No Good Guys in Russia-Georgia War

By Matthew Rothschild · 16 Aug 2008

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Russia and Georgia must immediately agree to a ceasefire, and Russia must withdraw its troops from Georgia. Both sides must also respect the lives of civilians.

That is the bare minimum required by international law.

There are no good guys in this conflict.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was reckless to send in the military to subdue the Russian-leaning province of South Ossetia on Friday.

And Russia, led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, responded with unnecessary force.

As in most modern conflicts, it is civilians who bear the brunt. There have been reports of more than 2,000 civilians killed already. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have urged Russia and Georgia not to fire on civilians, and to give them safe passage. Amnesty International warns that some of the attacks may already have constituted war crimes.

Russia does not have a legitimate claim here. It brutally subdued Chechnya, which was trying to secede from Russia. Georgia was trying to subdue a restive South Ossetia. What’s the difference?

Nor does the United States have a legitimate claim to criticize Russia, for three reasons.

First, the United States encouraged Kosovo to break away from Serbia, so Washington is in no position to disparage the desires of those in South Ossetia who want to break away from Georgia.

Second, after the United States launched an unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq, it’s in no position to lecture Russian on this provoked war.

And third, the United States has been eagerly allying with Georgia, and arming it and training it, which Washington knew all along was an irritant to Moscow. Why didn’t Condoleezza Rice restrain Saakashvili?

Perhaps because there are many powerful Republicans who yearn for a rerun of the Cold War.

William Kristol was itching to go in the New York Times on Monday, though even he had to note that Russia today is not the threat that Stalin or Hitler was.

Robert Kagan, Kristol’s partner in crime at the Project for a New American Century, compared South Ossetia to the Sudetenland.

Cheney said, “Russian aggression must not go unanswered.”

John McCain warned of “severe, long-term negative consequences” for Russia. He heaped praise on Saakashvili, though he pronounced his name as “Shaskavili” three times, according to Agence France-Presse.

Rather than defuse this volatile situation, the talk of Kristol, Kagan, Cheney, and McCain only adds recklessness to recklessness.

There is another issue at play here, as well, as Michael Klare notes.

"The United States seeks to use Georgia as an 'energy corridor' to transport Caspian energy to the West without going through Iran or Russia,” says Klare, author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet. “To this end, it helped build the BTC (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) Pipeline across Georgia and helped beef up the Georgian military to protect it. Russia seeks to frustrate America's use of Georgia for this purpose, and uses Abkhazia and South Ossetia as daggers pointed at the jugular of the BTC pipeline. When Saakashvili sought to drive the Russians out of these enclaves, the Russians struck back."

We don’t need a new Cold War with Russia, which still has a couple of thousand nuclear weapons that can hit our shores in 15 minutes.

And we certainly don’t need one over oil.

By Matthew Rothschild. This article was originally published by The Progressive Magazine. Copyright 2008 The Progressive Magazine. SACSIS cannot authorize the republication of this article.

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