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5:01pm on Wednesday, 20th August, 2008:

On My Mind


I was on holiday when military engagement between Russia and Georgian occurred, so I missed all opening news on the subject except for the fact that it had occurred. Thus, I wasn't subject to the full BBC News treatment of the subject.

I think I must be missing something.

The way I understand it, Russia had troops stationed in a breakaway part of Georgia as part of a peace-keeping agreement. Georgia attacked it in force. Russia leapt to its defence, and smashed the Georgian army to smithereens. The West complained that Russia had been too heavy-handed.

Uh? What was Russia supposed to do? Give the Georgians a sporting chance?

The history of this part of the world is long and complex, having as it does a Balkans-like mix of multiple peoples living in overlapping territories. It was a governate of the Czars, and although it became independent for about 3 years following the Russian revolution, it was reabsorbed when the Communist armies arrived and turned it into a Soviet Republic . This would be bad enough, but Stalin (whose father was Ossetian and mother Georgian) took to moving large populations from one part of the USSR to another (eg. Siberia), and redrawing administrative boundaries. As a consequence, when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, half of Ossetia was within Russia's borders and half was within Georgia's. Also, the people living in Ossetia were a mixture of Ossetians, Russians, Georgians and other Transcaucasions,

The people of South Ossetia appear to want to be reunited with those of North Ossetia as part of the Russian Federation. Georgia doesn't want this to happen, although I'm not entirely sure why not; it may be for reasons of resources, or the country's structural integrity, or concerns about letting Russia get a foothold the other side of the Causasus mountain. I only have a hazy idea of the politics of the area, so am probably wildly wrong. Nevertheless, modulo all the issues about borders and multiple claims to the same land, it does seem to be fairly natural justice to allow the South Ossetians union with North Ossetia if that's what the people of both areas want. This is the kind of thing you'd expect liberal Western democracies to support, not to oppose.

If NATO countries had gone along with Russia's defence of South Ossetia, they wouldn't be in the pickle they're in at the moment: trying to pressure Russia into leaving the place, but having no leverage on them whatsoever. Russia wasn't even the aggressor! I'm sure that if the Dominican Republic decided to invade Puerto Rica, there wouldn't be much left of the Dominican Republic after America had hit it with a big stick. Compared with what Russia could have done to Georgia, the actual invasion seems almost measured.

As I said, I think I must have missed something here...

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).