Monday, 11 August 2008

South Ossetian Realities

The west can be extremely hypocritical. We claim the right to intervene (in Bosnia, Kosovo or Sierra Leone for example), or to invade (in Iraq), with or without UN authorisation. We also, correctly, see it is our right to use military force to protect our national economic interests (e.g. our naval presence in the Arabian Gulf). We also arm or give diplomatic backing to allies when they are surrounded by implacable enemies (e.g. Israel).

And yet when Russia is aggrieved that the seductive moves by NATO on its borders may well see it surrounded by pro-western states and a missile shield which renders its own strategic missiles defunct while preserving Western capability – we perceive the Russian stance as aggressive and unreasonable.

We in the west viewed it as our inalienable right to have bombed Russia’s ally (Serbia) over Kosovo, and then recognise the right to national self-determination of the Kosovan Albanians. And yet when Russia acts in South Ossetia to protect the interests of ethnic Russians who clearly do not wish to remain part of Georgia, the west calls this an outrage. When the west is in possession of huge economic power and advantage, and seeks to exploit it in its own interests, this is perceived as acting in legitimate self-interest. When Russia starts reminding its former Soviet satellites that they can’t continue to buy oil and gas at Soviet prices, while seeking to join NATO or put in place US radar stations, the Economist runs a front page with a picture of a menacing Putin, standing in the shadows and an apocalyptic headline along the lines of ‘Should We Fear the Russian Bear’ (I forget the exact phrase, but you get my gist). There wouldn’t be an Economist headline saying, “Evil California Exploits the World Through Dominance of Computing Technology”.

It seems that we in the west just cannot get over our delusion that we are the only true great powers, the sole arbiters of when an intervention or military action is just. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia was so enfeebled that it spent all its energies trying to avoid economic meltdown and so let us perpetuate western hegemony over international morality. But now, things have changed. Whether we like it or not, Russia is a proud, powerful force again, which is not going to dance to a tune penned by the west. The sooner we realise this, the better. It is hard to imagine how the US would act if an enclave of Mexico, populated almost entirely by US passport holders, were being forced to remain part of Mexico. It is unthinkable that the US would tolerate Russia lecturing it on how to resolve issues of national self-determination, within its sphere of influence.

I do not know all the facts of the current crisis. But I do believe that the above sentiments are rarely expressed in the western media. This is because our supposedly unbiased media does in fact perpetuate an anti-Russian viewpoint in many of these cases.

Russia is certainly not as democratic as the west, and it is certainly not blameless in the current crisis. However, we are fools if we think that Russians, of all people, will accept Western hypocrisy.

And for the record, I am not anti-western. I believe that western liberal democracy is the best form of governance known to mankind. I believe in human rights and in defending them wherever possible. I supported the interventions in Iraq, and in Kosovo. I would have supported invading Rwanda to prevent genocide. I would support invading Sudan to prevent genocide there now. I believe in spreading freedom as far around the world as possible. I am also a realist (an idealist one). Regarding Russia, there needs to be a little more realism.

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