2 Sep 2008

Georgia, Russia and Afghanistan

ImageOn holiday I was completely away from the internet, TV and newspapers - however one bit of news that managed to filter through was the shocking war in the Caucasus. It was very hard to get to any sort of truth about what was happening...indeed there seems to have been some serious bias in the news....

Photo: Stop the War demonstration on 20th September

CNN, the BBC and other western media have apparently aired misleading footage of the war between Georgia and Russia, skewing public opinion in favour of the Georgians. For example a Russian cameraman has said that CNN had used his footage of Georgian forces attacking Russian civilians in Tskhinvali, the provincial capital of South Ossetia, but then claimed it showed Russians attacking Georgians in the Georgian town of Gori.

The claim is that the Georgian assault on Tskhinvali, described as an act of genocide and a war crime by Russian officials and other eyewitnesses, led to the slaughter of at least 2,000 civilians. Furthermore that the fact that Georgia, backed by the U.S. and Israel, were responsible for the provocation that led to the Russian response, has been buried by the majority of western corporate media.

Another example of media bias in shielding Georgia from responsibility for the carnage is the fact that news outlets like the BBC continued to report that "thousands of civilians were killed in Georgia", with the obvious inference being that these are victims of the Russian onslaught. But these victims were not killed in Georgia, they were killed in Ossetia - by Georgian forces. While the Ossetians claimed over 1000 dead the BBC neither reported this or any newsreel coming out of Ossetia showing the destruction caused by the Georgian shelling of the breakaway republic.

Were we getting one-sided reports of the destruction being caused by the Russians? I don't know - certainly seven years after the start of the war on terror, occupation continues to bring misery to Iraq and Afghanistan - but it is clear that the consequences of the war are spreading. US policy of expanding NATO eastwards has been an important feature of the conflict between Russia and Georgia, as has the West's desire to control the oil and other natural resources of the region.

Why war?

The Georgians and Ossetians both accuse each other of initiating the conflict: what is clear that rapid escalation took place, and that civilians died and were displaced in significant numbers. See Paul Rogers good analysis here and an interesting analysis of why Georgia is at war here - the latter basically arguing that Georgia was misled into thinking that the US would come to their aid. But perhaps more useful than asking "Who started it?" we should consider some of the factors involved:

1. Breakup of the Soviet Union, which kept the lid on ethnic divisions. Under the Soviets, there was no point in South Ossetia seeking independence, nor union with North Ossetia. Both were provinces of the Soviet empire. The fall of the USSR led quickly to the 1991-2 war that gave S. Ossetia and Abkhazia their de facto independence. So - Separatist ambitions is a factor. Separatist aspiration lies behind one in three of the present conflicts happening in the world in 2008.
2. Oil pipeline: the BTC pipeline goes right through Georgia. Its biggest customer is BP.
3. NATO trying to encircle Russia. Russia trying not to be encircled.
4. As one commentator put it could it be: "Bush sh*tting in the earphones of his successor?" (cf Somalia problem left by Bush sr for Clinton.).

Georgia came into being after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia gained /de facto /independence after the 1991-2 war, although their independence is not formally recognised in the UN. The majority of South Ossetians are ethnically distinct from Georgians and identify with the people of North Ossetia. A referendum in 2006 (turnout 95%) is reported as resulting in 99% endorsement for /de facto/ independence. More than half of South Ossetians are reported to have chosen a Russian passport. Abkhazia is ethnically mixed, with only 28% Georgians.

Tony Benn is right when he said: "The British government continues its uncritical support for George Bush, with foreign minister David Miliband echoing Bush's claim that invading other people's countries is not acceptable in the 21st century. Their hypocrisy is staggering. The war on terror has been a failure and the majority of people in Britain want the British troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Their view is matched by the majority of citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan, where high levels of violence, death, refugees and lack of basic facilities are all part of everyday life for millions. Despite all this, the US is stepping up its threats against Iran. When he came to office, Gordon Brown promised to plan troop withdrawal from Iraq. He has reneged on that promise.”

Clearly once again there is the presence of an oil interest in an area of conflict, which underlines the urgent necessity of breaking our economies from dependence on oil. It is clear that the expansionist policies of NATO are also one of the contributing factors. We should abandon NATO in favour of the OSCE as the key security organisation in Europe. To move forward we also need to reaffirm that the will of the people is the basis of democracy, and if it is clearly the will of the people that they should be independent from their present state, or transfer to a different state, this will should be allowed to be developed in a peaceful and orderly way. The UN should be in the position to address the problem of separatism from a systemic point of view and to draw up a legal and political framework that will enable secessions to be negotiated peacefully.

Afghanistan: the 'war' cannot be won

I also heard about the deaths of ten French soldiers in one battle in Afghanistan - as Stop the War report, despite Geoff Hoon's recent claims that progress is being made all the evidence points to the fact that resistance to the occupation is becoming bolder and more effective. The French soldiers lost their lives in a 36 hour gun battle just 30 miles from the capital Kabul. Most of the south and east of the country - which we were told a few years ago had been 'pacified' - is now officially recognised as being under rebel control.

NATO air strikes are causing so much bitterness at the number of innocent civilians being killed that even Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai - who was installed to be the stooge of the US government - has publicly demanded that the bombing stops. Since then the United Nations has announced that a minimum of 90 people were killed in Friday’s US airstrike in Herat Province. This number includes 60 children, and stands as one of the largest incidents of US-inflicted slaughter of civilians since the 2001 invasion.

The violence created by occupation is making an already dire situation desperate for the Afghan people. Malnutrition is widespread and child mortality rates and life expectancy are lower now than they were before the so called 'liberation' of the country in 2001. Security has deteriorated so badly that aid agencies and NGOs are having to cancel sorely needed relief programmes.

According to Gordon Brown, "We are winning the battle in Afghanistan". In truth, as the Guardian's Seamus Milne wrote: "The war in Afghanistan, which claimed more than 6,500 lives last year, cannot be won. It has brought neither peace, development nor freedom, and has no prospect of doing so… The only real chance for peace in Afghanistan is the withdrawal of foreign forces."

Stop the War are organising a demonstration at the Labour Party conference in Manchester on Saturday 20 September. Meanwhile while we are on the horrors of war a new book by American journalist Ron Suskind has demolished any remaining shred of credibility for the attack on Iraq in 2003. His book proves that both M16 and the CIA knew there were no weapons of mass destruction before the invasion and that both agencies made this clear to the Bush administration. The media in Britain has largely ignored the story, but you can see Suskind discussing his book on the US Daily Show, available online here:


Anonymous said...

This might interest...

SchNEWS in full technicolour:

SchNEWS, Issue 642, Friday 15th August, 2008



Despite the Olympics, you had probably noticed there's another war on,
this time in the mountainous region of the Caucuses, in a previously
little mentioned place called South Ossetia.

Whether or not Georgia's president Mikheil Saakashvili went it alone,
or if he was given a nod and a wink from the crazies in the White
House, we won't know until Dubya writes his memoirs (but don't hold your
breath - he'll have to learn to write first).

The question many people are asking is, of course, "what the fack was
the Georgian president doing taking on Russia in the first place?" Did
he hope that no-one would notice 'cos everyone's watching Bejing?
Or, more likely, was it a calculated move based on a naive view of US /
NATO support?

Saakashvili has been promised NATO membership for some time now, ever
since he hosted Dubya in '05. As a potential member (other former USSR
states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have already joined), he
probably thought he was invincible. It's kind of like Don Corleone saying
he wants to be the godfather of your next son. And with that and a
string of corruption allegations dogging him, he decided to play the
nationalist card. The plan: whip up a bit of righteous fury against the
pro-Russian separatists and then send in the boys to take back South
Ossetia with NATO blessing.

Unfortunately for the Georgian president, it was a calculation that was
way, way out.

You see, the Russia of today is not the Russia of the '90s. Partly due
to some old-fashioned state intervention, but mostly due to its
control of so much of the world's precious oil and gas, Russia is once
again a very big and powerful player in the new great game of world

Russia's military has been growing and growing under the leadership of
Vladimir Putin, but it's not really this that the West is afraid of.
It's the Russian energy weapon that strikes fear into the hearts of
US / EU capitalists. When Ukraine started kissing western backsides a
few years ago, all Russia had to do was turn off the gas (in the
wintertime-brrr!) and wait for an apology. And Russia could easily do the
same to Europe.

As US political economist F William Enghadhl put it, "Saakashvili made
a colossal miscalculation in that he would have the immediate backup
of NATO - but all he has are a few harsh words from a lame duck
president in Washington."

This is why of course the West has been trying so hard to build an
alternative route for Asian gas to reach European consumers. They even
recently built a pipeline - the second largest in the world - to bypass
Russia via, er... Georgia (called the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline -
see SchNEWS 555). That pipelines is now about a 20-minute tank drive
from the Russian army. BP, seeing which way the wind blows, have
pre-emptively shut down their bit of the pipeline. And that's not been
the only problem for the BTC Pipeline. Only last week the Kurdish
separatists, the PKK, bombed it, and there are reports that the Rooskies
have had a go since then. So its back to the drawing board, and it's
back to Russia if you want to boil your spuds.

So one in the eye for NATO and the US of A then. Hurrah. Only the
problem with Caucasus politics is that whichever Empire gains, the people
lose - Russia's brutality in Chechnya is at least as bad as the US's
in Iraq, only colder.

Another way of looking at the carnage in the Caucuses is that it's the
chickens of Kosovo rapidly coming home to roost. In February this
year, Kosovo declared independence, supported by 90% of the population,
following a referendum on the region's future. Bush, in his guise as
hero of democracy, said that the world must respect the will of the
people and recognise Kosovo as the 193rd member of the UN, effectively
partitioning Serbia and further dividing the Balkan states that used
to be known as Yugoslavia. Cool! - the rights of nations,
independence, freedom fries and all that.

Russia, meanwhile, points out that South Ossetia also had a referendum,
in which 90% of South Ossetia voted for union with North Ossetia
(and Russia). If, so the Russian logic goes, Kosovo can leave Serbia,
then South Ossetia (as well as Abzhazia) can leave Georgia.

But this rank hypocrisy of the USA is also equaled by Russia, who
didn't exactly respect the people's wishes when it came to that other
Caucasian republic of Chechnya. After declaring their independence
straight after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has fought two
bloody wars, flattened the capital, Grozny, and exterminated perhaps one
tenth of Chechnya's population, all in a bid to keep it part of

In Central Asia at least, the new shape of the world is now clear. From
post-Cold War / New World Order, it's back to the 19th century and
the era of the Great Game between rival empires - with the inhabitants
stuck between a Russian rock and an American (OK, it used to be
British) hard place.

Currently about 2,000 civilians have been murdered for the crime of
living in a geopolitical fault line, and around 100,000 people have been
displaced. The Russians bombed - then occupied - the Georgian town
of Gori, outside of Ossetia and deep in Georgia proper, barely 20
miles from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. As it so happens, Gori is the
birthplace of a certain Joseph Stalin. He would be proud of what
they've done to his town - bombed the shit out of it for defying Russia.

What's been most illuminating about this war is just how quickly and
how far the US / West / NATO have distanced themselves from the
Georgian president following his disastrous military 'reintegration' of
South Ossetia.

Both America and their every willing allies, Israel, have been deeply
involved in Georgian affairs for many years now. In fact, President
Saakashvili owes his job to the USA, courtesy of the National Endowment
for Democracy.

The NED, part of the US State Department, is the first choice for
pro-American regime change around the world. All of the various 'colour
revolutions' that have brought pro-US regimes to power (Rose Revolution
in Georgia - see SchNEWS 433, Orange in Ukraine, Cedar in Lebanon,
and Saffron in Burma) have the NED's fingerprints all over them. They
sent some thousand US special forces to train the Georgian military.
In fact, the 'Georgia-US Immediate Response Military Exercise 2008'
had ended just one week before the Ossetia invasion. Since the rout of
the Georgian army, those advisors and any hint of US military
involvement have been nowhere to be seen. As the separatist leader of
Abzkhazia put it, Georgian forces had received "American training in
running away.''

The Israelis' response has been just as telling. As soon as events
turned sour, they froze all high tech arms sales to Georgia - fearful of
Russians wrath if they're seen as supporting Georgia. But supporting
Georgia is exactly what they've been doing for years. Not only have
the Israelis provided weapons and training, but over a thousand
advisors - mostly ex-officers freshly retired out of the Israeli Defense
Force - found employment in Georgia's military. The Georgians should
have looked a bit closer. A lot of these officers left the IDF in
disgrace after Israel's own lost war of '06 against Hezbollah. Fresh from
one defeat, they appear to have taught the Georgians how to lose
another war.

This conflict (well, war really) is possibly the most dangerous on the
planet at the moment. If Georgia ever gets to join NATO, the North
Atlantic Treaty states that an attack on one country is an attack on
all NATO members. Were round three of this conflict to kick off with
Georgia as a full NATO member, NATO could be forced by its own logic
into full scale war with Russia - with South Ossetia occupying the
place in history that Sarajevo held in 1914 just before the start of
World War One, only this time round both sides are nuclear armed...

Ruscombe resident said...

Here is Stop the War's take on Afghanistan:

The situation in Afghanistan is reaching breaking point.
Civilian and military casualties have risen sharply over the
last few months. The death of another British soldier this
week brings to 200 the number of foreign soldiers killed in
Afghanistan this year.

The level of NATO bombing is up 40% on last year's levels
and the mainstream press here has had to start reporting on
the innocent dead as a result. Two weeks ago a raid in
western Herat Province left 90 dead. US sources are still
claiming that only Taliban were killed in the village. A
joint UN/Afghan investigation found the dead were civilians.
Local residents were able to confirm the number of
casualties, including their names, age and gender. In the
last few days, other attacks have been reported, including
one bombardment in Helmand that is believed to have led to
the death of 70 people.

The war in Afghanistan risks spreading violence across the
region. On Wednesday 3 September, heavily armed US
commandoes launched a surprise attack on Jala Khel, a
Pakistani town, killing at least 20 people. This was the
first such ground raid on Pakistan by US forces. The
governor of the neighbouring province in Pakistan gave this
response: "This is a direct assault on the sovereignty of
Pakistan and the people of Pakistan expect that the armed
forces ... would rise to defend the sovereignty of the
country and give a befitting reply." SEE

Meanwhile, The Times and The Observer have reported that
Kabul is virtually under siege by various armed groups
opposing the occupation and vital aid work has almost ground
to a halt because of the increased level of violence.

The call for all troops to come out of Afghanistan will be
one of the central demands of the demonstration in
Manchester on 20 September.

Stop the War is rushing out a pamphlet called 'Why we should
get out of Afghanistan', with an introduction by John
Pilger, which will be available in a week's time cost £1. To
place your order, telephone 020 7278 6694.