Tuesday, August 12, 2008

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.


At 5:03 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bruce Anderson seems to be saying that Reagan and Thatcher wouldn't have carried out the policies that were in practice followed by Bush I, Clinton, Major etc (and described in your piece). It is, however, an assertion and not backed up by any evidence.


At 9:35 am , Blogger Robert said...

I notice the Tories have spoken on this and I agree with him, I also notice the leader of the government has said nothing, seems that when Brown is on Holiday he really is on holiday, of course perhaps he is thinking more of other things then wars outside the UK.

At 10:16 am , Blogger Cassilis said...

So - 'big bad capitalists done it and ran away'?

I bow before that devastatingly succint and unanswerable analysis....

At 9:17 pm , Blogger Bloggers4Labour said...

My attitude to this crisis is that the sooner the response, the more I distrust the commentator, and (same point, really) the standard "left" and "right" positions both absolutely stink. That the Respect-style "left" thinks it has some kind of moral authority to prattle about (Western) "imperialism" after doing its best to resist toppling Saddam, says a lot about their shamelessness and moral vacuity.

I'm alarmed by the sight of supposedly civilised (ex-Socialist - hah!) countries fighting over nationalism, territorial claims, and sovereignty (that dirty word) in modern cities and, yes, I'm even more alarmed at the sight of Russian armour, given the nature of that regime.

I'm glad to say that Labour is, as it usually is on these things, right, for whatever good that does the victimised civilians. Give me NATO, democracy, and free-market capitalism any day of the week.

At 10:32 pm , Blogger donpaskini said...

cassilis - you may call me many things, but never succinct!

b4l - a bit of a caricature of the left's position, no? (I might have missed some nonsense, but in general the leftie responses seemed much more on the ball than some of the stuff from the Tories, let alone the neo-cons).

I think free market capitalism (as inflicted on Russia in the 90s) is a big part of the problem and a major reason why Russia isn't really a democracy.

I agree, of course, that on this as on all other issues, Labour is right :)

At 10:59 pm , Blogger Bloggers4Labour said...

b4l - a bit of a caricature of the left's position, no?

Yes, maybe. I think the point I could have made a little more clearly was that I'm hostile to the idea that one's assumed political position leads one to take a particular side here - see Dave Osler's piece today. No doubt the vocal minorities on each side drown out the more reasonable opinions, but the idea that - as a liberal leftie - I should hold even the remotest attachment to Russia (as if all those decades of Soviet totalitarianism counted for nothing), as if it's somehow holding on to some kind of socialist dream, is pretty hard to stomach.

Not that I have any particular attachment to Georgia, but this seems to me a situation where to flag up Western imperialism - as if democracy, free markets, etc. are not infinitely preferable to sabre-rattling totalitarians, or to war - represents a lack of the proper moral concern.


I don't follow Russian politics closely enough, but I'd have put their current state down to a culture of corruption, fatalism, and nationalism. I'm not sure any economic system can survive under those circumstances. Certainly the earlier carving up of the economy by oligarchs was very damaging, but to use the term "privatisation" seems to inaccurately apply an economic term to what was simply corruption and theft.

At 4:53 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry, but the problem with the situation in the early 1990s is that Yeltsin privatised everything but in the worst possible way - sold them all at knock down prices to the nomenklatura. He could have distributed shares to the people - by holding shares in the enterprises in popular trusts, for example. So having wrecked Russia the nomenklatura/oligarchs were able to pick up what had been looted from the people for a song. Now, if Yeltsin's successors proposed a windfall tax on the super-rich oligarchs who took this wealth and redistributed it to the people of Russia I would think that's a jolly good idea. But no, Putin's off on a neo-Soviet power grab and has no interest in dealing with the legacy of the early 1990s - just so long as his gang gets a slice of the action and the oligarchs all toe the line. There is nothing in the Russian government or its actions that can bring any cheer to the left. And I'm sorry you don't seem to see that.

At 5:06 pm , Blogger donpaskini said...

anonymous - agree that there is nothing in the Russian government or its actions which gives any comfort to the left.

I just thought it kind of strange that what happened in Russia in the early 90s didn't seem to get mentioned in the analysis when it is surely relevant.


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