How better to explain that the war between Georgia and Russia is no longer the number one story on CNN or Memeorandum or ABC or CBS? To their extraordinary credit, the New York Times, NBC, and Fox News (!??!) are still fronting the Confrontation in the Caucasus.
We’re likely to here quite a lot from the right about Russian perfidy in the next couple of days, but the situation is, of course, a lot more complicated than all that. Both the Abkhazians and the South Ossetians would, apparently, rather not be part of Georgia. The Georgians are, I think, correct to suggest that this isn’t the full story; ethnic cleansing of Georgians has taken place in both locales, both are pretty much run by gangsters, and the Russians have been playing non-stop shenanigans. Principles also clash; countries shouldn’t be able to just set up private fiefdoms in neighboring countries, but people shouldn’t be forced to live in countries where they don’t want to live.
Both the Russian and Georgian cases are generally unsympathetic, but I guess that I’m mildly less sympathetic to the Georgians. Saakashvili didn’t need to start this; the situation was pretty much stable before, and in general things would be better for the people of South Ossetia (and Georgia) if bombs weren’t being dropped on them. Moreover, the Russians have a fair case, based on the Kosovo precedent, that the Georgians shouldn’t be allowed to unilaterally settle the disposition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And yes, I know that this produces as many questions as it answers; pro-Russian and pro-Georgian trolls should feel free to battle each other in the comment section.
…incidentally, CNN coverage is terrible; virtually no mention of the fact that the Georgians launched an offensive prior to the Russian attacks.
…Saakashvili is playing the “freedom” card pretty hard:
“This was a very blunt Russian aggression. … We are right now suffering because we want to be free and we want to be a multi-ethnic democracy,” Saakashvili said in the interview. “We are in this situation of self-defense against a big and mighty neighbor. We are a country of less than 5 million people and certainly our forces are not comparable,” the president said.
Saakashvili also said it was in the United States’ interest to help his country. “It’s not about Georgia anymore. It’s about America, its values,” he said. “We are a freedom-loving nation that is right now under attack.”
Sure. Nexon also points out that rhetoric has consequences.
…Russian tanks are firing on Georgian positions outside of Tskhinvali. Josh Keating points out that Georgia’s hopes of entering NATO are as dead as Caesar’s ghost; there is no will whatsoever in NATO to actually defend Georgia from Russian attack, and it ain’t just the Europeans.
… Nathan Hodge points out that it’s not just the rhetoric that might have inclined the Georgians to push harder; it’s also the training and weapons they’ve been receiving from the US.
Looks like we have a situation developing between Russia and Georgia. Were I Saakashvili, I probably wouldn’t have picked this fight…
I know that most people don’t have time, but this diavlog between Francis Fukuyama and Bob Kagan is really worth watching in its entirety. I think Fukuyama goes a bit easy on Kagan, but then many of Kagan’s arguments are self-refuting; in particular, his claim that if China were actually a status quo power, then it would maintain a much smaller military than its economic and geographic positions indicate is laughable both from a realist theoretical point of view and in the context of the massive military buildup that the US has pursued over the last eight years.
This has to be a joke:
Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons could be deployed to Cuba in response to U.S. plans to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, a Russian newspaper reported Monday, citing an unnamed senior Russian air force official.
The report in Izvestia, which could not be confirmed, prompted memories of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear war after Nikita Khrushchev put nuclear missiles on the Caribbean island. The weapons were eventually withdrawn in an apparent Soviet climb-down, but President John F. Kennedyalso secretly agreed to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey.
A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry declined to comment on the report Monday, but did not deny it. Izvestia is often a forum for strategic leaks by Kremlin and other officials.
Why did the two Communist giants part ways in the early 1960s? Realist explanations have concentrated on the problems associated with two powerful states sharing a long border. Other explanations have focused on the efforts of the United States to drive a wedge between Russia and China. Lorenz Luthi, in The Sino-Soviet Split, makes an argument that isn’t exactly counter-intuitive, but that has probably received less attention than it should; the Sino-Russian alliance split because of genuine ideological disagreements over the past, present, and future of communism. To be sure, this isn’t the whole story, but Luthi makes a compelling case that it’s most of the story.
Perhaps the biggest problem that Luthi encounters in making his case is the person of Mao Zedong. This is a methodological problem as much as anything else; if we assert that ideology caused the split, yet acknowledge that on the Chinese side the problematic ideology was centered in the Chairman and contingent upon his battles against domestic opponents, are we really saying that ideology, instead of Mao or the always popular “domestic considerations” caused the split? Luthi doesn’t fully resolve this question, in part because resolution is impossible; the best we can do is try to convey as much as possible of the tapestry of decision. In this case, Luthi makes a compelling argument that Mao had significant ideological difference both with the Soviets (under both Khruschev and Stalin, but especially the former) and with “rightist” elements of the Chinese Communist Party led by Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, and, to a lesser extent, Zhou Enlai. In 1958 and 1959, as the disaster of the Great Leap Forward (which the Soviets had bitterly opposed) became clear, Mao began to use ideological tension with the Soviets to highlight his disagreements with Liu and Deng. Eventually, Mao would intentionally exacerbate the split with the Russians in order to forge an ideological weapon against his enemies in the CCP. The two prongs of this ideological offensive were the battle against “revisionism”, in this case the idea that the through the adoption of a centralized bureaucratic economy the Soviet Union had ceased to be a revolutionary state, and the fight against peaceful coexistence; Mao believed (in public, although his private behavior didn’t match) that the socialist world had the advantage over the capitalist, and that nuclear weapons didn’t transform this calculation. The eventual result of this was the collapse of the alliance on the international side, and the Cultural Revolution on the domestic side.
The Soviets, it seems, were largely confused witnesses to this process. Luthi, who had access to Soviet and Eastern European archives, conveys genuine puzzlement on the part of the Soviets towards the Chinese. The Russians had their own internal political problems (Khruschev’s 1956 speech wasn’t the end of internal conflict against the Stalinists), but these conflicts don’t seem to have engaged in the same kind of synergy with the Sino-Soviet relationship as was present on the Chinese side. This is to say that the various combatants in intra-CPSU disputes didn’t use the relationship with China as a cudgel to beat the other side. Rather, the Soviet appraisal of the behavior of the Chinese Communist Party had two rather stable elements; first, the Russians believed that the Chinese were embarking on a series of economically disastrous policies, and second the Russians believed that the Chinese were far too risk-acceptant in relations with the United States. It could be argued that these are both pragmatic rather than ideological concerns, but I think in particular that the Soviet pursuit of “peaceful coexistence” was driven as much by ideology as by convenience. The Soviet response to Chinese aggressiveness and unorthodoxy was a steadily increasing limitation of military and economic aid, combined with occasional bellicosity in ideological organs (although the Soviet anger never came close to matching the Chinese). The big problem was that the Soviet Union was unable or unwilling to bend on either point, and that the Chinese were completely unapologetic in their attack. In spite of the abject disaster that the Great Leap Forward represented, the Chinese attacked the Soviets as “revisionists” for being unwilling to engage in a similar project, yet no one in the Soviet Union was interested in turning the Soviet economy into a bigger basket case than it already was. Similarly, the Soviet leadership was (generally) reluctant to take a more aggressive tack regarding the United States because it was the USSR, after all, that had to pay the greatest costs of superpower hostility. Finally, the Soviets had to keep the Eastern European parties (generally not sympathetic to the Chinese, with the exception of Albania and the partial exception of Romania) in line, which further limited their ideological flexibility.
Personalities often matter, of course, and both Mao and Khruschev possessed enormous personalities that exacerbated the conflict. Khruschev’s theatricality and general unpredictability was unsettling to the Chinese, who had great difficulty determining whether a particular statement or policy was the result of one of Khruschev’s quirks, or was intentional action of the Soviet state. Of Mao there is little more of use to be said; he was a megalomaniac who was happy to destroy not only the PRC’s most important international alliance, but also its economy and the lives of many of its citizens in pursuit of victory in intra-CCP disputes. The CCP bought this problem for itself, of course, by the decision to promote the Maoist cult of personality, which left the party in a very serious situation when Mao really went off the rails from the late 1950s on. Luthi deals with a few counter-factuals, the most interesting of which is (more or less) “What if Mao had died in 1957?”; it’s hard to conclude from his evidence that both relations between China and Russia, and Chinese domestic policy more generally, would have been much, much different.
Luthi details a couple incidents of near-hilarity that the increasingly tense relationship produced. At a 1964 cocktail party, the drunken Soviet minister of defense Rodion Malinovskii joked to the Chinese delegation “I do not want any Mao and Khruschev to hamper us… we already did away with Khruschev, now you should do away with Mao.” The joke, it is fair to say, didn’t go over well. In 1969, frantic efforts by Soviet Prime Minister Kosygin to reach Zhou Enlai in the midst of a border scrum were frustrated when a Chinese phone operator refused to connect the call, instead preferring to yell at the Prime Minister and accuse him of “revisionism”. And of course I also highly recommend the propaganda pamphlets assembled between 1959 and 1963 by the Soviets, the Chinese, and their proxies; on the Chinese side these include such classics as The Differences Between Comrade Togliatti and Us, Long Live Leninism!, and More on the Differences Between Comrade Togliatti and Us. I plowed through most of these for a senior thesis back in 1997, and the best by far is a slow, patient explanation by the Soviets to the Chinese of how nuclear bombs cannot, when dropped on capitalist cities, distinguish between workers and capitalists.
Although it’s tangential to the question at hand, Luthi also reminds us that the Munich analogy isn’t just for George W. Bush:
It was only after the sudden end of the Cuban Missile Crisis that Chinese propaganda went into full swing. a media campaign denounced the withdrawal as “Munich” and blasted Soviet revisionism for “show[ing] vacillation in a struggle and dar[ing]not to win a victory that can be won.” The Chinese leadership staged mass rallies supporting Cuba’s struggle and accusing the USSR of “adventurism” for sending the missiles and of “capitualationism” for withdrawing them.
The lesson is that every country has its neocons, and that they always, no matter what country they’re from, say the same thing: The enemy only understands force; Negotiation is defeat; Compromise is capitulation; The prestige of our nation/people/movement depends on standing fast. The song remains the same, whether it’s being sung by Bill Kristol, Mao Zedong, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“If we see the development of systems that could reduce our deterrent potential, our military will have to take steps to neutralize the threat,” Kislyak was quoted as saying at a briefing in Moscow.
He did not specify the steps that would be taken, saying, “This will be decided by military specialists.”
“We would prefer not to have to do this,” he added.
I would assume, if he’s serious and not simply engaged in bluster, that this means refurbishing the Soviet missile force, perhaps rebuilding the MRBM force, and developing weapons intended to target the missile defense sites themselves.
This is kind of interesting. Neither China nor Russia have been shy about using their Security Council vetoes in defense of either regional interests, or in reference to particular issue areas (secessionist movements, for example) that they find politically threatening. However, I think it’s fair to say that Russia and China haven’t gone out of their way to pick Security Council fights against the US and its coalition. I understand that there are some (relatively minor) trade connections between Zimbabwe and China, but the Russian veto, which appears to have precipitated the Chinese veto, doesn’t appear to be connected with the merits of the case at all. Rather, I think that the Russians are sending the US a message: We are so unhappy about missile defense (among other things) that we are now prepared to monkey wrench unconnected diplomatic projects. This interdependence of interest/dispute was characteristic of the Cold War, but has been much rarer in the past two decades.
Another way to put this is that there are four potential Russian Security Council stances:
- Russia will take risks to support the US.
- Russia will defend its own interests with its veto, but not go out of its way to oppose the US.
- Russia will go out of its way to oppose the US in ways that don’t incur substantial risk.
- Russia will take risks to oppose the US.
I think we’re still a long way from the Cold War standard of 4, and we’ve never really been at 1 (for any extended period of time), but this vote seems to herald a shift from 2 (which has been standard for the past 18 years or so) to 3.
I hate to show weakness in front of the Russians, but it’s hard to argue with this:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said the results of Iran’s missile tests prove that US plans for a defence shield in Europe are unnecessary. Mr Lavrov said the tests confirmed Tehran had missiles with a limited range of up to 2,000km (1,240 miles)…
Repeated assurances from senior figures in Washington have failed to convince Moscow that the proposed shield represents no danger to Russia. Mr Lavrov told reporters on Friday the tests showed that “a missile defence shield with these parameters is not needed to monitor or react to such threats”. He said Moscow was convinced that what he called the imagined nature of the Iranian missile threat was a pretext for the missile shield. “We believe that any issue related to Iran should be resolved through negotiation, through political-diplomatic means… and not through threats,” he said.
In 2009, India will begin leasing a Russian Akula class attack submarine. The Chinese wanted one, but it turns out that concerns about Chinese intellectual property policy have made the Russians reluctant to transfer new advanced equipment. This is the second nuclear powered submarine that India has leased from the Russians, the first being the INS Chakra, which the Indians operated from 1988-1991.
The Tsar’s Last Armada, by Constantine Pleshakov, tells the story of the transit of the Russian Baltic Fleet to the Straits of Tsushima, where it was destroyed by Admiral Togo Heihachiro’s battle squadron. The Baltic Fleet was dispatched in response to the successful Japanese blockade of Port Arthur, and to the Japanese victory over the Russian Pacific Fleet at the Battle of Yellow Sea. The Fleet, commanded by Admiral Zinovy Rozhesvensky, would circle Europe, Africa, and most of Asia on its way to Port Arthur, where it would break the Japanese siege and destroy Togo’s fleet. With the Japanese Navy destroyed, the Russians would presumably be able to cut contact between Japanese forces on the mainland and supply bases in the homeland.
It was not to be, but the trip, after all, is half the fun. Russian battleships (which were understood to be competitive with foreign contemporaries) were not built for a journey through the tropics, or really for any long range expedition. Similarly, Russian sailors were not prepared for the sort of journey that the Tsar ordered them to undertake. Among the more mundane problems the fleet faced was a lack of charts, a lack of suitable food, a lack of refrigeration, and a lack of appropriate medicines and medical treatment facilities. The less mundane problems included serial confrontations with the Royal Navy, which did not look kindly on the transit of a major fleet through areas it viewed as its playground. In an imagined confrontation near Denmark, the Russian fleet opened fire on a group of fishing vessels with fatal results. Near Gibraltar, the commanding Royal Navy officer mused about using the Mediterranean squadron to destroy the Baltic Fleet at anchor. The Russians also experienced friction with their French allies, who saw no reason to antagonize Japan and chafed at the presence of the Russians in their colonial waters.
The Russian fleet consisted of four modern battleships, four older battleships, three coast defense battleships, and various assorted support craft. This was a hodgepodge of several different squadrons, resulting from the somewhat confused instructions of Nicholas II. This had the positive effect of concentrating as much power as possible in the fleet, but the negative effects of creating a slow battleline (the line could only move as fast as its slowest ship), and producing a divided and confused command situation. Many of the Russian ships were obsolescent, incapable of doing serious damage to Togo’s battleships (although they certainly could have hurt his armored cruisers).
The bulk of the squadron left in October 1904. Port Arthur fell in January 1905, while the fleet was off the coast of Madagascar. The new Russian objective was Vladivostok; assuming that the Russian fleet would not be in condition to confront Togo right away, it would refit in the Far East Russian naval base and destroy Togo later. To get to Vladivostok, Admiral Rozhesvensky decided to take the Straits of Tsushima, rather than the longer route to the east of Japan. The Russian fleet, in poor mechanical condition and with low morale, sought to avoid battle with Togo’s fleet. Togo, on the other hand, decided that this was the time to destroy the Russians.
This was a riskier choice than Pleshakov (or many other commentators) let on. The Russian fleet, after all, was much larger than the Japanese. It was at a low ebb in terms of combat effectiveness, and the Japanese were at their maximum efficiency, but the presence of so many more guns weighed in the Russians favor. Moreover, Togo was at a significant strategic advantage. Since the fall of Port Arthur, the strategic rationale of the deployment of the Baltic Fleet had been lost. Vladivostok is roughly five hundred miles from the routes used to supply the Japanese armies on mainland Asia, and Admiral Rozhesvensky’s fleet could not have maintained itself on station long enough to significantly disrupt Japanese logistics. Any division of the fleet would leave it easy prey for Togo’s faster, more agile squadron. As such, all Togo needed to do to win was not to lose; the only result that could have transformed the situation would have been a Russian annihilation of the Japanese.
Pleshakov concentrates on the Russian experience, and so doesn’t have a lot of insight into Togo’s choice. Instead, he discusses the course of the battle, which is quick, devastating Japanese rout. Moreover, the story is told without much detail in terms of the tactical decisions undertaken during the battle. The Russian battleships catch fire, explode, and capsize one by one; little damage is inflicted on the Japanese. Admiral Rozhesvensky is knocked out early in the battle by a shell fragment, and is captured by the Japanese after his deputy, Admiral Nebogatov, surrenders his squadron without firing a shot.
Seven Russian battleships, including three of the most modern, were sunk. Four others were captured. Three of the thirty-seven ships in the Russian squadron made it to Vladivostok. Japanese losses amounted to three torpedo boats. Rozhesvensky, Nebogatov, and a couple of thousand other prisoners spent several months as guests of the Emperor, in conditions that were quite hospitable. Upon return to Russia after the peace treaty, Admiral Rozhesvensky, Admiral Nebogatov, and several captains faced courts-martial. Rozhesvensky took all responsibility for the defeat, probably saving some of his captains from the firing squad. Nebogatov, who certainly should have been shot, was sentenced to 16 years, commuted to two.
Pleshakov’s book is useful enough for the lay reader; it has an excellent description of the journey and a non-technical description of the battle. His discussion of the political situation of the war (and the greater strategic significance for the combatants) is quite weak, and anyone looking for an account of the course of the battle, or for details about the combatants, will be disappointed.
Let me go on record as saying that whatever minimal value there might be in returning Abkhazia to Georgia (and the value may indeed be negative, since the residents of Abkhazia don’t seem to want to return) is vastly exceeded by the costs of picking a fight, diplomatic or otherwise, with Russia. In other words, this is a situation into which NATO ought to be very wary of intruding, in particularly because of the possibility of emboldening the Georgians to do something stupid.