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Russia and Georgia

08/19/08 5:55PM By Olin Robison
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(HOST) Commentator Olin Robison has been following the conflict between the Russians and the Georgians with dismay, and he isn't very optimistic about the outcome.

(ROBISON) Here we go again.  The Russians have invaded Georgia  -  a much smaller neighbor to their south.  Thousands have been killed and more thousands injured; tens of thousands are now homeless owing to the destruction.

At first glance it would appear to be a case of the forces of light (that would be Georgia) being overwhelmed by the forces of darkness (that would be Russia).

A closer, more nuanced look suggests that there really is more to it than first meets the eye; and, at least to a degree, both sides are somewhat to blame.  One could say all three sides, if Washington is included; and that may be necessary if one includes miscalculations, missteps, and sheer blunders.  There is much to suggest that key figures in Washington did not advise the young Georgian President not to push the Russians too far.

In addition, there appears to be considerable public support in Russia for more international assertiveness on the part of the Russian leadership; for a more aggressive stance towards those countries which were a part of what used to be the Soviet Union.  The Russians even have a special phrase for those countries.  The Russians refer to them as the "near-abroad."

It also seems clear that the Russians are, in overrunning Georgia, sending a clear message, especially to other countries in their near-abroad, even as they send a message to the European Union, to NATO, and to the United States.

All of this, dear friends, is serious stuff.

Both President Bush and Secretary Rice - and John McCain, of course - have made dramatic statements to the effect that Russia must cease and desist at once.  President Sarkozy of France has even made a trip to Moscow and Tiblisi seeking to be the peace maker.

Both Putin and Medvedev have countered by pointing to unacceptable behavior by Georgia -- on and on.

We do not, of course, know how much of the Russian rhetoric is bluster and how much of what they are saying they actually believe.  On the other side, President Bush is making threats he does not have the ability to follow through on; Washington really does need Russia's help regarding Iran and so must not overstep the bounds of civility with them.  All the while, any number of Georgia's neighbors must surely be wondering if they are next.

There are serious differences in the United States as to just how we should react.  The neocons are belligerent and the hard left is conciliatory in the extreme, pointing out to anyone who will listen that if the Russians were to station forces in Mexico or Canada we might be pretty upset as well.

All true, of course.  All true.

In the meantime, don't hold your breath waiting for US military help to be dispatched to Georgia or any of her neighbors.  The Russian leadership knows all this quite well.  So, strictly in power terms, they know they can get away with what they have done.   They know that in military terms, they win this one.  Their military is at least 25 times larger than Georgia's.  It isn't a good thing but it is what, in my native Texas, would be called a True Fact.
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