Monday, August 18, 2008

Tempting fate ...

A couple of weeks ago, commenting on the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, I wrote this about the current state of Russia ...

Putin's Russia is very far from being a shining example of democracy, but it is an infinitely preferable place to live compared with Stalin's Russia. And similarly, which Putin's Russia is not the most comfortable neighbour, or an ideal one to depend on for raw materials, it is a much easier country to share a planet with than the Soviet Union was.

Oh dear. I still broadly stand by those statements. However, the actions of Russia over the last few days have certainly emphasised the concerns and reduced the force with which one can hold to the view that Russia is an easier country to share a planet with.

Stalin was from Georgia himself, and his "divide and rule" policies of mixing up people from different ethnic groups, also followed by his successors as Soviet leaders, are the main cause of the problems in Ossetia. Which is not the fault of either the Georgian people who live in South Ossetia today, or that of their neighbours of Russian extraction.

Under Stalin or Brezhnev, the Soviet Union's response to a border problem in an area outside the reach of the West of another powerful neighbour such as China probably would not have been limited to bombing large parts of a smaller neighbour who they had a dispute with, grabbing two provinces for a while, and then applying a scorched earth policy while pulling out. They'd probably have made an all-out attack and re-annexed the whole country. In the short term that would have terrified everyone else, but in the long term it would just have exacerbated the internal tensions which eventually pulled the Soviet Union apart. And the fact that the Soviet Union would probably have behaved even worse does not justify Russia's actions.

Neither does the fact that the West has also made mistakes, as over Iraq - two wrongs don't make a right.

Georgia's government is not blameless in this matter but there is no doubt that insofar as Russia had just cause for concern, their conduct has been a massive over-reaction. To make an obvious comparison, Georgia's government had not used WMD on its own people or its neighbours, murdered many hundreds of thousands of people, launched any unprovoked invasions of neighbouring countries, or ignored UN security council resolutions.

If Russia does not start making genuine attempts to work for a just peace with Georgia they should be expelled from the G8.

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