Saturday, August 09, 2008

Deadly Chickens Return to Roost in The Caucases

With the outbreak of war in the Caucasuses Americans are experiencing a new onslaught of mis-information that will assure that no one has any sort of historically informed sense of what really is going on. A good example was the address to the American people by Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia that I happened to catch on CNN yesterday morning. There Saakashvili portrayed a small democratic nation being attacked with little regard for civilians, hospitals, small babies, and everything else that Americans hold dear, by Russians. And thus the Cold War is defrosted, warmed up, and served anew.
The American people may be forgiven for their usual state of historical amnesia but claims from the likes of Condeleeza Rice and George Bush of American impartiality and desire for peace should be viewed with suspicion to say the least.

F. William Engdahl provides an insightful look into the situation in an article written two weeks ago:

"The Caucasus Republic of Georgia as nations go does not appear to be a major global player. Yet Washington has invested huge sums and organized to put its own despot, Mikhail Saakashvili, in the Presidency in order to close a nuclear NATO iron ring around Russia. Now US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Tbilisi making sharp statements against Moscow for supporting the independent neighbor states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in essence blaming Moscow for an imminent war Washington has incited in order to bring Georgia into NATO by the December NATO Summit.

The Western media has either ignored the growing tensions in the strategic Caucasus region or has intimated, as suggested by Condoleeza Rice, that the entire conflict is being caused by Moscow’s silly support of "breakaway" republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In reality, a quite different chess game is being played in the region, one which has the potential to detonate a major escalation of tensions between Moscow and NATO.

Since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, one after another, former members as well as former states of the USSR have been coaxed and in many cases bribed with false promises by Washington into joining the counter organization, NATO.

Rather than initiate discussions after the 1991 dissolution of the Warsaw Pact about a systematic dissolution of NATO, Washington has systematically converted NATO into what can only be called the military vehicle of an American global imperial rule, linked by a network of military bases from Kosovo to Poland to Turkey to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 1999, former Warsaw Pact members Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic joined NATO. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia followed suit in March 2004. Now Washington is putting immense pressure on the EU members of NATO, especially Germany and France, that they vote in December to admit Georgia and Ukraine."

He further goes on to suggest that the U.S. has actively encouraged the Georgians in their nationalistic delusions and also connects the dots to Western policy in Kosovo:

"The Bush Administration is adding gasoline to the fire in the Caucasus. In Tbilisi on July 10 the US Secretary of State, Rice, told the press, "Russia needs to be a part of resolving the problem and solving the problem and not contributing to it. I have said it to the Russians publicly. I have said it privately."

The effect of her comments, blaming Moscow for the escalating tensions, is to signal US support for the Georgia side in their efforts to force Russian troops form South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

This past May Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh said he was willing to conclude a military treaty with Moscow similar to that between USA and Taiwan. "Abkhazia will propose to Russia the signing of a military treaty that would guarantee security to our republic," Bagapsh stated. "We are also prepared to host Russian military bases on our territory within the framework of this treaty. I would like to emphasize that this would not go against the precedents already existing in international practice. For instance, this treaty could be analogous to the treaty between the US and Taiwan."

Just as Moscow refuses to recognize the sovereignty of Kosovo, so Washington refuses to admit the sovereignty of Abkhazia. In May a senior US State Department delegation was in Abkhazia meeting with local Non Governmental Organizations there as well as the President. In the past, from Serbia to Georgia to Ukraine, Washington intelligence agencies have used various NGOs, the US Congress-financed National Endowment for Democracy, the CIA-linked Freedom House and Gene Sharp’s misleadingly-named Albert Einstein Institution to steer a wave of regime changes which became known as "Color Revolutions." In each case the new regime was pro-Washington and anti-Moscow as in the case of Saakashvili in Georgia and Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine. Both countries begin seeking NATO entry after the success of the US-financed Color Revolutions.

In all this Washington is definitely playing with potential nuclear fire by escalating pressure to push Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. The Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, Karl Schwarzenberg on July 8 signed an agreement allowing US deployment of special radar facilities on Czech soil as part of the top secret US "missile defense" it alleges is aimed at rogue missile threats from Iran. As even former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently pointed out, the Bush Administration’s categorical refusal to pursue the 2007 counter-offer of then-President Vladimir Putin to station US radar at the Russian leased reconnaissance facility in Azerbaijan instead, was a provocative mistake. It makes abundantly clear that Washington is aiming its military strategy at the dismantling of Russia as a potential adversary. That, as I have written previously, is a recipe for a possible nuclear war by mis-calculation. Rice’s latest Caucasus and Czech visit only added to that growing danger. "

Mark Almond at the Guardian describes some additional background to Saakashvili's calculations and likens him to General Galtieri of Argentina and the ill-fated Malvinas war:

"Unlike in eastern Europe, for instance, today in breakaway states such as South Ossetia or Abkhazia, Russian troops are popular. Vladimir Putin's picture is more widely displayed than that of the South Ossetian president, the former Soviet wrestling champion Eduard Kokoity. The Russians are seen as protectors against a repeat of ethnic cleansing by Georgians.

In 1992, the west backed Eduard Shevardnadze's attempts to reassert Georgia's control over these regions. The then Georgian president's war was a disaster for his nation. It left 300,000 or more refugees "cleansed" by the rebel regions, but for Ossetians and Abkhazians the brutal plundering of the Georgian troops is the most indelible memory.

Georgians have nursed their humiliation ever since. Although Mikheil Saakashvili has done little for the refugees since he came to power early in 2004 - apart from move them out of their hostels in central Tbilisi to make way for property development - he has spent 70% of the Georgian budget on his military. At the start of the week he decided to flex his muscles.

Devoted to achieving Nato entry for Georgia, Saakashvili has sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan - and so clearly felt he had American backing. The streets of the Georgian capital are plastered with posters of George W Bush alongside his Georgian protege. George W Bush avenue leads to Tbilisi airport. But he has ignored Kissinger's dictum: "Great powers don't commit suicide for their allies." Perhaps his neoconservative allies in Washington have forgotten it, too. Let's hope not.

Like Galtieri in 1982, Saakashvili faces a domestic economic crisis and public disillusionment. In the years since the so-called Rose revolution, the cronyism and poverty that characterised the Shevardnadze era have not gone away. Allegations of corruption and favouritism towards his mother's clan, together with claims of election fraud, led to mass demonstrations against Saakashvili last November. His ruthless security forces - trained, equipped and subsidised by the west - thrashed the protesters. Lashing out at the Georgians' common enemy in South Ossetia would certainly rally them around the president, at least in the short term."

He too illuminates American and European duplicity and the possible consequences:

"Western geopolitical commentators stick to cold war simplicities about Russia bullying plucky little Georgia. However, anyone familiar with the Caucasus knows that the state bleating about its victim status at the hands of a bigger neighbour can be just as nasty to its smaller subjects. Small nationalisms are rarely sweet-natured.

Worse still, western backing for "equip and train" programmes in Russia's backyard don't contribute to peace and stability if bombastic local leaders such as Saakashvili see them as a guarantee of support even in a crisis provoked by his own actions. He seems to have thought that the valuable oil pipeline passing through his territory, together with the Nato advisers intermingled with his troops, would prevent Russia reacting militarily to an incursion into South Ossetia. That calculation has proved disastrously wrong.

The question now is whether the conflict can be contained, or whether the west will be drawn in, raising the stakes to desperate levels. To date the west has operated radically different approaches to secession in the Balkans, where pro-western microstates get embassies, and the Caucasus, where the Caucasian boundaries drawn up by Stalin, are deemed sacrosanct.

In the Balkans, the west promoted the disintegration of multiethnic Yugoslavia, climaxing with their recognition of Kosovo's independence in February. If a mafia-dominated microstate like Montenegro can get western recognition, why shouldn't flawed, pro-Russian, unrecognised states aspire to independence, too?

Given its extraordinary ethnic complexity, Georgia is a post-Soviet Union in miniature. If westerners readily conceded non-Russian republics' right to secede from the USSR in 1991, what is the logic of insisting that non-Georgians must remain inside a microempire which happens to be pro-western?

Other people's nationalisms are like other people's love affairs, or, indeed, like dog fights. These are things wise people don't get involved in. A war in the Caucasus is never a straightforward moral crusade - but then, how many wars are?"

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