor, and he is in an asylum: and the third was myself - and I have forgotten it

Georgia. South Ossetia. Really it is all the fault of that Woodrow Wilson chap. Possibly the biggest brain ever to occupy the Oval Office; and yet his two terms in office were blighted. He was the one who, during and in the aftermath of the First World War, got everyone so excited by the idea of Idealism in foreign policy. It has been torturing us ever since.

Indeed, for a long time one might have argued that the Wilsonian / ‘American’ school of foreign policy nicely contrasted with the Palmerstonian or ‘British’ view. Put it another way: what Lord Palmerston would have said was “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests": Georgia is not our ally and we have no interests there. Leave it to the Russians.

On the other hand, Palmerston was the ‘ultimate pre-emptionist’, not adverse to gunboat diplomacy, which is a sabre-rattle too far just now (and worryingly apropos GW Bush).

Self Determination as a key-determinant of national sovereignty – and the existence of a state that ought to be recognized - was a Wilsonian idea. He espoused it because, inter alia, he hated empires. His was that whole end-the Empires vibe that the USA later rammed down British and French throats after World War II – and thus flowered, as we swapped colonial power for US dollars – democracy and stability in Africa and Indochina…well, OK, not quite.

Today in international law, we tend to assume four things for a sovereign state to exist a (1) land; with (2) settled borders; (3) settled people and a form of (4) government. Sean has been writing very convincingly about the West’s turning a deaf ear to the Ossetian voice, and that that we only hear the view from Tbilisi.

On a Wilsonian view of the world, South Ossetia has a right to be treated as being capable of independence. The same line we used, of course, for Kosovo (actually the issue was more ragged over Kosovo than over South Ossetia). The Russians aren’t especially mad at us Westerners for our hypocrisy. Quite the contrary, I am sure they love rubbing our noses in our own ‘International Rule of Law’ shit.

Self-determination, however, is proving a most crappy touchstone for international affairs. We loved it for Kosovo; hate it for South Ossetia and scarcely know what to think about Transnistria or Nagorny-Karabakh; and run for cover if you mention Flanders; Basque or Chechnya.

It is time to ditch self-determination as a theory in international realpolitik. At best all you get are smaller and smaller countries scarcely able to govern themselves, who have no international voice and who are over-dependent on big states (the USA, Russia or the pseudo-state of the EU). It was self-determination which brought back to us the Georgian state (which was snuffed out by the Russians in 1801, but made virtually unsustainable by Persians from the Middles Ages onwards).

I don’t much care whether Georgia is free of Russia or not (there, I've come out, I've said it). I care even less about South Ossetia. But I think ‘Sovereign Montenegro’ a ridiculous idea; Kosovo toxically the more so and have no wish to see a new-born state called South Ossetia. Let the Russians have it! One sure way to take the pressure off of the Western Alliance is to give Russia all the rope it wants.

That said it sucks to be Belorussia or Ukraine. And I see that Minsk is getting it in the neck for having been just a little too reticent recently.

Should we care if Russia moves to take the Crimea? Why? We know that Russia knows it can’t reverse the lost Warsaw Pact countries’ membership of NATO so, therefore, where really is the self-interest in our trying to control events east of NATO, that pose no threat to NATO territory? Just because Appeasement failed in 1938 doesn’t mean this time it isn’t in our best long-term interests.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Dumb and Dumber?

Otherwise known as Georgia and Serbia.

Ah... poor Serbia. Always seemingly grabbing defeat from the jaws of whatever...

This piece on the Business New Europe wire caught my eye today:

Moscow accuses Serbia of supplying Georgia with arms
August 19, 2008

The Russian Ministry of Defence has accused Serbia of being one of the countries that has supplied arms to the Georgian military prior to the recent conflict in Ossetia, Serbian media reports. The Russian's say some of the weapons were made in Serbia's Zastava factory in the central Serbian town of Kragujevac, according to reports from the BBC. "I stated that it was a bad idea selling weapons to a country that was in conflict with Russia, our biggest ally," former Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic told the BBC, pointing out that the government (in which he had been foreign minister) had initially blocked the deal, and then approved it following a strike by workers at Zastava Weapons.

However, Zastava Weapons Director Rade Gromovic said Draskovic's claims are "groundless.""I don't know how our Kalashnikovs got to Georgia. Maybe Georgia got them from Croatia or Bosnia, whose territorial defenses, during the former Yugoslavia, possessed such weapons. Zastava Weapons and the Serbian state cannot however tell former Yugoslav republics, which have long been independent states, what to do with their military surpluses," said Gromovic.

There is almost a mathmatically circular brilliance to how screwy that is, don't you think?

South Ossetia is Kosovo; Georgia is Serbia. Serbia is friendless other than Russia so, natch, Serbia 'accidentally' arms its only friend's most troublesome enemy. LOL

Thursday, 14 August 2008

In search of truth and balance

Posted elsewhere by Exile:

Something about August (western newsrooms, which have anyway been cutting editorial budgets, being lightly staffed); the distraction of the Olympics and a misplaced admiration for being 'democratically elected' did throw western media off its game. No doubt about it; in the first days of reporting the South Ossetian conflict zone.

The early coverage in the west was awful and biased. And Saakashvili's acting skills did bludgeon fair reason from western editors' minds.

But Russians should please remember the west's press *is* free and, like a plane in turbulence tends back towards the centre of its gravity and even flight, eventually western journalists' fondness for fact and accuracy, reverts back to (on a good day) journalistic balance.

The London Times today has two pieces, by significant UK writers, Russians should approve of: and the sublime Simon Sebag-Montefiore: The Russian point of view is being heard. And is respected.

If Moscow stops shouting, for a moment, about western media's bias, it might even hear its more reasonable, and increasingly Moscow-attuned, voice.

Russia has won the military battle. It can still even win the longer-run war for the respect from the west it reasonably deserves.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Why, on balance, I think Russia has acted broadly correctly

On Sunday, I wrote elsewhere (amid a spittle-storm of British Russophobia):

"The view here from Moscow is interesting inasmuch as there is little jingoism from the Russians I know who are jaded by the Caucasus [well, that was Sunday, by Monday morning, while I detected little jingoism, it was plain there was a massive wall of Russian outrage at the attack-on-civilians Georgia has - please let's remember this *fact* initiated last week, unprovoked. Prime Minister Putin - Blair to Medvedev's Queen of England - has tapped brilliantly into this. The guy *does do* domestic PR brilliantly well].

"The West can do nothing. It holds no cards whatsoever at this poker table. It needs Russian oil and gas; it needs Russian leverage over Iran and, indeed, the USA needs Russia's cash to buy US Treasury bonds: the recent Fredie Mac and Fannie Mae crisis revealed Russian sovereign funds were huge holders of their bonds and US Treasuries.

"The four 'frozen conflicts' (Abkhazia, Nagorny-Karabakh and of course South Ossetia; and Transnistria, on the Ukrainian border) may have been defrosted by Kosovo, that's true. There are now plenty of opportunities for Moscow to feed the EU, cold, its Kosovo solution back to them, frozen-conflict-by-frozen-conflict.

"VVP et al have hated Saakashvili for years and have long wanted to take him out; of all the colour-revolution leaders on Russia's borders, he was always too close to Washington. And Saakashvili has *had* to snuggle up close to Washington because he is not nearly as popular amongst Georgians as his suave English-speaking appearances on CNN might have you believe.

"Russia, I think, really *does* want a return to the status quo ante (South Ossetia within Georgia, completely autonomous and [but totally] under the Russian sphere of influence).

"It does *not* want to annex South Ossetia, with Russian North Ossetia. The Kremlin knows that unifying the Ossetian populations won't make them happy Russian citizens; just as much as the Southerners weren't happy to be Georgian. It would lead to an independence movement. [Seen Tuesday evening, I am not sure I think this is so clear-cut. Russia's stand for South Ossetians means, in the short term they would welcome Federation membership. But I still think my analysis holds true for the long term. In any case, a Georgia 'fractured', with territorial claims is, ipso facto permenantly disqualified from NATO membership]

"Russian took years to turn the tide in Chechnya and has no intention of creating a new headache with a 'Greater Ossetia' (not least because, next door, in Russian Ingushetia, there is chronic low-level successionist violence).

"The outcome will be like an Occupied West Bank of Jordan. South Ossetia will be out of Tbbilisi's control but with Russian never attempting to integrate it into Russia.

"The bigger prize, for Moscow (apart from sticking it to the West) will be the inevitable fall of Saakashvili; who made re-integration of South Ossetia into Georgia a key platform of his re-election campaign."

On Monday morning, to a UK political mate I replied (him asking what the pro-Russian 'line-to-take might be):
  1. Georgia fired the first shots by an ill-judged unilateral action to ‘grab back’ South Ossetia and, in the process, killed Russian peacekeepers there (big mistake)
  2. Russia responded to defend the ethnic Ossetian, civilian population and to rout Georgian aggression and seek a return to the status quo ante
  3. Russia’s continued actions today – now that Georgia has been defeated and lost what footholds it had in South Ossetia – are aimed primarily at degrading Georgia’s ability to re-group and once again attack ethnic Ossetian citizens (and are, therefore, not inconsistent with its peacekeeping mandate)
Which I think is how the Kremlin has more or less spun it.

Saakashvili has been a vainglorious fool of iconic proportions. He's done. The Russians don't need to despose him. The Georgians will do it for them.

What I have noticed in the last few days is the rampent one-sided, anti-Russian reporting of this conflict, most notably in the UK and US media (although today I see more balance coming in).

But was has been really depressing is the virulant anti-western sentiment now becomming firmly lodged in modern, bi-lingual, hip Russia. That, I think, is more worrying. If you have Facebook, check out this group which caught my eye because one of my staffers has joined it. If you don't, here are some choice quotes:

We hereby express our allegiance with the Georgian, Osetian and Ukrainian people - who have been forced into an unlikely alliance with the West via puppet governments aimed at destabilizing Russia's sphere of influence. Some of these governments, such as that of Georgia demonstrate blatant disregard for their national purpose and sense of belonging and choose to speak English to the World Body instead of native Georgian. Which beautifully demonstrates where their intentions and directions come from.

We hereby confirm our status as Citizens of the Russian Federation and acknowledge our power.We understand our worth to you as a market, and our worth to our country as its Citizens...We are Russians. We are the first generation to grow up without prejudices...

...Or we can be the first to show the world that Western pop culture is a front for indoctrination of the masses and that other cultures to exist, that the dollar is not the global currency - oil is, and that saying NO to the Anglo Saxon world is very possible.

...For if the worst comes to worse, in the battle for hearts and minds, we will win where you have always lost... Ourmasses mobilize themselves till the last drop of blood. Yours, have to be convinced, and will stop at the first.

...makes you want to weep doesn't it?