Request thread

We’re borrowing a page from Matt Yglesias (who borrowed it from Ezra Klein). Put your suggestions for topics in the thread, and I or someone else will try to write something the next day. What would you like to read about?

A Short Victorious War

Kevin Drum does a pretty good job summing it up:

Russia… got what it wanted: control of the two disputed provinces, a military humiliation for Georgia, and a successfully executed shot across the bow that proves they can still play in the big leagues. It wasn’t cost free — Europe has been pretty consistent in its condemnation of the invasion, and all the former Soviet satellites are now even more united in their loathing of Russia than before — but it was close. From Russia’s point of view, it was a nice, surgical operation that pretty much accomplished everything it was supposed to.

I’d nitpick that not “all the former Soviet satellites” loathe Russia; Armenia is pro-Russian (and the Armenians have been absolutely delighted with this war and its outcome), while Belarus and most of the Central Asian republics have lined up behind Moscow. But yeah, the Poles and the Baltic States are having kittens.

That said, let me comment briefly on some other consequences here. Continue reading

What Henry Said

What Henry said.

Just one key part of the argument:

Russia sees the spread of democratization as a threat to its control of the ‘Near Abroad.’ It has been pushing quite deliberately for a redefinition of the norms of territorial integrity and intervention that would legitimate its continued presence in Georgia and elsewhere, and allow it to reconsolidate control over what it perceives as its rightful sphere of influence. What it would like to see is tacit or active recognition by other great powers of its right to intervene in countries such as Georgia, the Ukraine, Moldova etc. The Western powers have their own economic interests in the region, which they have been pushing assiduously, but also would quite genuinely would prefer to see democracies consolidate themselves in this band of countries…

But read the whole thing.

Also, while I’ve seen a fair number of comments about Georgian perception of Western support leading to their intransigence in negotiations and preference for a military solution, I haven’t seen as many noting that the South Ossetian leadership has a blank check from Russia and absolutely no need to give even a millimeter in negotiations. It’s certainly relevant to sorting out the dynamics and the motivations.

Mentality gap

I hadn’t paid much attention to this Reuters report from yesterday: it says that mobile rocket launchers are being ‘given priority’ in the queue of armor moving from Russia into South Ossetia / Georgia. These are Soviet-era weapons which are said to have a range of 35 km. There may be a propaganda angle to this news item, of course.

While I still think we have to make an effort to incorporate the situation into a larger view of things – and I’ll admit that this effort can lead to some fairly strange-sounding statements – it’s dawning on me that there is an appalling local precedent: the 1999-2000 siege of Grozny, in which the city was more or less levelled through use of artillery, including rocket artillery. This has to be seen as a worst case outcome for Tbilisi and Georgia. However, there’s not much doubt that the players involved have form.

One of the least pleasant things about this episode is the lack of any honest attempt on the part of the Russian leadership to give a clear account of its aims and intent.

Russian Invasion of Georgia

Not all of the reports are consistent, but they are increasingly consistent: Russian forces have reportedly taken the central Georgian city of Gori, essentially splitting the country in two and occupying the main east-west highway. Russian forces are reported to be in Zugdidi, a larger Georgian town near to Abkhazia. Russian forces have reportedly taken a Georgian military base 20km outside the country’s main port, Poti.

Three days ago I could barely imagine that the Russians would attempt to capture Tbilisi. Now? O Georgia.

Enough about the war. What do I think of the war?

It was inevitable: exit stage left the images of death and destruction from Georgia on American television (especially the ones seen frequently on Russia Today), and enter the war’s implications for the Presidential election.  Specifically, this detailed statement from John McCain (with a brief preview from The Politico), showing his sense at vindication at his long-time anti-Russia stance (recall his repeated mockery of Bush’s claimed insights into Putin’s soul and his proposal to expel Russia from the G8).  His most radical proposal is for a NATO peacekeeping force for Georgia (although the phrasing is a little unclear about who would supply the forces) along with NATO membership for Georgia.  If you were trying to find a way to irritate the Russians even more (and understanding this war surely requires some ability to see things from their side), McCain has hit the jackpot.  Whether he’s showing much of his supposed foreign policy nous is another story entirely.

Questions for Radio Yerevan

Q: Hello Radio Yerevan, was it a good idea to leave Tbilisi on Sunday?

A: In principle, yes. Though it would be better if one of the vehicles in the caravan does not break down after the lunch break in northern Armenia.

Q: Dzien dobry Radio Yerevan, is it a good idea to have local talent repair a broken vehicle?

A: In principle, yes. Though this will mean many people looking over many shoulders, a lack of technical communication, and there are dialectic limits to what can be done on the scene.

Q: Jo napot Radio Yerevan, if the vehicle cannot be repaired on the spot, is it acceptable to have it towed to the mechanic’s garage?

A: In principle, yes, especially if all of the women and children have gone onward in another vehicle. Though it would be better if the tow rope would not break twice on the narrow mountain road. Also, overtaking is generally not recommended at this stage of development.

Q: Dober dan Radio Yerevan, is it permissible to leave the vehicle at the mechanic’s unmarked garage, at an unfindable location in a city you are unfamiliar with?

A: In principle, no. But there are not many other options at this point, are there?

Q: Laba diena Radio Yerevan, is it good doctrine to take a taxi to Yerevan?

A: In principle, no. The people’s transportation should suffice. However, the taxi provided by the people’s representative may be the least aggravating part of the whole journey.

Q: Bari or, Radio Yerevan. What are all these shops doing open after midnight? Is this the new party line?

In principle, no. The party line is to be found in the cafes and the dance clubs. Welcome to Yerevan!

Chess my ass

Various sources are reporting that the Russians have rolled out of South Ossetia and into Georgia proper, and are mounting a major attack on the town of Gori. Gori is about 15-20 km south of the South Ossetian border, and about 70-80 km from Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. Russian forces are also massing along Georgia’s border with Abkhazia, preparing to open a second front there.

The Russians are also sending signals about regime change; Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia “no longer sees [Saakashvili] as a partner”. They’re also ostentatiously ignoring Georgia’s request for a cease-fire.
Continue reading