Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Russia, and a fresh fight for the anti-imperialists

Having lured Georgia’s foolish President into a little war he couldn’t afford, Russia are now playing Stage II of this great game and recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with its plucky 70,000 populace. ‘If you hate us’, Russia says (in effect) to the UN, the US and EU, ‘we’re glad, and we don’t care. What are you going to do about it?’ Well, I hear Bush is sending Vice-President Cheney to the region, so that will doubtless raise the tone of the debate…
You will have seen/heard that Russia currently does have some really angry is-anyone-listening?-type Western apologists, who didn’t like the Kosovo war of 1999 and didn’t think Milosevic was unusually despicable, and do think that NATO sewed dragon’s teeth with that military action. An FT leader makes what I think is a (perhaps ‘the’) salient distinction: “The Abkhaz and Ossetian populations have not been threatened with anything remotely approaching “ethnic cleansing” or “genocide” by the Georgians. If anything, the danger is in the other direction, with ethnic Georgians fleeing both regions to escape the Russians and the Russian-armed secessionists.”
As the FT suggests, this flawed and dishonest logic of Russia’s might yet bite her back or otherwise embarrass her, encoraging “the restive republics of the north Caucasus, such as Ingushetia and Dagestan, as well as Chechnya, to determine their own destiny.” As books by Bob Woodward and Alistair Campbell have shown us, it was over his attempted crushing of Chechnya that Putin really reached out to the Western powers, in search of common cause against what he called as an Islamic menace; then after 9/11 Putin shook his head, reckoned he’d told ‘em so, and decided to focus his efforts entirely on never having to seek common cause with anyone ever again. As Christopher Hitchens writes in Slate, “overt Russian imperialism is back, after a very short absence from the scene, and it is no more amiable or benign from the many toxic resentments it acquired during its period of decline and impotence and eclipse.” Any statesman who quite fancies being a hated pariah - would indeed wear such status like a crown - is a tough opponent to weather.

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