Georgia on my mind


Here are a few things that are not especially relevant in assessing the situation in Georgia today.

1) Whether the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, was reckless and provocative in attempting to retake control over the separatist-minded provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, given Russian sponsorship of both.

2) Whether the West humiliated Russia in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, specifically by recognizing the secession of Kosovo from Serbia earlier this year over Moscow’s objections.

3) Whether the Bush administration was unduly confrontational in proposing Georgia for membership in NATO at last spring’s Bucharest summit — or, for that matter, whether the Germans and French signalled weakness by opposing its entry.

4) Whether the United States and its allies are hypocrites for opposing Russia’s invasion of Georgia as behaviour incompatible with 21st century states, having bombed Serbia and invaded Iraq within the last decade.

These explanations of events, repeated in dozens of newspaper op-eds and magazine articles since the Russians invaded, may be true. Or they may be untrue. But what all of them overlook is one rather salient fact: Georgia is a sovereign, independent country. Whatever its internal disputes, whatever its external alliances, whatever the West’s strategic blunders or moral blinders, they do not justify Russian tanks rolling through the streets of Gori, Poti and other Georgian cities. One country, and one country alone, bears responsibility for this invasion. That country is Russia.

Sovereignty is not the only principle that matters, of course. It would be one thing if, as the Russians claim, the Georgians had been pursuing a genocidal war in the renegade provinces —indiscriminate slaughter, widespread atrocities — as Serbia had been, for example, in Kosovo. (Or, if you prefer, the Russians in Chechnya.) Foreign intervention might then be justified in humanitarian terms, as indeed would the secession, in international law. But there is no evidence of this. Human Rights Watch observers on the ground say they have seen no signs of war crimes on this scale; indeed, they are more worried that such wild tales could lead to reprisals against ethnic Georgians.

So this is not Kosovo, to deal with one facile comparison. Neither is it remotely comparable to Iraq. To name only a few of the more obvious discrepancies, the Saakashvili government has not invaded or attacked five of its neightbours; it has not started two major wars, or caused the death of millions of people; it has not hosted or sponsored nearly every major international terrorist group; it has not defied 17 resolutions of the Security Council, each one backed by the threat of force; it has not corrupted a United Nations sanctions regime, nor blocked its arms inspectors, nor bribed high officials in member states; it has not developed, or tried to, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, nor has it used them on its own or other countries’ citizens; it is not a bestial dictatorship, whose people would be only too happy to see it gone. It is, in fact, a popularly elected, pro-Western, democratic government: imperfect as democracies go, but a paragon by the standards of the region — certainly when compared to the Medvedev/Putin thugocracy that runs Russia.

So the real question is not, how dare the Bush administration raise a stink over Georgia after what they did in Iraq, but why are the critics of the American invasion of Iraq so willing to give a free pass to the Russians in Georgia? The Americans, it is true, failed to obtain that 18th Security Council resolution. The Russians didn’t even bother with one. (But then, they never do. Nor, in fact, has any other power — France, China, Britain, let us not speak of Germany and Japan — when it wanted to invade somewhere. The United States is the only country in history to ask the UN’s permission to go to war.) The Americans liberate Iraq from Saddam, and all around the world the streets are filled with protests. The Russians do their best to destabilize a popularly-elected government, and the only sound you hear is crickets.

BUT THEN, even that’s more or less beside the point. The most urgent question before us is not who to blame for Russia’s latest act of aggression, but how to prevent the next. For clearly the Russians had, and have, larger goals in mind here than merely defending the independence of South Ossetia. The notion that we should treat this as a one-off — that we should, as my Maclean’s colleague Paul Wells blithely suggests, cut Georgia adrift, or at any rate those parts of Georgia now occupied by Russia and its secessionist clients — is not one shared by, for example, the leaders of Ukraine, Poland, or the Baltic countries, all of whom hurried to Tbilisi to demonstrate their solidarity. They see their fates as intertwined with Georgia’s, because, they suspect, so does Russia. If its aim in the present engagement was to eliminate a troublesome democratic ruler on its doorstep, it’s been clear for some time that Russia finds any democratic neighbour troublesome: witness its attempts to tilt elections in Ukraine, its cyber-bombing of Estonia, its blackmail of western Europe with the threat of cutting off the supply of oil and gas through the pipelines it controls.

The public rationale for Russian intervention in Georgia, as the Russian Foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, emphasized repeatedly in an op-ed for the Financial Times, was the defence of Russian “citizens” there. He did not mention that they were citizens only by way of a concerted policy of adoption — over the last few years, Russian passports have been handed out in the breakaway regions like souvenir t-shirts. But if that’s the test, well, there are large numbers of Russian citizens in Ukraine and the Baltics, too. How long might it be before some similarly trumped up “crisis” spurs Russia to come to their aid?

Relax, says friend Wells. If Putin sends the tanks rolling into Warsaw or Riga, “fight him then.” But wouldn’t it be better if it didn’t come to that? Isn’t the point of collective defence to make it clear to any potential aggressor that force will be met with force — so clear as to prevent the initial use of force from ever arising? To be sure, the West failed to make its intentions clear in the present case, or perhaps made these all too clear when it balked at Georgia’s NATO bid. But having done so, do we, in effect, reward Putin for calling our bluff by giving him a free hand in Georgia? Or do we make it clear, albeit after the fact, that there will be consequences — if not sufficient to drive him out of Georgia, then at least to deter him from trying the same elsewhere? And if we are agreed on the latter course, is not the best and most direct way of making our point to admit both Georgia and Ukraine forthwith?

Make no mistake — Putin’s gambit was as much aimed at NATO as at anyone else. He doesn’t need to sense NATO’s weakness: it’s as plain as day. The alliance was just barely able to keep it together in the decades after the Second World War, when the issue was the defence of western Europe. But the further it has ventured beyond its original mandate, the shakier its collective resolve has become. (Read Gen. Lewis MacKenzie’s blistering recent piece in the Globe and Mail on the failure of our NATO partners to come to our aid in Afghanistan.) At a stroke, Putin has exploited NATO divisions over Georgia, exposed them, and — he hopes — exacerbated them.

Faced with this challenge, we have two options. We can abandon any expansion of NATO beyond its present membership, as Russia demands. Or we can press on, understanding that we have a stake in the survival and success of democracy in the East, and that if we cannot democratize Russia we can at least contain its influence. Friend Wells advises against admitting Georgia, or at least Georgia intact, on the grounds that it is involved in “a border dispute,” endorsing German chancellor Angela Merkel’s view that NATO should not be dragged into every one of the myriad ethnic boundary conflicts that pervade that part of the world.

But in fact there is no dispute over Georgia’s borders, or not with Russia: no country in the world, not even Russia, has formally recognized the breakaway states, governed as they are by a mix of Russian intelligence officers and local crime bosses. In any event, it is an odd thing for a German chancellor, of all people, to reject extending NATO’s defences to countries involved in border disputes. I seem to recall the former West Germany, though a member of NATO, spent more than four decades embroiled in a border dispute. It was called the Berlin Wall.


Georgia on my mind

  1. This is a well reasoned and well argued “column”. The question that arises then is – what now? Mr. Wells clearly states that we should do nothing, because we can do nothing (of significance).

    Cutting Georgia adrift is a policy dictated by the facts on the ground viz. Russian tanks IN Georgia. I think that going to war with Russia is quite clearly insane. Anything else, and we are into the realm of the symbolic. As long as Russia has oil and (more importantly) the natural gas that Western Europe needs, they cannot engage in economic measures. As near as I can figure, about 25% of all European natural gas comes from Russia.

    So we can tut-tut, we can try to use the UN (where Russia has a veto), we can fight, we can impose sanctions or what? True, nothing justifies Russia invading but Georgia should have been smarter. After all, it is a sovereign country and THEY above all will have to pay for the mistakes of their leaders.

  2. Utter Crap! whosoever wrote this article is the son of Satan.

  3. Why not just invite Russia into NATO? Then the whole problem goes away. After all, no NATO country would ever attack another.

  4. I’m with Wells on this. There is nothing useful to be done at this stage and we would be better off figuring out how to generate a more purposeful relationship with Russia. I do not see how getting the Ukraine into NATO will help that; it raises the stakes without strengthening our hand.

    As for strengthening democracy in eastern Europe, we could do that more efficiently with economic tools, for example opening up trade.

  5. What should Georgia have done to be smarter, Chris B? These provinces are part of Georgia so it has the right to quell any secessionist movement in them.

    The Ruasian claim about coming to the aid of ethnic Russians is nothing but a shabby pretext for invasion — the kind of thing Hitler did when he marched in the Sudetenland (a far-away country about which we know little — British PM Neville Chamberlain). Hitler used the same pretext (Poles abusing ethnic Germans) to justify his invasion of Poland but by then not even Chamberlain could find any more excuses for inaction.

    We have plenty of Chamberlains in the West so we will do nothing about the invasion of Georgia except huff and puff at the UN. Imperialist Putin and company will be emboldened by our feeble response to try it again — it is the pattern of history. Eventually we will have to stand up to the Russians. The only question is where.

  6. Daily Telegraph has a story now that says U.S.-Poland have rushed to sign a preliminary agreement they have been discussing for the past year:

    “Washington plans to site a silo of 10 interceptor missiles at the Brdy army base in northern Poland to accompany a radar installation in the Czech Republic. The radar station, probably to be sited at Gorsko, has already been agreed by Prague and is awaiting parliamentary ratification.”

    Russia invading Georgia seems to have caught everyone by surprise which is why I assume few proposals are being aired about how to respond to Russia without starting WW III. Surely the NATO-Russia Council will be disbanded, maybe go back to G7 and other measures hopefully will be implemented.

    The Russians know the Europeans are in no state to do anything about aggression. I think Russia supplies 30% of European oil needs and 50% of its natural gas, Germany exports $300 billion worth of goods to Russia annually and so on.

    Once again, it comes down to U.S. and what they are going to do. Can’t see them getting involved in Georgia if the Russians move out of Georgia, like they say they are, and stick to South Ossetia. However, I think they are going to beef up existing alliances within NATO. Maybe put more troops or weapon systems in vulnerable countries.

  7. “if we cannot democratize Russia we can at least contain its influence.

    Isn’t it a legitimate concern, considering the wealth of nuculear weapons the US and Russia have, ‘we’ the West, should be promoting a foreign policy that would stabilize the West’s relationship with Russia, not provoke it further?

  8. If I read Mr. Coyne correctly, he is proposing that Georgia and presumably other ex-USSR “border states” be admitted to NATO, in the name of containing expansionist, undeocratic Russia.

  9. JMD – Sure Georgia has a RIGHT to do what they did. I said as much in my post. I am saying that they weren’t very smart to go at it and give the Russians a “shabby pretext.” They should have anticipated the consequences. Obviously they did not or they guessed wrong or they were egged on by the White House or whatever… who cares… but they planned poorly.

  10. A few initial reactions; smarter people than me (including your friend Wells) will likely have more helpful things to add in due course.

    1) The comparisons to the War on Terror/Iraq are not entirely invalid inasmuch as, from the point of view of one who opposed the Iraq invasion on practical grounds, there are lessons to be drawn from that exercise with respect to the tendency of the West to cast these matters in White Hats versus Black Hats, when the reality is less comforting. I would submit, for example, that the elevation of Saakashvili to Havel-Mandela status for the purpose of assessing the dynamics of this conflict is premature. Wells has reported on the uncomfortable evolution of Georgian democracy in your pages. Suffice to say that Georgia today has fallen a few steps behind Ukraine. That doesn’t excuse Russia by any means, but it forces me, in light of the Iraq experience to exercise extreme caution when reading Saakashvili’s version of events on anything, including with respect to the humanitarian implications of the Georgian move to reassert its control over South Ossettia. Frankly it’s hard to know who to trust.

    2) I would suggest that the alleged humiliation of Russia is actually damn relevant, if not as a mitigating factor in assessing Russia’s culpability, than certainly in assessing NATO’s approach to the region since, say, 2005. We’re 4 years into the current oil boom which has so enriched – and emboldened – Russia. We’ve seen how Russia’s handled Chechnya and the pipeline dispute with Ukraine. It has been obvious for some time that Russia is prepared to use virtually all economic and military levers at its disposal to defend its interest in the region, and to hell with negotiation and consensus-building.

    Doesn’t that knowledge lend itself to some rather clear choices – such as, for the sake of argument, saying to Georgia, “You want into NATO? Fine. But you gotta settle with Russia over South Ossettia NOW, because it’s just not worth it to us.” Or, alternatively, how about recognizing Georgia immediately and forcing Russia to make a choice?

    Russia’s sense of humiliation should have informed NATO’s behaviour during 2004-2008. NATO’s behaviour during 2004-2008 has severely limited NATO’s – and Georgia’s – options going forward.

  11. The threat of collective defense has to be credible — or your bluff will be called.

    Credibly, how many Canadians want to die for Gori? Not me, and I’m of draftable age. Not Andrew either (though he’s an old man now). And I don’t want my friends in the Canadian Forces to sacrifice their lives for Georgian territorial integrity.

    Sorry Sakartvelians. But we do have a liberal immigration policy, and plenty of room for a hundred “little Georgias”.

  12. Russia’s deputy PM and former Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, was interviewed on BBC’s Hardtalk last night. (full video, etc)

    He argued, in his paced, methodical English (that I can’t help but associate with a KGB mastermind), that Russia recognizes sovereignty but not “territorial integrity”. If Georgia does not exercise sovereign control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, then how can there be any kind of concept of territorial integrity? There is a controlling entity of those provinces, and it is not the elected government of Georgia.

    While I realize Russia had larger aims, is there an argument against this? Do we have to merely accept that an “international consensus” delineates sovereign entities and everyone else must respect those lines even if they are meaningless in reality? Isn’t that sort of blind acceptance merely rubber-stamping the current system of nation-states without acknowledging the situations (ad-hoc governments, peaceful separatist movements, invasions and settlements, etc) that occur in practice?

    Ivanov seems to be simply arguing that territory is merely the area a sovereign controls de facto, rather than de jure. I think the international recognition of Kosovo is not out of line with this viewpoint.

    In any case, I completely agree with your assessment of NATO’s options. But there was no ongoing warfare in Germany with the Berlin Wall — it was merely there. Georgia was reckless, is it good to reward them with NATO membership and carte blanche to roll tanks in Russia’s face when they feel like it? Is it safe to admit a country that (basically) has an ongoing civil war? Just to stymie perceived Russian aggression — isn’t this just the old communism-containment argument? Is that valid anymore?

    I don’t have big answers, but there are a lot of questions. Thanks for writing a post on this.

  13. so what happens when Russia looks into its northern “near-abroad” and sees us?

  14. ‘If it’s Riga or Warsaw, fight them then…’

    I bet the Poles are asking “why does it have to be us again that’s the last straw, like 1939?”

  15. actually Mark, reading the threads across the blogosphere, I’d advise the Poles to consider themselves just another straw. Newfoundland, that looks like the final straw.

  16. I’m sure the Poles are happy I don’t actually set policy, Mark, but if the policy actually was “if Warsaw, fight then,” I also think most Poles would see that as a really excellent step up. German tanks rolled into Warsaw in 1939, Soviet in 1945, and there was no pushback from Poland’s allies.which helps explain why Warsaw has a statue to De Gaulle — a kindred spirit in resistance — and not to Churchill.

  17. Here are a few things not especially relevant in
    forming Andrew Coyne’s opinion on any
    development involving Russia:

    1) Whether the event was resulted from
    deliberate action by Russia or was precipitated
    by someone else.
    2) Whether the event has any historical precedents and parallels involving other countries.
    3) Whether the event took place recently or a
    thousand years ago.
    4) Whether the event was actual or dreamt up
    by Andrew himself.

    Here is the only thing relevant in forming
    Andrew Coyne’s opinion on any development
    involving Russia:

    1) Inbred russophobia of Andrew’s paymasters.

    Well, maybe also Andrew’s fondness for a good
    living he makes by pleasing his paymasters.

    Russia must be doing something right, if all
    those hate-filled cold worrior russophobes have
    their panties in such a bunch.

    Relevance of their impotent whining to actions
    of the Russian governmant fulfilling its primary
    role in defending Russia’s own national
    interests and improving wellbeing of Russian
    citizens – zero.

  18. Andrew firstly and formostly describes Georgia as an independant sovereign democracy. My first reaction to that was touched on by MikeG above: in what sense can Georgia be said to be sovereign over South Ossetia that is governed by thugs and Russian intelligence officers. When Trudeau said “just watch me” we wondered how far he would go. The expectation was, for most, as far it takes, but not too far. There are lengths to which a lberal democracy can be expected to go to excercise its’ sovereignty over an area. Open warfare, tanks and bombs, is not an option a democracy would choose to enforce its’ laws. So, to me, if the priciple is defending a democracy, Georgia fails the test.

  19. I think this was meant at least partially facetiously: “So what happens when Russia looks into its northern “near-abroad” and sees us?”. Nevertheless it gave me a bit of a chill.

    I hope our Rangers are keeping an eye out for Russian-accented dog sledders handing out passports to the Citizens of the North like candy.

  20. I don’t know about letting Georgia in quickly given the current circumstances (by which I mean both that I’m not certain its wise, AND I’m not certain it could be done regardless). However, I’d vote in favour of letting Ukraine in yesterday.

    Having the Russians annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia and at least threaten to take over Georgia is bad enough. A trumped up invasion of Crimea and threatening of Ukraine would be TRULY disastrous (Current countdown clock on that might not be until 2017, but who knows… I didn’t really expect to see the Russians invading a sovereign neighbour this decade either…).

    Which also makes me wonder. Do you suppose this week that Ukraine is regretting transferring their nukes back to Russia? I think maybe I’d be.

    I tend to take my cues on what the right position for the West is from the reactions of the people actually on the ground. The leaders of Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states rushing to Georgia to stand before crowds of thousands of cheering Georgians to show their solidarity with the Georgian people told me all I needed to know about who’s side we should be on, and how quickly we should demonstrate OUR solidarity.

    When on the one side you have Russia, and on the other you have “absolutely everyone who borders Russia”, to me, it’s a no-brainer.

  21. Lord Kitchener,

    I was being very serious. Not in the “tomorrow” sense, but in a decade or so. What happens?

    Our claims to the Arctic versus their desire for it?

  22. George Bush is an appeaser and has cut his ally, Georgia loose. It’s 3:00 AM and people are worried about Obama? Good Lord, the worst President in US history is still in charge and he has meade a mess of this.

  23. I agree with this column 100% and I think we as Canadians have every reason to be Russophobes. I also think its better to face up to aggression sooner rather than later.

  24. Friend Andrew, I don’t recall any G8 leader suggesting a military intervention against the US when it attacked Iraq – and I don’t think that’s what any of the protesters were asking their governments to do either. I also don’t hear a lot of people congratulating Russia for its good sense in sending troops into Ossetia/Georgia. I do however smell some straw from the men in your arguments about this.

    NATO was a deterrent to Soviet expansion into Western Europe, where the West had pretty significant interests. That made the deterrence credible. Extending NATO into areas currently in low-grade, murky border disputes in smaller countries would quickly undermine the credibility of NATO – because the alliance would immediately fail to intervene in at least one of these. So, your suggestion that NATO rush to expand even further seems likely to weaken the alliance (which I understand is already having some trouble what with the nobody sending troops to Afghanistan thing).

    It might be better to set out a roadmap for membership for Georgia that required it to resolve its disputes with its breakaway regions or set up a reasonable process for managing those disputes. We might want to make it clear that attacking Russian troops in the ground in those regions would not be “a reasonable process”, just to avoid future misunderstandings. We could also continue to condemn Russia for its disproportionate response. But let’s not pretend we’re about to rush to the military defence of Georgia.

  25. You know, I don’t know what the state of the cease fire (and more importantly WITHDRAWAL) is as of this moment, but listening to former U.S. Secretaries of State Eagleburger and Albright on the Newshour podcast from yesterday on the way home tonight, I’m not totally confident that the “If Warsaw’s next fight them then” argument can’t (and shouldn’t) still be “if Tbilisi’s next fight them then”.

    Neither former Secretary seemed entirely confident that Russia’s done, and they were both pretty bellicose in their statements. Both want to get NATO membership back on track fast, and let’s just say the word “sanctions” came up (though in response to a hypothetical).

    Anyway, here were two people who aren’t exactly lightweights, both seemingly convinced that this is intended as step one of a larger project for Russia. Eagleberger and Albright both certainly seemed worried about Russia’s potential neo-imperialist intentions (as we know are the leaders of Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic states) and that certainly has me worried too.

  26. In the Newshour discussion, neither Eagleburger or Albright seem all that bellicose. Eagleburger says we should draw up a list of sanctions, that probably won’t work, if the Russians annex Georgia (and he says there’s nothing we could do to stop them from doing that). As he and Albright point out, Europe needs energy exports from Russia so the threat of sanctions is pretty dubious.

    Albright says Condi Rice should go to Moscow and speak harshly to the Russians. Not exactly pistols at dawn. She goes as far as saying that the US should support Georgia joining NATO, “ultimately” (i.e. once Georgia has resolved the outstanding obstacles to its membership).

    Again, by all means, push back on Russia diplomatically but let’s hope McCain explains to Saakashvili when they next IM or whatever they’re doing that that’s the limit of Western support.

  27. Love the way you try to take Iraq off the table at the top only to turn up later trying to justify it.

    The same people who promoted the biggest foreign policy debacle of at least the last generation are the ones now pushing the hardest for Cold War Version 2.0. They got everything wrong then, including supposed facts. Why should we listen to them now?

    Incidentally, Russia did call an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council claiming to be seeking a peaceful solution before they went into Georgia. It remains possible that their intentions even then couldn’t be accepted at face value. It remains possible that yours can’t either.

    This is what we’ve come to.

  28. Of course Putin’s thumbing his nose at NATO. They abandoned their own charter the moment they accepted the UN mandate for Afghanistan instead of standing down and regrouping the willing to play save the world under a different banner.

  29. Pogge you are wrong. I love how the left are apologists for the most corrupt brutal governments in the world. To fully understand this you should speak to the journalists and opposition groups in Russia…wait, they don’t exist anymore. How long do you think you would last as a critic in Russia?

    Just admit it. Your side lost the Cold War!!

  30. This war is terrible. Not only the human cost, but the environment is being devastated and all you armchair generals can do is blather on like a bunch of hypocrites.

    Now one of the greatest mysteries of all time is on the verge of being solved, and this catastrophe could ruin everything.

    Read this link for a revealing account of the real TRUTH these superpowers are covering up with this war!

  31. A bit of a cheap shot bringing out WWII Germany and Japan in comparison to modern day USA, don’t you think?

  32. “indiscriminate slaughter, widespread atrocities — as Serbia had been, for example, in Kosovo.”

    Not this chestnut again– those evil, evil Serbs had it coming.

    Funny, but by 1999, the Serbs and the KLA– the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army, with links to Osama bin Laden– had been perpetrating atrocities against each other. Those claimed “mass graves” never turned up. The KLA attacked not only Kosovo Serbs (and burned down Eastern Orthodox churches), but brutalized Gypsies and even fellow Albanians. The KLA’s specialty, after all, is people smuggling, gun running and weapons smuggling. Hardly the basis for a viable state.

    The Kosovo war was the height of folly, and yes, Russia has every right to cite it. Recognition of it went against international law, and most countries in the world will never recognize it– including democracies, such as Brazil, New Zealand and India.

    We screwed up big time in Kosovo. It’s time to withdraw recognition for this nonviable, KLA-led narcostate, and invite in international peacekeepers as needed. In return, Russia must do the same for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

  33. *Advance apologies for the long URLs… I can’t seem to figure out how to turn words into hyperlinks in my comments, as some of the more adept commenters are able to.

    Andrew’s musings/comments about Kosovo reminded me of two Gwynne Dyer columns from a few months back.

    No, I don’t think the West was intentionally trying to humiliate Russia by recognizing Kosovo’s independance, although it was definitely a by-product. As Dyer states, although “a shabby, shady” move, it may have been the “least bad option” in a situation that was poorly thought out from the start.

    And yes, Andrew is quite right that this is NOT Kosovo, but here is why it matters.

    “If Russia one day recognises Abkhazia’s independence without Georgian consent and Security Council approval, it will mean that Moscow has finally lost its faith in international law and accepted that the world has reverted to jungle.” If that ever happened, I’m glad I live far, far away from Russia’s part of the jungle.

  34. Remind me,Terry86, why is that the Canadians have “every reason”
    to be Russophobes? Give me one. Oh, I know, is that because Kharlamov
    broke Bobby Clark’s leg in 1972? No, wait, it was the other way around.
    Must be some other reason then. Still wondering.

  35. I only read some of the comments so far, but my impression after reading the article was that Andrew Coyne seems to think Georgia is part of NATO.

    They are not, and nor should they be according to some like Angela Merkel. I think Paul Wells does a good job of making that distinction.

    If Russia attacked any NATO member there would have to be consequences, Georgia is not one, so there is no obligation to take action.

    I realize it isn’t that simple, but that it clearly a factor..

  36. Is post-Cold War NATO going to be a more or less explicitly anti-Russian alliance? Maybe it’s time for a real debate on what NATO is for.

  37. “Or we can press on, understanding that we have a stake in the survival and success of democracy in the East, and that if we cannot democratize Russia we can at least contain its influence.”

    We, we, we, we . . . Say, do you suppose people who actually live in some of these places might be capable of looking after — negotiating — what’s in their own best interest? I bet some of these local people know far more than we ever will about how to help them help themselves. For example, take a look at the history of the Georgia-Russia relations in relation to Ossetia:

    Russia’s interventions in the country have been going on for hundreds of years. Sometimes, indeed, at the request of the locals.

    Isn’t the best way to contain the influence of Russia to make democracy itself appealing to people around the world? I fear that to extent the West puts resources into military-industrial-complex sponsored containment schemes, the less inspiring our example will be.

    I think the best hope for the world is for the West to continue practice at home the virtues it preaches abroad.

  38. The most important question hasn’t been asked- what is the purpose of NATO. It seems to me that the Black Sea is awfully far away from the North Atlantic.

    Since NATO hasn’t been able to do much in Afghanistan why isn’t reasonable for the Russians to view it as an alliance against them?

  39. The real problem in Georgia is the Americans. They are trying to box in Russia from a number of locations including Georgia.They have now initialed an agreement with Poland to build missle sites with the pretext of worry over Iran. They have spent a few billoin $ in Georgia and the next step will be military aircraft and missles. The other problem are Moscos neighbors who keep waving the red flag by trying to join a usless Nato. Re Ukaraine, they wouldn’t pay the world price for energy and had it cut off because they want their cake and eat it too. I am not condoning what the Russians are doing but I can see why. It’s because of the American neocans, stupid

  40. Great incisive article from Andrew Coyne..and what display of ignorance from joe here! The whole world should be concern about the russian bear.They now have plenty of oil and gas to manipulate Europe with.This whole thing stems from the power of oil,and those needing it the most like the Germans will play the game of appeasement.Who can blame them really…it’s cold there in the winter:)!

  41. I have to agree with Mr Wells. There are little to no options of significance for dealing with the current situation ( not just the invasion of Georgia, but Russia flexing its muscles in the Near Abroad ) that would have any effect. Not letting them into the WTO, Kicking them out of the G8? UN Sanctions? Direct war with Russia?

    Well they aren’t in the WTO now so they wouldn’t be losing anything they already had, and if the G7 met up up and discussed the “Russian issue” without Russia present to complete the G8 during the meeting, then arguably, that might not be such a big deal losing membership either.UN Sanctions would be likely vetoed by Russia and China. Direct military engagement with Russia at this time is simply not an option.

    In the end its about fear and respect with Russia. The loss of respect in losing WTO/G8 status is deemed less important (by Russia) than the loss of respect in allowing the Near Abroad to join NATO. When faced with the loss of respect in either scenario, Russia will turn to its most time honored weapon: Fear.

    Allowing Russia to get away with this, and not being able to stop them are not the same thing. The US is beset with 2 protracted conflicts, a populace that’s tired of foreign wars and a troubled economy. NATO is strapped with getting force level commitments from its members other than the UK and the US. The UK/US duo are the only countries in NATO ( possibly Germany to some degree ) that possess the logistics to mobilize quickly. They are also the largest part of NATO’s “stick”.

    If they are not willing or unable to confront Russia, it is unlikely NATO would propose force as a response. Coupled with Russia’s UN veto ( and China’s most likely ) and Russia’s current position as a major energy provider for western Europe, its only logical that Georgia is considered an acceptable loss.

    Does that qualify as appeasement? For the short term it absolutely does. It will take time for NATO ( and more to the point , the US ) to redeploy in light of this new threat. Georgia is lost, there might still be time to prevent the same fate for Ukraine and others, but time is running out.

    In terms of the invasion of Gerogia, it was a masterstroke on the part of Russia. Everything to gain, little to lose and almost no response possible.

  42. Jotman asks “Say, do you suppose people who actually live in some of these places might be capable of looking after — negotiating — what’s in their own best interest?” To which I say, yes. Absolutely. And the people who actually live there seem to think it’s in their own best interest to get into NATO as quickly as possible, and to do as much as they can to get those of us in the West to agree to help protect them from Russia.

    You can look at these states bordering Russia and say that the U.S. is trying to “box in” Russia by encouraging them to rush to join NATO, but that’s not how I see it at all. I think these country’s are rushing to join NATO because they want to stay outside of Russia’s box.

    The U.S. may be supportive of Georgia joining NATO, but Georgia’s decision to try to join NATO was made by the democratically elected government of Georgia for reasons ENTIRELY of self interest. Georgia’s not interested in helping NATO surround Russia. Georgia’s interested in not being reabsorbed by Russia. Ukraine doesn’t want to join NATO because they think that will make Russia feel threatened by them. They want to join NATO so that THEY can feel less threatened by Russia.

    NATO’s not twisting the arms of these border states to get them into NATO as some conspiracy against the Russians. In fact, NATO’s not made it particularly easy for them to join the alliance. If NATO wanted to box in Russia, these countries would already be members. These countries are clamouring to get in to NATO, of their own accord, because they fear what the Russian’s might decide to do to them. And this month hasn’t exactly put their fears to rest.

  43. Here’s why you don’t hear as much of a great hue and cry over Russia invading Georgia as you did over the US invading Iraq. It’s quite simple, actually. We expect this sort of behavior from Russia. When we get it from the US, it’s a bit of a shock.

  44. I believe the world has responded, or at least the Polish and the Americans. The Polish signed an agreement to be part of an American missile defence system.

    The timing is not coincidental. It was a statement.

  45. It’d have to be a statement. Given that the american’s “missle defense system” can barely take out a rocket that they themselves fire on a trajectory that’s pre-plotted, it’s certainly not an indication of any real action.

  46. Given that the american’s “missle defense system” can barely take out a rocket that they themselves fire on a trajectory that’s pre-plotted, it’s certainly not an indication of any real action.

    Somebody ought to tell the Russians that eh?

  47. When I live in a democracy, I’ll worry about democracy elsewhere in the world. At this moment Stephen Harper’s Tories have 40% of the seats in parliament with only 36% of the vote. The opposition represents about 60% of the vote, yet Harper complains because this majority is doing what the opposition should do and actually criticizes his government! He goes so far as to obstruct the committees which, democratically, outnumber the Tories. The other 4% should be Green Party M.P.’s whose voters are not represented at all.

    As a citizen of a small country, I feel the world is a safer place when there is a balance of power. We have seen what happens when there is one superpower; the United States has been a worldwide bully in pursuit of oil since the fall of the Soviet Union. The rise of Russia is necessary.

  48. I dont usually post to this place but when stupidity stands up and speaks i feel the need to respond.

    The USA is not the evil bogeyman that leftists and idiots think. Putin’s Russia is the worlds biggest problem right now. There is a reason all the newly freed states are rushing to join nato.

    Its because Russia is and has always been dangerous.

    Putin is a thug and a bully using his oil and energy to rebuild a totalitarian state and re-conquer all of eastern europe and re-establish his empire over the stans.

    Poland certainly doesnt feel safe. And gee no wonder.

    The old soviet block states were conquered countries not Russian property. No surprise they dont want that to happen again.

    The previous commenter needs a good shot of Russian vodka and a dose of reality.

  49. Neville Chamberlain would have found much to agree with in Paul Wells’ article! Shame on you, Paul, for suggesting, in effect, that we should wait for the Ukraine to fall to Russia too before taking any action. Bullies will always run rampant unless someone stands up to them.

    Andrew Coyne is bang on in his analysis of this situation.

  50. Scott: Iraq has bankrupted the US. The military is overstretched and the country is insolvent. Canada and the UK aren’t in a position to help either. How does inviting Georgia into NATO fix anything? Putin would just laugh at the West wasting any more time and money on such an incompetent organization.

    The Russians can’t afford dragged on military confrontations either. They made their point with Georgia and pulled out immediately. They will probably continue this pattern with other countries.

    They are not interested in the economic basket cases of the former USSR, but they are interested in Poland, Latvia, Estonia and the Ukraine. They will aim for control rather than occupation. Most of these countries already have enough ethnic Russians to keep the locals in line.

    Putin is not Hitler, but he’s bad. Read the article Paul linked to yesterday.

    What should the West do? “NATO” has somehow become the answer to anything related to Russia, but the organization is as obsolete as the USSR. The EU needs to get its act together, but they’re paralyzed over Cyprus and Turkey. People who can agree on a military union but not an economic union might get what they deserve.

  51. Lord Kitchener’s Own:

    The U.S. may be supportive of Georgia joining NATO, but Georgia’s decision to try to join NATO was made by the democratically elected government of Georgia for reasons ENTIRELY of self interest.

    We can debate how democratic Georgia is, but with your main point here I would agree.

    Georgia’s not interested in helping NATO surround Russia. Georgia’s interested in not being reabsorbed by Russia.

    Georgia wants NATO help. But Georgians are perfectly capable of improving their own country, even without the benefit of NATO membership, even being given no choice but to “get along” with Russia. They are not pathetic victims.

    Ukraine doesn’t want to join NATO because they think that will make Russia feel threatened by them . . .

    In fact, most people in the Ukraine do not presently want to join NATO, according to recent polls:

    NATO’s not twisting the arms of these border states to get them into NATO as some conspiracy against the Russians. In fact, NATO’s not made it particularly easy for them to join the alliance.

    It depends by how you define “twisting the arms.” Does money count?

    If so, I would refer you to Section (3) of H.R. 987, The NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2007 passed by the US Senate in the Spring:

    (3) GEORGIA- Georgia is designated as eligible to receive assistance under the program established under section 203(a) of the NATO Participation Act of 1994, and shall be deemed to have been so designated pursuant to section 203(d)(1) of such Act.

    According to sources, US$10 million is authorized to be available on a grant basis for Georgia from the US taxpayer.

  52. How in the world is Georgia justified by sneak attacking an unarmed Ossetia in the middle of the night while citizens are sleeping?? What kind of cowardly thing is that?? I’m sorry to dissappoint everyone here, but Russia did not attack, nor fire upon any Georgian civilians. The clips that CNN and Fox News continuously spout on the airs of Gori buildings being bombed were actually footage from a journalist who filmed the bombing in shkinvali. He was appaulled to see his footage being used under a totally fraudulent news clip. Not one civilian building in Gori or Tiblisi was harmed nor were any civilians. All I hear are reporter after reporter spewing the same lies coming from CNN and Fox News. I now know where our Canadian reporters get their information!! After all, Saakashvili seems to be everyone’s sweetheart…oh, he could do no wrong, except kill over 2000 unarmed civilians in the middle of the night while their sleeping, running over women and children with their tanks and gunning down anyone who tries to flee their home. If Russia was so baaad, why were they the only ones to come to their rescue and why are they the one to fork up 400 million in aid to those who are injured and displaced as well as offer refuge to those who lost their homes??

    But of course, no mention of that in mainstream media. Nor is there mention of the fact that Georgia had Ossetia’s water cut off for a month prior to attacking it and the fact that the call for independence from Georgia resulted in a 99% vote for with a 95% turnout. I think these people have spoken pretty clearly about what they want.

    Nobody is arguing Georgia’s “territorial integrity and sovereignty”. What they are arguing is the obvious genocide against a people who obviously see things a little clearer when it comes to the U.S./Isreali sponsored regime running Georgia and who want no part of it. Tshinvali in the after math was littered with U.S. made war ammo and food rations. There’s no doubt who was behind the onslaught. Most likely to tie Russia up in a civil war that will keep them off the U.S. long enough for them to go in to Iran to do their thing.

    One thing is very clear, this was a war by Proxy against Russia and I don’t think Russia is stupid enough to not realize that. If Russia has a grudge against Nato/UN/U.S. over this cowardly act, they have every right to be. Considering as well the fact that now they want to implement missile defense systems next door, I think there’s more to this than meets the eye and people better wake up or we Canadians will be dragged right into another illegal war for oil just like the U.S. is doing in Iraq.

    What fools do the U.S. take us for??
    What fools do the media take us for??

    Open your eyes and see what’s going on!! Pure hogwash!!

  53. Here, here. People need to speak out about the poor quality of our media and the way they twist and warp the facts to support the agenda of a higher power. I too have seen these clips, and am sickened by the way the media has twisted them. Too often are we given false news from the western media, and for many differing events. Much of the news about China for instance is completely false and has been spun to the way they want us to believe it.

    If you believe the media, then you are a fool.

    Nobody is saying that Russian is a sweetheart, although, I can say if I had a choice, I’d choose Russia to be on my side over the US, much the same way I’d rather have someone give me money over a kick in the head.

    Remember that the day you stop learning, you die.

  54. I agree with everything Mr. Coyne has said with one exception. I’m not sold on the idea that South Ossetia and Abkhazia truly do want to remain part of Georgia. I would have liked to have seen this put to an internationally supervised vote. (That is also bearing in mind how democratic the vote would have been in light of the Russians attempted murder of the Ukranian president.) However, I think Georgia should have made at least a token effort in this direction. Both sides have a vested interest in these provinces and I’m not quite prepared to take Georgia’s word as to the conditions in these provinces any more than I am the Russian’s. This is an issue that should resonate with Canadians because it was we who proclaimed that if Quebec were to separate then regions who wished to remain Canadian should have the right leave Quebec.
    My second point is with the issue Mr. Coyne did not mention, and that is the installation of missiles in the former Soviet Bloc countries along Russia’s borders. The U.S. claims they are anti-missile weapons, but the changing of a few chips in the guidance system can make them offensive weapons. Let’s recall the response from the U.S. when Russia started to install weapons in Cuba. Russia and Cuba also claimed they were for anti-aircraft purposes only.
    As for the rest I couldn’t agree more. The Russia bear is once again stirring and Mr. Putin et al seem hell bent on restoring Russian hegemony over their former vassal states. While I may question the Georgian claims regarding South Ossetia and Abkhazia, there is no dispute when it comes to Poland, Ukraine, or the Baltic states. Russia is on the move and I am afraid much of Europe will pay a terrible price because, in light of the support the European nations are providing to NATO in Afghanistan, I fear they will pull a Neville Chamberlain and sacrifice their neighbours in an act of appeasement. I don’t see much resolve in the European countries when it comes to facing up to aggression and I believe they would rather knuckle under to Russian threats than to stand up and be counted.

  55. One reason NATO is showing signs of weakness is that they have no clear enemy that all members agree needs to be faced up to. Bush’s “war on terror” was never met with strong, unanimous support.

    Putin, however, is a different story. If he wanted to make NATO stronger, he couldn’t have picked a better strategy.