Blogs > Liberty and Power > A Query on Two Secessions: Kosovo and South Ossetia

Aug 11, 2008 12:00 pm

A Query on Two Secessions: Kosovo and South Ossetia

Can anybody explain why the U.S. opposed violent anti-secessionism by Serbia in Kosovo but (apparently) now apparently supports violent anti-secessionism by Georgia in South Ossetia?

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Bogdan Enache - 8/13/2008

Well, if Soviet Russia offered Poland and Finland independence so voluntarily, how do you explain Lenin's war against Poland and then Stalin's war against Finland ? (who by the way I guess was delighted by the friendly flights of Russian fighter jets over its territory during the Cold War...)

I'm sure, on the other hand, that the Georgian revolts and even brief independence under the Menshevik social democratic and anti Bolshevik regime right after the October Revolution (just one of many anti-Leninist political units that declared themselves independent after the fall of the Empire) which was eventually suppressed by the Red army were also a sign of great support for the Leninist cause, just like the famines that followed probably greatly improved the standard of living and education of the non-Russian people of USSR...The Komintern-backed communist factions around the world; the ideological crusade against the tritor Tito etc were also friedly gesture as you doubt

No comment about the "capitalist" bosses in Moscow. The KGB had local branches as well; it was a federal police, a political police and an intelligence service - think of something like FBI and CIA combined

Anyway, the US foreign policy in general and Georgia's government policy in this case have their shares of guilt; there are rarily angels in politics - and if the evidence will show that Georgia bombed civilian Ossetians then they would have to answer about that -; also, independence for Abkhazia and even South Ossetia might be a good solution to the conflict - for some people maybe the preferred solution - even if politically difficult, especially considering the mixed population of South Ossetia; but to not see the larger picture when there are so many documented facts about Russia's malign involvement in the frozen conflicts of the ex-Soviet space and to go from one extreme to another by always putting forward some crud and not very relevant slogans is really an unimpressive way of seeing things.

By the way, becasue you're looking for US-Russia comparisons, notice that Bush senior didn't go to Bagdad in 1991 to topple Sadam Hussein, but his son finished the job. What makes you think the Russians had no intention to topple the current regime change in Tblisi?

Arnold Shcherban - 8/13/2008

Soviet Union has been an empire and has not been the one in the clearest sense of the word (such as British was or US empire is). Right away, from the start, Soviet Russia voluntarily offered Poland and Finland
independence, though under Tsar's Russia these countries were Russian imperial possessions. In the the rest of the eventually Soviet Republics, before WWII, the overwhelming majority of population supported new Bolsheviks' regime that made them equal to Russians in economic and social sense and, even
within the Republics themselves, having some educational and societal promotional advantages over ethnic Russians.
Economics as probably everybody agree is the major facet of societal life.
In all known to history world empires (especially, British and American) the society of owners lived, on average, much better economically than
the owned ones. The only exception was
the ethnic Russians under Soviet rule:
they lived under worse economic conditions than, say, population of Georgia, or for that matter, even "enslaved" Baltic republics.
The average educational level of Soviet Russians was lower than among, say, Soviet Jews or Armenians.
So why (except Baltic republics, which never were really 'Soviet') the others were rushing to separate themselves from Russian state in the early 90s, even though the latter was swiftly becoming capitalistic?
Of course, as in any complex process,
many factors had been in play: nationalism, cultural independence, etc. But two major factors were dominant ones: the rest of the republics could not rely on Moscow an more neither economically nor financially (since the latter had been in disarray and bankrupt) and
the newly emerged communist-capitalist elite just hated the idea of sharing the spoils of oligarchic local opportunities with new capiltalist bosses in Moscow.
So, the goverments in the newly formed independent countries were not installed by the old Soviet guard (KGB and others) in 90's; rather and mostly the former communist leaders there (as well as in Russia itself) were anxious to satisfy their greed for material and financial wealth in no law zone, at the time.

The gravest mistake (or perhaps, more than mistake) of Gorbachev was his illusions on the driving forces of contemporary Western policies towards
Soviet Union. He figured out that as soon as the Cold War would end (mostly with his sell-out of Russia's national security interests in exchange for practically nothing from the West), the West, especially USA, would change their allegedly "counterbalancing"
foreign policy. Boy, how wrong he was!
(Recently, he basically admitted that
fatal misconception.)
Now back to Georgia and separatist "truisms" of Abkhazians and South Osettians. The Western analysis of the situation there is completely ahistorical (which became well-established tradition, in USA, in particular).
To begin with Abkhazians, South Ossetians, and Georgians occasionally used violence towards each other
even under the Soviet regime, the regime that severely punished the violent expression of ethnic differences. Not mentioning, already, that it was Stalin, Georgian himself, who made South Ossetia and Abkhazia part of Georgia against the will of the overwhelming majority of local population. After Stalin's death however, they (on their numerous requests) were given the status of autonomous republics within Georgian Union republic by Moscow's Soviet government.

The Western widely-proclaimed mainstream political and social principles about the primacy of the will and basic interests of the people, however, are applied extremely "selectively", to say the least. On practically all occasions ( Kosovo being just one recent example)
when applied to countries that don't follow in kilwater of the US and its closest allies' imperial
flagships, the sanctity of the democratic and self-determination principles indicated above is denied;
it, however generously applied, greatly beyond reasonable doubt, so say, to the countires (even with the murderous regimes) who play "good ball game" with Washington, regardless of the administration in charge there at the time.
Today's Georgian regime is far from the worst among those Washington supported against all odds (and facts
on the ground) one time or another.

The overwhelming majority of South Ossetians and Abkhazians, as the national referendums definitively showed did not want to live under Georgian rule, but want to be independent from Georgia Russian
citizens. That's the will of the people and it has to be satisfied.
It has nothing to do with the alleged
imperial designs of modern Russia towards former Soviet republics, even
if those do exist. It has nothing to do with the ridiculosu "change of regime" accusation made by the American UN representative Khalizad (good student of RAND corporation), to which received well-justified response from Russian colleague: "There is no such a term in our political vocabulary, this is your (meaning US) terminology."
Georgia according to numerous verbal accounts of common Ossetians and foreigners happened to be there on August 8, not only committed aggression against South Ossetia, but primarily targeted civilian population of the autonomous republics's capital, i.e. clearly committed a war crime of genocide.
Western governments and media, however, coninue to talk about Russian aggression with the goal of regime change in Georgia, despite the
resounding facts on the ground to thee contrary: Russian troops did not attack Georgian capital Tbilisi, which
should of happened, if their goal was regime change in Georgia, as the US and others inadvertently do when the main purpose of its military attack is the regime change;
the victim count on the Georgian side
(two days ago) was 45 soldiers and 35 civilians, according to the Georgian official statement, while the respective count on Ossetian side was more than 2000, among them about 1500 civilians, according to South Ossetian
official statement.
Whatever one thinks about the imperial ambitions of today's Russia,
Georgia would not be first, even second, on the list of those ambitions/interests.
Kazahkstan, would be first with Ukraine taking the second spot (on reasons, quite undestabdable to any knowlegable and unbiased analytics). With the first Kremlim maintains very peaceful and mutually enriching relations, with the second the relations are not so friendly, but not adversarial.
With all other former republics surrounding it territory (except Baltic ones, but on completely different reasons) Russia maintains good relations. Why?
Because those republics - indxependent states now - don't forward any (at least, substantial) territorial and political demands that go against the will of their own people and the major security interests of Russia (as outlandish as it may look to some American ultra-patriots Russian, as well as Soviets, have/had national security interests too.)
Even in the worst heat of Cold War period totalitarian Soviet Russia maintained good solid relations with
practically all capitalist countries
that would not join in any anti-Soviet military and political blocks: India, Finland, Indonesia under the long presidency of Sukharno, to name just a few (unfortunately, there had not been many of non-aligned countries in the world then and either are now.)
The US, on the contrary, was always treated non-aligned nations as the second hand ones, non-friendly, barely tolerating them.
I'm running out of time by now, so have to stop.

Arnold Shcherban - 8/13/2008

"stay tall" in the US imperial politics.

Bogdan Enache - 8/12/2008

I think people here should look a little bit closer and more seriously to the situation in the ex-Soviet region.

Russia is - and always has been - an empire in the clearest sense of the word. Within its post-1992 border it still encompasses tens of different nations. It also resents any former Soviet-republic that moves away from its authority. Only the Baltic states have managed to get out of the Commonwealth of Independent States - the more post-USSR umbrella or the deceased Soviet Empire and firmly attached themselves to the "Western block". Thus, it should come as no surprise that other nation ruled for centuries by Moscow would want to choose a different path. The US might be an empire, but for these countries it is a preferable to the Russian empire.

Gorbachev never wanted to destory the USSR. His intentions were to strengten it, by reforming its failed economic system and, within some parameters of control, the political and social institutions as well. The events that lead to the disappearance of the USSR simply caught him by surprised. History sometimes cannot be controlled.

But the state apparatus in Moscow was not prepared to let these countries go free with no strings attached. In all post-soviet republics except for the Baltic states - the ex-KGB, the Russian military and bureaucratic machine installed loyal puppet regimes, kept entire armies, encouraged and created "separatist republics" - sometimes out of thin air, usually financed and ruled by former Soviet generals, KGB officers and local mafia -, intervened in any real or artificially created ethnic conflict as (sole and impartial) peacekeepers - with the only objective to maintain a control on the politics and destiny of these countries. This is not to deny that there are real ethnic conflicts (which I agree that secession might resolve them) but the Russian after 1992 only exacerbated them (while Stalin and the Soviets created them by massive population movements in order to destroy the opposition from ethnic homegenous communities).

The Georgians are not entirely innocent in this conflict, but things are more complicated beyond the secessionist truisms. There are South Ossetians all over Georgia and there is a significant number of Georgians in South Ossetia. This is not a straight forward ethnic nationalist/secessionist conflict; there are all kind of internal and regional politics issues underlying it. One of the most important is the Russia's aim to crush Saakashvili's western oriented regime, because it can it is represents the most determined and vigorous challenged to Russian supremacy in the region of all the "orange revolution" regimes that were elected to power in 2004. Georgia's assertive independence and NATO ambitions could set a dangerous precedent that has the potential to wipe out Soviet influence from Ukraine to Central Asia.

Tim Sydney - 8/12/2008

The US and Nato supported the division of Yugoslavia, and the whole former USSR / CIS under the old principle of "divide and rule". They don't apply the same principle to Georgia as the real objective is to do 'divide and rule' Russia, Georgia is (or was) seen as a useful springboard and base for this wider agenda.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/11/2008

I haven't checked these figures:
"South Ossetia: pop 70k of which approx 17k ethnic Georgians
(Abkhazia: 150k approx of which about a third Georgians.)
Kosovo, about 2million people (90% plus ethnic Albanian)."

Francois Tremblay - 8/11/2008

No, the answer is even easier: Russia is always wrong because they're (ex-)commies. Duh.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/11/2008

Obviously, seceding from the Serbs is a self-evident right; seceding from a wanna-be-NATO-member and antagonist of Russia is a serious but internal matter....