russia’s georgian play

10 Aug

I don’t suppose the Chinese could be more pissed off. Just when the eyes of the world were supposed to be focussed on Beijing, they’re diverted to Russia’s bloody spat with neighbours Georgia, over the destiny of the mountainous enclave of South Ossetia.

Today the combat widened to engulf another breakaway province, Abkhazia.

Russia’s decision was in reaction to an escalation by Georgian forces last week, who have long battled separatist guerillas. But the conflict is not simply Moscow protecting ethnic Ossetians, but a wider play that will achieve several objectives.

Few would doubt that Russia is back. Sky-high oil and gas prices have ensured that billions of dollars are flowing into Russia every month. This wealth has papered over the cracks in Russia’s crack-pot economy, allowing the state to dislocate itself from Western influence and chart a new, more confident course.

Recently Russia has flexed its muscles, intimidating smaller neighbours. Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, and other former Warsaw Bloc countries, have felt the brunt of Russian political and economic pressure. Europe, fractured by internal strife and reliant on Russian fuel, has been impotent in facing down this Russian aggression. Now Russia begins its latest calculated power-play.

Several points should be noted ::

– This escalation is a warning shot to the EU and America. America is planning to site nuclear weapons in former Soviet states in Eastern Europe. Moscow has warned that this will be considered an act of aggression. Attacking a pro-American ally will show that Russia isn’t afraid of confrontation.

– The invasion is a wider demonstration of Russia’s intention to regain former influence on the world stage.

– Russia has no interest in the recent stabilisation in oil prices (although an extended conflict will reduce Russian oil companies’ market value and put off investors – a calculation the Kremlin will have evaluated). The Caucasus’ are a corridor between East-Asian oil & gas and Europe. A corridor that circumvents Russia. This war may lead to a rise in oil prices, and maybe make the West reconsider its investments and its perceived energy security.

– American chiding has little weight. Yet again we can see the long-term damage the Bush doctrine has done to American moral authority. The Kremlin rather enjoys pointing out American hypocrisy.

– The Georgian president and long-term thorn in the Kremlin’s side, Mikheil Saakashvili, will lose political credibility and appear weak at home. Saakashvili has naively courted the West. Washington probably feels like a long way away at the moment.

– Other neighbours, thinking about getting cosy with Nato, the EU, and America, may think twice about cold-shouldering Moscow in future.

– The Russians never miss an opportunity to poke Beijing in the eye.

– Putin is furious at the West’s involvement in the Kosovan declaration of independence (Russia vehemently opposed its dislocation from Serbia). This is a shot back, via. one of the West’s closest allies.

– Ossetians want to be part of Russia. Russians consider Ossetians their own kin. Protecting South Ossetia and tackling the Georgians (who have long put down the Ossetians with brute force), will play very well with the Russian public.

– The Russian people can see that Vladimir Putin is still very-much the main man.

It really is a win-win situation for Moscow. It’s a war they simply can’t lose, and the strategic benefits are numerous. Globalisation, as it did at the turn of twentieth century, was always going to lead to huge power-plays by the big players. This was is no surprise, and neither is Russia’s adoption of C19th globally-minded power politics.


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