Thursday, August 21, 2008

What the hell is going on with Russia?

Lately, everyone seems to have Georgia on their mind, or more specifically, the standoff between Georgia and Russia. Since the vast majority of us have no idea what the hell this is all about, I thought I would try to explain it. Feel free to complain (politely) if I get something wrong here.

The problem centers around South Ossetia, which either is or is not a region of Georgia. It was annexed along with Georgia by Russia in 1801, and maintained a degree of autonomy under Russian, and then Soviet control. Administratively, however, South Ossetia was considered a part of Georgia.

In 1991, when the Soviet Union busted up, South Ossetia became part of the independent state of Georgia and North Ossetia stayed in Russia. Going against its traditional autonomy, Georgia declared that Georgian would become the official language in South Ossetia. The majority there speaks Ossetic, and they said, in Ossetic, "screw you" and declared themselves independent. There was an exchange of gunfire with Georgian authorities, and finally a truce was extablished and an autonomous zone created. South Ossetia declared itself the Republic of South Ossetia. The United Nations still considers South Ossetia part of Georgia, but Russia has taken advantage of the new situation by offering 70% of the Ossetian population Russian citizenship and funding the new government in South Ossetia. 29% of the population, incidentally, is Georgian.

This was the vague and weird status quo until Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili ordered his troops to invade South Ossetia and reclaim it. Russia responded, as you know, by invading Georgia. This is when Barack Obama said (stupidly) that Georgia should be made a member of NATO (which would require NATO to take a military stand against Russia), and John "Rambo" McCain started beating his chest about taking an even tougher stand against Russia, saying, "We are all Georgians". It can be assumed that none of us are Ossetians.

For everyone then this is a bit of a nostalgia tour. The Georgians want to return to the days when South Ossetia was comfortably a part of Georgia. The Russians, particularly Putin, want Russia to be as strong as she was during the Soviet days and want Georgia to once again be a part of the realm. The American neoconservatives want to return to the Cold War, when good took a stand, and evil spoke Russian. These are, generally, people who have no sense of the world without someone to struggle against.

So, expect to hear a lot in the next weeks about "weakness" and "decisive action" and "taking a principled stand against evil". Also, hopefully, we will be told who is "good" and who is "evil" here; otherwise this all might just seem like a crazy, overheated, regional struggle that has nothing to do with us.


Brian Dunbar said...

You don't have anything wrong (warning I am not a subject matter expert) but you did not go very deep into the matter of what is really at the heart of all this.

Look at the world from Russian eyes. To be Russian (I'm told) is to be naturally paranoid ...

To the north, over the Pole, Yankees aim nuclear missiles at the heartland. They've come close to letting them loose several times. Yes, the Cold War is over but do you know how quickly they can retarget them? And their wonderful terrible stealth aircraft can be over our cities in only a few hours.

To the West - Europe. They've invaded twice in the last few hundred years. NATO is edging closer - the former client states that provided a buffer are given over to potential enemies. And the Poles have no reason to love us.

South - the good open ocean ports are owned by unreasonable fanatics. Our former SSRs are in the hands of some of those fanatics - potential enemies hold sway over the rest.

East - The Chinese hold no love for us. Sure China's natural limit is right about where they are - but where did our former overlords come from?

Russia is surrounded by people who do not love them and have tried to hurt us in the past.

Now add in depressing demographics. There are fewer Russians every year. More of them are older, fewer are younger. What they need to provide security are armies in the Western mold - high tech and long-serving professionals can make up for numbers they do not have.

I knew from reading years ago the demographics were not in Russia's favor. I did not know they were this bad.

Russia is doing what they're doing (my uninformed guess) because they feel if they don't they'll cease to be Russia.

Holly said...

I've been thinking about this a bit, and here's where I get stuck:

If the South Ossetian population is taking Russian citizenship, that makes them Russian, not South Ossetian. I can understand why Georgia would want to maintain that region as part of Georgia, AND I can understand why Russia would want to annex even a handful of "Russian" citizens... but does trading annexed-to-Georgia for annexed-to-Russia actually improve the independence status of the South Ossetians? A country that was already not recognized by international authority is unlikely to become recognized once it's been adopted by Mother Russia.

Rufus said...

Brian: That's a good analysis. There's also the terrible psychological blow that Russia suffered at the end of the Cold War to consider- I think they already feel like a downsized version of Russia.

Holly: I think their idea is that Russia can serve as their muscle while still recognizing that they have an independent culture, even if they won't have political independence. But the South Ossetian president, Eduard Kokoity, has pretty much said that South Ossetia wants to be unified with Russia. So, it seems clear how this all should end.

Holly said...

... with the UN recognizing South Ossetia just to cheese Russia...?

Brian Dunbar said...

Brian: That's a good analysis.

Thank you! None of it is original of course: I read a bit here, and a bit there and it stuck with me.

I thought once I might make the Marines a career - knowing stuff like this makes one a better Marine.

Rufus said...

Yeah, well if anybody needs to know what's going on with this stuff, it's the enlisted I'd say.