27th Sep 2023


The West must stop bullying Russia

  • Georgia currently has the highest average growth rate of military spending in the world. (Photo: KFOR, Helmut Vogl)

I was part of a TFF fact-finding mission to Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhasia in 1993. That the 7 August war would happen was predictable, albeit not the exact time.

One can see this easily if one begins to look at the wider time frame, going back some 20 years.

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Let's have another look at just how successful the West was with the dissolution of the terrible Soviet Union, overseen by the visionary leadership of a man we should still all be deeply grateful to, namely Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.

In 1989, Gorbachev withdraws from Afghanistan and set Sakharov free. There is no reaction in the West. His entire philosophy of change deprives the West of its beloved enemy.

Gorbachev then suggests an entirely new security structure, a 'European House' with the OSCE and the UN as centerpieces. The triumphalist West ignores it.

Gorbachev asks for economic support in the West for his perestroika and glasnost gambits, to create what would have been an open social democratic-inspired society. The G7 decides to ignores it and gambles on Yeltsin, a populist with no similar vision or charisma.

The West, understandably, wants to unite Germany, but this represents a great threat for historical reasons in the eyes of the Russians. Russia is however promised that NATO will not expand.

The Warsaw Pact is dissolved, but despite promises, NATO remains and expands rapidly. Moreover, it maintains its right to pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons.

The Clinton administration begins a huge US military expansion programme in 1992, building bases, positioning advisers and infiltrating ministries with 'advisors' and people from mercenary firms in Eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia, and all around Russia. Russia's protests about its 'near abroad' are ignored.

Serbs are cast in the role of the perennial and sole bad guys during the Yugoslav wars of the 90s - as the Russians of Yugoslavia - expansionist and dangerous vis-à-vis smaller allegedly freedom-loving democratic actors such as Croatia's Franjo Tudjman, Bosnia's Alija Izetbegovic, and Kosovo's Agim Ceku.

NATO's bombing of Serbia and Kosovo violates all international law, takes place without UN Security Council mandate and leaves a thoroughly destroyed country behind. Russian arguments for a negotiated solution are ignored.

And now we are seeing the imposition of Ballistic Missile Defence, BMD, which is not a defensive system at all, but instead allows US territory to be protected against retaliation if the US launches a nuclear attack on another country. Russia thinks it is a bad idea - as bad as a similar system set up by the Russians across the border in Mexico would appear to the Americans.

As a show of respect for democracy, the deal has been made with Poland despite a full 90 percent of the people against BMD being situated on their territory. Russian worries about the system are repeatedly ignored. The system is supposed to protect us against rogue actors such as Tehran, but when Moscow offered to site the BMD on its territory closer to Iran, the US declined the offer, confirming Russia's fears that BMD is in fact aimed at her instead.

Then this year, the US and most EU member states decide that Kosovo shall be an independent state. All substantial Russian arguments for a negotiated compromise and predictions of that secession stimulating secession elsewhere are ignored.

Russia­ is increasingly being seen as the great new threat from whom NATO will protect us, despite the country having military expenditure that is roughly five percent of that of NATO, seven percent of that of the United States, and 13 percent of that of the EU.

US strategy and interests

Where is Georgia in all this?

As early as 1993, while visiting US offices in Tblisi, I was told that this Caucasian state was a centerpiece of US strategy and interests in the region. Georgian officials meanwhile told me that they were just waiting for Georgia to be selected to host the huge oil and gas pipelines, and then it would become a regional power to be reckoned with.

The US has since conducted a series of comprehensive train-and-equip programmes organised by the Pentagon, US Special Forces and US Marines, with Georgia becoming a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace member in 2004. One might also mention in passing that often neglected in any discussion of Georgian defence, is Israel's considerable military support for Georgia and the fact that her defence minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a former Israeli with close links to the country's defence industry.

Despite Georgia's deep poverty, the country's military spending is substantial. In late June, the Georgian government increased the defence ministry's budget of 513 million laris (US$315 million) by 442 million laris ($US260 million), according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Georgia currently has the highest average growth rate of military spending in the world. Some independent experts are worried that the spending is not fully accounted for, while others say that it could undermine the peace processes with the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The military budget of Georgia increased 50 times over the period from 2002 (US$18 million) to 2008 (US$900 million), reaching almost nine percent of Georgia's GDP.

Georgia, a very loyal partner in the US war on terror, is also the third largest occupying force in Iraq, present also in Afghanistan and has been to Kosovo. It would be naive to think that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had not obtained Washington's green light for his attack on South Ossetia.

Consideration of history

This region is as complex as the former Yugoslavia, with as much history of traumas, ethnic quarrels, minorities within minorities, economic and constitutional crises and corruption. The future is bleak for us all if wars similar to those in the Balkans in the 1990s were to break out in the Caucasus once more, dragging in Russia and Europe. Bleak­ that is, unless somebody stops to think instead of merely reacting and justifying their own participation in this sorry game of militarism and power politics.

To diffuse this crisis, there needs first to be at least a little consideration of history. Next, some little empathy with non-US and non-EU actors. There must also be recognition that Western actions are not always innocent in their consequences. We must understand the utter counter-productivity of militarisation and its psycho-political effects.

Additionally, it would be helpful if Western mainstream media would stop re-cycling the Cold War stereotypes of an ever-aggressive Russia and disseminating, Pravda-style, only what Western militarist elites say.

The art of reading and asking good questions should re-enter international journalism and foreign policy reporting, freeing the profession from complicity in any future war in the region - a war that would certainly be much larger than what we have seen thus far.

Above all, we must remember that negotiations are far superior to threats and fear-mongering.

The Russians have now said: This far, but no longer. It would be wise of the West to listen to the warning. It is not in its own best interest to continue bullying and humiliating Russia.

Jan Oberg is Director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research in Lund, Sweden


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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