Russia’s Intervention in and Policy toward Republic Of Georgia
The conflict between Russia and former member states of the now defunct Soviet Union has never been limited to one cause but a host of causes. While these conflicts have varied and taken on different trends, the conflict between Russia and Georgia is one that has been long running and whose basis ranges from issues of policy to national security. The intervention of Russia in Georgia in 2008 was perhaps the hallmark of the extent the country is willing to go just to see to it that its policies are indeed implemented as desired. This paper critically analyses the views of seven different scholars on the subject of Russia’s intervention in Georgia and the policy that it has toward its smaller neighbor.
Summary and Analysis of the Different Viewpoints
Mankoff (2009) in the book Russian foreign policy: the return of great power politics is of the view that the Russia-Georgia conflict has been largely an issue of dominance rather than that of expression of military might. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has been on a campaign to ensure that it exerts as much dominance over not only Georgia but all of the former members of the Soviet Union. The main aim has been to ensure that these states do not get involved in matters of the West so much so as to pose a threat to Russia. For a along time, Russia’s policy in these states has aimed at curtailing the power of the West, led by the United States of America, in the region. This is because the historical rivalry between the US and Soviet Union, now succeeded by the Russian Federation, is still ongoing. Therefore, it has been Russia’s policy to ensure that as many former Soviet Union states as possible remain under its control.
Georgia is a country that has desired to break away from this domineering power of Russia; and as a result, Russia has tried to thwart all its efforts. Specifically, Georgia has desired to join NATO but Russia sees this as a security threat to herself as it will bring her Western enemies right on her borders. In light of this, the intervention in Georgia was a way through which Russia was displaying to the world the resurgence of its geopolitical might and so act as a deterrent to other countries like Ukraine with ambitions to seek and duly forge alliances with the West rather that with Russia. As Mankoff puts it, the intervention was a continuation of Soviet Union policy to seek to prove to the West that it could fairly exercise control over Georgia and other former Soviet Union member states.
This is indeed a correct position by this scholar in that Russia and the West have been trying to outdo each other both politically and economically. Unfortunately, control over other nations has been used as a gauge of this ability, prompting Russia to prove it by the intervention in Georgia – a sovereign state. Therefore, the main strength of this viewpoint is that it presents issues as they actually are and is based on available facts. However, its weakness is that it does not really differentiate between Soviet Union policy and Russian policy.
Another reason for the intervention as given by Slater (2010) in Seizing Power: The Grab for Global Oil Wealth is that oil resources were actually at the heart of the intervention. This is because the oil-rich Caspian region was being threatened by Georgia and any attempt at having Georgia gain control of the breakaway South Ossetia territory would not only reduce Russia’s control over the vast oil reserves there but also make the West less reliant on Russian oil. This is because oil has been used by the Russians as a political as well as economic weapon particularly against the West which is heavily reliant on her gas. And it is the same oil power that kept the West from intervening in the conflict between Russia and Georgia as any such move would have been met with a turning off of gas taps carrying gas to Europe and the continent would subsequently remain in the cold. Therefore, although the need for peace between Georgia and South Ossetia was cited as the reason for the invention, the fear of losing control over the Caspian region was the actual motive. In addition, as Luft (2009) says in Energy security challenges for the 21st century: a reference handbook, the US has always desired to have alternative gas transit routes from the region so that Russia is by-passed. Allowing Georgia to gain control of South Ossetia and other autonomous regions like Abkhazia would quickly enable the US to achieve this dream; which would mean that Russia is effectively deprived of its oil power.
This viewpoint has two main strengths. The first one is that it brings to the fore the big role that is played by natural resources in causing and fueling conflicts. Secondly, it clearly suggests how key resources can be turned into successful weapons having far greater power than the most powerful military. Russia has managed to bring the West, particularly Europe, under its control by using its oil and gas wealth. Resources are instrumental in ensuring that counties can implement their policies and stop their enemies before they can attack. Energy security is very important in this age more than ever before. Without energy – which every nation needs – then states have to rely on others for the same. This makes them vulnerable to political and economic manipulation. The limitation of this viewpoint, however, is that it tends to portray certain resources negatively. Although it is true that oil and other natural resources have played key role in fueling conflicts, not all conflicts are rooted in resources.
The current Europe is very different from what it was during the Cold War. According to Sarotte (2009), part of the cause of the intervention of Russia in Georgia was the need to have a new Europe – one comprising of as many former Soviet Union states as possible, and one where Russia was less influential. In his book 1989: the struggle to create post-Cold War Europe, he is of the view that the West tried to use NATO to lure these states as part of its method of achieving the goal. But expansion of NATO membership was a policy of the West that Russia fiercely opposed; and so did not want to let Georgia attempt that move. Intervening in Georgia was a demonstration that Russia, a militarily more powerful state, would not stop at anything to end this Western expansionary policy. While Russia desired to have a greater role in Europe, the West used NATO to reduce this influence. As a result, Russia’s resolve was to fight against NATO expansion as much as possible as it perceived the organization as a real threat to its sovereignty as a state.
This is a critical point, having its strength in its ability to correlate history and present facts. This is because historically, Russia has been so much opposed to any Western organization that seeks to offer membership to former Soviet Union states on the account that doing this would reduce its dominance in these states. NATO expansion is still a threat for Russia today, with the latter seeing it as a tool by the West to isolate her. Opposing this expansion through use of any means available – including military intervention to scare potential NATO target nations – is paramount for Russia and forms a key part of its foreign policy. The other strength is that this viewpoint appreciates the role of regional cooperation among nations in dealing with common enemies. It underscores the importance of nations working together to confront common challenges rather than the use of unilateral approaches which are most likely to fail.
Two scholars – Miller (2004) in The Russian military: power and policy and Jackson (2003) Russian foreign policy and the CIS: theories, debates and actions agree on one cause of the intervention of Russia in Georgia. This is the general Russian policy toward Eastern Europe. With the need for a more stable region that is free of Western Influence, Russia has always maintained a policy of failing to recognize any breakaway regions except those that are under another country that is an enemy of Russia (Weitz, 2009). Therefore, given the conflict that Georgia has had with the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – both of which Russia recognizes as independent states – Russia would gain to see Georgia losing out completely as far as any form of control in the region is concerned. Under the pretext of protecting Russian citizens in South Ossetia, Russia intervened in Georgia aiming to annihilate the country’s military power and so ensure that these breakaway regions have enough power to expand their territory deeper into Georgia. The territorial integrity of Georgia was clearly under threat here but it was less important an issue to the Russians than the territorial integrity of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was. This is according to Nygren (2007) in the book The rebuilding of Greater Russia: Putin’s foreign policy towards the CIS countries. Although the policies were enacted long before the intervention, they were at the very center of the intervention.
The viewpoints of these two scholars offer two strengths. One is that autonomy of regions ought not to be a matter that is left to individual states to decide but that an independent body, such as the UN, ought to be the one to determine who gets declared as an independent state and who does not. Then all other countries ought to abide by that declaration. The second strength is that it points to the effectiveness of dissidence and internal strife in exposing sovereign states to their enemies. Russia could not have intervened successfully in Georgia, or at least it would not have managed to intervene that easily in Georgia, if the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were not allied to her. However, the viewpoints have the weakness of presenting breakaway territories as rebellious and not worthy of international recognition. This is not necessarily the case. Instead, many breakaway regions are actually forced to do so because of failure by states to offer them the help they need. They therefore come into existence out of need and not choice.
Word count: 1,725
Jackson, N. (2003). Russian foreign policy and the CIS: theories, debates and actions. Routledge
Luft, G. (2009). Energy security challenges for the 21st century: a reference handbook. ABC-
Mankoff, J. (2009). Russian foreign policy: the return of great power politics. Rowman ;
Miller, S. (2004). The Russian military: power and policy. MIT Press
Nygren, B. (2007). The rebuilding of Greater Russia: Putin’s foreign policy towards the CIS
Sarotte, M.E. (2009). 1989: the struggle to create post-Cold War Europe. Princeton University
Slater, R. (2010). Seizing Power: The Grab for Global Oil Wealth. John Wiley and Sons
Weitz, R. (2009). Global Security Watch – Russia: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO