Saturday, August 09, 2008

Ossetia: What Do We Do?

Why haven't I blogged about the Russian invasion of Ossetia? Because unlike some I wanted to read up on it before formulating a view. It's a place I have frankly never heard of, so I hope I can be forgiven for reminding you of Neville Chamberlain's famous quote about the Czechoslovak crisis...
A quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.
Isolationists (of whom I am not one) believe that since there is nothing we can directly do to intervene there is little point in getting involved. Appeasers take a similar view. One man who knows a lot about this area is LibDem blogger James Oates, who blogs at Cicero's Songs. He has some dire warnings.
This is the "Rhineland" moment. Should what now appears to be a long planned Russian aggression against Georgia go unpunished, then Russia will feel that it may proceed with impunity against any other of its neighbours. This includes states protected under the North Atlantic Alliance. In short, unless the West intervenes now, we could be facing an all out conflict situation before too long, as Russia continues to proceed with its wilfully reckless and dangerous defiance of all norms of civilised behaviour. Russia refuses to respond to British pressure on the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. It continues to sanction extra-judicial murder of any citizen of any country that it deems to be hostile to its interests. It willfully breaks all treaties that it undertakes, including the international law of the sea.

Russia is a rogue state. Although I fear, as Edward Lucas does in today's Times that the West will fail in this challenge, the fact is that Russia is a threat to global peace and stability. If we do fail now, the consequences later could be even more serious- and bring us to the brink of a global war.
In a post yesterday, James put the conflict into context...
Russia has attacked Georgia- not the other way round. This is simply the latest act from the Kremlin that defies international law. I have noted in the past the massive strategic significance of Georgia to the energy pipelines from Central Asia to the West, and while the West may be unclear about how important such a small country is, Russia has never forgotten and finds the Euro-Atlantic stance of the Tbilisi government intensely annoying.

However the fact is that Russia has simply gone too far. Moscow must be told that they have crossed the limits of international patience. The international community must now act to contain the Kremlin and stop the belief that it may continue to choose to act beyond Russia's borders with impunity

Incidentally, Mary Dejevsky has certainly crossed the limits of my patience this morning in the The Independent- the idea of Russian military weakness looks pretty stupid to the people of Poti who witnessed this mornings attack, and the civil servants in Tbilisi who have been asked to evacuate their ministry buildings. Dejevsky's latest parroting of the Kremlin line is frankly contemptible.
But the question remains: what do we do? With both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on their holidays the UK government hasn't exactly been at the forefront of giving an international lead beyond the usual remarks in these situations of calling for calm and dialogue. William Hague issued a statement this afternoon calling for both sides to negotiate
There is a very serious danger that these clashes could develop into a wider conflict between Russia and Georgia. It is vital for both countries to commit themselves to talks and cease fighting immediately.
All well and good, but how exactly do we - and the West - get the Russians to take any notice? The UN isn't likely to be able to get very far. The EU won't do anything, mainly because it won't want to jeopardise its energy links with Russia. The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier illustrates the point with this incredible quote today...
It is still unclear who is responsible for the new outbreak of violence.
I suspect he has been watching too much Russian TV. Helen Szamuely emphasises the failure of the international community in the run-up to this crisis on the Bruges Group blog today...
One wonders whether this could have been avoided by a greater display of courage by certain West European countries, such as Germany, France, Spain and the Benelux, who made it clear at the last NATO Summit that they were prepared to act on Russian instructions if it meant "standing up to America" and, of course, ensuring no break in that energy supply.

Come to think of it, where is the soft power of the EU? This war is unfolding reasonably close, yet neither the EU nor its member states, whose leaders are, of course, on holiday or in Beijing, seem to have any ideas beyond wringing their hands and pleading with all sides to be good little children and play nicely with each other.
She has a point about the last NATO summit, but like others neatly avoids the question of what do we do? EU Foreign Ministers are meeting on Monday to discuss the crisis and will no doubt issue a very worthy statement deploring aggression and calling on both sides to negotiate. But what is there to negotiate? Russia has invaded Georgian sovereign territory. Anything apart from a complete Russian withdrawal will be seen as rewarding the Russians for their military actions.

The long term consequences of this dispute could be fundamental, with Georgia being drawn even further into the US sphere of influence, thus irritating the Russians even further. The dispute will also enable us to examine further the power shift between Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev. It's interesting to note that it is Putin who has gone to Ossetia not the President.

This has been an unusually long post for me and I am sorry it is going to conclude with a question which I have asked several times so far, but failed to come up with answer.

What. Do. We. Do?


Anonymous said...

Reason for silence from our Politburo:

1. Brown doesnt know which side to support.

2. Milliband doesnt know where Georgia is!

Richard Nabavi said...

In the real world, the answer is brutally simple:


Anonymous said...

I am very glad to see that Russia is currently getting its backside kicked. But more generally this is a very worrying development and an indication that Russia (as for China) doesn't give a toss what the world thinks. As usual the UN is impotent - whither Ban Ki-moon?
PS. I visited Georgia, Armenia and Azerbajan in 1978 and I do know where it is!

Anonymous said...

What do we do? We are impotent in the face of NuLab Government policy in the UK. It is farcical to think we can do anything about Russian policy towards South Ossetia. (Random words like piss, wind, kiss, arse & goodbye spring to mind though.)

Ross said...

Soo the comment box is going to be deluged with Kremlin apologists claiming that Russia is responding to Western aggression and parroting Moscow's propaganda wholesale and ignoring their long standing aggression against several neighbours.

I doubt that there is anything Britain can do alone, the United States is the key. In the short term they should push for a ceasefire and perhaps surreptitiously give the Georgian's some anti aircraft weapons to encourage the Russians. In the medium term try to get both Obama and McCain to agree to put a military base in Georgia.

Anonymous said...

It seems Ossetians would prefer to be with the Russians.
Georgia should accept that and get on with more pressing matters, like improving the lot of its own people.
We should mind our own business and make a note: keep Georgia out of Nato.

Tapestry said...

Al Jazeera reports that Britain blocked a proposal at the UN that the situation in SO not be solved by force, yesterday - voting alongside the US.

Britain is merely mouthing EU policy, which amounts to standing shoulder to shoulder with America in the Caucasus in every way except the willingness to commit any troops to fighting.

Russia can smell weakness.

It was Kosovo which caused this as is mentioned on

Putin said that if Kosovo was wrested from Serbia, there can't be one rule for the EU and another for Russia. He's made it quite clear all along there could be military consequences to Kosovo.

Britain is locked into the EU which is so arrogant and unwilling to listen to anyone that war becomes inevitable.

What to do - quit the EU, accept that Russia is a powerful military country. Have clear borders which will be defended and let Russia have her sphere of influence beyond them.

Or be ready to fight a war.

Britain is not ready to fight a war so we should negotiate with Russia.

Russia was willing to cut a deal in February and settle that Kosovo was gone as long as NATO stopped making overtures to Ukraine and Georgia. Bush refused.

So Putin decided to use military force to show that he won't accept total humiliation. There is no surprise about this.

And it is clear enough what should be done - stop trying to push Russia around and settle with her.

It would have been better to have done so in February before Kosovo, but Bush was no doubt eying his record in the history books.

Now it will be much harder, but settle is still what we must do - and accept Russian power. There is no way we want a war to break out over SO or Kosovo. Bush and the EU have made this trouble.

As Bismark said, the Balkans are not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. Nor is the Caucasus.

We are being drawn into this mess by the folly of the EU in Kosovo and of George Bush backing NATO membership in the Caucasus riling Russia in the process. We've had enough of Iraq. Why are we allowing these morons to drag us into further trouble.

OK Putin is not lovely. Neither was Saddam Hussein, but do we need to go to war every time a political leader becomes a bit uppity. Containment is cheaper and more realistic.

Only if we are threatened should we seek war. Russia is not a threat to Britain. In fact she would be an ally in many potential confrontations around the globe where we do face real threats.

Catosays said...

Anonymous said...

It seems Ossetians would prefer to be with the Russians.
Georgia should accept that and get on with more pressing matters, like improving the lot of its own people.
We should mind our own business and make a note: keep Georgia out of Nato.


Anonymous said...

What it will highlight is the abject cowardice of the neocons (US and UK varieties) who advocate action against soft targets and choke when the aggressors/bullies can fight back. Nothing will happen.

Raedwald said...

We should do nothing.

If one supports the Georgians' right of self-determination in seceding from Russia, why not the right of the Ossetians to secede from Georgia? If you oppose the Ossetians right to secede, you must also support Russia's actions in preventing Chechen secession. There has to be a principle of moral equivalency here.

Given that Georgia launched an attack on South Ossetia that started all this flare-up, surely NATO should be asking whether we want such an unstable and immoderate nation as a member. Frankly, Tbilisi isn't worth the bones of a Mancunian bombardier.

And of course Russia doesn't actually support the principle of secessionism for Ossetia or anywhere else in its sphere; Putin is just making the point that extending NATO membership to nations far beyond the borders of Europe is fraught with peril.

And frankly, putting a pipeline through the Caucasus and then complaining it's in danger from nationalist unrest is a bit like putting a pipeline in Alaska and complaining about the cold. The Caucasus is a fruit cake of simmering ethnic tensions; the pipeline was at risk when the first section was laid.

A storm in a teacup. Next week it will have disappeared from the news agenda.

Chris said...

The only way to fully protect Georgia is bring them into NATO.
However this would never happen as it put NATO on a direct collision course with Russia.
An attack on one member is an attack on all.
This just proves how impotent NATO is.

Anonymous said...

It seems Ossetians would prefer to be with the Russians.
Most of them have Russian passports and as far as I know there is nothing to stop them going to live in Russia!

Anonymous said...

Georgia has made a serious miscalculation...

... they forgot the two golden rules

1. The Russians are hard b***ards.

2. There's lots of 'em.

Anonymous said...

Whilst accepting there is little we can do internationally, domestically on Monday, the government should conscript all the unemployed builders and immediately start to build some National power stations...nuclear and coal, and accept that to do nothing and leave our dependence on other nations' gas, is likely to destroy our current quality of life in less than a decade.

Anonymous said...

The energy pipelines in that region are key and it is very likely that separatists will bomb them to cut them off on the orders of the Kremlin whenever it wishes.

The thing that amazes, appalls and annoys me about Russia is that it seems determined to throw away the goodwill that the world had to it after the Berlin wall came down.
Politically, this seems mad. While energy and other commodity prices are riding high I suppose Russia feels empowered and its people are satisfied by the largesse of the state handouts but once commodity prices fall Russia will be poor again but unlike the period after the Berlin Wall came down no one will want to trust it or want to do business with it either.

One has to remember that Russia has no real history of democracy, property rights or civil rights. Might is right and that is how Russia sees its relationship with the rest of the world.

There is nothing we can immediatley do but contain Russia until commodity prices fall and its economy collapses and the country is on its knees - then and only then should we sit down to negotiate. Russia will only then understand who has the power and fall into line.

Arnie said...

We don't do anything. Like I said in February, on my blog, recognising Kosovo would cause this to happen.

The parallels between Kosovo and South Ossetia are staggering, so as we accepted Kosovo, we have to accept that the will of the South Ossetian people is to leave Georgia.

The international community should take a brave step and recognise the South Ossetian government.

Anonymous said...

When the USSR fell apart a lot of Russians who had been settled in the satellites were left somewhat high and dry. Where they were in a minority they were chased back to where they came from by the indigenous population, but where they were in a majority, they stayed put.

South Osettia is a pretty much a Russian conclave in what is now Georgia and is therefore seen as a vehicle for Russia, still smarting over the total failure of the USSR, to spread its wings to the annoyance of just about everyone else in Europe and the US.

The main oil and gas line from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean runs through Georgia, much to Russia's annoyance. They like to have control of things, especially on their borders, and they badly missed out on that opportunity.

Russia's 'government' comprises a collection of paranoid and systemically corrupt control freaks who are simply incapable of recognising that if they diverted all their efforts into doing something about the lamentable state of Russia, they wouldn't have the time or the need to do do much else. It badly needs some attention.

Considering that most Russians who can leave the place have done so and there doesn't seem to be much of an immigration problem, it must be a pretty naff place to be stuck.

What can we do? Not a lot, except to confine them to their rotten country, so far as is resonably practicable and have as little to do with them as possible. They are not nice people and we don't really need them in the long term.

Not a sheep said...

Never forget what this conflict is really about. It is about OIL. Putin couldn't allow the Georgian's pump their oil to Turkey and so to the West, he wants it all to go through Russian pipelines so he controls the supply to the West. It is odd that the "usual suspects" whined incessantly that the Iraq war was "all about oil" and yet now a country really has invaded another because of oil, they are silent.

Anonymous said...

Good analysis here by a blogger who understands and comments on Russian politics and culture:

Surely, as someone else has pointed out, if you believe in self-determination then South Oseieta as a recognisable geographical entity has every right to secede from Georgia. Similarly, Chechnya has the same right.

Anonymous said...

The EU and the US caused this by their encouragement of Kosovan independence. What is sauce for the goose, etc....

Anonymous said...

An unusually long post and one of even more than usual excellence.

Alas! Russia will be appeased by a spineless EU and a US contemplating its own electoral navel.

Anonymous said...

1) Reflect on the unwisdom of having pissed off The Bear by intruding in Yugoslavia.
2) Reflect on the unwisdom of tying up US (and UK) troops in a bloody silly war in Iraq.
3) Remember a cardinal rule of conservative politics: never march on Moscow.

Anonymous said...

Many of the Borders of the then Soviet Union republics were altered in Stalin's reign: often to include a sizeable Russian minority (ironic when Stalin was a Georgian) Those that were incorporated in the Russian Empire particulary in its colonial drive to the East in the mid 19th Century (See Flashman at the Charge by G M Fraser)often pre-dated the concept of international borders.

Rather like Africa where borders reflected colonial interests rather than people of a similar language or religion, near identical difficulties with minorities emerged. The pre-dissolution boundaries of the USSR republics should not be written in stone. It may well be that South Ossieta contains a majority of Sudenten Russians but they have rights and perhaps the UN can broker an honest plebiscite as to whether or not they wish to be part of Georgia, Russia or even independent of both.

If I were a Georgian, I would not want a large majority of ethnic Russians living on my boundary with Russia

Helen said...

Hard to tell what the Ossetians would prefer to do. Their idea of being independent may not have included being swallowed up by Russia, which appears to be their fate at the moment.

I accept your criticism Iain. Whatever had to be done should have been done some time ago - supporting an ally and making sure that there is supply of oil from the area to the West independent of Russia ought to have been top priority for all European countries but stuck in EU mode we no longer have foreign policy.

Then again, has it occurred to anyone that Russia (or, to be quite precise, its rulers) needs the West more than the other way round? Putin's continuing support and popularity rests entirely on the money that comes in for gas and oil. What will they do if we suspend importation and buy it from somewhere else? Drink the stuff? I think not.

Of course, we can just sit back and do nothing. Russia will then get bogged down in another war in the Caucasus and all that money will go on rather pointless and messy fighting in a terrain the Russians do not really like.

The third option is followed by the likes of Mary Dejevsky and a few self-satisfied commenters on this forum - support Russia because it is anti-American and, therefore, the proponent of the nation state. Georgia might beg to differ.

Oh and by the way, this mess long pre-dates the Kosovan crisis.

Anonymous said...

Hilariously, there's (presumably thanks to some "targeted ads" service) a "find your russian beauty today" banner on this page right now.

Anonymous said...

Gotta love those Flashman books! Shame there will be no more. I still disagree with a good deal of the political views and analysis provided by George Macdonald Fraser, but nevertheless his books are extraordinarily readable and educative. RIP GMF.

'What do we do?' The question should be 'what can we do?' Nothing. Europe's current self-imposed reliance on Russia for a good portion of its energy requirements is not as dire as it may seem. Trade is advantageous to both parties. The Russian's have, on a number of occasions, cut off supply but it is an empty threat; they need our money and cannot afford to generate the political will to use other sources, including for us in the UK our own enormous coal reserves.

Ralph Hancock said...

A naive question to which I have never seen an answer:

Suppose that, whatever we do, the situation becomes so bad that the Russians cut off energy supplies to us, or to all western Europe.

To what level does the cost of oil and gas have to rise before it becomes economic to make the stuff out of coal, as was done by South Africa and by Germany in the war, using the old Fischer-Tropsch process?

Nich Starling said...

I've just blogged on this issue.

We can do nothing because we ahve become hooked on Russia's gas, and this shows our utter stupidity.

DC said...

The Georgians miscalculated the strength of their position with the West (and the timing of the Olympics was iffy as well). There may well have been pressure from the Russians but it was the Georgians who initiated this fighting.

Kosovo may well have pre-dated the issues of SO but it was also a kick in the nuts for the Russian sphere of influence. Interference in a sovereign country's territory remains interference regardless of the ethics - Kosovo has changed many things for those wishing for self-determination - and also those who wish to stop it.

Sabretache said...

I suggest you and the more jingoistic of your commentators read this for a rather more balanced view of the Caucasus tinderbox and the role of the Western Alliance in precipitating the present crisis. Did we seriously think that - post-USSR - consistent Western triumphalist, hectoring, moralising behaviour toward Russia whilst abrogating the ABM Treaty, surrounding it with military bases - the biggest of them in that other secessionist 'State' Kosovo, plus a host of other demeaning actions - would not one day have consequences? We have effectively required Russia to accept defeated nation status as a condition of 'admitting it to the club' so-to-speak. OK when it had nothing we really needed perhaps but, with the world energy situation shaping up as it is, maybe - just maybe - rubbing Russia's nose in it was not such a good idea after all.

My biggest fear is that Georgia would not have done what it did to Tskhinvali on Thursday night (ie all but reduced it to rubble) thus guaranteeing a major Russian response, without the foreknowledge of the US. If that is so then, bearing in mind operation Brimstone ended 10 days ago with most of the warships involved now en-route to the Persian Gulf, Georgia may be a deliberately engineered preoccupation for Russia, with the Olympics similarly preoccupying China. In other words execution of whatever the US has planned for Iran occurs whilst the two countries most problematic to those plans are otherwise engaged.

I fervently hope I am wrong

Luis said...

The Georgians must be crazy. They launched an artillery and rocket attack on a town. The fact this was a rebel region is hardly justification. How can they not expect Russia to react ?

There is probably a lot more to this conflict than meets the eye.

Possibly a last throw of the dice for the Bush administration.

If they are very lucky they will give Russia a bloody nose. If not Russia may end up looking bad for crushing a small country in its predictable retaliation.

This is a US v Russia game. The one likely looser is Georgia.

Brtain in reality can contribute nothing.

Anonymous said...

Worrying development and no easy solution. Agree that the Oil pipeline is one of the underline causes. Georgia in the NATO? No, too much provocative. The EU and Bush should ask Georgia to cool down. Miliband is smarting from self-inflicted wound; poor guy, can't look after himself now!

Anonymous said...

1 -Throw Russia out of the G8

2 - Resign from the EU, for which this invasion is the most terrible slap in the face following its craven appeasement of Russia.

Reports from an observer in Moscow (on SKY I think) claimed that the Russian troops were suffering significant casualties.

This may be poppycock but Russia lies on one side of the Caucasus Mountains and Georgia on the other with few suitable roads in between. It will not be easy to develop and sustain operations for the Russians.

"you must also support Russia's actions in preventing Chechen secession". Georgia was once part of the Soviet Union - like Chechnya. So why should Chechnya still be part of what is now Russia? Remember Yugoslavia anyone?
But fundamentally this notion is correct. For as long as its internationally recognised that Chechnya is part of Russia then the Russians are entitled to use proportionate force to govern it.

Sabretache said...

Further to my earlier comment. Here is evidence that my fears of this being a prelude to military action against Iran are unfounded - I hope so. From the New York Times - Georgia Clash Provides a Lesson on the United States’ Need for Russia:

Referring to the now confirmed Georgian military withdrawal from Tskhinvali

"What the Russians just did is, for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, they have taken a decisive military action and imposed a military reality," said George Friedman, chief executive of Stratfor, a geopolitical analysis and intelligence company. "They've done it unilaterally, and all of the countries that have been looking to the West to intimidate the Russians are now forced into a position to consider what just happened......

Russia’s emerging aggressiveness is now also timed with America’s preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan, and the looming confrontation with Iran. These counterbalancing considerations mean that Moscow is in the driver’s seat, administration officials acknowledged.

“We’ve placed ourselves in a position that globally we don’t have the wherewithal to do anything,” Mr. Friedman of Stratfor said. “One would think under those circumstances, we’d shut up.”

One senior administration official, when told of that quote, laughed. “Well, maybe we’re learning to shut up now,” he said. He asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Anonymous said...

Georgia started this, which means that Nato started it, which means that the US started it.

So we can stop it. Like Lennon said, war is over, if we want it.

Cicero said...

Well, Thank You Iain for the plug. Concerning NATO, if I follow the logic of those who opposed Georgian membership, then we should not have allowed West Germany (ie Germany) to join the alliance until they had sorted out their "internal" problems with East Germany. Except of course that East germany was an international problem that came from Russian military occupation and a puppet government. Er.. that would be South Ossetia (Alania) and Abhazia then. The failure of the Bucharest summit has given the green light to Putin. What should the West do? Well firstly Ukraine gets a NATO invitation straight away. Secondly this dependence of Russian gas is a red herring: Russia is far more dependent on the West than we are on it. I think an OSCE peace keeping mission with full sanctions from all NATO and EU states should get the message through to Putin prety quickly: I also think that the FSB agents in London and elsewhere should be thrown out en masse.

Anonymous said...

Calm down everyone---Des Browne is taking action to resolve the crisis.
By boring Putin into submission perhaps"

Etienne du Clé said...

The view here from Moscow is interesting inasmuch as there is little jingoism from the Russians I know who are jaded by the Caucasus.

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-Karabach 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 (SO within Georgia, autonomous and 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.

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.

(Oh: I have been there and have even 'read widely' about it).

Anonymous said...

Georgia has no oil. Azerbaijan has all the oil offshore in the Caspian. Azerbaijan pumps its oil from Sangachal Terminal near Baku via Georgia and Turkey to the Mediterranean where it is shipped to the world's markets. This route was chosen because it avoids both Russia and Iran. Russia doesn't like this solution because it has no control over the supply, unless it takes over Georgia. Now you know...

Anonymous said...

I'm not one to resort to capital letter rants but James Oates is talking DANGEROUS RUBBISH!! This is not a Rhineland moment or any such nonsense. Iain has done well to refrain from blogging before reading up. The situation is very complex and delicate, as is much of the post-Soviet territorial settlement.

The Russians have acted under some provocation and can point to the precedents of Kosovo, Iraq and Lebanon in claiming legitimacy of their actions. The Georgians have played a reckless game, hoping that the West would back them. In reality, South Ossieta has been virtually a seperate state since the 1990s, with most of the population carrying Russian passports.

There was a Russian-sponsored motion before the UNSC last Thursday that may have prevented the deterioration of the situation, that was rebuffed by the US and UK (lapdogs). The priority must be to maintain an entirely neutral position and to broker a ceasefire as soon as possible. Backing the Georgians will turn this flashpoint into a full-blown crisis. We should look again at NATO expansion and where mutual and conflicting interests lie. It would be a disaster if Georgia had been a NATO member and had invoked Article 5. We must respect the principle of spheres of influence and demarcation and not give false hope to states which are - to be blunt - in an awkward position and need to make their own accommodations in the post-Cold War world.

If historical analogies are required, this is not 1936, this is August 1914.

Anonymous said...

the West wants independence for Kosovo from Serbia

yet opposes the wishes of russian people to belong to Russia

This war was started when Georgia attacked and killed 2,000 Russian FACT

David Lindsay said...

First and foremost, we should stay out of it.

Thank God that Georgia has not actually joined NATO, or we would already be at war with Russia. NATO should have been disbanded in 1991, when it ceased to have anything to do.

But instead, it has been extended to within a few hundred miles of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and it has gone about looking for conflicts from Kosovo to Afghanistan.

Let the realisation that we were one treaty signature away from World War Three, a global nuclear war, finally kill off NATO.

Georgia has withdrawn entirely from Iraq in order to fight this war. Perhaps Russia should invade the United Kingdom.

Odd how every microscopic entity in the Balkans that decides to declare itself independent is indulged, even to the point of military force, by the West, whereas those who seek to do the same thing in the Caucuses, objecting to the arbitrary borders imposed by Stalin rather than insisting on the arbitrary borders imposed by Tito, receives exactly the opposite response, possibly even to the point of military force.

If they will submit to the closely connected forces of European federalism, American hegemony and global capital, then even smack-smuggling, women-trafficking Wahhabi who wear black shirts in deference to their SS fathers and grandfathers can declare any bit of soil they like to be their state. But no one who will not so submit can expect anything other than scorn.

We need lots and lots of nuclear power. Then Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be of no more interest to us than Northern Ireland, the Basque Country or the deteriorating situation in Belgium is of any interest to the Georgians, the Abkhazians or the South Ossetians.

Anonymous said...

[i]Well, Thank You Iain for the plug. Concerning NATO, if I follow the logic of those who opposed Georgian membership, then we should not have allowed West Germany (ie Germany) to join the alliance until they had sorted out their "internal" problems with East Germany. Except of course that East germany was an international problem that came from Russian military occupation and a puppet government. Er.. that would be South Ossetia (Alania) and Abhazia then. The failure of the Bucharest summit has given the green light to Putin. What should the West do? Well firstly Ukraine gets a NATO invitation straight away. Secondly this dependence of Russian gas is a red herring: Russia is far more dependent on the West than we are on it. I think an OSCE peace keeping mission with full sanctions from all NATO and EU states should get the message through to Putin prety quickly: I also think that the FSB agents in London and elsewhere should be thrown out en masse.


This is no time for East/West brinkmanship and the analogy of NATO is woefully inaccurate. Two of the core reasons for the formation of NATO were the Berlin blockade in 1948/49 and the need for German manpower to resist a Soviet invasion (W Germany joined in 1955). The first Sec-Gen (Lord Ismay) claimed that NATO had been formed to "keep the Americans in, the Soviets out and the Germans down." NATO's remit (Article 5) was limited to Europe/N America.

There is no collective defence interest with Georgia.
There is no Soviet/Warsaw Pact threat of mass invasion (the original raison d'etre for NATO) and we should look carefully at future expansion. Like it or not, the Russian sphere of influence needs to be respected and we can't give states false reassurance that we will back them to the hilt when we will not - as, quite simply, we have no collective defence interest. I've served as a UK military officer (RAF) and worked with NATO staff including SHAPE, major exercises and conferences, and know a little about this. NATO should not fight unless the brown stuff really hits the fan, and should not fill a UN vacuum as it did in Kosovo and is doing in Afghanistan.

Anonymous said...

"Georgia should accept (it) and get on with more pressing matters, like improving the lot of its own people.
We should mind our own business and make a note: keep Georgia out of Nato."

There is a little poem:-

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out."

PastorMartin Niemöller

So what should we do? Short term there is nothing much we can do. Russia will annex part of Georgia. We cannot stop that. We must however immediately lose all illusions about Russia being a partner we can work with

Medium term we should bolster Georgia militarily as soon as we can. NATO is out as the French wont agree. The best route is probably to sell the Georgians arms to make it very expensive for the Russians to attack again.

We also need to accelerate energy independence by building up nuclear power as fast as we can.

We also need to recognize that the situation has now changed. THis means a defence review and additional funding to build up defence capability. We also need to work on NATO to try to get it to develop some spine and try to furtehr enhance links with the USA to bolster that alliance.

Diplomacy can carry on by all means ...but dont expect success. We are dealing with pirates who only respect strength.

Anonymous said...

Georgia broke away from USSR, so why can't Ossieta break away from them? Sadly, I've a feeling when my grandkids are asked to write an essay on how World War III started, the first paragraph would include the phrase, 'when Russia attacked Georgia in order to defend Ossieta, NATO felt obliged to respond on behalf of Georgia'.

Anonymous said...

Keep reading I think. Really there is no such place as Ossetia and certainly not 'Ossieta'. There is North Ossetia (in Russia) and South Ossetia. You might well disagree with Dejevsky, but she does at least know the complex background to this crisis.

Old BE said...

It would help if you were able to spell the name of the region in your blog post title.

M. Hristov said...

What a tiresome load of old claptrap from Mr Oates.

I do not want one penny of my money going to fighting Russia or supporting Georgia. That country which produced such humanitarians as Joseph Stalin and Laventi Beria.

I have an alternative solution for James Oates and all those stupid Daily Telegraph Russophobes. They can form an international brigade and go and fight in Georgia themselves. Then they will then learn the real meaning and cost of war.

Oates is obviously completely ignorant of the background to all this and I can hardly be bothered to tell him that Mr Gorbachev is not a hero in Russia, just as Mr Brown is not a hero in Glasgow East. Indeed, for much the same reason. Russians see Mr Gorbachev’s policies as having ushered in the disastrous Yeltsin years where Russian state wealth was transferred to a few oligarchs and male life expectancy fell to 53 years. Coincidentally, the same male life expectancy as in parts of Glasgow East. Except that 53 was the figure for the whole of Russia, not just a deep fried mars bar munching pocket of destitution.

We are living in a complete dream land over this issue and simply drifting into the same problems ourselves. What will happen if the English minority in an independent Scotland and an independent North Wales start facing discrimination? I am afraid that virulent nationalism invariably leads to such discrimination, because it is based on the supposed superiority of the nation to which the nationalist belongs and the consequent inferiority of other nations.

Previously British governments have had the luxury of doing precisely nothing for our nationals caught in such places as Zimbabwe. That course of inaction may not be so easy for an English government faced with a refugee crisis emanating from an independent Scotland and/or Wales.

We have had the pleasure of union for many years now and we have forgotten what happens when there is civil war. What war had the highest casualty rate per capita in British History? You probably think that it was the Great War (World War I) but it was, in fact, the English Civil War.

We have lost our overseas empire and had the luxury of “washing our hands” of our overseas settlers. It will not be so easy when we lose the home empire of England, Scotland and Wales, so painfully constructed from the reign of Edward 1st to that of Queen Anne. Then there may well be real trouble and we will start to understand what a dilemma Russia faces today.

Anonymous said...

Red Exile's analysis is head and shoulders above the analyses of other posters, including James "Rhineland moment" Oates.

The West is very much paying the price for our Russia strategy during the Yeltsin years and since.

And Saakashvili is paying the price for what appears to be an extraordinarily ill-advised gamble.

Victor, NW Kent said...

Imperial Russia is intent on reconquering all of the little states that broke away from the old USSR.

NATO cannot intervene and America has no vital interest to protect so will sit and watch as it did in 1956 and 1958.

Anonymous said...

What to do?

Warn little kids not to bully tiny kids who happen to have a big and strong kid as a best friend.

Anonymous said...

"This is the "Rhineland" moment."

No it's not.

Putin is right. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The Nato war criminals who invaded and dismembered Yugoslavia are in no position to be complaining about Russia. Especially as the current conflict was started by Georgia - what did they think Russia would do?

The only thing we should do is ask Russia not to kill any more people than necessary. Plus, start building the power stations that should have been started 10 years ago; and shoot the guilty people who didn't build them.

Anonymous said...

Iain, I notice you don't mention anything about what the South Ossetians want - which would seem to be independence from Georgia. We thought national self-determination for Kosovo was good, why not South Ossetia?

Iain Dale said...

A good point. I am all in favour of self determination, but there are ways to go about it and ways not to go about it. This was not the way to handle it.

Russia has effectively invaded a sovcereign nation, whose borders it recognised.

Anonymous said...

Please don't change the title of this post. Ossieta: What Do We Do? is brilliant. It sounds like something from the Onion, but it sums up a lot of Western foreign policy at the moment - 'we don't know anything about the situation, even how to spell your country, but we really feel we should do something'. Its interesting how weak the UK blogosphere is when it comes to foreign affairs - it has to be said the Americans do it better. t

neil craig said...

Iain quotes the German Foreign Minister as being insufficiently belligerent for saying

"It is still unclear who is responsible for the new outbreak of violence"

In fact there is no honest dispute as to who started it. The Georgian government announced a ceasefire. 2 hours later they attacked, shelling the town & killing 1,400 people (in a population of 70,000 that is proportionately more than we lost in WW2). It is obvious it was timed for the Olympics when Putin would be away, hoping they might catch the Russians flat footed. In ancient Greece wars stopped for the Olympics but we are more sophisticated.

What we see is a failed attempt to replay the Krajina Holocaust where an American organised attack by the Croatian (ex-)Nazis cleansed the 250,000 people of Krajina probably murdering half of them.

The same media which lied about the Croatians, Bosnian Moslems & KLA will doubtless support the Georgians now. They censored the way we helped the KLA in massacres, ethnic cleansing, child sex slavery & the disection of Serbs to sell their organs to our hospitals & are clearly not going to mention the Georgian atrocities either.

Anonymous said...

Point taken about South Ossetia. Lots of people in Britain couldn't find Sarajevo on a map or spell it in 1914, didn't prevent Britain from getting involved in the 1st world war though.

Ed Keohane said...

A combination of US funding and new-found confidence has led Georgia to 'fix' something that did not need fixing.

The rudimentary but effective Russian response shows that it hadn't considered that Georgia might go off-piste in this way.

We're getting wound up over the health of a pawn in a much larger game.

What do we do? Answer: nothing. ie stop the US funding the Georgian unionists. It was the US funding of the IRA that prolonged the troubles in Northern Ireland.

Better to keep an eye on the countdown to the strikes on Iran.

Anonymous said...

In reply to the anonymong above, a quote from Florence King:

‘When they came for the smokers I kept silent because I don't smoke.
When they came for the meat eaters I kept silent because I'm a vegetarian.
When they came for the gun owners I kept silent because I'm a pacifist.
When they came for the drivers I kept silent because I'm a bicyclist.
They never did come for me.
I'm still here because there's nobody left in the secret police except sissies with rickets.’

And to the red exile, who wrote:
'The West can do nothing. It holds no cards whatsoever at this poker table. It needs Russian oil and gas;'
The West holds one card called 'large sums of money'. It doesn't 'need' Russian oil and gas, it has plenty of resources of it's own to generate energy if the cost of Russian supplies becomes sufficient to generate the political will to overcome the dead-end of Green idiocy that currently holds.

Etienne du Clé said...

Re: Cookie

Your world-view would be enticing were it not (apologies for vulgarity) simply b*****s.

If you drag yourself away from the Comment pages of the UK newspapers a tad, and look at Raw Hard, global-flow-of-real-cash, you'll see that Russia is so bloatingly flush with convertible currency it can now 'self-finance' (and does, hence no banking 'credit crunch' here).

It *no longer needs* foreign investment. I see this in the Russian bond markets *daily*.

(irritatingly trite but important point: Russia taxes hydrocarbon extraction nearly nothing below $24/brl crude, but the higher the price above that, the bigger proportion the State takes: above $40/brl it's vast; above $100/brl it's inconceivably HUGE...

...even my most pro-liberal Russian-banker mates now admit "we no longer need western money, we scarcely know where to invest our own"... Read it and weep democrats.

That and two key relationships:

- China. China needs Russian oil desperately - and a *huge chunk*, the Sakhalin Island output (think North Sea Oil x 20, but newly coming through), is promised to it

- Japan - ah the 'silent ninja' - Russian Far East hydrocarbon supply also promised to them (PS: if you're interested to look, you'll see that whereas 'today-2020' hydrocarbon flow, flows West, pipeline-wise; after 2020 (theoretically to 2050), Russia plans for much of it to flow East.

Russia won't *cut off* the west: China and (yur m8) Japan & ASEAN will just out-bid you! The debate the west should be having isn't 'energy security', it's energy *affordability* for your children's adulthood.

...and *pampered* countries like the EU 'old' 15 are a way from understanding how, a generation from now, lighting, heating & 'lifestyle' energy consumption are going, radically, to cost so much more...

...just the way your grandparents said: "graduate..and buy a house", never understanding that housing *affordabilty* could go so completely crazy.

- Finally - where do you people *sustain this myth* that 'if we (western Europeans) buckle down, we won't need non-EU hydrocarbon supply'. It is laughable...

...Every 3-4 weeks I enjure a trip from home in Moscow to our Astana (Kazakhstan) office... and you know, there, the company most *desperate* to secure long-term energy sources?


If the Norwegians (a fjord floating on an oily gas bubble) are seriously thinking about tomorrow, then you can bet the UK ought to be as well.

PS: even at *these* Brent crude/Gas spot prices, "residual" (sic) North Sea Oil is looking pricey to extract. Ah, the Shakespearaean tragedy of it...

Unlike France, the UK has never priced in nuclear as a core retail electricity supplier (the French, BTW, have always wondered how the British have such *cheap* retail electricity prices).

Iain's readers (I have often imagined)- with their Provencal 2nd homes - may recall their recoil at their 'leccy bill each year... I know I do.

You'all can bitch at Russia as much as it makes you feel good. Globally the UK is a 'tadpole' customer which has *nil* economic leverage in this Great Game.

In the 21st C 'Battle for Energy', the UK is presently as much on the 'wrong side of history' as Soviet Communism, vis 'popular-demand', turned out to be in the 20th C.

And, yes, Iain, I know you'll call me an 'idiot' again...

David Lindsay said...

Mocked as a throwback to Holy Russia, we should have listened to Solzhenitsyn, not least when he opposed the break-up of what had been the Soviet Union.

As in Yugoslavia, and as putatively in Belgium (or Spain, or the United Kingdom), we are now seeing that, once begun, such a process need never end, with talk today of an enclave of ethnic Georgians inside Abkhazia declaring independence.

The pseudo-Left is fond of a wildly decontextualised quotation from George Galloway (not without his faults), in which he describes the end of the Soviet Union as the greatest tragedy of his life.

But he meant, not the end of Stalinism, but this. Solzhenitsyn was of the same mind. And they are both being proved right.

Whether in Yugoslavia or in the former Soviet Union, the monarchy should have been restored in the early 1990s. Both in Serbia and in Russia, it very well will be in the twenty-teens.

Meanwhile, God Save (as He very well might) The King of the Belgians. God Save The King of Spain. And God Save The Queen.

Anonymous said...

Iain Dale said...

"Russia has effectively invaded a sovcereign nation, whose borders it recognised."

The United States lost South Vietnam because they would not make any incursions into Laos or North Vietnam. Don't expect Russia to be so stupid.

'Invaded' perhaps, but that doesn't necessarily mean permanent occupation.

Anonymous said...

Interesting the number of people supporting new nuclear to spite the Russians. We face blackouts &desperately need new nuclear. We have for a decade & I have been saying so for nearly that long.

What a shame it is that many people are more easily stirred to do things to spite those they choose as enemies, for the Russians are certainly not choosing us as enemies or pushing for the independence of south Armagh, than simply to do better for themselves.

Anonymous said...

This guy seemed pretty sharp on the subject:

Anonymous said...

I noticed today that Russia is using Cluster bombs again... its not been reported but you can tell if you know where to look in the BBC footage... also I have been wondering what difference the Euro fighter would make on the battle site.. mu guess is that NATO wins in about ten minutes...

Jan said...

I can not belief the amount of media propaganda I see here.

I hope somepeople will wise up a little and really read what has been going on.

To put is simple:

1: Russian peacekeeping toops were stationed in Ossetia on request of the previous Georgian president. The one that was overthrown in the roses revolution. Those troops have been there for 14 years while talks were going on slowly.

2: The current Georgian president Just carpetbombed the capital city in Ossetia, destroying 90% of the city, killing the Russian troops there and about 2500 civillians and creating a huge refugee stream.

3: Russia reacts by protecting its troops and doing what it promised to do, which is protect Ossetia. Thus Russia moves into Georgia to overthrown its murderous government and get its mass murderer president removed.

4: Russia calls a UN security councill meeting to discuss terms. The US veto's the resolution that states that, among other peacefull options and the ceese fire, Georgia must acept the responsibility of their warcrimes against the capital city of Ossetia.

5: Russia responds in this war in the only way a war has to be conducted. Disable all enemies and move into the country to overthrow the current evil regime that is responsible for the monstrosities conducted against the peacefull nation of Ossetia.

Anonymous said...

And 6
Russia has stopped when they were winning. This was clealy not because of the armchair anti-Russians or of "what we did".

Compare & contrast with NATO's criminal 3 month war against Yugoslavia to assist the openly genocidal KLA.

I am confident that the Russians will not be encouraging the ethnic cleansing of 350,000 people, massacres such as the Dragodan killing of 210 civilians a few hundred yards from the British HQ, kidnapping thousands of schoolgirls off the streets to sell abroad or the dissection of 300-1,330 Serbian teens so that western hospitals could fill their organbanks, as we did.

I am also confident that if even a hint of such activity appeared our media would not censor it as they so obviously did with Kosovo.