Thursday, August 28, 2008

Medvedev: Why I Did It

In the Financial Times of 27 Aug 08, Russian President Medvedev explains why “he” (actually Putin, the power behind the throne, as we know), invaded Georgia, pried loose the two territories of South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, then, alone among leaders in the world, recognized them as independent states.

He says that the people of those two regions freely expressed their desire for independence from Georgia in the past, although that hardly justifies an invasion.

The Russian Federation, he explains, "is a harmonious coexistence of many dozens of nations and nationalities, not all of which have their own statehood." “After the collapse of communism, Russia reconciled itself to the loss of 14 former Soviet republics, which became states in their own right, even though some 25 million Russians were left stranded in countries no longer their own.”

But were they ever “their own” if they were republics in the Soviet Union? It is a little slippery to speak in one breath of “republics” (constitutional governments) and of “countries” (not defined), and of “nations” (not defined), and to suggest that their "federation" with the Soviets was ever voluntary.

“Georgia “stripped” the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia of their autonomy,” he says. But isn’t that just another way of saying they were no longer part of the Soviet Union? Medvedev implies that these were formerly autonomous countries under the Soviets, although the extent of their autonomy during those times is suspect. Was Hungary "autonomous" in 1956?

However, it is true that in repossessing these regions from Soviets after 1989, the Georgians have acted with a heavy hand, treating the ethnic Russians as second class citizens, outlawing their language, cultural traditions, schools, etc. (exactly as the Soviets had treated the Georgians for 70 years).

Finally, says Medvedev, the newly independent Georgia “inflicted a vicious war on its minority nations.” Russian peacekeepers tried to keep things calm, he says, but Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili “made no secret of his intention to squash the Ossetians and Abkhazians.” ("Squash"?) Finally on August 7, Saakashvili invaded south Ossetia. “Only a madman could have taken such a gamble,” says Medvedev.

“Russia had no option but to crush the attack to save lives. This was not a war of our choice,” he says. “We have no designs on Georgian territory.”

(Click to enlarge this ethnic map).

Then he claims that “The presidents of the two republics appealed to Russia to recognize their independence.” There is no evidence of that beyond his word. And how is it that these territories are once again “republics” in his mind, since he said earlier that they had been “stripped” of their autonomy by the Georgians? And anyway, what sort of political standing does the leader of a province of Georgia have to request a foreign country to recognize its independence?

If the governor of Louisiana, for example, appealed to France to “recognize” its independence from the U.S., would that have any force in international law?

But “based on [unspecified] documents of international law,” he says, Medvedev reluctantly (he would have us believe) agreed to recognize the two regions’ independence from Georgia.

In justification, he notes that just a few years ago, “ignoring Russia’s warnings, western countries rushed to recognize Kosovo’s illegal declaration of independence from Serbia.” Is it tit for tat then? Medvedev conveniently overlooks the fact that the Kosovar Albanians were being slaughtered by the Serbs.

Today, the Christian Science Monitor ( reports that according to Medvedev, the Georgians were slaughtering ethnic Russians in an equivalent genocide. But there is simply no evidence of that.

It seems pretty obvious that the real reasons for the invasion and re-annexation of these two regions to Russia were 1. Longtime personal enmity between Putin and Shaakashvili (if you don’t think that’s a good enough reason to invade, look at the US in Iraq), 2. Russia’s desire to control the oil and gas resources in the breakaway regions, especially the pipelines to Europe, and 3. Petulant retaliation for the expansion of NATO and the installation of anti-missile sites in Poland.

What perplexes me is why Medvedev felt he must weave an elaborate story that pretends to some high moral ground, when the motivation for the Russian action was plain thuggery. Why couldn’t Medvedev just say, “We wanted those regions; we had the power to take them, so we did.” And he could add, “Neener, neener!” if he wanted to.

Who is fooled by his transparent self-justification?

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