Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Great, long, article on Russia and Georgia by Mark Ames of the eXile, who actually lived in Russia for over a decade.

South Ossetia: the war we don't know.

"While Russia and America see the conflict in abstract terms about spheres of influence and protecting allies, for Ossetians, who still recall the centuries of massacres Georgians committed against them, it is highly personal. They will still recall the Georgian massacres in the early 1920s, when Georgia was briefly independent, which exterminated up to 8 percent of the Ossetian population. In 1990, when Georgia was again moving towards independence, the ultranationalist leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia abolished Ossetia’s limited autonomy, leading to another Ossetian rebellion that was only quelled by a peace agreement signed by Georgia, Russia and the Ossetians. Gamsakhurdia was subsequently deposed, and Georgia’s ethnic chauvinism was shelved until the rise of current president Mikhail Saakashvili in 2003.

....

When he first rose to prominence, the American-educated Saakashvili was often referred to as “Georgia’s Vladimir Zhirinovsky”–the Russian ultranationalist firebrand who once promised to retake Alaska. Although Saakashvili was subsequently rebranded as a Euro-democrat, he promised to reunite Georgia and bring his separatist regions to heel, by force if necessary, whether the aggrieved ethnic groups liked it or not.

At the root of this conflict is a clash of two twentieth-century guiding principles in international relations. Georgia, backed by the West, is claiming its right as a sovereign nation to control the territory within its borders, a guiding principle since World War II. The Ossetians are claiming their right to self-determination, a guiding principle since World War I.

These two guiding concepts for international relations–national sovereignty and the right to self-determination–are locked in a zero-sum battle in Georgia. Sometimes, the West takes the side of national sovereignty, as it is in the current war; other times, it sides with self-determination and redrawing of national borders, such as with Kosovo.

In that 1999 war, the United States led a nearly three-month bombing campaign of Serbia in order to rescue a beleaguered minority, the Albanians, and carve out a new nation. Self-determination trumped national sovereignty, over the objections of Russia, China and numerous other countries.

Why, Russians and Ossetians (not to mention separatist Abkhazians in Georgia’s western region) ask, should the same principle not be applied to them?

The answer is clear: because we say so. That sort of logic, in an era of colossal American decline and simultaneous Russian resurgence, no longer works on the field."

No comments: