Georgia on my Mind
Probably the most interesting event on the international stage while I was away in Inner Mongolia was the brief war between Russia and Georgia, which of course resulted in a clear military defeat for the latter. Since I didn’t have access to the blog at the height of the action, I thought I’d offer a few belated comments.
One seemingly common reaction to the war was captured perfectly by a few lines in a BBC article:
Young Georgians want to join the world of their contemporaries in the West… and they cannot quite believe they have been caught up in something as old-fashioned as a war with Russia.
Until very recently, many Canadians would probably have agreed that worries about Russian aggression were old-fashioned. Right-thinking westerners in the 21st century, after all, are supposed to be concerned about Islamic militancy, the belligerence of Iran, and perhaps the growing military clout of China. But Russia? That’s, like, so 1980s.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, it became fashionable to regard Russia as a spent force, a harmless if sometimes unruly bear that would become a tame member of the international community given a few years and a bit of guidance. Russia was badly weakened at the time, and NATO countries could virtually ignore Russia’s interests even in eastern Europe. Bombs fell on Russia’s ally Serbia, the United States established a close relationship with Georgia, and the EU and NATO expanded relentlessly eastwards in a sort of Eurocrat version of Manifest Destiny. An eventual counterreaction was inevitable.
Russia’s ferocity against Georgia may have had something to do with protecting the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgian domination, or with threatening the viability of Georgia’s new oil pipeline. But surely the primary motivations were to demonstrate the strength of Russia’s military, to punish a neighbour that was getting too close to America, and to send a clear message that Russia’s claims to a sphere of influence could no longer be ignored.
Canada and other western nations will have to decide carefully how to respond to this emphatic flexing of muscles. Should we urge our allies to impose punitive measures on Russia until its leaders come to a diplomatic understanding with the west, as Conrad Black argues with his usual eloquence? Or should we argue for a halt to western encroachment on Russia’s borders, in the hope of preventing further conflict?