Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Caucasus Belli (Part Two)

A little loopy on cold meds right now, so I beg the reader's forbearance for any graceless language which may emerge from the fog. Cooped up with me in the fuselage of that small jet this past week-end, it seems, was a virus with my name on it.

Last month, I wrote about Michael Totten's interview with two experts on Georgia, who convincingly argued that it was not Georgia which had struck first in South Ossetia, as is commonly believed. Instead, the contention is that it was Russia which had provoked a Georgian response, then used that response as the occasion to overrun and subdue its uppity neighbor to the south, and to thumb its nose at an international "community" which discovered --belatedly-- that it was powerless to do a thing about it.

In today's Examiner I found a piece in which the Georgian government has released recordings of intercepted phone calls from border guards near the mouth of the Roki Tunnel connecting Russian-controlled North and nominally Georgian South Ossetias.

The recordings released Tuesday, if authentic, will not cut through the fog of the final hours when escalating tensions burst into war. But President Mikhail Saakashvili hopes they will help dispel a dominant narrative that says his country was on the attack. He said they prove Russian tanks and troops entered South Ossetia many hours before Georgia began its offensive against separatist forces.

"Evidence in the form of telephone intercepts and information that we have from numerous eyewitnesses conclusively prove that Russian tanks and armored columns invaded our territory before the conflict began," Saakashvili told reporters.

Naturally, the Russians are bitterly disputing the authenticity of the recordings, and they may yet prove right to do so. Gods know, the situation in that part of the world does not lend itself to tidy narratives, and neither side can exactly claim objectivity.

Still, it is another data point among many which suggests that Putin's Russia is playing hard ball, and more than willing to exploit weaknesses where it sees them.

Witness also the willingness which the Kremlin has shown to align itself with even the most unhinged of Americas foes, and to play a very dangerous and short-sighted game of nuclear brinksmanship by proxy with the Mad Mullahs of Tehran. What emerges is a Russia which is calculating every opportunity to leverage whatever resources it can to thwart American interests abroad, and to position itself as a major player on the world stage. Using its energy resources as a strategic weapon, Moscow seeks to cement its ability to seduce and intimidate its potential competitors abroad, as well as its increasingly centralized and anti-democratic hegemony at home.

With a chilling mixture of guile and naked force, the neo-tsarist elites of Russia present a very serious challenge to the internationalist, soft-power orientation of the EU (and of leading Democrats here in the US). They are the bully on the global playground, and must be confronted accordingly.

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