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Untangling Empires

kokoity081109.jpgMary Dejevsky of the Independent believes that for Russia the South Ossetians and Abkhazians are basically, well, a pain in the ass. 

I credit Dejevsky for an original take on a tired subject, but a lot of things don’t add up.  Russian money and FSB intelligence has propped up a South Ossetian minority of only some 10,000 bandits for some years now – just ask any of his political opponents.  Eduard Kokoity is far from some kind of independently acting leech, he takes orders (especially when he speaks out of turn).  The Dejevsky model fits Abkhazia a little better as they are genuine separatists, but they really don’t want to be incorporated into Russia either.  The author asks us to discard the conventional assumption that Russia wants to reconquer territory of spheres of influence, citing the fact that they didn’t plant a tricolor in Tbilisi (I need a little more convincing).  What the article does get right is that fact that the enclaves aren’t really serving to advance Russia’s interests or security. 

One result of that war, however, is that Russia is now locked into defending the enclaves in a way that it was not before. Parallels here might be Britain’s limitless commitment to the Falkland islanders after the Argentinian invasion, or the stubborn loyalty of Gibraltarians that still complicates our relations with Spain.

Empires are not easy to untangle; ultra-loyalists left behind can be as much liabilities as assets, and Russian loyalists are the same. For the West to recognise how difficult it is to disengage in these circumstances might be a more productive approach to a solution in Georgia than lambasting Russia for ambitions it does not have.