Georgia/ Russia: Blame Merkel?


Edward Lucas, The Economist’s Central and Eastern European specialist, says the current unpleasantness in South Ossetia was made possible by a spineless West.

Our fatal mistake was made at the Nato summit in Bucharest in April, when Georgia’s attempt to get a clear path to membership of the alliance was rebuffed. Mr Saakashvili warned us then that Russia would take advantage of any display of Western weakness or indecision. And it has.

In this view, the villainess in the piece would be Angela Merkel, whose economic politics are centre-right but whose foreign policy often diverges sharply from that of her Anglosphere colleagues. She said at the NATO summit in May that countries “entangled in regional conflicts” mustn’t become NATO members, and she stared down advocates of quick NATO membership for Georgia, including George W. Bush and Stephen Harper.

I should say that my own hunch, and that’s about all it is, is that a quick road map to NATO would not have staved off this week’s sudden and murderous confrontation. It could be NATO’s quick encirclement of Russia that has made Putin and his putative boss Medvedev more skittish. Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

It’s certainly true the Saakashvili regime in Georgia is ardently pro-West, eager to please the Bush White House even as it flies the flag of a European Union it cannot hope to join anytime soon. Did those ties speed Putin’s hand? Or did Western weakness and inattention leave Georgia out to twist in the wind? Or was war simply inevitable? That’ll be one of the debates of the week ahead.


Georgia/ Russia: Blame Merkel?

  1. Russia is a ruthless aggressor. It is none of its business whether Georgia flies European flag (note that its not Just the EU flag)or wants to join NATO. They have the right to do whatever they want with their policy and future, let alone the fact that 77% were in favor of joining NATO on the referendum.

    It is not understandable when Russia mentions those countries as its “backyard”. The term itself is outrageous.

  2. Outrageous like the Munroeski Doctrine.

  3. I wonder if folks are as outraged by Russia’s blanket bombing of civilian centres as by the U.S.’s fare more targeted but inevitably murderous bombing of Baghdad? To say nothing of Israel’s strikes in Lebanon. In 33 days, the Israelis killed possibly 1,000 Lebanese (and that attacking only outposts from whence Hezbolla was launching missiles).
    The Russians achieved that civilian death count in a day.
    Where are the street marches in Montreal?
    Where are the Liberal MPs?

  4. Do a find and replace on the Russian justification for their intervention in Georgia and it could be Germany talking about the Sudetenland in 1938.

    NATO has absconded its authority on this issue.

  5. NATO has absconded [sic] its authority? What authority? NATO has an obligation to defend member states. Georgia – not a member state.

    Let us examine this from a Russian point of view. The US wants missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland, they have already added the Baltics, they are talking about adding Georgia.

    Perhaps this is a show of force to remind the rest of the world that Russia is not weak? Plus, Russia is going through an ultra nationalist phase. Plus, the West just supported unilateral seperation by Kosovo.

  6. I think the Russians, and many others, are believers in realpolitik while many foreign affairs people in the west are way more idealistic and we are having a clash here. Also, the high price of oil has enabled the KGB colonel to be rather bolshie.

    Would the West now be getting ready to go to war with Russia if Georgia was a part of NATO? I doubt it. I think the Russians would have carried out their course of action regardless of NATO membership and NATO countries would look ridiculous right now so maybe Merkel helped.

    What the Russians are doing, and how they are justifying it, is why ‘nationalism’ scares me and hope it never takes hold in North America.

  7. It would be insanity to allow Georgia, with its arms and training ($200M per year) from Israel and its hot-headed leader who has been getting training and arms from Israel and has been itching to aggravate the bear since he came into office, to join NATO. Thank Christ Merkel put the kibosh on the fast track app.

    Georgia is the one playing realpolitik here — Saakshavili took a calculated risk in launching the attack on Tskhinvali (and Russian peacekeepers there), hoping, in the face of the inevitable response from Russia, for a quick show of support from the West that would secure Georgia’s position in the bosom of NATO.

    Russia is responding with disproportionate force because a. it can, and b. it wants to send a message not just to Georgia but to the West that Russia is the major power in the region, and always will be. OF COURSE it feels encircled by NATO and it’s made no secret of the fact (in Russian-language media at least) that it is not happy about this.

    No one’s in the right here. And Chris B is right to bring up Kosovo…

  8. What the Russians are doing, and how they are justifying it, is why ‘nationalism’ scares me and hope it never takes hold in North America.

    Unintentionally(?) hilarious – have you ever visited that big country south of Montreal?

    It could be NATO’s quick encirclement of Russia that has made Putin and his putative boss Medvedev more skittish. Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

    I am no pro reporter, but everything I’ve read out of Georgia so far indicates that it was Georgia who took the initial steps to roll in to Tskhinvali on Aug 8. I am trying to be objective about this and not buy into Russian propaganda, but South Ossetians are, apparently, largely Russian citizens, or at least “have Russian passports”.

    Maybe there have been Ossetian antagonists that have helped incite the Georgia move, but now … it really just makes Georgia look bad. Geopolitically, anyway – all sides of course look bad after a few apartment complexes go up in flames.

    After 17 years of administering their own affairs, South Ossetia looks ready to go, and Georgia looks pretty much as land-grabby as they did in this 1991 TIME feature.

  9. I’m wondering, a bit idly it’s true, why the obvious comparison for South Ossetia is to Kosovo and not to, say, Chechnya.

    Mike G, thanks for the link to the Time article, which provides useful historical context. But am I the only one who reads it and doesn’t think it’s the Georgians who look land-grabby?

  10. Am I the only one who wonders at why anyone would want to continue funding an anachonism like NATO, never mind expanding it?

    Who benefits from this nonsense? A lot of bureaucrats living tax-free in Brussels at Canadian taxpayers expense? Dubious characters arranging teenage prostitutes for soldiers in “troubled” areas?

    We have enough problems of our own to deal with without taking on those of the rest of the world.

  11. Replace the bureaucrats in Brussels with arts groups, maybe?

    This is a point of information, not an attempt to settle the question Steve W raises, but NATO is hardly viewed as an anachronism by its recent joiners. I was stuck by how the presidential chancellery in Warsaw flies three flags in the courtyard in front: Poland’s national flag, the EU flag, and the NATO flag. Membership is seen, in a lot of post-Communist states, as a sovereign decision they made themselves, not one imposed by occupiers. The first such decision they were able to make in a very long time.

    Then a bunch of them decided to join the Iraq invasion and it’s all been terribly disilluioning. In another life that’s a book I could have written.

  12. Paul I think East European countries who were keen to join NATO were fighting the last war and not looking forward. I don’t believe NATO countries have the stomach to fight a huge war if the Russians park their tanks in Latvia or Romania.

    Mike G Funnily enough, I have heard of big country to our south. I also am not worried about being invaded by them so I’m not sure what your point is.

  13. Paul you’re probably right in being skeptical that NATO is no longer relevant. In fact, elites pilfering the public purse will probably never go out of style. I’m sure our new Eastern European allies aren’t nearly as cynical as I am.

  14. Well, how’s that for Manifest Destiny, 21st century style.
    USSR breaks up, messily, Confederation of Independant States (or whatever CIS stood for) being its last gasp. Georgia as a new country suffers separatism within its borders. Russia then issues PASSPORTS (!) to people in the breakaway territory, then justifies its military mucking about on the pretense of defending its passport holders. And they’ll get away with it, because militarily they can.
    If an expert in international law could clarify: Don’t countries have the right to use force to protect their integrity against separatist movements? Wouldn’t the legitimacy of that mandate only fall to horrors of ethnic cleansing, or economic starvation, or some other horror?
    I find it interesting that Georgian leadership is coming under some heat in these comments for exercising the leadership to reclaim territory a separatist state. I am certainly open to FACTS on international law, coming from those who might know them, but at the moment what I see is Russia the bully flexing its muscle because everybody else is too fearful to get involved.

  15. Paul, maybe this is the proof that Merkel was right afterall. In a way, what Saakashvili did is basically to take a gamble – he launched an offensive to recapture South Ossetia, counting on a confused/weak/restrained response from Russia. One can argue that trying to regain control over a part of your territory is a legal act under the international law. On the other hand, it might not have be the most responsible and wise course of action – especially given that the situation is by no means clear cut and there is a genuine adversity towards the Georgian control in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And i would argue that responsibility and restraint is required when you are part of NATO ..

  16. Misha was absolutely stupid.

    Presumably, if Sakartvelo was part of NATO we’d be at war with Russia now. You can thank Merkel.

    I feel a little happier now that most of our family has left.

  17. There may be much wailing in the western world about all this but I would guess it’s very popular within Russia.
    Russians generally view Georgians with fear and loathing.Georgia was seen as the Sicily of the USSR. Stalin was Georgian and the state security apparatus he set up was dominated by Georgians.
    The street-crime mafiyas were always viewed as Georgian organizations.
    Georgia was one of the first Soviet Republics to abandon the sinking USSR ship. Some Russians viewed it as a betrayal by Gorbachev’s foreign minister – a Georgian. And they feel Georgian independence was bought and paid for by a flood of funds from instant “NGO’s” that sprouted all over the republics in those times.
    Georgian internal politics is a jungle. Who knows why they were dumb enough to send troops into Ossetia? Did they think Putin was too busy watching the Olympics?
    US missile bases in Turkey and Poland matter but Russians just don’t like Georgians.

  18. the Time article […] am I the only one who reads it and doesn’t think it’s the Georgians who look land-grabby?

    I’m not defending the USSR or Russia supporting a separatist movement in another country, but I don’t think that support necessarily makes Georgia somehow innocent in all of this. … This isn’t “rah rah Russia”, I’m just trying to provide a variety of viewpoints.

    Don’t countries have the right to use force to protect their integrity against separatist movements?

    As far as I understand (not claiming to be an expert, just a guy posting comments to a blog) the question is open to a lot of argument and is nowhere near settled. The wikipedia article on self-determination actually has a lot of good information on the subject — but theory aside, the topic is of course incredibly acrimonious when it becomes important to a state, i.e., when a group is claiming the right to secede. All the philosophy books in the world don’t tend to help. You can really make a fairly compelling argument for either of territorial integrity or self-determination.

    Or, put another way… major powers do what they want, we figure out why later.

  19. I really think too many people are buying into the Russian propaganda of “peacekeepers” and “Russian citizens”. There are a number of “Russian citizens” in South Ossetia only because the Russians decided to issue passports to a bunch of South Ossetians. No one (not even Russia) recognizes the independence of South Ossetia. It’s Georgian territory. It’s like France issuing passports to Francophone Quebeckers and then filling the place with troops to protect “their citizens”. It’s pretty transparent, and yet people seem to be buying it.

    That said, let’s assume the Russians have a legitimate right to move in to South Ossetia to protect the South Ossetians (while it’s true we could just as easily be talking about Germany and the Sudetenland in 1938, we could also be talking about NATO and Kosovo in the 1990s, so it’s pretty complicated) what’s more disturbing to me is that Russia is not confining its activities to the disputed (though clearly, legally, GEORGIAN) lands of South Ossetia. They’re bombing all kinds of targets throughout Georgia proper. They’re sinking Georgian naval vessels. They’re blockading Georgian ports. It’s not impossible to conceive that if things get just a bit worse, Georgia might have much bigger problems then losing their dreams of joining NATO. Georgia could cease to exist at all.

    Let’s also not forget how Russia’s other closest neighbours feel about this (surely they’re more knowledgeable about all of this than we). Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have jointly called on the EU and NATO to oppose Russia’s “imperialist actions”. Sweden’s foreign Minister came right out with the Nazi comparison, saying of the “justification” of protecting “Russian citizens” wherever they may be, “Hitler used this very doctrine little more than half a century ago to undermine and attack substantial parts of central Europe”. And Ukraine is threatening to block any Russian ships who participate in the blockade of Georgia from returning to their bases in the Crimean (which they currently lease to the Russians for exactly until 2017 when the lease runs out, and not a minute more I might add).

    We may be a little confused as to who’s right and who’s wrong in all of this, but most people who are within driving distance of Russian tanks seem much less on the fence.

  20. Well, the U.S. has come right out and accused Russia of trying to topple the Georgian government, so that’s interesting.

  21. Hey, I just thought of something that could solve this mess and save lives! Why don’t we get the UN Security Council to condemn this aggression and, oh, never mind…

  22. We may be a little confused as to who’s right and who’s wrong in all of this, but most people who are within driving distance of Russian tanks seem much less on the fence.

    Just to be clear, I don’t think Russia is right here. I just don’t think Georgia is either. Though now that Russia’s ignored the ceasefire, any reservations I had about the right/wrong here are completely gone — Russia is clearly going way past any sort of rational response, and it’s bad news.

  23. Mike G,

    Point taken, and I certainly don’t think Georgia is “right” here either, for what it’s worth. Just less wrong. They should have seen this coming too.

    I have a feeling the reason Saakashvili is scrambling for a ceasefire now is that he believes reports that the Russians told Condi Rice that he needs to go. I don’t think Saakashvili ever thought the Russians would (or could) use this as an excuse to actually topple him, but I have a feeling that’s exactly what he thinks is happening now. Right now that makes him pull back. If the Russians keep pushing though, and Saakashvili starts to feel as though his back’s against the wall, what will he do?

    I fear this could still get worse.

  24. One really has to wonder about the rhetoric and what’s true and what’s not.

    Saakashvili claims the Georgians have shot down 18 or 19 Russian warplanes. 18 or 19!!! If even half that numbers true then a) Georgia’s more formidable then I might have thought, and b) I just don’t see the Russians deescalating any time soon if they’ve lost 10 or more planes (and presumably many crews) over this.

    Then again, if the really have 500 tanks and 25,000 troops in Georgia proper, then clearly they have intentions much wider than protecting S. Ossetia.

  25. I guess the bad guy depends on whether residents of the two invaded provinces want to be Georgians, Russians, or independant. It appears the damage to Georgia is about on par with Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon. If it gets much worse the Russian bear is to blame no matter what.
    Canada can’t be expected to do much in potential separatist situations, obviously.
    I’m sure glad Georgia isn’t part of NATO right now. By my understanding, NATO would have to attack Russia in response to this. NATO should stay away from confrontations with China, Russia and maybe India and Israel.
    If Georgia is NATO and NATO doesn’t attack Russia in response, that dissolves NATO.

  26. LaRouche Denounces `Obama’s Godfather’ George Soros Behind Attempt to Start World War III in the Caucasus

    Aug. 10, 2008 (EIRNS)–This release was issued on Aug. 9 by the Lyndon LaRouche Political Action Committee (LPAC).

    Lyndon LaRouche today denounced British agent George Soros, for his hand in the ongoing London-led efforts to trigger World War III in the Caucasus. Soros is the financial and political godfather of both Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and the purported Democratic Party Presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). In the late hours of Aug. 7, as President Saakashvili completed a nationwide television address, claiming to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis in the autonomous region of South Ossetia, he in fact ordered Georgian troops to fire on Russian peacekeepers, who were in South Ossetia as part of a United Nations mandated force, that has been there since 1994. President Saakashvili’s actions now threaten to trigger World War III—precisely what the British intend as their response to the collapse of their post-Bretton Woods international financial system.

  27. Saakashvili’s reckless provocations, in firing on Russian troops and killing South Ossetian civilians, who are predominantly Russian citizens, drew a strong military response from Russia, which is bound, under its constitution, to defend Russian citizens under attack. The British have been behind the destabilization of the Caucasus region since the collapse of the Soviet Union, funding and arming Chechen rebels, allowing recruitment into the Chechen separatist movements, at mosques in England, and providing safe haven to Russian Mafiya figures, like Boris Berezovsky, who bankrolled anti-Russian separatist and terrorist operations in the Caucasus.

  28. executive intelligence review

    Your Enemy Soros Was Behind Georgia `Democracy’ Revolution

    August 9, 2008 (EIRNS)—Following his service to his British masters in the Balkan wars of 1990-91, George Soros convened a series of training missions in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, that were to launch the “Rose Revolution,” the “Orange Revolution,” and the series of phony democracy insurgencies designed to undermine nation-states and create a “ring around Russia” for a future British-inspired confrontation. One of the key operations run by Soros, as indicated in the LPAC short, “LaRouche Denounces ‘Obama’s Godfather’ George Soros,” was to topple Georgia President Eduard Shevardnadze, and bring in Mikhail Saakashvili, the Colombia University-trained project of Soros’ “Open Society Institute.”

    From 1994 to 2004, Soros’ various projects and subprojects of the Open Society Institute, including the Central European Project (CEP) and the Open Society Georgia Fund (OSGF), spent at least $40 million to topple Shevardnaze.

    Early in 2003, Soros began a full operation to activate the “democracy” shock troops for the takeover of Georgia. The Canadian daily, Globe and Mail provided a vivid account in November 2003:

    “Dateline Tbilisi—It was back in February that billionaire financier George Soros began laying the brickwork for the toppling of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

    “That month, funds from his Open Society Institute sent a 31-year-old Tbilisi activist named Giga Bokeria to Serbia to meet with members of the Otpor (Resistance) movement and learn how they used street demonstrations to topple dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Then, in the summer, Mr. Soros’s foundation paid for a return trip to Georgia by Otpor activists, who ran three-day courses teaching more than 1,000 students how to stage a peaceful revolution.

    “Last weekend, the Liberty Institute that Mr. Bokeria helped found was instrumental in organizing the street protests that eventually forced Mr. Shevardnadze to sign his resignation papers. Mr. Bokeria says it was in Belgrade that he learned … how to make use of public pressure tactics that proved so persuasive on the streets of Tbilisi after this month’s tainted parliamentary election.”

    Georgia was not the only “colored” revolution whose Jacobin shock troops were trained by Soros. The play has been repeated in Ukraine and other former nations of the Soviet bloc.

    When Saakashvili came to power in 2004, it was the duo of billionaire Soros and the then UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown (now Lord Malloch Brown, Secretary General of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office) who provided multi-million dollar grants to every Saakashvili government official from the top Cabinet posts to the “lowliest police officer,” journalist Mark Almond reported on November 14, 2007. In the same article, posted on his own and many other websites, Almond noted that Saakashvili’s well-paid (at $1,000 per month, adjusted for the dollar collapse) police forces were the club-wielding enforcers of Saakashvili’s moves against the opposition in the 2007 Georgia elections.

    Merger of Soros and the Empah?
    Lord Mark Malloch Brown is not merely a Soros collaborator and New York house guest, who helped enhance Soros’ anti-nation- state warchest with United Nations monies—he is George Soros’ business partner.

    In April 2007, Malloch Brown was appointed vice-chairman of Soros’ hedge fund company, the Quantum Fund, from whence Soros’ billions come. The Financial Times reported that “Sir Mark [now Lord Malloch Brown] will also serve as vice-chairman of the billionaire philanthropist’s Open Society Institute, which promotes democracy and human rights, particularly in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.”

    The FT added in a May 1, 2007 article that, “In a letter to shareholders in his Quantum hedge funds, Mr Soros said Sir Mark would provide advice on a variety of issues to him and his two sons, who now run the company on a day-to-day basis. With his extensive international contacts, Malloch Brown will help create opportunities for [Soros Fund Management] and the fund around the world….”

    Now, Lord Malloch Brown is the Secretary General of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Has he formally left the Quantum Fund and Open Society Institute? As if it matters

  29. _I’m sure glad Georgia isn’t part of NATO right now. By my understanding, NATO would have to attack Russia in response to this. NATO should stay away from confrontations with China, Russia and maybe India and Israel._

    Phillip, where would you like to draw the line?
    Invading Georgia or other Eastern European neighbors would be ok for Russia because “NATO should stay away from confrontations” with it?
    There are a good number of countries in Europe (and NATO) with sizable amount of Russian citizens – what if Russia feels that its citizens are in danger in those countries and decides to invade them?
    Is one democratic country ok to invade or maybe two, three or more?

    I think we should put this in perspective and learn from history.

  30. madeyoulook:

    About the situation with how Russia issued passports to the Georgian citizens, apparently, they are pulling the same crap in the Ukraine. Dual citizenship is not allowed in the Ukraine and the minister there said for Russia to stop issuing Russian passports to Ukraine citizens. Ukraine is concerned they will have a problem like Georgia soon. They have good reason to be concerned. It sounds like Russia has been starting crap for a while. They certainly are po’ed about the missile defense deal that was signed today, which has been in the works for 1 1/2 years.

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