War again

The short, but miserable, war in South Ossetia seems to be over for the moment at least. Some not very original observations over the fold

* The decision by the Georgian government to send its troops into South Ossetia reflected at least two of the military miscalculations common to those who start wars
– belief in a quick and complete victory producing a fait accompli
– the assumption that helping a powerful ally (in this case, the US in Iraq) will call forth help when it is needed. In this case, a glance at the map ought to have been enough to show that the US could, and would, do nothing, but the error is much more common than this.

* The Russian government may seem to have triumphed, but the costs of this action will far outweigh the benefits. Among the consequences, an obvious one is the likelihood that Ukraine will be admitted to NATO sooner rather than later. But more generally, Russia has acquired a limited capacity to throw its weight around in the Caucasus at the expense of any likelihood of being treated as a friend by the rest of Europe, not to mention the US. That won’t stop them selling oil and gas, for example, but I imagine most of Russia’s customers will now be willing to offer a premium to alternative suppliers. Implicitly, that means a discount on the price received by Russia

* Virtually everything the Russian government has done here has precedents in the recent actions of the US. Of course, the precedents have been stretched, but the Bush Administration set the (meta)precedent here as well. If it weren’t tragic, it would be laughable to see Bush proclaiming that such actions were ‘unacceptable in the 21st century’.

115 thoughts on “War again

  1. I’m not sure there will be a Georgia in 18 months.

    The Russians will withdraw slowly and incompletely, then encourage further attacks by the Abkhaz and Ossetians in “disputed areas” while responding with massive force to any Georgian attempt at resistance.

    A year or so of that and the Georgian state will most likely collapse, then Russia can send in more peace-keeping forces in advance of a sham referendum on the country’s reabsorption by Russia.

  2. “You might remember that the Russians and the Great Western Powers fought a war there in the 1840s over the status of the Crimea, which was nominally an independent Tartar monarchy under the ‘protection’ of the Ottomans”.

    Er, no.

    The war was fought in the 1850s, over other issues to do with Russian encroachment of Turkish holdings. It was fought in a number of theatres (Crimea, Danube, Caucasus, Baltic, White Sea, Kamchatka, etc.), with the Crimea merely being the most important. That description of the Crimea’s status is also wrong, for that date; Russia had conquered it in the 18th century.

  3. Right on cue:

    “Russia’s army remains entrenched in Georgia and a top official has warned that withdrawal could be delayed, as the main Western military alliance met in crisis session to discuss the conflict.

    Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said a complete withdrawal “depends on the policy of [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili and the action of his forces.”

    Mr Rogozin, previously a leading nationalist politician in Moscow, branded Mr Saakashvili a “Nazi”, reaffirmed that Moscow would no longer deal with him, and also warned that Russia needed “a few days” to fulfil its obligations under the peace deal.

    Russian soldiers were still preventing access into the city of Gori, just 60 kilometres west of Tbilisi and outside the territory of South Ossetia, a correspondent reported.

    “I really do not know how long we will be staying here,” said one of the soldiers, who declined to give his name.

    Tanks and reinforced checkpoints were also in evidence on road to Gori.

    “There is still no sign of a withdrawal, nothing at all,” Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said.”

  4. Ian,
    Look for a massive US relief effort next. I would also expect some stronger wording from them on the prospects of joining NATO. The longer the Russians delay, the stronger the wording (but not the actions) will become. If the Russians tarry too long the US may actually be forced to do something.
    I hope the relief effort is more successful than some others have been. My guess is that the Georgians will find the BTC pipeline has suffered extensive damage, possibly stopping transport for months. Russia will deny it was them, blaming others.

  5. PML: quite right – my memory let me down on the chronology of the demise of the Crimean Khanate. The main point I was making, though, was to cast some doubt on the strength of Ukrainian claims to the peninsula, noting that the adoption of former SSR boundaries by the successor states will lead to much more grief. Cf. colonial boundaries in Africa.

  6. The Russians are saying to the Georgians: we can’t stand Saakashvili, get rid of him. He’s the reason we’re hooning around your country, shooting at tin cans.

    Just the sort of thing to raise the President’s popularity in the short term, but not the long. I revise my time-frame to 6 months. The preppy boy will be gone by then.

  7. Much of Stalin’s arrangements were intended to remove potential for viability from “natural” units, partly by connecting them up in Gerrymanderish ways and partly by having mutually dependent industries strategically placed separately. It paid off in terms of the USSR – the Germans never quite reached the most important tank factories, though they wouldn’t have had to get much further than Stalingrad to have managed it.

    Now, however, there are things like the Crimea as part of the Ukraine and Kaliningrad (formerly Koenigsberg in East Prussia) as part of Russia. Also, a chunk of central Europe – the eastern end of Czechoslovakia and adjoining parts of other countries – went to the USSR so that all the eastern bloc countries would be directly accessible from the USSR if it ever needed to offer fraternal help without the compliance of other countries (formerly, Poland and Rumania between them filled a space between the Black Sea and the Baltic); that paid off in 1956. What the Russians face now is the reverse of that, like Queensland Gerrymandering backfiring generations later on the party that put it in by helping the other party for another long period.

    See Ken MacLeod’s blog for a recent post on some of these national-geographical constructs.

  8. Pr Q says:

    * Virtually everything the Russian government has done here has precedents in the recent actions of the US. Of course, the precedents have been stretched, but the Bush Administration set the (meta)precedent here as well.

    Thats true, but not in the way Pr Q suggests. It was the Clinton admin that lit the fuse that started this war. It pushed the policy of enlarging NATO, extending it right up to Russia’s borders.

    Of course the neo-cons were enthusiastic pushers. More client states to recruit and another poke in the eye to their traditional bug-bear.

    Can anyone explain to me why NATO feels it necessary to enlist Georgia in the project to maintain European security? No, I didnt think so.

    Since the end of the Cold War the West has been nothing but a pest to Russia. Filling it up with stupid and malignant advice and pointlessly irritating it.

    Russia under Yeltsin turned into a poster-child for the deformities of post-modern liberalism. Privatisation allowed a handful of oligarchs to rip off the better part of its mineral economy. And the gross liberalisation of culture turned large fractions of its young women into whores and young men into drunks.

    All of which turned Russia into a demographic disaster zone. She is suffering another bout of unacknowledged genocide which liberal intellectuals are again studiously ignoring because to acknowledge it would challenge their morally bankrupt world view.

    It is a tragedy touching millions. Sixty years after World War II, Russians are dying younger in peacetime than their grandparents did under Stalin. They are having fewer children, and many are falling mortally ill from alcohol-related diseases.

    “A terrible demographic crisis is taking place,” said Nikolay Petrov, a specialist on Russian society at the Carnegie Center in Moscow.

    Life expectancy of Russian men is below 60 years, compared with 67 years in 1985 and 63 years in the early 1950s. They are also living 16 years less on average than their male counterparts in Western Europe and 14 years less than Russian women because of their lifestyle.

    Since 1992, Russia’s population has fallen 3 percent, to 143.8 million from 148.7 million. Other countries have experienced sharp declines over the same period – in Bosnia, the war reduced the population by 10 percent, while emigration sapped the populations of Armenia and Kazakhstan. In the case of Russia, domestic and social reasons, not war or emigration, are draining the country of its people.

    No one gives a damn about this for obvious reasons. We are all too busy apologising for our own largely mythical acts of genocide committed a century ago.

    Then, when the Russians finally started to pick themselves off the canvas, NATO decided it was time to recruit hostile former colonies of the Russian empire. Way to go to p*ss off worlds number two nuclear power! Imagine if Russia went to the Carribean and started to recruit Cuba into the Warsaw Pact!

    Oh wait a minute, that actually happened didnt it? Almost started WWIII I recall.

    The US policy of meddling in other nations affairs is well past its use by date. We should be making friends with Russia.

    It is a natural part of the Occident with a cultural identity sympathetic to most Europeans: a Caucasian race, Christian religion and some revived esteem for its Constitutional regent. Also the land of Tolstoy, Eisenstein, Nijinsky, Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn etc.

    Instead we have done everything in our power to turn it into an enemy again. And abandoned its people – our former ally in Hot Wars – in their hour of need.

  9. PS And whose idea was it to encourage Georgia to launch a tank war against Russia?

    It appears that Israel sold alot of arms to Georgia. Thats kind of mean considering it was Soviet Russian arms shipments to Israel that allowed the Jews to defeat the Arabs in its war of independence.

    Still, lots of Georgian leaders were feted by NATO and the USE. Obviously all the strategic geniuses in these bodies were busy advising them of the need to have good relations with its mighty neighbour. Not.

    I guess all these stupid wars are driven by strategic miscalculation plus the prospect of getting a crony capitalist cut of the arms sales.

  10. “We are all too busy apologising for our own largely mythical acts of genocide committed a century ago.”

    and once again we see how Jack Strocchi is incapable of viewign the world throguh any lens but his insatiable hatred ofr those he calls “post-modern liberals” et cetera.

    Nothing bad happens in the world withotu their baleful influence.

    If not for them, every primary school P&C in the country woudl be running sausage sizzlers to buy more cluster bombs for use in Chechnya and hundreds of thousands of sun-bronzed ANAZAC volunteers would stand proudly shoulder-to-shoulder with their Russian Brothers in Christ as they intotrudced Johnny Arab to 18 inches of the finest Brtish seel.

  11. # Ian Gould Says: August 14th, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    No Jack it proves that the supposed underground epidemic of undiagnosed sexual abuse which justified spending one billion dollars of public money never existed

    Really? THis epidemiologists who tirelessly study this public health & safety disaster would be surprised to know that it “never existed”:

    In Queensland, pediatrician Richard Heazlewood said sexual and physical abuse and neglect were increasing in Cape York Aboriginal communities.

    Dr Heazlewood was co-author of an audit of Cape York children who visited a health outreach service between June 2001 and February last year, which found shocking rates of abuse and neglect.

    The audit of 3262 children, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, found middle-ear effusion, suspected child abuse and neglect notifications, and failure to thrive were the three most common reasons for referral to the doctors.

    “An estimated 12.8 per cent of all children in the Aboriginal communities visited by the service were subjects of alleged abuse and neglect,” it said.

    The thousands of abused kids walking wounded around the Top End would also be surprised by the “non-existence” of their plight. Victims of fashionable liberalisms toxic social combination: ignorance of pre-modern natural diversity and preference for post-modern cultural perversity.

    I witnessed the aftermath of this myself on several visits to remote Aboriginal communities. Putting one of the final nails into the coffin of my liberal illusions.

    But the likes of Ian and Michael would prefer to indulge in petty Holocaust denialism rather than question their own odious political beliefs.

  12. You know initally I was at a loss as to how Jack thought Australia could help prevent Russia’s “demographic disaster”.

    Then it strukc me – we cousdl cut immigraiton.

    Because, as Jack keep tells us, that’s the solution to every single social and environmental problem.

  13. ro the record Jack, my principal criticisms of the “intervention” are as follows:

    1. It didn’t happen much sooner

    2. The resources devoted ot it were grossly inadequate, in particular in the area of policing. Adding an average of one police officer (temporarily) per community was never going to have a signficant impact on the endemic violence and alcohol and drug abuse in the Aboriginal communities. Without addressing that issue, you’re never goind to address the assocaited problem of retention of nurses, doctors and otrher professionals.

    If John howard had pledged not $1 billion but $20 billion over a decade, I would have accpeted that this was a seriosu effort to address the problems in the aboriginal communities and niot a cynical votign grabbign stunt.

    2. The intervention was dressed up witrh a lot of right-wing culture warrior nonsnese such as the attack on the Pass laws. Making it harder for communties to exclude sly goggers is goign to negate most of the limited good the intervention might otherwise have done.

    If 10%+ of Aboriginal kids in the NT were beign sexually abused, you woudl expect a comprehensive health survey involving examinations of every child to turn up hundreds if no thousands of previously unduiagnosed cases of STDs.

    There are essentially three explanations for the failure ot do so:

    1. Your preferred explantion = John Howad’s magic wand not only stopped sexual abuse on Day One, it also magically removed the evidence of past sexual abuse.

    2. The explantion I half-facetiously usggested above – the actual incidence of sexual abuse is significantly lower than previously thought.

    3. The health survey hadn’t had time to occur within the first six months and the fall in STDs is either a statistically meaningless random fluctuation or a reflection of a pre-existing fluctuiation in the reporting rate (possibly linked as I noted previously to the school year or to the wet season).

    You claim to be a science journalsit Jack – if you were told that a new cancer treatment not only cured most patients immediately after a single treatment but also removed all evidence they ever had cancer, wouldn;t you be a little suspicious?

    Finally, if the first six months of the intervention had led to a marked increase in diagnosed STDs in Aboriginal kids you would have seized on this as proof of how desperately the intervention was needed and how it was uncovering the epidemic of child abuse previously concealed by your personal demons – the all-powerful ever-malevolent “post-modern liberals”.

    The ability to use all evidence to support one’s pre-existing worldview is a classic sign of pseudoscience.

  14. “The thousands of abused kids walking wounded around the Top End would also be surprised by the “non-existenceâ€? of their plight. Victims of fashionable liberalisms toxic social combination: ignorance of pre-modern natural diversity and preference for post-modern cultural perversity………………
    But the likes of Ian and Michael would prefer to indulge in petty Holocaust denialism rather than question their own odious political beliefs.” – JS

    More hyper-hyphenated hyperventilations.

    Damn those po-mo’s, responsible for all disasters in the world. And to think that I’ve played my part with my “petty Holocaust denial”!

    If only those poor indigenous kiddies could have existed in Jacks Goldren Era, you know, that one before the goddam liberal Holocaust deniers got their grubby mits on the levers of power. They wouldn’t be the “walking wounded”, because they wouldn’t have had the chance to be walking with the sub-Saharan Africa infant mortality rates. What were the rates of middle ear disease? No one knew, because in Jacks utopia before toxic liberalism, the finest distinction that could be made was between the living and the dead.

    But those damn liberals are to blame in some regard. Having viewed their own contributions from the standpoint of Jacks Golden Era – of no recognition of land rights and the absence of the basic medical services to deal with the preventable causes of infant motality – they were quite pleased with what they had achieved and rested on their laurels.

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