Your Œcumenical Volgi has been trying to go easy on the foreign policy, as he knows that Russia’s invasion of Georgia has driven him mad and he’s gone a bit berserk in hijacking this fun little blog. However, if you have the slightest interest in the Ossetian War, you need to read this article by the estimable Middle East correspondent Michael Totten. And drop a few bucks in his PayPal jar. It’s easily the best piece of first-hand reportage I’ve seen. It reports credibly that Russia began two days of attacks violating their agreement with Georgia before Saakashvili sent troops to Tshkinvali, “starting” the war and more interestingly that those troops weren’t peacekeepers, but were trying to slow or stop a massive advancing Russian column. Read the whole thing. It’s fantastic.
Some side observations:
“A key tool that the Soviet Union used to keep its empire together, was pitting ethnic groups against one another.”
This is correct and even understated. Soviet “nationalities” policy was anything but the internationalist, cosmopolitan brotherhood of man that you’d expect Communism to deliver (And Mao’s Han empire is no different). Instead, it was careful to distinguish (and invent) distinctions between various peoples (most of whose histories had to have violence done to them to fit into the Marxist paradigm of history), then treat them as different units. Divide et impera, kids. A great example of this is how each Turkic republic was given borders which encompassed large numbers of other “nationalities” in order to keep their ethno-political homogeneity low. Also, despite the fact that Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Türkmen, et al., are closely related Turkic languages without substantial differences in phonology, they each received a slightly different Cyrillic alphabet in order to widen distinctions between groups and to diminish anyone’s ability to make a pan-Turanian appeal.
They didn’t try it in Central Asia because basically all the presidents of the newly independent countries were the former heads of the communist parties and they said we’re still following your line, Kremlin, we haven’t changed very much.
This gets to the heart of Russia’s approach to the world under the Putinshchina. The post-Soviet dictators of Central Asia—now that Türkmenbashi is dead, and with the possible exception of Karimov on certain things—are the perfect partners for Russia’s strongman-gangster government, as they make no bones about their states being much more than bagmen for the elites who run it. This is why Kazakhstan, e.g., poses no ideological threat to Russia.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, among others, has claimed that there’s a new era of ideological competition and development models in the world. That’s not true. Authoritarianism is not an idea, but a technique; and the Mafia has long perfected the “development model” of getting rich by keeping productive people scared and skimming dough. Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltics, Moldova, etc., do, however threaten Russia—but not in the way its apologists argue. NATO’s “provocations” are not military. Russians can look at European militaries as well as anyone else (better, in fact) and know that Czech tanks aren’t going to be driving for Bryansk. The citizens of Leningrad aren’t losing sleep because ofterror at the thought of the Letto-Estonian Menace.
What keeps Putin and the siloviki up at night however is the thought, what if we lose control of this thing? And neighboring countries going democratic might give the Russian people provocative ideas. And the russkii narod is the real object of all Russian rulers’ fears. Best case: palatial spread in Cyprus where all the expropriated money is anyway. Worst case: lamppost, rope.
Don’t ask impertinent questions like that jackass Adept Lu.