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The War in South Ossetia

Russia’s Geo-Political Position

The Russia of 2008 could not be further away from the dark, grim reality of Russia in 1998. The collapse of the Ruble, the record low oil price, the brisk movement of “the West’s” borders encroaching towards the borders of the former Soviet Union looks unstoppable. Russia was in a midst of an existential crisis, unsure of its status as a Western power, a Eurasian power, or whether or not it was even a power at all. From the depth’s of disappear also arises a means to rise from the ashes.

The appointment of Vladimir Putin in 1999 to the position of Prime Minister was possibility the best move that President Yeltsin ever made. Nineteen ninety-nine did bring about the end of the neoliberal, pro-western alignment in Moscow. The liberals were maligned by the inability of market reforms to jump start the economy, the brushing aside of Moscow’s objections to the use of force against Serbia, the terrorist attacks in Moscow by Chechen rebels, and finally the slowly rising oil price all enabled a strategic change in Moscow’s thinking.

What is not and what is being said in the Western mainstream media/analysis:

Mainstream media outlets in the West deride the rise of Russia as being the coming of the second Cold War, that Russia is the aggressor nation breaking the sacred bounds of international law. Russia after the invasion of Iraq made it clear that it would also preemptively attack nations that it considered threats to its national security. When George Bush said this in 2003 to the run-up to the war, it was lauded by the media as the only logical course of action in the post-9/11 world.

The war in Georgia was qualitatively different; Russia was defending its citizens in South Ossetia, citizens who voluntarily accepted Russian passports. Thus, Russia’s war justified on grounds more than sufficient because Russia is indeed defending its citizens in a foreign country. The Georgian’s started the war against South Ossetia, read Russia. It was not as if Saakashvili did not know that the citizens of South Ossetia were Russian, and even more egregious, that Russian military personnel were located as peacekeepers in the region. It was that negligence, if not criminality, that led to the invasion of Russian forces in to Georgia. Saakashvili even lacked the legal right to attack South Ossetia, as it went the 1992 peace agreement which set-up a buffer zone to protect the enclave from Georgian aggression.

The notion in the Western media, is that tiny democratic Georgia is being invaded by Russia, that’s the headline; within the footnote it says, due to a Georgian attack on South Ossetia. The reality is that Saakashvili’s Georgia is nominally democratic, with a record of flouting the rule of law, restricting the freedom of speech, the press, and questionable electioneering. However, since Saakashvili is unwaveringly pro-American, neoliberal, and actively supports the subversion of Russian interests in the Caspian/Caucausus region, these blights on Saakashvili’s democratic record are routinely overlooked by the mainstream Western press.

Some of the conservative commentators even go as far to defend Georgia’s action justified on the mere fact that it is a “democracy” and Russia is a tyranny. In reality, neither Russia nor Georgia are model liberal-democracies, but to explain away Georgia’s actions solely on its faux liberal democratic credentials is propaganda.

The Western media also makes the claim that Russia has lost the PR battle, that its already negative image has been compounded by its “neo-imperialist” act of aggression against Georgia. Russia’s actions may indeed have turned off some members of the Western community, but in many parts of the world, where American hegemony is consistently challenged, Russia’s actions are popular. Russia received its most vivid and unequivocal support from anti-hegemonic factions in the global south—Venezuela, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Belarus, etc.--indicating that Russia’s actions are realigning Russia’s position as a counter-hegemonic force.

Hypocrisy abounds:

Certainly, Russia is not without its own contradictions, it claims to care about the human rights and safety of its citizens from aggression. This obviously begs the question, Chechnya? There are some differences between South Ossetia and Chechnya legally and geopolitically, but Russian’s claims to protect the lives and property of its citizens “anywhere at any time” rings hollow with its own record within its own borders. Russia’s demand for the self-determination of the South Ossetians also rings hallow considering Russia’s own minorities who may also demand such a right that Moscow has denied them.

The United States is also highly hypocritical, and its hypocrisy has even been noted by the mainstream media; principally the hypocrisy stems from the administration giving Moscow a tongue-lashing for invading a “sovereign state” like Georgia, one need only point to Iraq to end that argument. The difference that is made, either implicitly or explicitedly, is that since Georgia is “democratic” its sovereignty is qualitatively different from autocratic Iraq. This argument degrades international law to an even more base level, by creating a legal apartheid, whereby state-rights are guaranteed by their adherence to certain, read American, standards of government and the free market.

Lessons Learned:

Russia may very well be recovering lost ground since 1991, the Russians now are increasing their links in the Middle East, principally Syria; Venezuela, where Chavez is actively campaigning for the basing of the Russian fleet; and even Cuba where overtures of a reestablishment of Russian bases has been growing. What is more important for Russia is that its influence in the CIS has grown exponentially. The lesson has been learned for any former Soviet state that seeks to undermine Russia’s geo-political position; Russia will be relentless in its perceived self-defense.

The other lesson is that the United States and NATO will not come to the defense of these nations in any real substantive way. No American will sacrifice Atlanta, GA. For Tbilisi, Georgia. This is a major strategic reverse for the United States, and its Eurasian strategy of encirclement and re-routing energy resources away from the Russian near-monopoly.

The other lesson that is being is not being learnt in the halls of Washington D.C. is that state-owned companies like Gazprom represent the new form of the state, the corporate state of the early twenty-first century. The interests of Gazprom are the interests of the Russian state and visa versa. While the United States decentralizes and privatizes the most elementary functions of government, the rising powers are doing the opposite. America’s pyrrhic affair with neoliberal decentralization is already leading to crisis and disenchantment may soon follow, and a different American state may form; however, one should not hold their breath!

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