Russia’s War on Georgia: It’s Not the Cold War, It’s Worse

Russia’s war with Georgia would seem to return to the Cold War days. That’s a fundamental misreading of the situation. While the Cold War featured the United States and the USSR facing off over world wide alliances and a divided Europe, it was an anomaly. An anomaly in that each “empire” was not really an Empire. But rather client states that required a good deal of military advisors, cash, discounted commodities, and all sorts of civilian assistance to keep compliant regimes in power. Think of it as a reverse Empire of sorts. Instead of money and resources flowing inward to Moscow and Washington, money and resources flowed out. To Cuba, or Greece, or Turkey, or Iran, or Egypt. Sometimes, as in the case of Egypt, or Greece, from both sides depending on who was ascendant locally.

The fall of the USSR coincided with the fall of oil prices. Gorbachev could literally not afford to pay for the secret police of the USSR’s client states, and the rest was history. Regime after regime fell, as there just weren’t enough secret police being paid (along with the military) to crush the revolts. This is not to discount the bravery or sacrifice of those protesters who toppled the regime, but explains why the USSR and the regimes themselves did not act the way they did in Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968. There simply was not enough money.

Enter Vladimir Putin. Taking over from disgraced drunkard Boris Yeltsin, Putin was and is an able and ruthless man. You don’t rise to the top of the KGB, then FSB hierarchy, without being both ruthless and producing results. Whether it’s Alexander Litvinenko drinking Polonium-210 laced tea, or Anna Politkovskaya shot to death in an elevator, or Ivan Safronov falling to his death out a window, Putin is a man of action. His threats are not idle, and his enemies and critics mostly dead.

Putin is a man who understands, more than anyone else, the violence gap.

The West, today, is simply unable to cope with, and cannot respond to, extremely violent and well-organized men. Men like Osama bin Laden, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Or Vladimir Putin. Almost no Western leaders has any direct experience with men like these, men who kill. Not for passion, or insanity. But profit. Men who kill directly. By both taking up the pistol and firing into a prisoner’s head, as alleged with Ahmadinejad, and by direct order. These men understand that there’s no reason at all to do all the dreadfully boring and very difficult things that are required to generate and maintain wealth. Building infrastructure, educating the populace, having a fair and level economic playing field, keeping religion out of politics, a fair and transparent rule of law, suppressing cronyism, and more. All that is for the West, fat and comfortable and peaceable.

No, what these men each in their own way is exploiting is their own ability, through the people they command, to inflict lots of violence on fat Western targets to extort concessions. Extort them with no real consequences.

Osama hopes to extort concessions leading to the World Wide Caliphate. This is unrealistic, but he has taken advantage of the violence gap (he can inflict far more violence than Western Society, excepting the US post-9/11, can retaliate with). Denmark, or Sweden, or Norway, or Spain cannot retaliate with violence directed at Osama and his followers, much less his protectors in Pakistan’s military and intelligence circles, even if a city block is blown apart. Even if those nations had the means they would lack the will to retaliate, and in any event lack both means and will. Osama takes advantage of that gap to conduct terror attacks, as do his followers around the globe.

Ahmadinejad hopes to use nuclear weapons to exploit that violence gap. Not only against the United States, but also in Europe where already Iran is positioning itself as Europe’s Muslims protector. If Muslims in say, Denmark demanded the execution of Danish cartoonists for the Mohammed cartoons, and Iran backed that demand with nuclear threats, what could Denmark do? Nothing but submit. The United States certainly will not go to nuclear war with Iran to save Danes from nuclear destruction, much less save Danish cartoonists. Nor will France or Britain which have their own problems. Conveniently this makes Iran, and Ahmadinejad, the rival of Osama bin Laden for title of “Leader of the Muslims” in the struggle to establish the World Caliphate.

But Vladimir Putin is a man fully apart in exploiting the violence gap. He has no particular ideology. No world-domination goals. He merely exploits internally the desire among Russians for order, discipline, and leadership along with restoration of Russian power, with the gangster instinct of the KGB. Putin’s aim in making war on Georgia is not “freedom” or “liberty” for the South Ossetians. Rather it is crushing Georgian independence, and particularly the non-Russian controlled oil pipeline, the Baku-Tibilsi-Ceyhan pipeline that bypasses Russian control. Crushing this independence makes nearly all oil and gas moving westwards to Europe, move through Russian controlled pipelines. Which can be turned off and on at a whim.

Putin understands the power of the gun. Which can be used to simply take from those lacking guns (or enough of them). Georgia is a useful example, just as the thugs who chase the head of BP’s investment in Russia was an example to the West of how things run in Putin’s Russia.

Europe is a very rich, old, and weak place. With a lean and hungry Russia on it’s eastern doorstep. Lacking any ability or will to defend itself, and any meaningful desire to re-arm, only the United States keeps from simply annexing whatever it wants in Europe. Most Americans have a hard time comprehending that Europe has essentially no military at all. Almost all European spending goes to the Welfare state. This problem only got worse after the fall of the USSR. It’s gap, in the ability to inflict violence, with it’s neighbor to the east, invites Putin’s strategy.

The United States is obviously not going to go to war to save Georgia. While it may be costly for Putin to roll up Georgian independence, he has no choice but to do so, otherwise his critics at home who matter, that is men just like him, will arrange something along the lines of Litvinenko’s Polonium-210 tea. Having done so, and made an explicit example of Georgia (along with the failure of NATO, a hollow and make-believe force, to do anything meaningful about it), places like the Ukraine, or Romania, or Moldova, or Hungary, or Bulgaria, or Poland, or the Baltics will simply fall in line.

But they will not be the classic Cold War client states. Rather, they will be tributary nations sending money and resources to Russia. Which lacks the ability to gain wealth any other way.

That this war also halts the slide in oil prices that coincided with Bush’s desire to drill in the US, is a bonus. Russia, like other failed states (Saddam and Iran come to mind) lives and dies by the commodity price of oil. On a daily basis. These nations cannot survive when oil is at a price that makes the West prosperous.

Suggesting strongly that sooner or later, the West and Russia (and it’s ally, Iran) will go to war over the price of oil, globally. While Europe may be fading into old age, demographically, and exists as a permanently disarmed dependent of the United States, the US is a different case. Both younger demographically and unwilling to live lives of poverty sure to follow oil permanently at $150 a barrel or higher.

Sadly, Vladimir Putin may find that the violence gap is not permanent, and in the end “fighting spirit” as the Imperial Japanese, Wehrmacht, and Al Qaeda in Iraq suicide bombers found out, is no substitute for resources, will, and ability.

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About whiskeysplace

Conservative blogger focusing on culture, business, technology, and how they intersect.
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5 Responses to Russia’s War on Georgia: It’s Not the Cold War, It’s Worse

  1. boarwild says:

    As an avid military historian, i’ve been studying this conflict exhaustively. the time old Russian principle of “brute force” is again coming to the fore. Putin and Medvedev are nothing more than gangsters, and – according to columnist Ralph Peters (his latest in this past Sat NY Post) – this entire thing was premeditated by the Russians. How to help a country that has committed troops to fight in Iraq that are now being pulled back to help stem the Ivan tide? Drudge now has a headline reading “Georgians plead for Assistance” What can Bush do – pledge military assistance to Georgia and risk World War III? There are some that think this is just a set-up for military action against the Ukraine in the near future? Where is Europe? Have they all lost their balls post-1945? The pendulum has swung too far the other way. England and France had their spirit so broken during World War I because of the great bloodletting in battles like Verdun, the Somme, Passchendaele, etc., that they tolerated and help create the situation that confronted them in the late 1930’s with Hitler and a rearmed and remilitarized Germany. Actually, we could use some good old fashioned German militarism about now but post-1945 they’ve been imitating the French so much you could call them de-facto Frenchmen. Have to give Sarkozy credit though, he’s a stand up guy and – by all accounts – got in Putin’s face about this whole thing. More than what Merkel has done.

  2. Ghost says:

    Sorry but I think it’s a bit rich to complain about Russian “brute force” when Georgia was the one who attacked first. Georgia is hardly an innocent victim here.

  3. Whiskey says:

    Anon, in the case of Iraq, the US made an either-or threat, which Saddam believed would not happen because the French would delay in the UN (as promised by Chirac). Either allow the inspectors in or get invaded.The entire affair was conducted in super-slow motion, the invasion of Iraq was hardly a surprise. As it turned out, Saddam (according the Duelfer Commision) could not afford to let the inspectors in because he feared they would turn up … no great stocks of WMDs. Which in turn would leave him vulnerable to attack by his Iranian neighbor.I am not *entirely* unsympathetic to the strategic dilemma that Putin finds himself in, i.e. the need to demonstrate, beyond any doubt, that Russia is dangerous and should not be attacked by dangerous people, i.e. the Iranians, AQ, Chechens, etc.But clearly, Putin’s Georgian adventure has been unwise from his own perspective. He has exposed critical deficiencies that the Pentagon, and Chinese, are studying intently (poor air support, inability to suppress their own designed and supplied air defense system, when they have the men who built them on call!) Not to mention the disaster with Russian capital ships in the Black Sea shocked by a Georgian night attack with close to shore patrol boats.Putin convinced the leaders and people of the Ukraine, Poland (with the nuking threat), Hungary, Bulgaria, Belorussia, Latvia, Lithunia, Estonia, and Romania that they are “next” and made installation of the anti-Iranian ballistic missile defenses a done deal. Along with frantic re-arming by those nations, and the stirrings of fear in Germany. Wonder of wonders, Germany is talking of reforming it’s military. Only talk, but inconceivable before Georgia.All for control of the Georgian pipeline.Not a good trade by my accounting.[I’ll have a post soon on the strategic concerns of Russia, China, the US, and Europe on how technology has eroded their military dominance over poorer nations and groups, and how each has responded.]

  4. Micha Elyi says:

    Ghost, you’re just plain wrong.

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