A s these words are written, Russian mechanized troops are moving against the Republic of Georgia. The Georgian leadership has been taken by surprise. They did not think the Russians would go this far. So the question has to be asked: Why is Russia invading Georgia now? What would a war between Georgia and Russia accomplish?
Some observers have stated that Russia wouldn’t dare invade Georgia. Such an invasion would bog them down in an endless fight against Georgian guerrillas. From the Kremlin standpoint this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad outcome. First, the suppression of ragtag forces is always possible if the invader is persistent and determined. In Chechnya the Kremlin’s determination has been unwavering and brutal for almost nine years. Nobody thinks Russia has lost the war in Chechnya.
During World War II one of Hitler’s generals fretted about Russian partisans. Hitler corrected the general. Fighting partisans was a sign of victory, he explained. It meant that the enemy’s main forces were defeated. It meant that Germany’s losses would be comparatively minor. Only those who cannot keep the field in regular warfare hide in caves and snipe at convoys from the underbrush. In totalitarian terms, the Russian action is entirely rational.
One thing is certain: the Russian invasion of Georgia, if it continues, will mark a turning point. Why are the Russians acting in such a bold manner? Some may speculate that it’s about the price of oil, as the world’s second-longest oil pipeline passes through Georgia. And this point should be considered. But more than anything, the invasion impacts U.S.-Russian relations in a decisive manner. It changes the political atmosphere in Europe and the Far East, in Washington and London and Tokyo. The Kremlin strategists already know that the global economy is headed for trouble. This means growing political weakness within the democratic countries.
Already America has been weakened on many fronts. In strategic terms, this may be the perfect moment for Russia to break with the United States. There may never be a better moment to paint America as an imperialist aggressor. In Washington D.C., however, there is no desire for a break with Russia. American policy-makers have long assumed that Russia is a friendly country. They have assumed that disagreements can be worked out, and peace will prevail. There has been no real preparation for a renewed Cold War. Western politicians pose the following questions: Why should the Russians shoot themselves in the foot? Why should they damage their own economic chances? But these questions misunderstand the real situation.
The Russians see America’s weakness. First and foremost, the Americans are unwilling to bomb Iran. They have upset the Saudis by building a Shiite democracy in Iraq. The Americans have angered the Turks by supporting the Iraqi Kurds. The Americans have weakened NATO by admitting too many FSB/KGB-influenced countries into the NATO fold. The Russian leadership probably feels it is time to tip everything over. It is time to expose America’s weakness. What will President Bush do? By the time you read these words, the White House will probably have issued a statement denouncing the Russian invasion. But will American troops be sent to Georgia?
As for the moral justifications now being mounted by the Kremlin, a few words are necessary. Moscow’s claim of Georgian ethnic cleansing in Ossetia is as cynical as it is hypocritical. One only has to take a look at Chechnya. Russian atrocities in that part of the world are famous. The real issue is the fact that Georgia’s leadership threw off Moscow’s shackles and aligned itself with the United States. Even though there is no formal alliance between the United States and Georgia, the two countries have become close. There are U.S. military advisors in Georgia. The border of NATO is directly to the south. The Russian attack on Georgia may a way of testing NATO. It may, in fact, lead to the unraveling of NATO.
Would the United States send troops to Georgia?
Anticipating events, the Russians have long accused the Americans of attempting to push Russia out of the Caucasus. Russian propagandists have said that Westerners are greedy for oil (i.e., the Baku oil fields). It has even been alleged that America has fueled the war in Chechnya and seeks to destroy Russia itself. This is ridiculous, of course, but Russian nationalism is stirred by such allegations.
Noting the proximity of Azerbaijan to Iran, one ought to speculate on the fact that a war has been brewing between Iran and the U.S. for three years. By invading Georgia the Russians are assuring the Iranians of Moscow’s readiness to confront the U.S. By invading Georgia the Russians are exacerbating the global energy crisis by strengthening all anti-American forces in the Middle East.
The price of oil isn’t merely about oil. It is about food, the U.S. dollar and power-politics. Westerners, however, are always “mystified” when the Russians seem to act contrary to their own economic interest (as if economic interests were the only interests). It is true that Russia has benefitted from high energy prices. More significantly, Russia will benefit even more when the U.S. dollar collapses.
In every strategic equation losses are relative. If you are somewhat hurt and your enemy is crippled, you’ve won a great victory. After all, war is about accepting damage as well as inflicting damage. And war between America and Russia has been the game all along. Only the American side has consistently refused to recognize the fact. In Washington they have deluded themselves about Russia’s long term strategic intentions. And even now they will continue to delude themselves. American pundits will puzzle over Russia’s invasion of Georgia. And perhaps the Russians will pull back, having gained some significant concession from Washington. It is hard to say at this early hour.
If we look at Russian rhetoric and Russian actions over the past nine years we will find a pattern. In recent months the Russians have been acting as if they want to provoke a break with the Americans. They want to put themselves openly and honestly on the other side of the fence. If there is global conflict anywhere in the world the Russian government wants to take the side of America’s enemy. In Venezuela, in Africa, in the Middle East, in the Far East, the Russians want to renew the confrontation between East and West.
And this time they intend to prevail.