Monday, August 11, 2008

Putin Shows Who is Boss in Russia

The Georgians made a bad mistake attempting to invade South Ossetia, given the clear interest of the Russians in it and especially on the eve of the Olympic games, a period traditionally when nations attempt to avoid fighting wars, or at least starting fresh ones. I can only hope that the US did not give them a "green light" given that we are not willing to support them, to busy trying to get Russia to help us out with Iran, although one never knows with this administration.

However, I must agree with the many who are upset with the over-the-top reaction by the Russians, continuing to bomb deep into Georgia proper even after the Georgians had retreated from South Ossetia. Although clearly there are various motives going on here, including consolidating in Abkhazia, scaring the Ukrainians, and messing with the Georgian oil pipeline, another would seem to be strictly an internal Russian political one. The Russian constitution currently says the Commander in Chief is the president, now Dmitri Medvedev. Stories have been coming out of Russia in recent weeks about Russian bureaucrats now knowing whose picture to hang on their office walls, with a trend to putting up ones that show both Putin and Medvedev side by side. So, Putin goes from Beijing, where he hugged with Bush, to Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia on the frontline (note: "Vladikavkaz" means "Victory in the Caucusus" in Russian), where he undoubtedly put into play this very strong reaction. I think the bottom line in Russia is that those pictures with both guys are going to come off the walls and the old ones with just Putin will be back in their places (and this means that Russia will now also be like Germany, Italy, and Israel with having a strong premier and a figurehead president).


Jimbo said...

"...having a strong premier and a figurehead president" as was the case during the Soviet Era, a time that Putin dearly wants to recreate. said...


Indeed. I noted this on another blog in a comment. In the Soviet era there were actualy three top jobs. President was the least powerful of the three, although it came to have more power near the end, especially under Gorbachev, when it sort of morphed. Strong Soviet leaders such as Brezhnev liked to have the position so they could be on an equal official footing with US presidents when they met, and in fact it was the position Brezhnev held when he took over from Khrushchev. The second most powerful position was premier, who ran the cabinet of ministers. The first was Chairman of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Gorby got that by a 5-4 vote in the Politburo when Chernenko died, Gromyko being the swing vote.

There are also three top positions in the China, although, as in the old USSR, the premiership remains separate (and weaker than the top three in China). The top three in China are president, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communisty Party of the Peoples' Republic of China, and Chairman of the Supreme Military Commission, which is the commander in chief job. It seems that this last one is the last one a leader gets after the first two, at least that was the case with both Hu and his predecessor Jian Zemin. Hu had to wait for awhile for Jiang to step down as C in C, while Jiang had to wait while Deng Xiaoping did so.

BTW, "Vladikavkaz" means "Conqueror of the Caucasus," (thereby correcting two errors). said...

I am less sympathetic this morning to the Russian position in all this. They have moved into Georgia proper and apparently seized control of Stalin's birthplace, Gori, which sits on the main east-west highway across Georgia proper. I see utterly no justification for this at all, none whatsoever. They should stop and get the hell out. Now.

BTW, the refugee count now looks to make the Russians look bad. Going from South Ossetia into North Ossetia in response to the Georgian incursion into what is, after all, technically still their territory (South Ossetia that is) is reported to be 30,000. The refugees out of Gori alone now are reported to amount to 56,000, with a bunch of others coming out of places in the western part of Georgia also seized, notably the town of Zugdidi on the border of Abkhazia, which was not invaded by Georgian forces. What the hell are the Russians moving across that border for? The Georgians have withdrawn from South Ossetia. There is no justification for any of this. After all, Chechnya wanted independence from Russia nearby, and what the Russians committed there to keep it under their control far, far exceeds anything the Georgians have done to either the Ossetians or the Abkhazians. The Russian position on this is now shown to be neo-imperialist bullshit. said...

The situation in Georgia appears to be much more confused than when I posted here earlier today. The report that the Russians had taken Gori, Zugdidi, and the Senaki military base came from a front page article in the Wall Street Journal, by Mark Champion and Andrew Osborn. If this now turns out to be false, and it appears that at least parts of it, if not all of it, may well so turn out, then this would indicate that the much feared degradation of the news side of the WSJ due to the Murdoch takeover has happened. For those unaware of the past, the WSJ was long noted for having relatively honest reporters, even as the editorial page was off the wall.

Looking at the latest reports online, it appears that while the Russians probably did cross the border into Georgia proper, they have not entered Gori. They have bombed it, killing a Dutch journalist. There are also mixed reports about the situation in Zugdidi and the Senaki military base. Refugees have poured out of Gori, but it now appears that it has not been taken by Russian forces.

Russian President Medvedev has declared an end to Russian military actions in Georgia, but credible reports have it that there have continued to be at least some bombing and artillery firing north of Gori.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Here's another interesting account of this story.

Russia and Georgia square off. Who's to blame for the Russian Georgian conflict? Pepe Escobar from New York
August 12th, 2008

A transcript is available there also.

"...Georgia is a strategic so-called democracy in the Caucasus since the 2003 US-engineered Rose Revolution. It wants to be part of NATO, it provides the US with 2,000 troops in Iraq, it wants to be part of US missile defense shield, and it hosts a stretch of the BTC pipeline, the Baku-to-Ceyhan pipeline in Turkey. Basically, it's a US client state in the middle of the Caucasus. Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president, unpopular at home, implicated in monstrous corruption scandals... said...


You are right that much of this is ultimately about oil. But I think it has much less to do with the US pushing democratic regimes, with the Georgians having pretty much done their "Rose Revolution" on their own, although the US certainly supported it after it came about.

I note that Azerbaijan is also in the way on oil for Russia, being at the end of those pipelines. It has a regime that is much more corrupt and dictatorial than the one in Moscow, led by the son of a former Soviet Politburo member.

A lot more of this is strictly local. The Georgians have long resisted Russian rule, and their relations with the Ossetians are terrible. The Georgians screwed up when they got independence in 1991 by revoking the autonomy status of both Abhkazia and South Ossetia. They should have let them be. They both revolted and gained de facto independence with Russian support after very bloody wars with major atrocities on both sides, although that has largely been forgotten by now.