24 Aug Georgia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my experiences in Georgia in the early 1990s, monitoring the various conflicts – Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the then-Georgian civil war in Tbilisi. I noted that those secessionist conflicts were marked on each side by ethnic cleansing as extreme as anything I saw in the Yugloslav wars (a country which I also monitored for Human Rights Watch, during the mid-1980s on through the early years of those wars). The reasons why the two resembled each other seemed to me pretty obvious – the motivations (to clear ground and homogenize populations) were similar, the militia armies similar, the armaments similar …
Well. I declined in that post to say anything about the current situation. Although I’ve been pressed by a couple of friends since to say something more current, I’ve hesitated. I’ve only been in Tbilisi a couple of times since, and I have not spent time focusing on the political situation there and the development of its democracy or the US role in Georgia. Anything I have to say can and should be reasonably discounted as possibly unwarrantedly fixed on the situation from fifteen years ago. At the same time, however, the wars of fifteen years ago are what the current situation is largely about (“frozen conflicts” was and is an apt term) so speaking from fifteen years back has advantages and disadvantages. Moreover, many of the people with whom I’ve spoken about the situation today appear to be not much aware of the conduct of those wars by both sides – unlike, by sharp contrast, their deep awareness of the conduct of the Yugoslav wars. Often their awareness of Georgia appears to have been quite limited to Tbilisi; not that many people appear to have had much contact with the secessionist territories themselves. That said, here are my basic concerns; take them for what you think they are worth, and I fully understand that many will disagree:
Rolling back Russian expansionism. First, I share unreservedly the belief that Russia is deliberately undertaking a dangerous, threatening, imperial expansion in the “near abroad” and that it must be opposed and rolled back. I am as tough on this point as any conservative. I will here be a bit politically chauvinistic and add that I do not mean this in the way that, I sorrow to say, many of my friends on the liberal left so often mean it – gosh, that’s really terrible of Russia, and we should consult with our Western European allies and send some stiff diplomatic notes, and let’s be sure to have some Security Council meetings so that Russia can … veto any relevant resolution. I share the analysis of Russia’s strategic actions that, for example, my Hoover colleague and friend Victor Davis Hanson has offered in the National Review, and endorse Fred Kagan’s eminently sensible proposals in the Weekly Standard. The US may not be prepared to go to war over Georgia nakedly, but it should be prepared to staff it with advisors, equipment, technology, and intelligence. I would not be unhappy to hear (but have no reason to know anything about it, let me be clear) that US military advisors were advising or assisting Georgian forces in the fighting. I believe we are on our way back to a period in which the US will have to confront, not a superpower projecting power around the world, as in the Cold War, but a regional superpower whom the US will have to confront with force, using proxy forces in various places.
When I say ‘rolling back Russian imperialism’, I really do mean making it pay a material price in its military, its economy, and elsewhere for its adventurism in the near abroad. It does not mean open war with Russia in this instance, but it means a lot more than mere diplomacy.
Moreover, one thing that needs to be made clear is that describing what the US and NATO do to help Georgia as “humanitarian” is a mistake, and a profound one. The whole point about humanitarian aid is that outside parties are morally and legally entitled to send aid irrespective of any other political considerations for the succor of civilians. The point of aid to Georgia is not neutral humanitarian aid alone – that’s merely the unquestioned and unquestionable beginning – but military, economic, and other assistance that is aimed at strengthening it military, politically, and diplomatically. We have a side in this – we have a dog in this fight – and that needs to be at the root of our actions. But, as the third and fourth point below emphasize, the most fundamental dog we have in this fight is countering and checking Russia.
What is NATO? Second, NATO is going to undergo a reshaping in two directions out of this crisis, in the ways offered by Robert Kagan in his new Weekly Standard essay. On the one hand, the idea of NATO evolving into some kind of post Cold War ‘legionnaires of the good guys’, into which Russia would eventually become attached in some friendly way, is dead. It was dead for many reasons before this – to start with, the conversion of a club of mutual protection into a club of general cosmopolitan altruism never took account of the unwillingness of Europe, let alone America, to pay for it, or staff it. On the other hand, the idea of NATO as a genuine mutual protection club is back, at least as far as the Eastern Europeans are concerned; since the Western Europeans are much more interested in gas than protection, however, the forward path of NATO as a re-invigorated mutual protection association is cloudy. How long can a free rider club last if its guarantor starts to incur serious costs? I don’t know, but I doubt the answer is forever.
Who should actually govern South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Third, however – and this is where things get messy – it is a grave error to conflate rolling back Russian expansionism with the idea that Georgia should have actual political, security, and military control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This is a difficult point, but it is essential. Based on what I saw in the brutal, unforgiving, as-bad-as-Yugoslavia, ethnic cleansing wars of fifteen years ago, in my view it is simply impossible for Georgia to govern those territories. I don’t think it was possible from the moment that Georgia declared independence; after all, secession happened practically moments later. And I emphatically believe that the level of brutal violence on each side sealed it.
Sure, you can tell me that was all a long time ago. You can tell me that the Georgian military is now US trained and no longer the militia army of pillaging, raping thugs it was fifteen years ago (as were the militias on the other side, let me be entirely clear – not as some puerile point of moral equivalence, but simply because it was true). You can tell me about how Georgia is a democracy now and allied with the US and NATO and those things wouldn’t happen any more.
Maybe. But frankly I doubt it. I doubt it because fifteen years ago is nothing in conflicts such as these. When, in the earliest days of the Croatia and Serbia war, before the fighting had actually broken out, I happened into a couple of completely empty villages; the populations had fled into the forests because, as they told me when they finally returned, they remembered what had happened in the Second World War – fifty years before, not fifteen. The pillaging irregulars who were right behind the Russian troops when they retook South Ossetia and invaded Georgia proper – they are what these wars are all about. The American policy maker who assumes blithely that this is what the other side does, but not the Georgians, runs against historical experience. And against the ‘uncompleted’ nature of the earlier wars: the last fifteen years have been a pause in those wars, not some kind of new beginning, at least as far as the territories, and their relationships to Georgia and Russia are concerned.
Finally, the nature of the conflict – its objectives – argues strongly for a war consisting of ethnic cleansing and all the atrocities that go along with it. It is not by excess that the methods of war on both sides consist of driving out civilians of the wrong ethnicity – it is by rationality because, as in Yugoslavia, that is what the war is about. Western policymakers who bet on the reformed Georgian army, and who base the moral superiority of the cause not merely on rolling back Russian imperialism but run it together with actual Georgian political, security, and military governance of the contested provinces, risk losing all that high ground if – when, in my view – the Georgians take up what, in stark terms, are the most realistic methods of fighting. It is worth recalling that no one thought it necessary to make Kuwait into more than it was in order to defend the principle of rolling back its annexation by Saddam’s Iraq. Democratic Georgia, I hasten to add, is a long way from the corrupt little principality that was Kuwait, but the abstract point is the same – the principle of defense of a sovereign state from attack and occupation is perfectly justifiable on its own terms.
Moreover, the war to govern these territories is a war the Georgians cannot possibly win in the long run, and that is true even if there were no Russia, unless Georgia were willing to contemplate genuinely appalling measures. Yes, the problem of protecting ethnic Georgian enclaves in South Ossetia and Abkhazia is a deeply serious one, precisely because the only language either side has understood in the earlier phases of conflict has been ethnic cleansing of civilians. But the only way for Georgia to run, actually govern on the ground, those places is by pushing the locals out of their own territories. When observers today, in other words, describe the “irregulars” who come behind the Russian army into Georgian territory and loot and pillage the place, they have this tendency to assume that the other side would not engage it such behavior, because they haven’t seen it. And maybe the Georgians wouldn’t, today. But they did, with as much gusto as the other side, fifteen years ago. I think it is a leap of faith to think that, given the unsupervised opportunity and having the motive, they would not do so today. Does the US really want to base its policy, not on rolling back Russian expansionism for the evil it is, but on the leap of faith that the Georgian forces really have changed, including when they occupy enemy villages? Is that leap of faith a prudent basis for US policy? Not in my estimation.
It cannot possibly be, in other words, in the foreign policy interest of the United States to commit itself to a policy of actual, in-fact Georgian political and military and security control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It would be in the same general ball-park as suggesting that, in the name of territorial integrity, Serbia could or should run Kosovo. Where, you ask, is the Milosevic of Georgia, and what makes you think that Georgian governance would turn out to be so destructive that its de facto control must be qualified by its friends and allies? Well, you were almost certainly not around fifteen years ago during the fighting and, anyway, one doesn’t necessarily need a Milosevic in order for a militia-army to loot, pillage, rape, and murder its way to ethnic cleansing.
Or alternatively, if you don’t like Balkan analogies, simply say it is not in the foreign policy interests of the United States to endorse the creation of another India-in-Kashmir situation. Once you are in it, as India is in Kashmir, then you might have to deal with it, but why you would create it in the first place, merely in order to satisfy a formal legal idea of sovereignty over territory, is quite beyond me. And the most basic reason it is not in the foreign policy interests of the United States is because it is not in the interests of Georgia, either. It is not in Georgia’s own interest to create for itself not one, but two, Indias-in-Kashmir. Yet the nature of Georgian politics – the politics of a democracy, to be precise – is that it cannot help itself.
Disentangling rolling back Russian imperialism from endorsing Georgian control in fact over uncontrollable territories is only one of two core problems for US policy:
Democracy and participatory ethnic nationalism. Fourth, therefore, US policy must also disentangle “democracy” from what Georgian democracy currently is – which is best characterized not as democracy, but instead as “participatory ethnic nationalism.” The US can be proud of what it has done to help Georgia reach the point of free elections, and to take the first steps toward liberal democracy that came about in the Rose Revolution. But that was only a short few years ago. Not only does democratic consolidation have a long way to go, much more fundamentally, what we call democracy in Georgia only really works so long as Georgia is pretty much all ethnic Georgian. It is an ethnic state, and its democratic process is based on that fact. That works okay for issues on which ethnicity does not matter; but for Georgia to be a democratic state that also included Abkhazia and South Ossetia as genuine political parts, it would require a very different kind of democracy. It would require an internalized notion of “citizen” which meant something, as it does in liberal democracies such as the United States, different from merely being an ethnic Georgian. Georgia is a long ways from that.
US policy thus believes that it is defending Georgian democracy. Insofar as Georgia is all one general ethnicity, that is fine; citoyen overlaps with ‘ethnic Georgian’. But the moment that it does not – the moment, in other words, that Georgia contemplates taking actual political control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and the non-ethnic Georgian peoples who live there – then what looks like democracy instead looks like the heroic solidarity of participatory – deeply participatory – ethnic nationalism. It is not democracy, not in the liberal sense.
As practical policy, this counsels for the kind of legal ambiguity that I wrote about in an earlier post. No one should be talking about independence for South Ossetia or Abkhazia; the formalities of territorial integrity matter, here as in many other places in the world. Russia must be firmly opposed on this political point; no recognition of the territories, serious political pressure against other countries that contemplate doing so, etc. On the other hand, no one should talk of Georgia in actual fact governing these places, either, least of all the Georgians. Yet, on a third hand, it is unacceptable in these circumstances for the Russians to exercise de facto political control over them either – particularly by filling them with all the military instruments suitable for an invasion and occupation of Georgia proper.O (One of the commentators to this post correctly points to the difficulty in the strategic geography of the territories in relation to Georgia in total.)
The best solution is the placement of ceasefire monitors and peacekeepers who are genuinely from outside and who would have obligations to all ethnic communities. I say this reluctantly because outside peacekeepers bring many issues and problems of their own; I am not in any case urging UN peacekeepers, but instead by preference ceasefire monitors and peacekeepers from the OSCE, and noting that plenty of Eastern European NATO countries should have an incentive – fear – to supply them. That works only so-so, because the Russians are able so completely to dominate, militarily as well as diplomatically. But it is certainly a better moral and political policy than proposing, with a straight face, that the Georgians take actual political control over these territories. Even to propose that cedes both the practical reality and the moral high ground. Better simply to assert that what’s required is a deliberate legal ambiguity – and then concentrate on getting Russian rollback of its actual military forces. That has the virtue, at least, of uniting what the practical goal would have to be in any case with what the moral policy should be.
I realize that this will not sit well with many of my conservative friends, those with whom I am ordinarily aligned – because it will seem like I am undercutting the plainest moral posture: invasion of a sovereign democratic country by a big imperial power. But the facts of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are not simply a narrative of Russia stirring up trouble in an otherwise untroubled corner of the world. One can tell me that I am therefore blaming the victim – but I was actually around tallying up the victims a few years ago; I do not have a lot of patience for high minded lectures from people who have not been in bloody ethnic conflict up close, and in this bloody ethnic conflict up close. Not even, alas, from the Weekly Standard’s Matthew Continetti, someone for whom I have great respect. The fifteen years that have passed since these conflicts got underway are the blink of an eye. It is not even act two, after a long intermission. Only an American, used to thinking in nanoseconds, someone for whom there is no history before he or she arrived, could think this. It is merely scene two in an early act. This is not some updated, “They’ve been fighting each other for hundreds of years, it’s in the DNA.” It is, rather, that this conflict got started fifteen years ago, and although on again and off again, it has never stopped. Neither its existence nor its persistence are due to Russian imperial expansion alone.
So there are two fundamental policy failures here. The first is the failure to disentangle opposing Russian imperialism from unwise and frankly not morally defensible Georgian demands for actual political control. The second is the failure to disentangle the laudable project of Georgian democracy from the overlapping and less laudable project of participatory ethnic nationalism in Georgia. Taken together, these failures risk tying US policy to a standard of Georgian behavior in war, conflict, control of non-ethnic Georgian territories – to the US asserting a frankly romanticized standard of Georgian goodness and purity – that, as a matter of history, even recent history, they have not managed to meet. US responses should be tied to Russian ill-doing, which are legion, not unlikely assertions of Georgian virtue.
There is, in my view, no reason why the US response should be any less vigorous on that account. Indeed, it is likely to be a firmer basis for action in the longer run, because it remains a valid policy, even if Georgian behavior were somehow to undertake a reversion to the historic mean.
(Update: I am going back to clarify and edit some grammar and stuff, and also to add some links. My thanks to Glenn and Eugene and others for the links, and also for the thoughtfulness of the comments.)
(Second update: Michael Cecire at Democracy Project has a thoughtful critique of my post, well worth reading.)
Quite honestly, maybe the UN should get together for a “re-mapping” initiative of the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.
It would seem that tribalism and ethnocentricity is the rule outside of Western democracies. Our more multi-ethnic societies are probably just exceptions, and we shouldn’t expect thousand year old societies to integrate well.
[…] I teach a graduate seminar in international law. As such I often use and give to my students a law blog called Opinio Juris. It has international law professors from the entire spectrum of ideologies and they write on a variety of I Law issues (whether War on Terror or eco, human trafficking, etc.). One of my favorites is Professor Kenneth Anderson who is a fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford. Here’s an interesting post on the Russian-Georgian issue — food for thought on NATO̵…. […]
The only problem with this, is the geography. By accident or design (more likely the latter, for historical reasons both related and unrelated to the situation today), both separatist regions occupy the natural invasion routes into Georgia. If Georgia cannot secure these routes… well, you’ve seen what happens. If Georgia had had secure control of both areas, and *then* had undertaken ethnic cleansing, Russia would not have been able to intervene with nearly as much effectiveness. Georgia knows that… and so do the other ethnicities, and so does Russia. That’s why Russia backed them to the hilt back in the 90s, why a Russian general was serving as SO Defense Minister, and why they were all given Russian passports–and is probably the primary reason behind the invasion. Russia may or may not care about them as ethnicities, but they are not going to pass up the opportunity to de facto rule Georgia. So, how can we resolve this? Unfortunately, I don’t see any really good ways. International peacekeepers will still result in the de facto Finlandization of Georgia. The only way to avoid that would be to station US “tripwire troops” as a political deterrence to Russia, and that would… Read more »
[…] link to an Asia Times article discussing the geopolitics of Russia’s invasion of Georgia, but this article by Kenneth Anderson – who’s been there and knows the people and politics – strikes me as more worthwhile. […]
Foreign-imposed borders didn’t work very well last time. The UN being infinitely more corrupt and malign would do an even worse job.
The problem stems from pre-Westphalian states were interrupted by colonialism then imperialism. There’s no way to remedy this that doesn’t involve multiple general wars.
My son just got back from Paris. The one thing I asked him to bring is a french weekly called the Canard Enchaine (literally Chained Duck – Duck is slang for newspaper – it is a french thing). He brought me the one from last Wednesday and already in the first two minutes I have found out one amazing thing.
Georgia-Russia war – did anyone know that US officers were aiming the rocket launchers for the Georgians when they were shooting into the capital of South Ossetia. These American officers were also counseling the Georgians to attack. DID ANY OF YOU SEE THIS IN ANY US PAPER THIS PAST WEEK? I am curious. The article says that Washington knew what Sakashvilli was going to do and did not stand in the way. Sources are in the French military hierarchy. Over the years I have found the Canard has the real scoop on so many things.
Any way, this paper is one of the real gems of journalism worldwide with so much dirty laundry being washed out by people in the know.
[…] might want to take a look at law prof Kenneth Anderson’s observations on the Russia-Georgia conflict at Opinio Juris (hat tip: Glenn Reynolds). His observations rest on four […]
A thoughtful post. I’ve taught classes in both Pristina and Skopje, and therefore look at the situation, as Anderson does, through a Balkan lens. I suspect that in addition to Russian military, economic and political interests at stake, there are also historic-cultural motivations at play; echoes of Pan-Slavism and resentment at Western attitudes towards Russia.
It seems possible that crimes against humanity may have been committed by Russian forces or, more likely, by Ossetian militias. However, I think it unlikely that prosecution at the ICJ would be useful.
I recall a comment made by a thoughtful Balkan colleague several years ago in regard to borders: “Of course they’re absurd. The only thing more absurd are the lengths to which our ‘scholars’ will go to show why their ethnic group was here first! But in the end, we Balkans will have to work out our boundary issues without Western or Russian ‘help’.” The same point may apply here.
Response… Oh, for Gawd’s sake, Ben! Google it!
If you wanna read it, Google it & then hit the “translate” button, which you may not need, but I do.
Why wait for a paper copy to be carried home by random tourists? Sheesh!
As unfortunate as it would be to reward Russian aggression, perhaps the solution is to allow South Ossetia and Abkhazia to become autonomous–which I realize would be a hugely bitter pill for the Georgians– but to do so in exchange for immediate Georgian membership in NATO, so that the borders, autonomy, and integrity of the remainder of Georgia would be guaranteed. Perhaps that would be a sufficient sweetener for the Georgians, especially since it would get the Russians out of the remainder of Georgia, essentially by threat of war, and would provide a substantial deterrent against the Russians allowing Gaza-style cross border rocketing and shelling into Georgia. This would not make the Russians happy. I doubt they would think their invasion a success if it resulted in a smaller Georgia becoming a NATO member. Kenneth Anderson makes a compelling case that Georgia cannot rule South Ossetia or Abkhazia in any case, so why not make the best of the situation, recognize the inevitable, and bring something positive out of it? But perhaps this is not realistic, because it would require a degree of risk-taking on the part of all the NATO nations, and it is not clear the Germans are willing to risk alienating… Read more »
Response… I have a friend who lives in North Ossetia. During the Goodwill Games, I asked him what he thought of Gorbachev. He was staying at my house during the Games, and the KGB was literally staking out our home, to keep an eye on him.
He said: “Governments come, governments go.. Ever since Hannibal, governments come, governments go.”
I asked him how long his family had lived in his village. His answer was “1,300 years.”
I think we Americans have a VERY difficult time relating to the issues, feelings, needs and motives of people in regions of the world such as the Caucasus.
This is an excellent article, and I especially agree with the author’s opinion of our “nano second” sensibilities. Our lack of historical perspective is horrifying, our lack of real information frightening.
The Canard Enchaine does not publish its paper online. It has one webpage which might have one article from that week’s paper but they have for years said that they have declined to create a presence on the web. So many people outside France do subscribe but, of course, you tend to get it weeks if not months later – there is a kind of wonderful reverse snobbism to the Canard.
So S Sommer, thanks for the link which I have gone to before hoping – just hoping – that I could read it online like we can read all the other rags. Alas, it is just not so. Random tourists, if you feel the urge please send me a copy of the last one the day you come back to the states at:
University of Toledo College of Law
2801 W. Bancroft Street
Toledo, Ohio 43606
This essay has been a thoughtful response to the Georgia situation, albeit a bit wordy. I’ve had deep reservations from the beginning about Georgian claims of moral high ground, and this solidifies my thoughts on the matter, for whatever they are worth (that is, not much at all). It is to be hoped that NATO, and the United States especially, continue a careful, reasoned response to Russia. I am by no means a peacenik, and support for example arming Taiwan with nuclear weapons with which to defend itself against the ChiComs. But the Georgians are hardly saints in this, and should be treated cautiously. By all means arm them with conventional weapons and give them information with which to fight the Russians, but don’t under any circumstances allow them to suck *us* into a broadening superpower conflict. Fortunately, I think the command leadership is quite aware of this moral difficulty with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and in any case are deeply reluctant to abandon the long-standing policy of not risking another brush with total nuclear war (as in the Cuban Missile Crisis), instead relying on proxy wars against the ever-brutal Russians. I think there is nothing for it but to… Read more »
I am glad that all caps got attention because they were not intended to be internet yelling but more to get people to answer the question – did anyone see anything on this in a US paper.
No the article did not address things that happened before that. But it was not an article about what happened before. It was an article that says that American military types were in Georgia doing things to help the Georgians against the Russians, were aware of what Sakashvilli was going to do ahead of his actions, and did not raise objections.
And I believe the Canard because it is not the official line, the Canard has a long history of making excellent scoops, and American fingerprints over such a miscalculation appears to be something we have seen frequently in the recent past. This is obviously not special pleading for the Russians and what they did.
Rather I am just trying to encourage people to take some blinders off when you read the news here in the US. There are no innocents in these international ambiguous calculations.
In case anyone forgot, we saw that in Rwanda just to name a recent case.
<i>How long can a free rider club last if its guarantor starts to incur serious costs?</i> Wasn’t this however the situation with NATO during the Cold War era? It’s an irony of history that the first time Article V was invoked it was in response to an attack on the US – irony because NATO’s purpose was, essentially, to ensure that the USSR understood that it couldn’t invade Western Europe without going to war with the US. What did the US gain from this alliance during those years? Well… a strong probability that the Warsaw Pact wouldn’t swallow the rest of Europe, the Soviets not being fools. Useful basing rights. I’m at something of a loss to think what else, and the NATO alliance cost the US a great deal over the years. So in contemplating the situation with Georgia and other countries on or near the Russian border, aren’t the questions the same as they were for countries on or near the Warsaw Pact border? Such an alliance would gain us a strong probability of stopping Russian expansion in the direction of Europe, plus… useful basing rights. It seems to me that, notwithstanding the differences in the two situations,… Read more »
[…] direction that foreign policy wonks in the U.S. capital will take over the coming weeks and months. And now he is coming around to supporting independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia in a post which asks: Who should actually govern South Ossetia and […]
This essay in my view simply proves that the Russians have won this round of the game. What they have done in fact is to take over the two provinces, and after building up a great head of steam, you go on to say that whatever happens next, those provinces can not be put back under Georgian control. So Russia wins–whether they get to keep the medal or not, they knifed Georgia and got away with it. Who wants to be next? Russia today is basically a libertine Saudi Arabia–their main exports are oil and prostitutes–so what have they to fear from “soft power?” Would it be too much to ask the IOC to revoke the 2014 Sochi games, right now while the Olympics are on everyone’s mind? Yes, of course it would–but that would at least be an actual sting to their pride. What else can we actually take away from them? The other side of this is that NATO-izing bordering states even more aggressively seems to be a risky gambit in its own. The more of a wall we build in this way, the more likely it seems that we will end up with a direct NATO-Russia conflict… Read more »
Sorry, Ben.. you are correct. I am bummed because now I want to read it, too. You are right, the US press is lazy and shallow. Hardly what they once were. I read in the British press tonight that the President of Georgia is “promising” to rebuild his military and give it another go, to regain “his” lost provinces. Oh, great. The guy makes a very dumb move, blows it, and now wants to stir the pot again. We would be idiots to allow Georgia into NATO, at least with the present loose cannon in charge. Oh, and he goes on to explain that the Bush administration has said nothing to discourage him. Great. Whatever they ARE saying, that is HIS takeaway. The rest of his quotes were even worse. This guy has brought misery on his country, and he does not have the good sense to back off & get the Russians out. As far as fighting in that region goes, we should not aspire to do so. Very similar to the Afghans. The locals know the territory, after hundreds of years of fighting in it. They have all kinds of secret caves already stocked for “emergencies” and… Read more »
I am not a Georgian, but American. In my view, the partition, autonomy, and/or annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Russia could & should have been negotiated, would there have been diplomats sensitive to the desires of the peoples involved. A lot of suffering bloodshed destruction and other (now) unending unpleasantness might have been avoided. Unfortunately Saakashvili, Bush and McCain are still talking from their pre-August 9th mentality.
BD: Firstoff, I must say this: “There are no innocents in these international ambiguous calculations.” Oh REALLY? I doubt the civilians who were bombarded into the ground (by either the Russians or the Georgians) would disagree on that. While no nation may exactly be completely clean, the idea that there are no innocents is ludicrous, and I HOPE that I am merely misinterpreting your comment. Secondly, “It was an article that says that American military types were in Georgia doing things to help the Georgians against the Russians” It is not NEWS that there are and were American advisors to the Georgian military before the conflict broke out. They were arming and training the military, as in accordance with our alliance with Tiblisi at the time. However, I would like to see the proof that they were specifically there to rev the Georgians up against the Russians (or that was how Washington saw it). ” were aware of what Sakashvilli was going to do ahead of his actions, and did not raise objections.” Firstly, any proof from the source (ie things that can be directly tied to the US or Georgia?) Secondly, is it right to strip a sovereign nation of the right… Read more »
For some 60 years Abkhazia was forced to accept the unwelcome status of being a mere autonomous republic with Soviet Georgia (thanks to the ruling of the Georgian dictator Stalin-‘Iosef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili’). For daring to defend our interests in the face of Georgian nationalist aggression, we were subjected to 14 months of savagery. In alliance with our allies from the Abkhazian diaspora or our cousins in the North Caucasus, we succeeded in ejecting the invader and winning the war. All that Georgia under its various leaders/governments has been willing to offer us by way of a settlement is a return the ‘status quo ante’. How many examples are there in history where a people after being invaded, losing 4% of their population, and yet finally winning the war have meekly resigned themselves to accepting the selfsame subordinate status they had before the tragedy of a war inflicted upon them? This is something that the Georgian side and their international backers (who have no interest in the fate of minorities but think solely of the ‘big picture’ of preserving territorial integrity, of finding allies in an unstable part of the world, and of securing the flow of oil) would do well… Read more »
The fact of the matter is that, if a state has come into existence through normal historical developments and effectively functions within clearly defined and uncontested frontiers with the agreement of all the people living within those geo-political limits, then, fair enough, let the principle of territorial integrity be upheld. But with reference to Georgia the question has to start NOT with the recognition of this post-Soviet entity within its Soviet boundaries BUT rather with a discussion as to whether that recognition in 1992 was in any way justified. The answer to this latter question is most assuredly NO. As is well-known, Stalin reduced the status of Abkhazia in 1931 from that of a full republic (in treaty-alliance with Georgia within the larger Transcaucasian Federation) to that of an autonomous republic within his homeland, a status which the Abkhazians never willingly accepted. As the USSR started to fall apart, Georgia foolishly chose the path of nationalism and in a matter of months (from late 1988 to summer 1989) managed all by itself without any interference from Russia (unless, of course, the argument is that ALL the articles in Georgian across the whole Georgian media which insulted, abused and threatened… Read more »
Hey Eric, Thanks for parsing me. On the “no innocents” I of course was referring to the leaders of each of the parties in this conflict and not to civilians. If I did not make that clear enough sorry or as we say sometimes here – “my bad.” As to the rest of it, I am not in Georgia and I know that the French are in Georgia. I know the Canard does excellent work. I know the Canard works very hard to get these stories clear – notwithstanding their irreverent appearance. If somehow I am perceived as stepping back from what I originally said, then that was not my intention. I repeat the original points from the Canard story and seek to amplify with the additional items. I saw something recently that Rice was with Sakashvilli a month ago. I am not privy to those talks. I can only go with what I see and hear and simply discount whatever is told to me by the official channels. As you know, they frequently lie (or should I say dissimulate) about what is really going on. It is called the language of diplomacy. I have seen US military advisors in countries for the past… Read more »
I think the essay has two key insights: the insistance of the Abkhazians and Ossetes that they won’t be ruled from Tbilisi and the notion of “participatory ethnic nationalism” in Georgia.
The latter is perhaps the most dangerous consequence. Not only Georgia is a “participatory ethnic nationalism”, but Russia and many of the Soviet successor states fall into the same category. Looking back at the period before WW1, what passed as democratic institutions in Germany, Russia, and Austria also were organs for “participatory ethnic nationalism.”
A bilateral treaty ceding Abkhazia and S. Ossetia to Russia is probably the least bad solution. The cash payment needs to be high enough discourage Russia from repeating this sort of aggressive war (and the consequences of non-payment need to be high enough to persuade Russia to agree). The West has to sweeten the pot for the Georgians to get them to agree as well. Some border adjustments in the regions to let the appropriate ethnicity village stay with their sponsor nationalities should be pursued to minimize the amount of population redistribution.
Perhaps we should cut our losses with Georgia and form military alliances with Estonia and the Ukraine. We can’t rewind the clock, but we can make it difficult to impossible for Russia to pull this kind of thing again.
As for inviting Georgia into NATO, I’d say that no, we shouldn’t. A NATO-Russia conflict means nuclear war, and starting that over some idiotic border conflict would be tragic.
[…] to examine the situation with some degree of context. Professor Kenneth Anderson, on a lengthy and thoughtful post on Opinio Juris, does just this when he writes about the fallout from the War. However, while I find his analysis […]
I am curious. Perhaps someone can help me… In regards to the theory of the rule of law, how is it that Georgia can start the bombing, maiming and killing of innocent civilians, garner the complete support of the western media (I have yet to hear in western media the point of view from a single person from Abkhazia nor South Ossetia, yet we have heard plenty about what Georgians, Saakashvili, and Rice have had to say), and yet walk away unscathed by the world’s court of public opinion? I am surprised by the indifference to truth that the mainstream media is portraying, or at least a fair account from all sides involved. It would seem to me that something as ominous as a new cold or world war would lend itself to the gathering of all points of view before any side acts in a manner that could make all suffer. The placement of missile defense systems in Poland is an extremely aggressive act. Call it what you will, but it definitely is cementing relations between Russia and the United States, unfortunately, in the wrong direction. Then again, I find that the United States mandating what any country “Must”… Read more »
If Russia wants its accusations of atrocities in Abkhazia or South Ossetia taken seriously, perhaps it should produce some evidence to that effect, something which has been noticeably lacking.
Mr. / Miss Gross,
I doubt seriously if you speak or read russian.
If you’ll notice, what I said was about information being absent from western media, not media as a whole.
There is more than sufficient evidence from Abkhazians and Ossetians, yet they are never given airtime in western news. They are all over russian news as well as other countries, just not in the west, which is my point.
I am not trying to be insulting or argumentative. I only want people to have all of the facts and formulate their respective opinions with an informed, all inclusive view.
…then it should be no problem for you to produce links to at least some circumstantial evidence and pictures then, Mr. Franke.
Don’t worry, while I myself don’t speak Russian, I know plenty of people who do, should translation be necessary.
[…] neighbors are worried – Yuschenko writes in the Washington post. Krauthammer and Hanson weigh in. More discussion here. For classical music fans, this is disconcerting (yes, pun intended – more humor for a grim topic) […]
The ninth paragraph down states that the point of view of Abkazians and South Ossetians best. Georgians on the other hand share in none of these qualities.
If Abkazians and South Ossetians were pro-Georgian, they would be holding Russian passports (citizenship), nor voting in Russian elections. It is noteworthy that both groups have also done this without a gun to their head so to speak.
I would like to see someone refute that.
Truth about war in Ossetia that is overlooked by BBC and CNN At 7 p.m. on August 8, the day when Olympics started, worldwide community heard from CNN and BBC news that Russian tanks invaded Georgia and that Russia started war with Georgia. That the war had begun 16 hours earlier by Georgian president Sukashvili’s order these media preferred to pass over in silence. But you have the right to know truth. That’s how this really happened: According to old tradition of Olympic Games’ eve everyone was looking for peace and quiet. On August 7, Georgian and South Ossetian officials agreed to observe a ceasefire and hold debates in attempt to solve their long-term conflict peacefully. August 8, 00:06 Just hours later, six minutes past midnight on August 8, inhabitants of Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, peacefully sleeping in their beds, heard dreadful whizz of incoming rockets. The hell followed soon… Without any declaration Georgian forces launched massive shelling of Tskhinvali with all available means, including heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems GRAD. In this massacre, in just several hours, the whole city was ruined: 2,000 human lives wasted and 85% of all buildings demolished. Georgian military… Read more »
Thank you Kenneth Anderson for publishing this essay on the web, backed by your considerable knowledge of Georgia and the situation between Georgia and its seccessionist territories, and Russia all three. As I have listened to the news from a number of different sources on this most recent event, I have again and again thought to myself “how is it that any other nation, western or other, should tell these territories they must be ruled by Georgia?” Yet, I think anyone can plainly see the frightening nature of the move Russia has made in all this, backing those territories–it’s clearly more backing their own imperialist motives. Your report here has helped me clarify and soldify to some degree my opinions on the subject. It seems to me it would be ideal if Russia would stay out of this entirely, and then the west could as well. The matter really seems to be one that should be settled between the seccessionist territories and Georgian government alone without outside interference, but it seems that is not likely to be possible now. Thanks again for your good information and analysis.
“85% of all buildings demolished.”
Perhaps in the future Russia should try to make sure any cities they claim have been leveled can’t be visited by outside observers.
I have a couple of problems with that article.
First, it doesn’t mention anywhere the figure of “85 %” and I read it. Perhaps I overlooked it?
Secondly, I’m not going to argue semantics. The Georgians caused destruction and killed several. There is no arguing that.
At this point, they are simpling getting what is coming to them and no-one has yet to respond to the point that Abkhazian and Ossetians hold russian passports, vote in russian electections, fled to Russia and want nothing to do with Georgia.
I suppose I shall ask a very simple question.
At what point do a people have the right to govern themselves?
It would seem to me that the Georgians have no claim whatsoever given the demographics of either disputed territory and an attempt to govern them by the Georgians is nothing more than a thinly veiled form of exploitation.
[…] a law professor at American University and research fellow of the Hoover Institution. “Georgia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia“, posted at Opinio Juris, 22 August 2008. Like the Kagan essay to which he refers, Anderson […]
I can certainly follow the argument that, with such a severe ethnic cleansing history fifteen years ago, it may be unwise to group the Abkhasians, Ossetians and Georgians into one country, but I have some questions. 1. Apparently, there are about 40,000 Ossetians living in Georgia proper. Do all 40,000 of them have to be uprouted and sent to Ossetia? Is is OK for them to self select to be Georgian citizens of Ossetian ancestry, much as I consider myself to be an American of Irish and French ancestry? Or are they going to have to leave? What if they don’t want to? What about the Georgians living in South Ossetia? 2. I have also understood that some Georgians and Ossetians are married to each other. What about them? What about their children, part Ossetian and part Georgian? What about the grandparents who want to see their grandchildren whether they’re Ossetian or Georgian? 3. Does this ethnic cleansing go back hundreds of years or does it just go back 15 years? How did they manage to get along before? My heart goes out to the people of Georgia, Ossetia and Abkhazia, and I hope a solution for them can be… Read more »
South Ossetians possess Russian passports because Russia decided to essentially unilaterally make them citizens. This seems almost like an act of war, seeing as they were claiming Georgia’s citizens as their own without the consent of the government.
I would be very surprised if the international community would ignore a similar move should the US decide to make the Kurds citizens and move to protect “their people” in Iraq, with force against their former countrymen.
You may visit http://georgiaabkhazia.blogspot.com –
There is a new Article in Financial Times – “Why I had to recognize Georgia” by Russian President
You don’t understand real political situation!!!!!!Everywhere mislead!!
Pleaze, watch this movie
[…] out Georgia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, posted by Ken Anderson on Opinio Juris. Here is a taste: [I]t is a grave error to conflate rolling […]