South Ossetia, Tibet, and Xinjiang

Criticise Russia’s action – or reaction – during the Ossetia crisis of recent days while talking with a Russian national, and you may get more than one response from him or her. But one tit-for-tat will almost certainly come into play: “Maybe you will think more carefully next time before recognizing statehood of another territory, like you did with Kosovo.”

One can’t consider the Russian “peace keepers” in South Ossetia impartial. But most South Ossetians probably don’t see their future within Georgia. I don’t buy Russian comparisons between Kosovo and South Ossetia, but if a majority of people wants to go, one can try to hold the territory – but in the long run, that will probably lead to an entanglement of crime and permanent repression. It may be useful to wait and see how far Russia is ready to go – to “liberate” South Ossetia and have them join the Russian federation would come at the cost of Russia’s own plausibility. And apparently, Russia’s government sees that.

Someone who doesn’t appreciate the collective Han Chinese stance on Tibet and Xinjiang shouldn’t support a Georgian idea that South Ossetia should, by all means, remain Georgian. If the price for “unity and territorial integrity” is state crime and mass repression, to let go looks like a much better choice. In the end, what people on the ground want must count – not what a central government thinks would fit into its picture.

The wide-spread European opposition to pushing Georgian [NATO] membership earlier this year was the usual desire to stay out of trouble. Although that was hardly a desire driven by a sense of justice, it was probably still right to block president Bush’s initiative to import a border conflict into the allicance. No Western country should sacrify sacrifice lives for keeping Georgia and South Ossetia together. I’m wondering if Georgia should sacrifice lives for such a goal.

How far this sad story will go is up to Georgia, too. It should show some respect for the South Ossetians, no matter to which side it will turn in the end. After all, no rule will be accepted without that kind of respect anyway. Once Georgia’s borders are defined, NATO should invite the country in. If Georgia shows no interest then, so much the better. NATO expansion should not be justified with Western security interests. Those don’t require its alliance’s expansion.

But if sovereign states with open societies consider it in their interest to join, NATO’s doors should be open. And Russia shouldn’t complain. Its own, rigid stance on “territorial integrity”, just as China’s, is in itself the best explanation as to why the North Atlantic alliance looks so attractive to so many nations that want to be – and remain – free.

4 Comments to “South Ossetia, Tibet, and Xinjiang”

  1. Russians even now talk at length about the war against the faschists, and World War II as if it were still important today. They do not recognise that some of their old empire feel equally strongly about their current freedom following 40 years of occupation by the Soviet Red army. It is impossible for a Russian to actually criticise their own foreign policy, or see their occupation of these countries as anything other than a positive thing for these other nations.
    Nervs are raw in these areas, and having Russian tanks rolling down the street obviously does not help the situation. But bombing South Ossetia is probably the worst of many mistakes the Georgians have made in the last 15 years. Pandora’s box is open, and Russia is obviously willing to act to protect the interests of it’s citizens living in these breakaway states.


  2. “It is impossible for a Russian to actually criticise their own foreign policy…”
    Hi Mark,
    that seems mostly true to me. Those who are publicly critical are certainly a minority. There is a similar attitude among Chinese people.
    Yes, it is a Pandora’s Box. Both keeping it open and closing it will come at a price, and at the moment, the Georgian settlers in South Ossetia seem to be those who will have to pay the most.
    Like Faulkner said – “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past”. It isn’t only strategic interest that is driving conflicts. It’s collective experience and memory.


  3. I like this. Yes, Georgia has screwed badly on this one. Would it not be better this way: Let South Ossetia go, and take in Georgians who want to come. Then join NATO. Oh yes, Russia WOULD still complain, but then, this would be a clear case of “shut up, and deal with it”.

    This is not an apology for actions of THE original imperialists, Russia. I come from (former) Czechoslovakia. Need I say any more? “…Russia is obviously willing to act to protect the interests of it’s citizens…” Hahaha…


  4. “Its own, rigid stance on “territorial integrity”, just as China’s, is in itself the best explanation as to why the North Atlantic alliance looks so attractive to so many nations that want to be – and remain – free.”

    Well said, sir.


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