I’ve recently become a regular contributor to the blog Publius Pundit. Publius reports on democracy and human rights around the world from a bipartisan perspective. You can read my first contribution “Zubr and the ‘Denim Revolution’”.
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By Sean — 4 years ago
By William Risch @williamrisch
The Russian occupation of Crimea over the weekend has alarmed President Barack Obama, the UN, NATO, the EU, and, last but not least, the people of Ukraine. A week ago, it looked like the Euromaidan protest movement , which began in late November over President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an Association Agreement with the EU, and grew into a mass movement against Yanukovych’s authoritarian rule, had won. After an agreement with the political opposition on February 21, Yanukovych and his entourage fled Kyiv. The next day, Ukraine’s parliament, the Supreme Rada, overthrew Yanukovych. Most importantly, Ukraine had avoided civil war, despite significant differences over things like historical memory , relations with Russia, and attitudes toward the Euromaidan protest movement in Western and Eastern Ukraine. Pro-Yanukovych elites in Eastern Ukraine pledged their loyalty to Kyiv and accused Yanukovych of betraying them.
Then came Crimea.
On February 27, unknown armed men seized Crimea’s parliament in Simferopol. Then Russian military forces, some stationed in Crimea, took over or surrounded Ukrainian military installations. They claimed to be protecting Crimea’s citizens, of whom about 60 percent are ethnic Russian. Speaker of Russia’s Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, claimed that Russians had been killed there. Yet on March 2, the speaker of Crimea’s parliament said he knew nothing about it.
Ukraine, rather than facing civil war, is threatened with partition by Russia.
Take Kharkiv, an eastern industrial city. Hired thugs, some from Russian cities like Voronezh and Belgorod, came to a meeting of “patriotic Kharkivians,” stormed the governor’s office, dragged out about 30 Euromaidan activists inside, and beat them up and humiliated them on Freedom Square. They hoisted Russian flags from the governor’s office. Russians from outside Ukraine were involved. Over the weekend, Euromaidan activist Vitaly Umanets discovered an invitation from “Ukrainian Civil Self-Defense” to residents of Belgorod and Rostov-on-the-Don, Russian cities bordering Ukraine, to take part in organized resistance in Donetsk and Kharkiv while posing as ordinary tourists at the border.
Many in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea distrust the new regime. Yet this weekend’s acts of violence in Kharkiv and Donetsk, or fake stories about such acts in Crimea, are reminiscent of fictitious and semi-fictitious accounts of violence against ethnic Germans that Nazi Germany used to justify annexation of the Sudetenland and the conquest of Czechoslovakia and Poland. Russia’s Federation Council on March 1 had approved use of force in Ukraine “for the normalization of the political situation in this country.” With the Russian media since late November portraying Euromaidan protestors as extreme nationalists and hirelings of the West, Putin most likely is using Russian forces, and provocateurs from across the border, to take not just Crimea, but also Eastern Ukraine, and maybe even install a more loyal regime in Kyiv.Post Views: 95
By Sean — 9 years ago
As we all well know, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev did the deed and recognized the independence South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A chorus of condemnation, disappointment, and warning immediately followed.
US Secretary Rice: “I want to be very clear, since the United States is a permanent member of the [UN] Security Council, this simply will be dead on arrival.”
US President Bush: “This decision is inconsistent with numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions that Russia has voted for in the past, and is also inconsistent with the French-brokered six-point ceasefire agreement which President Medvedev signed. Russia’s action only exacerbates tensions and complicates diplomatic negotiations.”
German PM Angela Merkel: “This contradicts the basic principles of territorial integrity and is therefore absolutely unacceptable.”
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili: “This is a test for the entire world and a test for our collective solidarity . . . Today the fate of Europe and the free world is unfortunately being played out in my small country.”
British Foreign Minister David Miliband: “Russia must not learn the wrong lessons from the Georgia crisis. There can be no going back on fundamental principles of territorial integrity, democratic governance and international law.”
It’s open season on Russia as verbal pellets rain on Medvedev’s head. Dima’s response? Bring it on baby.
“Nothing frightens us,” he said in an interview on Russian television. “Including the prospect of a cold war, but we do not want this, and in this situation all depends on the position of our partners”.
Dima talked tough. He held his ground. He threw the ball back in the West’s court and said, “Do something about it.” Nothing is going to sway him. Not a slipping stock market, not investment flight, not a tarnished international image.
But talking tough was only part of the game. Medvedev seemed to be everywhere today in a press junket blitz. An interview with BBC, an editorial in the Financial Times, a talk with Al-Jazeera, with CNN, Russia Today, and France’s TFI Television. I’m wondering if he’ll make it on Oprah or the View. “Hey world! Meet Dimitry Anatolevich Medvedev the President of Russia! Here’s a memo for you. We’re going to do what we want and you can’t do a damn thing about it.” Funny, no one seems to be calling him a “liberal” now.
The crux of Medvedev’s response focuses on quite predictable points: Russia’s duty to protect its citizens, saving Ossetian victims, Western hypocrisy and their flippant disregard for Russia, and, of course, the K-word: Kosovo, Kosovo, Kosovo. Russians said Kosovo was a precedent and everyone dismissed it. Well, here’s what Dima says now:
Ignoring Russia’s warnings, western countries rushed to recognise Kosovo’s illegal declaration of independence from Serbia. We argued consistently that it would be impossible, after that, to tell the Abkhazians and Ossetians (and dozens of other groups around the world) that what was good for the Kosovo Albanians was not good for them. In international relations, you cannot have one rule for some and another rule for others.
Now others are asking: Is Abkhazia and Ossetia like Kosovo or not? Well, there is no doubt in my mind that the situations will be compared, laws will be examined, victims will be counted, treaties, resolutions, and agreements will be consulted. All the diplomats and politicians will posture in the front of the cameras, using all the predictable code words and phrases. The bones of the dead will be exhumed to construct just the right historical parallel. A pillory of pundits, editorials, and “experts” will swoon at questions that make them and their views relevant. Ah, international crisis, it’s just so good for business.
But there is something missing in all of this. There is a silence or should we call it a deafness pervading all the chatter and pontificating. Do you hear it? Can you feel its vibrations amid the declarations and denials of recognition?
What is this sound? It’s the voice of the Abkhaz and Ossetian.
Well, I sure as hell can’t hear it. It seems that amid the geopolitical spit swapping and tit for tat maneuvers, few have bothered to ask the lowly Abkhaz and Ossetian how they feel about being catapulted into the club of nations. Most articles detail the reactions from the the US, Europe, Georgia and Russia.
Sure, sure the Abkhaz and Ossetians don’t have official recognition by laws they didn’t write or politicans they didn’t elect, but still there must be something said for the act of creation that “recognition” brings. After all, three weeks ago Abkhazia and South Ossetia only mattered to those who gave a rat’s ass. Now all eyes are transfixed. They’re suddenly that little corner of the real life Risk board where, in the words of Mikheil Saakashvili in FT, Moscow is unfolding a plan “prepared over years” to “rebuild its empire, seize greater control of Europe’s energy supplies and punish those who believed democracy could flourish on its borders. Europe has reason to worry.” Little South Ossetia and Abkhazia are the pen from which Russia “redraw[ing] the map of Europe.” Who knew that the utterance of “recognition” could spark such discursive fury.
Saakashvili’s editorial is interesting on another level. It is a veritable denial of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s actual existence. His words are an act of discursive erasure. This is already clear in his statement “This war was never about South Ossetia or Georgia.” He goes farther than this. “Over the past five years [Russia] cynically laid the groundwork for this pretense,” he writes, “by illegally distributing passports in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, “manufacturing” Russian citizens to protect” [Emphasis mine]. The Ossetians are essential phantasmagorias concocted in some Moscow OVIR office.
Real people? Nah . . . unless . . . Unless they are positioned as perpetrators. But even here, the Ossetians silence in favor of the Russians. Saak writes,
Since Russia’s invasion, its forces have been “cleansing” Georgian villages in both regions – including outside the conflict zone – using arson, rape and execution. Human rights groups have documented these actions.
But Mikheil, it was the Ossetian militias extracting some revenge that did these acts. Why deny them the little agency anyone is willing to afford them?
It is only through the agency of violence, retribution, and revenge that the Ossetian is now able to speak. Even from the Russian side the Ossetians are relegated to a passive position of “victims.” The Ossetian as the figure of the perpetrator or victim is his only existence. The Abkhaz too only speak the language of perpetrator. Saakashvili tells us,
Moscow also counts on historical amnesia. It hopes the west will forget ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia drove out more than three-quarters of the local population – ethnic Georgians, Greeks, Jews and others – leaving the minority Abkhaz in control. Russia also wants us to forget that South Ossetia was run not by its residents (almost half were Georgian before this month’s ethnic cleansing) but by Russian officials. When the war started, South Ossetia’s de facto prime minister, defence minister and security minister were ethnic Russians with no ties to the region.
This paragraph is quite revealing. The Abkhaz exist only as ethnic cleansers and the Ossetians, well they don’t even govern themselves. Their cause is merely a plot by “ethnic Russians with no ties to the region.”
Surely the Ossetian and Abkhaz reaction amounts to something? After all, they are fighting and dying, right?
As much as Saakashvili and others try to argue that Russia has “manufactured” the Ossetians or that this crisis is all part of Russia’s larger designs, someone must account for the fact that the Ossetians and Abkhazians are celebrating. Sure the laws, politicos, nations, and others needed for “legitimate” independence are silent, but there is something to be said the act of creation recognition brings.Post Views: 69
By Sean — 9 years ago
The Western media is finally discovering the Ossetians. The Washington Post details the destruction of Tskhinvali. The Post‘s Peter Finn writes,
The scale of the destruction is undeniable; some streets summon iconic images of Stalingrad during World War II or Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, which was leveled in two wars between Russian and Chechen separatists.
The Financial Times also gives voice to the anger Ossetian refugees feel toward Saakashvili. My favorite quote in the article comes from an Ossetian woman’s take on the assault on Tskhinvali. “They must have been Nato troops,” she told the Times. “The Georgians don’t know how to shoot.”
The quote by this woman raises another interesting aspect to the coverage of the war. The vast majority of quotes from “average people” are from women. It all makes me wonder if the prevalence of women’s voices is because they are the majority of refugees (all the men have gone to fight), are more apt to talk to reporters, or women have more truth value as victims. Perhaps it’s a strange combination of all three.
The Independent‘s Shaun Walker looks at how the ethnic tensions in the Caucuses are the result of Stalin’s footprint in the region. “Borders between the different entities of the union were changed at will, often with the express intention of fomenting ethnic unrest,” he writes. Actually, he’s wrong. Borders weren’t changed at will nor were they drawn to foment ethnic unrest. The “divide and rule” thesis doesn’t apply anymore in light of archival evidence. Soviet border drawing was a complex process that implemented all the knowledges of modernity: census taking, ethnographic surveys, map making, as well as central and local administrative and political concerns. As Francine Hirsch writes in regard to border drawing in Central Asia in her masterful Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union,
The archival record suggests that the Soviet approach to Central Asia was consistent with its approach to the Belorussian and Ukrainian republics. In all of these cases, Soviet administrators and experts evaluated ethnographic, economic, and administrative criteria, while giving priority to larger all-union concerns. The archival record further suggests that the classic argument about the delimitation, which asserts that Soviet leaders set out to subordinate Central Asia by drawing borders in a way that would intentionally sow discord, misses the mark.
Adrienne Edgar finds a similar process in the formation of Turkmenistan in her Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan. Given the consistency in the making of Soviet national republics, one can assume that the process in Transcaucasia was no different. I suggest that Walker familiarize himself with this literature before making reductive assertions about the relationship between Soviet border making and ethnic identities and conflict. More often than not these conflicts tend to be more localized and contingent rather than an outgrowth of some grand scheme from the center.
Ossetian and Abkhazian self-determination is finally creeping into the agenda. The Russians have been emphasizing the breakaway regions right to decide their own fate for years (though they at the same time denied the Chechens theirs). Now the Organization for Security and Cooperation Europe has come on board to the idea. Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, the OSCE’s secretary general, told reporters that “The fate of South Ossetia must be decided by the people of South Ossetia. They live in very difficult conditions and the context of what has happened is quite complex.”
The only problem is that the Ossetians already have. Twice. The first was in 1992 where the vote was 99% in favor of independence. The second was in November 2006. Again 99% of voters said “yes!” to the question: “Should South Ossetia preserve its present status of a de facto independent state?” Both votes, however, were dismissed as fixed by Russian interlopers and subsequently ignored. Maybe they should have the referendum again. What will be said is the outcome is the same?
Father Vissarion, the head of the Orthodox Church in Abkhazia succinctly defined Abkhazian sepratism to Reuters, “What does separatism mean anyway? It means you want to separate. And who do we want to separate from? From murderers.” “If a man beats his wife,” he continued, “a court will allow her to leave him. People say we are Abkhazian separatists, but this means what? Are we supposed to be Georgians? We have nothing in common with them.”
Russian President Medvedev announced that the Russian military will pull out its forces from Georgia beginning Monday, though there is no indication that they will leave South Ossetia. This will happen only after “the situation in the region stabilizes,” a Russian Defensive Ministry spokesman told Interfax.
Georgia has its own refugee problems. There is an estimated 100,000 displaced people from both Ossetia and Georgia. A lot has been said of the Ossetians. As for the Georgians, it’s clear that the Saakashvili’s government wasn’t even prepared. “This is a very hard situation for which we were absolutely unprepared,” said Besik Tserediani, a deputy in the Georgia’s Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation. “There’s a huge amount of people coming in, and it’s impossible to deal with it.”
The sentiment among Georgians is that the Americans and Europeans were supposed to help them. Now help, in the form of humanitarian aid, is coming after the fact. The Moscow Times reports that humanitarian aid is pouring into Georgia. The International Committee of the Red Cross is demanding safe access to South Ossetian but the Russians have provided no guarantees. As a result “South Ossetia is generally off limits for humanitarian workers at this stage,” says European Union spokesman John Clancy.
Here is Al-Jazeera‘s take on aid to Ossetia:
The Americans have pledged aid to Georgia and Georgia only. Two military aircraft landed in Tbilisi on Wednesday bringing $1.28 million in emergency supplies. These cargo lifts, of course, concern the Russians.
The Russians are engaging in their own partisan humanitarian work. One of Medvedev’s first acts was to order humanitarian aid to South Ossetia. There is no doubt that this has helped getting doctors, nurses and other medical aid there.
With the Americans aiding their proxies in Tbilisi and the Russians aiding theirs in Ossetia, it sadly looks like the new front in the war will take place on the humanitarian front.Post Views: 49