Kaplan on Russian Aggression in Georgia

Kaplan has a short, clear and insightful piece up at the Atlantic cutting through the regurgitated cliches and common thinking on the current Russian aggression in Georgia. It begins:

Russian troops have established control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two separatist regions of Georgia. The Russian military, having now secured complete control over the autonomous territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, appears increasingly engaged in an assault on Georgia proper. Distinguished commentators and Western governments alike have demanded action and called for transatlantic unity in the face of the Russian assault.

But it’s unclear what transatlantic unity implies. Does it mean deployment of NATO troops to Tbilisi? A bold and creative move, perhaps, but unlikely, given western Europe’s gun-shy nature. Does anyone seriously want to contemplate a scenario in which the United States and Russia are engaged in combat against each other? Economic sanctions against Russia probably won’t happen, given Russia’s stranglehold on western Europe through natural-gas deliveries.

The truth is, Russia has called the West’s bluff on Georgia and won. It is the advantage of the first move in a situation whose underlying geopolitical realities are starkly different from the diplomatic pretense that often governs media headlines.The main diplomatic pretense has been that Georgia is a thriving, fledgling democracy that the West, and particularly the United States, supports (in part through U.S. Marines’ training Georgian forces at a camp near Tbilisi) in its struggle against Russian intimidation. But the geopolitical reality unravels this description in every aspect. To start with, a nation’s political system is defined by the strength of its institutions more than by the name the system gives itself. Georgia is a democracy in Tbilisi and its environs. Everywhere else, it barely functions. Though small compared to Russia, Gerogia is a sprawling, mountainous, and therefore extremely vulnerable mini-empire of nationalities that will take years to forge into a cohesive nation.

That is not in any way to justify a Russian invasion, but merely to state how vulnerable Georgia is in the best of circumstances. Because it is barely a state, it can barely defend itself. And the U.S. military’s assistance to its Georgian counterparts — specifically to train for Georgia’s limited duties in Iraq — hasn’t prepare the Georgian armed forces to take on an adversary like Russia.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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10 Responses to Kaplan on Russian Aggression in Georgia

  1. ElamBend says:

    This is just a further lowering of the curtains upon Europe’s power on the world stage. It is not necessarily permanent, but for the foreseeable future Europe is waning.
    I hope I am wrong and this is a wake up call, but when even Poland is spending 2% [maybe less] on defense, I’m not optimistic.

  2. Curzon says:

    “The truth is, Russia has called the West’s bluff on Georgia and won… Vladimir Putin saw through all these pretenses. He saw that the United States, bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and still hoping for Russian support in imposing sanctions on Iran, was all alone and, furthermore, ambivalent in this crisis. He saw that Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili, despite his nationalistic bravado, was a weak democratic leader with weak armed forces. And he saw on the map that Georgia was engulfed by Russia, with the West far away. This is not the Balkans, which have the good fortune of bordering Central Europe, and are therefore ultimately prone to robust NATO involvement. This is the Caucasus, whose neighbors are Russia, Iran, the poorest part of Turkey, and the Caspian Sea.”

    Forget the fuss over the preemption doctrine we were hearing in 2003. This event may be the biggest geopolitical event of the 2000s.

  3. Curzon says:

    The counterpoint to this is, of course, that countries are “waking up” to Russia’s might, and the dismissals of its potential to invade neighboring nations now rings hollow. And while Kaplan rightly notes Germany’s weak response, the leaders of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are all visiting Georgia right now in a show of solidarity.

  4. feeblemind says:

    It appears that Georgia, as a partner in the coalition of the bribed, errr make that ‘willing’, mistook an IOU from the US for a blank check. Memo to the State Dept.: Just because you CAN forge an alliance with a country does not mean you SHOULD. QUESTIONS: Would Russia have attacked Georgia had they been a NATO member? Will Russia use the Georgia template on a NATO member in the future? My thoughts from high in the peanut gallery.

  5. ElamBend says:

    It’s very important, and not surprising, that those particular leaders are giving support to Georgia, particularly by going there. They need to recognize this a decision point on how they’re going to invest in defense, though.
    Also, so far it seems as if Russia did treat the BTC pipeline as a redline to be avoided (despite early reports that they bombed it).

  6. Augustinus von Moltke says:

    One will note that Georgia and Armenia, combined, provide and airspace corridor to a potentially interesting region. Both are Christian nations, which would not be inherently predisposed to hostility towards the US and Western values. Azerbaijan, furthermore, has both a sovietized and Turkish sense of religion, and a long-standing animosity towards Russia. Splitting off these nations from the CIS, and from Russian influence in the Caucasus could be a feat that Russia accomplishes for the West, so long as the West illustrates that it could provide support (and perhaps development).

    The Ukrainian ports of the Crimea, with a bit of Western persuasion, and perhaps a further revelation of the Russian hand, could find themselves inaccessible to Russia’s Black Sea fleet (I personally witnesses a US docking in Sevastopol a short while ago). Perhaps Russia is attempting to annex more coast and more port access. I wonder if the Georgian coast is somehow preferrable to Novorossisk or Russian territorial coast.

    Is the reliability of Russian military hardware beyond doubt? Unclear is whether US and EU interests are served by Russia proximity to the main non-Russian gas pipeline. Russia is a hostage-taker, not a diplomat, and I hope this event will promote a more skeptical policy towards Russia by Germany and France.

    The irony of this piece is that it describes Georgia, a Russian hostage for 75 years, in terms which could aptly describe Russia (absent, of course, the description of democracy around the capital). Coordinated and effective aggression is not proof of good governance, as both the Russian mafia-state and perhaps the Iraq skirmish may indicate.

    Drawing the Caucasus into the Western sphere is more than simply diplomatic pretense. Germany did not rebuild itself after the war, but well-organized financing did. I know of no such plan for the Caucasus.

  7. Elambend says:

    Armenia, Azerbaijan; they no like each other. Armenia has a real affinity for Russia as a protector and Russia will always be closer.

  8. Michael says:

    Augustinus: Note that Azerbaijan is
    a) Antagonistic to Iran (ethnic conflict).
    b) Friendly with Turkey (a NATO member and one of the more secularized of the Muslim countries).
    c) A partner in the BTC pipeline, thus having an interest in who controls it. and
    d) A small country wedged between two larger countries.

    They may be amenable to participation in such an alliance as you described.

  9. fabius.maximus.cunctator says:


    The article seemed quite interesting at first but how can one trust the judgement of a man who cannot get even the moste basic fatcs right ?
    “…Germany, which, even under a conservative government, as this crisis reveals, is becoming more a neutral power than a Western nation”
    Miserable twaddle I must say. The present German govt is a highly unhappy and divided coalition consisting of the mainstream conservative “Union” of CDU and CSU and the socialist Social Democrats (SPD). Germany has not had a conservative government since 1998.
    Anyone with basic literacy in English and internet access cd have checked that out. Is Mr. Kaplan the great sage too lazy , too ignorant or too intent on European bashing to get the basic facts right ? And how is a reader who cannot check up on the facts about Georgia with comparable ease to trust the other facts let alone the great sage`s deductions?
    Well, I guess I will not waste more time on that one.

  10. GeorgiaINFO says: