Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club offers an excellent roundup of the background and unfolding events in Georgia and its would-be breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The history is a typically tangled affair of little-known, bitterly contested patches of land, each with its panoply of grievances and claims. Don't fail to click through to Ralph Peters' caustic indictment of Russian scheming and perfidy in the region. I'm currently blazing through his picaresque and gripping accounts of his travels though the Caucasus and other former Soviet serfdoms. His trenchant analysis of the short-sightedness of the Elder Bush and Clinton Administrations in their dealings with the twitching corpse of the USSR, and how the stage was thus set for the pugnacious Putin, lend much weight to Peters' assessment of Russia's role in fomenting the furball which is flailing toward full-on war at this time.
Things are apt to get a whole lot worse over there before they get any better, and the fates of some young, embattled democracies hang in the balance. Georgia in particular has been a staunchly pro-Western enclave, whose aspirations to NATO membership lie close to the heart of the chaos which a recalcitrant Russia seems hell-bent on stoking. With the independence of Kosovo earlier this year, Russia warned of then-unspecified "steps" which would be taken to punish the West for supporting ethnic Albanian Kosovars in their bid for self-rule. I suppose part of what we are seeing here is sour grapes, Russian style. To be fair, Russia had fallen far during the 90s, and the emergence of a Putin, who leverages nationalistic outrage and the newfound power of petroleum and gas revenues to regain some geopolitical clout, is an understandable development. Russia needs to be contained, but not overly shamed, or the wheel will simply turn faster, crushing many beneath its treads.
Unfortunately, as the Bush Administration runs out the clock, and the nature of the Administration to come remains in play, Russia can be expected to try and consolidate as much of its former glory as it can wrest from situations like this, while Europe wrings its hands. We do need very carefully to watch the actions of Ukraine, Poland, and other former Soviet satellites in the days to come. Will they rush to the aid of Georgia, and present a credible deterrent to Moscow's machinations? Will they sit this out, lest they inflame the ire of their own separatist movements?
This is not going to be pretty.
As expected/hoped, Ukraine has sent a signal that it will not simply roll over in this matter. By denying Russian warships access to Ukrainian port facilities on the Black Sea, Kiev has markedly complicated the logistics of the Kremlin's Georgian adventure, and issued an unambiguous warning that its ambitions will not be without non-trivial diplomatic cost. More of this sort of thing would be better.
Also, Georgian president Saakashvili has penned an editorial for the WSJ which vividly and poignantly lays out the variables and stakes in this conflict. It presents all-too familiar themes of appeasement versus confrontation in dealing with aggressive actors, and should give due pause to all those who believe that making good-faith concessions and sitting down for earnest deliberations will automatically result in reasoned, peaceful resolutions of all geopolitical conundra. The pen may be mightier than the sword in the end, but it makes a lousy defensive weapon once the duel is on.
Oh, and it appears that I inadvertently mirrored Richard Fernandez' Ray Charles reference in titling this piece. Oops. Sorry, Wretchard; parallel evolution, not plagiarism, I assure you.