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Moscow Rules

Deny everything.

Gotta love the quote at the end of the piece. Meanwhile, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday criticized the United States for airlifting some 2,000 Georgian troops from Iraq after they were recalled home. Putin said that the U.S. move will hamper efforts to resolve the conflict.

This would be Prime Minister For Life We-Can-And-Will-Kill-You-No-Matter-Where-You-Are Putin. Time’s Person of the Year.

I admit, my interest in Georgia stems entirely from my research for the Kodiak novels. But I can’t look at this situation and not see a calculated, terrifying, and very dangerous escalation on the part of Russia to create a conflict, and, once achieved, to brutally execute an end-game a long, long time in the making.

They bombed Poti. And the only reason they didn’t bomb Batumi is that it’s right on the border with Turkey.

I dunno. I should probably just keep my trap shut on the subject, but I’m finding this conflict exceptionally distressing.

42 Responses to Moscow Rules

  1. dewline

    You should be distressed, and more of us ought to be thus over the whole matter. I can’t fault your lack of silence, either.

  2. technoir

    Ultimately as tragic as things will get, we will do nothing. Which I suppose is good in some respects as war with Russia right now is not a plan and nothing else we could do would have an impact there.

    But we who watch will rail in the wilderness none the less. Because you know no one will stop a wrong does not mean you should not point it out.

    That said, neither side is with the angels here. It is just a big ugly bloody mess.

  3. lithera

    It is worrying. It is very worrying.

    It seems like there should have been something that could have been done about this earlier but I really don’t know what it would have been. You set up this situation, you come storming in to ‘help’ when asked and then you either a) stay and reabsorb the place or b) put in government that plays to your tune…

    Scary stuff.

  4. crisper

    During the Olympics opening (brilliant f’ing timing, naturally) there was a shot of Putin and Bush leaning across their respective ladies to have serious-looking words with each other, and Bob f’ing Costas *actually said* “Perhaps they’re talking about that amazing drum performance we just witnessed.” No, Bob, not even our current president is that completely disconnected from his job. I picture it more like this:

    GWB: “So, Vlad, anything I can do to get you to pull those tanks out of Georgia?”

    VVP: “Shut the fuck up, little man, before I cut your balls off with a spoon.”

    GWB: “Oooooookay. Well, let’s keep it civil for the cameras now.”

    The only question in my mind is just how many “breakaway regions” we’ll see Russia “support the independence of”. All of the former Soviet states, or just the ones with the oil?

  5. dewline

    I could see such an exchange all too easily.

  6. parakkum

    This is definitely the thing I’m watching for. After all, Russia has played a very active role in supporting separatist movements in Georgia and Moldova, but at the same time is hammering the hell out of Chechnya and opposed the formation of an independent Kosovo. At the moment, the Ossetians prefer the Russians because the Georgian government has recently and historically been utterly unpleasant to them, but once things settle here, I’m not sure that all those armed Cossacks won’t decide that they want 100% their own damn country.

    Right now, Georgia is asking China for help with the situation, which adds a layer of interesting as China assuredly does not really want conflict with Russia, yet also stands behind the principle of “what happens within your borders, stays within your borders.” After all, China has firmly backed the idea that everything happening within Myanmar is “internal” and the world community should butt out — by that concept, everything within the S. Ossetia and Abkhazia regions should be internal to Georgia.

    I suspect “not fighting with Russia” wins here, but maybe the government of the PRC is getting edgy with the weird double standard Russia is running on country-internal ethnic regions.

  7. dewline

    And, one hopes, they’re getting edgier about their glances into the mirror in future as well.

    Yes, probably na├»ve of me…

  8. nealbailey

    I am semi-ignorant to this war and issue and want to become informed. Do you have a good piece of research material you could recommend that I could go find?

  9. technoir

    if you want to really explode, watch the russian mouth piece youtube channel.

    They paint completely different image of what is going on there. And they make sure they are paying Americans to deliver the the party line as well.

  10. parakkum

    The BBC has a decent basic primer here.

  11. nealbailey

    Thank you VERY much. Awesome.

  12. will_eslinger

    What bothers me so much about this is that our recent foreign policy has essentially neutered us from putting any weight behind our diplomacy.

  13. jeditigger

    OK, between this comment and another I’ve seen you make, I want to ask if I can sit with you and just admire. You’re astute. Pithy. And correct.

  14. will_eslinger

    Gee, thanks! Not man other 18 year olds seem to care much about this kind of stuff sadly, I’ve been writing on this a it on my facebook and my friends have made some “brilliant” responses.

    -”Why does it matter lol”
    -”for real dog haha since as world war breaks out call me the first black canadian haha”
    -”Notice how Canada stays neutral to all this bullshit, and that’s why you’ll see me in maple leaf country in a few years.”
    -”everybody should just give hugs man”

    So the future both loves Canada and “hugz”. My generation sucks

  15. parakkum

    Incidentally, Russia Today is buying Georgia-Ossetia keyworded Google ads. They’re showing up on my relevant blog posts.

  16. nealbailey

    So essentially, if I read this correctly, Russia is using a civil war in Georgia to justify taking it over in the same way that we used WMDs to justify invading Iraq? IE, the people in power wanted to do it, so they just found an excuse and did it?

    That’s oversimplification, I know, but I’m trying to wrap my head around it. So essentially Russia is doing what we did, but the Russian way, with a hell of a lot more heads rolled and more of a damn what you think attitude?

  17. parakkum

    Sort of, except the Russian case actually has clearer justification than our Iraq case — the Georgian military pressed a particularly heavy-duty assault on Thursday just four hours after agreeing to peace talks, and the South Ossetians actually do want support from Russia (at least for as long as they’re trying to remove themselves from Georgian control).

    The short version is:

    S. Ossetia’s majority Ossetian population do not want to be part of Georgia, and took the first opportunity to try and separate in 1991 in the nascent days of the most recent incarnation of Georgia as a nation.

    The Russian government, seeing opportunity, supported the Ossetian separatists, including sending in “peacekeeping” troops who make it tricky for Georgian forces to do anything about continued violence coming out of the region.

    Last week, increasing yet still low-level exchanges of fire between Georgian and Ossetian forces led to a call for peace talks, a four-hour ceasefire, and then a full military incursion by the Georgian military into S. Ossetia. The official Georgian line is that they took this action in response to a new outbreak of attacks by Ossetian forces. This may well be true, as many analysts believe the S. Ossetian authorities have been trying to provoke a violent enough incident to get the Russians involved in a big way.

    Apparently, that happened, as the Russians rolled into S. Ossetia in force, and then continued their assault with air attacks across all of Georgia. They appear to have also bisected the country with their land forces now.

    There is also the possibility that Georgia’s president (Saakashvili) thought he could draw the US into events if things went awry. If so, that was a miscalculation on his part.

    So Russia has certainly been promoting this situation for years, most likely hoping for something exactly like this, but the current Georgian regime did itself no favors by how it has acted toward these breakaway regions.

  18. nealbailey

    That is… scary. Thank you again.

  19. technoir

    I get them in my gmail ad sidebar. Ah what a strange new world we find ourselves in.

  20. technoir

    The fact Georgia voted to join NATO also plays a role in this. Putin has been opposed to that for a while. This little conflict would solve that problem for him.

    Georgia in one of the reports I read also insisted they were moving forces to the area in the first place due to Russia’s “PeaceKeepers” aiding Ossetians in their attacks.

    As I said, a muddled mess.

  21. parakkum

    I imagine that’s part of it, too. After all, the Georgians had already previously killed a couple Russian “advisors” in the Abkhazia region.

  22. kali921

    S. Ossetia’s majority Ossetian population do not want to be part of Georgia, and took the first opportunity to try and separate in 1991 in the nascent days of the most recent incarnation of Georgia as a nation.

    No. This conflict goes back to before 1810. This goes back before there were even modern nation states. All too often people look at the Caucasus and simply get it wrong. The Caucausian mountains are a hodge podge of ethnic groupings and linguistic groupings that mirror a migration of myriad human populations over the last eight thousand years – there are linguistic groups in the Caucasus that are literally found nowhere else on Earth, and the incredibly diversity of populations tend to mirror that. That’s why the concept of modern nation statehood often fits poorly in this region – it comes prepopulated with incredible diversity and absolutely no common consensus on what kind of political entity that they want to be. That coupled with the tendency of Russia to treat the Caucasus – and Georgia – with a sense of paternalistic entitlement that goes back over a century means that the situation is very, very complex and that opinion can literally shift from village to village as to where allegiance lies. The tendency to simplify this conflict without taking the long historical view is simply a mistake. There isn’t an easy solution here.

  23. kali921

    This is definitely the thing I’m watching for. After all, Russia has played a very active role in supporting separatist movements in Georgia and Moldova, but at the same time is hammering the hell out of Chechnya and opposed the formation of an independent Kosovo.

    The Russians support the Serbs in Kosovo because Russia has been traditionally allied with Serbia since the Ottoman Empire. This is why a lot of Western analysis of the situation in Ossetia and Georgia irritates the hell out of me – the observation that the Russians must be hypocritical because OH MY GOD they don’t support the Albanians in Kosovo but do support the Ossetians bespeaks of a certain level of ignorance of Russian and Eastern European history. (Not that your analysis is ignorant; it’s just that the tendency to only look at events going back twenty five years or so in this region and then hoping to come up with a cogent and accurate analysis will always come back to bite you in the ass.)

  24. parakkum

    Not so much “no” as “additional background I didn’t want to overload the comments with.”

    Indeed, Ossetia, Abkhazia, and the separatist portions of Russia and Azerbaijan clearly argue that many of our modern nations are an incredibly poor fit for the people who live in them.

    This whole concept of “nationality from ethnicity” versus “nationality from nation” is sometimes hard for Americans (e.g. me) to intuitively grasp. As a friend paraphrased from a conversation with some Slovenians:

    Her: “So, you’re from Slovenia?”

    Them: “No, we’re Slovenes.”

    American regionalism is just no match, at all, to the issues of ethnic identity versus national boundaries that occur in the older world.

    Which was your point. :) I guess I just wanted to say “No, I didn’t miss the prior history, I was just simplifying.” If you think I was oversimplifying, that’s entirely fair.

  25. parakkum

    I suspect I should clarify that I don’t give a damn about their hypocrisy, or not — I just wonder if this will end up biting them in the ass in a very pragmatic and mechanical sense in the long run.

  26. kali921

    Frankly? Probably not. The issue of Ossetia simply isn’t that politically charged in an international context as, say, Bosnia was, although I doubt if the Russians will be stupid enough to engage in a full scale land war in Georgia – that’s going to war against a nation of almost five million people, and that is probably not going to happen. A campaign of bombing? Sure. Limited skirmishes? Sure. But what the Russian military considers “limited skirmish” is very different than what an American would consider a limited skirmish. The Russian government, particularly the Russian military, has a much more generous view of what is acceptable collateral damage than the United States does – that’s why, to be brutally honest, a few thousand dead civilians simply doesn’t carry the same visceral impact and doesn’t provoke the same panicked attempts to quell the situation as it would if something comparable happened in Western Europe or the United States. Your average American simply does not seem to understand that without some serious study.

    There’s also been some interesting recent information trickling out in the OSINT groups that the Russian leadership is not of one mind on the Ossetian question, particularly in terms of practical policy and immediate military strategy, and that doesn’t surprise me. The fact that we don’t see the dissenting elements in the Russian leadership doesn’t mean that they aren’t there, so I never assume that Russian political leadership is a monolith. Any assumption that there aren’t furious arguments going on behind closed doors in Moscow about this is flat out wrong.

    Nonetheless, again, North Americans and Europeans keep trying to template our view of what is consistent foreign policy over Russia’s, and that provokes the same kind of cognitive dissonance that it did back in the 1950′s. We keep making the same mistaken assumptions and using a broken frame of reference over and over again.

  27. kali921

    I spent six years at UC Berkeley studying Russian, Soviet, Caucasian, and Eastern European history, particularly focusing on ethnopolitics. (I was lucky enough to study with Dr. Johanna Nichols at Berkeley, and she’s probably the leading Western researcher when it comes to Chechnya.) It therefore makes me want to claw my eyes out when Americans don’t get that a polyglot society built on civil institutions, such as the United States, does not in any way equal a society built largely on ethnic identity and a shared identity of experience.

    See, none of what Russia is doing surprises me; Russian foreign policy when it comes to, say, Serbia and Ossetia is entirely consistent if you know the larger historical context and the larger forces at work. The fact that Russia couches its support for Ossetia in terms of a nation striving for emancipation and simultaneously couches its opposition to Albanians in Kosovo doing the same thing in completely different terminology should be surprising to precisely no one that is an astute researcher/student of the respective countries and regions involved. When you are talking about policy that is largely born of sentiments that were birthed two or three hundred years ago and are still extant in the attitudes and beliefs of a nation of, oh, sixty million people – well, Americans have nothing to compare it to.

  28. parakkum

    The Russian government, particularly the Russian military, has a much more generous view of what is acceptable collateral damage than the United States does…

    Certainly. cf Chechnya, or the resolutions of Beslan or Nord-Ost.

  29. kali921

    PS – Slovenia

    PS – Slovenia is not as ethnically homogeneous as you might think. Almost twenty percent of the republic is comprised of people that aren’t Slovenes. Actually, using any republic from what used to be Yugoslavia as an example of robustly unified ethnopolitical genesis is probably a mistake, given the distribution of micro populations all throughout the region. :-)

  30. parakkum

    Re: PS – Slovenia

    Heh. One of my grad school friends was born in Yugoslavia. By the time he was in the US for grad school, he had a Bosnian passport, but he was pretty ambivalent about which one he’d ended up with.

  31. kali921

    Er…see any conflict going back to the 1850′s. The Nord-Ost hostage crisis is, however, a good example of this – because it’s a good illustration of Russian law enforcement being willing to sacrifice a large number of civilian Russian lives to achieve a specific objective. But it’s hardly an infrequent occurrence. However, the way Russian law enforcement handled the Nord-Ost crisis was a turning point, because it galvanized public disgust with current Russian policy in Chechnya and with the cavalier dismissal of so many lives in Moscow.

  32. kali921

    Re: PS – Slovenia

    I wrote my thesis on the parallel rise of Serbian and Russian nationalist movements in the seventies, eighties, and early nineties, and the concomitant rise of xenophobic extremism. Believe me, I look to the right of my monitor and there’s a stack of Ivo Banac’s books and articles, topped by James Brown’s work.

    Most of my older friends from what was once Yugoslavia now look back on the Tito era as practically a golden age. In many ways, it was.

  33. admin

    I’m curious if you think that the Russian leadership being of “not one mind” would actually influence anything. The impression I’ve gotten (and it’s a vague and poorly substantiated one, I expect) is that the Russian leadership pretty much consists of Putin saying, “I want X” and getting X, with a side of Y just in case he wanted that too and neglected to mention it.

  34. admin

    Wouldn’t happen to know any Georgian speakers, would you? My attempts to locate someone to help with a bit in the novel have failed, and even U-Clue (or whatever the hell it’s called) failed to get results.

  35. kali921

    Russia in fifteen seconds!

    I’m curious if you think that the Russian leadership being of “not one mind” would actually influence anything. The impression I’ve gotten (and it’s a vague and poorly substantiated one, I expect) is that the Russian leadership pretty much consists of Putin saying, “I want X” and getting X, with a side of Y just in case he wanted that too and neglected to mention it.

    Absolutely not true, fortunately! The Russian leadership is a fascinatingly diverse oligarchy headed up by a blustering but by no means unclever man. The old authoritarian streak will not be dying anytime soon in contemporary Russian politics, and that’s been pretty par for the course in the immediate post-Soviet context for pretty much any of the FSRs with the exception of the Ukraine. But it’s a weird melding of Barbary Cost capitalism, the noveau riche, hardline former communists (in name only) that are looking to retain their slipping hold on power, organized crime, social liberals, tribalism, and xenophobic nationalists. Many of these people span more than one category listed above – in fact, many of them span three or four. :-)

    But no – when you read the Russian language press, there is plenty of debate, there is no national consensus, and the Russian people are not stupid – they see what’s going on despite the seeming Herculean amount of energy the Russian regime puts into managing perceptions via the media. Also, remember that Russia is FUCKING HUGE, and that regional centers of power have considerable autonomy, and that Moscow can’t do shit about it. Look at the economic renaissance of the New Oil cities in the East and South, for example – they’re pretty much untouchable by Moscow, they know it, and they don’t give a shit what happens in Moscow as long as it doesn’t get in their way and as long as it doesn’t stop them from continuing to accumulate and distribute capital locally. Russia is incredibly diverse, and there simply is no one true power center that can claim to truly control the entire country.

    Hell, the eternal rivalry between St. Petersburg and Moscow illustrates that abundantly – Moscow is the greying, power mongering technocrat, and St. Petersburg is the freewheeling hipster that keeps chipping away at the edges with libertine (and liberal) sensibilities.

    So, no – there’s a huge array of political opinion in Russia – there are doves, hawks, liberals, communists that are simultaneously racist nationalists, nationalists that are more akin to James Baldwin, etc.

  36. kali921

    I do know a few Georgian speakers, but Greg, I have to warn you – you are entering into very, very dangerous linguistic territory here. :-D I’m not kidding! Which Georgian? Dialect, or what they speak in Tbilisi?

    Meskhetian? Gurian? Tush? Mokhevian? Man, you drive twenty miles, and someone speaks a different dialect, and that dialect is approximately two thousand years old, and then you look at the root words and realize that it’s totally unrelated to anything else on the planet.

    If you mean standard Tbilisi Georgian, a few things to keep in mind, which you probably know:

    1. Not an Indo-European language.

    2. Okay, seriously, NOT an Indo-European language. Don’t even try.

    3. It’s a post-positional agglutinative language with an infinitely flexible system of derivation.

    4. As a result of this, saying simple things can be a very complex endeavor that might need a flowchart, whereas saying very complex things can sometimes be done with one word. Similar to Russian, where if you try to say “okay, how do I say ‘he went to the store?” a Russian will ask “well, okay, since you MENTION verbs of motion and our language derives from nomads where precise verbs of motion were very important, HOW did he go to the store? A one time trip on a bike, or walking on a habitual round trip or on a unicycle?” Because there are different verbs for each of those. :-)

    5. Georgians are really nice! They are, they’re wonderful people – like the Italians of the Caucasus. But they might laugh at you if you ask “so, how do you say ‘I want to bring Keith Giffens a fig tart and a side order of course linen’ in Georgian?” Seriously, they will laugh and laugh and laugh. HOWEVER, they are a civilized and gracious people and will try to help.

    So, let me ask around – what specifically do you need help with?
    My advice is to map out what you want translated in very specific relational terms, because English is not a very precise language in many ways, despite its huge vocabulary.

    Edit: Er, sorry, should have clarified – when I say “relational,” I mean be sure to think about precise context, so when you e-mail the list of people whose names I will provide soon, you can give them a very specific scenario AND the larger scenario, and that will enable a more graceful translation. Make sense?

  37. thecomicman

    Re: PS – Slovenia

    Can I just say thank you for being so damn smart on this? Because seriously, thank you for being so damn smart on this. I have learned way more about this situation from reading your comments than anywhere else I’ve looked (and I’ve looked).

    So again, thank you for being so damn smart on this.

  38. kali921

    Re: PS – Slovenia

    Do you mean me or ? Because seems to be following the sitch rather astutely, too. :-) But if you meant me, thank you – man, it’s nice to know that all that work paid off with resultant foreign policy street cred on LJ! :-)

  39. kingshazbot

    Re: PS – Slovenia

    The Polish/Central/Eastern European view on Russia is that they’re ‘Asia’, which is a sort of narrow euro centric view but I think Asia meaning Tatars, Mongolians, and Turks that have been trying to take over Europe for more than a millennium. In their view Russia will always be like they are and having a powerful Russia is no different than having a powerful Iran Iraq or other middle eastern country is to us. The problem with Eastern Europe is that some of the tiny ethnic populations side with Russia when it supports their cause. Our american/western european hertitage seems to want to accept Russia but Central Europeans (including Austria and Germany) will always try to block that and Russia will always feel it should be father and ruler to all the land up to Germany.

  40. thecomicman

    Re: PS – Slovenia

    No, I meant you, but you’re right. is also kind of great.

    Her geopolitical site is pretty awesome.

  41. thecomicman

    Re: PS – Slovenia

    Also, apropos of absolutely nothing, all of your icons are boss.

  42. dewline

    Re: Russia in fifteen seconds!

    You just had me comparing Moskva/Sankt-Peterburg to Ottawa/Vancouver there…or would there be a better analogy if I picked another city in lieu of Vancouver?

    That aside, you’re giving me grounds for a bit more optimism here than I might have expected in recent years.

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