South Ossetia and the shock therapists
Best analysis of the background to the crisis in South Ossetia that I've found is from Anatol Lieven, here. He concludes that, "Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin made it clear again and again that if Georgia attacked South Ossetia, Russia would fight. Georgian advocates in the West claimed that Moscow was only bluffing. It wasn’t."
Over at CentreRight.com and elsewhere in the Conservative movement, events have caused some of the 1st Battalion of Fighting Conservative Keyboardists to abandon cherished beliefs. David Cameron thinks that the situation would be better if Georgia were in NATO, and says that Britain should be working closely with our European partners(!) Matthew Sinclair of the Taxpayers' Alliance quotes approvingly American neo-conservatives who think that the Georgia is the new Sudetenland (spending taxpayers' money is ok as long as it is used to prepare to fight World War Three).
Other Fighting Keyboardists are staying true to their (barking mad) beliefs. David Cameron's former chief of staff wants Britain to expel the Russian ambassador and freeze all Russian assets in the UK. Someone called Dan Lewis thinks that the problem is that in 1991 the Russians were defeated strategically but not morally (they did not understand the true evil of what they had done), and that Britain should stop importing any gas from Russia. And writing a barely coherent article in the Independent, Bruce Anderson explains that the problem is all because Ronald Reagan and Maggie Thatcher were not in power during the 1990s (if you can work out what he is on about, please leave a comment).
A couple of interesting articles from lefties - this one sees the conflict as part of the 'new cold war', and this one draws an analogy between the current conflict and unilateral military interventions in Kosovo and Iraq. I don't find the latter particularly persuasive - it's a good rhetorical trick for the Russians to compare what they are doing to Kosovo or Iraq, but that doesn't mean that, for example, but for Iraq they would have sought the support of the international community before invading Georgia.
Lastly, historian Anne Appelbaum writes that 'the time to deal with this conflict is not now but was two, or even four, years ago...Cowardice, weakness, lack of ideas and, above all, the distraction of other events prevented any deeper engagement. And now it may be too late.'
I'm not sure about this. Because one thing which none of these different analyses have mentioned, but which must surely be relevant to understanding what is now happening, is what happened to Russia in the early 1990s.
It wasn't 'cowardice, weakness, a lack of ideas' or any kind of 'distraction' which explains what happened after the fall of Communism in Russia. It was a deliberate, ideological decision to 'recommend' to the Russian government that they unleash economic policies which handed the wealth of the Russian state to the oligarchs, made millions of people die prematurely (life expectancy in Russia is still lower today than in 1990), and led to massive increases in poverty and inequality. The shock therapists and their allies destroyed any chance of Russia becoming a free society, or living in peace with its neighbours and with the Western powers, much more so than Kosovo, or the more recent 'colour revolutions' in neighbouring states.
It looks likely that the Russians will be in a position to enforce whatever terms of peace they wish on Georgia, with the rest of the world powerless to stop them. Hopefully, the terms that the Russians exact are more merciful and less disastrous than the ones that we forced the Russians to accept seventeen years ago.