Thursday, August 14, 2008
- First, sources. Readers are invited to explore the Jamestown Foundation, an excellent source of information that I have used since my days in Ukraine. Vladimir Socor has been reporting from Tblisi, and has more than a decade of experience between JF and Radio Free Europe. He writes:
This war is not simply about Georgia; it is far more than a Russia-Georgia conflict. This conflict is about the creation of a �Unbrave New World,� parallel and alternative to the Western world. It would be a domain policed by KGB alumni, regulated by Russian state energy monopolies, and expanded by military force through the incorporation of non-Russian territories. If allowed to expand as it now does in Georgia, this domain will soon become the power base for a direct Russian challenge to Western values and interests.Readers should also be reading the South Ossetia page from Global Voices, a translation service that is providing us with lots of local reporting from Russians, Georgians (I have seen none explicitly noted as Ossetians) and with much blame to go around. Neither side has provided much protection for civilians, as Ukrainian reporter Ihor Lutsenko reports. There are links to Russian and other language sources for those of you who can read them. One for example is reporting that the casualty figures from Ossetia are largely from Russian sources and appear to be inflated, as one might suspect.
I have just discovered this week Ralph Halbig's blog, which appears to be an attempt at on-the-spot reporting as well, and have found it balanced. You will also want to read a recent report from Eurasia.net. (UPDATE: How could I forget Johnson's Russia List or Dominique Arel's Ukraine List?)
- It goes without saying at this point that neither Russia nor Georgia have bathed themselves in glory, but every war starts with a miscalculation. And the initiators more often lose than win. But the question Ed was raising, and the question I would raise with him, is what the West can do now, in particular what sovereignty means in a world where states have spun off of previous countries, with borders not drawn by any treaty. Georgia's boundaries were not the result of any Westphalian peace. They were drawn by Stalin. I need nothing more than to note that the mother of the Russian state is not Moscow but Kiev. (Not for nothing Kievan Rus.)
Georgian boundaries have always had some degree of fluctuation (and not coincidentally mostly in the Ossetian area) as kingdoms came through the middle ages, and the empires of Persia, the Ottomans, the tsars and finally the Soviets. Even in the brief two years of Georgian independence after WWI, the borders were constantly being fought over, with Russia, Armenia, and Turkey.
- As I said on the air with Ed, I think what the West has now is a wake-up call. The presidents of Latvia and Lithuania could have spoken in their own languages and brought translators; they spoke in English. (The common language there was Russian, a sign of the problem they share, and for that reason the language nobody dared use.) The history of the region is that smaller states seek protection from larger states when another large, predatory state comes up to their door and seeks to take over. Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union has been able to continue to extract resources from its Near Abroad but not have to pay many people for it (in the terms of Bueno de Mesquita et al., the selectorates in the Near Abroad countries are relatively small compared to the electorates, so paying bribes is easy.) Russia is a predatory state (in the sense Martin McGuire and Mancur Olson once described) that can slough off the provision of public goods to its prey states. I imagine some historian a few centuries from now will look at some of the more Russo-compliant states as vassals quite similar to those of the Middle Ages.
- The only strategy for the West to play, if it wants to engage and make good on Bush's promises from the Rose Revolution, is to offer the Near Abroad countries a better deal. Not NATO sometime soon, but now. Not EU later, but ASAP. It can even offer Russia some joint military exercises with NATO to calm nerves. But scared prey can only resist a predator by having the backing of another. Either that or they turn and fight as Georgia tried.