Russian tanks have spelled victory and freedom for the world from Nazi tyranny, when the monstrous machines rumbled through the ruined streets of Berlin some six decades ago. We should all be thankful for the Soviet-Russian contribution to the Second World War for without it, I might be writing this column in German.
With the exception of this example above, Russian tanks have spelled foreboding and the crushing of resistance. They struck relentlessly in Prague, August, 1968, killing Czech citizens after attempts at political liberalization failed. They steamrolled in 1979 into Afghanistan, to support the government of the day (which was Soviet backed), but did not leave until 1989, with tens of thousands dead during the decade of belligerence.
Over recent weeks Russian tanks have trod into once friendly ground, but with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union, that ground is now sovereign, independent territory. The international community has been outraged – perhaps not shocked – by the Russian incursion into the long-sensitive area of South Ossetia.
South Ossetia, which is within the territorial limits of Georgia, is heavily pro-Russian and has, since 1991, attempted to assert its independence. While South Ossetia has been de facto independent in most areas, it has not received international recognition as an independent state.
With each side blaming the other for the start of hostilities on 7 August, 2008, tensions between Georgia, Russia, and Western states have grown ever more intense.
After an initial agreement and a promise by the Russians to withdraw from Georgian territory, the stakes were upped considerably by Russian unilateral recognition of the independence of South Ossetia, and another break-away region of Georgia, Abkhazia.
Russia is now full-out asserting its foreign policy muscle in an increasingly volatile world, for many reasons, with the situation in Georgia being its latest chess move.
Russia has a weakened US counterbalance. Its “friend” across the Bearing Strait is tied down in Iraq, with a faltering economy, $9 trillion of debt, and a lame duck president, whose term is about to expire. It may now inherit a relative unknown Democrat or a war hawk Republican. The former may not be taken seriously while the latter may just spur Russia to be even more defiant.
Mother Russia is awash in revenue, fueled by soaring oil and gas prices, and commodity prices.
The Russians also feel it is fair for them to assert influence in its own proverbial backyard. The Russians will always be sensitive to matters in both the former states of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. With the US and its extended allies in NATO sticking their noses into areas like Poland (especially the US with its alleged missile defense shield), Russia is feeling pressed, if not threatened.
With the support for South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence, Russia has pulled, in its eyes, exactly the same stunt the West pulled in recognizing Kosovo’s independence from Serbia – a staunch Russian ally. This is Russia’s way of saying, if you will, “fuck you” to the West.
Perhaps, and I say perhaps because this is my own crack pot theory, this may very well be former President and present Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy coming to fruition, but behind the wall that is the some-say puppet President Dmitry Medvedev.
After a decade of much reconciliation under Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin, Russia has awoken once more on the world stage and will not shy away from confrontation. Diplomatic threats have been made, NATO has suspended its activities with Russia, and the Americans are making angry noises.
Little can likely be done save for continued diplomatic overtures to perhaps solve this ongoing crisis, but with the recognition of the two separatist regions as states, Russia has opened Pandora’s Box. With Russia being a permanent member of the Security Council and thus a veto, there is little the Security Council will achieve on this matter.
The irony is not lost on your writer, that part of the territory subjected to Russian occupation during their overture into Georgia, was Gori: birthplace of Joseph Stalin.
From the gates of Hell, I’m sure the Man of Steel is smiling.