Russia's escalating war on Georgia reveals the consequences of the Bush administration's long assault on the international rule of law.
By Juan Cole | Salon.com, August 14, 2008
The run-up to the current chaos in the Caucasus should look quite familiar: Russia acted unilaterally rather than going through the U.N. Security Council. It used massive force against a small, weak adversary. It called for regime change in a country that had defied Moscow. It championed a separatist movement as a way of asserting dominance in a region it coveted.
Indeed, despite George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's howls of outrage at Russian aggression in Georgia and the disputed province of South Ossetia, the Bush administration set a deep precedent for Moscow's actions -- with its own systematic assault on international law over the past seven years. Now, the administration's condemnations of Russia ring hollow.
Bush said on Monday, responding to reports that Russia might attack the Georgian capital, "It now appears that an effort may be under way to depose [Georgia's] duly elected government. Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century." By Wednesday, with more Russian troops on the move and a negotiated cease-fire quickly unraveling, Bush stepped up the rhetoric, announcing a sizable humanitarian-aid mission to Georgia and dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region.
While U.S. leaders have tended to back Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, there are two sides to every dispute, and in the ethnically diverse Caucasus it may be more like a hundred sides. Abkhazia and Ossetia are claimed by Georgia, but they have their own distinctive languages, cultures and national aspirations. Both fought for independence in the early 1990s, without success, though neither was Georgia able to assert its full sovereignty over them, accepting Russian mediation and peacekeeping troops.
The separatist leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia now speak of Saakashvili in terms reminiscent of the way separatists in Darfur speak of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Sergei Bagapsh of Abkhazia and Eduard Kokoity of South Ossetia have come out against conducting any further talks with Georgia, calling instead for Saakashvili to be tried for war crimes. Kokoity told Interfax, "There can be no talks with the organizers of genocide." The Russian press is full of talk of putting Saakashvili on trial for ordering attacks on Ossetian civilians.