The Arrogance of Oil Fumes, the Threat of the Decade

Russia’s authoritarian dictator-in-building Vladimir Putin has been getting high on the fumes of oil revenues that Russia is reaping from the West (US consumers are propping him and others like Iran’s Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez up). The oil boom has helped Russia’s economy thrive for the last few years. This, plus weak leadership from the US and Western Europe, has combined with Putin’s ruthless KGB past to make him into a formidably arrogant threat to democracy and freedom.

His so-far unchecked invasion of Georgia is a threat to the world, with consequences potentially as grave as any development our globe has witnessed since the walls of the Soviet empire crumbled down.

Is the West going to rise to the challenge? Are leadership and principle going to stand? Is civil society going to mobilize? Is media going to do a better job at awakening the world to these dangerous developments?

At a minimum if Russia does not reverse its aggression, it needs to be ousted from the Group of 8.  No nation that behaves the way Russia has over the last few years – like a bully – deserves such newly anointed role.

Georgia’s President Saakashvili is not blameless. But nothing Georgia has done merits Russia’s aggression. And if the world does not react forcefully, Russia’s imperialist instincts will only grow stronger and eventually catch up with those who stand by today.



Putin Makes His Move

By Robert Kagan
Monday, August 11, 2008; A15

The details of who did what to precipitate Russia’s war against Georgia are not very important. Do you recall the precise details of the Sudeten Crisis that led to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia? Of course not, because that morally ambiguous dispute is rightly remembered as a minor part of a much bigger drama.

The events of the past week will be remembered that way, too. This war did not begin because of a miscalculation by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. It is a war that Moscow has been attempting to provoke for some time. The man who once called the collapse of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century" has reestablished a virtual czarist rule in Russia and is trying to restore the country to its once-dominant role in Eurasia and the world. Armed with wealth from oil and gas; holding a near-monopoly over the energy supply to Europe; with a million soldiers, thousands of nuclear warheads and the world’s third-largest military budget, Vladimir Putin believes that now is the time to make his move.

Georgia’s unhappy fate is that it borders a new geopolitical fault line that runs along the western and southwestern frontiers of Russia. From the Baltics in the north through Central Europe and the Balkans to the Caucasus and Central Asia, a geopolitical power struggle has emerged between a resurgent and revanchist Russia on one side and the European Union and the United States on the other.

Putin’s aggression against Georgia should not be traced only to its NATO aspirations or his pique at Kosovo’s independence. It is primarily a response to the "color revolutions" in Ukraine and Georgia in 2003 and 2004, when pro-Western governments replaced pro-Russian ones. What the West celebrated as a flowering of democracy the autocratic Putin saw as geopolitical and ideological encirclement.

Ever since, Putin has been determined to stop and, if possible, reverse the pro-Western trend on his borders. He seeks not only to prevent Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO but also to bring them under Russian control. Beyond that, he seeks to carve out a zone of influence within NATO, with a lesser security status for countries along Russia’s strategic flanks. That is the primary motive behind Moscow’s opposition to U.S. missile defense programs in Poland and the Czech Republic.

His war against Georgia is part of this grand strategy. Putin cares no more about a few thousand South Ossetians than he does about Kosovo’s Serbs. Claims of pan-Slavic sympathy are pretexts designed to fan Russian great-power nationalism at home and to expand Russia’s power abroad.

Unfortunately, such tactics always seem to work. While Russian bombers attack Georgian ports and bases, Europeans and Americans, including very senior officials in the Bush administration, blame the West for pushing Russia too hard on too many issues.

It is true that many Russians were humiliated by the way the Cold War ended, and Putin has persuaded many to blame Boris Yeltsin and Russian democrats for this surrender to the West. The mood is reminiscent of Germany after World War I, when Germans complained about the "shameful Versailles diktat" imposed on a prostrate Germany by the victorious powers and about the corrupt politicians who stabbed the nation in the back.

Now, as then, these feelings are understandable. Now, as then, however, they are being manipulated to justify autocracy at home and to convince Western powers that accommodation — or to use the once-respectable term, appeasement — is the best policy.

But the reality is that on most of these issues it is Russia, not the West or little Georgia, that is doing the pushing. It was Russia that raised a challenge in Kosovo, a place where Moscow had no discernible interests beyond the expressed pan-Slavic solidarity. It was Russia that decided to turn a minor deployment of a few defensive interceptors in Poland, which could not possibly be used against Russia’s vast missile arsenal, into a major geopolitical confrontation. And it is Russia that has precipitated a war against Georgia by encouraging South Ossetian rebels to raise the pressure on Tbilisi and make demands that no Georgian leader could accept. If Saakashvili had not fallen into Putin’s trap this time, something else would have eventually sparked the conflict.

Diplomats in Europe and Washington believe Saakashvili made a mistake by sending troops to South Ossetia last week. Perhaps. But his truly monumental mistake was to be president of a small, mostly democratic and adamantly pro-Western nation on the border of Putin’s Russia.

Historians will come to view Aug. 8, 2008, as a turning point no less significant than Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. Russia’s attack on sovereign Georgian territory marked the official return of history, indeed to an almost 19th-century style of great-power competition, complete with virulent nationalisms, battles for resources, struggles over spheres of influence and territory, and even — though it shocks our 21st-century sensibilities — the use of military power to obtain geopolitical objectives. Yes, we will continue to have globalization, economic interdependence, the European Union and other efforts to build a more perfect international order. But these will compete with and at times be overwhelmed by the harsh realities of international life that have endured since time immemorial. The next president had better be ready.

Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes a monthly column for The Post. His most recent book is "The Return of History and the End of Dreams." He served in the State Department in the Reagan administration.


The War in Georgia
Is a War for the West, Wall Street Journal

August 11, 2008; Page A15

Tbilisi, Georgia

As I write, Russia is waging war on my country.

On Friday, hundreds of Russian tanks crossed into Georgian territory, and Russian air force jets bombed Georgian airports, bases, ports and public markets. Many are dead, many more wounded. This invasion, which echoes Afghanistan in 1979 and the Prague Spring of 1968, threatens to undermine the stability of the international security system.

[The War in Georgia Is a War for the West]


An apartment building, damaged by a Russian air strike, in the northern Georgian town of Gori, Saturday, Aug. 9.

Why this war? This is the question my people are asking. This war is not of Georgia’s making, nor is it Georgia’s choice.

The Kremlin designed this war. Earlier this year, Russia tried to provoke Georgia by effectively annexing another of our separatist territories, Abkhazia. When we responded with restraint, Moscow brought the fight to South Ossetia.

Ostensibly, this war is about an unresolved separatist conflict. Yet in reality, it is a war about the independence and the future of Georgia. And above all, it is a war over the kind of Europe our children will live in. Let us be frank: This conflict is about the future of freedom in Europe.

No country of the former Soviet Union has made more progress toward consolidating democracy, eradicating corruption and building an independent foreign policy than Georgia. This is precisely what Russia seeks to crush.

This conflict is therefore about our common trans-Atlantic values of liberty and democracy. It is about the right of small nations to live freely and determine their own future. It is about the great power struggles for influence of the 20th century, versus the path of integration and unity defined by the European Union of the 21st. Georgia has made its choice.

When my government was swept into power by a peaceful revolution in 2004, we inherited a dysfunctional state plagued by two unresolved conflicts dating to the early 1990s. I pledged to reunify my country — not by the force of arms, but by making Georgia a pole of attraction. I wanted the people living in the conflict zones to share in the prosperous, democratic country that Georgia could — and has — become.

In a similar spirit, we sought friendly relations with Russia, which is and always will be Georgia’s neighbor. We sought deep ties built on mutual respect for each other’s independence and interests. While we heeded Russia’s interests, we also made it clear that our independence and sovereignty were not negotiable. As such, we felt we could freely pursue the sovereign choice of the Georgian nation — to seek deeper integration into European economic and security institutions.

We have worked hard to peacefully bring Abkhazia and South Ossetia back into the Georgian fold, on terms that would fully protect the rights and interests of the residents of these territories. For years, we have offered direct talks with the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, so that we could discuss our plan to grant them the broadest possible autonomy within the internationally recognized borders of Georgia.

But Russia, which effectively controls the separatists, responded to our efforts with a policy of outright annexation. While we appealed to residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia with our vision of a common future, Moscow increasingly took control of the separatist regimes. The Kremlin even appointed Russian security officers to arm and administer the self-styled separatist governments.

Under any circumstances, Russia’s meddling in our domestic affairs would have constituted a gross violation of international norms. But its actions were made more egregious by the fact that Russia, since the 1990s, has been entrusted with the responsibility of peacekeeping and mediating in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Rather than serve as honest broker, Russia became a direct party to the conflicts, and now an open aggressor.

As Europe expanded its security institutions to the Black Sea, my government appealed to the Western community of nations — particularly European governments and institutions — to play a leading role in resolving our separatist conflicts. The key to any resolution was to replace the outdated peacekeeping and negotiating structures created almost two decades ago, and dominated by Russia, with a genuine international effort.

But Europe kept its distance and, predictably, Russia escalated its provocations. Our friends in Europe counseled restraint, arguing that diplomacy would take its course. We followed their advice and took it one step further, by constantly proposing new ideas to resolve the conflicts. Just this past spring, we offered the separatist leaders sweeping autonomy, international guarantees and broad representation in our government.

Our offers of peace were rejected. Moscow sought war. In April, Russia began treating the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as Russian provinces. Again, our friends in the West asked us to show restraint, and we did. But under the guise of peacekeeping, Russia sent paratroopers and heavy artillery into Abkhazia. Repeated provocations were designed to bring Georgia to the brink of war.

When this failed, the Kremlin turned its attention to South Ossetia, ordering its proxies there to escalate attacks on Georgian positions. My government answered with a unilateral cease-fire; the separatists began attacking civilians and Russian tanks pierced the Georgian border. We had no choice but to protect our civilians and restore our constitutional order. Moscow then used this as pretext for a full-scale military invasion of Georgia.

Over the past days, Russia has waged an all-out attack on Georgia. Its tanks have been pouring into South Ossetia. Its jets have bombed not only Georgian military bases, but also civilian and economic infrastructure, including demolishing the port of Poti on the Black Sea coast. Its Black Sea fleet is now massing on our shores and an attack is under way in Abkhazia.

What is at stake in this war?

Most obviously, the future of my country is at stake. The people of Georgia have spoken with a loud and clear voice: They see their future in Europe. Georgia is an ancient European nation, tied to Europe by culture, civilization and values. In January, three in four Georgians voted in a referendum to support membership in NATO. These aims are not negotiable; now, we are paying the price for our democratic ambitions.

Second, Russia’s future is at stake. Can a Russia that wages aggressive war on its neighbors be a partner for Europe? It is clear that Russia’s current leadership is bent on restoring a neocolonial form of control over the entire space once governed by Moscow.

If Georgia falls, this will also mean the fall of the West in the entire former Soviet Union and beyond. Leaders in neighboring states — whether in Ukraine, in other Caucasian states or in Central Asia — will have to consider whether the price of freedom and independence is indeed too high.

Mr. Saakashvili is president of Georgia.


August 12, 2008, New York Times

Russia Steps Up Its Push; West Faces Tough Choices


WASHINGTON — Russian troops stepped up their advance into Georgian territory on Monday, attempting to turn back the clock to the days when Moscow held uncontested sway over what it considers its “near abroad,” and arousing increasing alarm among Western leaders.

Even as President Bush denounced the Russian actions in the strongest terms to date, the United States and its European allies faced tough choices over how to push back. They seemed uncertain how to adjust to a new geopolitical game that threatened to undermine two decades of democratic gains in countries that were once part of the Soviet sphere.

Russian troops briefly seized a Georgian military base and took up positions close to the Georgian city of Gori on Monday, raising Georgian fears of a full-scale invasion or an attempt to oust the country’s pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakashvili.

Mr. Bush, little more than an hour after returning to Washington from the Olympic Games in Beijing, bluntly warned Russia that its military operations were damaging its reputation and were “unacceptable in the 21st century.”

“Russia’s actions this week have raised serious questions about its intent in Georgia and the region,” he said. “These actions have substantially damaged Russia’s standing in the world, and these actions jeopardize relations with the United States and Europe.”

Administration officials said military options were almost certainly off the table, but the United States did airlift Georgian troops stationed in Iraq back home, answering a plea from the Georgian government and prompting a sharp response from Russia. Washington could also press to ostracize Moscow on the international stage, perhaps by kicking it out of the Group of 8 industrialized nations.

Yet there was no immediate indication that Western powers could exercise much leverage over Russia if it chose to ignore their warnings.

The country is enjoying windfall profits from oil exports and seems determined to reassert influence over Georgia and Ukraine, while sending a clear signal to other former satellite states that they should be wary of an overly cozy political and military alliance with the United States, analysts say.

“If the United States and Europe don’t stop Russia, I think this is the end of what we thought of as the post-Soviet era,” said Sarah Mendelson, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

George Friedman, chief executive of Stratfor, a geopolitical risk analysis firm, said: “The Russians feel they have been treated like dirt by the world for the last 20 years. Now, they’re back.”

Many experts in foreign policy say that one reason Russia responded so forcefully to Georgia’s attempt to take back South Ossetia is that the United States and Europe had been asserting themselves in Russia’s backyard, alienating Moscow by supporting Kosovo’s bid for independence.

These expert say that the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy, including backing Mr. Saakashvili as a beacon of democracy on Russia’s borders, may have emboldened the Georgian president to take provocative actions that brought a fierce Russian response.

Beyond that, Russia has also been angry about American plans to put a missile defense system in Poland, and by American moves to encourage Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO.

“The combination is that the overall means with which we’ve dealt with the Russians over the last two years have painted them into a corner so that it’s difficult for them not to see us as hostile,” said Michael Greig, conflict management specialist at the University of North Texas.

Few foreign-policy experts predict that Russia will ever recapture its days of Communist glory, global intimidation and military might; the world has changed and growing global powers like China and India will make a return to the cold war impossible.

But there is a growing belief in European capitals and in Washington that the return of Russia to a position of great power could mean a redrawing of the Eurasia map, with Europe and the United States giving up on attempts to integrate former Soviet republics in the Caucasus into the Western orbit, while battling with Russia to keep Eastern European countries like Poland and the Baltic states.

And Russia’s resurgence could mean an end to already-dwindling American and European hopes of bringing Russia along eventually as an ally of the West. At best, Russia would never be trusted; at worst, it would be seen as an adversary.

Even for an emboldened Moscow, the Russian foray into Georgia carries substantial risks: not just global isolation from the Western democracies, but also anger from neighboring states of the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, the prospect of perpetual military quagmires around its borders, and nationalist reprisals like those that resulted from its crackdown in Chechnya.

A crowd of more than 1,000 people demonstrated in the Latvian capital, Riga, on Monday, while hundreds gathered in Tallinn, Estonia, and Vilnius, Lithuania, to press the West to adopt a tough stance toward Moscow. Leaders in Poland and the Czech Republic echoed that call.

Even as American and European leaders were demanding, begging and pleading with Russia to halt its advance into Georgia — foreign ministers from the world’s richest countries held an emergency conference call and notably excluded Russia’s foreign minister by limiting the group to the Group of 7, instead of the Group of 8 — diplomats were going through what one Bush administration official described as “not exactly the greatest hand of cards to have to play.”

At the United Nations, the Russians were dismissive of a draft resolution to end the fighting, which began to circulate among Security Council members. The Russians, who have veto power on the Council, said they were disappointed that they had not been consulted on the agreement as it was being drawn up and noted that there was no mention of “Georgian aggression.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent a mid-level State Department official, Matt Bryza, to the region to back up mediation efforts by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France. Georgian officials urged their European counterparts to take more punitive steps, like ending plans to pursue a new strategic partnership with Moscow, and questioning the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

The Games in Sochi are a personal project for Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, who favors Sochi as a summer and winter retreat, and skis in nearby mountains, close to the border with disputed Abkhazia.

But Democratic critics of the Bush administration criticized the administration’s moves so far as weak. Richard C. Holbrooke, the former ambassador to the United Nations, noted that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, which holds the presidency of the European Union, was leading the mediation efforts. Ms. Rice, Mr. Holbrooke said, should be on a plane to Moscow, particularly given the administration’s close ties to Georgia, and its encouragement of that country’s efforts to join NATO.

But the problem has become the response: Russia has now pushed back hard, and the United States, bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and fretting about Iran, is unlikely to take on Russia over the matter of Georgia. Russia has shown that it wants to rule its own backyard, said Mr. Friedman of Stratfor.

“All this basically means that Russia emerges as a great power,” Mr. Friedman said. “Not a global power like it used to be, but a power that has to be taken very seriously.”

Reporting was contributed by Marc Santora from the United Nations, Steven Lee Myers from Washington, and C. J. Chivers.

August 12, 2008, New York Times

Russia, and Putin, Assert Authority


MOSCOW — Vladimir V. Putin, who came to office brooding over the wounds of a humiliated Russia, this week offered proof of its resurgence. So far, the West has been unable to check his thrust into Georgia. He is making decisions that could redraw the map of the Caucasus in Russia’s favor — or destroy relationships with Western powers that Russia once sought as strategic partners.

If there were any doubts, the last week has confirmed that Mr. Putin, who became prime minister this spring after eight years as president, is running Russia, not his successor, President Dmitri A. Medvedev. And Mr. Putin is at last able to find relief from the insults that Russia endured after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

“Georgia, in a way, is suffering for all that happened to Russia in the last 20 years,” said Alexander Rahr, a leading German foreign-policy scholar and a biographer of Mr. Putin’s.

With Russian troops poised on two fronts in Georgia, speculation abounds on what Mr. Putin really wants to do. He faces a range of options.

Russia could settle for annexing the enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia — something its forces have largely accomplished. Kremlin authorities have also spoken of bringing Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, to a war crimes tribunal for what they say were attacks on civilians in Tskhinvali last week.

A further push might permanently disable the Georgian military. The most extreme option would be occupying Georgia, a country with a population of 4.4 million and a centuries-old distrust of Russia, where Western nations have long planned to run an important oil pipeline.

But while the West may see an aggressive Russia, Mr. Putin feels embattled and encircled, said Sergei Markov, the director of Moscow’s Institute for Political Studies, who has close relationships with officials in the Kremlin.

“Russia is in an extremely dangerous situation,” trapped between the obligation to protect Russian citizens and the risk of escalating into “a new cold war” with the United States, Dr. Markov said.

“Washington and the administration are playing an extremely dirty game,” he said. “They will show Putin as an occupier even if Putin is doing nothing.”

Mr. Putin and his surrogates have forcefully made the case that Russia does not plan to occupy Georgia but is acting only to defend its citizens.

In recent days, Mr. Putin has appeared on television with his sleeves rolled up, mingling with refugees on the border with South Ossetia — the very picture of a man of action.

By contrast, Mr. Medvedev is shown sitting at his desk in Moscow, giving ceremonial orders to the minister of defense.

“He is playing the game which is designed by Putin,” Mr. Rahr, who serves on the German Council on Foreign Relations, said of the new president.

Yulia L. Latynina, a frequent critic of Mr. Putin’s government, noted with amusement that on the eve of the conflict in Georgia, when President Bush and Mr. Putin were deep in conversation in Beijing at the start of the Olympics, Mr. Medvedev was taking a cruise on the Volga River.

“Now he can cruise the Volga for all the remaining years, or can go right to the Bahamas,” she wrote in Daily Magazine, a Russian Web site. “I must admit that for the first time in my life I felt admiration for the skill with which Vladimir Putin maintains his power.”

In 2000, Mr. Putin was elected president of a shaken, uncertain country. Selling off state companies to private investors had led to immense flight of capital. The economy was in shambles. But the bitterest pill of all was NATO’s expansion into Russia’s former sphere of influence.

Nothing highlighted this loss of face as much as Kosovo, where NATO helped an ethnic Albanian population wrest independence from Serbia. Russia has few allies closer than Serbia, and the 78-day American-led bombing campaign in 1999 seemed to drive home the message that a once-great power was impotent.

Mr. Putin was determined to change that. First, he reasserted state control over Russia’s natural resources companies, installing loyalists to run businesses like Yukos and punishing oligarchs who challenged his power.

With Russia then reshaped as a petro-state, flush with money from oil and natural gas, Mr. Putin has sent blunt messages to its neighbors: The flow of cheap energy can be turned off as well as on. Two years ago, after what was called the Orange Revolution swept West-friendly leaders to power in Ukraine, Russia briefly cut off the country’s flow of natural gas, sending waves of anxiety across Europe.

Now, with Russia’s swift progress in Georgia, Mr. Putin has asserted Russia’s might as a military force. Russian troops entered Senaki in western Georgia on Monday, and Moscow acknowledged for the first time that its forces had entered Georgian territory.

“I would say you have a situation in which the Russians have come to the red line,” said Dmitri Trenin, deputy director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

In describing Mr. Putin, people often use the word “icy.” After the lurching presidency of Boris N. Yeltsin, Mr. Putin offered himself as a man in consummate control of his impulses. He does not drink liquor; he skips lunch; his great indulgence is judo.

Early in his presidency, he charmed his Western counterparts, coming across as an articulate and cosmopolitan leader. But there were always topics that brought out a different side of him.

As Mr. Yeltsin’s tough-guy prime minister, he made a stir by threatening Chechen guerrillas with gutter language: “If we catch them in the toilet, we’ll rub them out in the outhouse.”

In 2002, when a French reporter faulted Russia for killing innocent civilians in Chechnya, he suggested that if the reporter were so sympathetic to Muslims, he could arrange to have him circumcised. “I will recommend to conduct the operation so that nothing on you will grow again,” he said.

The prelude to the events in Georgia reveals Mr. Putin as both a careful actor and a visceral one. In the spring, when Western nations lined up to recognize a newly independent Kosovo, Mr. Putin answered by formally recognizing the two breakaway enclaves in Georgia.

Over the course of the last decade, the Russian government issued passports to virtually all residents of South Ossetia, a step that would become the justification for moving troops over the Georgian border. And last year, Russia suspended its compliance with the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which, among other things, required that it withdraw troops from Georgia and Moldova.

But emotions have flared up, sometimes unpredictably. Mr. Putin reserves a particular dislike for Mr. Saakashvili.

In April, when Mr. Putin decided to establish legal connections with the governments of the breakaway regions, the Georgian president called him and reminded him that Western leaders had made statements supporting Georgia’s position. Mr. Putin responded by telling him — in very crude terms — where he could put his statements.

“He has such a visceral attitude toward Saakashvili that that seems to drown out anything else that anyone says to him,” said a senior American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It may take time to work out the messages Mr. Putin has sent in the past week, but this one is clear: Russia insists on being seen as a great power. “The problem is, what kind of great power is emerging?” said Mr. Trenin, of the Carnegie Center. “Is this a great power that lives by the conventions of the world as it exists in the 21st century?”

C. J. Chivers contributed reporting.

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