08 August 2008

South Ossetia

So, Russia has sent its army into Georgia.

My mental first draft was all about how there was nothing anyone could do about this, because the precedents that had been set in Yugoslavia were all in Russia's favour. Defending a breakaway region from the army of the country which it nominally belongs to is all the rage these days.

But it seems the Ossetians' case is far stronger than that of the Croats or Kosovans. After all, they've never really been ruled by Georgia, except for a few years in the chaos of the Soviet disintegration. They've been de facto independent of Tbilisi for years. The chain of events was an invasion by Georgia last night, followed by Russia joining in today.

After all, we do hear these days that leaders must learn to think beyond borders. Putin & Medvedev seem to have got the idea.

I'm a bit old fashioned - borders are what keep armies apart, which is generally a good thing. The good case which the Ossetians appear to have is mostly the result of the support they have received from Russia all along. Arguably, had Russia always stayed within its borders, Ossetia would by now be a comfortable and stable province of Georgia.

It should be clear that, as with microgeneration yesterday, I'm playing with concepts here rather than real facts. I'm probably more than averagely knowledgeable about the situation out there, but that's setting the bar very damned low. I would be seriously deluded if I thought I could come to sensible conclusions about policy in the region based on the factoids accumulated from a handful of news snippets and Economist articles over a few years, plus the occasional spy novel. The only places I would be less qualified to pontificate on would be somewhere really remote and obscure, like, say, Tibet. Somehow the Ossetians have never quite got the attention of the more distant Tibetans - maybe it's something to do with the romance of a bunch of ancient monks what live on some mountain somewhere, or, to put it another way, that it's much easier to have sympathy for separatist rebels when you're never likely to actually meet them. Separatist rebels are bad news, however justified their cause.

Speaking of Tibet, this all blew up on opening day of the Olympics... coincidence? I would like to think it's just that someone was so pissed off at the thought of the next three weeks of television that they started a war just to avoid the boredom, but the connection may be more serious. The "spirit of international unity" that's supposed to imbue the whole binge makes it less likely that anyone will really make a stink. If nothing else, various world leaders are actually attending the stupid thing, making it that bit harder to make decisions. That would seem to play into the hands of the Russians, however, and my (wholly unreliable) impression is that this was actually triggered by Georgia. Perhaps Saakashvili thought that if he achieved enough fast enough, the Russians would be less likely to respond, what with the Olympics and everything.

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