America has two main questions about this conflict: First, What is Russia doing? Is it engaging in imperial expansion, a land-grab, which it is likely to try again with Ukraine, or in a just defense of an ally? Second, Should Georgia be included in Nato?
My first reaction to the news of the Russian army’s entrance into Georgia was to view it as an alarming act of aggression, an attempt to begin rolling back the loss of territory and people that began with the break-up of the Soviet Union. As I have studied the situation further, however, in the few sources that seem available, I have come to feel this interpretation perhaps does an injustice to Russia. It should be noted that most of these wars of independence in the Balkans and the Caucasus between peoples who have lived together for centuries have their origin in hundreds of year of mutual discrimination. When one side has been in power, they have used it to poke a stick in the eye of the other side Unless I am mistaken, a tragic misunderstanding appears to be brewing. The West became conditioned to fear Russia over a very long time. It would be dreadfully ironic if just at a time when there is other side gains power and returns the favor to the first side.
In this case, the Ossetians, having been lumped in with the Georgians several centuries ago, have been trying by armed force to break away from them ever since. They made a big effort in 1922, but lost out. They tried again in 1990, and again in 1991 after the Soviet break-up, with the same result. In 1992 Russia persuaded both sides to accept a cease-fire, and Russian troops were put in place to act as peacekeepers between them. In 2003, however, the current president of Georgia, educated in the US, was elected on promises he would bring Ossetia back into the Georgian fold. In 2004 fighting duly broke out again. In 2006 the Ossetians voted “almost unanimously” for independence from Georgia. But the president of Georgia was not enthusiastic about this result. In early August the Georgian army invaded Ossetia’s unpronounceable capital. Russia stepped in to stop them. President Putin stated yesterday that the Russian action was an expression of Christianity, sacrificing one’s life for one’s friend. Perhaps I am excessively sentimental, but I felt this statement could only with difficulty be dismissed as cynical in its entirety. Unless I am mistaken, a tragic misunderstanding appears to brewing. The West became conditioned to fear Russia over a very long time. It would be dreadfully ironic if just at a time when there is no longer reason to fear, the old fear should reassert itself. Perhaps what we mainly have to fear in this case, as FDR said, is fear itself.
If this interpretation is correct, and Russia is, after all, behaving in a reasonably responsible manner, then the policy of unilaterally bringing Nato right up to Russia’s front door has to be judged insensitive. Given the threat from the nearby Muslim world, it makes sense to expand Nato, but only with Russia’s agreement. It is much to our interest to be friends with Russia. Lacking Russia’s agreement, we should remain contentedly where we are until such agreement is forthcoming.