Although the Europeans like to say that Kosovo is a unique case, it may be that if there had been no Kosovo there would have been no Ossetia. Russian politicians were right when they spoke about a "Pandora's box". Perhaps it is because the Europeans themselves were aware of the connection that they acted so swiftly to resolve the Ossetia conflict. They know that the Caucasus is not even Yugoslavia, and if it were set ablaze everyone would be affected. And then no amount of talk about Kosovo being unique would help.
This suggests that the main blame should be placed on Europe, which "unfroze" the situation in the former Yugoslavia, and on the Americans who, by supporting Georgia, provoked Saakashvili to take rash steps without thinking well about the consequences. But things are not that simple.
Every country is unique. Whatever Leo Tolstoy may have written, every country is happy in its own way and unhappy in its own way. However, there are some common characteristics that cannot be discounted, especially in the system of international relations. Grudges and misunderstandings built up over years (and even centuries); the reluctance of one group of people to let go of and the other group to live on a common territory; and the fact that available resources and methods cannot resolve the problem. So, in some cases resolution can only be achieved through coercion of one side by the other. Humankind has not thought of any other means. However, the methods used to carry out actions and the ultimate goal of coercion is critical in each particular case.
This happens to be Russia's weakness. It is not very good at explaining why it acts as it does, especially when it resorts to very serious means. Instead of stating its goal it often throws out high-sounding phrases like "we are for peaceful solution of the problem", "we are for a multi-polar world", "we are for the supremacy of international law", "we are for a continued peace dialogue". This is the vocabulary of Russian diplomacy on all issues, from Zimbabwe to Iran, from Kosovo to North Korea. These clichés often replace a) the position, b) the actions and c) the goal. Every such phrase begs the question, "So, what next?" "Continued dialogue" cannot be an end in itself, especially if it lasts for years and yields no result. When stating its disagreement, Russia does not indicate its position, its goal and the instruments it proposes to use. On many complicated international themes, the Russian nyet is not followed by its own proposals. The position boils down to "we will not back it", "we will not allow it". Russia is not good at speaking for itself. It always criticises others but offers nothing positive.
The Americans have made so many blunders in Iraq that they may need years to restore their reputation in the world, in the region, etc. But they had a goal. It was false, hard to achieve, the methods did not match the reality and the consequences were ill thought out. However, the goal was clear. Some may object and say that if the goal is clear it does not mean that it is noble, just and true. So, are we to exonerate the Americans for what they have done in Iraq? Are we supposed to justify Saakashvili who has taken so many innocent lives? No, they cannot be condoned. Military actions do not easily lend themselves to justification.
However, we are talking not about the war, but about the position. Has it been stated or should it be guessed at? Is it consistent and clear, or is it fickle and unpredictable?
When you see the road ahead there is something to discuss and argue about (provided the parties are ready for discussion). When the intention is shrouded in verbal mist, it is hard to counter because it is unclear what is to be countered. This naturally breeds fears of a hidden agenda. How else can the other party behave if it does not know what to expect the next moment?
Russia may have been right in the South Ossetian conflict. But it is Russia that is now faced with the task of mending its fences with the rest of the world. One may of course dismiss Europe and America and say that whatever we do, these hypocrites with their double standards will never recognise us. But we have to live in the world. We have to communicate with it and build our policy of interaction in the fields of security, economics and international affairs. We must take into account the reaction of the world even if it is patently wrong.
It is not that we should be nice and fluffy to please everyone. We should be respected, clear and consistent. So far, the only thing that can safely be said is that there will be no isolation, but it will take a long time to restore our reputation. Russia will be reckoned with, but it will not be seen as an ally. The world will interact with Russia, but it will not trust it.
A European, commenting on the conflict, remarked that Russia constantly speaks about its rights. However, in claiming important rights, one should remember that they imply great responsibilities.
Previous articles on the topic:
A Little Girl and Her Aunt Fight Their Small Private War
Georgian war leaves 1492 Ossetians dead - local authorities
South Ossetian refugees returning home
Russia mourns victims of bloodshed in South Ossetia
Russia's president says operation in Georgia over
Ossetians Say West Is Behind Conflict
Chronicle of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict: Fact sheet
Georgia vs. South Ossetia: roots of a 100-year conflict
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