A Disaster Waiting to Happen

What began as a tempest in a teapot in the obscure south Caucasus and Black Sea coast has now turned into a major confrontation between the United States, its European-Nato allies and Russia.

By Eric Margolis

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Published: Sun 31 Aug 2008, 2:10 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:12 AM

Georgia’s reckless attack on the secessionist, Russian-backed enclave of South Ossetia, Moscow’s efficient riposte against Georgia, and the Bush administration’s overheated reaction have combined to produce a nasty and alarming crisis. In an act fraught with danger, the US and Nato warships are delivering supplies to Georgia, watched by vessels of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. The US Congress may soon vote $1 billion for America’s embattled Georgian satellite. The Western powers are resorting to fierce Cold War rhetoric, accusing Russia of aggression and imperialism. They are playing with fire. Russia has some 6,600 strategic nuclear weapons, mostly aimed at North America and Europe.

Besides, the US, which invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and whose air force, according to UN observers, just killed 90 Afghan civilians, 60 of them children, is in no position to lecture Moscow about aggression. France’s conservative president, Nicholas Sarkozy, blasted Russia and will hold a European summit over Georgia in Brussels on September 1. Poland just agreed to emplace a US anti-ballistic missile system only 184 km from Russia’s border, provoking Moscow’s fury. Ukraine and Poland are loudly backing Georgia. Ukraine is threatening to oust Russia’s Sevastopol-based Black Sea Fleet. Russia’s chief of staff, Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, warns his nation has the right to launch a `preemptive nuclear strike’ against enemies, in line, he tartly noted, with the Bush administration’s own policies.

Topping off this war of words, two of Sen. John McCain’s closet allies, hawkish Republican senators Joseph Lieberman and Lindsay Graham, went to Georgia and called for Äòtough’ measures against Moscow.

They urged isolation of Russia for Äòaggression’ and admitting Ukraine and Georgia to Nato. McCain’s allies provide a preview of what his foreign policy may look like. Lieberman and Graham, leading proponents of the US occupation of Iraq, proclaimed, ”Russia must not be allowed to control energy supplies.” This ugly mess recalls the way the great powers blundered into both World War I and

II over two obscure locales: Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Danzig Corridor. Extreme caution is clearly advised before the crisis gets out of hand. But few are listening as rhetoric sharpens. The Bush administration Äì most likely VP Dick Cheney Äì almost certainly planned or knew about Georgia’s attack on Russian-backed South Ossetia launched under cover of the Beijing Olympics. Whether the White House was trying to inflict a quick little military defeat on Moscow, or whipping up war fever at home to boost John McCain’s prospects, is uncertain. This crisis over a mere 70,000 South Ossetians and 18,000 Abkhazians could have been quietly resolved by diplomacy. Instead, the Bush administration turned it into a major confrontation by accusing Russia of aggression and rushing military units to Georgia.

Washington, which rightly recognised the independent of Kosovo’s Albanians from Serb repression, denounced Russia’s recognition of Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence from Georgian repression. Meanwhile, Moscow, which crushed the life out of Chechnya’s independence movement, piously claimed to be defending Ossetian independence. Now, the US is pressing Ukraine to join Nato, though half of its 48 million citizens are opposed to doing so.

Ukraine’s constitution mandates a neutral state. Russia allowed Ukraine to decamp from the Soviet Union with the understanding it would never join Nato, and would allow Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to ope rate from Crimea. Russian political expert Sergei Markov rightly notes that Washington and Nato see Ukraine as a rich new source of troops for Iraq and Afghanistan, lost wars from which he says Nato leaders cannot withdraw their soldiers without committing Äòpolitical suicide.’ ÄòOld Europe’ is trying to avoid a clash with Moscow, while Äònew Europe’ Äì Georgia, Poland, the Czechs, and Baltic states -- frightened of Russia’s growing power, urges the US to confront Russia.

Not only did the clumsy US attempt to expand its influence into Moscow’s backyard backfire badly, Washington’s childish, petulant response is as inflammatory as it is powerless. The Georgian crisis and empty threats against Russia have aroused strong nationalist passions in Russia, which sees itself increasingly isolated and surrounded by the US and Nato. Nationalist hysteria, jingoism, and fevered rhetoric are coming from both sides. We have seen such lunacy before: in August 1914, and September 1939.

Eric S. Margolis is a veteran American journalist and contributing foreign editor of The Toronto Sun

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