Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Russia recognizes South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Both houses of the Russian parliament unanimously passed resolutions urging President Medvedev to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia. Since both hoses are dominated by parties loyal to Putin and Medvedev it's no surprise that Medvedev made the proclamation doing so. The only real question was whether he would do so immediately or hang onto the resolutions and use them as a threat in negotiations with Georgia and the West.

For Putin, Medvedev, and their parliamentary supporters, this is the trifecta of Russian nationalist pride. First it's payback to the West for invading Iraq and recognizing Kosovo over Russian objections. Russian nationalists felt that both of those events were a slap in the face and have been burning for the chance to make an equivalent gesture in the face of Bush and the West. Second, it expands Russian influence in an area bordering the Middle East. The Georgian government calls the act an unconcealed annexation of its territory and in a way it is since neither state will be able to maintain their independence without Russian protection. Third it punishes one of the countries most responsible for breaking up the Soviet Union. Georgia, along with the Baltic states, was uncompromising in its desire to end the Soviet Union. Most other soviet republics were open to preserving some form of union, but Georgia insisted on nothing short of total divorce. The Russian nationalists have held a grudge against Georgia ever since. As a bonus, the action sends a warning to all of the other former Soviet republics not to ignore the bear.

What next? In a way, the specifics of the Georgian situation are only a minor detail in a much more dire larger picture. Russian nationalism is on the march and a new cold war has broken out. Even before 9/11 Bush and the Neo-cons were provoking Russian nationalist resentment with their talk of being the only super power. Their rush to repudiate arms treaties and expand NATO was seen as a direct threat by Russians. McCain poured gas on the fire with his talk of throwing Russia out of the G8 and forming a new UN without Russia or China. Many of the more childish minds on the right are thrilled at the idea of going back to bear baiting and the Cold War of their youth. To them Russians are the only enemy really worth hating. Should we be surprised that the feelings are matched on the other side?

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