Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Russia Great and Small

Sometimes I think a Russophile's relationship with Russia is the type of relationship you'd have with juvenile delinquent offspring. You really love 'em, and then they make you want to break out the whoopin' belt. One of the most irritating themes I encounter is the over-posturing on the part of some acquaintances of mine that Russia is so weak and helpless and poor, that no ill deeds can be ascribed to them. As if they were passive martyrs in all of this. Yes, Russia has been devastated, and its armed forces are in shambles. But having lived in this world longer than five minutes, I know that such limitations rarely have any bearing on a country's willingness to project power. If that were the case, we wouldn't see many wars outside the first world, where we don't actually see so many. I'm sympathetic to a lot when it comes to Russia, but I'm simply not willing to give Russia a pass on stupid policy decisions just because they've been so damaged. That's precisely when wise leadership is called for.

I was recently reading about Kemal Ataturk and the genesis of modern Turkey. The collapse of the Sultanate and the Ottoman Empire has a lot of parallels with the collapse of the Soviet Union; the Young Turks took the helm of the expansive Ottoman Empire in an attempt to reform and save it, only to bring it crashing to its knees. So very Gorby. But when Ataturk came in, rather than trying to grasp on to the threads of the crumbling multi-ethnic empire and scotch tape together some semblance of past Ottoman glory, he cut his losses, and concentrated on creating Turkey. And Turkey is coming up strong. Of course, even if Russia took this lesson to heart it would remain a gargantuan task due to sheer size, but still. Precious resources, effort, and political capital are unnecessarily wasted on some pretty counterproductive moves.

I'm not even talking about Ukraine here. The best example of sheer ridiculousness right now is Georgia. Georgia shares a dangerous border with the North Caucasus. In the past Chechen wars, militants have come over the borders and set up shop in the crags of Georgia's mountains. Monitoring these borders closely is of prime importance to both Georgia and Russia, and should be a point of cooperation. Because Georgia doesn't have the resources to fully control the border and aren't eager to hand it off to Russian military, the OSCE has had a border monitoring mission for a while now. Its mandate expires this month, and guess who, just guess, is blocking its renewal! That's right. Against their own dire security interests, Russia insists that the OSCE border monitoring has achieved its goals and is not necessary. Can you imagine? Like, "airport security has achieved its goals. We can eliminate this now." This is probably a two-pronged deal: a big F.U. to the OSCE and a chance to have Russian troops go head-to-head with Georgians. The border monitors also have a pesky habit of reportin covert Russian flyovers over Georgian territory. Meanwhile, Russia has reitirated its right to launch a pre-emptive attack on Georgian soil to root out the terrorists, which is an odd thing to do seeing as how the border monitoring mission has "accomplished its goals."

So I ask Irina. Why, I ask, why? I'm with the Russians on the Chechen guerilla problem! They should be extremely concerned! They should want nothing but border monitors linking arms from the Black to Caspian Seas! How, after Beslan, after that indelible horror, can they justify opposing a mission that tracks the movement of dangerous militants in the Caucasus? How dare they?

Her answer?

Because of the West's shameful performance and interference in Ukraine. Russians will be punished no matter what they do, so why try to behave correctly? The same West has artificially sowed discontent between the brotherly Georgians and Russians. Russia's claims that they will airstrike Georgian soil and their illegal flyovers? Western provocation. Don't you understand? Russia is so weak.

This little tune is getting old, and getting dangerous.


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