What Russia wants: lessons from the 19th century

August 25, 2008

Russian tanks in N. Ossetia after crossing from S. Ossetia/Sergei KarpukhinRussia’s bear-paw swipe at Georgia has got many people drawing comparisons with the Cold War, but personally I like to look for parallels in the 19th century.

At the time the faultlines between Russian and British imperial interests ran from the Balkans through the Crimea and the Caucasus to Central Asia and Afghanistan. That is remarkably similar to some of the faultlines creating upheavals today.  

Angered by western support for the independence of Kosovo in the Balkans, Russia is at loggerheads with NATO over Georgia in the Caucasus.  The row over Georgia has raised fears Russia may halt vital transit of NATO cargoes to Afghanistan – though this has been denied by Moscow – threatening the U.S.-led campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Such is the geographical sweep of the world’s problems, that British commentator Simon Jenkins even suggested we may be drifting towards a new global war.

So what are the lessons of history? And what can we learn about what Russia’s motives really are in the current crisis?

According to Lawrence James’s history of the British Raj, the Russians in the 19th century were experts at applying in war and diplomacy a technique adapted from a chess manoeuvre known as a “Maskirovka”. This aims to deceive your opponent into expecting an attack in one place in order to gain strategic advantage elsewhere. In particular, he says, they tried to trick the British into fearing a Russian invasion of India to divert their attention so that Russia itself could focus on securing its European flank.

Russian cruiser in SevastopolThe Russians considered this gambit during the Crimean war when Britain and its allies fought Russia for control of the Black Sea (the scene of tensions today between U.S. and Russian ships off the Georgian coast) — eventually driving the Russians out of the port of Sebastopol in 1855 (now known as Sevastopol in Ukraine and leased to Moscow as the base of its Black Sea fleet).  It seems history has a way of repeating itself when it comes to choosing its faultlines. 

They tried it 20 years later, prompting Britain to invade Afghanistan in 1878 to secure a buffer state between Russia and India. It was Britain’s second attempt to take over Afghanistan and like its earlier invasion from British India ended in humiliation and defeat. But then history has repeated itself so often when it comes to unsuccessful invasions of Afghanistan that it’s a wonder that any foreign army would choose to set foot in the country ever again.

Reading between the lines of James’s account, it’s easy to reach the conclusion that western powers — from the old British empire to the United States of today – have so consistently underestimated Russia’s sense of vulnerability on its European flank that they have misread the signals on other fronts to the point of making foolish counter-moves of their own. Indeed James says one of the few rulers of British India not to have fallen for Maskirovka adopted a policy of “masterly inactivity”.

Perhaps time to take a long hard look at what matters to Russia, and to work out what it is trying to achieve, rather than interpreting its every move as a potential step towards a new Cold War?

49 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the
Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven. Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it. It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few
people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty,
highly successful act of hypnosis. I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out
on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It’s a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, ‘the American people’, as in the sentence, ‘I say to the American people it is time to
pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people. It’s a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words ‘the American people’ provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don’t need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it’s very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2
million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US. The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn’t give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain. The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and
mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people. The US have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it
‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East’ How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought.
Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don’t exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. ‘We don’t do body counts,’ said the American general Tommy Franks. I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as ‘full spectrum dominance’. That is not my term, it is theirs. ‘Full spectrum dominance’ means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources. The United States now occupies almost 750 military installations throughout the world in 140 countries, with the honourable exception of
Sweden. We don’t quite know how they got there but they are there all right. Poland is now just another US pawn. US defense contractors are set to make
many billions of dollars from the US Poland missile defense deal.

Posted by Bob Bennett | Report as abusive

Well that’s nice. The first comment is a long rambling totally off topic screed about the evils of the US.

The US has done bad things. It’s gotten away with lots of them. Russia has done far far worse, as has China. The West is morally imperfect, but it’s head and shoulders above the alternatives.

Regarding what Russia wants. While understanding is beneficial, It’s tiresome accommodating the craziest person in the room. Russia doesn’t have the right to dictate to it’s neighbour who they can be friends with. It doesn’t have the right to bomb, seize or otherwise molest pipelines and oil shipments that compete with it’s commercial interests.

Russia needs to “grow up” and learn to behave like a modern civilized nation.

Posted by Bor | Report as abusive

the situation in the georgia black sea region is so serious with mis-steps by the USA state dept. in it’s support for a vocal anti-Russian Georgia, that no one will even comment on it. It must be stated here and now that the United States has no right to tell the USSR or Russia what it can or cannot do in a region Russia (USSR) once occupied for decades. The Americans are eager to aid allies and friends but are not able to vocally show disdain for Georgian political leaders who openly try to embroil the USA and Russia in to a shooting war. Do the Leaders of Georgia actually believe the Russians will ignore the bellicosity of Georgia if it is engaged in war with the USA ? even if it is minor battles and not a nuclear war ?… The USA has made many mistakes in securing an ally in a former territory of the USSR, and it is now paying the price for this ignorance of regional affairs. The next weeks and months are severe and close to serious wars in not only the Black Sea area but also a Russian invasion of Poland the moment USA missiles are landed in Poland, for defensive use or not Russia will not sit idly by. Once the Russian invade Poland they will take the American missiles if possible ( for intelligence purposes ) and then agree to ceasefires and treaties but make no mistake, Russia will agree to pull back but will try to occupy a 12 mile wide buffer zone on Polish terrritory stretching the entire north to south border of Poland with the Russian Army firmly entrenched and occupying bordering nations to the East nearest Russian soil…All because the USA state dept believed it can do anything it pleases in the post 911 world… Time will show it can not…Russia may not be well known to the USA but the Russian Govt and the Russian People must be respected. The sons of Russia in uniform are not to be viewed any differently than the sons of America in uniform . If the world and Russia and America can achieve this distinction and view we can have long term peace between the USA and the Russian People. This is my hope and I have outlined what will occur the moment missiles arrive in Poland from the USA. That is my nightmare. Peace to All.

Posted by Cynara Derr | Report as abusive

Mr Bennett seems to echo the sentiments of Lord Toynbee regarding the post WW2 place of the US in the world, ie taking on the mantle of Rome. Toynbee referred to the US taking on the role of Prince Metternich. All of this may well turn out to be spot on. However, there is always mega-blame to be shared in most modern conflicts.
Perhaps if instead of looking at the 19th century for clues to Russia’s sense of the world you go back to the pre-Metternich Europe and look at the Russian invasion of Poland. Russia did not like the choice of the Polish diet in 1733 for the crown (Leszczyski) so they invaded and put their own puppet in place (Augustus III). The opportunity was there and Ostermann seized it just as Putin seized the opportunity and dealt a political defeat to his rivals. Augustus III was supported by France and Sweden and neither had the support inside Poland to hold out against the Russian aggression. Today Putin does not want Sashkavilli’s Western slant just as Ostermann did not want Augustus III and his pro-Western slant. Same story line and it seems that the result may very well end up the same.

Posted by Paul Youngs | Report as abusive

Dear Bob Bennet, you have posted a very good comment well prepared by Russian intelligence services. I will not be surprised if your or your boss’ name is Ivanov, Serdyukov or the like.

The US behavior is by far not the most correct, but this shall not be treated as the base giving right to Russians to generate conflicts in the nations they pretend to be a friend to.

Posted by Ivan | Report as abusive

Wars only serve the weak minded, and we humans ruin our own existance.

Russia and the US serve no one with another cold war, or a hot one for that matter.

Enough of the war like clatter..it serves no purpose

Posted by Troy | Report as abusive

all about mental differences: georgians build free and tollerant open society, once one tastes a freedom, there is no way back… so russian leaders try to keep own people and all arround as they are now: slaves, shovinists dreaming of III Rome… america deserved world leadership breaking down such attempts of russians, nazzis and others… I think

Well, speaking about what Russia’s behaviour should have been, I think that Russia is learning the ‘good old american way’, which is: 1st we provoke the “victim”(in our case, Georgia) to war, which the victim obviously can’t win, then we tear apart it’s territory by supporting any national- separatist movements and block any UN decisions that goes against this, while launching a full-scale propaganda war…

I am a little concerned that the article’s emphasis was on the West’s need to divine the intentions of Russia. Perhaps if Russia chose to be open in their intentions and objectives, if Russia accepted that playing the maskirovka game invites unreasoned and irrational responses, genuine diplomacy could proceed.

Posted by E. Van Court | Report as abusive

Bob, your piece was excellent and, very relevant. Russia has apparently learnt a great deal from the United States. It cannot however, rely upon a compliant media to report its actions, except at home. This will be perhaps the greatest weakness in an otherwise very strong position. Though I hear that they are reliant upon oil to further their strategic goals throughout the next twenty years. After that their importance is destined to shrink rapidly as this resource runs out. Still, what is likely to take place must surely bring an inevitable balancing of American power. Your eloquent words on the dangers posed by the United States are well chosen. However the danger they present are also in cultural, social and environmental factors grave indeed. As brutal as Russia can be and looks increasingly like being, we can at least console ourselves to some extent that the iniquitous aims of the American right are likely to be blunted for some time to come.

Posted by Allan | Report as abusive

Now Kosovo,Abkhazia and South ossetia are independent states.

Dear Mr. Bennett, thank you for the interesting and historically accurate comment. As for those stating that Russia has done these and those much more evil things to other nations… Well, they are welcome to give examples. The only difference between Russian and Western behaviour on the world playground is that Russia is quite clumsy and naive sometimes, unlike bold and solid US or cunning UK.

Posted by Yury | Report as abusive

it’s funny that some gentlemen said russian should not dictate his neighbor’s friendship matters, but as a matter of fact uncle sam not only dictated and controlled friends of his neighbors, but controlled and dictated his neighbor’s internal business for decades. this is the beautiful logic of the double standard of the uncle sam followers. please explain why us needs 170 military bases over 140 countries? what for? george orwell made it very clear, all animals are equal, but some are more equal. all mankind is equal, but being amercian is more equal on this planet!!

Posted by hargaw | Report as abusive

I do not understand about what you here speak.
US has put the weapon to Georgia through Turkey
US have trained the Georgian armies.
Georgia has attacked Ossetia.
Ossetia has asked Russia to interfere. R
ussia has interfered and has released Ossetia from Georgian army.
These are the facts.
And about what you speak – delirium.

Posted by ch3o3h | Report as abusive

Opinion from the “region Russia (USSR) once occupied for decades” or Georgia: all big emperies and conquerors of the continent fought and some times “occupied for decades” my country but those sink into oblivion (and Russia will) when Georgia counts thousands of years and will survive Russians prolonged agony too.

Posted by Maia Khelashvili | Report as abusive

“Ricochet”!!!

Posted by S St Laurent | Report as abusive

Just a little remark about David Khabuliani’s comment.
Why do you deprive ossetian and abhazian people the right to live and to be free? It is well known that freedom of person or a group of persons end where begins freedom of others.

Posted by Alexey | Report as abusive

I think you are all misguided and misinformed.
The United States and the 200 families that run this world have been manipulating countries and their governments for decades!
The US made China what it is today by inventing and building companies there, so that they can be the Worlds importer, which they are today!
Every war that we have been in, has been bought by the US meaning we have funded both sides!
Saddam, Usama, Mao, you name it. We put them in power, gave them the weapons and when they went rogue, we killed them. All for profit. Mr.Bennett is not long winded and rambling on. He makes good points. My point is,is that you all need to learn some real history instead of what was fed to you in the government controlled education system.
Am informed public is a dangerous public and I am not afraid of most of the people that I meet because they are very uninformed.
It’s time for everyone to wake up!

Posted by Hal | Report as abusive

I do agree with the comments, and even would add, that there are in my view some very similar elements to those that faced Germany between wars, Russia was forced to make significant commercial concessions in its bid to join the WTO, it lost strategic territory to NATO, its influence in Central Asia reduced, in other words it was boxed in politically, militarly, and commercially by the West on all its flanks.

Today its is willing to flatten the side of the box at whatever costs, in short it does not care what Europe or the USA might think or might do, it is flattening the box. In flattening this box, China,India, Syria, SudanNorth Korea, Iran and others are of greater tactical importance than any given Western European
country.

I think the West needs to stop playing and step back and look at the board, before grave mistakes are made. The error of the Georgian President was very grave, he let the bear out of the cage. North Korea is now misbehaving, who else will follow suit. They need Russia as a bargaining piece, Russia needs them in breaking down the walls of this box.

Basil Fletcher,
Kingston,
Jamaica W.I.

Posted by Basil Fletcher | Report as abusive

Coming from the region, I would perhaps suggest that it would be timely for Europe to intercede and bring the parties to a negotiating table: there needs to be a cooling off period, and U.S. activities in the region have not been helpful to the region at large. Note that Russians and Georgians have lived side by side for centuries and are close in culture, religion, world view and such; once the dust settles I am sure they will find a path forward to peace with dignity.

Posted by Andre Z | Report as abusive

Here’s a little speech I prepared for GW Bush:
‘God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden’s God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam’s God was bad, except he didn’t have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don’t chop people’s heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don’t you forget it.’

Posted by Bob Bennett Australia | Report as abusive

Dear Sirs,
I’m a Russian Citizen and I have nothing to do with Russian intelligence services. I would like to raise a few questions having read this article and some other articles of the UK and US press.
But before that I would like to say a few words about myself and Russians in general.
I have a strong feeling that European and US people have quite wrong impression about Russians.
We should not forget that Cold War has ended decades ago and generations has been changed. None of common people in Russia likes or wants wars, as I’m sure none of US or European citizens as well. There is no ambition from Russia and from Russians to become a super-power and rule the world. I believe such statements in the press looks quite silly and even funny for intelligent people both in Russia and in US or Europe. Such statements looks like taken from James Bond movies (I like this movie a lot, but I don’t treat it seriously as this is just a movie). People would like to work, cooperate with each other. People likes to travel. Russians like to travel to Europe and US, and there is a lot of foreigners visiting Moscow and other cities in Russia. If you have such friends – ask them, do they still believe that Russians are that evil?
I believe that the issue is with the foreign policy between the governments and certain interests of particular politicians. So let us all be very careful judging the newspapers we read and weight the real facts that can be sorted out from the press. Otherwise we will become a victims of mind manipulation.
Don’t you think that recent articles in US and European press were, say, a bit one sided? So coming back to the questions that I would like to raise… here they are for your consideration.
1. Was it the case that Georgian military troops were the one who attacked Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) on August 7th 2008? (by the way it is even admitted by “The Economist” in a very “anti-Russian” article, but this they couldn’t argue [See The Economist August 23-29, 2008 p. 23].
2. Is this true that lots of civilians has been murdered on that day? (August 7th)
3. Is this true that Russian peace-keeping troops (who has the authority from UN) has been attacked and murdered as well?
4. Is this true that most of the civilian buildings of the town of Tskhinvali were destroyed even before Russian reinforcement has arrived from Russia?
5. What would you do (were you a military general) if you need to protect your solders and civilian citizens of your country? Don’t you think that Russian swift reinforcement has prevented even more victims? Georgian forces has just stepped back as it was useless to fight. So actually the long running bloody turmoil has been prevented.
6. Why Georgian forces abandoned so much US weapon? Actually why it was there in that much quantities.
7. Do you know if there were any refugees? (I’m sure, I should help you with the answer)
8. Don’t you think that it is quite strange that Mr. Saakashvili has started to make announcements in the US and European press that Russian tanks has attacked Georgia and its CAPITAL even before Russian tanks has entered into South Ossetia.
… and some more general questions.
9. Why USA is so much interested to see Georgia and Ukraine in NATO?
10. Why does USA need to have anti-missile radar in Poland? Do you really believe that this is because they afraid Iran’s nuclear attack or there was some other reason? (by the way, I’m not a specialist in nuclear physics, but I’m wondering what will happen to nearby environment if say Poland will hit Iran’s nuclear rocket right above their head?)
11. Do you think that military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were properly justified? (I can remind that the reason for the Attack on Iraq was that US intelligence service reported about nuclear weapon in Iraq. Later it was confirmed by UN investigation that Iraq didn’t have nuclear weapon).
12. Do you think that there is a democracy now in Iraq or Afghanistan? Do you think that common people now live better there?
13. Are common US citizens happy with the results of military operations in Iraq or Afghanistan?
14. Don’t you think that it is a good step taking into account presidency race in US. Do you agree with the fact that people in US now become more afraid of Russians? Don’t you think that this is a good opportunity to unite US nation against an “enemy” and as a result get huge support from the people on elections? Who can benefit from that?
15. Please answer honestly. Those people in US who didn’t like recent military policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, who has suffered from mortgage crises – do you give support to your government in the fight against “evil” Russia? I’m afraid that most of US and Europeans might answer “yes” (I hope that I’m wrong in that but I’m afraid I’m not)
16. Do you think it is normal when Iraq reconstruction tender was won by the company owned by one of the Senior Governmental officers in US who initially took the decision to send troops to Iraq?
And the last comment in term of democracy. Everybody claims that Mr. Saakashvili is a democratic elected president of Georgia. Do you know the fact that Russian TV channels are cut off from broadcasting in Georgia? Do you know that TV channels supporting opposition has been cut off as well?
And as regards Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev. I can assure you being a Russian citizen that the majority of the people did supported Putin during his elections and presidency and majority people do support Mr. Medvedev as newly elected president. I haven’t voted for Mr. Putin myself during the elections (I was voting for Mr. Yavlinskiy) but that doesn’t mean that most of the Russian population do not support either Mr. Putin when he was a president or Mr. Medvedev now. So don’t you think that at least it is not polite from the US and European press to claim that there is a democracy in Georgia and tyranny in Russia. We are about 140 M people in Russia and if most of the population do support their president – isn’t it a democracy? Why it is worse than in Georgia?
And all that recent attempts to compare Putin with Stalin or Hitler – this is just ridiculous! I’m sure that all intelligent and educated people in US and Europe should well understand that. Stalin and Hitler were bustards and evil people who has murdered millions of people who has tortured and spoiled lives of millions of millions of people. As a Russian citizen having been in Europe many times, working in international company, communicating with Americans and Europeans on a daily basis I can assure you that life in Russia is far from that you are reading in most of the articles today. By the way, if to read carefully one can notice that not absolutely all US and European press hates Russia that much.
I can easily admit and fully realize that there a lot of issues in Russia, such as corruption, huge bureaucracy end many other… Actually the same as in other countries for higher or lower extent. But this doesn’t mean that Russians are evil and this doesn’t mean that Russian president was not elected democratically.
So what I’m trying to say is let’s not be one-sided, let’s rely on facts but not rumors and speculations (though it is not that easy).
No normal human would like to live in war or cold war or whatever you call it. Do you think that 140 million Russians are that crazy so they want to fight with all the world, to rule the world?! Come on…
Thank you and sorry for quite a long story

Posted by Sergey | Report as abusive

LOOK! Open you eyes everyone! Go to Ossetia and ask the people there who the agressor is! People were saved by Russians! Russians in Moscow opened their doors in front of the refugees, let them sleep in their own small flats! And after that Russia is an agressor??? People in Ossetia are cheering RUSSIA but not the US for help! Why isn’t this shown on our TV? HAH? It was just a cheap provocation from our country and I feel ashamed for our “government”. Just go there and you’ll see everything there with your own eyes!

Posted by Ferry | Report as abusive

Russia, like the U.S., has already come to know that the world board is not akin to a chess board; with the latter, moves are made via a formal structure and nullified otherwise; with the former, such formal and pre-determined rules of engagement are actual impediments to propagating certain policies, e.g. unfavourable policies to the masses would not become actual if within formal engagements. Advantage is the name of the game- as it always has been- and the disadvantage is making mistakes out of kindness or consideration. This is the mainstay of the post-Soviet think tank- capitalistic, aggressive, and fearful of any coalition that may destabilize its SOI. We call this full-circle.

Posted by Peter Maitland | Report as abusive

People are here showing rational and reasonable assessments of the situation.
If the USA places missiles in Poland it will be the most provocative mistake since Russia long ago tried to aid Cuba with the wrong type of weapon– namely long range missles that can carry nuclear warheads. The USA is making many mistakes in the region as if Russia no longer exists. This again is a mistake. My letter last night was affirmed today with the Russian President asserting that Military force may have to be used if USA Missiles arrive in Poland. I am the one who understands these matters. Am I not to be believed ? Trust me and re- read my comments at top of this report. You can see what will happen soon if NATO does not demand the USA act more responsibly and with less arrogance. Thank You, please ask your nation’s newspapers to print my letters so that all may see my words. I am an American Citizen . – - Cynara Derr

Posted by Cynara Derr | Report as abusive

As an American I can say that sometimes I am dismayed by the ignorance of my fellow yanks. We invaded Granada for basically the same thing that Russia went into those regions for: Protect Americans (Russians). We illegally invaded Panama, and ended up being duped into Iraq because of supposed WMD issues. Then the west decides that Kosovo MUST be independent. Russia warned the west that it was Pandora’s box…and it was. Now we have Georgia invading the automonous regions (albeit still part of Georgia) and Russia stepping in. Very little has been said of the timing of the invasion by Georgia (Olympics et al) or of the arbitrary use of Grad rockets on civilians etc. They should be admonished for this mess. That being said, Russia needs to stop the intimidation and accept that “THEIR” form of democracy will not work with some of their neighbors including Poland, Ukraine and Georgia. I can guarantee that the EU and NATO will not sit idle if an episode like this happens in the Crimea. If anything Russia has pushed Georgia and Ukraine closer to NATO and the west. The best thing now is diplomacy, and hitting the corrupt oligarchs hard in the wallet & ego….embargo Bentley, Porsche, and Mercedes from going into the country.

Posted by Donny Baker | Report as abusive

Poland may accept security cooperation from the USA (in the form of missile shields etc), and this would be their own issue. By driving a wedge between such cooperation- by saying Russian military power on such missile sites may be warranted- the Kremlin and FSB (they are one and the same) hope to instill a sense of fear on the Polish side of the talks and (by extension) to the American side to dampen their push for hardware.

This Russian administration was raised with this sort of thinking, and it is rather early to say that the Americans are swallowing it whole.

Posted by Peter Maitland | Report as abusive

Cynara, There is no way in hell Russia will resort to Military action against Poland because of Defensive Missles (Anti-Missle System) being put in place by NATO. Big difference when compared to Offensive Nuclear Strike capability in Cuba circa 1962. Poland is part of NATO. Any action against Poland is an action against the organization. It might help if Russia would step up to the plate and pressure Iran for the rest of us. The missle defense system might not be needed. But Noooooooooo, they want to peddle their Military Hardware, and support the mad man Ahmadinejad.

Posted by ET | Report as abusive

I think most are missing the point of the article in that Russia is strutting and pounding its chest but little more, using this bravado as a bargaining chip. I would hope most people would understand that to imply “we” shouldn’t be following suit and reacting. Yet all I hear are calls for reaction. Let Russia rot in the stinch of its failures instead of giving them “victories”. Corruption is a way of life in Russia, and they have inflation problems on the horizon. The West “starved” the wall down in the 70s and 80s, and we will do it again. Just watch and wait.
Anytime a US-backed country has any kind of a crisis, the US will take the blame. Why? Cause its kinda pointless to point fingers at Russia, China, etc. These countries don’t care what others think, and usually won’t allow their own people to disagree with them. Its kinda like giving a terminal cancer patient a life sentence in jail. So exactly what kind of a “punishment” could we give a country that is its own worst nightmare?

How about a consolation hug (and in a few years, probably a loan)?

Posted by Ptrizzle | Report as abusive

reply to ET — I am giving the impression I have of how the Russians will perceive the missiles…I am aware of the difference of the 1962 era missiles and the anti-missile systems the USA wants to place in Poland now. The Russians will not look upon it as anything but provocation and a way to place secret missiles in Poland. The Russian view will be always suspicious and attempting to stop any encroachment on their territory defense strategies which the Russians assume any missiles in Poland will represent, whether their view is accurate or totally wrong.
— Cynara Derr

Posted by Cynara Derr | Report as abusive

My university degrees are in international politics. I did thesis work on the cohesion of the Russian Federation with a specific focus on the Chechnya conflict while living in Finland. I’m not going to go into points regarding the rights and wrongs of Russia’s actions and history. It is has been made clear to me once again after reading the comments left here that facts and reason can be distorted to suit any taste, no matter how distateful the taste or the distortions. I want to simply make a strong declaration that I hope sinks in to those who wish to cripple the will of westerners: if Russia and NATO fall into a proxy war over Russia’s actions, I’m joining the US military and demanding that they send me to the front lines. And I am more than sure that many other westerners – North Americans and Europeans – will do the same. No matter how and how much Putin spins his actions and ambitions. He thinks nobody in the West is willing to fight; he is wrong.

Posted by Houston - an EU and US citizen | Report as abusive

10 interceptor missiles in Poland by 2012, another 10 by 2015, then a few years later with the site manned by 100 US servicemen they can conceal nuclear missiles. Who in their right mind would trust republican neo-cons after they invaded the sovereign country of Iraq under false pretenses with no UN mandate and caused the deaths of over 100,000 civilians??? Russia basically just wants to be left alone. The US has almost 750 foreign military war bases around the world controlled by GW Bush a man with an IQ of 92. Now that is dangerous. The president of Georgia was trained by the US CIA and came to power through the so called Rose revolution instigated by US billionaire George Soros. Russia basically would like to live in peace and not be encircled by US missiles or US militiamen in Georgia. I believe that’s a fair call, especially considering the US feel the same way about their country. But now we are going to witness a massive unstoppable nuclear arms race. Russia will install nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad, Belarus, Syria and Iran. They will arm their submarines and warplanes with nuclear missiles. With nuclear weapons everywhere Al Qaeda may be in a position to acquire atom bombs & wreak havok by sending nuclear suicide bombers all across Europe and with no border security could kill millions of people. That is the war of the future and no missile site in Poland will be able to stop it. The best way to deal with this problem is to disband NATO as agreed after the fall of the USSR and set up a new security organization that encompasses all of Europe including Russia and China. The Georgian president must go. We don’t need loose cannons running around that area. Russia is Georgia’s neighbour therefore Georgia needs a president that promotes good policies and strong friendship. The US should stay out of Russia’s backyard and deal with problems closer to home.

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

@Sergey
Very good post!

It is interesting to me that the western press – after a few days of pro-georgian emotionality now starts to decribe the real facts in and about Ossetia, the sufferings and feelings of the ossetian and abkhasian people and how they see the situation.

So we now have a situation in which western politicians (not all!) still keep on talking about “russian aggression” and “georgian integrity” while the press and the people are far more close to reality – especially about Mr. Saakashvili and his Washington friends.

I really wonder who will be the first western politician to speak out clearly that Georgia is not a victim without guilt, that both sides made mistakes and a fair compromise had to be reached.

Posted by Maximilian | Report as abusive

I see, people start to open there eyes. I agree with Maximilian – when will politians follow?

Posted by Russian | Report as abusive

Russia is in a good position to call the shots. the “new Russia” has emerged as a stronger power, europe needs its resources and energy, Russia carries a lot of american debt, Russia has lots of oil, gold, diamonds, investors, know how, ect. America is bogged down in Iraq, Afganistan, Iran is on the back burner for America, and russian custom is to sacrifice millions for a national cause. Hmmmmm. Now is a good time for Russian
aggression, however, why? Who would want to manage these former warsaw pact loser countries, and who would to waste energy trying to do so when big profits could be made selling energy to everyone. This new wealth could be invested in Russia, bring russia up to first world status, then these border countries would WANT TO JOIN mother russia again. Much like hitler did in WWII. After that, crush all pockets of resistance as America slips deeper and deeper into chaos. Easy. AND, “mother russia” looks like a loving country with lots of new wealth and just wanting its children to come home. Read a book, “48 laws of power” by robert green.
Happy trails, one and all!

Posted by rls | Report as abusive

Mr. Bob Bennett’s diatribe sounded like a pathetic piece of communist and despot propaganda that we’ve heard before. For much of the latter half of the 20th century, communist and leftist, self-elected leaders around the world used the same anti-West, anti-American rhetoric in order to brainwash the little people into supporting their causes and legitimizing their regimes. How can we forget the millions of deaths caused by Stalins and Mao, the brutality of systematic agression inflicted on former Soviet satellite countries, the material and human cost of proxy wars around the world, the toppling of old world order to be replaced by ruthless communistic systems, on and on? Sadly, the same mentality exists today and in the minds of failed ex-Soviet politicians looking for opportunity to revenge what they somehow thought they’ve been wronged by the West.

The US is not perfect, but it offers the better alternative and a force of good versus the evils of the world as well as those who are too blind to see otherwise. Why would anybody be afraid of the United States? Only those with a lot to lose which they didn’t deserve to gain in the first place. Even China, which at times does not agree with the US, ultimately would make a wise choice in becoming a collaborative partner, rather than being a bully in this day and age.

Posted by Trevor | Report as abusive

If the russians want to play this game,let’s remind them that they have a lot more to loose than the West.Russia is a country where dozens of different cultures and nationalities are still yearning for recognition and ultimately independence from the mujiks.Has anybody heard about Chechenia lately?

Posted by wllmsgnd | Report as abusive

Here is a simple fix. Deport any “Russian”, ethnic or otherwise, that is unwilling to recognize the authority of the government of the nation in which they live. If they don’t like it let them move to Russia! Neither Georgia, Ukraine or Moldavia should allow itself to be put in a position where Russian “citizens” can compromise that nations territorial integrity. There should be no such thing as “breakaway regions”. If these “separatists” are unwilling to renounce Russia and submit to the governing body of that nation then they do not deserve to live in that nation. Russia is intentionally stoking that fire by encouraging its “citizens” to rebel against the governments of those nations who step out of line with Russia. These “Russian citizens” living across eastern Europe need to be forced to make a choice because neither they nor Russia can be allowed to have it both ways.

Posted by Vaughn | Report as abusive

THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION IN THE WORLD TODAY THAT NEEDS TO BE ANSWERED RIGHT NOW. Why does the USA have almost 750 foreign military war bases spread across 140 countries throughout the world??? What are these bases there for??? Why are they there??? Does the US intend to have a military war base in every country in the world??? Is there a US military war base in your country that you don’t know about??? What is their goal??? World domination??? Why are we all sitting back and allowing this to happen??? The next US military war base will probably be in Georgia or Ukraine to stir up more trouble. We all better wake up real fast

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

I think it is finally time to stand up and be counted. for far too long the politicians in the US, and latterly in the UK and right-leaning governments in the EU, have taken it for granted that we in the west will automatically accept their word. This time they conveniently gave their blessing to the aggressor in Georgia, avoiding any mention of his criminal act which started this off. Not only lies are dangerous in this context, what is simply written out of history because it is strategically inconvenient is also, highly dangerous. I would have thought after the debacle of Iraq the US and UK politicians in particular would have realised we can see through their schemes. The times when we blindly accepted what they said because we happen to be within their sphere of influence, are over.

Posted by Allan | Report as abusive

1. Was it the case that Georgian military troops were the one who attacked Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) on August 7th 2008? (by the way it is even admitted by “The Economist” in a very “anti-Russian” article, but this they couldn’t argue [See The Economist August 23-29, 2008 p. 23].

No, it is not. You can see the articles in Komsomol’skaia pravda (a Russian newspaper, http://www.kp.ru) in the week commencing 1 August. One of the articles was entitled “Ossetia ready to attack georgian towns”. In another, Kokoity was very proud of an attack of ossetians over georgians. He was also saying that there are 30 thousand ossetians who are ready for war with Georgia. What you are saying is pure soviet styled lie.

2. Is this true that lots of civilians has been murdered on that day? (August 7th)

Although the newly Soviet propaganda manipulated the figure of 2000 civilians murdered, later it appeared that only 133 corpes were identified. This is less then the civilians killed by Russian army of barbarians and looters in Georgian cities of Gori and Poti. But this figure of 2000 was used as an excuse for the military intervention in Georgia.

I would also remind you of 40 thousand civilians killed in Cechenya, and about the city of Groznyi, which was also heavily attacked by heavy artillery.

3. Is this true that Russian peace-keeping troops (who has the authority from UN) has been attacked and murdered as well?

The Russian troops in Ossetia NEVER had the UN peacekeeping mandate, neither they had a mandate from any other international organisation. Moreover, Georgian Parliament have always seen them as an occupation force, and demanded many times that they should leave its territory. They were NOT peacekeepers nither according to the letter of the law, nor to the spirit of the law, as they were NEVER neutral, and were taking the side of ossetians and arming them. The “peacekeepers” in Georgia were always an occupation force, and what happened in August have only provided a proof for that. They were in fact, “war keepers” – doing everything possible to keep the conflict alive.

By the way, UN peacekeepers are often attacked and killed in many places of the world, and NEVER this was seen as a good enough reason to violate the borders of a souvereign state.

Even if the West is not perfect, it acts from good will and it provides for solutions.

Russia wants to copy the West, but it has no capacity to act as a global policemen. Instead, it acts like a global bully and alchoolic, and provides the whole world with a caricature of what the West has done in Kosovo or in Iraq.

Russia has no other argument except “Do it like they do it on Discovery channel”. :)

Posted by Angela | Report as abusive

4. Is this true that most of the civilian buildings of the town of Tskhinvali were destroyed even before Russian reinforcement has arrived from Russia?

The western reader would have known that, if western media representatives were not restricted from going to the town of Tskhinvali by the Russian Red Army. What are you, Russians, hiding in the town of Tskhinvali? Is it the truth that the city was not destroyed as much as you claimed? Is it another lie, compared to the one about 2000 civilians, which proved to be 133?

5. What would you do (were you a military general) if you need to protect your solders and civilian citizens of your country? Don’t you think that Russian swift reinforcement has prevented even more victims? Georgian forces has just stepped back as it was useless to fight. So actually the long running bloody turmoil has been prevented.

The point is that as a military general you had neither the legal right to be there, nor the authority to protect whoever by invading and loooting another country. There are hundreds of ways to protect your citizens (including the ones living on your own territory) without shooting the innocent civilians, citizens of another country.

As a peacekeeper, you have the mission to enforce a ceasefire, not the mission to protect the side which you think to be “the good guys”. Georgians would have never applied force if the Russians wouldn’t have armed the ossetians and encouraged them to shoot upon georgian villages since early 90s.

It is Russia who started this bloody turmoil – long before the 8th of August.

Posted by Angela | Report as abusive

Hello Angela (aka Kate) changing names in blogs makes me dizzy. I don’t even wannna know your real name.
It’s pretty sad that you have resorted to lies. Hope that you aer not a hired blogger.
Reluctantly I wasted my time to check you claims.

1) I couldn’t find such article in the reference you supplied. None of witnesses have ever doubt that Georgia was shelling Tskhinvali on Aug.7. So, the answer to your first question is, – NO, it’s a lie.

2) 1492 is a number that S.Ossetian officials insist on. 133 is just what the Red Cross have managed to identify. Nevertheless, I think that 133 civilian deaths is enough to justify Russian actions. How about 30,000 refugees? There is not a single confirmed civilian killed by Russian army (btw., your language is inappropriate here). So, civilian casualties S.Ossetia – 133-1492, Georgia – they do not separate civilians from soldiers at bodycount, probably – 0.
Although you lie about 40,000 civilians deaths in Chechnya (that was a number of refugees), but I admit that Gorbachev-Eltsin’s inept moves in Chechnya makes nowadays Russian government’s moral ground a bit shaken.

3) You’re lying again, – Russia does have mandate from UN and among 3 peacekeeping battalions one was from Georgia.

4) No it is not true. There are many witnesses to it (including US citizens).

5) It took two days for Russian army to overpower Georgian forces in Tskhinvali.

And S. Ossetia rebelled, when in 1991 Z.Gamsahurdia (not sure about correct spelling) decided to remove their autonomy by force. Russia did not arm anyone, at the time Russian government had their hands full with crisis and Chechnya.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

Some corrections to Myra McDonald:

“Maskirovka” in Russian means “a disguise” or “a camouflage”, and certainly not a chess term.

Crimea was a Russian territory since 13-th century and just in 1959 Nikita Khrushchev decided to give it to Ukraine in commemoration of 300-th anniversary of Ukraine joining Russian Empire (seeking protection from Poland, btw).

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

Alex,
You just called me a lier – still, I insist that Russia have never had a peacekeeping mandate from the UN, or any other international organisation. (Of course, if we do not consider HAMAS and Hesbolah international peacekeeping organisations). You seem to be pretty sure of the contrary, if so, please check once again the above claim —
3) You’re lying again, – Russia does have mandate from UN and among 3 peacekeeping battalions one was from Georgia.
— and search on the internet for the UN resolution which provided Russia with a peacekeeping mandate in South Ossetia. You will not find it, because it never existed. So, I will repeat my point – THE RUSSIAN PRESENCE IN OSSETIA WAS NOT LEGITIMATE.

The only UN involvement in Georgia was UNOMIG -the observing (not peacekeeping!) mission in Abhazia (not Ossetia!).

You lied about this particular issue like you lied about everything else in your posts here. But, I hope, your lies are less efficient with better informed western audiences, who are able to look for information by themselves, instead of just believing what Russian propagandists tell them. :)

Posted by Angela | Report as abusive

4) No it is not true. There are many witnesses to it (including US citizens).

You mean the interviewed on the FOX channel “US citizens” – a 12 years girl and her aunt? The interview, which was later manipulated by the Russian TV? :)

By the way, the mentioned “US citizen” have earlier lied to the US Immigration, and for this particular reason was even deported from the US in 1996.

Once a lier, always a lier. :)

Posted by Angela | Report as abusive

2) 1492 is a number that S.Ossetian officials insist on. 133 is just what the Red Cross have managed to identify.

133 – that is the number of identified corps.

“S.Ossetian officials” – which are Kremlin puppets, can insist upon whatever number they choose – but unless they have some proof to show – their arguments will be valid only for the Russian biased audience.

I do not think there is “a normative of victims”, to follow by the Russian agressors when they feel like killing and looting. Any number would go.

The point is that the officials manipulated the information about the number of casualities, as they did with all other information. They can not be trusted, and they are not.

Posted by Angela | Report as abusive

“August Syndrome” has bitten westerners from their worries about how Nabucco pipeline project – a pipeline from the Caspian Sea carrying gas through Turkey to the West to avoid the traditional route through Russia and its satellites – would be jeopardized by the independence of Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia. Such Syndrome can be seen in the history – invasion of Iraq – for creating collective security and safeguards from Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Posted by andrey | Report as abusive

there has never been a military dictatorship in turkey. there has been a military coup in 1980 to restore law and order, because in those days on average 200 person a day were getting killed in political infighting in cities, not even countryside. and politicians of the day had been totally inert, some even openly encouraging violence against opposing political ideologies. it was a war in between right wing and left wing, and ordinary citizens were put in danger. army intervened, brought martial law, and ‘accidental’ deaths of innocent, politically unaffiliated citizens in right and left wing extremists strifes happening here and there around the cities IMMEDIATELY ceased that day. in a few months a cabinet was in charge, and in 2 years a new constitution was put to public vote, and then general elections were held in 3 years time. it was NOT a military dictatorship in any respect, regardless of what many right and left wing writers and journalists and ‘intellectuals’ purport today. almost all of those people who rant and rave about 1980 coup were members of right or left wing political factions at that time, and they got apprehended.

Posted by unity100` | Report as abusive