Monday, August 11, 2008

Needing to say something, though not sure, really, what to say

I have so far refrained from commenting on the war between Russia and Georgia. And I note that most of the blogs I read regularly have also been somewhat reticent on the matter.

I'm not sure why that is, though I suspect it's not that they've all been so mesmerised by watching Olympic synchronised diving that the Conflict in the Caucasus (we don't have TV -- long story -- but I presume CNN has some kind of snappy slogan like that....tell me, do they have theme music already?) has slipped their minds.

In my case, it's partly been because I don't really know all that much about the conflict's background, though I've trying to read up over the last few days. (Worthwhile comments available at the NYT, LG&M and Fistful of Euros).

Secondly, I've been silent since I'm not sure of what, exactly, to make of this war. My sympathies lie with Georgia, which has a few things going for it. It is at least a nascent democracy (though a deeply imperfect one.) It is oriented politically and economically toward the West. It is, additionally, not Russia.

And it is also -- it seems -- having the shit kicked out of it by a vastly superior neighbour in a way that exceeds any of the expressed legitimations issuing from Moscow.

On the other hand, it also seems that the Georgian leadership was unwise (to understate by several orders of magnitude) to try to launch an offensive to recapture the disputed territory of South Ossetia. The latter has had, as I understand it, de facto independence for some time now, and it is largely composed of people who do not want to be part of Georgia. (And there have been some allegations that the Georgian offensive was accompanied by atrocities. I have no idea how many of these sorts of things are true and how much are rumour. On either side.)

It may be that the Georgians, in turn, had been provoked by Russian 'peacekeepers' or local irregular forces for some time. And the Russians, it seems clear, have long been angling to regain control over Georgia. Seeing as though their military operations now appear to have gone beyond securing the disputed territories of South Ossetia or Abkhazia -- or even just reducing or humiliating the US equipped and trained Georgian military -- to what may be an attempt to bring down the government, this suspicion seems confirmed.

The third reason for avoiding this topic has been witnessing the discussion it has provoked at a few other places, which seems to have disintegrated even more quickly than most into name calling (some version of 'Western stooges' vs. 'Russian apologists') and appears -- to me anyway -- to tend toward scoring points on other issues (Kosovo and Iraq mostly) rather than in fairly examining the war at hand. I am really not interested in that.

It felt a bit weird, though, not commenting at all on the rather large elephant in the room, and now that I've brought it up, I'm happy for pointers to worthwhile reading material on the subject that is -- please -- at least reasonably clear-sighted and not too tendentious.

Short conclusion: I can't see this ending well for anyone except for Vladimir Putin and his pals. And that is not a happy thought.

I suppose the only comforting thought was offered by Charlie Whitaker at A Fistful of Euros, in the context of commenting on Russia's less-than-cutting-edge military equipment:

The consequences are still with Russia today, and can be seen at various levels and in various applications, including military applications. For example, shells fired from a Leopard 2 will likely pass clean through the hull of a T-80, but not vice versa.

Not that this helps the Georgians, but writing from here in Germany (home of the Leopard 2) that is -- if true -- vaguely comforting.

If only in a long-term, future-oriented sense.

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