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August 08, 2008


Robert Karol

No offense, but I really don't understand why, after all your griping re: China, you are so happy for Russia's false resurgence. They seem to embody everything you rail against: corruption, lax morals, overconsumption leading to a cultural collapse. They're as much a pink police state (to use your term) as China. The only difference is, China seems to be moving somewhat towards freedom, whereas Russia moves further and further away from it.

And now Russia seeks to extend its territory...for what purpose? The strong man you claim has held Russia together has been unable or unwilling to actually arrest the decay at the center of his state. So when Russia collapses again, this new expansionism will only assure that it will take a larger chunk of the world with it.

James Poulos

One thing at a time. I don't think I've conveyed happiness about Russia's willingness to fight to keep SOssetia free of Georgian troops. I have conveyed satisfaction that nobody step in to stake sides in this fight.

But you're right, of course, that Russia is on the pink police state program just like China, although their versions of it differ significantly. And the contours of those differences are cultural. China is moving quickly enough toward certain personal freedoms, but not political ones; it's not clear to me that this marks a great contrast with Russia.

But I'm not worried about China collapsing. I'm worried, as you suggest, about Russia collapsing. And I view this as something that would rank as one of the world's great catastrophes. So I'm eager to seek out ways in which the West can avoid courses of action that might damage Russia as it works to restore itself. This is especially important because I am persuaded that if we make an enemy of Russia, our foreign policy -- any US foreign policy worthy of the name -- will fail. China doesn't present such a problem. There is effectively zero risk of a "new cold war" with Beijing.

The Reticulator

Why would you call Putin a fool, either to annex outright or to treat Georgia as some appendage under heavy Moscow control? What's the downside to him? He's gaining valuable information about how far he can push before anybody will say NO. So far he doesn't know his limits, but he now has a pretty good idea that that he can have Georgia without any dire consequences.

Robert Karol

Sorry, I didn't mean to say you wanted war. It's just, once war starts, things tend to spiral out of control. And I'm not sure if we can count on other countries to remain uninvolved.

And what's interesting is how much the US is involved in the area thanks to Iraq. Georgia is/was helping us out there. It's going to be very hard to turn them down on intervention after they helped us with our little attempt at empire. And don't forget that, while Russia and Georgia are duking it out and taking the spotlight, Turkey right below them has their own little issue with...Iraqi Kurdistan.

People forget that, when you have an empire, no matter how small or humble, you end up getting dragged into a lot of problems you wouldn't have if you stayed at home.

James Poulos

Reticulator: because if Putin allows Georgia to come out of this alive, he will be understood to have given the West a good-faith way of saving face -- and to have invested Russian credibility in what Russia keeps saying it wants: a stable international system of sovereign states. It's in Russia's interest to make the lines of sovereignty as thick and bright as possible, and Georgia has only ever represented a serious threat to Russia's interests insofar as Russia has been deathly afraid of a breakaway epidemic in the south. Not entirely an unjustified fear, indeed, and Russia has proven quite willing to stake its whole reputation as a modern fighting force and near-great power on the suppression of breakaway movements. Chechnya was one definitive milestone on the road toward a full sense of Russian internal safety. This is another. For Putin to push that into an outcome justifiable only by preferences over external affairs would be for him to overreach and be underrewarded.

Daniel Larison

Thanks for keeping track of all these developments, James. I agree that Russia's best interests lie in reaffirming state sovereignty, both as a way to defend its own territorial integrity and guard against interventions against its satellites. It would surprise me if the Russians made a bid to conquer Georgia. I think they and everyone else understands that the world will not care if Russia reinforces its presence in South Ossetia, but will care very much if the Russians start shelling/occupying the Georgian capital. If the Russians are smart, they will not go the route Israel took with Lebanon and will limit their response to within the separatist regions.

The Reticulator

Why would you believe Putin when he says he wants stable borders and clear lines of sovereignty? All his actions say he wants his empire back? He may say he want clear lines of sovereignty in order to justify holding on to what he already has, but it's obvious he wants more.

When you get your next Mosfilm movie from Netflix, note that it says it's not for distribution in the former USSR. I suppose Mosfilm can restrict distribution any way it wants, but somebody still has an empire mentality when Georgia and the Ukraine are listed not by name, but as part of the former USSR.

I suppose you could say Mosfilm is laying down clear lines of sovereignty.

(I blog about Russian movies at kino.reticulator.com . Nothing profound, though. I just like Russian movies.)

Alexander Sedov

Hello from Russia!

Perhaps, you are interesting what Russian think about the War in South Ossetia. I don't pretend that my view is "main stream" in lot of opinions, but it's quite temperate wiew on the conflict as I see it from Russia.

Here is the link:


Here is the fragment of the text:

The all-out reactive bombing of Tskhinvalli (capital of South Ossetia) at night before the Beijing Olympics is very revealing example of new World order after Yugoslavia. The small Caucasus empire has relied on the global empire (USA), but another big empire (a.k.a. Russia) has decided to defend South Ossetia. Alas, Russia had too many reasons to do it, including the official agreements of peacemaking, the family ties between South and North Ossetia, and Russian citizenship of majority of the South-Ossetians. Finally, in this situation the demonstration of own weakness could be the extremely negative factor for Russia in Caucasus (and in the World too). Even worse than a local war conflict. Imagine, what would the North-Ossetians say if Russian government doesn’t suppress Georgian war attacks against civils in South Ossetia?

Read more:


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