CONFLICT IN THE CAUCASUS: THE LONG HISTORY OF RUSSIAN IMPERIALISM

Israel e News
http://www.israelenews.com/view.asp?ID=2978
S ept 1 2008
Israel

Filed under World News, Muslim Zionism, IDF/Military, Opinion
Editorials, EU and UK, History, Russia - on Wednesday, January 09,
2008 - By: Schwartz, Stephen

The latest Russian invasion of Georgia--following the examples provided
by tsars Paul I and his successor Alexander I (in 1801) and Soviet
dictator Vladimir Lenin (in 1921, three years after Georgia first
gained modern independence)--has fully revealed the character of
post-Soviet neo-imperialism under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin's master, his puppet president Dmitry Medvedev, and their
supporters are obviously committed to reversing the dissolution of
the Soviet empire after 1991, with an ambition and ferocity previously
absent among the successors to the Communist dictators. But no one can
really have been surprised by the assault on Georgia. It was clearly
on the Russian agenda beginning early in 2004, when American-educated
and Western-oriented attorney Mikheil Saakashvili was elected Georgia's
president after the peaceful "Rose Revolution." Military expert Ralph
Peters, in a briefing at the American Enterprise Institute on August
13, argued persuasively that the speed of Russia's latest rape of
Georgia demonstrated that the aggressor's armed forces were ready
and waiting for Putin's signal to act.

Georgia's transition toward democracy coincided with the similar
Orange Revolution in Ukraine and Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan. All
of them piqued the anger of Putin, who wanted less rather than more
self-determination in the former Soviet states.

But Georgia and Ukraine had taken further measures to consolidate
their Western alignment, by applying for membership in the NATO
alliance. Some commentators imply that Russian interference in Georgia
was spurred by Western recognition of the independence of Kosovo in
February 2008. But a much more serious contributing fact was NATO's
decision at the Bucharest conference in April, impelled by Germany
and France under Russian influence, to reject Georgian and Ukrainian
membership in the defense organization.

President George W. Bush had lobbied for the eastward extension of
NATO. Georgia had joined the Partnership for Peace--considered by
most countries a step toward NATO membership--in 1992, and applied for
full accession in 2002, but Ukraine had delayed its application until
early this year. Exclusion of the two former Soviet possessions was
a clear signal to Putin that Moscow could begin a brutal reassertion
of domination over them.

In pursuing this aim, Putin, trained as an officer of the Soviet
secret police, carried out a series of actions, each of which should
have been enough to warn the world of his intentions. Secessionist
movements had been subsidized by the Russians since the early 1990s
in Abkhazia, where Russian "peacekeepers" were stationed in 1993,
and in South Ossetia, where some residents took Russian rather than
Georgian citizenship, even though Ossetians are not Slavs, but a
Christian people of Iranian origin.

Both of these territories have belonged to Georgia for millennia. But
they had been granted fake "autonomy" under Soviet rule, to fragment
the Georgian majority, which is also non-Slav. The Abkhazians are
related to the Georgians, and include Muslims as well as Christians.

The years since the Rose Revolution, and especially since the rejection
of Georgian and Ukrainian admission to NATO, have seen a rising Russian
policy of provocation against Georgia, the weaker of the two aspirants
to Western defense links. In 2006, mysterious explosions cut off the
Russian supply of natural gas to Georgia. Mainly rhetorical tensions
continued until April 2008, when Russian harassment increased.

Russia announced that it would recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia
as separate entities from Georgia, integrating Abkhazia's Black Sea
transport facilities into the Russian air and maritime infrastructure,
and proposing construction of a new gas pipeline in the coastal
region. The same month, Russia's Abkhazian agents shot down a Georgian
air force drone. In July, respected Russian military journalist Pavel
Felgenhauer warned that a Russian-provoked war would break out in
Georgia in August. His prediction was ignored in the West.

As for Saakashvili's responsibility in the situation, the Georgian
president had been pressed to a point where a failure to act to
protect his country's territorial integrity would have indicated
surrender to Moscow without a fight.

Once real war exploded, the Russians began a new round of provocative
public relations actions. They bussed South Ossetian "refugees"
from place to place, describing them as victims of Georgian
"genocide." Moscow declares that it has the right to intervene
anywhere the "dignity" of its co-ethnics, or their allies, may be
threatened--within or outside its borders, and especially in the
so-called "near abroad" of former Soviet territories. The Russians
have also, outrageously, called for the removal, and possible trial,
of Saakashvili as an "enemy."

To anybody who has observed the sequence of ethnic wars in the former
Communist world since 1990, the playbook is familiar. Like Putin,
Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic paraded Serbian "victims" around
the former Yugoslavia, and asserted the right to commit mass murder
in Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and Kosovo allegedly to protect his
compatriots. The establishment of mafia enclaves like the "Republika
Srpska," occupying half of Bosnia, and a similar effort now underway
north of Mitrovica in Kosovo, paralleled the nurturing of a mafia
parastate in "Transnistria" on the border of Moldova, as well as
Putin's operations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

But while the effects are the same, Putin has not imitated Milosevic;
rather, he has followed a pattern set even before the Soviet Union
began disintegrating, in 1988, when Armenia, allied with Russia,
recovered a section out of its neighbor, Azerbaijan that had been
detached by Stalin. Armenia and Azerbaijan, which border Georgia to
the southwest, remain at war today.

Meanwhile, radical Islamist agitation continues in Ingushetia,
Chechnya, and Daghestan, to Georgia's north. Iran is not far away;
Persia ruled Georgia before the Russian conquest in the 19th century,
and Tehran still sees Georgia as within its potential sphere of
influence. Russia has launched its newest adventure in the most
dangerous part of the European-Asian frontier.

The horror unfolding in Georgia could prove to be the worst such
gambit since the ill-fated Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and may
become the first major clash in a new cold war. And even if Georgia
is vanquished, wise observers like AEI's Leon Aron warn that the real
target is Ukraine. Putin might attempt to reassert Russian control over
Crimea, which came under Ukrainian authority after communism ended;
or he might try to slice off part of Eastern Ukraine as yet another
ethnic enclave susceptible to Russian usurpation. But Ukraine is big,
and its native population is likely unafraid to fight. When Ukraine
informed Moscow that the Russian Black Sea fleet, which was stationed
in Crimea, could not be used against the Georgians, the Russian ships
lifted anchor.

Some critics say President Bush was slow to reply to Russian aggression
against Georgia, which had sent troops to fight alongside American
forces in Iraq. As the days went by, however, the U.S. response
improved, and U.S. military and humanitarian supplies have been flown
to the embattled Georgians.

Saakashvili and his people have other friends, whose attitude
toward Russian power is hardly accommodating. Along with Ukrainian
president Viktor Yushchenko, the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski,
and the leaders of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania flew to Tbilisi
to demonstrate their backing for Putin's victims. They know only too
well the history of their region.

Thus, with the tsar's conquest of Georgia more than 200 years ago,
the ancient Georgian Christian monarchy--which had survived Iranian
rule--was abolished. A few years later, the Georgian Orthodox Church,
which had enjoyed religious autonomy since the 4th century, was
forcibly absorbed into Russian Orthodoxy.

Under the tsars, Georgia was a hotbed of nationalist discontent. By the
beginning of Russia's radical revolutionary period, it had come under
the political dominance of the moderate Socialists, or Mensheviks;
Lenin's invasion in 1921 quashed the only post-tsarist Menshevik
regime. But Georgia also produced Bolsheviks, including Joseph Stalin,
who was educated in a Georgian Orthodox seminary that had become a
center for nationalist and revolutionary indoctrination.

Stalin, who never mastered the Russian language, nonetheless became
a Slav chauvinist, and although his minions in power included his
fellow-Georgian, the feral police boss Lavrenti Beria, he was brutal to
most of his ethnic peers. The dark year 1937, when the murder machine
was operating at full throttle, saw the purge and execution of Titsian
Tabidze, a gifted and renowned modernist poet who had been a close
friend of Boris Pasternak. Tabidze's associate Paolo Yashvili committed
suicide in protest, in the office of the Georgian Writers' Union. These
authors remain beloved heroes and martyrs of the Georgian people.

As for the South Ossetians, whose "leaders" have provided cover
for subversion of Georgian authority, they have their own baleful
history. Under the tsars, the Ossetians were known as prison guards
and other mercenaries for the Russian overlords. Stalin's parents
have long been described as Georgianized Ossetians, and in one of his
most memorable verses, the purged and murdered poet Osip Mandelstam,
Russia's greatest writer after Pushkin, wrote of Stalin, Every killing
is sweet as berry jam / For the proud, broad-chested Ossetian.The
poem cost Mandelstam his life.

It is still possible to prevent more bloodshed in Georgia. But time is
short in dealing with Putin, the proud, physically-fit secret police
veteran, as he advances along the terrible path of his war-mongering
predecessors.

The opinions and views articulated by the author do not necessarily
reflect those of Israel e News.