America is reaping the whirlwind after its policies in Kosovo and the Caucuses. In the quest of certain factions to reinstitute the certainties of the Cold War, we seem to have forgotten that Russia is rightly concerned more with its neighbors and Russian co-ethnics in neighboring states than we ever would be. Bush continued the Clinton policy of confronting Russia, supporting nationalist regimes on its borders, and generally disrespecting Russia’s right to have influence on its neighbors. Today Russia said, “Enough.”
It’s certainly not the case Russia’s motives in Georgia are pure. It’s hard to believe Russians care a heck of a lot about the non-Russian Ossetian people. But neither are Saakashvili’s motives so idealistic. He is a nationalist in the same mold as Putin or Medvedev. But, unlike the Russian leaders, he controls a weak nation. Further, he aims to enlist the US in its provocations, extending to his suicidal push to become a NATO nation. As Richard Spencer observes, treaties and military alliances have consequences. And the worst of all possible worlds is a series of provocations coupled with American bad faith when the natural consequences come around This is exactly what NATO expansion into the non-European Caucuses would mean. It’s unlikely America would go to bat for Poland or Lithuania. But Georgia? Let’s just say that Tblisi doesn’t exactly roll off the American tongue.
It’s time to stop the madness. Russia and Georgia are engaged in a petty border dispute of no consequence to the US. We have nothing in common with the people of Georgia or Chechnya or Dagestan or anywhere else in the region. It’s their problem. It’s appropriate Georgia is in the orbit of Russia. It is needlessly provocative for the US to forge such close ties to Georgia when it is run by a provocative leader willing to gamble on a major war. It’s bad enough to be in this position, but now we have the double problem of scaling back our commitment after having stupidly extended it. This unfortunately is the price we must bear for our own independence and our own safety. It’s a lesser price than continued conflict with Russia. There’s no reason to continue our present course and jump in the shark-infested waters having gone so far out on this plank.
Too many Americans, particularly conservatives, will fall into a Pavlovian response after seeing Russian tanks on the offensive. A friend suggested it was like Czechoslovakia in 1968. It is no such thing. It’s more like Kosovo in 1999 or, rather, 2008. No principled basis exists for Russia not to outright annex South Ossetia under the principles the U.S. has endorsed in Kosovo, i.e., allowing independence bids after brokered autonomy under multilateral peacekeepers becomes part of everyone’s general consciousness.
South Ossetia has been de facto independent since the early 1990s. It contains a cooperative force of Russian, Georgian, and Ossetian peacekeepers. An increasingly confident Georgia–not Russia–decided to initiate the provocative attack earlier this week that injured Russian peacekeepers. Georgia’s learning to its chagrin that Russia does not observe the suicidal principle of absolute proportionality in such matters.