Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Russian Double Standards: Chechnya and South Ossetia

Do you remember a few years ago when Russia was engaged in a full scale assault on Chechnya that resulted in the virtual destruction of Chechnya's capital Grozny? At the time, numerous world leaders criticized Russian actions in Chechnya, in particular the use of excessive force against primarily civilian targets. Russia's response? Chechnya was an internal part of Russia and therefore not a proper subject for world commentary or criticism.

Yet over the last few days, Russia intervened in the internal dispute between Georgia and its "breakaway" republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I'm not suggesting that Georgia's conduct with regard to these two areas was appropriate. Frankly, I don't know enough about the relations among the ethnic groups, the long-standing disputes, or the governmental systems involved to say whether the Georgians or Ossetians and Abkhazis or even the Russians are the "good guys". But I do find it interesting (in a troubling sort of way) how quickly and readily Russia intervened in Georgia's internal affairs (and how, exactly, did Russia mobilize that much manpower and equipment that fast for a conflict that apparently flared up unexpectedly?). Can you imagine how Russia would have reacted had anybody intervened to help the Chechens?

So what is the difference between Chechnya and South Ossetia/Abkhazia? Simple. Russia, like it or not, is still a superpower (or at least pseudo-superpower) and can pretty much get away with flexing its muscles however it wants. Just like the world voiced distress but did nothing when China flexed its muscles in Tibet, the world will criticize Russia while Georgia is pummelled. Perhaps, though, this episode will make more people realize that Russia's ambitions are not in line with those of the west, especially considering Russian calls for the ouster of Georgia's democratically elected president. Despite what Russia may want the world to think, it is not a democracy and its actions in Georgia seem to demonstrate that Russia is uncomfortable with western-allied democracies on its borders.

One other item that I've come across in news related to the ongoing dispute: It appears that Israel has been organizing special flights to Georgia, not just to evacuate Israelis from Georgia, but also to help some of the estimated 12,000 Georgian Jews who want to escape the area of conflict and emigrate to Israel. This calls to mind the efforts by Israel to help Jews escape Ethiopia back in the 80s. Can you imagine any other country (especially one of the Muslim countries) offering to help resettle those trapped by the fighting?


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