Monday, August 25, 2008

Russia: whose fault?

Mikhail Gorbachev writes that Russia was forced into fighting Georgia, and that it is now being victimized in the western press. Thomas Friedman concurs, and pins ultimate blame on the west.

Nonsense! Friedman has no idea what he is talking about. It’s unlikely Gorbachev is ignorant, which suggests that he’s, well, lying. Kommersant (not exactly a western news source) pointed out that Georgia offered a peaceful solution to Abkhazia in June that would have made the region autonomous, with most of it a Russian sphere of influence. Kommersant also documented increased border fighting, including attacks on ethnic Georgians, and on Georgian border troops.

But while we’re at it, what about Russia’s preparation for war? For people who supposedly don’t want war, Putin and his little stuffed bear certainly seemed well-prepared for a full scale invasion of Georgia. Kommersant points out that in July, Georgia was warning that Russia was moving offensive forces into the region
(rather than defensive units).
. I think it is clear that Saakashvili was goaded by the Russians into his foolish attack. But on the other hand, it’s primarily hindsight that makes sitting by doing nothing seem like a good idea.

Big picture: The West has had much less influence on Russia than Friedman imagines. Yeltsin picked Putin, and in doing so guaranteed that the siloviki would come to run the state. And Yeltsin's selection of Putin was based on domestic politics; there's little the West could have done differently.

As for Gorbachev’s "the west just doesn’t understand us..." Under Putin, Russia has lost much of its press freedom, Moscow has seized control of the states, political opposition has been essentially eliminated, an attempt was made to rig Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election (a botched attempt, happily) and the state has "seized the commanding heights of the economy" by destroying Yukos and effectively seizing the property of western investors. I think many mistakes have been made in the west re Russia, but Russia is run by the Russians, or, at this point, by Putin and his security cronies. Russia’s nasty turn isn’t the fault of the west.

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