Archive for March 13th, 2014

by lizard

At Intelligent Discontent, in a post titled Updated facts about the Crimea, the Polish Wolf claims I’m shouting about unrelated issues regarding Ukraine because I’ve lost on two main points:

1) Ukraine will unarguably be better off in the EU

2) Russia’s actions are illegal and unprecedented, going far beyond even what occurred in Kosovo or South Ossetia.

I do admire PW’s ability to cast Russia’s behavior as “unprecedented” and argue Ukraine is better off in the EU. I’m going to try and summarize some of the key points in the exchanges of the last few days.

In an attempt to probe PW’s resolve in depicting Russian aggression as INVASIONS!, I asked him a simple question (more than once before he answered) about the 2008 armed conflict between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia. Who initiated the violence? To answer my own question, I used wikipedia (and not some pinko rag like Counterpunch):

During the night of 7 to 8 August 2008, Georgia launched a large-scale military offensive against South Ossetia, in an attempt to reclaim the territory.[54] Georgia claimed that it was responding to attacks on its peacekeepers and villages in South Ossetia, and that Russia was moving non-peacekeeping units into the country. However an OSCE monitoring group in Tskhinvali did not record outgoing artillery fire from the South Ossetian side in the hours before the start of Georgian bombardment.[10][55] Two British OSCE observers reported hearing only occasional small-arms fire, but no shelling. According to Der Spiegel, NATO officials attested that minor skirmishes had taken place, but nothing that amounted to a provocation.[56] The Georgian attack caused casualties among Russian peacekeepers, who resisted the assault along with Ossetian militia. Georgia successfully captured most of Tskhinvali within hours. Russia reacted by deploying units of the Russian 58th Army and Russian Airborne Troops into South Ossetia one day later, and launched airstrikes against Georgian forces in South Ossetia and military and logistical targets in Georgia proper. Russia claimed these actions were a necessary humanitarian intervention and peace enforcement.

For more reading on this subject, this New York Times article looks at cables released by Wikileaks to better understand how Georgia was able to fool the Bush administration about the nature of the conflict.

Despite the reality of an unprovoked attack launched by American-trained Georgian forces, PW has this to say:

South Ossetia was not a country. It was recognized as part of Georgia, and is still by every nation except Russia and Abkhazia. In ‘attacking’ South Ossetia, Georgia was exercising its sovereign right to defend its territory. It’s no different than Russia ‘invading’ Chechnya, which they claim to have had every right to do. Therefore, what occurred in Georgia was absolutely in invasion. It was not unprovoked, and I never claimed it was, but it was most certainly an invasion, while Georgia’s action were entirely legal.

Moreover, Russia’s response was entirely out of keeping with the provocation – Russia gave Georgia no time to withdraw and entered into no negotiations before initiating hostilities, and acted entirely unilaterally.

To make sure I understood PW, I asked specifically if he thought Georgie was justified in shelling and killing people. This is his response:

Legally, yes. Ethically? I’m not there – I couldn’t tell you if South Ossetian grievances are valid or not. Given that Russia had already undertaken military action against Chechnya using the same arguments, I can tell you with certainty that Russia was not justified in their response.

It’s of course much messier than that. I will again stick with wikipedia:

A European Union investigation concluded that Georgia had started the “unjustified” war, but that this was a “mere culmination of a series of provocations”. It also concluded that Russia did have the right to intervene in cases of attacks against Russian peacekeepers, but that the further Russian advance into “Georgia proper” had been disproportionate. The commission found that all parties involved in the conflict had violated international law.

The reason I pushed this point is because it shows, from my perspective, the pretzel logic of a western apologist trying to justify one form of state violence as legally justifiable (Georgia’s) while casting the response as disproportionate and illegal (Russia’s). In order to depict Russia’s response as a disproportionate invasion, the historical provocations leading up to this point must be ignored. More on that at the end of this post.

Going back to the first point, PW bases his assertion that Ukraine will be “unarguably better in the EU” on the fact that the top 6 recipients of loans from western financial institutions, like the World Bank and the IMF, have seen improvements according to the Human Development Index (wikipedia).

After a tedious back and forth on this particular (where I suggest he read Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine), PW says this:

I’m not in the business of defending every action the World Bank takes. And I’ve read part of the shock doctrine, I believe – is there a section on Bolivian water rights? My point is that if these flaws were systemic and intentional, one would expect them to have some statistically noticeable effect on the quality of life in the countries who have taken the largest loans from the World Bank…But leaders, even those who profess hatred of the neo-liberal system, continue to ask for loans (think Kirchner). Why? Because they know that restrictive loans still lead to a better living standard, and thus more votes, than no loans at all.

An accompanying sentiment to this statement is this little bit from a response PW makes to JC:

Yes, every country looks out for its own citizens first, and so every country ought to try to maximize its HDI.

I’m assuming by “every country” PW doesn’t mean countries like Libya, Syria, Ukraine or even Russia.

In response, I try to summarize my biased perception on global events with this:

loans create debt and debt becomes leverage to coerce structural adjustment, or austerity. that’s not a flaw, it’s a feature.

of course there is economic development happening, and money going into poor countries has clearly led to some improvements in the measures you’re so fond of citing.

but where you see altruism, I see control. and where you say every country looks out for its own citizens first I say it’s a geopolitical chess game played by global elites and “citizens” are expendable.

If you’ve made it this far in the post, I hope it wasn’t as tedious to read as it was to write. Beyond the quibbling, PW and myself have conflicting world views, and that’s ok.

We should probably both be thankful that we are privileged enough to be able to articulate opposing viewpoints in a country trying to keep up the charade of being that shining city built on rocks stronger than oceans.

We should also be thankful the conflicts beyond our screens and keyboards, largely financed by our tax-dollars and with varying degrees of body-counts, don’t directly threaten our lives and our families.

If only that were true.

Speaking of truth, it can sometimes come from unlikely sources, like Pat Buchanan. After a comment quoting Buchanan, I poked around and found a pretty good take on the situation we’re in with Russia. It was written in 1998, and I’ll quote it in full below the fold. Continue Reading »

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