Friday, August 15, 2008

John Bolton on Russia's Invasion of Georgia

The Telegraph (UK) published today the analysis of the Georgia situation by former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton.

Russia’s invasion across an internationally recognised border, its thrashing of the Georgian military, and its smug satisfaction in humbling one of its former fiefdoms represents only the visible damage.

As bad as the bloodying of Georgia is, the broader consequences are worse. The United States fiddled while Georgia burned, not even reaching the right rhetorical level in its public statements until three days after the Russian invasion began, and not, at least to date, matching its rhetoric with anything even approximating decisive action. This pattern is the very definition of a paper tiger. Sending Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice to Tbilisi is touching, but hardly reassuring; dispatching humanitarian assistance is nothing more than we would have done if Georgia had been hit by a natural rather than a man-made disaster.

The West, collectively, failed in this crisis. Georgia wasted its dime making that famous 3am telephone call to the White House, the one Hillary Clinton referred to in a campaign ad questioning Barack Obama’s fitness for the Presidency. Moreover, the blood on the Bear’s claws did not go unobserved in other states that were once part of the Soviet Union. Russia demonstrated unambiguously that it could have marched directly to Tbilisi and installed a puppet government before any Western leader was able to turn away from the Olympic Games. It could, presumably, do the same to them.

It profits us little to blame Georgia for “provoking” the Russian attack. Nor is it becoming of the United States to have anonymous officials from its State Department telling reporters, as they did earlier this week, that they had warned Georgia not to provoke Russia. This confrontation is not about who violated the Marquess of Queensbury rules in South Ossetia, where ethnic violence has been a fact of life since the break-up of the Soviet Union on December 31, 1991 – and, indeed, long before. Instead, we are facing the much larger issue of how Russia plans to behave in international affairs for decades to come. Whether Mikhail Saakashvili “provoked” the Russians on August 8, or September 8, or whenever, this rape was well-planned and clearly coming, given Georgia’s manifest unwillingness to be “Finlandized” – the Cold War term for effectively losing your foreign-policy independence.

Bolton goes on to describe his recommendations for answering the question, "What is to be done?"

The Telegraph reported today on the response of other former Soviet-bloc countries to the invasion of Georgia by Russia.

The presence of the leaders of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine at a mass rally in Tbilisi this week provides pointers both to the past and the future. All these countries were once part of the Soviet empire.

As a result, all of them fear that the Russian annexation of a large part of Georgia, and the West's weak response, presages further trouble from a country still smarting from what it regards as national humiliation in the 1990s.

Their participation in Tuesday's rally in support of President Mikheil Saakashvili makes an appropriate starting-point for examining the probable hot spots in Moscow's revanchist drive.

In spite of the US having brokered a truce between Georgia and Russia, with Secretary of State Rice in Tblisi for Georgia's signing of the document, we have only the promise of Russia that they will sign it and actually withdraw their troops. Those nations that suffered for over three decades under Soviet rule will be watching closely. But they'd better not hold their breath.

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