The Enemy Within

Writing in Commentary magazine (one of our family of commenters tipped us to the piece) Arthur Herman, the author most recently of Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age, blows away the neo-Chamberlainian cowards who recklessly seek to rationalize Russian aggression in Georgia.  There’s much more to the extended piece, click the link to read the rest. The critical point is that we here in the West have people are are willing to take Russia’s side in this dispute, and who can do so in the most lofty public venues.  But where are the Russians who are able to take Georgia’s side in the mainstream Russian media? You will not find them, because they are censored and because they would be killed if they were not and dared to speak. Thus, Russia like the USSR before it languishes in ignorance, unable to reform and doomed to failure.

On September 1, the leaders of the European Union, having already warned Moscow several times of its obligation to meet the terms of the cease-fire agreement with Georgia, held an emergency meeting in Brussels and decided to—issue another warning. If Russia continues its non-compliance, the leaders threatened, another warning may yet follow.

Such are the pitiful realities of international diplomacy, and of an all too familiar Western pattern of response to acts of blatant aggression by powerful dictators. It is embarrassing enough when governments, with responsibility for the security of millions, resort to such hand-wringing hesitancy. It is worse when analysts and critics who are free to speak their minds on everything under the sun start looking for reasons to avoid placing blame for aggression squarely where it belongs—on the aggressors—and instead strive conspicuously to spread it around among the bystanders and even the victims.

Such was the response to Russia’s August 9 invasion of the pro-Western democracy of Georgia by the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Under the title “What Did We Expect?,” Friedman dutifully awarded an Olympic-style gold medal for “brutal stupidity”—stupidity, not criminality—to Vladimir Putin, the man who actually sent in the troops and tanks. But then Friedman quickly went on to confer a silver medal for “bone-headed recklessness” on Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, whose country suffered the attack. The bronze for “short-sightedness” went, needless to say, to George W. Bush (shared, retroactively, with Bill Clinton).

Friedman’s reasoning went like this. By trying “to cram NATO expansion down the Russians’ throats,” the United States had mortally injured the feelings of the former superpower, a nation still smarting from defeat in the cold war. As if that were not provocation enough, Russia now confronts the prospect of former Soviet republics like Estonia, Ukraine, and Georgia joining the community of liberal democracies, and has also been asked to tolerate an anti-missile defense system the Bush administration wants to install across Eastern Europe. Offenses like these, Friedman wrote, had been “critical to fueling Putin’s rise” to power, and they all but ensured a crisis like the one with Georgia. Friedman’s views were echoed by, among others, former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, who as much as told the United States it could expect worse if it undertook to provoke Putin and Russia again.

And in what had Saakashvili’s sin consisted? By daring to use military force to put down Russian-backed separatists in the breakaway Ossetian region, he, too, had supposedly compelled Putin to invade. The Economist, denouncing Saakashvili as “an impetuous nationalist,” did not shrink from calling his actions “foolish and possibly criminal.” Michael Dobbs of the Washington Post wondered how the Georgians could have been guilty of such a gross “miscalculation”; they must have known that Russian peacekeepers would be killed or wounded in the fighting, thus inevitably triggering a harsh Russian response. And so forth.

In the weeks after the invasion, one would search long and hard for speculations of a different and arguably more pertinent sort. Why, for instance, have former Soviet-bloc nations like Poland, Ukraine, and Georgia been so anxious to get into NATO in the first place—or to have a missile-defense shield installed in their backyards? Who were those Russian “peacekeepers,” and what were they doing in South Ossetia? How is it that Moscow was prepared to respond to the Georgian “provocation” with such massive force, and on such short notice?

We now know that Putin’s troops had been on the move along the border of Georgia and the Ossetian region for weeks; that the Russians had been handing out Russian passports to Ossetian “citizens” for months, and since April had been preparing local railroad tracks for the movement of armored troop trains; and that, by August 8, at least 150 Russian tanks were poised for action on the border separating South and North Ossetia. What the evidence suggests is that, far from reacting defensively, Putin and the Russian president Dmitri Medvedev deliberately aimed to elicit Georgia’s move into South Ossetia, aiming to exploit this as a pretext for wresting away both that region and Abkhazia to the west.

To be sure, no one, from Thomas Friedman to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to those European leaders meeting in Brussels, has any “illusions” about Putin. Almost from the day he came to high office in 2000, Western media, policy analysts, and politicians have acknowledged his multiple abuses of power, the corruption of his regime, and the spectacular failure of democratic hopes inside Russia. At the same time, however, and grumbling as they go, all have continued to acquiesce in the fact of Putin’s dictatorship over post-Soviet Russia and his growing encroachment on the rights and territories of the newly independent but still sovereign countries around him. Indeed, the transparency of Putin’s put-up job over Georgia, together with the West’s so-far supine response, follows a pattern of its own, and it too has been discernible from the day he came to power.

8 responses to “The Enemy Within

  1. Tower Bolshevik

    “Such was the response to Russia’s August 9 invasion of the pro-Western democracy of Georgia by the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.”

    The slogan “Georgia For Georgians” which has been policy since the fall of the Soviet Union against Georgia’s minorities is “democracy”. Only because its pro-western, right?

    “And in what had Saakashvili’s sin consisted? By daring to use military force to put down Russian-backed separatists in the breakaway Ossetian region, he, too, had supposedly compelled Putin to invade.”

    Just like what Milosevic’s sin had consisted. By daring to use military force to put down U.S-backed separatists: the fascistic Mujahideen cutthroats known as the Kosovo Liberation Army in the breakway region of Kosovo-Metohija, had supposedly compelled Clinton to attack.

    Milosevic’s Serbian chauvinist regime towards the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo fueled the desire for independence from Serbia. So too, Saakashvili’s pro-western Georgian chauvinist regime inheriting the racist policies of his predecessors and crackdown on the Ossetians strengthend the desire for independence among the Ossetians and Abkhazians. Who wants to be forced to live in a country that hates them?

  2. Heh funny to read about such powerful words as “chauvinists and racists” which usually according to the logic of events in Caucasus, persists with the Russian side than any other. The dubious phrase “Georgia For Georgians” is nowhere to be found in any academic sources which would confirm that this phrase was used by the first Georgian administration as main domestic policy objective. Every country has its radicals and demagogues.
    However, I did come across a phrase which was widely used in “liberal” Russia in its foreign and domestic policy objectives: “Russia for Russians” (Gudkov, Lev (2005), Xenophobia: Past and Present. Nezavisimaya Gazeta/Republished in “Russia in Global Affairs”. № 1, January – March 2006,,8599,1304096,00.html, etc) Anyway, its also funny to read about comparisons with Kosovo. Well if you want to be an ignorant and somehow attempt to fool yourself, than there is no point in arguing but never the less, in South Ossetia some gangsters with Russian passports (I wounder if KLA “Mujaheddin” had US passports, but unlikely-Washington is not suicidal) expelled, killed, raped, looted, bulldozed houses of some 30,000 ethnic Georgians and completely de-Georgianized the region through systematic ethnic cleansing. In case of Kosovo, we had 2 million Albanians displaced by Serbs whose numbers did not reach more than 30,000. According to your logic, some 60,000 (even this number is bit overestimated) “South Ossetians” have a right to “independence” after its government composed solemnly of Russian citizens deprived the basic rights and ethnically cleansed the Georgian population? In case of Kosovo, there are 40 or some odd number of countries which support their cause while “S. Ossetia” only gained its recognition thanks to its instigator Russia and sadistic authoritarian regime of Sandinistan Ortega, not to mention Hamas. So, spare us your lecturing on racism, chauvinism and self-determination issues. A country which waged two bloody genocidal wars against its own citizens in Chechnya and significantly decreased its population through systematic mass murder and destruction, has no moral or any other rights to lecture others on international law, racism, freedoms, equalities and conduct any “peacekeeping” operations

  3. Hmmm “Georgian for Georgians”? I never once have heard about this policy and I have lived in Georgia. I have heard that during the Soviet Era that the saying was “Soviet Union for Russians” and after the fall I have heard the same but with a new twist, “Russia for Russians”. Of course, no one had to say anything in order to get the point across because xenophobia is Russia’s lot.

  4. Tower Bolshevik

    For Luis Dingley:

    Spare me your ignorance. I in no way support the Russian government, or its two bloodbaths in Chechnya (which the “human rights” western leaders supported and applauded in defense of Russia’s “territorial integrity”). The same Russian government who turns a blind eye to and whips up the nationalist racist slaogan “Russia for Russians”, who ironically is the same government that was propped up by the USA and the West to destroy the multinational Soviet Union.

    By your claim “Georgia For Georgians” is a Russian invented slogan, and that no such racism could ever possibly exist in a Western “democracy”. Hate to disappoint you

    Well, if you’re going to be an ignorant brainwashed western patriot, there’s no point. In Kosovo the USA funded and trained a band of Islamic fundamentalist cutthroats who cleansed Kosovo of tens of thousands Serbs and Gypsies, looting, raping, burning homes, killing. In both South Ossetia and Abkhazia tens of thousands faced ethnic cleasing operations conducted by the Georgian government in the 1990’s and the last war when the Georgian government bombarded South Ossetia, began looting, raping, and killing.

    “In case of Kosovo, there are 40 or some odd number of countries which support their cause while “S. Ossetia” only gained its recognition”

    So your whole ignorance pretty much says because Kosovo suffered the discrimination from Milosevic they can have independence because 40 governments support it. But in another’s case when its done by a U.S puppet, then discrimination is ok. So spare me your ignorance and hypocrisy. You obviously don’t give about ethnic cleansing, just as long as an anti-western regime doesn’t do it. Not to mention cheering wars for profit in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands and the slogan of “bringing democracy”. YOU have no moral right to lecture people on wars, bloothbaths, and ethnic cleansing.

  5. Tower Bolshevik

    For DLD:

    Unless you’re the real life Rip Van Winkle, or are refering to the U.S state; don’t even try.

  6. To Tower Bolshevik

    The slogan “Georgia for Georgians” is a Russian propaganda. In either 1990 or 1991 Gamsakhurdia was arguing in an interview about Georgians living in Moscow when the motherland is threatened. He concluded that it’s better for Georgians to return go Georgia. One of the Russian yellow newspapers published an article named “Georgia for Georgians” after this interview and this myth lives thereafter.

    Concerning the ethnic cleansing, one can have a look at Wikipedia and reports by UN and OSCE. True, there were mutual hostilities and atrocities, but it was always Georgians who were ethnically cleansed from their historic and in every sense rightful lands.

  7. Tower Bolshevik,
    What is your point? That because Gamsakhurdia had a slogan “Georgia for Georgians” 15 years ago, Russia is entitled to distribute Russian passports to residents of South Ossetia and “protect” South Ossetian territory from central (Tbilisi) government. I am not arguing with you – I am trying to distill some thought from what you are saying.

    You have an unfortunate habit of leaving your thought half way… For example,

    Unless you’re the real life Rip Van Winkle, or are refering to the U.S state; don’t even try
    What are trying to say? And many others are equally incomprehensible. Maybe it would be helpful if you put one thought – but more cohesive, than half dozen incoherent ones.

    Thank you in advance

  8. Wow that was interesting. Well, I do respect Mrs Chervonnayas work who actually wrote a great book about War in Abkhazia (Chervonnaya Svetlana. Conflict in the Caucasus: Georgia, Abkhazia and the Russian Shadow. Great Britain: Gothic Image Publications 1994) where she offers tons of evidence of mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Georgian civilians in Abkhazia and not the other way around which our Bolshevik friend wants us to belive. I highly recommend for everyone to read this book which sheds a light into the Russian involvement in mass extermination of ethnic Georgian civilians in Gagra, Sukhumi, Ochamchire, Gulripshi, and rest of Abkhazia. Chervonnaya traveled to Abkhazia in 1992 to defend the minority Abkhaz cause, however, confronted with different reality of apartheid and Russian sponsored ethnic cleansing policy, she wrote this book in the beginning of 1993.

    Im not going to comment on your Albanian hatred and labeling people as fundamentalists and terrorists. Thats pathetic if not comical.

    But dont even try to attempt to mislead the readers here on your false claims about raping and killing people in “South Ossetia.” In this case, Georgians were victims of systematic ethnic cleansing, and total destruction of their property in Tskhinvali and around. Georgian villages of Tamarasheni, Eredvi were completely wiped out, including houses, church, schools…

    S Ossetia ’emptied of Georgians’

    Journey through a ghost village

    Georgia: Satellite Images Show Destruction, Ethnic Attacks

    Russia’s cruel intention
    In South Ossetia, I witnessed the worst ethnic cleansing since the war in the Balkans

    Pictures ‘show Georgia torching’

    ‘Putin has given us an order that everyone must leave or be shot’

    South Ossetia’s abandoned villages

    Human Rights Violations by Russian and Ossetian Militants


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