Vladimir Putin’s Warring Russian Bear Makes For Best Paragraphs In Sunday Newspaper

The continuing conflict in Georgia, which Russia invaded in order to support their local security force thugs who thought South Ossetia was their private turf, continues to dominate the international news.  The fact that Prime Minister Putin still controls the government of Russia, and is using this moment to press his fears about Georgia becoming a member of NATO, while trying to use natural gas and oil as leverage, makes this region most worthy of our attention.  From a must read article in today’s newspaper comes the following paragraphs.

Georgians are a melodramatic people, and few more so than their hyperactive president; but they have good reason to fear the ambitions, and the wrath, of a rejuvenated Russia seeking to regain lost power. Indeed, a renascent and increasingly bellicose Russia is an ominous spectacle for the West too. While China preaches, and largely practices, the doctrine of “peaceful rise,” avoiding confrontation abroad in order to focus on development at home, Russia acts increasingly like an expansionist 19th-century power, pressing at its borders. Most strikingly, Russia has bluntly deployed its vast oil and gas resources to punish refractory neighbors like Ukraine, and reward compliant ones like Armenia.

A senior American official said that while the United States and Russia have common interests, Russia has become “a revisionist and aggressive power,” and the West “has to be prepared to push back.” But the Bush administration also recognizes that Russia has legitimate security interests, and that Mr. Saakashvilihas played a dangerous game of baiting the Russian bear. Officials were laboring into the weekend — in vain, they feared — to coax bothsides back to their corners. For much of the diplomatic and policy-making world, the border where Georgia faces Russia, with South Ossetia and Abkhazia between them, has become a new cold war frontier.


From the time of Pushkin, Russians viewed Georgia as a romantic, exotic frontier. During the long puritanical deep-freeze of Communism, Georgia served as Russia’s Italy — a warm, lotus-eating sanctuary of singers and poets and swashbuckling gangsters. The elite had their beloved dachas on the Black Sea coast of Abkhazia. At the same time, Stalin, though himself Georgian, kept the republic subdued through brutal purges. The head of the Georgian Communist party was Lavrenti Beria, a cold-blooded killer who would become the master architect of Stalin’s terror. The Georgians, though helpless, never accepted their Soviet identity, and preserved their language, culture, religious practice and sense of national identity, as they had under the czars. And when, at last, the Soviet empire collapsed as the czarist one had, Georgia immediately broke away and declared its independence, in 1991.


Marshall Goldman, a leading Russia scholar, argues in a recent book that Mr. Putin has established a “petrostate,” in which oil and gas are strategically deployed as punishments, rewards and threats. The author details the lengths to which Mr. Putin has gone to retain control over the delivery of natural gas from Central Asia to the West. A proposed alternative pipeline would skirt Russia and run through Georgia, as an oil pipeline now does. “If Georgia collapses in turmoil,” Mr. Goldman notes, “investors will not put up the money for a bypass pipeline.” And so, he concludes, Mr. Putin has done his best to destabilize the Saakashvili regime.


But economic considerations alone scarcely account for what appears to be an obsession with Georgia. The “color revolutions” that swept across Ukraine, the Balkans and the Caucasus in the first years of the new century plainly unnerved Mr. Putin, who has denounced America’s policy of “democracy promotion” and stifled foreign organizations seeking to promote human rights in Russia. Georgia, with its open embrace of the West, thus represents a threat to the legitimacy of Russia’s authoritarian model. And this challenge is immensely compounded by Georgia’s fervent aspiration to join NATO, one of Russia’s red lines. Russian officials frequently recall that President Bill Clinton promised Boris Yeltsin that NATO would not expand beyond Eastern Europe. Of course NATO is no longer an anti-Soviet alliance, and the fact that Russia views NATO’s eastward expansion as a threat to its security is a vivid sign of the deep-rooted cold war mentality of Mr. Putin and his circle.

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One thought on “Vladimir Putin’s Warring Russian Bear Makes For Best Paragraphs In Sunday Newspaper

  1. Pingback: More on Russian and South Ossetia « Haas414

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