Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why Did Georgia Attempt to Reassert Control over South Ossetia When it Did?

Georgia and the Caucuses are a bit out of my expertise, though less so than many of the people talking about what America should do.  But since the moment Georgia tried to reassert control over South Ossetia I've been wondering why the decision was taken to launch the operation when it did.  Yes, I know there had been provocations on the border in recent months, and much has been made of the strong support hawks in the White House have shown Georgia, but this does not strike me as sufficient.  A country of Georgia's size does not take on like Russia lightly, unless its leaders are mad, which Saakashvili for all his faults does not seem to be, or the Georgian leadership had reason to believe Russia was not going to react.  Given that Russia has been ascendent on the world stage in the past few years the latter seems improbable, but what if Georgia was suckered into making its move by false security information.  That would not have been difficult to do given that there are doubtless plenty of "friendly" contacts between Russian and Georgia security agencies, through which duplicitous information that Russia was ready to let Georgia regain control of South Ossetia could be passed.

This is pure speculation, but even if I'm wrong about Saakashvili basing his decision on bad intelligence, supporters of a more aggressive push for expanding NATO further east now had better remember that the so-called Siloviki (those involved in the former Soviet security and military services) have not all broken ties with Moscow.  That means incorporating countries like Ukraine and Georgia in NATO could be the biggest boon for Russian intelligence services since Aldrich Aimes and the Walkers.  Is that really what former Cold War hawks want?  Nice as it is to be seen supporting democracy in Georgia and Ukraine, let's think intelligently about the costs.  After all one of the great successes of America's cold war policies in Europe, as opposed to elsewhere, was the cold-hearted awareness of what America could and could not do to support people opposed to Soviet domination.

For those interested in learning more about the conflict in Georgia and its broader implications, I recommend checking the archives at Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo for the period Auguest 10, 2008 -- August 16, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Irony of the US-Polish Missile Defense Agreement

For years the Bush administration rigorously maintained that the plan for a U.S. defense shield base in Poland should not concern Russia, because the base was not intended to threaten Russian missiles, but was to counteract a possible missile launch by Iran.  Poles were sufficiently divided on the US plan that negotiations dragged on and on, despite the fact that Poles are generally deeply pro-American.  Polish opponents of the plan pointed to two key points: first,  the desire not to antagonize Russia unduly; and second, the fact that Poles bear no grudge against Iran.   Then came the crisis in the Caucuses, two weeks ago and within days the Polish premier Donald Trusk finalized the missile defense agreement with the U.S. much to the delight of the Bush administration.  That agreement only reinforced the view that the missile defense system is in fact seen as a way to challenge Russia, and the rhetoric about Iran merely a fig-leaf, not that such a gap between rhetoric and behavior is anything new for the Bush administration.

First Thoughts

Welcome!  The title of this blog comes from Neville Chamberlain's description of the Sudentenland and Czechoslovakia as a far away land of which we know little, and it is my hope that visitors will leave knowing a bit more than they do about Central and Eastern Europe and the issues that affect those countries and those regions.  I am particularly knowledgeable about Poland and Ukraine, as well as the complex relations countries in the region have with the two dominant powers in the region -- Germany in the west and Russia in the east.