Friday, August 15, 2008 8 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

Georgia: Nationalism & Saakashvili's Incompetence

UPDATE (Aug 16 12:08 PM): Mark Mackinnon of The Globe & Mail wrote, what I consider, an excellent piece on the blunder by Saakashvili. It parallels my thinking and questions the whole motive behind the Georgian president's move. Make no mistake; there are no righteous heroes in this conflict but I think the worst move came from the Georgian government.

UPDATE (Aug 16 12:12 PM):One point for any investor reading this... It may be obvious already but if you are a shareholder or a potential shareholder of BP, it is worth noting how much their fate has taken a turn for the worst. I always thought of BP a supermajor who is widely diversified but it seems that they have most of their future tied up in either Russia or Central Asia. The disputed TNK-BP operation in Russia is something like 25% of their reserves (or something like that); and they are also a big backer of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline running through Georgia.


This is a totally political post so ignore it if you don't want to hear my rant.

You can see the destructive power of nationalism by observing the events unfolding in Georgia. No doubt it's a tough situation for everyone involved. Here we have a situation where a province has "broken away" from Georgia and the Georgian government is trying to bring it back into its fold. If you were a true democrat or a libertarian or an anarchist, you would let the province's citizens rule themselves. That whole Caucausus region has had violent rivalries for ages. Divided autonomous states is the most stable solution in my view. However, nationalists will have none of that.



Although the conflict was simmerring behind the ground for a while now--including supposedly some massive internet attacks against Georgia from Russia--it begs the question why Georgia decided to go into South Ossetia now? They basically had no chance against the Russian superpower and simply resulted in senseless deaths. The forceful Russian response was inevitable after the deaths of numerous Russian "peacekeepers" (these peacekeepers have nothing to do with the peacekeepers you may have in mind.)

The real question I have is who came up with the great idea that increasing military action in South Ossetia was going to work in Georgia's favour? Clearly someone like Mikheil Saakashvili, educated as a lawyer in New York's Columbia Law School, couldn't be dumb enough to take on Russia? Or can he? Or is someone calling the shots behind the scenes? I hate to throw more gasoline on the conspiratorial fires but it's hard to imagine Georgia, whose main ally is USA, doing something without briefing the US on its plans.

Saakashvili has a reputation as being a human rights fighter who has battled corruption so it begs the question why his forces were shelling South Ossetia. USA, as well as some European members, seem to be rallying behind him for the time being but I expect him to be out of power very soon. It wouldn't surprise me if his own population turns against him.

Georgia's plan, whatever it was trying to accomplish, seems to have completely backfired. The truce brokered by Sarkozy contains so many loaded provisions in favour of Russia that Georgian is powerful. For instance, New York Times reports that it lets so-called Russian peacekeepers perform stabiliation operations within Georgia. Essentially Georgia was in no position to negotiate and basically ended up not only losing what little control they had in South Ossetia but also losing control over its country.

Maybe it's just me being a bleeding-heart anti-war liberal but it's truly dissapointing to see the New York Times essentially blaming Russia and almost asking the US government to get involved. After the big blunder with the bogus war on Iraq I can't believe the NYT hasn't learned its lessons. Leave it up to the conservatives to wage the war and stay out the way. George Bush, pushed by Condoleeza Rice and Dick Cheney, is going to get involved no matter what. And potential future president John "We are all Georgians" McCain will likely send troops over there in the future anyway. What's the deal with the NYT becoming so pro-war all of a sudden?

I'm no fan of Putin's Russia, which is well on its way to becoming a totalitarian country. I even think the proper title for Putin is 'Czar Putin'. But this is one situation where it is hard to criticize Russia. I sincerely hope for everyone involved--both the pro-Russian and pro-Georgian--that Russia doesn't turn this into a bloody mess that has become Chechnya. George Bush may have looked into Putin's eyes and seen Putin's soul but I don't know how Saakashvili was going to outsmart a former KGB agent. Total incompetence by Saakashvili and if his goal was to advance the prosperity of Georgia, he managed to set them back a decade or more. No doubt more money will flow into Georgia from USA and Europe now, but it will never overcome the strategic losses and the deaths.

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8 Response to Georgia: Nationalism & Saakashvili's Incompetence

August 15, 2008 at 10:55 PM

Hello Sivaram,

Actually, it is quite easy to criticize all sides of this completely brain-dead affair. War is the refuge of the greedy and arrogant, and their is never any excuse for it, since it always represents a failure of many things long before once reaches the point of killing innocents. War is evil...

Here's another analysis on the Russia-Georgia shenanigans. Only this one addresses the machinations of the "hidden hands" behind this and other dastardly events.

It's time for people to wake-up to the true nature of the world leaders that have set this thing into motion. It is far more deceptive, contrived, and sinister than most would believe. That is why I have been patiently setting a very unique trap for these snakes. Take the time to understand and then hold their feet to the fire !!!

This whole Russia-Georgia affair is a purposely-orchestrated and easily-pierced theatrical production. How convenient is it that the Bush Administration trained and prepped Georgia and then (some...) US troops-trainers pull out just before they initiate an "apparent blunder" that the Russians have been ready and poised to respond to, for months. Remember, nothing of this scale can be pulled together quickly, and all sides have been watching each other, like hawks, for decades.

Also remember that both sides have satellites and very well equipped spy agencies, so any assertion that anyone was surprised is laughable. It goes without saying that the leaders on all sides of this strange little war have something up their sleeves that most people have no clues about. All the pieces were placed on the board before major world leaders went off to the Olympics, pretending to be surprised, and pretending to be mad at each other afterwards.

Likewise, isn't it just a little too contrived that the US media is spinning that McCain is being helped by a war that the Bush administration openly and undeniably helped to start? This is one more key to the truth about this slimy little affair and the low-life snakes that arranged it. Here's more help connecting the dots and closing the trap door on these evil halfwits.

Time to get a clue, before its too late...

Peace and Wisdom...

contrariandutch
August 16, 2008 at 10:45 AM

Sivaram,

It is easy (and IMO terribly condescending) to deplore the "dangerous nationalism" of the Georgians(or the Russians or the Ossetians...) from the safety of our eminently unthreatened nations with their peaceful histories. Things aren't that easy in the Caucusus, sure, you can be all modern and cosmopolitan and peaceloving but what if your neighbours are not? Then you cease to exist...

If memory serves, "South Ossetia" was majority Georgian before the fall of the Soviet Union and a bout of ethnic cleansing. South Ossetia was also serving as a Russian pawn to destabilize Georgia, so the desire to stamp it out was understandable enough if you ask me (Yet, I also understand Russia's paranoia about Western influence in the Caucasus, no easy answers there).

Nationalism can actually be a healthy antidote to the powerhunger of multinational empires (like the good ol' Soviets). Yet, not every lingual/cultural/ethnic group can have it's own "pure" state as that would invole massive population transfers given the way populations are mixed in places like the Caucasus. Again, no easy answers but telling the Georgians they should let their country get cut up and their people displaced and just smile and be nice about it is definitely not an answer.

That leaves my gripe with the horrible clumsiness of the Georgian offensive. Have these people never heard of blocking positions? Of prepared defenses? Of combined arms? Bloody hell, this rout before an ill-equiped Russian provincial garrison makes the Dutch defeat in may 1940 look like heroism... (and that was pretty bad, trust me).

August 16, 2008 at 12:24 PM

Seven Star Hand,

That's some, well, opinionated stuff you have on your site. Anyway, I sort of agree with you on some matters regarding the neo-conservative strategy. However, it seems that the Georgian president pulled this move out of nowhere without support from the US, Europe, or the involved people, South Ossetians.

The Georgian president seems to have calculated badly on the outcome. On top of not caring for the lives of those involved, he seems to have put Georgia in a worse situation. If he was expecting to capitalize on sympathy then he may end up getting very little of it (except from the hawks in USA, Canada, and Europe).

It seems more and more like Saakashvili was in over his head. As the article I link (in an update) above implies, he became less and less democratic over time. I would be curious to hear what George Soros, a big supporter of Georgian democracy, thinks of this whole situation.

The problem with politics is that even if things start off on good principles, the leaders can become corrupt and evil. I'm not saying Saakashvili is evil but he doesn't seem to be the person that led the Rose Revolution.

August 16, 2008 at 1:03 PM

ContrarianDutch: "It is easy (and IMO terribly condescending) to deplore the "dangerous nationalism" of the Georgians(or the Russians or the Ossetians...) from the safety of our eminently unthreatened nations with their peaceful histories. "

I understand your concern but I have to disagree with your view that this is condescending. It is simply an opinion and I'm not the one waging the war. I agree with your view that it is easy for me to sit safely over here and say something. However, that shouldn't preclude one from forming an opinion about the matter. After all, it would not surprise me if we, as taxpayers or citizens, start funding the parties involved in this conflict one way or another. I'm sure the plan would get shot down quickly but it wouldn't surprise me if some Canadian politician proposes that Canadians spend out tax dollars re-arming the Georgian military or send our troops over there. I am totally in favour of humanitarian aid but beyond that, it's another matter.


"Things aren't that easy in the Caucusus, sure, you can be all modern and cosmopolitan and peaceloving but what if your neighbours are not? Then you cease to exist..."

There are conflicts and disagreements almost everywhere. But that doesn't mean that you can't have peace. Some are framing this as Russia's attempt at annexation of some satellite states but what disrupted the "peace" that existed for hte last 10 years? Was it simply an illusion or did the Georgian president do something beyond stupid?


"If memory serves, "South Ossetia" was majority Georgian before the fall of the Soviet Union and a bout of ethnic cleansing. "

It's complicated as always but from what I can gather, South Ossetia went through some horrible ethnic cleansing in the early 90's. Georgians were largely driven out so South Ossetia as it stood recently was mostly of non-Georgian ethnic group. The most important point, regardless who owned what, is that South Ossetians are originally a distinct ethnic group from the Georgians and the Russians. Ideally, in my eyes, South Ossetia should be independent and should not be part of neither Russia nor Georgia. But this is where nationalism comes in. Neither the Russians nor the Georgians want that situation.


"South Ossetia was also serving as a Russian pawn to destabilize Georgia, so the desire to stamp it out was understandable enough if you ask me "

That's true but it's a minor item in my view. South Ossetia has essentially been "independent" since the early 90's. Georgia did not have any control of it for more than a decade. Whether that state of affairs, which relied on some peace deals from the early 90's, was right or not is up for debate. However, tt was largely stable until last week.

So my question is, why did Georgia ramp up its operation against South Ossetia now? The potential answers to that, which are just guesses now, is why I am critical of Georgia. I'm no fan of Russia but Georgia seems to have broken the peace.

"Yet, not every lingual/cultural/ethnic group can have it's own "pure" state as that would invole massive population transfers given the way populations are mixed in places like the Caucasus."

Good point but my belief is that some parts of the world will likely end up with "independent" states. I can see many disagreeing with that but that's just my opinion.

It just seems inevitable to me--if you want democracy that is. Many of these disputed regions have been distinct (and weren't even a whole country) hundreads of years ago. Huge swaths of Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia come to mind. Even Iraq will likely break up with an independent Kurdish region. The only way you can keep them together is if you run an authoratarian system. If you do not suppport authoratarian systems, there is no way to keep them together. Yugoslavia is the perfect example.


"Again, no easy answers but telling the Georgians they should let their country get cut up and their people displaced and just smile and be nice about it is definitely not an answer."

Georgia hadn't "governed" South Ossetia for more than 10 years. The original South Ossetians are a distinct ethnic group as well. Having said that, I don't think Russia should control it either. I don't know how you are going to get Russia out of these two provinces given that the provincial "leaders" support Russia but that's how I see things.


"That leaves my gripe with the horrible clumsiness of the Georgian offensive. Have these people never heard of blocking positions? Of prepared defenses? Of combined arms? "

They had no chance. There are two superpowers in the world: USA and Russia. Russia is still a superpower and no one (other than USA or NATO) has any chance. Georgia is a tiny country and they really had no chance. I actually commend the Georgian soldiers for taking on a superpower but it's a waste of lives due to the president's actions.

Although it might seem like it was just random Russian troops that decided to mount a counter-offensive, the reality is that it was a huge Bear trap (probably set by Putin.) They were ready and it was all over once they got attacked.


"Bloody hell, this rout before an ill-equiped Russian provincial garrison makes the Dutch defeat in may 1940 look like heroism... (and that was pretty bad, trust me)."

Well it's somewhat similar. You guys got clobbered because the Germans were a military superpower. You had little chance. (Interestingly, some are comparing the present situation to the German invasion of Poland. I think it is completely misleading.)

Anonymous
August 17, 2008 at 8:12 AM

"I am trying to understand Russian logic in the Caucasus. It seems that if a republic seeks to secede from Russia, for example Chechnya, it must be bombed and blasted into submission. If, however, a province of a foreign country, let's say Georgia, seeks secession, then that foreign country must be bombed and blasted into submission."
http://news.scotsman.com/opinion/Where-is-Russia39s-logic.4397526.jp

Essentially Russia/Putin does not like a free people with a free economy on their border -- especially when they have an oil pipeline that provides the only non Russian way for oil from Central Asia to get to the West. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan_pipeline)

This is just a continuation of Russia appropriating valuable oil infrastructure. It has nothing to do with any concern for a minority's rights. The question for the west is if we want to stop this behavior now, or later, when it will be much harder and much, much more expensive in blood and treasure.

August 17, 2008 at 1:40 PM

Anonymous,

Russia is no saint but it's hard to see how you can argue that this is their undoing.

Most of the media is against the Russian response, likely because the Georgian president has fashioned himself as a freedom-loving democrat (although shooting your own population last year seems to be ignored.) But even those asking to take a hardline against Russia can't deny the fact that Georgia started a massive offensive that started all this.

THE PAST

If you look at history, South Ossetia (and hte other brekaway region) is technically part of Georgia right now. However, early in the last century they were not. The ethnic group was distinct and it was only merged together due to Soviet needs. For the last decade, Georgia had no control over South Ossetia.

BEAR TRAP

You can argue that this was a Bear trap--likely set by the clever Putin--and the incomptent Saakashvili fell for it. Whatever it is, it's hard to argue that Russia shouldn't have invaded Georgia when its forces were killed. It would be no different than Canada shelling New York and USA invades Canada.

The point is that the moral advantage, whatever little was available, has been lost. Georgia has nothing right now. Sure, the Bush administration and, if elected, the McCain administration will dump a lot of money into Georgia. But they lost a lot that they will never get back. Perhaps they never had it, but I do not hold anyone wasting lives in high regard.

OIL

Oil plays a role but it is minor in this case. The amount of oil we are talking about is not that large. In any case, Russia has so much oil & gas in its proper territory that these small amounts outside don't matter much.

This has more to do with NATO expansion and Georgian actions than oil. The bogus missile shield idea--how is it supposed to stop nuclear-armed submarines that can be within the shield perimeter?--doesn't help matters either.


ANOTHER WAR

Seven Star Hand, above, is probably correct in saying that the neo-conservatives are pushing hard for war. William Kristol (generally considered the most influential leader of the neo-conservatives) is already out there trying to cook up some massive good vs evil argument. A potential Iranian war lost public support but one against Russia seems to be a good idea to these guys.

Anonymous
August 17, 2008 at 3:52 PM

The correct analogy would be if the Canadians were attempting to put down Canadian separatists in Quebec, who were attempting to violently secede and join the United States. In response the US sent ground, air and sea forces into all of Canada and began to systematically destroy all vital infrastructure.

To bring this back to investing, the reason this is important is because no honest company can do business in a country that does not respect the rule of law.

Georgia has the right to insist on the rule of law in Georgia, even if force is required. (No one is alleging that the Georgians did anything in Russia.) The Russian are saying, no, they get to decide what goes on in Georgia.

In addition to businesses, this is critical for all of the affected populations. No rule of law, no efficient investment of capital, much slower improvement in the standard of living. We as investors will not be willing to support companies putting our capital at risk in places where it gets taken if successful.

This is the true long term tragedy of permitting an authoritarian regime to extinguish a free one. People will not have access to the capital needed to better their lives.

As an example, will BP be willing to up their already substantial investment in Georgia if they think the Russians might come in and “re-negotiate” their contracts at the point of a gun?

August 18, 2008 at 11:18 AM

Anon,

I concur with your views in regards to the rule of law (and freedoms in general.) Russia has been becoming more and more totalitarian by the day, ever since Putin took over. I think the market already prices in the lack of legal rights (among others) for Russian investments. This would have been clearly obvious to anyone ever since the Yukos affair. This is one reason I am skeptical of investing in Russia (same thing with China, but not as bad.)

So I completely agree with you about the heavy-handed approach and seemingly arbitrary government confiscation of assets.



As for the war, the rule of the law has little to do with it. These disputed territories are always in a grey area. Only the UN can decide on matters like borders but as long as you have some (like Russia, USA, China, etc) who can veto the Security Council resolutions, border disputes are not going to be settled easily...

I'm not a fan of Russia (since it's an authoratarian regime) but the current war is "caused" by Georgia. After reading the stories, my impression is that Saakashvili was being played (probably by the US.) He destroyed his country's economy and it is going to bring him down. Even if sacrificing lives doesn't do him in, the economy will. The neo-cons or whoever else that was supporting him is going to let him hang all alone.

Sad, really. He put Georgia on the right track towards more freedoms but fell victim to nationalism and warmongering...

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