Freedom under threat in Georgia & The politics of Russia’s invasion

Let’s be clear about it: what the Russians have been doing in Georgia is perhaps the greatest threat to Freedom since the end of the cold war.  Indeed it could mark the resumption of the Cold War.  A large, powerful and undemocratic country has invaded a small and democratic neighbour, without even the flimsy excuse of a UN Resolution.
 
Ironically, it is forty years almost to the day since the Soviet tanks rolled into (then) Czechoslovakia to quell the “Prague Spring”, in another great assault on Freedom and Democracy.  We had thought that that sort of behaviour was consigned to history.  It is not.  And their excuse, of protecting Russian nationals in Georgia, has sinister echoes of Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.  Chamberlain described Czechoslovakia as “a far-away country of which we know little”, which would also be a fair description of Georgia today.  But we found in 1939 that the invasion of a little-known and distant country can have far-reaching consequences.
 
Where does Russia stop?  It could use exactly the same excuse in a host of countries with Russian minorities.  In the Baltics (there has been trouble in Tallinn, Estonia over the re-location of a Russian war memorial), in Poland, in Ukraine.  Especially Ukraine.  And their lies and duplicity are breathtaking.  They sign a cease-fire that requires them to withdraw.  But they don’t withdraw.  They say they will leave, but they keep digging in.  And in any case, Sarkozy’s peace treaty effectively allows Russia to stay in South Ossetia and Abkhazia indefinitely, with “Peace-Keepers”.
 
So what’s to be done?  All my instincts are that we should do everything we can to come to the aid of Georgia (which, with some justification, feels badly let down by the West).  But let’s be realistic.  We can’t actually issue a military ultimatum to Russia.  First, because the electors in Britain — and in Europe and in the USA — don’t have the stomach for another war.  Second, because with the US and the British military stretched tight as a drum in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can’t credibly back up any threat (a point that will not have escaped the Kremlin).  And third, because in strategic and logistical terms, the West would start out at a huge disadvantage to Russia in any conflict in Georgia.  Geography forbids.
 
What we should certainly do at least is to withdraw cooperation from Russia in international forums.  They should be excluded from the G8 and the WTO.  We should ask the IOC to reconsider the 2014 Winter Olympics currently scheduled for Sochi in Russia, and if the IOC will not do so, the West should boycott the games.  We should set down some very clear red lines with regard to other countries, both within the EU (Baltics, Poland) and outside (Ukraine).
 
And one other thing.  I have been banging on for some time about energy security, and the need to reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels.  This is a wake-up call.  We should redouble our efforts, especially on coal and nuclear generation.
 
The politics of Russia’s invasion
 
Georgia was (and remains) keen to join NATO.  Arguably it was the reluctance of some EU countries to press ahead with Georgia’s NATO membership that emboldened the Russians to invade.  Fearing to offend the Russian bear, we simply made him aware of our weakness and his strength.  And the response of the West to the invasion was strangely muted.  Uncharacteristically, US President George Bush initially gave a half-hearted response, taking several days to say the right things.  Barack Obama, sunning himself in Hawaii, was even more dilatory.  Only John McCain, to his credit, grasped the magnitude of the problem and responded commensurately.  McCain’s strong suit is foreign affairs, and this crisis will help his campaign.
 
Nicolas Sarkozy as President-in-Office of the EU rushed in and sought to broker a cease-fire.  But as John Bolton pointed out in a Telegraph article, the EU all too often sees itself merely as a mediator, and not as an advocate for a small democratic country unjustly invaded by a big neighbour.  And his deal was deeply flawed.  It was not clear whether the promised Russian withdrawal included withdrawal from South Ossetia and Abkhazia (indeed it was clear to the Russians that it did not).  They seem to be claiming a right to remain in an indefinite “Security Zone” beyond those two regions within Georgia, and to keep Russian “Peacekeepers” (read “armed forces”) in Georgia as long as they like.  Perhaps the biggest flaw in the cease-fire is that Russia doesn’t seem to be observing the terms of the withdrawal, and there is no mechanism to make them do so.
 
Worst of all has been the supine response of our incredible disappearing Prime Minister, and his arch-enemy the Foreign Secretary.  Battened down in his polyester jacket somewhere on the Suffolk coast, Brown has had little or nothing to say.  Unlike  McCain, foreign policy is not Brown’s strong suit, but surely he might have said something?  We seem to have a government which has lost interest in governing.
 
Contrast that with the sure-footed response of David Cameron, who went to Tbilisi and met with the Georgian President and Prime Minister, and assured them of our support.  Exactly the right response.  We seem to have the Leader of the Opposition more and more fulfilling the role of Prime Minster, and speaking for Britain, while our real Prime Minister fades into the middle distance.  Well done Dave.

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11 Responses to Freedom under threat in Georgia & The politics of Russia’s invasion

  1. Ryan Lavelle says:

    Mr Helmer

    Once again you are dead wrong. What is wrong with you people that you cannot understand how NATO expansion, and now threats to rip up the nuclear strategic balance of power is a threat to world peace.

    Russia has stated repeatedly over the last few years that they do not want this confrontation – it is NATO that is the aggressor here, not Russia.

    This is not 1939, this is 2008. The world has weapons not dreamed about in those days. If we continue with this geopolitical idiocy, we will get death and destruction on a scale unheard of in human history.

    You people belong in a mental asylum, not representing us politically.

  2. Malcolm Edward says:

    I agree with all of Roger Helmer’s article and especially the threat posed by Russia under its current type of leadership. Clearly Russia had been building up for this invasion into Georgia for some time – regardless of whether Georgia initially reacted wisely to the Russian threat.

    Georgia, as every other state, has the right decide on which alliances it wishes to make, and if it chooses to join NATO and is accepted, that is clearly not aggression. NATO is a voluntary defensive pact amongst democratic nations, who retain their sovereignty and are also free to leave NATO. (Ie. the antithesis of both Russia and the post-Lisbon EU).

    This has also afforded a demonstraton of the inconsequential depths that Gordon Brown has sunk to under the yoke of his EU masters.
    To me, David Cameron’s sure footed visit to Georgia and his statements to date are a very good sign of the Prime Minister to be.

  3. Ryan, As always I am overcome by your courtesy and your balanced views. This all provoked by NATO? But didn’t NATO decline to offer membership to Georgia? Didn’t the Russians sucker Sakashvilli into his action, and didn’t they have tanks rolling and journalists in Georgian hotels before Georgia ever made a move?

  4. John Morton says:

    Malcolm

    You clearly have no concept of what is now underway in Eastern Europe, or at least no ability to empathize with other nations.

    Russia is being militarily encircled and as such is right to feel threatened by the actions of NATO. As such, the murder of 1500 Russian nationals was a war crime and if there were any justice in this insane world, the George Soros puppet government (some democracy – lets wait to see what Georgians do to punish the aggression of their president at the polls when elections are next up) would right now be on their way to the Hague for trial.

    This whole sorry exercise demonstrates the utter bankruptcy of the current system of international relations and only validates the assertion of Stalin that western capitalists would drown Russia like blind kittens.

    Furthermore, the fact that Mr Helmer has linked to some stridently anti-Russian websites exposes his bias and hatred for Russia and as such is unfitting conduct for a public official in my opinion.

    You are more than welcome to follow such equally misguided and misinformed attitudes if you wish, but as I said before, this road is leading us all to hell so you would be advised to think objectively and carefully about these issues as the crisis is only going to escalate from here on in.

  5. John Morton says:

    By way of example:

    Scotland declares independence from GB tomorrow and invites Russian “missile defenses” and “military observers” into their country.

    What would you do Malcom, complain to the Kremlin, or blow them the hell up?

  6. Ryan Lavelle says:

    Roger

    My courtesy is very much abridged at this point in time by the foolish and dangerous antics of our political class who seem to think that playing nuclear chicken with a superpower who have now quite clearly had enough of being pushed around and backed into a corner, is some kind of virtual chess game, and not an issue of existential danger to global civilization.

    So I do apologize if your delicate feelings are a little wounded by being confronted with reality, but since war crimes have now been committed against Russian civilians, where is your moral outrage and all the rhetoric about “human rights” that you always seem to keen to lecture China, Russia and other nations about when it suits you?

    I don’t know where you are getting your intelligence from about what actually happened in South Ossetia, but given eyewitness reports, including by Americans (when the western media didn’t cut them off mid sentence ofcourse) it is absolutely 100% crystal clear that Georgia started this war, with the explicit backing and encouragement of the US, British and Israeli backers.

    Britain went to war on the other side of the globe for a few thousand Islanders (ahem), so please don’t insult our intelligence any further by claiming that this is all about some great concern the human rights and sovereignty of Georgia – which just happens, by an amazing co-incidence, to have some major oil and gas pipeline routes running through their territory.

  7. Peter says:

    Ryan – how are you just so well informed and opinionated about everything? So where did youget your “eyewitness reports” from. Didn’t you do history. Unless you were there yourself its a secondary source so why should we believe you and not Roger.

  8. Andri says:

    Dear Roger,

    It is obvious that some of your visitors leaving comments here know nothing about the Kremlin’s ambitions, failed to understand what Russia is really up to. Yes, Georgia started the war, and thousands of Russian soldiers and tanks and bombers just happened to be there, at the border, and 1200+ tanks with 20000+ soldiers walked in through a small tunnel in less than 12 hours, accidentally. Sure…

    And Russia is threatened by NATO with its ANTI-MISSILE DEFENSE systems??? Just a decade ago, after collapse of USSR, Russia was crawling on its knees, politically and more so economically. If the West (NATO) wanted to annihilate Russia, wouldn’t it have done so then?

    I will not continue explaining to some of your site readers that Russia is 100% wrong in this war, it has started to plan it right after Georgia and Ukraine were denied NATO membership, and finally provoked in August (even earlier, to which Georgia did not respond, but it’s irrelevant now).

    Set this aside, I totally agree with you, that the West can not start a military action against Russia (yet), but realistically, none of what you suggested should be done against Russia is taking place. And with the lack of action from EU/US side, don’t you think Russia will just get braver and expand its imperialistic ambitions elsewhere? Why don’t EU and US understand that it’s now or never? It was never about S. Osetia, not even Georgia – it was all about proving the world that good ole Soviet empire, the beast, is still alive and well? And all that West is doing is talking the talk – what about walking the walk? And what else does Russia have to do (roll its tanks to Paris?) for the world to understand once and for all, that nothing good has ever com out of Kremlin, and nothing ever will?

  9. Malcolm Edward says:

    It is for individual countries to choose their foreign policy, not for Russia to dictate it. In all of this it must not be forgotten that it is Russia’s leaders that are taking an increasingly aggressive stance, and applications for NATO membership are a response to the perceived threat and not the other way around. If Russia adopted an open and friendly stance then I suggest it would give its neighbours much less concern and NATO membership would become a small issue.

    I have only talked to a few people in Poland – they were only too happy when the Russian forces left and they certainly do not want them back. I certainly empathise with people who wish to gain and retain their freedoms. I guess a lot of Russian people may have similar yearnings too. And that is also why I am very concerned about the direction that the EU is going in.

    (Just in response: If a hardline country placed a missile sytem on its side of the fence, I may wish to place a missile system on my side of the fence, perhaps as a negotiation ploy, and would I not be deterred by sabre rattling – freedom has to be defended and once lost is hard to regain).

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