From Socialist Voice, September 2008

International

White House targets Russia in gunboat diplomacy

In the early hours of 7 August the Georgian army launched a massive invasion of South Ossetia, which had existed as a separate entity for seventeen years. In doing so it not only broke a ceasefire but pre-empted Ossetian-Georgian talks that were scheduled for later that day.
     Within twenty-four hours the Georgians had killed more than two thousand people and ethnically cleansed many Ossetian villages. The Ossetian capital, Tskhinval, was bombarded by artillery and then invaded. This whole episode was the biggest incident of bloodshed in Europe for many years but was grossly under-reported by the Western media.
     Only when Russia reacted to this situation on its border by intervening and expelling the Georgians from South Ossetia did the media in the West wake up from their silly season. In the weeks that followed, Irish newspapers, radio and television, with a few honourable exceptions, gave the distinct impression that the brief war had been started by Russia, and much of the coverage was coloured by a caricature view of Russians that would not have been out of place in Punch, if not the Skibereen Eagle.
     President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia is not the paragon of democracy the Western media depicts. Since he came to office he has used state power to suppress any and every opposition to his rule. He has cultivated a nasty chauvinism, which has been directed against the two enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This chauvinism increased in intensity over the last few months as demonstrations against his rule became an almost daily occurrence. Indeed the attack on South Ossetia did not have anything like universal approval in Georgia, and there was much public opposition to it even at the time of the Russian incursions. Again, there was little to read or hear of this in the Western media.
     None of this should be read as implying that Russia is acting out of any sense of internationalism in going to the assistance of the Ossetians. No doubt some of the current regime in Moscow harbour Tsarist-style dreams of hegemony over bordering countries. But the fact is that any Russian government has to look to its security when faced with the NATO campaign to encircle it with hostile states and nuclear missiles. For years now the United States has being training the Georgian army and overseeing its adaptation to NATO military dogma, organisation, and equipment. This, along with the new US bases in Poland and interference in the internal politics of Ukraine, is nothing short of provocation.
     An interesting aspect of the conflict is that it has exposed a contradiction between the US State Department and the White House. The former is less enthusiastic about supporting Saakashvili than President Bush, partly because of how a wider war might affect the US election, partly because it regards the Georgian leader as a bit of a mad president (a subject with which they have some familiarity)—one who launches military adventures without waiting for advice from the US State Department—but mainly because they are tied up in Iraq and beaten up in Afghanistan. The White House, on the other hand, is concentrating its mind on the fact that two major oil pipelines and a gas line flow through Georgia.
     A similar breach has occurred within NATO. Some member-states have had second thoughts about taking Georgia into the organisation, because, according to NATO doctrine, an attack on one member-state is considered an attack on all of them, and war with Russia does not appeal to them.
     On the other hand, many of the EU militarists see the crisis in the Caucasus as an opportunity to expand its war-making infrastructure. Nicolas Sarkozy was fast out of the blocks, saying, “The crisis in Georgia has shown for the first time that Europe [sic] can, if she wants to, be on the front line.” David Miliband called for “the widest possible coalition against Russian aggression.”
     And indeed the minister of state at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Peter Power, announced to the world that he was prepared to send Irish troops to defend Georgia. The ghost of John Redmond is alive and well!
     The Western media on the whole continue to admonish Russia for interfering in the territorial integrity of Georgia. These same people cheered on the violent breaking up of Yugoslavia. The Irish Times dogmatises: “Recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states . . . breaks fundamental norms of co-operation and negotiation.” It would appear that it is all right to recognise the independence of Montenegro overnight, but Ossetians must wait, because their aspirations do not fit in with US-NATO plans for controlling the region. And the Irish Times had no qualms about the European Union installing the local mafia in power in Kosovo.
     President Bush seems to be going out of his way to cause provocation. He sent US helicopters with marines to Tbilisi airport with “humanitarian aid.” What this aid consists of is a mystery—not food, because Georgians are among the best-fed people in the far east of Europe, and not medical staff, as Georgia has an abundance of doctors—a legacy from the Soviet Union. He then sent a fully armed naval vessel to the port of Batumi, “carrying aid for war victims.” It so happens that Batumi is the terminal for the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline.
     This kind of sabre-rattling aggravates the situation. A shooting war between the United States and Russia would be a world disaster. And throwing shapes can develop “accidentally” into a fatal fight.
[CDF]

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