Friday, August 15, 2008

More from Russia

The Georgian tragedy continues as Russia continues to blatantly violate the cease fire agreement it signed a few days ago. Russian troops remain in much of Georgia and human rights groups are reporting numerous executions, looting and burning of homes by Russian forces.

Again - we must keep our eyes on this vivid and heartbreaking example of what the world will be like so long as the West remains addicted to the fossil fuels that fuel the despicable actions on display by Russia. America is lucky in that it has far more natural resources than the Europeans, but even we are stymied in the response we might otherwise have to this issue because of the world's need for fossil energy and Russia, the Middle East, and Venezuela's control over much of that resource.

Below is a good op-ed from today's Wall Street Journal that makes some important points about what we are seeing. We can not allow our need for energy systematically dismantle the freedom we so enjoy -- and that other parts of the world so desire.

The price of our continued partisan bickering . . . is furthering the ability of Russia and the Middle East to get away with these power plays that destroy so many lives -- and ultimately, will aid in the destruction of our own country.
The Wall Street Journal
The Kremlin's 'Protection' Racket
August 15, 2008; Page A15

Russia's invasion of Georgia will be a defining moment for America's credibility and global stability. If the Medvedev (or, rather, Putin) regime succeeds in using force to topple a democratic and pro-Western government, based on spurious claims of "protecting" Georgia's population against its own government, the stage will be set for similar aggression against the other states -- from the Baltics to Ukraine -- that border Russia but look to the free West. The dangers of the post-September 11 World will be combined with the challenge of a new Cold War.

Russia is fully aware of these ominous implications. It has accordingly sought to cloak this act of aggression in the raiment of modern international justice. Its officials and surrogates (including Mikhail Gorbachev) have falsely accused Georgian leaders of violating international law in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions, which have "Russian" populations on account of Russia's extralegal issuance of its passports in those areas.

President Dmitry Medvedev has called for the "criminal prosecution" of the perpetrators of these supposed abuses and Vladimir Putin has alleged that if "Saddam Hussein [was hanged] for destroying several Shiite villages," Georgian leaders are guilty of much more. Ruthless Kremlin realists have learned the language of global humanitarianism.

The language of "protection" was once a favorite pretext for Tsarist expansion in the 19th century. It is also the same rationale that Germany offered for absorbing the Sudetenland in 1938. The Kremlin's current claims are no more credible than its tattered justifications for invading Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Afghanistan in 1979. Russian assertions that Georgian forces provoked the conflict by attacking Russian troops call to mind Hitler's story that his 1939 invasion of Poland was justified by Polish attacks on Germans. This is particularly ironic, given the Kremlin's penchant for comparing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to Adolf Hitler.

Moscow's sudden embrace of a "limited sovereignty" for Georgia doesn't square with Russia's own previous protestations about the sanctity of its sovereignty and stubborn insistence that it was free to act on its own soil as it saw fit. Moscow's concern about alleged atrocities and genocide is also preposterous in light of the Russian government's callous indifference to the very real genocides conducted by its allies in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, and in Rwanda and Darfur -- not to mention Moscow's own exceptionally brutal military campaigns in Chechnya.

Predictably, Messrs. Putin and Medvedev also assert that their actions in Georgia are no different from Western behavior vis-à-vis Iraq and the former Yugoslavia. Accordingly, they have demanded Mr. Saakashvili's resignation.

Moscow's clear goal is to replace a pro-Western government with a new Russian satellite, both through military action and by discrediting Georgia's leadership through false war crimes and genocide accusations. Behind the hypocrisy, Russia may be trying to lock in a new set of international rules, by which Moscow will be free to intervene at will in its "near abroad" while the United States looks on. These claims, reminiscent of the Brezhnev doctrine which posited that Moscow had a right to use force to preserve its empire, ring particularly hollow in the 21st century.

Moscow's attack on Georgia is only part of a broader campaign against its real and perceived enemies, a mission that has been conducted without the least regard for settled principles of international law. This campaign includes the de facto annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- which must now be considered "Russia-occupied territory" protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention. It also encompasses cyber attacks against the Baltic states, state-ordered assassinations of individuals in Western countries, and economic intimidation, as in the recent cutoffs of Russian oil and gas shipments to Ukraine or the Czech Republic.

It is important that Moscow pays a concrete and tangible price for its latest aggression, at least comparable to the price it paid for the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Visa denials to all individuals connected to the Russian government and vigorous oversight and enforcement activities against Moscow's state-owned companies would be a good way to start. Given Russia's historic insecurities, and the desire of Russian plutocrats to travel freely throughout the world, educate their children in the West, and own property overseas, such modest measures would be quite effective. Russia's WTO membership should be blocked and its G-8 participation suspended.

The Bush administration should also make an assertive effort to deny the legitimacy of all Moscow's legal and policy claims, and defend Mr. Saakashvili without reservations. We should draw a sharp contrast between the American leadership in securing Kosovo's independence -- an infringement of Serbian sovereignty brought about by Belgrade's real genocide and war crimes -- and Moscow's cynical encouragement of secessionist movements in countries formerly a part of the Soviet Union, which was designed to reconstitute Russian imperial control. John McCain has already taken the lead on this, quickly reaching out to the Georgian president and condemning Russia's actions as a new form of empire building.

While rebutting Moscow's claims of today, the U.S. should also press for a historical accounting. Russia's history goes directly to its credibility. We should remind the world that Russia remains unrepentant for the sins of its past, not the least of which are its previous 1803 and 1922 invasions and annexation of Georgia, its 1939 partition of Poland with Hitler's Germany, and the Katyn massacre that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of captured Polish officers (which Moscow still falsely blames on Germany). Russia refuses to take responsibility for its past oppression of numerous non-Russian "captive nations" -- among them, of course, the Georgians.

American credibility is very much at stake here. If a true friend of the United States -- an ancient country already twice annexed by Moscow in the past two centuries, a democracy that has enthusiastically reached out to NATO and the European Union, and even sent troops to fight in Iraq -- can be snuffed out without concrete action by Washington, America's friendship will quickly lose its value and America's displeasure would matter even less. The repercussions would be felt world-wide, from the capitals of New Europe, to Jerusalem, Kabul and Baghdad.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey are Washington lawyers who served from 2004-2007 as members of the U.N. Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

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