Saturday, August 09, 2008

Some Perspective on the Outbreak of War Between Russia & Georgia

The hostilities between Russia and Georgia that erupted on Friday over the breakaway province of South Ossetia look, in retrospect, almost absurdly over-determined. For years, the Russians have claimed that Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has been preparing to retake the disputed regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and have warned that they would use force to block such a bid. Mr. Saakashvili, for his part, describes today’s Russia as a belligerent power ruthlessly pressing at its borders, implacably hostile to democratic neighbors like Georgia and Ukraine. He has thrown in his lot with the West, and has campaigned ardently for membership in NATO. Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s former president and current prime minister, has said Russia could never accept a NATO presence in the Caucasus.

The border between Georgia and Russia, in short, has been the driest of tinder; the only question was where the fire would start.

It’s scarcely clear yet how things will stand between the two when the smoke clears. But it’s safe to say that while Russia has a massive advantage in firepower, Georgia, an open, free-market, more-or-less-democratic nation that sees itself as a distant outpost of Europe, enjoys a decisive rhetorical and political edge. In recent conversations there, President Saakashvili compared Georgia to Czechoslovakia in 1938, trusting the West to save it from a ravenous neighbor. “If Georgia fails,” he said to me darkly two months ago, “it will send a message to everyone that this path doesn’t work.”

During a 10-day visit to Georgia in June, I heard the 1938 analogy again and again, as well as another to 1921, when Bolshevik troops crushed Georgia’s thrilling, and brief, first experiment with liberal rule.

Georgians are a melodramatic people, and few more so than their hyperactive president; but they have good reason to fear the ambitions, and the wrath, of a rejuvenated Russia seeking to regain lost power. Indeed, a renascent and increasingly bellicose Russia is an ominous spectacle for the West too. While China preaches, and largely practices, the doctrine of “peaceful rise,” avoiding confrontation abroad in order to focus on development at home, Russia acts increasingly like an expansionist 19th-century power, pressing at its borders. Most strikingly, Russia has bluntly deployed its vast oil and gas resources to punish refractory neighbors like Ukraine, and reward compliant ones like Armenia.

From a lengthy but good article on the present crisis in the New York Times. I recommend the article in its entirety.

With all of the threats to Christianity in the modern world, both internal and external, I find the spectacle of two Orthodox Christian states shooting at each other to be nothing less than revolting. All wars are on some level immoral though this is not to suggest that there is no right to self defense. However this war is a moral travesty.


Fr. J. said...

What century are you living in? These are no more "Orthodox states" than the US is a Catholic state.

I am eager for a denouncement from the MP, though I am sure to be disappointed.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thank you for this assessment based on your experience of the Georgians.

The situation is certainly growing tenser by the hour. President Bush is now calling Russia's action an "invasion."

For the Russian side of the story go here:

Steve Hayes said...

One consolation is that, unlike similar events in the former Yugoslavia, no one can say it is a "religious" war, so perhaps it isn't part of the "clash of civilizations".