The Russia quandary

(Note: Many substanntive and thoughtful comments from readers who know far more about Russia than I do have been posted in this thread.)

As best I understand it, the issue of Russian and Georgia comes down to a choice that is utterly stark and simple, but extremely unattractive either way. Either we expand NATO to include the former Soviet republics, thus aggressively surrounding Russia with our client states and committing ourselves to go to war with Russia if she tries to take any of them back; or we allow Russia to absorb Georgia, the Ukraine, Belarus and who knows what else, regain its empire, and become a superpower again.

I don’t know what to think, and I invite readers’ opinions.

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Gerald M. from Dallas writes:

I don’t think the choice is stark and simple at all. That’s what the neocons and other breeds of interventionists would have us believe. Granted, Russia can probably re-absorb Georgia if it wants. And some of the smaller, weaker ex-Soviet republics as well. (Isn’t Belarus already dominated by Moscow?) But the Ukraine? That’s a country of over 40 million people, as large as France. It’s a mess right now, but has the potential to be a regional power, under wise leadership. Even now, it would be a tough nut to crack. A war by Russia to take it back is almost certainly beyond the capability of her armed forces, which are still—Georgia notwithstanding—in a dilapidated state, compared to Soviet times.

Furthermore, how do we know what Putin’s plans are? The neocon pundits have been screeching (as they always do, but even more loudly now) that it’s 1938, Georgia is Czechoslovakia, and the Bear is on the march until the complete Soviet empire, including eastern Europe, is re-established.

Bunk. A much more reasonable interpretation of what has happened is that Russia is reacting against what it perceives as Western (i.e., American) attempts at encirclement: the constant eastern expansion of NATO, the insertion of American military bases and trainers in much of what was once Soviet territory in Asia, and the constant hectoring demands from America that Russia itself become a true democracy. Putin is striking back against what he sees as Western encroachment of areas Russia has dominated for centuries, and threats to Russian sovereignty itself.

I admit, this is also the paleocon view of the situation, and paleocons are not in good odor at this website, but I think this time they got it right. This is not to excuse Putin, or Russia, in a strictly moral sense. Their behavior is thuggish and brutal. But does it threaten America?

Which brings me to the fundamental question we should be asking ourselves. What is America’s national interest here? Is it to draw a line in the sand, in what used to be Soviet territory, and commit ourselves to war if Russia crosses it? (I should say, yet another war, this time with a nuclear power.) In the last few days neocons have advocated everything from sending in ground troops to Georgia as a tripwire, to establishing a combat air patrol over its airspace, to committing the US Army Corps of Engineers to repairing the war damage. This, on top of immediate Georgian and Ukrainian membership in NATO. John McCain says, “We are all Georgians now.”

This is madness. We should stay out. Putin is not Hitler. Russia is not Nazi Germany. The only major threats to America are Islamic terrorism, mass Third World immigration, and our own suicidal liberalism. In the hysteria of the last few days, let’s not forget that.

LA replies:

I admit it—I formulated my two alternatives after reading yesterday’s New York Post, which was filled with the neocon screeching of which Gerald speaks.

Paul T. writes from Canada:

As a North America-firster, I suggest that Ukraine, Belarus etc. are not vital interests for us and therefore not worth fighting over. Even if Russia were to move against Western Europe, which is extremely unlikely, would that be so bad for us, given that the alternative is a dhimmified United States of Europe, also our potential rival? Also, the more successfully aggressive Russia is, the more concerned China has to be, and counterweights to the rise of Chinese power are probably useful. Two world wars should have taught us that white nations slaughtering white nations isn’t a good thing. I suppose we have the option of nuclear brinksmanship a la October 1962—but again, why go there?

I look forward to hearing what you and the VFR readership have to say.

James N. writes:

What I think is that our feckless government is quite prepared to provoke Russia by “surrounding her with our client states,” and we are no doubt also prepared to PRETEND to be ready to go to war over it.

This is an exceedingly dangerous situation, because we are as far away from being prepared—morally, civically, and in terms of control of resources—for a major war as we have been in my lifetime.

The unspoken corollary of “globalization” in the sphere of economics is world government. The U.S. has been led since the 1940s by men who believed that WE could be the world government, hiding of course behind the UN, NATO, etc. Of course, the European states, no longer prostrate, Russia, and the Islamic world are having none of it.

The moment of crisis will soon be at hand, when the continued existence of transnationalism will require the sovereignty of the People of the United States to be subsumed to that of the People (governments) of the World, lest the whole project founder.

Spencer Warren writes:

The U.S. has no more business sticking its nose into Georgia than Russia does in Cuba—unless, that is, U.S. foreign policy is guided by the neocon fantasy of democratizing the world regardless of power realities, as Robert Kagan has advocated. (He is reportedly an advisor to McCain.) The U.S. has been provoking Russia first by bringing into NATO the former Communist states of Eastern Europe, including the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, then by making noises about Ukraine joining NATO. How would we react if Russia were to sign an alliance with Mexico or Canada? Russia also strongly opposes the missile-defense system we are installing in Eastern Europe aimed at Iran.

On an issue like this, Buchanan’s view of the U.S. as a republic, not an empire, is correct. Russia is asserting its dominance in the Caucasus as its rightful sphere of influence where we could not help even if we wanted to. The Russian talk about stationing bombers in Cuba may well have been part of the same strategy. And the fighting now going on there may be directly the fault of the neocon President Bush and Co.

Kidist Paulos Asrat writes from Canada:

Here are my thoughts on the Russian situation.

I just recently finished a biography of Catherine the Great—who despite being a German import, understood the “Russianness” of the Russians very well.

Russia has always, or at least for a long stretch of her history, been an “Empire.” But its Empire was always regional, unlike the Western Europeans, so we tend to forget how pervasive it was.

What struck me about the recent kerfuffle was their declaration that they were there to protect the “Russians.” Why not take that at face value? After all, this is no longer the Soviet Union we are talking about.

We may not understand this much any longer in the West, but ethnicity and a certain aggressive desire to protect one’s own is still strong in many parts of the world. Yes, the Russians may be doctoring things in that region, but like I said, what really does belong to Russia, and what doesn’t, if we look back 300, 500 years in history?

Also, the huge dependency that Russians had on their Tsars, almost a god-like veneration, I think exacerbated by the Russian Orthodox Church, still may have remnants in its leaders and populace.

And I personally don’t think, that after all these years, Russian will instigate major regional conflict with Georgia and, as pundits are now predicting, with the Ukraine.

Unless they want the likes of the Somalia and Iraq disasters, NATO and Americans better be very careful what kind of message they are sending to that part of the world. If regions cannot control how they run their affairs, and international interventions, a la Serbia and Kosovo, are going to be the rule of the day, then things will just get more dangerous. And Russia just won’t stand for it.

John D. writes:

One thing that we should keep in mind is how utterly destructive Communism was to these people and the manner it continues to hold in their psyches. People that have never known freedom cannot always muster what it takes to live freely. They have to work harder, be more creative and resourceful and become independent of their governments. When people move into a larger house that has many holes in its roof, it tends to make them long for the smaller house that at least kept them dry. It takes a special people to find the wherewithal within themselves to make the necessary changes or to patch the holes in the roof. I think that there’s a large percentage of the populations of these countries that were more comfortable under Mother Russia’s wing than they are in being included in the West. Russia knows this.

Given what I’ve said here, I don’t believe it is a Russian aim to “absorb” any of the countries you mention. Maybe only to the extent that the West has absorbed them. Russia has never been known to allow the U.S. to kick sand in her face for very long. When the Soviet Union broke up, we promised that we would not expand NATO with any of the former Soviet satellites. We seem to have gone back on our word. Why is NATO still a valid military alliance since the break-up of the Soviet Union anyway? And why push it all the way to Russia’s borders, which reflects the Cold War mentality which we seem to be pinning on Putin.

After 9/11, Russia was the first to offer a helping hand to us and we have shown nothing but disrespect for her in return, by meddling in affairs in her neighborhood. Georgia began this conflict in South Ossetia and we have backed Georgia every step of the way in its aim to regain South Ossetia, against Russian wishes. How can we back Georgia and tout Kosovo independence? South Ossetia’s population, an ethnic people, have twice voted overwhelmingly for their independence. We should either stick true to our ideologies or forget them. We are hypocrites otherwise.

By the way, isn’t Condi Rice the Russian expert? Maybe we should be asking her.

Sage McLaughlin writes:

I’m in the midst of a master’s thesis that concerns this subject, and I’ve really struggled with the conflicting commentary and analysis while I have conducted my research. I really, really don’t want to get into a big thing about it, so I’ll keep my comment (sort of) brief. The problem is that there is a school of geopolitical thought which sees the only possibilities as Russia-the-evil-superpower (as was undoubtedly the case during Soviet times, whatever the Russophiles on the Right may say), or Russia-the-eternally-prostrate, whereby American power permanently fences Russia within a severely proscribed territory so as to prevent it from dominating global politics. The truth of the matter is, our overweening concern to oppose Russia at every turn, and to issue security guarantees to states within its historical and cultural sphere of influence, has given the Kremlin every reason to believe that the U.S. is an inveterately hostile enemy that will never allow Russia its place in the sun.

So what is that place? Well, before there were superpowers, there were simply Great Powers. Russia has long been one, and attempts to keep her from Great Power status have always failed, and failed disastrously. It’s easy to forget that Poland existed under partition by the Russians, Prussians, and Austrians for well nigh a hundred years (“Poland” appeared on the map for the first time in about 125 years after WWI and the 1920 Polish-Soviet War), and that Russia’s sphere of influence has always included political dominance of Eastern Europe more broadly. To cast this as some resurgence of the Soviet empire, wherein all the states of Eastern Europe and Central Asia were united under a single scepter in Moscow, is historical asininity of the worst kind. It is to suggest that while America’s sphere of influence ought to extend to wherever we can find a willing ally, Russia has for all intents and purposes no legitimate sphere of influence beyond its own borders—if we could hector them into submission over Chechnya, we would, in spite of the fact that there are no obvious good guys in that situation and that even if there were, it would be absolutely none of our business. Let the Iranians and the Azeris deal with that, for goodness’ sakes, and if they don’t find it particularly worth their while, then why on earth should we?

The point is, the height of Russian power may have been embodied politically by the Soviet Union, but that is not to say that Russian power must necessarily trend in a Soviet direction. Americans rightly go into apoplexy over things like international monitors commenting on the integrity of our elections, but U.S. policy makers literally declare the Putin-Medvedev government so politically blighted that they must never be allowed to exercise their power over their immediate surroundings without the threat of NATO retaliation. This is insanity. The irresponsibility is matched only by the hubris of such a position. We don’t have to like what Russia does any more than they like what we do (for example, invading and occupying its Middle East clients for the most indirect of strategic rationales). And I do think we ought to argue against such things and oppose them politically where it is necessary and appropriate to do so, but some perspective has to be maintained.

If we have an image problem in Georgia (and Eastern Europe generally) for failing to rush to their aid, then that’s the Bush administration’s fault for extending such unrealistic promises of strategic partnership to countries wherein we have absolutely no vital interest. That’s an argument, not for extending deterrence to every conceivable anti-Russian political establishment on the planet, but rather for prudence and a hard-headed sense of proportion. What is worse—failing to keep a promise you can’t possibly back up, or making such promises in the first place? Neocons seem to be taking the former view. Using backroom assurances of assistance in the event of trouble, thus destabilizing Russia’s immediate frontier by encouraging irresponsible behavior on the part of hostile neighbors, all for the sake of extracting support for our ill-conceived Mesopotamian adventures, isn’t sound geopolitical strategy. It’s short-term thinking with long-term consequences.

Derek C. writes:

While it can’t be denied that the Russians are serving their own interests and trying to ward off further NATO expansion, they also have something of a just cause. Since the nineties, they and Georgia have had peacekeepers in South Ossetia. When the Georgians tried to retake the province, they shelled a number towns and cities, and killed several Russian peacekeepers. At that point, I don’t see what choice the Russians had but to respond, and to respond in a big way.

The encirclement strategy as a whole just strikes me as daft. Do we want to aggressively anger a nuclear power? Do we want to go back to the days when any small incident could turn into another Cuban Missile Crisis or Hungarian Crisis? NATO expansion should stop, and it shouldn’t proceed further until Russia itself wants to join. Georgia and Ukraine should maintain a neutrality. At worst, their situation will be like Finland during the Cold War. Both the Russians and we have bigger fish to fry. The Chinese and the Muslim World constitute far bigger threats to both Russia and the West, and both nations should recognize this.

All that said, I have to say I don’t care for the kind of talk you hear from some quarters (Spengler in particular) praising Putin to the skies. Putin might be a master politician, but he’s hardly the kind of guy I want running my country. I still remember when the Kursk sank that while one woman was complaining, a military official of some sort stuck a needle in her on camera and pumped her full of sedative. Creepy doesn’t begin to describe the moment. Then you have journalists in Russia being tossed out of windows to their death. Georgia’s Saakashvili is no prize either. He’s attacked opposition television stations, fired on protesters and he did order the offensive in Ossetia that included shelling cities full of civilians. Do we want to have a dog in this fight? Really, do we want to trade Atlanta, Georgia for Tbilisi, Georgia?

Spencer Warren writes:

AEI had a panel yesterday, including Frederick Kagan and Ralph Peters, with Peters (who appeared overwrought if not over-the-top) saying the Russian action reminds him of the 1930s and blaming the West for not having admitted Georgia into NATO. All of the four took basically the same position. Is this what one should expect of a “think tank”?

LA replies:

Just wondering, but did Peters appear over the top, or not? The unfortunately common expression, “if not,” renders ambiguous the speaker’s intent concerning the words following “if not.” In any case, I read Peters in yesterday’s NY Post and he was certainly over the top there. I consider it an embarrassment that this unhinged personality is considered an authority on foreign policy. From the moment he began pronouncing on matters beyond his area of competence, which is military tactics and strategy, he’s been a disaster. He has no business being a political commentator.

Dimitri K. writes:

As a person who has some ties with Russia, I can tell you that in general Russians have accepted the separation of Ukraine. As for Baltic states and Georgia, nobody really cares about them since they are culturally different. Ukraine, by contrast, is culturally similar, half of its population speaks Russian, and its capital Kiev is believed to be the birthplace of Russia. However, again, most Russians agreed with this division.

The problem however is that those new states, which got their independence completely for free, by agreement with Russia, now turned to be increasingly hostile. They find some historical reasons to be so, like oppression by Russian Communists, but you know, history is a complicated matter. For example, the decisive role in the Bolshevik Revolution and the Civil War was played by Latvian military units and Ukrainian anarchists, who supported Bolsheviks. Georgian socialists played major role too, one of them being Stalin.

I am not going to whitewash Russia, but what Russia actually wants is peaceful divorce. However, she is not given a peaceful divorce. New states are hostile and demanding that the international community treat Russia as a priori guilty. Russia considers this, rightly, as a danger to its sovereignty. Serbia is always on Russian mind, and rightly so.

You ask, if Russia will ever try to regain Ukraine by force. I cannot give you such a promise, because of close ties between Russia and Ukraine (like England and Scotland) and because nobody knows the future. But I am sure that currently the majority of Russians aren’t seriously considering this option. And if Ukraine were a friendly nation, Russians would have even less reasons to do so.

And finally, Russians reasonably believe that if USA plays a role in Ukrainian politics by peaceful means, why can’t they? The only explanation is that they are a priori guilty and retarded. That’s unfortunately how it comes out. Russians see it, they are not fools.

I am not a great supporter of Russian politics, including its policy in Georgia. But the real issue is not Georgia, which not many really know about. The real issue is the subjugation of non-liberal Russia to the world order.

Howard Sutherland writes:

Good post on the situation in South Ossetia and Georgia, and how the West should engage Russia generally.

I agree with Gerald M. that the issue is not as simple as the stark choice your opening paragraph offers between (a) encircling Russia with NATO client states and risking general war whenever Russia asserts herself, and (b) allowing Russia to be a revived empire expanded to the frontiers of the late, unlamented Soviet Union. The media are pushing several misconceptions as they present this story. (I’m not suggesting you are propagating them; you are not.)

The biggest misconception is that this Russian incursion into Georgia is a revival of the Soviet Union and the beginning of a planned expansion back to Soviet frontiers. I don’t think Russia’s rulers have any such intentions, and not because they are closet democratists. Clearly they are no such thing. Putin’s KGB background notwithstanding, though, neither do I think they are wannabe Soviets seeking to revive the Politburo, the Party and the Warsaw Pact.

Russia has problems galore within the frontiers of today’s Russian Federation. Before the Soviet Union came unglued, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was writing that a post-Soviet Russia should cast off the non-Russian Soviet Socialist Republics. Solzhenitsyn said Russia’s problems were so dire the country would need a long time to heal the wounds inflicted by Communist misrule, and Russia could never recover while holding together a peripheral empire. Solzhenitsyn advocated separation even from such close kin of the Great Russians as the Belorussians and Ukrainians. As I recall, when the Soviet Union fell apart the independence of the other SSRs from Russia was not terribly controversial, though some Russian nationalists protested what they saw as surrenders of Russian territory. Most Russians, I suspect, accepted it as inevitable in the wake of the Soviet disaster. This was true even though Czarist Russia before 1917 had included not only all the territory within the Soviet Union, but Poland and Finland as well. Big as she still is, Russia hasn’t been this small since before Peter the Great.

I don’t think Putin and Co. want to take on the burdens of ruling places like Georgia. What they want is security on Russia’s borderlands, an abiding Russian concern that long predates Soviet Communism. Memories of Mongol invasion and Tatar (Moslem) occupation are fresh among Russians, even though the Muscovites threw off the Tatar yoke in the 16th century, as are memories of more recent invasions from the West.

Going well back into Czarist times, there is a concept in Russian policy that explains what Russia is doing in Georgia today, one owing nothing to Soviet Communism (although the Communists adopted it): the idea of Russia’s “near abroad.” With Russia’s history of being invaded and the largely indefensible flat borderlands between Russian lands and the rest of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Russian rulers going back as far as 16th Century Grand Dukes of Muscovy have believed Russia must dominate, if not rule outright, the lands that border her: Russia’s near abroad. (Poles and Balts, in particular, are painfully familiar with the concept, though Russians would counter that Poland-Lithuania was among the occupiers of Russian lands in earlier times.) More importantly, no other great power should exercise influence in Russia’s near abroad. With the expansion of NATO (which has outlived its mission in the first place) to include the Baltic States and the proposed expansion of NATO to include countries like the Ukraine and Georgia, the Russians see American-led encroachment deep into the near abroad. It’s no surprise that they resent it and mistrust American motives. Understandably so, as there is no good reason for NATO’s eastward expansion. Containment of Russia is a bad reason, but the only one that explains the NATO expansion.

As Russians pushed the Moslem Tatars who had occupied their country for over 200 years back to the East, Russia became involved in the Caucasus. By 1800, Georgia in particular was fully within the Russian sphere of influence, and shortly after was incorporated altogether into Czarist Russia. So Russian involvement in the Caucasus generally and Georgia specifically long predates the Bolsheviks. There probably was some benefit to the Christian Georgians in having a Christian protector against the depredations of the Moslem Ottomans.

As for the merits of this incursion, I don’t know enough to have a well-informed opinion, except to say it looks to me like an assertion of Russia’s readiness to intervene in her near abroad. I’m sure President Bush, Secretary Rice and Senators McCain and Obama don’t have well-informed opinions either. I wish they would act accordingly. What America should do about it is nothing. It is not our business, and we cannot fix the problem—even if we knew what would fix it, which I’m sure we don’t.

On a larger scale, I think America and the West should make Russia an ally, recognizing a fellow European country of Christian heritage. If we are going to contain Moslem aggressiveness and even more so if China becomes expansionist as her economic power grows, a strong Russia will be very important to the security of the West. As for Russian activity in her near abroad, rather than wasting our breath on forced indignation about it, we should recognize that we Americans have a long-standing similar policy of our own: the Monroe Doctrine. HRS

George L. writes:

George Friedman at Stratfor has a good analysis of the Russia situation I think you will find informative:

James P. writes:

Paul T. writes: “Also, the more successfully aggressive Russia is, the more concerned China has to be, and counterweights to the rise of Chinese power are probably useful.”

This is a delusion. Russia has spent the last 17 years arming China to fight the U.S., because they want China to be the counterweight to the USA. They certainly do not plan to be the counterweight to China themselves, and if anything, they will be the junior partner in a Chinese-led anti-US coalition, rather than a junior partner in a U.S.-led anti-Chinese coalition.

History clearly shows the folly of thinking that a “strong” Russia will help maintain world order or will behave in a way consistent with U.S. interests. When they are strong, they have their own agenda, which is not going to coincide with ours. In the 1930s, we built up the USSR as a counterweight to Germany and Japan, and look where that got us.

Robert R. writes:

You asked for opinions but you may be surprised by mine. (I believe however it is shared by many on the far right.) I don’t really CARE if Russia absorbs Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, etc. Now that the liberal elite have more or less taken over the West (and made it a democracy in name only), I don’t have a dog in this fight.

Russia and China have more-or-less given up on Communism and socialism, and the West has given up on democracy and also embraced redistributionism. The only difference I see between them and the West is that they are not infected (so much) by the insanity of liberalism.

Gerald M. writes:

Impressive analysis from a number of posters, but three statements that stand out for me are:

James N.: “…the continued existence of transnationalism will require the sovereignty of the People of the United States be subsumed to that of…the World, lest the whole project founder.”

That’s what’s happening here, except the target of the moment is Russian sovereignty, which must be crushed, by violence if necessary. But American sovereignty is even more threatened by the same forces now gathering against Russia.

K.P. Asrat: “We may not understand this much any longer in the West, but ethnicity and a certain aggressive desire to protect one’s own is still strong in many parts of the world.”

I agree with Miss Asrat’s point, but would express it differently: that our elites still vaguely understand that ethnicity is important to many people, but they have no appreciation of its value, and indeed despise it and wish to crush it even more than they do national sovereignty.

Dimitri K.: “The real issue is the subjugation of non-liberal Russia to the world order.”

The statement can’t be improved upon. It perfectly sums up the objectives of the interventionists here.

One more thing. You and Spencer Warren are both dead on right about Ralph Peters, who likes to refer to the French as “animals,” and is one of the creepiest commentators I’ve ever seen on TV. Before 9/11, he wrote a number of perceptive books about the Army and military subjects in general, but since then he has, as you say, become increasingly “unhinged,” to the point I’m amazed anyone still listens to his ravings.

Aaron S. writes:

Howard Sutherland writes:

On a larger scale, I think America and the West should make Russia an ally, recognizing a fellow European country of Christian heritage. If we are going to contain Moslem aggressiveness and even more so if China becomes expansionist as her economic power grows, a strong Russia will be very important to the security of the West.

And then James P. writes:

Paul T. writes: “Also, the more successfully aggressive Russia is, the more concerned China has to be, and counterweights to the rise of Chinese power are probably useful.”

This is a delusion. Russia has spent the last 17 years arming China to fight the U.S., because they want China to be the counterweight to the USA. They certainly do not plan to be the counterweight to China themselves, and if anything, they will be the junior partner in a Chinese-led anti-US coalition, rather than a junior partner in a U.S.-led anti-Chinese coalition.

This is really the issue, isn’t it? Unfortunately for us, walking this line will be extremely difficult, since doing it successfully requires men not tone-deaf to culture and history. I think James P. is right to doubt that Russia can become an ally—still, there are long standing differences, perhaps even deeper ones—between the Russians and the Chinese that any sensible Western statesman ought to exploit.

Upon first reading Mr. Sutherland’s suggestion, I was reminded of a wonderfully iconic representation of this fact. In Tarkovsky’s “The Mirror”, there is a scene where a thin line of Stoic-faced Russian soldiers link hands to hold back an angry mob of little-red-book-waving Maoists. In doing a little digging, I found that this is actual footage from the 1969 Damanski Island incident.

I think the Russians would prefer not to be “junior” to anyone.

Alan Levine writes:

I agree with the comments of Derek C. I would add, however, that in local terms, the Russians are supporting the actual desires of the Abkhazians and Ossetians, neither of whom have any reason to love the Georgians, in what amounts to a border dispute that does not necessarily portend the conquest of all Georgia. That may well not be the real reason the Russian government is doing what it is doing, but the point should be made that the Georgians are not innocents in this matter. And a factor in Russian public opinion, if not government policy, is that Georgians in Russia are active in organized crime, which may make military action more acceptable than it otherwise would be.

I agreed with much of what Howard Sutherland said, but I am surprised that he buys into the old bushwa that the poor Russians have suffered particularly from invasion from the west. That is not the case; Russia has only been infrequently invaded, and never conquered from the direction of Europe. Through most of its history Russia has been a successfully expanding empire, not a victim of aggression. I must say that I am also a bit tired of hearing this or that sleazy Russian, or other countries’ aggressive policy compared to the Monroe doctrine. The latter was never intended to justify American aggression and the United States misused the Monroe doctrine to justify intervening, and then only for limited purposes (usually for liberal reasons, by the way) in the Caribbean area for a rather limited period.

Gerald M. writes:

While Alan Levine correctly notes that Russia has been, most of the time, an expanding empire, and hardly a helpless victim, it is simply not right to say it has not been invaded frequently from the west. Look at the last few centuries:

17th: several invasions / incursions by Lithuania/Poland.

18th: the epic struggle with Sweden highlighted by Charles XII’s invasion which came to grief at Poltava.

19th: the French in 1812, followed by France & Britain in 1856. Geographically this second invasion came from the south, against Crimea, and included Turkish forces, but the attacking forces were mostly western Europeans. And while it can be argued the Crimean War was not a true invasion of Russia proper, I doubt you’d get many Russians to agree.

20th: First Germany and Austria-Hungary invaded during World War I, occupying the entire Ukraine and closing in on St. Petersburg (Petrograd at the time). Then Nazi Germany’s “war of annihilation” in World War II, killing 27 million Russian and Soviet citizens and utterly devastating everything west of Moscow. And I’ll ignore the back and forth movements (and savage fighting) across what is now Ukraine and Belarus during the Russo-Polish War in 1920. [LA replies: Well, Communist Russia started that war, invading Poland in order to conquer it and impose Communist rule on it.]

As historical time is usually reckoned, I’d call the above, frequent.

Jeff Martin, “Maximos,” at What’s Wrong with the World, linked to this thread in a post entitled, “Learned Thoughts on the Russian-Georgian Question,” and quoted Sage McLaughlin’s comment at length. LA wrote to Jeff Martin:

See, when I don’t know much about something, I ask my readers, and look what I get!

He replied:

You’ve got a great bunch of knowledgeable readers, most of whom see through the propaganda our media are disseminating. It’s disturbing to think that there is more understanding in a group of bloggers than in the foreign-policy establishment, but I suppose that such things happen when a nation enters upon its decadent phase. Only the worst seek, and achieve, power.

Sage McLaughtlin replies:

Well what do you know. Now maybe I can finally escape the tyranny of Austerism, and take my place among the free conservative commentariat! :)

Michael P. writes:

The “problem” with Russia (and China) is that their foreign policy is not based on sentimentalism. They ally with whomever is in their interest, regardless of whether the regime in question is “nice.” We, on the other hand, want to base strategic policy on the idea that there are governments that care to be “like us.” Yet, there are not many governments who really want that. And, sadly, often it is the case that we do not even know who “us” is, anymore.

I’m reminded of the lyrics from an old 70’s tune written by the country songwriter, John D. Loudermilk:

We’re fighting in a limited war
So limited fighting can cease.
We limit our kills to limited hills
And hope we win some of that limited peace.

The words are as timely now as they were back in the ‘Nam era.

RB writes:

Russia is wrong to invade Georgia; however, U.S. policy makers over the last 20 years cannot be excused for their part in all this. Once our last great president, Reagan, helped bring an end to the Soviet regime, his successors have repeatedly provoked and humiliated Russia. We’ve learned nothing from history following the Treaty of Versailles. Post communism, there is no natural conflict between the two countries; au contraire, both are threatened by resurgent Islam and by the rising power of China. Yet consider what we have been doing. We’ve pushed NATO eastward toward Russia’s borders, interfered in the politics of the Ukraine to the benefit of the horrible EU which is more of an enemy than Russia, we have belittled Russia’s legitimate concerns with its own jihad threat, e.g. Chechnya, and worst of all was the criminal policy of Clinton and his cronies in dismembering Russia’s traditional Serb ally.

So Russia now invades its neighbor to protect the rights of an aggrieved ethnic group in a neighboring province. After what we have done in Kosovo what right do we have to object? Nine years ago I tried to warn various gung-ho warriors anxious to make war on the Serbs that actions have consequences.

I also don’t believe, despite the hysterical rantings of certain neocons like Ralph Peters, that Putin has any intention of permanently occupying all of Georgia; he simply wants to keep Western interests at bay and gain more leverage over the flow of oil. He knows that the Georgians are a tough mountain people; Georgian men are not neutered and caponized like Obama’s white male supporters. Also, he already has enough problems with the Chechens.

LA replies:

“Caponized”—that’s a good word.

LA writes:

Powerline quotes Bush’s statement today on Georgia, then comments:

Bush is correct to focus at the outset on the issue of regime change. Russia is going to come out the winner in this affair, but if it succeeds in changing the government of Georgia, that victory will constitute a disastrous defeat for the U.S., for Georgia, and for the cause of freedom.

Beyond this, Bush has presented a list of things he “expects” Russia to do. It’s a good list, but one which should cause us to expect that the U.S. is prepared to inflict damage on Russia if it does not meet Bush’s expectations. In this regard, Bush suggests that the U.S. is prepared to deal a blow to Russia’s efforts to “integrate into the diplomatic, political, economic, and security structures of the 21st century.” However, Russia has reason to doubt (a) that Bush would follow through on this threat, (b) that his successor, if it’s Barack Obama, would do so, and (c) that the former Western Europe would follow our lead even if we were serious.

Spencer Warren writes:

I note the commenter’s quote from Ralph Peters and how crudely Peters expresses himself. At the AEI panel this morning he made a comment that Russia is the pit of evil, or something to that effect, and that “periodically” it “pukes up” a man like Putin.

LA replies:

Gosh, Putin has gone from being a man whose “good soul” shines through his eyes, to puke.

Lydia McGrew writes:

Without meaning to offer an opinion on Russia’s invasion of Georgia, I can’t help noticing that many of Russia’s defenders are from the paleo right. This isn’t a surprise, yet I am almost unable to get over the feeling that there is something unpleasantly and richly ironic about the picture of die-hard paleos trying to find ways of downplaying a large country’s invasion of its sovereign but smaller neighbor with tanks and bombs, when in another context even the smallest and feeblest attempt of a certain country at self-defense against rocket attacks on its own cities finds the paleos full of self-righteous and misplaced talk about “occupation,” “disproportionate response,” and “violations of international law.” In the comments thread at VFR I came upon this:

When the Georgians tried to retake the province, they shelled a number towns and cities, and killed several Russian peacekeepers. At that point, I don’t see what choice the Russians had but to respond, and to respond in a big way.

I note that neither the cities shelled nor the Russian peacekeepers were in Russia. I don’t mean to pick on Derek C., and indeed I have no idea what his position is on the Israel issue. But I can’t help wondering: When, inevitably, the rockets begin to fall once more from Gaza onto Sderot and Ashkelon, will those who are now telling us that Russia may have a just cause and had no choice but to invade Georgia support Israel’s doing what it should have done long ago—retaking Gaza to protect its own southern cities? When Hezbollah starts once more attacking Haifa from its positions in Lebanon, what will be the position then on that subject of Russia’s present defenders?

LA replies:

Are you speaking of the Russia defenders at VFR as a whole?

Because they do not strike me as typical, reflexive paleos at all, and certainly not of the anti-Israel variety, since VFR posters tend to be pro-Israel. In fact, since I am intolerant of opposition to Israel’s right to exist and defend itself, anti-Israel people don’t post here at all, or if they do, they cover up their views. (And let’s be clear. the real position of most people who are hostile to Israel is not criticism of this or that Israeli policy, but rejection of Israel’s right to exist.)

In any case, as I was thinking of saying earlier but didn’t get around to it, what we have in the VFR discussion seems to me more like a rational incarnation of paleoconservatism—what paleoconservatism could and should be. Which doesn’t mean that I’m in agreement or disagreement with any particular position here. Other than always having been opposed to the expansion of NATO to the east, which, among other things, would be an imperialistic attempt by us to encircle Russia, I don’t know enough about the core issues in this discussion to have a formed opinion on them.

Lydia replies:

No, I’m not meaning to target the Russia defenders at VFR as a whole nor any one of them in particular. And it may be that I am being unfair. I had assumed that the commentators at VFR represents more of a cross-section of paleoconservatism and therefore that the group includes, as a matter of statistical probability, Israel’s detractors. I also tend to find in reading political commentary that defense of Russia and dislike of Israel are correlated.

And to be honest, I have been seeing paleo commentary on the Georgian elsewhere (not at VFR) from those who, I know, would go ballistic if Israel re-took Gaza, and it gets my goat. So I was using that rather strong statement from Derek C. to the effect that Russia has a plausible casus belli against Georgia on the grounds of its shelling towns in one of its own provinces and inter alia killing some Russian peacekeepers in said province as an opportunity to say what has been coming irresistibly to mind in the last couple of days—the double standard operative among paleoconservatives in general on this pair of issues. But perhaps doing so in this way was not just to the segment of paleoconservatives who comment at VFR.

Ron L. writes:

While I was not surprised to see the pro-Communist bootlicking of self-proclaimed paleoconservatives at, Chronicles, and Taki Mag (to say nothing of the blatant ethnic politics of Taki himself), I am saddened to see similar behavior on your site. The knee-jerk opposition to neoconservatives among some reflects poorly on the purported seriousness of paleocons. [LA replies: purported seriousness of paleocons? Purported by whom?]

I am not anti-Russian. I supported Russia’s war in Chechnya and Russia’s ending Chuvashia’s autonomy. But Russia is no more a legitimate state than post-war Germany would have been if it never de-Nazified. Imagine if a German leader, who has called the end of Nazi Germany “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” had invaded a neighboring country to end the very real atrocities committed against ethnic Germans. The war would have restarted. Well to walk away from counterfactuals, it is the KGB officer, Putin who actually called the fall of the USSR “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” And it is no surprise that right now, even after Russia agreed to the cease fire, Russian tanks, still carrying Soviet emblems, are riding through Gori, Stalin’s birthplace. Until such time as the Russians repudiate Communism, there is no such thing as legitimate official Russian nationalism. Until then it is mere Communist revanchism, flavored by Russian irredentism.

And those people who obfuscate for the Kremlin by claiming that Kosovo set the precedent have it backwards. The USSR, as it collapsed, started or fueled the civil wars in Georgia and Azerbaijan to keep the red boot on the Caucuses. They tried similar ethnic violence in the Baltics, where it failed, and TransDiniester, where it worked. Hence Moldova has not rejoined Romania, despite having been carved out of it in World War II.

But there is more here than just barely reconstructed Communists following Stalin’s appropriation of Russian nationalism and Slavophilia to support Soviet, or now Russian, expansion. At the end of the day, this is not only a Munich-like precedent towards other former Soviet nations, with large Russian populations, this is an attempt by Putin to split Caspian energy resources with Iran, control Europe through this energy, and expel the U.S. from Asia, even at the “cost” of Islamic extremism. Putin planned and initiated this war. It was the Russian-backed Ossetes who shelled Georgia starting on August 2. Sadly, Saakashvilli like Bush and the international press, fell into the KGB officer’s trap. Russia has the ability to close the Baku to Turkey pipeline, not only cutting off Europe and Israel, but controlling the energy exports of Azerbaijan and Kazakhastan. And this means that Russia and Iran now control the Caspian. This strengthens Russia and Iran, which is certainly not in our interest; unless you think that a nuclear Iran will make us safe. Controlling Georgia will give Russia an additional benefit. It closes the Caucasus to American military transport. Flights from Germany to Iraq will be dependent on Russian or Turkish desires. Flights from Germany to Afghanistan will either be dependent of Turkey, Russia, or Pakistan. Our position is compromised. (I would love to say that Turkey will help us, but where was Turkey when its neighbor Georgia was attacked?) As for Pakistan, it looks to be just shy of a civil war with the impeachment of Musharraf.

P.S. A few of your commenters are ill-informed on Russian history. Russia may have lost territory in World War I, but it was not a victim. Putting aside the fact that Czar Nicholas’s decision to mobilize his forces and threatened war against Austro-Hungary and Germany over Austria-Hungary’s rightful invasion of Serbia turned a reprisal raid into World War, Russia invaded Germany in 1914. Look up the battle of Tannenberg Forest.

Gerald M. also seems to forget the entire history of Russian expansion including the repeated invasion of and eventual partition of Lithuania and Poland, Russians brutal expansion into the Caucuses, including the betrayal of Georgia in 1799-1800 followed by the invasion and annexation of Georgia by Russia, and the conquest of Finland and Siberia. And I’m not even going to go into the USSR’s blatant land grab against Japan at the end of World War 2.

Joseph C. writes:

I do not know if you have had the displeasure of watching George Bush embarrass himself with his recent remarks—two days late—on the Russian invasion of Georgia. Or, for that matter, the remarks by his chambermaid Condoleeza Rice. [LA replies: I wish she were a chambermaid. Instead she’s a queen.] Or the puffed-up righteousness of John McCain. Or even the clueless moral equivalency displayed by the messiah, Barack Hussein Obama. Every one of them says that the recent aggression by Russia into a sovereign republic is unacceptable, thuggish, unfortunate, etc. But I wonder if any of them, or their like-minded liberal lemmings see (or care to see) the hypocrisy in their own statements.

As I understand this, Russia has invaded Georgia, a former Soviet republic, to gain control over the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (“BTC”) oil pipeline, which runs through central Georgia south of the breakaway region. This is the only pipeline in Central Asia that Russia does not currently control, and its takeover would give Russia a stranglehold on the European and Central Asian oil supply. Beyond that, Russia seems to have little need for a country of 4.6 million, which fought tooth-and-nail for its independence only 17 years ago.

My argument with Bush et al is a simple one: Since when do they have any respect for “recognized international borders?” Is it possible that Russia is only seeking “economic opportunity?” I am sure they are “willing to do the work” needed to make the pipeline productive. Are they not allowed to migrate (or invade) to “improve their lot?” Isn’t that a recognized ideal? Aren’t the Georgians just being “reflexively nationalistic” by not simply handing over their territory?

Do not get me wrong, Larry. I find Russia’s actions inexcusable. But as you know, I respect a nation’s sovereignty—whether that nation be the U.S., Israel, Britain—or Georgia. But Bush, McCain, the neo-cons, the Animal House conservatives, the liberals, ad nauseam have made it quite clear that they consider national borders passe. Why are they so outraged now? By what right does Georgia assert that Russians may not come into their country by any means necessary, if they see an opportunity?

- Is it because they believe Russia is a bully, and should leave Georgia alone? Well then, why is that not true of the Muslims that emigrate to Israel? Isn’t Israel the underdog of the Middle East?

- Do they believe Georgia has a right to exist as a separate society, not bothering anyone? If so, why? Australia, Ireland, Denmark, etc. were the same for decades, but we are now told that they must “open their doors” to everyone and become part of the brotherhood of humanity?

- Is it because Russia invaded militarily instead of via constant immigration? OK, fair enough. But isn’t that Georgia’s fault for having a border in the first place? Where does Georgia get off saying that only native Georgians can live in Georgia? Isn’t their border an “artificial construct” to deny outsiders a chance to move where their hearts desire? The nerve of the Georgians to favor their own kind!

- Is it because Georgia is already “diverse enough” with a 10 percent Muslim population? Since when is there such a thing as diverse enough? Wouldn’t Georgia be better served by becoming a multi-cultural state, where every culture was considered equal? Isn’t being able to say “we are a nation of many nations” more important than cultural survival?

- If Georgia wants to be “independent” why is that allowed? Didn’t Wesley Clark say just 10 years ago that there was no room for ethnically pure states? That they were a 19th century model? Why must Georgia be allowed to be themselves?

I know you may think these questions are silly, but that is the point. Just why? You and I, and readers of your website, recognize these as outrageous claims, even a bit tongue-in-cheek. But what about the “Invade the world, invite the world” crowd? What about your Canadian correspondent Ken Hechtman? He is on record as saying that everyone should be able to live wherever they want. That “no one is illegal.” If no one is illegal, why has Russia done anything wrong?

I would like to hear any of the above answer just one of my questions. And by that, I mean answer in detail, not with childish remarks such as:

- “This is different.” Different, how?

- “It just is.” Nothing “just is.”

- “You wouldn’t understand.” Why not? Because there is nothing to understand?

I respect the sovereignty of Georgia, and I hope they survive intact. As for the open-borders apologists, what about them? They may disagree with Russia’s methods, or mourn the loss of civilian life, but by what principle do they believe Georgia should remain independent?

Derek C. replies to Lydia McGrew:
The Israelis should be free to respond to bombings, of course. They’d be freer if they weren’t dependent on U.S. money, which is why, like every other nation getting free money, their aid should be phased out (of course, we should sell them any weapon they need). We have to hold the Israelis back because we now depend on Arab good will, since we have tens of thousand of troops in the Middle East doing…something. Mind you, our aid effectively subsidizes a welfare state in Israel with all its ill-effects, so our money is not doing them any favors. A fortiori, there’s a lot less reason for us to adopt a country like Georgia, whose behavior is unpredictable and dangerous, and whose leader is anything but a democratic ideal.

As for the Russians in Tskhvali at the time of the bombing, they were there under legal sanction with a similar Georgian force. The OSCE has been monitoring them. The Russians have certainly not been angels, and I believe my original post expressed a great deal of dislike for them and their leadership (as well as some on the right expressing admiration for Putin), so I’m hardly Pro-Putin, let alone “Pro-Communist.”

Another writer says the Ossetians were fighting before the attack, and he’s right that there was violence, but it was coming from both sides. The August 8 attack was of wholly different scale and it targeted a city full of civilians with peacekeepers under OSCE monitoring. If an equivalent thing were done by the Serbs to U.S. troops in Pristina, I can guarantee you that, even though the KLA is far more repulsive than the Ossetians, Belgrade would be flattened.

LA writes:

Sage McLaughlin writes:

If we have an image problem in Georgia (and Eastern Europe generally) for failing to rush to their aid, then that’s the Bush administration’s fault for extending such unrealistic promises of strategic partnership to countries wherein we have absolutely no vital interest.

How can Sage M. maintain that the U.S. has “absolutely no vital interest” in Georgia, given Ron L.’s comment about the vital importance to us of the non-Russia-controlled oil pipeline that goes through Georgia?

Gerald M. writes:

Ron L. accuses me (among others) of being ill-informed about Russian history, stating that I ignore the history of Russian expansionism vis-a-vis Poland / Lithuania, that Russia was not a victim in World War I, and that it was Russia that invaded Germany at the outbreak of that conflict. He needs to go back and read more carefully my post on those subjects. In it, I acknowledged Russian expansionism and said that Russia was no helpless victim (which Ron L. failed to comprehend) and that it shared responsibility for World War I (and other wars as well). As for the Russian invasion of Germany ending at Tannenburg, quite true. It’s also quite true that as the Russians invaded East Prussia, the Austro-Hungarians invaded Russian Galicia. And btw, if Ron L. thinks Austria planned a mere “reprisal raid” into Serbia (in fact, it intended to crush her forever), I suggest he has some more reading to do about the subject, himself.

As for Ron’s belief that Russia is not a legitimate state…so what? I suppose this legitimizes NATO’s (and America’s) drang nach osten, in Ron’s mind, making regime change in the Kremlin a moral imperative for American foreign policy. And he says he’s not anti-Russian? What a relief.

And my response to the geopolitical threats to the budding American empire in Central Asia that Ron postulates Georgia’s “loss” would cause? He’s beginning to sound a lot like NRO, where new essays appear by the minute, announcing catastrophes that threaten America, the Free World, and all the ships at sea if the Bear is not kicked out of Georgia, pronto.

I say give it a rest, partner.

Ken Hechtman writes to Robert Locke:

Point for Pat Buchanan’s side. He called this Georgia mess exactly.

He said the Russians would eventually put us to exactly this choice. On the one hand we can look like big-talking fools and admit that our guarantees to our allies mean nothing. Or else we can go to war for a small country of vital interest to the Russians and of peripheral interest to ourselves at a time when the bulk of our army is bogged down and bled white in two faraway wars of choice.

The thing of it is, I don’t see how we can not do this. We invited Georgia to join NATO and they accepted. Claiming it doesn’t count because the paperwork hasn’t gone through yet is a loser’s excuse. They are our NATO ally in spirit and we said out loud and in front of the whole world we’re willing to take an attack on them as an attack on ourselves. And now they’ve been attacked.

Robert Locke replies:

Yeah, well the old buzzard’s quite bright when the truth aligns with what he wants to say. He was the youngest editorial-board member in the history of the U.S. once-upon-a-time.

But Putin’s already foxed us on this one. The war’s pretty much over. Putin has established the credibility of the threat he needs to get what he wants, and he’s taking the pot off the boil before the U.S. and friends has time to react.

Chances of the U.S. sending in the 82nd Airborne at this stage? Nada. (If I’m wrong here, I promise to join whatever demonstration you pinkos organize outside the federal offices in downtown New York City.)

I’ve liked Putin for a long time. My worry has always been he won’t master the velvet-glove routine. This little maneuver is a sign that he gets it. Not like that awful thrashing about they did in Chechnya in the 90’s.

Frankly, I’m glad to see Uncle Sam’s bluff called—and if you’re still a leftist, you should be too. I am especially glad that the world learned the end of American global domination in South Osetia rather than the straits of Fujian, where I can generate nuke-on-nuke scenarios a lot faster.

The Wolfowitz doctrine is dead.

Next thing I want to see Putin do is start throwing Chinese out of Eastern Siberia, which rivals the Balkans and Southern California as one of the most threatened racial Krajinas of the West.

Robert Locke writes:

The idea of Russia reconquering the Soviet Empire, or trying to, is science fiction.

They don’t even want to actually conquer Georgia.

They want no foreign client states on their borders, friendly governments in power, and probably some economic advantages too.

LA replies:

And the very belief about Russian intentions that you just said is science fiction, is the foundation of the neocon position, which is: absent strong U.S. interference and involvement in the former Russian/Soviet empire, the Russians will reclaim their entire empire, therefore strong US interference and involvement in the former Russian/Soviet empire is required. It was these two alternatives as seen by the neocons that I laid out in the introductory paragraph of this thread. I was not endorsing their position, but I was accepting their premise concerning Russian intentions.

Robert Locke replies:

Three quarters of what’s wrong with neocons can be uncomplicatedly analyzed as the extrapolation of Cold War policies beyond the circumstances of the Cold War.

There was once a point to a) fanatical Russophobia, b) expanding global capitalism, c) exporting democrati universalism.

Now there’s nothing in it for us.

Frankly, we’re lucky these bastards have discredited themselves in Iraq and that Putin has exposed their bluffing hand of cards.

If we’d been unlucky, it would have taken a war with China.

August 14

Anthony Damato writes:

What’s better, the EU tyranny intentionally destroying the white race of Europe, or Russian tyranny, seeking to preserve their culture? This is not a stupid question. Europe’s leaders seem weak and phony compared to Russia’s officials, who were against the EU forced Kosovo independence, and rushed to defend ethnic Russians in South Osettia from an attack begun by US backed Georgians. The Russians did not fire the first shot, yet the MSM continues unfairly to paint Russia as the aggressor. They mostly don’t bother to mention in their reports this fact. What about “Democratic” Georgia’s decision to invade and kill more than 1400 civilians, whom I assume Georgia considers citizens under their authority. What democracy attacks their own citizens with the full force of its military? If the Russians didn’t intervene, how many more might have died?

The coverage I’ve seen is unfair. unbalanced and misleading against Russia.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 13, 2008 02:04 AM | Send

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