Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Power Plays and Turf Wars

Like everyone else I have followed the events in Georgia and South Ossetia with a mixture of puzzlement and déjà vu. Puzzlement, because the Georgian president seemed to have made an extraordinary miscalculation in escalating - if he did escalate - the tension over South Ossetia. His gamble on western support so close to the heart of Russian sphere of influence seemed - if that is what it was - reckless. Déjà vu, because we have seen this before many times in Russian realpolitik. Security, influence, power, paranoia, patriotism. Will quotes this source about the heinousness of pan-Slavism and I don't disagree. He also quotes Terry Glavin where he says:

“Although it’s hardly a secret that Russian president Vladimir Putin has turned Moscow into a kleptocrat’s playground, that’s just half the story. The other half involves his trampling of democracy across a Canada-sized swathe of the planet, east of the Urals, that takes in all of Siberia and the Russian Far East.

“Mr. Putin has embarked on an authoritarian program of eliminating up to two-thirds of Russia’s 90-odd resource-rich provinces and territories.. .”

It's just that, somehow, I never expect it to be otherwise, because that elimination is part of the security-influence-power-paranoia-patriotism chain of obsessions. The obsession is partly sincere passion, partly the worst kind of cynicism. It's a bad mixture. Passionate cynicism is worse then indifferent cynicism because it does much more harm and kills more people. Nor is that anything strange or new in the world. It's the way it was in 1956 and in 1968. It's the buffer-state syndrome.

There is only so much pressure the West can bring to bear on Russia now. Bleak? Well, yes, it is. Bases and observation posts on Russia's 'turf' don't help. There is, beside, the Ukraine, Latvia and who knows what else to worry about. We talk about democracy but the Russians actually voted for Putin and his retinue.

Janet McBride at Reuter's offers a fairly broad overview

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