The Ultimatum has been delivered to the UN...
September 13, 2002 4:58 AM   Subscribe

The Ultimatum has been delivered to the UN... This conflict, simmering for over ten years is about to erupt. "In strict accordance with international law," unilatteral military action is imminent unless demands are met. Animosity has been mounting steadily for months, and Russia is ready to invade Georgia. "No one can deny today, and for ourselves we are certain, that Georgian territory is sheltering both those who are implicated in the attacks on the United States and a direct operative involved in the attacks on housing units in Russia," Mr. Putin said on Russian television, echoing the logic U.S. President George W. Bush has used to rally international support for a pre-emptive strike on Iraq. The United States said it would not support Mr. Putin if he carried out his threat to attack Chechen rebel bases in Georgia, and slammed him for suggesting he might. "The United States strongly supports Georgia's territorial integrity and would oppose any unilateral military action by Russia inside Georgia," a U.S. State Department spokesman said. This all seems rather hypocritical, business as usual new world order politics: Is the price of getting UN Security Council approval on Iraq going to be public and secret deals, and is this really about the Chechens, or about breakaway republics and Caspian Sea oil? And what about China? Will we rubberstamp their ambitions re: Taiwan, Spratley Islands, Mongolia? And finally, why Georgia? I know they put up a two-bit Olympics and never caught that one terrorist bomber, but really, Georgia?
posted by Mack Twain (25 comments total)
You'd have to ask an Atlantan. I mean, a Tbilisian.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 5:05 AM on September 13, 2002

Quite a lot to take in but I will get day
posted by Jubey at 5:34 AM on September 13, 2002

Flippancy aside, the Bush Doctrine does lay the foundation for a number of preemptive wars by superpowers. Are we willing to cede however fragile our current basis for world peace for the approval of the U.N. to invade Iraq? Call me naive, but it seems Mack's point is well taken, what are the possibilities of a third world war if we are allowed to pursue our Middle East agenda, at the cost of allowing the Soviets and Chinese to prosecute their own regional acts of aggression?
posted by tellmenow at 5:37 AM on September 13, 2002

Here's one angle. Pankisi Gorge, not far from Tbilisi, is a haven for a variety of international militants (terrorists or freedom fighters, as you will), including Islamist fighters quite possibly associated with al Quaeda. Also resident there are Chechens, Ingush (locals), and some 3000 South Ossetians. The Georgian authorities have basically no control over the area. They sit at checkpoints just outside, at the southern end, in vehicles paid for by the US, wearing uniforms and carrying weapons supplied by the US, and probably accompanied by US "military advisers". (I'm old enough to remember that phrase from Vietnam.) They are way too smart to try going in.

Now, the US has either bombed the Pankisi Gorge or paid for such bombing, chasing al Quaeda. Russia has bombed Pankisi Gorge, chasing Chechen rebels. So far, not a big problem if you don't happen to live there. But wait, it gets more complicated. Remember those South Ossetians I just mentioned? Well, South Ossetia is a mountainous area just west of the Pankisi Gorge. The South Ossetians do not like the Chechens and other militants hanging out there, but they don't like Shevardnadze's government, either. In fact, they want to split off from Georgia and become independent, perhaps in concert with the North Ossetians. Where are these North Ossetians, I hear you say? Why, they're right on the other side of the mountains. In Russia. But they get along pretty well with Putin. So maybe South Ossetia wants to be part of Russia? Or maybe Russia would welcome any expansion in the region?

But wait, I haven't got to the complicated part yet. Well, sorta. Over at the other end of Georgia is this place called Abkazia. These folks want their independence, too, and have even got the Georgians to refer to them as an "autonomous zone". Sorta. The various members of the CIS (C'mon, ex-USSR, keep up here) have agreed to provide a peace-keeping force to prevent violence between the Abkazians and the Georgians. The Russians were the force until 01/01/02. Uh-oh. They didn't leave. They are way past their turn and hogging someone else's. Maybe Russia would welcome any expansion in the region?

If you have read this far, good on you. That's most of the complication. The last thing to consider is: are the US and Russia still facing off here in an expansionist situation which just reeks of Cold War politics? Can we reasonably expect that there will at some point be an "accident" in which personnel from these two countries kill each other?

Finally, some good news. There is a small but highly intelligent group of European journalists in Tbilisi.
Here are three pretty good links as starting points for anyone who still cares after reading this diatribe.

Well, that's why Georgia. Betcha y'all are really glad I didn't have anything to say about the rest of the post, huh?
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 5:37 AM on September 13, 2002

Nic: "are the US and Russia still facing off here in an expansionist situation which just reeks of Cold War politics?"

Naw, it's just plain old power politics, similar to the British & Russian competition over the northwest frontier in India and 19th century competition in Afghanistan, Persia, and our old favourite, Iraq. It's a situation bound to stir up squabbles and the occassional "accident", but to invoke Cold War overtones ignores the longstanding historical precedent: big nations compete for control and influence in small nations. The Cold War was more an ideological confrontation, with a "stop 'em at (almost) all costs" mentality on both sides. This is more economic in nature, and thus should operate under profit & loss considerations.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:51 AM on September 13, 2002

Well, that's why Georgia. Betcha y'all are really glad I didn't have anything to say about the rest of the post, huh?

No way, Nicolae! Don't hold out on us.
posted by y2karl at 6:31 AM on September 13, 2002

Thank you Nicolae for a great post. Another angle takes a more global view, based on influence and oil production around the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. However for Russia there's also the Chechen angle, since Georgia is on Chechnya's southern border. Here's a map of the region, and here's a map with Chechnya highlighted. It doesn't take much imagination to see the strategic implications of the land between the Caspian and Black Seas.

Back in February, there was talk of sending U.S. troops into Georgia. I wrote about it then (self-link), and much of that still sounds true. I have never heard anything else about the story since.
posted by joemaller at 6:43 AM on September 13, 2002

I think one fact that makes an invasion of Iraq and an invasion of Georgia different is that Iraq is a brutal military dictatorship that even by the standards of its region is evil and represive. It is also a country who's leader is openly pursuing WMD and has pursued territorial aggression. Lastly, it is in willful violation of any number of very specific and doable Security Council resolutions. Absolutely none of these facts apply to Georgia.
posted by pjgulliver at 6:43 AM on September 13, 2002

Yet another complication to get one's head around, as contained in the most recent issue of the Federation of American Scientist's 'Arms Sales Monitor' (which I posted sometime earlier this week) -

"the State Department is sending $64 million to root out terrorists in the Pankisi Gorge, where fighters from the war in Chechnya are seeking refuge. Yet though the U.S. government alleges they have links with al Qaeda, even the Georgian defense minister has publicly voiced his doubts. As quoted in the June 3 issue of Defense Week, General-Lieutenant David Tevzadze asserted, "For me personally, it is very difficult to believe in that [al Qaeda is in the Gorge] because to come from Afghanistan to that part of Georgia, they need to [cross] at least six or seven countries, including [the] Caspian Sea….No, al Qaeda influence can't be in the country." More likely, the U.S. government wants to help shore up the Georgian military's capacity to protect a planned oil pipeline that will traverse Georgia on its way from the Caspian Sea to Turkey."

This is somewhat at odds with the well-considered points you made earlier, Nicolae, and is a classic illustration of how issues relating to terrorism, however you want to define it, are NEVER black and white, but always grey....
posted by Doozer at 6:48 AM on September 13, 2002

GhostintheMachine - you're absolutely right. I got carried away at the end there, and the Cold War statement was hyperbole. The power politics of territorialism in that part of the world is bad enough; no need for me te exagerate. Good call.

Doozer - you're right too. I don't happen to believe that al Quaeda is in Chechen - but a lot of people do. I could have made that clearer.
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 7:35 AM on September 13, 2002

Call the "Bush Doctrine' what you will, but his message at the UN yesterday was well clouded. Aesthetically, it was one of the better Bush speeches, both in content and delivery.

HOWEVER-he said nothing other than "Hussein bad. Very bad." Tell us something we haven't known for 10 years. More frightening is the subtext of his message, "I will embrace, support, and love the United long as it does my bidding. Should you refuse, you're gonna get the biggest can of whup-ass you've ever seen."
posted by tgrundke at 8:13 AM on September 13, 2002

"My first act, as a friend of the UN will be to create a grand army of the republic(s)."

"I for one, would like to welcome our American Overlords, to the UN"
posted by blue_beetle at 8:20 AM on September 13, 2002

I know they put up a two-bit Olympics and never caught that one terrorist bomber, but really, Georgia?

HEY! I resemble that remark!
posted by spilon at 8:24 AM on September 13, 2002

Lastly, it is in willful violation of any number of very specific and doable Security Council resolutions. Absolutely none of these facts apply to Georgia.

So until the US pays its dues to the UN, Russia can invade us for disobeying the UN?

Come now. Everyone knows Hussien is trouble. We just don't all agree in lockstep that it's time for a land/air/sea attack with only Tony Blair's support.

It seems that conservatives are anything but when it comes to invading countries.
posted by jragon at 9:00 AM on September 13, 2002

Russia is about to invade Georgia?
posted by mogwai at 9:35 AM on September 13, 2002

Oh, and about that UN dues thing jragon.... check out this link:

Supposed UN debt info
posted by mogwai at 9:38 AM on September 13, 2002

The parallel here is supposed to be with Afghanistan not Iraq. Putin claims that there is a clear and present danger to his country from groups of terrorists hiding in a country that won't do anything about it. That there are rumoured links between Basayev and Al Khattab and Al Qaeda doesn't hurt Putin's case. So what Putin is saying is that if the US thinks it's OK to invade sovereign countries if one deems that his national security is threatened from forces within said country, then he is certainly entitled to take matters in to the Russian Army's hands. Keep in mind that Georgia is far from democratic in any meaningful sense of the term (of course neither is Russia but that's another story), so that he can claim he is subverting a dictator on the side as well.
Not that I buy that personally of course, but then again I think the US intervention in Afghanistan failed in its mission and is going to create an even worse situation in the future in Afghanistan (as soon as western troops leave), so I'm against terrorism as an excuse for not respecting sovereign boundaries in general...
posted by talos at 10:12 AM on September 13, 2002

It seems to me that the whole war on terror is an effort by states to combat non-state actors that have gained the ability to inflict mass casualties of the sort that had once been the exclusive ability of states.

States (USA, Russia, India, and Israel, for example) are responding to non-state violence by threatening any state that has the capacity to stop it with war if they fail to do so.

This is analogous to how the British and USA responded to piracy between 1700 and 1830. They threatened with war (and engaged in punitive actions against) states that didn't curb piracy. It might not be pretty, but it worked and helped establish the global order we know today.

In fact the whole doctrine of state sovereignty depends on the state taking seriously acts of violence committed by its subjects against non-subjects. The state claims jurisdiction over the interaction between its subjects and non-subjects. What Russia is doing here is demanding that Georgia start acting like a sovereign state. If it doesn't do so, Russia will act instead.

Can you tell this is my dissertation topic?
posted by ednopantz at 10:34 AM on September 13, 2002


(no, wait, let me work this one out)

Russia is demanding that Georgia demonstrate its sovereignty by doing exactly what Russia tells it to , or Russia will take that sovereignty away.

Yeah, that sounds fair...
posted by Grangousier at 10:40 AM on September 13, 2002

Grangousier: Someone said this was fair?

Actually, I will. This is a rare example of world politics being fair:

If Georgia wants to be a sovereign state, it should act like one.

Chechen/Islamist/al-Qa'ida groups are using Georgia as a base for war against Russia. Russia says that following the principal of national sovereignty (whatever happens in your borders is your problem and your responsibility) this means that Georgia is making war on Russia. Russia is saying that Georgia should stop it or Russia will make war on Georgia.

Seems fair to me. Sovereignty is a use it or lose it game.
posted by ednopantz at 10:51 AM on September 13, 2002

Ednopantz is right to some degree. The basis of a state is that it hold a monopoly on all violence commited within its borders or by its citizens. By some levels, Georgia fails this test.

However, Georgia is different than Afghanistan in many key ways. For one, Georgia actively wants to gain full control over its sovereign territory and exercise these rights. Therefore, its is conceivable that the best way to handle this situation is to work WITH Georgia, as the US is currently doing, rather than actively threatening its existance.
posted by pjgulliver at 10:52 AM on September 13, 2002

Flippancy aside, the Bush Doctrine does lay the foundation for a number of preemptive wars by superpowers.

You think it applies to other countries? lol
posted by rushmc at 10:56 AM on September 13, 2002

Georgia certainly wants this problem out of the way; and allegedly they have been cooperating with the Russians (the peacekeeping force). The problem, for them, is that long-term occupation by Russia is the last thing that they want, which is why they've turned to the US. By playing down the al Qaeda angle they hope to undermine Putin's argument for invasion, which as noted above is highly valid, even if you ignore Bush and go back to old anti-piracy international law. (Recall that the US was a prime mover in creating that consensus, as we refused to pay tribute to Barbary coast sultans ostensibly allied to the very-un-sovereign Ottoman Empire, and instead went to war. The European states (why does this sound familiar?) preferred to pay off the pirates' ever-increasing demands rather than enforce civil control of the seas.)

This is a tough one, because I think both states are pretty much right. I hope there's actually just some good cop / bad cop game going on; the timing regarding N Korea has shown the same behavior by the US and Russia, except in reverse. Perhaps a quid pro quo.

Psst, Mack? [more inside], right after "...Russia is ready to invade Georgia."
posted by dhartung at 1:53 PM on September 13, 2002

Nicolae, Ghost, PJ, Ednopantz, et al.: Thanks for an informative, thought-provoking, and mercifully civil thread. I've learned a lot.
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 4:59 PM on September 13, 2002

Sovereignty is a use it or lose it game.

Is it? Who says? You think sovereignty can be taken away from a country? Who owns the country then? You're supporting Russian re-occupation (that makes you more hawkish than the Russians themselves)? You think that's just for the citizens of Georgia - that their country can be taken away from them because some (unidentified) rebels/terrorists/fighters are hiding there?

I'm amazed that people here, in their eagerness to find consistency in the Iraq invasion, support Russia's aggression towards one of it's old colonies. Russia, who does things like this, this and this. Not amazed actually, disgusted.
posted by Summer at 2:20 AM on September 14, 2002

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