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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Latynina on Georgia

Writing in the Moscow Times, hero journalist Yulia Latynina explains the horror of Russia's foreign policy towards Georgia:

For over a week straight, television news reports have been showing demonstrations against Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and they claim that his regime is on the verge of collapse.

In the same spirit, news reports from the 1970s showed demonstrations in the United States accompanied by self-gratifying predictions that U.S. imperialism would soon collapse. The propagandists did not understand that open political demonstrations are a sign of weakness only under a dictatorship; in democratic nations, they are a sign of a strong and secure government.

Russia's foreign policy toward Georgia is mind-boggling -- not only in the degree to which President Vladimir Putin hates Saakashvili, but also in the striking ways the Kremlin finds to express that hatred. For example, take the pornographic film about Saakashvili, which was the masterpiece of State Duma Deputy Alexei Mitrofanov. Or the Russian missile that landed in Georgian territory followed by Moscow's accusations that Georgians actually brought the missile to the site where it was found and staged its "discovery."

When the United States was concerned about the Cuban threat, they conducted the Bay of Pigs invasion. Even though the operation was a failure, it was clearly on a different level than what we see coming from the Kremlin. No superpower would react to a national security threat by producing a porno film or by "losing" missiles in foreign territory -- because it would lose its face along with its missiles.

What is most striking about the Kremlin's attitude toward Georgia is the pettiness of the whole matter. A superpower should not respond in this way. Russia's behavior is more akin to a communal apartment dweller who spits in his cohabitant's soup out of spite and malice.

The second most striking feature is the senselessness of the Kremlin policy. Russia's ostensible goal is to strengthen its authority in the Caucasus, but it certainly can't achieve this by making a porno film about Georgia's president. Russia can't conduct its foreign policy as if it is living in a communal apartment. In these situations, you can befriend a neighbor and earn his respect. Or you can strike fear in his heart by roughing him up a bit. But you will never be able to strengthen your authority by spitting in his soup.

On the other hand, however, if you take a blunter approach by punching your neighbor in the face, for example, there is a good chance that he will call the cops.

Russia differs from rogue states in that it does not constitute a real threat to other nations. Sanctions can be levied against countries that fire missiles at their neighbor's territory, but not against countries that simply drop unexploded missiles in their neighbor's backyard.

There was a time when the Soviet Union represented a real threat to the free world, and in the end, the free world was able to drive the Soviet Union into a corner. Today, it is much easier to drive the current Kremlin into a corner by simply exposing the overseas bank accounts of its top bureaucrats.

That is precisely why Putin is careful not to attract the police by punching his neighbor in the face. Instead, he blows a lot of steam by comparing U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic with the Cuban missile crisis. Putin is smart enough to understand that if he responds by putting Russian missiles in Cuba now, the incriminating Swiss bank accounts of certain top bureaucrats would quickly become known to the whole world.

Putin promised an "asymmetric" response to U.S. plans to build a missile defense system, but in the end, all that he has done is appoint a former furniture store manager, Anatoly Serdyukov, as defense minister.

Maybe he is being too asymmetric?


Misha said...

Putin only needs to slap the same economic sanctions on Georgia that the US has maintained on Cuba for the last five decades, which means that Russia can not only ban trade and travel with Georgia (as the US does with Cuba) but Russia can go one better, and ban any company or firm which does business in or with Georgia from doing business in or with Russia (as the US also does now against Cuba). What does it mean? It means, for example, that a multinational corporation, such as Pepsi or McDonalds would have to decide whether it wishes to partake of Russia’s market or of Georgia’s. The Russian state could take legal action to expel any corporation, and its sales and operations from Russia, if it does business in or with Georgia. The US has of course already established the legitimacy of this form of sanctions, in its insane half-century-old drive to re-establish American imperialism in the small Caribbean island 90 miles south of Miami.

What would be the basis for this? It would be the same basis that the US uses against Cuba, which is that the current Georgian regime is suppressing democracy and freedom. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the latest news from Georgia that the US-trained, mini-me-midget dictator Saakashvili has ordered his militia to fire rubber bullets and water cannons at peaceful demonstrators, doing nothing more than calling for free elections and basic democratic freedoms?

Misha said...

Pepsi or McDonald's are only the best and most well known examples of multinational brands. But the practical effect of such Russian sanctions against Georgia would extend to much more than simply depriving Georgians of fast food and carbonated beverages. The real teeth would come in applying the sanctions to multinational energy conglomerates that do business with the Georgian dictator. Does BP have operations in Georgia, or even petrol stations there? Then that means they must be excluded from any consideration in future business in or with Russia. (If they have current operations or assets in Russia they would be given a reasonable period of time to divest themselves of those assets and transfer them to firms not doing business with the Georgian dictator.) Can you buy a Toyota in Georgia? That would mean of course that Toyota is now excluded from the Russian market. Again, these sorts of sanctions are not something that Russia needs to invent. The US has already established the precedent for such sanctions in its unilateral sanctions against Cuba, which have been imposed completely outside of the framework of the WTO, the UN or any other basis of international legitimacy, and indeed the UN has voted year after year to condemn the US sactions. If the Americans don’t care what the world thinks then why should Russia?