Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cleaning Up

The cease-fire in the Caucasus appears to be holding. Now we confront the "day after" issues.

One thing I and my fellow pundits lack (we do have an ample supply of hot air!)-- we have no ability to direct large amounts of foreign investment, and right now Georgia is facing a real crisis--the possibility that whatever is left of Western investment, beyond the pipeline, may continue to leave. Contrast that with the $500 million pledged from Russia for reconstruction efforts in Ossetia. On top of that, most American companies doing business in Russia--like GM, Proctor and Gamble, Ford, Microsoft, etc.--are not going to pull up and leave just because of what some pundit writes in the newspaper about the need to "punish" Russia--nor are they going to redirect funds to "help" Georgia.

Most of the proposals I've seen to "help" Georgia don't address economic issues. Of some of the others, an interesting one is the proposal that the U.S. should not wait for the Europeans to join in extending a NATO invitation (and opinion about the desirability of such a step is quite divided across the Atlantic) but designate Georgia a "non-NATO ally." The problem here--Pakistan's designation as such carries no guarantee that the U.S. will intervene to protect Islamabad in the event of a clash with India. And Congress is not going to put its money where its mouth is and push for any sort of Article 5 commitment.

The one about disbanding the G-8 altogether (rather than "expelling" Russia)--to the extent that the G-8 doesn't really effectively tackle issues (remember the plans to help the Greater Middle East, Africa, deal with climate change or respond to the 2006 Lebanon war) I think may have merit, but unlikely to happen.

The London Timeshas an assessment of the cease-fire and reactions. The headline says it all: "war of words." Right now, we aren't seeing much beyond rhetoric and promises of action.

Nicholas Gvosdev:

Hot air is, to be frank, all that Georgia is likely to get. It was criminal irresponsibility to give them to understand that they would have serious Western support in attempting to reincorporate South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

At least these ghastly events may have opened the eyes of Ukrainian nationalists to the dangers of ever taking Western assurances of support at face value.

From an assessment by David Hearst in the Guardian:

'What would happen if the events of South Ossetia were repeated in Ukraine? This is not a fanciful or malicious notion. The flood of proclamations from Moscow and Tbilisi over the last few days all but obscured one small, but significant, announcement from Kiev. In it, Ukraine warned Russia it could bar Russian navy ships from returning to their base in the Crimea because of their deployment to Georgia's coast.

'This revisits the long and bitter dispute Russia had with Ukraine over the division of the Black Sea fleet and the agreement to use Sevastopol which runs out in 2017. The Russians want to renew the base agreement and the government in Kiev does not. At issue here is not just the fate of Russia's Black Sea fleet but the identity of Crimea, a vociferously pro-Russian enclave. But it's not just Crimea. The whole industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine is pulled between a Russian and a Ukrainian identity. Even 15 years on, for a Ukrainian living in Donetsk with relatives in Moscow, the border with Russia is a nonsense. In his mind, it should not be there.

'Putin warned Nato leaders at their last conference that if Ukraine got Nato membership, it would disintegrate as a country. Was he bullying or telling the truth? Probably, a bit of both. If Ukraine became a battleground of competing 19th century nationalisms as Georgia has become, it could easily become a new Yugoslavia. Does Europe or Nato have the troops to police the new boundaries and enclaves of Ukraine that would emerge as a result? Almost definitely not.'

It seems that Hearst takes for granted that neither Europe nor NATO would intervene on the side of the Ukrainian government, were it to send troops in to attempt to repress an attempted secession by the Crimea.

ceasefire? there are still reports of cossacks, chechens and ossetians, all pretty well armed and equipped, still on the move ...
Over at Little Green Footballs, they’re quoting “La Russophobe”, an anonymous troll that unfortunately is published on Pajamas Media, as an authority on Discovery Institute’s Real Russia Project and its website, Russia Blog. Thomas P.M. has permalinked to Russia Blog and has occasionally cited it on his website. Unfortunately, Nicholas Gvosdev and the National Interest are likely to be next on the smear list.

The author of Little Green Footballs, Charles Johnson, strongly dislikes the Discovery Institute, a small Seattle-based think tank, for its position advocating “intelligent design” as an alleged alternative to evolution. Regardless of how one feels about these scientific and culture war issues, they have nothing, zilch, to do with Russia or the Real Russia Project, except that Mr. Mamchur works in the same building as the ID folks and has the name of their think tank on his website. One would search Russia Blog in vain for the slightest mention of intelligent design or its advocates.

For the record, “La Russophobe” has never provided the slightest evidence that they have travelled to Russia or speak Russian. By all evidence, this person or group of persons cannot look up the names of Russian institutions on or other sites. For her, if Yuri Mamchur of Discovery Institute claims to have a degree from the Russian Tax Academy of Law, and this university cannot be found using an ENGLISH language Google search, then Mr. Mamchur’s degree is presumably fake and this institution does not exist. Naturally, La Russophobe did not correct her false post about Mr. Mamchur upon being confronted with the Russian-language website of the Russian Tax Academy of Law, a Moscow institution that has existed for many decades. For La Russophobe, only a mailed diploma and dozens of other pieces of evidence would suffice, but alas, Mr. Mamchur did not care to send documentation to an anonymous troll who did not provide so much as a P.O. box. Would you?

La Russophobe’s pattern, like that of any troll, is to always put the burden of proof on real people using their real names and always ask “have you stopped beating your wife lately” type questions. This was one reason why after two posts on Russia Blog in 2006, “Kim Zigfield” was banned from the forum. Kim Zigfield and her sock puppets were also banned for demanding that the editors of Russia Blog fact check and rebut every single comment made toward her or against her, as well as engaging in schoolyard insults of anyone who disagreed with her. This is akin to demanding that Wretchard or any other blogger who gets hundreds of comments a week read and respond personally to every single one, a physical impossibility for any sane person with a life outside of blogging (even Charles Johnson). At the time that Kim Zigfield was banned, this person also claimed, to the great amusement of Russian readers of Russia Blog from Siberia to St. Petersburg, that she could not find powdered cane sugar in Russia and that it probably still did not exist in the country, along with many other basic consumer staples.

Little Green Footballs “lizardoids” have cited La Russophobe’s claim that the Real Russia Project, the program of Discovery Institute which publishes Russia Blog, is somehow affiliated with Russia Today TV, a Moscow-based, Russian government funded English language news channel that was launched in 2006 to give Russia its own equivalent of Al-Jazeera. Russia Blog has occasionally reposted Russia Today’s videos, but otherwise there is no evidence for this claim, and in fact, there is no affiliation. As for Russia Blog’s connections with David Johnson, a Maryland-based Russophile who maintains a very large email listserv on Russia, like Richard Fernandez, Mr. Johnson simply picks up Russia Blog content when he chooses to do so. There is no affiliation other than the occasional back and forth email, and Mr. Johnson often posts articles harshly critical of Russia and its present leadership. So has Mr. Mamchur, but like Time magazine, Mamchur has decided to give some credit where credit is due for the positive economic changes that have taken place in Russia these past few years.

La Russophobe implies that Russia Blog is part of a Kremlin-backed propaganda effort in the U.S., and Charles Johnson says its articles “read like a press release from the Kremlin”. But who backs La Russophobe? Obviously it is a fulltime job, and not just the hobby of someone living in New York City, a very expensive place to spend hours every day on a hobby.

As for the Real Russia Project, rather than spin conspiracy theories, if people want to know who backs it, why don't they just look at the fellows/advisors page? Obviously the RRP doesn't want to reveal the names of its donors, but there are several prominent Seattle-Tacoma businessmen listed there. Alas, the lizardoids and La Russophobe would rather spin conspiracy theories.
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