Thursday, August 14, 2008

What Indians need to hear about Russia

What Indians need to hear about Russia but won't-

EU foreign ministers meeting in emergency session today to discuss the situation in Georgia should begin by asking why it took the outbreak of war to focus their attention. They had no cause to be surprised. The warning signs had been apparent for at least a year, and the Georgian government had made strenuous efforts to raise the alarm. This time last summer a Russian jet violated Georgian airspace and dropped a missile north of Tbilisi in what appeared to be a botched attack on a Georgian radar installation. Russia denied involvement, but two separate independent investigations found otherwise. Despite this, Georgia's plea for diplomatic support fell almost entirely on deaf ears.

Whether or not the incident was planned in order to test international reactions to an escalation of Russian military action in Georgia, Moscow clearly took encouragement from the absence of a response. With western governments preoccupied elsewhere - not least with Iran, where they need Russian support for a negotiated solution on the nuclear issue - Russian strategists evidently concluded that they enjoyed a free hand in their "near abroad". In April, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would be strengthening official links with Georgia's two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including opening formal relations with their political bodies and strengthening trade ties.

This only confirmed what had been apparent for several years - that Russia is actively supporting secessionist forces instead of respecting its mandate and behaving as an honest broker. But it ripped away the final pretence that its role in Georgia is one of peacekeeping. Other steps of escalation quickly followed. Russia moved 400 troops into Abkhazia under the pretext of working on a railway project. Russian planes started shooting down Georgian aerial drones. There was an increase in armed attacks by Russian-backed forces in South Ossetia, including a roadside bomb that injured six Georgian policemen and an attempt to assassinate the head of the pro-Tbilisi provisional administration of South Ossetia.

None of these incidents received much coverage outside the region, so the impression has been created that Georgia initiated the current fighting with an unprovoked assault on South Ossetia. This is quite false. It has surely been a big misjudgment on Georgia's part, but resort to offensive operations came at the end of a long period of rising tension in which Russia had done everything it could to stir up trouble and provoke a reaction.


But complexity is no excuse for abdicating moral judgment in situations of this importance. If responsibility for the conflict is not a black and white matter, the picture is not uniformly grey either. By any reasonable measure, the impact of Russian policy has been uniquely destructive in generating instability and political division in the Caucasus. The events of the early 1990s notwithstanding, Georgia's treatment of minorities that have remained under its rule has been generally good. Whatever his faults, Saakashvili is no Milosevic - and wild Russian allegations of genocide have no independent support. Under appropriate international supervision, it would be perfectly possible to turn his offer of autonomy for Abkhazia and South Ossetia into a workable constitutional settlement that guaranteed the security and fundamental rights of people living those territories.

The problem is that considerations of this nature form no part of Russia's vision for the region. It talks about defending the people of South Ossetia, but the Kremlin's aims are geopolitical rather than humanitarian. It seeks to restore the sphere of influence it regards as Russia's birthright, which it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union (a "major geopolitical disaster", according to Putin). There is no place for an independent Georgia (or Ukraine or Moldova) in this mental picture. When Russian leaders talk about the benefits of "sovereign democracy", they are talking exclusively about their own sovereignty and not at all about democracy. The countries on their borders have no right to foreign policies of their own if they conflict with Russia's. This is especially true of energy supplies, where Georgia's role in maintaining the only east-west pipeline route free of Russia's monopolistic grip causes double offence. This is about the Kremlin's attitude to us, too.


There are troubling signs in some of the victory statements coming out of Moscow yesterday that Russia may feel emboldened to impose a punitive settlement, perhaps by annexing territory. This is not something that the EU and its allies should be prepared to tolerate. As so often with bullies, the Russian government's behaviour disguises deep insecurity and a craving for respect. This makes it more susceptible to our opinions than we often think. Further aggressive steps against Georgia would certainly be a reason to reconsider whether Russia should continue to enjoy the prestige that comes with membership of the G8.

From an excellent article by David Clark in the Guardian.Read the whole thing.

Now this is something you won't hear, see or read in the India media unless by some fluke. Ask yourself why some opinions(or rather some kinds of opinion) are shut out from the Indian press.

(emphasis mine)