Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Diamonds are forever

Or from Russia with Love...

I read that Russia has unilaterally recognised the independence of breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia.

And I read that the Australia, Austria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, the Republic of Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the UK and the US have all defended the "
territorial integrity" of Georgia and condemned Russia's recognition of their independence.

So from that point of view, what I'm about to say may not make much sense. I think a) that Russia is right and b) that those states who have opposed Russia - for whatever reason - have done so either hypocritically or for their own ends, not for their professed interest in the territorial integrity of Georgia.

The reason I think Russia is right is simply this. In South Ossetia, a referendum was held on whether the republic should be independent. 99% voted in favour on a turnout of 95%. If in the future Scotland holds a referendum where 95% of the population voted for independence, I'd like to think that the UK Government would take note of that preference and cede the right of Scotland to independence. While in Scotland's case that a hypothetical, in South Ossetia, that actually happened. So why are the rest of the world all of a sudden anti-democracy? I mean, weren't they quick to condem China pre-Olympics for human rights abuses? Were they not somewhat peeved that the US rode roughshod over democracy to invade Iraq? Were they not quick to recognise the independence of Kosovo?

The answer to all those questions is yes. But there is method as to why this is the case. In the case of China, human rights abuses - particularly in Tibet - made the news globally. Many populations around the world showed their support for Tibet and politicians, keen to show their democratic credentials, spoke out against China. Similarly, in the case of Iraq and the lack of a Security Council Resolution, politicians wanted to say that democracy should not be ignored. Finally, Kosovan independence came at the end of a long conflict, with many Kosovans suffering. But, crucially, Serbia was no friend of Europe so Western states took the opportunity to stick it to them.

On the other hand, Georgia has made huge overtures to the West in recent years in the hope of joining the EU and NATO. The US is tied up in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Russia saw an opportunity to flex muscle in the region, an opportunity to expand its power. Now I'm not foolish enough to think that the reason that Russia is pushing South Ossetian independence because they are more pro-independence that the West. But despite the national interest at the heart of this, pushing for the democratic will is surely a laudable aim?

It's all about geo-politics. Machiavellian power plays. And, potentially, a new world order. I'm not sure if that is good or bad. But I think there's plenty more to come on it.


Arnie 28 August 2008 at 15:49  

I am really quite conflicted about this whole issue. When the war first started, it was my immediate instinct to support South Ossetia's right to separate from Georgia. After all, it is clear that the majority of the current inhabitants of SO wanted that to happen.

But the more reading I have done, the more uncertain I am becoming. From what I can gather, it seems that South Ossetia was, until pretty recently, an ethnically mixed place. A large number of Georgians lived there, and had done for generations. They were removed, by force.

That is what makes me uneasy, because I am not sure South Ossetia would be so secessionist minded if all of the rightful inhabitants of that place were actually allowed to live in that place. So now I am going to sit on the fence, because I am no longer sure what to think.

This chap is in Georgia at the moment, and his take on the situation makes for interesting reading.

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