Vital versus just ‘interests’? I think this really should be the main question the establishment elite guardians of our foreign policy discourse should be asking themselves: do we have any vital interests at stake in Georgia and should Georgia be a part of NATO?
You all know my answer. No, to both.
Now, I am not saying the BTC isn’t important to our interests. Like it or not, folks, we need oil. But I just don’t see BTC rising to the level of vital strategic interests for us. And I don’t see any vital interests effected by Russian support of the annexation or independence of South Ossetia or Abkhazia, just as I saw no vital interests at stake in Kosovo, or our intervention in the Balkans writ large. This is not, I repeat, not to say there aren’t any interests involved, just none that are vital, worth going to war over. The Russians realized this in Kosovo and we should have the common sense to realize the same thing in Georgia. It’s not our neighborhood so just leave it be.
The other key question that should be asked is this: is Georgia vital to Russian interests in the region? I can’t answer that question to my own satisfaction yet, but I do know that as a matter of the Russian psyche it’s important to be seen dominating the near abroad once again. Yes, I know Joshua, this is CW. But I think there is more to it than just national psyche. I wrote a long time ago that Tbilisi is the fulcrum the Caucasus balances upon and the party that controls (I’m not saying annex here) Tbilisi pretty much controls the Caucasus. And controlling the Caucasus leads to at least one important Russian goal, at least from where I sit, an end to the encroachment and looming encirclement of an American-led NATO. The US would bristle at being encircled by a military alliance (even if it’s vitality had been diluted into nothing so much as a political club, but still). So, look at it from the Russian perspective for a moment. (An important caveat that really need not be said: I’m not ‘rooting’ for anyone here, simply explaining the situation as I see it.)
I do also think Joshua has a point that Russia’s actions are geared towards scuttling Georgia’s chances at NATO ascension and the more important invitation to the Ukraine. That suits me just fine. As I have said many times, Georgia doesn’t belong in NATO, nor does the Ukraine, which really is the bigger prize here. There are reports that the Ukraine provided the Georgian’s with critical air defense equipment, equipment that led to at least two confirmed downing of Russian jets. The Ukraine is Russia’s best defense against invasion. Look at Charles XII’s disastrous invasion of Russia during the Great Northern War, or Napoleon’s invasion, or more recently Operation Barbarossa. Strategic depth is essential to the Russians because the terrain is easy to invade. So, when thinking about the Caucasus I think it’s really important to keep in mind the ‘deep game’ of Putin, which is preventing the Ukraine from leaving Russia’s orbit.
In a sense it is a ‘revisionist question’ as the other Josh outlines. And it is one that won’t soon be solved.
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