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Russia Policy: Trying to Make A Virtue Out of Having Ceded the Initiative

I had actually intended to post briefly on the implications of the Russo-Georgian War for State vs. State warfare and 4GW but today’s reactions by the Bush administration and Senators McCain and Obama are a more important concern. The United States has no strategic policy in regard to Russia – and if the statements of the candidates for president are to be believed – we won’t have one in the next four years either.

President Bush, speaking today:

….As I have made clear, Russia’s ongoing action raise serious questions about its intentions in Georgia and the region. In recent years, Russia has sought to integrate into the diplomatic, political, economic, and security structures of the 21st century. The United States has supported those efforts. Now Russia is putting its aspirations at risk by taking actions in Georgia that are inconsistent with the principles of those institutions. To begin to repair the damage to its relations with the United States, Europe, and other nations, and to begin restoring its place in the world, Russia must keep its word and act to end this crisis.

The President is alluding to Russia’s G-8 membership, the WTO, the OECD and similarly prestigious diplomatic entities. The strong emphasis Bush placed upon the need for Russian adherence to the cease-fire agreement and extending humanitarian aid was very well placed from the perspective of a moral level of conflict. The cancellation of  American participation in a scheduled Russian-NATO meeting was also appropriate ( no allies signed on to that very minor reprimand). Though we need to be honest here, the dispatch of U.S. military personnel to deliver humanitarian aid is meant as a “tripwire” against a resumption of a full-bore Russian onslaught into Georgia, not just to hand out MRE’s and bottled water to displaced villagers. It’s a very serious move ( and unaccompanied as far as I am aware by German, French or other NATO troops – if I am wrong, please correct me).

Let’s be perfectly clear: the Russian Army’s invasion of Georgia was carried out in trademark Russian fashion, brutally with obvious disregard for civilian casualties and reports of casual murders and looting by Russian soldiers. The only noteworthy exception to their usual, thuggish, performance here has been the swift accomplishment of all military objectives and total rout of the enemy army. Not since special KGB commandos seized the Tajbeg Palace in Kabul and assassinated a Prime Minister in 1979 has a Russian military operation been carried out so flawlessly. 

As a result, many people in European capitals, the State Department, the IC and the Pentagon have egg on their faces right now.  A lot of serious VIPs have been embarrassed by a client ( Saakashvili and company) who performed so poorly in this debacle – at every level that matters – that much of their previous professional advice and opinions regarding said client in retrospect look like hopelessly incompetent bullshit. These VIP’s are faced with two choices: circle the wagons around their naked emperor and try to find some kind of bow to put on this disaster or candidly admit that they horribly misjudged the entire situation to their superiors and reassess the policy in regards to Georgia from scratch.

Guess which route we are going today ?

Now to be fair, many of the actions taken by the President are sound and wise ones. Russia needs to feel significant pushback here and Bush is doing that very firmly and responsibly – and without much help from our allies other than President Sarkozy. The problem is that these are ad hoc reactions – flailing about frantically because in truth the United States has had no strategic policy toward Russia or any objective that gets much further than pleasing insider interests who are squealing loudest to the administration or the Congress. Not decommissioning Russian nukes fast enough ? Look no further than American uranium company lobbies. In regards to Kosovo or Georgia, that would be the EU. What? Isn’t Saakashvili America’s “special project” ( to quote Russia’s Foreign Minister – some Putin toady, name unimportant, he warms a chair). Well, not really. My friend Dave Schuler has an outstanding post on Europe’s stake in Georgia. It’s a lot larger than is ours:

….Germany’s ties with Georgia are, if anything, closer. Georgia is Germany’s fifth largest trading partner. I presume that much of this trade is a consequence of Georgia’s two pipelines. Energy independence is as much a political hot topic in Germany as it is here but the term means mostly not being so terribly dependent on Russia. The path to greater energy independence for Germany lies through Georgia.

….In 2007 FDI in Georgia exceeded the $1 billion mark. A substantial proportion of that was EU countries.

[ Ed. Note: The above quote is in error – Georgia is not Germany’s fifth largest trading partner – thank you to b and Annie for the correction] 

Would any reader care to hazard a guess as to the number of German troops expected to be standing next to American soldiers in Georgia delivering humanitarian aid ? This is not to knock the Germans per se as to point out that the United States carrying all of the water for Europe and absorbing all of the friction in return for nothing doesn’t make a whole lot of strategic sense.  Europe is safe,  wealthy and grown-up and not shy about pressing their collective economic interests but slow to accept all of the responsibilities they ask of the United States and our own State Department is a reflexive enabler of the extended European adolescence. Leadership in an alliance does not always mean being the other guy’s doormat.

Deciding what our long-term interests are in the region and what our relationship with Russia should be is something seventeen years overdue and presidential candidates who have no clue, left to their own devices, of what to do or, who take foreign policy advice from a paid agent of a foreign government, worry the hell out of me.


Fabius Maximus had some recommended posts on Russia-Georgia worth sharing that I’d like to add here along with a few others I caught this morning:

Stratfor   War Nerd   Helena Cobban  Joshua Foust   Glittering Eye   Coming Anarchy   Robert Kaplan (Hat tip CA)

Whirledview   SWJ Blog    Global Guerillas   Selil Blog   Andrew Sullivan

28 Responses to “Russia Policy: Trying to Make A Virtue Out of Having Ceded the Initiative”

  1. Dave Schuler Says:

    Guess which route we are going today ?

    My guess is both as is our usual practice.
     I’m glad to see we’re completely in sync on this, Mark. There’s been bi-partisan bungling of the U. S.-Russian relationship since the collapse of the Soviet Union and it’s high time we started paying attention where attention is due. 

  2. eddie Says:

    "Deciding what our long-term interests are in the region and what our relationship with Russia should be is something seventeen years overdue and presidential candidates who have no clue, left to their own devices, of what to do or, who take foreign policy advice from a paid agent of a foreign government, worry the hell out of me."

    The problem of paid agents of foreign governments in these campaigns and in our government (whether as presidential advisers or appointed officials) is an issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later.  The deliberate deception of Americans and American officials Charlie Black utilized as a lobbyist for various regimes in the 80’s alone should be a much bigger issue, and I’m certain Obama, Bush & Kerry have had similar number of figures in their campaigns with such questionable backgrounds.

    "some Putin toady, name unimportant, he warms a chair"
    instant classic line.

  3. Tatyana Says:

    Didn’t know the scale of the German connection, thank you.

  4. The Glittering Eye » Blog Archive » The Russian Case Says:

    […] see Mark Safranski’s take on the situation, largely in sync with […]

  5. CKR Says:

    Ah Mark!
    Our politics on many things are different, but I admire your insight. You’ve got this one exactly right: the US has had no long-term policy toward Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Nor towards lots of other things, like nuclear weapons.
    We really need to come into the 21st century.

  6. zen Says:

    Ah, much thanks everyone! I have some links to add in a moment…..

  7. Wiggins Says:

    Strong post, Mark.  Well done.

  8. Barnabus Says:

    How much of what happens in Russia or in that region in general, can be influenced in a significant way by the U.S.?  Seems to me Russia can, and now has the will and capability, to do what it wants.

  9. Break « Stephen Pampinella Says:

    […] Keep yourself busy with links on the right, especially Tdaxp’s valiant defense of Georgia and Zenpundit’s scathing criticism of Russian policy which led to this debacle. And if you haven’t caught […]

  10. historyguy99 Says:

    Deciding what our long-term interests are in the region and what our relationship with Russia should be is something seventeen years overdue and presidential candidates who have no clue, left to their own devices, of what to do or, who take foreign policy advice from a paid agent of a foreign government, worry the hell out of me.

    Our best Russian experts had to cast around for a new profession seventeen years ago, hence, people like Thomas Barnett moved on to other fields. I suspect that those left behind, in what at the time was thought to be obsolete field, were not the sharpest tools in the box.

  11. Ozy Says:

    The germans don’t care. They have done absolutely nothing over the last few years that  shows that they care about Georgia and the BTC.

    I am no expert, but it seems to me that the BTC isn’t that significant.Not even gaz is significant.The only reason the germans are so dependant on russian gaz is because they gave up nuclear power which was a really stupid thing to do.But it tells you something very important:in germany, being green is more important than energy security.And you could probably extend constation this to the rest of europe.

    Georgia was always an US ally, old europe never cared about it.

  12. b Says:

    Sorry – you quote one Dave Schuler who says: "Georgia is Germany’s fifth largest trading partner. I presume that much of this trade is a consequence of Georgia’s two pipelines."

    That is total nonsense. The source given says: "Germany is Georgia’s 5th biggest trade partner." That’s quite a different relation. …

    Check here for some German trade figures.

    Georgia trade with Germany is in million range. The biggest German trading partners are in the 50-100 billion range. US, Uk France …

  13. b Says:

    hehe  – the whole argument flies away on the wrong quoted trading numbers.


  14. Terence Dodge Says:

    Perhaps European adolescents is wrong and it is just age and a fear of the cold this next winter, the wife thinks they are just playing us as it is cheaper and Russia will keep the gas & oil tap on. They did it, they did it, we are your valued customers, are hands are clean.My and the wife’s 2centsTerence

  15. Dave Schuler Says:

    The link is to a Georgian government cite.  Care to refute it?

  16. annie Says:

    <i>The link is to a Georgian government cite</I>

    care to quote it? lol, here’s is someone who does <a href="http://www.moonofalabama.org/2008/08/europes-interes.html">"Germany is Georgia’s 5th biggest trade partner."</A>

    big difference.

    German total imports: €771 billion German total exports: €967 billion German imports from Georgia: €54.7 million German exports to Georgia: €215 million Georgia country rank in German imports: 119 Georgia country rank in German exports: 95 Direct investment from Germany to Georgia in 2007 was $20 million according to the Georgian government link above. Total German foreign direct investment is around a trillion bucks or so.</i>

  17. annie Says:

    sorry for making a mess w/the html. regarding "Germany is Georgia’s 5th biggest trade partner." did you guys even check the link you posted to from the ministry of foriegn affairs???

    "Direct Investments from Germany (thousand USD):
    year 200o  , $ 3,210….year 06….$20,381

    seriously guys, germany is germany. georgia is a little backwater 99% of the global population couldn’t find on a map if their lives depended on it. the least you could do is correct the absurdities in your assertions. otherwise someone might think you have an agenda! (horrors)

  18. zen Says:

    Sorry about the html and comment moderation delays – iIve had problems with spammers and my filtering system:
    Hi b,

    You are correct. Dave has transversed those countries in his post and it should read as you have cited them . That’s a significant mistake and I should have checked them more closely. That said:

    European investment in the little backwater still exceeds that of the U.S. – what do we need from Georgia? Wine? Europe, Turkey and Israel will benefit from alternate pipeline routes through Transcaucasia, not America. Germany imports most of it’s gas, about 3 trillion cubic feet annually, half of which roughly comes from Russia. That ain’t small change there.
    Secondly, my larger point about the U.S. not having any strategic policy toward Russia stands.
    Hi Ozy,
    Thanks for the "Green" aspect being an overriding variable. You might very well be correct regarding German hostility toward nuclear power .

  19. b Says:

    "That said:  European investment in the little backwater still exceeds that of the U.S."

    Again wrong –  unless you consider $1.5-$2 billion in U.S. military aid as something else than "investment"

  20. zen Says:

    b wrote:

    "Again wrong –  unless you consider $1.5-$2 billion in U.S. military aid as something else than "investment"
    I do consider it to be something else. 
    Putting money into, say, Georgian copper mines or a railroad or some productive economic activity is an investment. Giving Georgia military aid, while it might be a nice subsidy to U.S. defense contractors as we usually require recipients of such aid to buy American, is not.
    Military aid (or the civil counterpart, which the EU has done) to export security capabilities is akin to subsidizing the creation of a public good. Sure, it buys political influence for the USG with the client but it’s not an investment in an economic sense of promoting growth, profits or trade. Georgia would have done better, and be in a far better position vis-a-vis Russia, if the billion dollars had gone toward economic development in market enterprises. But that would require that the Georgians address their catastrophic levels of corruption and lack of rule of law which Saakashvili is unable or disinclined to do – he was far more cooperative in letting us build an army for him. But even a well-trained army with poor morale will run away as the Georgian Army did, which means the misgovernance issue really cannot be avoided by lavishing military aid on a client.

  21. Tatyana Says:

    Interesting, Zen.
    Lex says – according to his online reading Georgian Army fought well. You – that they run away. My own reading doesn’t leave me with conclusive impression: pro-Russian-military sources scream that Georgians are cowards who left their women behind to be raped, and Georgian blogs post examples of bravery displayed by their troups.
    Of course, they are corrupt – what place in Caucasus is not? You think it is possible to transform 1000-years tribal society into a full-fledged western democracy in a couple of years? Saakashvili is not an ideal leader – count the number of ideal leaders in history…even in history of this country. Georgians made a start, -and were considered a threat  to a foreign dictator, even as a potential westernized country.

  22. zen Says:

    If that was the Georgian Army fighting well, I’d hate to see what fighting poorly would look like.
    Yes, there has been some pointing to certain units, like air defense, that performed better than the rest. In a few months, we should have some more detailed analysis by military experts who can parse the entire campaign and will find a few silver linings and currently unknown Russian failures. That however is an exercise at putting an Easter bonnet on a pig – the Georgians were decisively clobbered here. This war wasn’t Finland in 1939 or Belgium in 1914.
    "You think it is possible to transform 1000-years tribal society into a full-fledged western democracy in a couple of years?"
    No and it’s not a good idea for a government of this type, whose people are demoralized by the corruption and incompetence of their leaders, to run the risk of foreign military intervention lightly. Priorities for the Georgians and Saakashvili would be bulding a functional  day-to-day state apparatus before trying to run a war.

  23. Seerov Says:

    This war is the result of the old Soviet policy of demographic engineering.  The Soviets (Especially Stalin) would "dilute" its bordering States with ethnic Russians.  This gave the Soviet leadership some "good guys" in every surrounding country.  Sometimes this demographic engineering would entail removing an ethnic group and "replanting" it somewhere in Siberia or the Caucuses.  China has similar policies towards Tibet and other breakaway regions.  They’ve relocated millions of Han-Chinese into Tibet in order to have "goodguys" there.  There’s some who accuse the US government of doing the same thing.  A working/middle class ethnic coalition of European Americans in the US is a threat to the US elite. In order to "dilute this threat," the elites had to push by forced diversity initiatives, and remove the freedom of association from people.  The US government also uses psychological and economic warfare to make sure that the White middle/working classes accept forced diversity. 
    This policy may have worked while the Soviet apparatus was in place, but once it fell, these groups then started pursuing their own ethnic interests, instead of "Soviet Interests."  Of course, as the old Nation State Order gives-way to Hyper-Globalization, I’m pretty sure that more and more ethnic groups will be asking "is it good for the _Fill_IN_THE_Blank_, when making a policy decisions. 
    Today’s Russia uses ethnic Russians in a way that constitutes some sort of Warfare(5GW?)?  I think we can call it demographic warfare?  The Soviets conducted "demographic engineering," as these actions were for the "health" of the State.  The US and China conduct "demographic engineering." Modern Russia conduct’s "demographic warfare" to help control territory past its borders.  Russia can use the excuse that its "preventing genocide" in almost all of its bordering nations. 
    Its surprising that Putin would use the word "genocide.’  Our foreign policy "experts" in the US don’t seem to accept this accusation of "genocide" but had no problem spreading the misinformation that there was a "genocide" in Kosovo?  In Kosovo, the global elite accused the Serbs of "genocide," and most people still believe this.  In Georgia, Putin accused the Georgians of "genocide" and the News and experts seem to blow it off? 

  24. Patricia Kushlis Says:

    Mark:  1) Which VIPs are you referring to?  and 2)  with reference to comment #10 above, the US government lost a lot of career foreign policy experts from the Foreign Service beginning in the 1980s and especially in the 1990s as a result of a short sighted "up-or-out" policy that forced too many specialists out (including and especially hard language trained officers including Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic – you name it) well before they should have gone.  The downsizing during the Clinton years (especially after the Republicans gained control of Congress in the 1994 elections)  turned what Reagan/Bush I/Carter started into a debacle.  Then there’s been the politicization of the Department that began under Reagan but has mushroomed under W.  So what do you expect?       

  25. Arherring Says:


    Some thoughts on demographic warfare and 5GW over at D5gw.

  26. zen Says:

    Hi PHK,
    You could start with McCain’s adviser Randy something teutonic but it’s every connected individual in the DoD, State, the IC and on the Hill who has been touting Saakashvili  as the Pericles of Transcaucasia rather than warning about his and the Georgian state’s  limitations as a client so that we would stay within them (or try to keep the Georgians within them).
    The "up-and-out" policy is decidedly horrible in shaping institutional culture  wherever it has been employed – risk-accepting talent exits for better prospects elsewhere. Part of the problem is the fact that better prospects are available elsewhere for talent. Back in 1965 – if you were a 1600 SAT math whiz who wanted to do the hardest problems or work with cutting edge computers, you looked at the NSA ( or they surely looked at you). Not anymore. That applies to linguistic-cultural skills. Semi-fluency in something hard and a degree from a decent school gets you a sweet international business position – why go to Langely or State ?
    The USG needs to change with the times, the times will not change for the USG.

  27. After 8.8.08: Russia’s Gift To The Next President « Hidden Unities Says:

    […] In the end, confronting Russia right now is not so much a matter of strength or force, but of exploiting Russian mistakes.  Russian liberties taken in Georgia should be carefully documented and exposed, as well as Russian threats against its neighbors. The intent should be to paint Russia to the rest of the world as unreliable, reckless and exploitative.  In the medium to long term, America needs to take Mark Safranski’s advice and craft an actual Russia policy. […]

  28. Demographic Warfare « Red Herrings Says:

    […] Russia Policy; Trying to Make a Virue Out of Having Ceded the Initiative at Zenpundit in a comment by Seerov. “This war is the result of the old Soviet policy of […]

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