Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Georgia, Venezuela, Europe and all the rest

This Saturday my girlfriend and I were in London for a one-day visit. While enjoying the wonderful English weather on a stroll in the Westminster area, I was suddenly reminded of what is going on at the borders of Europe:

Here a group of Georgians were marching to protest what they said was a Russian aggression.
The guys here were shouting "Russia out, Russia out":

The conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia-Russia is not easy to understand. As far as I can see it, nobody is playing kosher here.

The area of current South Ossetia was under Georgian control already in the VI century AD, but at about that time Ossetians, an Iranian ethnic group, started to arrive at the Northern Caucasus. Some stayed in the North of the Caucasus Mountain Range, in what is now North Ossetia. Others crossed a mountain pass to what was under full Georgian dominion and started to settle down there. Later Georgia and Ossetia with it became part of the Russian Empire. After the Socialist Revolution, Ossetia became an autonomous Oblast', a special district, within the Georgian Republic in the Soviet Union. Basically this meant they had some minimal form of autonomy like the election of some local administrators, the use of their languages for some purposes (although Georgian and Russian were the official ones) and for some cultural activities.

The fact that Stalin and Beria were Georgians definitely helped Georgians to secure the Georgian control of these regions. Still, it is very unlikely that Ossetia or Abkhazia would have ever been full Soviet Republics within the Soviet Union as Georgia or Latvia were: they were so small, much smaller than tiny Estonia or Armenia, for instance. There had been Georgians there since before the arrival of these groups, but both Stalin and Beria encouraged the settlement of more Georgians. Once the breakup of the Soviet Union started, South Ossetia, like many other regions in the Soviet Union, started to ask for independence. Georgians see this territory, together with Abkhazia as integral part of Georgia. It has definitely been more Georgian than Chechnya Russian. At the same time, Abkhazians and Ossetians have been living here as majority longer than Albanians in Kosovo and as they, they are majority for quite some time.

Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been de facto independent of Georgia for several years now, even if they are in reality nothing more than satellites of Russia now.

Georgia's president does not want to give in either region for several reasons:
  • South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been historically one way or the other part of Georgia since before Russia became a recognizable entitty
  • giving away one would mean the other would not rest until it is also independent
  • Georgians want to curb Russian interference in the region
  • Saakashwili may have thought this conflict would increase NATO support for Georgia (after Germany and France made NATO put off Georgia's accession to the organization, out of fear they would bother Russians too much)
  • Saakashwili wants to consolidate his popularity, which has not been very good since the opposition has claimed fraud in last year's elections

Russia claims it has "peace forces" in both regions to maintain...well, peace, I suppose. The curious thing is that Russia rejects Georgia's demands to transform the Russian-only "peace forces" into an international (thus: not-Russian-only) peace corps. Why? Don't ask me, ask the Russians.

The United States and the EU countries have supported Georgia's turning to the West. The Russians, of course, have opposed such a move all the time. Russians have threatened the West in many occasions with some unclear "force action" in case Georgia is admitted to NATO.

What can happen now? South Ossetians know they cannot stay independent from Georgia unless they have some external support and that support is Russia. Now, Russia does not give its support for nothing. South Ossetians were given Russian passports so Russia can claim it is defending its citizens from Georgia. Sooner or later, South Ossetia will be nothing more than a part of Russia.

What can happen then? Right now both South Ossetia and Abkhazia fall more and more under influence of Russia. I can only guess what can happen later on: South and North Ossetia can grow more together and one day they may try to get independence from Russia. Of course, Russia will not want to cede Ossetia at all. We all know how Russia has behaved towards Chechnya for many years. In any case, the large Georgian minorities in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia will suffer as they have already.

Russians may have found the whole event has made Georgia too hot a potato for NATO to handle and thus the whole event could have decreased Georgia's chances of ever being part of the Northern Treaty.

Georgians may stick together behind Saakashwili for some time now, but depending on how he further handles the losses, he can find a sudden loss of popularity in the middle term.

Now: what does this have to do with Venezuela? Not much really, except here we see again what the Chavismo propaganda is: more partial than the worst Western media outlet.

We have the news from VTV, Chávez Channel, about how Cuba supports "the withdrawal of Georgian troops from Ossetia": VTV - Cuba.

Here we can read a very one-sided report from Chamosaurio, a very pro-Chávez group. Like in the old times, the "journalist" uses sources from the antagonist of the US (now Russia and not the Soviet Union): RIA NOVOSTI is quoted time after time.

Now, the (pro-Chávez) Venezuelans are trying to be more Russian than the Russians (and that is a lot, considering the wave of nationalism Russia is going through for many years already).
If we check normal Russian newspapers like Lenta, we see they even show things in a more complete (albeit still pro-Russian) way.
Here (sorry, in Russian) people can read from Lenta how Abkhazians have penetrated into traditional Georgian area of Gulripsh within Abkhazia, where Georgians are majority and occupied the town of Azhara.
Here the Lenta newspaper talks about how Georgia has brought to Tbilisi the presidents of four nations (Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland) to try to promote a ceasefire
Lenta also reports from such sources as Reuters about how Russians bombarded the Georgian town of Gori (i.e. a territory inside what is de facto Georgia).

Chavismo may claim they want to portray what people do not see otherwise, but if they really wanted to show a more balanced picture of the whole situation, they should do as EVEN Russians do: use from time to time sources from "the other side".

Let me repeat here: I don't think Georgians or Russians are acting kosher. The loser is, at the end, Ossetians and Georgians. Politicians are just playing chess big time.

Check out these pictures from SPIEGEL


  1. well, really, i thought you can do better than that, Kepler.

  2. Please, explain, Vladi. I am not Russian. I am not Georgian. I don't support either in this conflict. I think both groups are playing with the local populations.

  3. Thing is that reading a bit of Wiki and CNN wont help you pull off a post about such an issue.

    Y si, poniendo peace force entre comillas etc obviamente muestras tu imparcialidad.

  4. Vladi, I think the sources I quoted at the end where from Lenta and Lenta is not CNN. I was trying to show even the Russians were reporting about what others (Reuters, AF) were saying, whereas the Venezuelan government was referring only to the Russian news agency.

    For me the Georgians acted aggressively, but Russians are there not out of love for the Abkhazians (see Chechnya later).

    Do you want peace forces? Fine. Why not bring in multinational forces? Why do they have to be Russian only?
    And then: if the majority of the population in those areas want to break away: fine. Like Kosovo?
    And then: what about Chechnya?
    Why shouldn't people in Chechnya get the total independence from Russia? This is double standards. Of course, we see double standards with the US and the EU as well.

  5. Note also I wrote "Georgians were marching to protest what they said was a Russian aggression". I thought it was clear: I do not think it was a Russian aggression. Here Georgia attacked. Still I think both have been acting as aggressors.

    To tell you the truth I think the EU is also acting in a hypocritical way regarding Kosovo. If it (most of it) supports the Albanians because they are majority, what about supporting the breakaway of Kosovo's north? How can they force Serbians in the Northern part to be part of Kosovo if the vast majority do not want?
    Of course, here we are dealing with very difficult terrain: when does it make sense to let a minority break away from a given country.
    I do not think there is a formula, but I do not think any country is trying to behave in a consequent way.

  6. Do you want peace forces? Fine. Why not bring in multinational forces? Why do they have to be Russian only?

    Just for you to know: there were Russian AND Georgian forces. The latter started the hostilities, killing hundreds and this is a fact regardless your feelings about "Russian aggression".

  7. Vladi, again: I think both sides are being very dirty and I am not talking about what has happened since Friday but for the last years.

    I do not think a multinational force can be made up of precisely the forces representing the interests of the region. Georgians AND Russians need to be kept out of this.
    I agree Georgians have attacked now Ossetians. Again: as the US and others are doing in other places, Russia is applying double standards here. It would be more credible if it were to apply exactly the same standards to such a region as Chechnya, which, by the way, has been less time under Russian sphere of influence, where less Russian nationals were even before the whole mess started
    How impartial are you?

  8. If you feel like adding a link here of an article that best expresses the Russian position (without sensationalism), by all means, put it.
    It would be nice if all parties could put present in the same place their positions for others to get a more balanced view of things...not only regarding the Caucasus. Of course, it would be much better if that took place in a well-known site, not at the site of some blogger. But then: I do not control the media.

  9. Unlike you I have never claimed i was impartial but this isn't the point here.

    Man, the point is that the issue is far more complex than you may think.
    You don't know the (Russian, Georgian, Osseatian, Chechen etc) history and the nature of their relationships and the legal part to such an extent to make conclusions about double standards. You cannot generalize just like this.

    Don't take offense.

  10. Vladi, I do not take offense. Do you?
    I do not know much but I do know a little bit and I try to understand.

    What is it that we need to know? It is not like Chechen-Russian history (or any other history including Israel-Palestina etc) is like rocket science.

    And: if an ethnic group does not want to be with another one, you cannot force it. The best thing is to take the most peaceful way out.
    Are you going to go back several centuries to justify Russia's treatment of Chechnya now?
    Should also the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians also be forced to do whatever Russia says just because of what Russians did in WW2?
    History can explain a lot, but it cannot justify everything.

  11. Frankly I think the best would be for those two republics to get their independence while accepting the rights of the Georgian minority, but this should be monitored by others than Russians and Georgians for the sake of all.

    But then we need to ask ourselves why the Russians have to be in Chechnya when most Chechens do not want them there. Some obscure debt from Otoman times?


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