Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Putin wins (confirmed)

We have just watched the world become more dangerous. I'll come back to this point later, but here is the deal as it stands: Georgia will abjure violence as a means of resolving the South Ossetian conflict, withdraw all forces from South Ossetia and no longer be part of the 'peacekeeping' force, and permit referendums to allow South Ossetia and Abkhazia to join Russia. In return for this, Russian tanks and jets will not raze Georgia to the ground. In addition, the conclusion to the conflict has confirmed a shift in the balance of power in the region. US and allied forces are busy holding down Iraq and Afghanistan, thus freeing up Russia to be far more aggressive. Georgia stupidly gave the Russian government the opportunity to close the deal in South Ossetia with a brutal and humiliating military assault, and evidently no one had any power to stop it. Any efforts at punishing Russia's aggression are likely to be symbolic (not to mention utterly hypocritical). So, I guess the war games conducted by the US military in Georgia last month were futile. My sense is that, like the manoeuvres we keep hearing about in the Gulf, such activities are intended as much to intimidate as to gain experience for a potential attack, but Saakashvili evidently blew away any leverage this gave Georgia with his crazy attack on South Ossetia. And he has been rapidly frittering away his remaining credibility by making absurd claims like this one. First, Russia is planning genocide that mysteriously doesn't come to pass, then its bombing pipelines that BP says are intact, then it has invaded and taken control of the majority of the Georgian land mass without being spotted doing so. Now, if he could get BHL and Medicins du Monde to make these claims on his behalf, then he might be getting somewhere.

Georgia's NATO bid, by the way, is also finished for the time being. Saakashvili has quixotically decided to leave the CIS in anticipation of America being able to accelerate the country's membership of NATO, but let's be serious. Forget what the AP says, forget what the NATO Secretary-General says, and forget what John McCain says - NATO is not going to be swooning for Saakashvili right now. And if it was divided before, the balance of opinion in the alliance is now likely to be strongly against even leaving the door open for a future Georgia bid. Even the Secretary-General merely confirms in a vague, diplomatic fashion that the Bucharest communique, which allows Georgia to potentially be a member at some point in the indefinite future, stands. This is how a sceptical EU official puts it today:

"I think the current conflict has moved us away from the MAP plan. Moving forward wouldn't be a great idea," says one European Union official. "When you look at it, we feel validated."

The violence this week, and the events that precipitated it, have raised some new concerns as well. "It makes you ask about Georgia's motives for joining NATO," adds the official, positing that one motive might be an expectation of protection on the heels of its attempts to retake by force its breakaway region of South Ossetia, which has expressed a desire to become part of Russia. And the willingness to undertake such military campaigns is not what NATO is currently looking for in expanding its membership. "This," he says, "is an alliance of responsibility."

The ubiquitous "analysts" are also agreed that this crisis has checked NATO's eastward expansion for the time being. However, this doesn't mean the crisis is over. The longer term effect of this war will be to sharpen the struggle for energy resources and to increase America's determination to somehow rein in the local power. Russia will almost certainly throw its weight around a lot more in the Caucasus and Central Asia, probably arming and subsidising local proxies. America and those who support it globally will flood regional allies with weapons and money, build up the 'lily-pads', support any potentially secessionist current within Russia, anything that might be destabilising and drain resources, try to lure the country into a war it can't win, and so on. In short, as I've said, we've just watched the world become more dangerous. Those who thought it would improve stability if US power was 'balanced' by two, three, many imperialisms were mistaken. Watch the arms race resume, see that new generation of nuclear weapons proliferate, observe as the mini-conflicts and conflagrations sponsored by different players leave thousands dead, and witness the deadly escalation in global tensions... and then you'll see what I mean.