Rinse and repeat

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I’ve been watching and reading about events in Georgia and Ossetia with some interest.

I didn’t post over the weekend because there really didn’t seem much left to say. Earnings season is tapering off with no real shocks, just a bunch of financial write-downs and a sense of general foreboding in all but the export sectors. Macro seems to have found a level for the time being, with the pressure on oil and the USD coming off until the next big insolvency news or people work out that enough economic weakness to lower the oil price is not necessarily a good thing. Always lots of geeky tech news, but little to affect markets generally. Everybody seems to be happy just watching the Olympics.

Then, almost perfectly timed for the opening ceremony a simplistic attempt at a land-grab by a minor but geographically pivotal demagogue in the Caucasus. No big deal really; didn’t work, hard to see how it ever could have. By the way, it’s this sort of thing that has me wanting to be long the upper tail on the oil price probability distribution.

Here’s a map, if you want to follow along.


At heart this is about a US proxy overstepping, and Russia re-asserting its interests in its near abroad – sort of a Caucasian Monroe doctrine – but over the past few days this has morphed into a much wider lesson in the power of PR spin and the US campaign which does invite some comment as an example of how the US public is consistently fed bad information about the world outside. This morning I was stunned to read DeLong, an erstwhile member of the reality-based-community, grabbing the spin hook, line and sinker.

The first place I go for breaking geo-political news (that consistently turns out to be accurate) is Bernhard at MoonOfAlabama, who does his usual yeoman’s job of objectively (yes, there is such a thing) tracking in real time both the conflict itself and the meta-conflict about why it occurred and who will be blamed.

Despite yesterday’s announced ceasefire, the government of Georgia today launched an all out military attack on the breakaway South Ossetia region in northern Georgia… There are multiple reasons for this conflict. South Ossetia declared itself independent in the early 1990s. Ossetians are a distinct ethnic group with some 60,000 living in South Ossetia and some 500,000 living in North Ossetia which is a part of Russia. Most people in South Ossetia have a Russian passport and there are UN mandated Russian peacekeepers there… In the bigger picture Georgia is supported by ‘the west’ as part of an energy transport corridor from the Caspian to the Black Sea.

I honestly don’t think I can improve on “B”s reporting, so if you are interested there it is. If the ‘only the facts’ style can’t hold your interest, Gary Brecher at The War Nerd will has a more irreverant take:

There are three basic facts to keep in mind about the smokin’ little war in Ossetia:

  • 1. The Georgians started it.
  • 2. They lost.
  • 3. What a beautiful little war!

Most likely the Georgians just thought the Russians wouldn’t react. They were doing something they learned from Bush and Cheney: sticking to best-case scenarios, positive thinking. The Georgian plan was classic shock’n’awe with no hard, grown-up thinking about the long term. Their shiny new army would go in, zap the South Ossetians while they were on a peace hangover (the worst kind), and then… uh, they’d be welcomed as liberators? Sure, just like we were in Iraq. Man, you pay a price for believing in Bush. The Georgians did. They thought he’d help.

While I cannot sympathise with his voyeuristic delight in the conflict itself, his analysis, as usual, is very good and owes nothing to administration “access”. The links between the aggressor and McCain’s campaign are also revealing in retrospect.

McCain’s top foreign policy advisor, neocon Randy Scheunemann, has a long financial relationship with Saakashvili to lobby his interests in the United States…

Scheunemann… also worked for recently-disgraced Bush fundraiser Stephen Payne, lobbying for his Caspian Alliance oil business. The Caspian oil pipeline runs through Georgia, the main reason that country has tugged the heartstrings of neocons and oil plutocrats for at least a decade or more.

What has been really amusing to me is the spin. Initially, multiple reputable news sources on the scene report that Georgia launched an unprovoked attack on the civilians of Ossetia and Russia responded as they were in fact bound to do by their UN-mandated peacekeeping obligations. Russia also immediately called a UN Security Council session where they tabled a resolution – which was blocked by the US and UK because it called for both sides “to renounce the use of force”. It reminds me of Lebanon – “Lord, give me peace; but not yet.”

Next, there is a (pre-arranged) press conference with the Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze and clients of J.P. Morgan laying out talking points for the US media, and we are all told that Russia engineered the (Georgian?) attack as a pretext for occupying Georgia and overthrowing the government. From Ames:

The reason Lado did this is because he knew the enormous PR value that Georgia would gain by going to the money people and analysts, particularly since Georgia is clearly the aggressor this time… Lado is a former banker himself, so he knew that by framing the conflict for the most influential bankers and analysts in New York, that these power bankers would then write up reports and go on CNBC and argue Lado Gurgenidze’s talking points. It was brilliant, and now you’re starting to see the American media shift its coverage from calling it Georgia invading Ossetian territory, to the new spin, that it’s Russian imperial aggression against tiny little Georgia.”

I’d like to believe that the US public would be proof against this kind of manipulation, but I know otherwise. I actually laughed out loud this morning as the NZ national radio broadcast headlines that contradicted the previous day’s, and then went on to interview reporters on the scene who proceeded to contradict the new headlines. Whoops.

So we have a trumped up conflict with Russia, which Russia is bound to win, at the probable cost of their gaining de-facto control of an important pipeline through Georgia which ultimately supplies Europe. Why would anyone do this? Is there anything special about this fall in the USA? Oh, yeah. The elections. 

This will be yet another litmus test for the candidates. Will they parrot the official spin or believe their lying eyes? Unless the US public calls bullshit, or the MSM decides their readers would rather be uncomfortably informed than patriotically mislead, both candidates will have to adopt an increasingly strident, completely non-sensical, foreign policy position in order to prove their ‘commie-fighting’ credentials.

We’re all neo-cons now.

(If you don’t like this post don’t blame Yves, blame Paul Davis at Technology Investment Dot Info.)

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  1. Anders

    I have gotten the impression that the Russian peacekeeper presence in South Ossetia was not UN mandated, but instead came from a Georgia-Russia deal quite a while back (the Georgians have since requested that the Russians withdraw their troops since the original deal predated their independence, according to the source I read, and Russia declined to do so).

    South Ossetia is not recognized as independent from Georgia by either UN nor EU, and the Russians have provoked the Georgians for a while (giving some Ossetians Russian passports and trespassed on Georgian airspace).

    Meanwhile, the Georgians did start the conflict and reportedly started shelling cities; still, Russia essentially invaded a sovereign nation without an UN mandate… unfortunately, it is neither the first time nor the last time that will happen.

    Someone put it quite succinctly on another forum I visit; “no one is innocent, both sides are asshats and civilians will die for the sake of national pride and power” which does, in my view, sum it up.

    Russia has legitimate reasons for being concerned about the South Ossetian civilians – there were talk about Georgians wanting to or already having started to kill civilians in S. Ossetia – but I doubt there would be Russian action without the whole NATO and pipeline deal.

  2. Paul


    The peacekeeping forces were established by an agreement between Georgia, Russia and Ossetia in 1992, and since monitored by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the “the world’s largest regional security organization”, “an ad hoc organization under the United Nations Charter”. I’m not sure what status vis. the UN that last entails. It was those peacekeepers that were overrun (with some fatalities) in the initial Georgian assault in the early hours of 8 August.

    Yes, a stupid conflict sustained by fomenting nationalism but in reality all about control of the pipeline, and US internal politics.

  3. sk

    Well done for positioning this correctly. Its going to take courage to go against the meme of “little West orientated country attacked by big bully Russia” and instead frame the context correctly.

    I don’t carry water for Russia of course.


  4. Anonymous

    Holy smokes! Moon of Alabama is still up? That’s great. After billmon hung up his pen I went there for a while but eventually lost interest. I’ll have to check it out again.

  5. Melancholy Korean

    Look, I’d like to think I’m a member of the reality-based community too–you won’t find me defending the Iraq war, ever–but I have to disagree with your conclusion.

    Trumped up conflict or not, corporate conspiracy or not, the US is going to be the big loser here, and that’s not neocon spin, or McCain spin, or nationalistic, war-mongering spin. For all our faults, and the last eight years have seen some terrible ones committed by this administration, the US has preserved a decent peace since WWII. Many have benefited from the Pax Americana, and if Russia is allowed to run over Georgia (and it looks like they will because what the hell are we supposed to do about it??–with our army otherwise engaged, our finances a wreck, the people fed up with war and with a government that can’t be trusted) this is the first real threat against that system.

    Our flawed political system is better than the dictatorships of Russia and China. I believe this even after the disastrous Bush years. To be shown up by Russia will have real consequences. The world is now learning that the last remaining superpower can be defied, and potential allies will have second thoughts, dictatorial regimes will be emboldened, democratic supporters disenchanted.

    I hope Obama realizes the implications of this threat, as he correctly realized the non-threat of Iraq, and that he starts to channel Cold Warrior John F. Kennedy more than Bobby K., because for the first time, I’m starting to waver.

  6. Independent Accountant

    Who cares what the UN says? As Napoleon said, “God is always on the side of the big battalions”. Who will commit any battalions, big or small to Georgia? To antagonize Russia over Georgia is insane. This is Russian payback for our position on Kosovo. It’s also a message: if we want Russian support against Iran, we must give Russia something for it. As George Friedman of Strator told Bush and Rice, “shut up”. Sage advice for those two loudmouths. I am on Russia’s side in this dispute.

  7. Anonymous

    Hollow laughter about Brad Delong. This is the guy who made as ass of himself over Chomsky.


    “Not to have read Chomsky is to court genuine ignorance.” – The Nation.

    Brad Delong is the kind of person who has no idea how ignorant he is and how easily he can be deceived and manipulated by propaganda.

    DeLong mentions “the four big potential threats to world peace”, but didn’t he miss the elephant in the room? Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how people can maintain such a cognitive disconnect, but they do it.

    Moon of Alabama has been very good on Georgia and in fact has been one of the best blogs on the net these last number of months.

    Chris Floyd has also been very good, on Georgia and other issues.


    Saak seems to have made a grievous miscalculation – that he could get away with aggression against South Ossetia, and that the US or Nato would help him. But it seems that not even Bush or Cheney would be dumb enough to get involved in a shooting war with the Russians.

  8. outhouse

    “. . . while the objective of US imperialism is economic hegemony without colonial rule, global capital still – in fact, more than ever – needs a closely regulated and predictable social, political and legal order.” “Empire of Capital’, Ellen Meiksins Wood

    Keep in mind that Georgia is being considered for NATO membership, that quite an assortment of E. European (ex-Soviet bloc) have joined the club, that the US is itching to place “defense” missile systems in Poland, that Central Asia is being increasingly incorporated and under the influence of the West . . . no wonder that Russia feels the threat, one that is as much economic as it is military.

    So . . . this advance by Russia does indeed, right or wrong, upset the apple cart; its message is loud and clear: don’t expect a cake walk when in our hood.

    Increasingly, the world’s global economic policemen looks increasingly likes it’s loosing its grip.

  9. S

    Sophomoric analysis plain and simple. Friedman has been a bit of a loudmouth of late himself – even joining the CNBC chorus – and his analysis has been lacking for those that follow his thought progression. His whole confusion and conclusion approach is flawed. And while he gets some things right he gets an equal amount wrong. This post reminds me of Friedman writing on economic issues. The best thing to do when you don't know what you are talking about is defer. This is clearly a case of politics trumping analysis. Far more incisive analysis in places like Belmont Club, danger room & Information Dissimenation. Sorry but respectifully expect more from this blog.

    Postscript: if you are going to make an argument that national security and or geopolitics is unimportant to candidacy, then make it. I somehow think you will run into some problems judging from the Obamam good will mission and the recent calls from the Asican Cent banks regarding backing the GSEs.

    Jingosim is one thing, but tanks and sorties are another.

  10. Tom Lindmark

    Not only do I disagree with you but I object to the subject matter. You are entitled to your opinion and to a forum in which to voice it, just not here. This is a financially oriented blog, and most of us visit for that reason. Please either find a forum more suited for political statements or get back on subject.

  11. Danny


    Thanks for the post. The spin has been incredible thus far. It is almost as if the media wants another war with Russia to report on.

    It’s pretty simple, Russia was not the aggressor here. That US backed pseudo fascist in Georgia decided to start an unwinnable war against the Russians, and the Russians are going to respond in kind.

    This isn’t letting Russia ‘show us up’, this is not sticking our damn nose where it doesn’t belong. If the US involves itself in this conflict, we could look back on this tiny conflict as the catalyst for something bigger.

    The only place where I am less hopeful than you Paul, is that the public will call bullshit. People are still used to peace and a relatively strong economy. I think we still have quite some time before people get pissed off, and at that point, it might be too late.

  12. Danny

    And just for reference, the economic/financial implications of this conflict are enormous. If conflict begins to spread, we could see oil skyrocket, most likely some form of rationing, at the same time the economy is collapsing. And no, wars do not increase the quality of life, nor are they good for the economy, they will exacerbate an already shaky US and world economy.

    So yes, Paul has every reason to post on this topic. Foreign affairs has a great deal of impact on world economics, and based on what is coming from our politicians, there will be very negative effects on the economic/financial system.

  13. Yves Smith


    You have no business policing the guest bloggers. They are free to post as they see fit, and they are doing this as a personal favor to me. I gave them the keys to the kingdom. You are a grownup and if you aren’t interested in a particular post, change the channel.

    Any more comments like that and I will delete ALL future comments. You have frequently skirted the line of what I will tolerate, with too much commentary as thinly disguised self promotion. Consider this your final warning.

  14. Juan

    Excellent post Paul,

    The MSM’s flip-flopping lines are even worse than the one-sided coverage of the ‘Rose Revolution’.

  15. Tom Lindmark

    Fine. Let’s get to it.

    I have no interest in policing either you or your guest bloggers. At the same time both you, your guest bloggers and others who use the Web as a forum for advancing ideas are placing themselves in a position that is subject to criticism. That’s the way the game is played. I get ripped, you get ripped and so does anyone else that takes a position. Too bad. If you can’t take the heat, etc.

    If you choose to restrict comments on your blog that’s your business. Fortunately, the Web is a bit more democratic, so it makes little difference.

    I will, in the future, read your blog and most probably link to it as you have frequently good information. Your guest bloggers have, however, been a disaster. Read the material before you get your undies in a bunch.

    And I promise to refrain from further self-promotion and be content to sit in my little corner of the world and wait to be discovered.

  16. Tim


    You really need to get your facts straight before posting something like this. Have have employees in Georgia so I have on the ground witnesses here. Georgia did not start this and they are certainly not continuing the conflict at this point. This is pure and simply about Russia trying to reassert control over a country that once was part of the soviet union.


  17. rs

    Interesting post.

    I too am amazed by the slant of the MSM. It seems we’re all fair and balanced now. You are quite right to point out the blazing headlines “Russia invades Georgia.” If that this was all started by Georgia firing on Ossetia is mentioned at all, it’s toward the end of the article. (So much for the inverted pyramid style.)

    Gotta admit that Georgia has really slick PR, and has used the media much better than Russia.

    actually, this shouldn’t be all that surprising. Notice how MSM talks about autocratic Russia attacking democratic Georgia (a theme pushed had by Shakashvili et. al.). Democratic Georgia? Take a look at the recent elections there. Opposition shatered, only government TV, political prisoners. Somehow, I don’t see the difference between Russia and Georgia. I guess MSM is smarter than me.

    And what’s with the double standard: self-determination in Yugoslavia but territorial integrity in Georgia; the US Monroe doctrine vs. Russia’s near abroad?

    What’s good for the goose . . .

  18. Anonymous

    Great post, Paul.

    A little adittion:

    No Way Back

    What happened after that looked like a page from the recent history of the Balkans. The Georgian forces subjected the separatist capital to fierce nighttime bombardment, reducing much of the town to rubble. The Ossetian authorities claimed 2,000 civilian deaths. Russia reported 12 of its peacekeepers killed and 150 wounded. Some 30,000 refugees, fleeing the ghost town and other parts of the region, streamed north toward the Russian border. Moscow accused Tbilisi of causing a humanitarian catastrophe, with elements of ethnic cleansing and even genocide, and styled its own actions as peace enforcement. While many observers had for months expected Russia to follow the Kosovo model of 2008 (recognition of separatists), the model that was actually used was that of the 1999 NATO military intervention.

    This has serious long-term implications for Russia, its neighbors, the European Union, and the United States. Like Serbia then, Georgia now has irretrievably lost both its wayward provinces. It is inconceivable that after the murderous assault on their capital the Ossetians will ever revert to Georgia’s fold. Abkhazia, which has opened a second front against Georgia, aims, with Moscow’s military support, to consolidate its own borders. Like Montenegro, it has a chance to use its beaches, villas, and wine to sustain itself economically. South Ossetia, by contrast, is not viable as a state. Its self-determination can only mean joining its northern brethren — i.e., asking for annexation by the Russian Federation. Even though the territory and population in question will be very small, this will mark the first case of Russia revising the borders it accepted at the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

    Georgia will not recognize either the Russian annexation of South Ossetia or the independence of Abkhazia, but will have to live with it. Moscow, for its part, will start pressing Saakashvili by bringing criminal charges against him the way the West had done against Slobodan Milosevic. Capitalizing on Saakashvili’s botched military adventure and boycotting him as a partner, Russia will seek to precipitate a regime change in Tbilisi, again on the model of Belgrade-2000, hoping that a new leadership, even if still anti-Russian, will be more realistic. Moscow’s endgame in the region is restoring its position, as Medvedev puts it, as the guarantor of security in the Caucasus.

    And not only in the Caucasus. Russia has already accused Ukraine of helping rearm Georgia. As with Tbilisi, the principal issue between Moscow and Kyiv is the latter’s NATO bid. Russia has long indicated that it will not sit and watch President Viktor Yushchenko and his supporters hijack Ukraine and hitch it to the U.S. military wagon. With Ukraine divided on that issue, and the majority of the population still rejecting NATO membership, the situation, if push comes to shove, promises a crisis of an intensity and scale unparalleled anywhere in the former Soviet Union.

    Is this the dawn of a new Cold War? The analogy is misconstrued, because ideology is no longer relevant. The guns of August offer a different, and even more chilling, parallel. It had been clear for some time that the fate of Russia’s relations with the United States and Europe — not necessarily collectively — will depend on how the three looming crises are resolved: the stationing of the U.S. missile defenses in Central Europe, Ukraine’s membership in NATO, and the Georgian conflicts. With the last chip down, the other two are still in the air. The Kremlin’s message is crystal clear: Don’t tread on me. Or, it’s realpolitik, stupid!

  19. Anonymous


    With all due respect, how can your employees in Georgia know if attacks were made or not? Their media is no doubt pumping out propaganda fast and hard.

    The only way they would know is if they were in the military (and then they would be unlikely to be candid) or on the reported attack route and could affirmatively deny it happened.

    Now you may be right, but what you have said so far isn’t fully convincing.

  20. Anonymous

    I have no idea who is telling the truth but there certainly is disagreement over the “facts.”

    Paul mentioned that many citizens in South Ossetia have Russian passports, but I’ve also heard that Russia has been issues them without request to everyone in the region. That will allow them to claim they are protecting their citizens (as mentioned in the story). I believe that tactic has been used in other conflicts too.

    Georgia may have instigated the war (again, I don’t know who’s telling the truth), but there’s some accounts that Russia is moving much farther south.

    Anyway, I’m hesitant to accept the story of the Russians uncritically.

  21. Acrossthepond

    As a European, I may be a bit baised against the Russkies. But they, and not the Georgians, are the biggest bastards in this affair.

    Consider the evidence:
    1. Both Abzazia and South Ossentia are part of Georgias territory, but have had “independent” russian-backed guvernments since 1992.

    2. The Russians, being mightily pissed off after the kosovo debacle, has made dark threats of violence if it were to be made independent.

    3. Realizing that they had their own “kosovo” in Georgias independent-minded territories (and similar ones in other countries as well) they sought a casus belli for making a “serbia” out of georgia.

    4. This was easy, with the Georgian PM being a famous hot-head hellbent on taking back what is, internationally (not even russia recognizes them) illegal regimes.

    5. The Russians started to slowly build up strenght along the border, during a period of weeks. This is the critical evidence, as they were by no means taken by surprise! By means of their south ossentian proxies, they started shelling georgia.

    6. The Georgians, being incredible suckers, fell for it, and managed to hold the south ossentian “capital” for all of three hours.

    7. Now the pent-up fury and indignation for a thousand wrongs was unleashed on the surprised georgians. The russians were no-where near being surprised. Their trap had snapped shut!

    8. This is making an example to the west, the former satellites and, especially, certain hot-heads in georgia. Modelling their intervention on the kosovo war, they are going to annex the two provinces.

    Problem is everyone (exept certain bloggers and every Russian bar, say, five) know’s what their game is. In the latest defence review in my country (Sweden), we were sanguine about a resurgent Russia. This has now changed.

  22. Anonymous

    Now let’s say South Texas, which has a large Mexican population decides to secede from the US and wants to become independent or join “North Texas” which is part of Mexico. As a result Mexico sends in “peace keepers” to protect the ethnic Mexicans from the gringos and starts giving the South Texans Mexican passports. Something tells me it would not take long for the US to react, which is exactly what Georgia did.

  23. Richard Kline

    Anyone arguing that ‘Russia baited the Georgians into x’ really needs to advance some kind of solid proof. Russia has had significant forces on the Caucasus border for years. Whether there state of readiness was or was not changed is something that can be verified. To this point this ‘meme’ strikes me as nonsensical without any support in recorded events. I’m not saying it’s beyond possibility; I am saying it’s absent of credibility to this point.

    Quoting Paul, for which thanks for your post: “An unprovoked attack on the civilians of Ossetia and Russia responded as they were in fact bound to do by their UN-mandated peacekeeping obligations. Russia also immediately called a UN Security Council session where they tabled a resolution – which was blocked by the US and UK because it called for both sides “to renounce the use of force”. These are two well-reported, well-substantiated _facts_. Georgia moved after announcing a ceasefire. Russia went to the UN, before a single Russian soldier, plane, or missile is reported to have entered Ossetia other than those already stationed there under a known agreement. And asked for a firm statement by the Security Council. _And_ was blocked from getting that by the US, the UK, and to my recollection France. That is not the action of a country planning to ‘invade Georgia.’ Did the Russkis snooker the leadership of the US, UK, and FR into somehow refusing to block an intervention? Please. So this Russian ‘invasion’: the US, UK, and FR had an ample, gold-plated invitation to head it off and they did nothing of the sort. That salient fact is getting precious little coverage in the MSM announcing to all the “unfair treatment of plucky Georgia.” Tripe of the most rotten yardage, that last.

    To grasp the slant in all this, look at the coverage of the ‘human side,’ here. We are seeing one side, numerous little vignettes with panicked Georgians about chaos, casualties, and ruin, and to be sure the suffering of those individuals in Georgia is very real and not to be denigrated. —But we hear nothing substantive of the sufferings of the Ossetes, hundreds of whom are dead defending their homes. Despite the fact that footage and reportage on this IS available; the Russians are airing plenty of it. That ‘lack of balancing’ in the US and Western MSM makes it very clear we are being served propaganda here. And no, I have no confidence in the American public that they will sort it out. Twenty years of recent experience demonstrate incontestably that Peoria eats this dreck up.

    I have no brief for the Russians. Putin is a thug, but a successful one. That said, here are several salient issues, all of them more important than anything which happens in Georgia. Since 89, the US has continuously exploited Russia’s _temporary_ weakness territorially while acting in a hostile manner. Those missiles we want to aim at them from Poland and the Czech Republic: that is a hostile endeavor, no two ways about it. It’s not a question of ‘restarting the Cold War’ since as far as US actions are concerned at least we never _ended_ it. The continual effort in the US press to blame Russia for ill feeling between the states despite continued hostile Us actions is lamentable jinogism of the worst sort.

    Point Two: Borders are not forever. Oh, in our modern arrogance we seem to think that these will stay were they were redrawn in 19 or 45 or 89 or, well, wherever is most advantageous for us. But look, borders change, and usually involuntarily. The first issue isn’t where is the line but what is the rapport? Can adjacent peoples get along? Changing borders is usually accompanied by many people losing money, and a fair amount of folks getting dead, so it’s nothing to look forward to or advocate over strongly. But the “‘Borders I like must not be changed” thing is jejeune legalism in a world where hard heads and missile weapons keep most fenceposts in place over time. (Personally, I’d rather see all borders abolished rather than any defended by force, but I don’t see the other 97% of the population coming around to that view any time soon.)

    Ukraine is the real problem, and big one. If one were to choose an area where a truly nasty grinding war with major negative repercussions could start, Ukraine is in the top three of four worries. When the Russian half of Ukraine decides to scrap the artificial border drawn up by nasty Joe Steel and secede, and I believe that they will sometime in the next generation, we will find out who holds what cards. And US adventurism in E Europe is only exacerbating that possibility. We are ‘not helpful’ in our involvement. Our endorsing the secession of Kosovo from Serbia only justifies the east end of the Ukraine to do the same. One can’t say the Russians are playing nice there, but for them it’s serious business. I worry about that situation quite a lot. And how it is going to be played out will get some light shed on it by the dress rehearsal we now observe in Georgia.

    And BTW watch China’s reaction to Russia in this. . . . Won’t bother them a bit, I expect, and _that_ material fact says the US is outnumbered, outmaneuvered, outthought, and if it wants to fight at the margins will be outfought. Georgia and Ukraine are no vital interest to US, and our adventurism there will get us neither gain nor glory. At best; at the very best.

  24. S

    Richard Kline: google Georgia, Russia Drones. You have no idea what you are talking about. Check out informed comemnts on Russia building a rail extension into SO – for humanitarian purposes. I can’t speak with authority on cause and effect as I and no one knows. i can speak with historical context knowing what the Russians did in Afghan and Chechnya.

  25. Escariot

    Thank you Paul.

    I read your piece, and the links to MoA. I apprecaite the perspective.

    My how afraid, how deeply fragile our populace has become if they cannot tolerate even a waft of contradiction to the status quo exhibited here. Cheers for interrupting us as we strategize on how to best protect our spoils as we devour the goods of the earth with the inconvenient truth about its violent and remorseless undercarriage. I do not take it as a means of inciting shame about our state, as much as a sober recommendation that we not lose sight of all the ramifications of world domination that we have inherited and look to rule with a minimum of ethical and moral shortcomings. Which I truly mean. I think we intend to be benevolent in our leadership of the free world. We must be realistic, it is a role that demands much that is distasteful and far from Eagle Scout perfection. To me, the worst thing we could do, is recede into a self-promting envelope of fantasy that we are always in the right, without fail, and heroes always win.

    And, the idea that our current financial morass is not implicated is certainly not upheld by the pre-scheduled conference call with Wall Street. That can of worms was opened before this post.

  26. Anonymous

    An Interesting comment in BBC:


    The difference in views on the events in Ossetia has its own explanation. Russian now have the opportunity to receive information from different sources. In addition to Russian television channels we can watch television of GB, US, Germany … Many Russian speak foreign languages and can read information on the Internet. We can compare different information. People in the West do not have such an opportunity. They are victims of one-sided false propaganda.
We sympathize with their situation

    Masha Yelizeeva, Caucasus

  27. Mark Stoneman

    I enjoyed this piece, because it introduced me to some new blogs and offered some good tips on some of the spin out there. But then at the end a leap in logic occurs that bothers me. You go from pointing to spin on the Georgians side to making criticism of the Russian’s actions illegitimate. Thing is, we can do the same thing with spin on the Russian side. Finding the truth based on where the spin is won’t work.

    I myself was bothered by how Georgia marched into this thing and provoked the Russian bear. But let’s not forget how Russia did not stop after it kicked Georgian troops out of South Ossetia. And let’s not forget how speedy its response was. (Don’t talk about vacationing Russian leaders. German leaders were on vacation in 1870 and 1914, and that didn’t mean they had nothing to do with the outbreak of these two wars.)

    No, there is plenty of blame to go around. Clear sides there are not. And certainly the US has done plenty to undermine the value of international consensus. But this isn’t about blame anymore. It’s about Russia’s relations with Europe and the US. On that note, I’m glad Russia declared an end to hostilities.

  28. Juan


    Ok, historical context:

    Georgia’s “Rose revolution”

    After widespread calls concerning electoral fraud in the 2 November 2003 parliamentary elections in Georgia, weeks of protests culminated in protestors storming Parliament and forcing the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze. Modeled on the Serbian revolution – and utilising similar tactics to Otpor – the opposition was highly organised and led by the Kmara (Enough) youth movement. Following the removal of Shevardnadze, presidential elections were held (on 4 January 2004), and Mikhail Saakashvili, leader of the united opposition groups, was elected president. This picture of the revolution was painted for most of the world by the media. Behind the scenes though, the US had applied its entire panoply of “democracy promoting” devices to ensure, that the revolution was successful on their terms (these of course, included the NED and USAID). (1) Forbes magazine warmly described the revolution as “the toast of the West” led by a “handsome, American-schooled young leader named Mikhail Saakashvili, supported by an international democracy lobby.” (2)

    As in previous “revolutions” overt support to opposition groups was crucially supplemented and strengthened though diplomatic and economic coercion. In July 2003, the Financial Times noted that the US “delivered the most painful blow to Shevardnadze” when his “one-time friend and partner, former US secretary of state James Baker, …told [Shevardnadze] he needed to be far more democratic to be assured of US support.” (3) In 2003 the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) suspended their support for development projects in Georgia (however, once Shevardnadze resigned, both organisations announced their intentions to re-engage with Georgia) and just before the elections on 24 September, the US’s State Department made the surprise announcement that they would be halving their financial aid to Georgia, which had stood at $100 million in 2003. (4) The resulting financial pressure must have been disastrous for a country heavily reliant on foreign aid, Georgia was the second largest per capita recipient of American aid (after Israel) having received over US$1.8 billion from the US in the past decade. (5) It also seems likely that the opposition groups had diplomatic help from the American Ambassador for Georgia, Richard Miles. Interestingly, Ambassador Miles had close associations with “democracy promoters” in East Europe, as he had been the Ambassador for Azerbaijan during the 1992 coup, which brought Heydar Aliyev to power and Ambassador in Yugoslavia during the Serbian revolution. (6)

    1) For a list of the other groups involved see Graeme P. Herd, ‘Colorful Revolutions and the CIS: “Manufactured” Versus “Managed” Democracy?’, Problems of Post-Communism, Vol. 52, No. 2 (2005), p. 6.
    (2) Matthew Swibel, ‘Reform, caucasus-style; change in Ukraine? A cautionary tale from Georgia’, Forbes Magazine, 10 January 2005, p. 78.
    (3) Thomas De Waal, ‘After the fall’, Financial Times, 9 July 2004.
    (4) Natalia Antelava, ‘Georgia: Shevardnadze’s Dilemma’, Transitions Online, 30 September 2003; Nick Ashwell, ‘World Bank ready to co-operate with Georgia’, WMRC Daily Analysis, 28 November 2003.
    (5) Fred Weir, ‘Leader of Georgia’s bloodless coup set for election victory’, The Independent (UK), 1 January 2004, p. 9.
    (6) Vladimir Radyuhin, ‘US role in Georgia “coup” seen’, The Hindu, 2 December 2003, http://www.hindu.com/2003/12/02/stories/2003120201791400.htm ; Ian Traynor, ‘US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev,’ The Guardian, 26 November 2004, http://www.guardian.co.uk/ukraine/story/0,15569,1360236,00.html

    ‘Democratic’ imperialism has been an extension of the Cold War; there are always limits.

  29. Richard Kline

    So S, oh please, don’t go there. Look, Russia has made it _crystal clear_ for years that it would do anything and everything to defend Abkhazia and S Ossetia. Russia massively spies on Georgia, both in pursuit of this particular policy and for Russia’s larger national interests. Boo-frickin-hoo. With Georgia inviting in hostile military units and angling for frankly destabilizing alliances, wouldn’t Russian spying follow as a matter of policy and commonly understood self-interest _for any other nation except this one you seem to hold in visceral dislike_.

    Russia has manifestly maintained dedicated troop units on the Caucasus front with defined mission plans for years exactly to forestall any Georgian attempted coup de mains. Russia didn’t and doesn’t need to turn a hair to respond, and in this instance was ready to go mighty quick. Russia made it clear after the Kosovo ‘resolution’ that it would respond in the Caucasus, and declarations of long term committments were in the cards. Russia has had every intention of economically integrating these two territories with _Russia_ regardless of any pro forma status of a nominal and nonsensical border. So what? The inhabitants of these two areas are determined NOT to be citizens of Georgia, and Georgia has done nothing to convince them otherwise: their right to their own soil on which they have lived for centuries precludes and Georgian claim of sovereignty over them, especially in absence of their consent. Prove to me any pattern of Russian deployments, and I’ll listen. Google _is not_ an adequate resource for researching this issue; I hope you have other loops than that which you are tied into.

    For the record, many of Russia’s actions in Georgia since the secession of that country have been unjust, hamhanded thuggery, and only worsened relations. Maintaining their bases in Georgia after independence was an arrogant mistake, though given the action they were involved in in Chechnya perhaps understandable from a strategic standpoint. The Russkis are no angels. If there is a fight, they mean to be ready, and to win it. Wild claims that this whole engagement in the Caucasus of the last week were ‘a Russian plot’ just do not have substantive FACTS behind them as opposed to rumors and memes. Do the research and publish a referenced analysis, and that’s a different matter. Nothing in the way this has played supports the ‘Russian plot’ scenario to me, having looked at many plots in many places, and having followed the local politics and strategy in the Caucasus closely. I am at least as familiar with Russian actions in Chechnya and Afghanistan as you claim to be S, unless you have actually set boots on the soil there. Rumors of drones and suspicions of malice aren’t evidence. Georgian armored units well inside S Ossettia _are_ what is known in the trade as “facts on the ground.” Get better ones if you have a point to prove. Your claims of my state of mind on the issue are uniformed, and not backed up by any countervailing argument and evidence.

    To Anon of 1:54, I *heart* you completely. In most parts of Europe and many other places in the world, citizenry has access to multiple, competing news sources, which actually manage to put disparate views before the public, letting relevant information disseminated in the process if only accidentally at times. In the US, we have a monovocal Truthspeak Network which I have come to find quite frightening actually in the last half dozen years. The Fourth Estate has frankly and rankly abdicated its role. What we have now, is a latter day ‘Yellow Media,’ for which I haven’t yet heard or coined a catchy tag. But what we don’t get in this country anymore is informed, rational, or even minimally evenhanded reportage: we have propacasters in our ears every minute. And that’s no good thing.

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