How Russia Clobbered Georgia and Lost the War


(Prof. Piotr Dutkiewicz for RIA Novosti) - Some critics have pointed to the conflict in Georgia as another example of botched Bush administration foreign policy, but in fact America's real strategy was brilliantly executed and it achieved exactly the intended outcome. Unfortunately it's not an outcome that brings nations together or makes the world a safer place.

First, it's important to note that this dispute is not and never was exclusively about Georgia or South Ossetia, which are the unfortunate, tragic victims of collateral damage in the geopolitical maneuvering that we are witnessing. It is not about Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili miscalculating the Russian response to his attack or overestimating the amount of support he would get from the West, both of which he did. President Saakashvili is really just a colourful bit-player.

Nor is this a case of an emboldened Russia striking back at the West for its support for Kosovo's independence, or the Orange Revolution, or the eastern Europe missile defence shield, though all of those things are factors.

Simply put, this was about the U.S. depositioning the only nuclear power in the world that consistently challenges it on foreign policy issues, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. It was a fully successful but wrong-headed attempt to undermine Russia's global status by setting a trap that Russia had to fall into. And it was about creating a villain for U.S. domestic political reasons.

Of course the U.S. realized that once pushed into this corner, Russia had no choice but to respond to the Georgian attack on its lawfully present peacekeepers and on South Ossetian civilians. Not to counter-attack would have put Russia in an untenable position. It could not claim to be able to protect its friends, allies and satellites from foreign intervention. It would have reverted to the Russia of 20 years ago - largely irrelevant, a non-entity.

American policymakers knew the trap they were setting. Going back at least to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, the United States has enforced its own "sphere of influence" policy. It knew exactly how far it had to push to provoke a reaction. Is there any way the US would sit idly by if Russian-backed Cuba tried to forcibly oust US forces from that island? Or if Russia built a missile defense system in Venezuela? 

Nor did the Americans simply lose control of the hot-headed and impulsive President Saakashvili. The pundits on the ground in Tblisi have a saying: "Saakashvili doesn't go to the bathroom without calling the U.S. Embassy." The Georgian president was played masterfully by the U.S.

What country bombs its own citizens while they sleep? Would Ottawa bomb Quebec if it voted to separate? Would Belgium bomb Antwerp? Would Spain bomb its Basque regions? Even China, arguably the most repressive regime on the planet, does not bomb Tibet. The fact that Saakashvili bombed and rocketed civilian buildings in the middle of the night is a pretty good indication that he doesn't consider them citizens.

The result of Russia's counter-strike has been exactly what the U.S. wanted. Russia's political influence in the world is now diminished. With the international community almost unanimous in its condemnation of Russia, it no longer has the credibility to criticize the U.S. for its military adventures. And the powerhouse Russian economy also sustained serious damage. Foreign investors are now delaying or cancelling projects and the Russian stock market is paying the price. Meanwhile, the U.S. and its tiny partner get to express their moral outrage while painting the Russian bear as irascible and expansionist.

This was a carefully developed and magnificently executed strategy. But it fails to recognize how important it is to have Russia inside the community of nations rather than cast a pariah state.

Russia has more neighbours than any other country in the world, and many of those neighbours are countries that we need to engage. The world is not a safer place without Russian involvement in the containment of nuclear proliferation. In fact, Russia plays a critically important role in maintaining a dialogue with countries like Iran that have nuclear ambitions.

Likewise Russia's help is essential in the global war on terror. The U.S. simply cannot go it alone and hope to have any meaningful success over the long term. But now Washington says Russian Navy ships are no longer welcome to take part in the Active Endeavour counterterrorism and nonproliferation operation in the Mediterranean. That helps no one.

The world needs a cooperative and productive relationship between Russia and the U.S. - a relationship built on reciprocity. Rather than undermining and vilifying Russia, a more productive strategy for the U.S. would be to engage with Russia as much as possible as a partner on the world stage. Both Russia and the United States have legitimate national and international interests. Both can realize their interests. It is not a zero sum game. Russia does not need to be made to lose in order for the U.S. to win.


Prof. Dutkiewicz is Director of the Institute of European and Russian Studies ata Carleton University and a member of the Valdai Club .

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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