General Sir Mike Jackson, former head of the British armed forces, wrote in The Sunday Telegraph:
Strongly supported by the West, it aspires to Nato and EU membership. It also has to contend with two regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both with Russian minorities – that did not, and do not, wish to be part of Georgia.
South Ossetia, in particular, has an independence movement not averse to the use of illegal violence; it is worth bearing in mind that by agreement with Georgia, Russia had deployed so-called peace-keeping forces in south Ossetia long before the current crisis.
Did Russia encourage the South Ossetian rebels to provoke the recent Georgian military action, thereby providing Russia with a casus belli? Did Georgian forces use excessive force in South Ossetia? Did Georgia wrongly calculate that in the face of Western support for Georgia, Russia would not react?
I do not know the answers, but I am clear that the problems arising from minority enclaves in such circumstances are fundamentally political, rather than purely military.
I write not to excuse the Russian actions and behaviour, but rather to explain them. For the West, the challenge is to find the right answer to Lenin’s question: “What is to be done?”
Putin is determined to rebuild Russia’s stature, and he is being much helped in this by the surge in energy prices. There is also evidence that after a decade and more of decline, the Russian armed forces are starting to rebuild and modernise.
For me, the right course for the West – without compromising its own position and values – is to show a greater understanding of why Russia behaves as it does, to accept more willingly Russia’s concerns for its Near Abroad.
While there are actions that we cannot condone, Russian perceptions exist and will take time to change.
This is the challenge for politicians and diplomats: strategic military hostility and confrontation must remain a thing of the past.
This is the challenge for politicians and diplomats, and citizens: strategic military hostility and confrontation must remain a thing of the past.
I give no support to Putin nor Russia for brutish policies, but our press is pounding drums, selling papers, competing for revenue, taking sides… street-corner stuff as far as I’m concerned.
The purpose of this post is to examine what others are saying. As above, a top military chief.
In another paper, the Times of Johannesburg published a scathing view of us. Sadly I read, “It has been said that at times wars provide clarity.”
And an Israeli paper said:
It has been years since we have had a war in which it is so clear to spectators in the West who constitute the Children of Light and who constitute the Children of Darkness.
It is a matter of propaganda. The U.S. president’s remarks on Friday that the world would not accept bullying and intimidation could only raise a bitter smile.
George W. Bush talking about bullying? The U.S. president talking about intimidation? Who set off to two bullying wars this decade? Who tried to solve problems and replace regimes through intimidation if not our friend in the White House? Which power spilled more blood this decade? Russia or “the leader of the free world”?
“There’s no room for debate on this matter,” said Mr Bush.
And puffed in vain glory, John McCain sells us a bumper sticker, “We are all Georgians now”. Nonsense. And about Russia he says,
“I think it’s very clear that Russian ambitions are to restore the old Russian Empire, not the Soviet Union, but the Russian Empire.”
McCain’s nonsense is inappropriate, shot from the hip, as if to say we’ll soon be in McCain’s 100 Years War with Putin the Czar of Russia. McCain is making headlines too easy to achieve. Aggrandizing for votes by feeding slogans to a profiteering media is 100 years of confrontation we should learn to stop.
I believe too many revel in war.