Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Who's Who in the Georgian Crisis

Hi Everyone,

So here is a little background on who's who in the Georgian crisis:

Mikheil Saaskashvili is the current President of Georgia.  He first came to power following a bloodless revolution that overthrew dictator (and former Soviet Foreign Minister) Eduard Shevardnadze.  Saaskashvili has since resigned and then been formally elected in a special election.  Saaskashvili's political party the United National Movement is a pro-western, reformist, pro-democracy party.  

Eduard Kokoity is the President of the Russian puppet state in South Ossetia.  He is not recognized as a head of state by any government other than Russia's.  He is a former wrestler for the USSR national team and lead the local Communist youth organization back before 1989.  From 1992 to 2001 he was a "businessman" living in Moscow.

Sergei Bagapsh is the President of the Russian puppet state in Abkhazia.  Like Kokoity, he is an old CPSU apparatchik and leader of the local Komsomol chapter.  Also, like Kokoity, he spent much of the 1990s in Moscow as a "businessman."

Vladimir Putin is the Prime Minister of Russia.  While he resigned his position as President it is widely believed that he continues to be the true power in Moscow.  Putin's CV includes a career in the KGB where he started in the division of the KGB responsible to monitoring and persecuting domestic dissidents.  He eventually transferred to the foreign affairs section but most of his posting were of the sort you'd expect to see for a political enforcer rather than an international man of mystery.  For example, he finished his KGB career in 1990 in Dresden in the former East Germany (not a posting you would expect for a foreign intelligence guy but a great place for a political enforcer).  Yeltsin appointed Putin to be the head of the FSB - the agency that took over the by then defunct KGB's domestic operations.  His presidency has been marked by crack downs on the dissident press.

Dmitry Medvedev is the current President of Russia.  Before Putin got him the Presidency, he was Putin's chief of staff and sometime member of Gazprom's board of directors.  His entire career has been tied to Putin's and he's mainly known for his loyalty to Putin.  

Gazprom is the formerly state owned natural gas company in Russia.  They control 16% of world natural gas reserves and dominate the natural gas market in most of Eastern Europe including in several EU member states.  The EU gets about 25% of their natural gas from Gazprom.

The Russian Army is still one of the largest and best equipped in the world.  Their air force is also very strong.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet is based in another country, Ukraine.  Ukraine has threatened to keep the Russian ships out of their ports if the Russians launch naval attacks on Georgia from the Ukrainian bases.  

Victor Yuschchenko is the current President of Ukraine.  Like Saaskashvili, Yuschchenko came to power at the head of a pro-democratic, pro-western reformist movement.  He was famously poisoned during the election.  Rumors of who is responsible for the poisoning range from rival Ukrainian politicians (including the current Prime Minister) to the Russian FSB.

Yulia Tymoshenko is the Prime Minister of Ukraine.  She was one of the leaders of the reform movement that put Yuschchenko in power.  Their political alliance is a strained one.


The Law Talking Guy said...

The Russian Black Sea Fleet is worth mentioning, as you did, RBR, because it points to some of the unresolved problems. Ukrainian independence followed the dissolution of the USSR along the lines of its ethnic republics, but it created a new geopolitical reality that Russia was not ready for: loss of territory captured by Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. Imagine if California were suddenly independent and becoming a close ally of China, while the US fleet remained at San Diego. There are a whole lot of unresolved issues from the dissolution of the USSR (indeed, of the Russian Empire) that will take many more years to solve. At least it's doing better than the carcass of the Ottoman Empire, in the Balkans and the Middle East, which remains an incredible and bloody mess.

Raised By Republicans said...

Our main difference is, as I see it, your default attitude is to advocate understanding and patience for the Russians because they lost their empire. My default attitude is "screw 'em" and "sic semper tyrranis."

Remember, we're not talking about an empire that was won through conquest but managed well and to the benefit of it's subjects. Rather we're talking about an empire acquired by one of the most brutally repressive monarchies in history and then maintained by the likes of Joseph Stalin.

Your comparison to California is bogus because most Californians think of themselves as Americans and most of those who do not are recent immigrants not the decedents of the conquered Californeros. A better comparison would be to compare Ukraine's relationship to Russia with Ireland's relationship to Great Britain in the 1920s.

Why is it neccessary for Russia to maintain a Black Sea fleet of such size? And if they must have the fleet there, why must it be based in a Ukrainian port? Why not one of the several smaller ports on the Russian cost just across the border from Abkhazia? If these ports are insufficient to the task without massive investments in infrastructure that Russia could not afford, then maybe the Russians should have considered downsizing their fleet.

The Law Talking Guy said...

A little Ukrainian history would help. But for about four years during the Russian civil war (1917-1921), Ukraine was part of Russia. Ukraine is actually the historic source of the Russian people and religion. The Kievan Rus migrated northward around 1100 after defeat at the hands of the Mongols, but some remained to be subjugated. Moscow was founded this time along with a circle of cities (the golden circle) northeast of Moscow. When the Mongols began to recede in the 1400s, Moscow unified Russian peoples in the north, and Lithuania conquered region around Kiev. Poland and Lithuania joined forces thereafter. So around the year 1600, Ukraine was part of a Polish-Lithuanian empire. Most Ukrainians were Russian orthodox and spoke a dialect of Russia. In western Ukraine, some made a deal with the pope to keep their religion but accept the pope - these are the Greek Catholics. By the 1700s, Russia again controlled the region. It was on the frontier of Russia, and it had lots of free peasants, not serfs. The cossacks were free peasant groups who were loyal to the Tsar and kept the frontier in order. Ukraina basically means "the frontier" in Russian. That's why it was traditiionaly called The Ukraine. The Ukrainian language was regarded as a country dialect of Russian until the mid-late 19th century. Today, 30-40% of the people there are ethnically Russian. The Ukrainian dialects vary a lot from west to east. Ukrainians and Russians both worship at the Russian orthodox church which was founded outside Kiev about AD 900.

Russia founded the ports of Odessa and the Black sea ports and took Crimea from mongol-speaking Tatars in the 19th century. Much of the Russian population of the Ukraine lives in these warm coastal regions. Under Tsarist rule, the Crimea was actually part of russia proper. Khrushchev "gave" it to Ukraine as part of the USSR friendship crapola. Now what has happened is that the Black sea region, which is largely Russian and which formed a huge part of Russia's foreign policy since Alexander I, now is sort of accidentally under foreign rule. Russia has continued to operate there. Ukraine and Russia agreed on a modus vivendi about 15 years ago. Crimea, by the way, was inhabited by Tatars until Stalin deported them en masse and replaced them with Russians. The Tatars were allowed to return later. Crimea tried independence from Ukraine, like Abkhazia from Georgia, but that effort did not succeed.

So the comparison to Ireland is pretty far-fetched. Ukraine is more like *Scotland* to England. And if Scotland became independent, as some want it to, it will likely allow the Royal Navy to use its ports.

Raised By Republicans said...

LTG, what happened or is supposed to have happened in the 12th century is completely irrelevent. The current situation is that Ukrainians do not think of themselves as Russians have not done so for several generations.

The fact that you think that the supposed Russianness (for lack of a better word) of the Kings of Kiev back then matters just exposes your sympathy for the folklore and propoganda of pan-slavic nationalism.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I think LTG is saying that the area around Crimea is at least as much Russian as Ukrainian, and has been that way for a long time. I think LTG is saying that the people who live in that particular area feel likewise... but I am not sure.

I am sure, however, that the main reason the Russians have not moved their fleet is the cost of relocation.

The Law Talking Guy said...

"The current situation is that Ukrainians do not think of themselves as Russians have not done so for several generations."

That's not true. Until the dissolution of the USSR just 16 years ago, nobody seriously thought that Russians would ever be considered foreigners in the Ukraine. About 1/3 of the population of Ukraine identifies itself as ethnically Russian. Where the Russian black sea fleet sits, the inhabitants largely think of themselves as Russian or Crimean rather than Ukrainian.

Also, it is totally relevant what happened in the 12th century! History matters because it is part of a narrative of legitimacy. When Russians and Ukrainians tell the "who we are" story to their children, they tell much of the same story. It explains longstanding connections, because what happened in the 12th century continued and shaped the present. This part of the world is not neatly divided into little nationalist states, as is Europe, where you cross a border and the language changes, along with the flags, national foods and dress. Recognizng these connections and histories helps explain why the Russian fleet is in the Ukraine rather than, say, in Romania. Or why it is not crazy to have it in the Ukraine. The Russian Federation still consists of dozens of nationalities and sub-nationalities. The reason that there were 15 Republics, as opposed to 2 or 50, is really a matter of historical accident, not that the Ukrainians and Georgians were somehow Nations while the Burkash, Tatars, Chechens, Ingush, were not.

BTW, the Rurikid dynasty was, as you are no doubt hinting, largely Nordic in origin. But with names like Volodymyr, you can see how they identified themselves. I have seen the cathedral of St. Sophia they built 1000 years ago. I have seen the Pecherskaya monastery on the banks of the Dnieper/Dnepr river. They still speak some of the father-tongue of Russian and Ukrainian in the churches, known as Slavonic to modern scholars.

Ukraine has also long been a border zone between Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, Mongols, Tatars, Turks, and Romanians. Cossacks and Russian peasants were there too. Russians in the early 19th century visiting from Moscow were scandalized to find, within single familes, Jews, Greek Catholics, Russian Orthodox, and Roman Catholics all sitting at the same table together, with people claiming mixed identities. It's a fascinating place.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I think my analogy with Scotland I made elsewhere is worth thinking about. Scottish is a nationality, but the Scots don't generally consider the English to be foreigners, not in the way they think of the French or Italians. Scotland and England have a long shared history. Ukraine and Russia too have a long past. In fact, Scotland actually has much more history of political independence than Scotland ever did.

USWest said...

LTG: "This part of the world is not neatly divided into little nationalist states, as is Europe, where you cross a border and the language changes, along with the flags, national foods and dress."

Considering the number of linguistic and cultural differences within Europe (France has Corsicans,Bretons, Alsacians, Basque; Spain has three versions of Spanish and strict differences between Castilian,Basque, Catalan,Andalusia; Switzerland is Italian, French, German; Belgium is in the news as its various groups want to split apart; Poland still has Germans, Italy still has tensions between Sicilians and Italians,etc) I think it is a bit simplistic to say that they are nice little delinated nationalist states.

I think the real arguement here is that just as Europe shaped and morphed over the years (consider Europe Pre-WWI and post WWI, Pre-WWII and Post-WWII),Russia is doing the same thing. States are static. The map is always changing and borders are usually political rather than ethnic anway. The idea that you can have ethnic states is a bit of a dream.

History is useful and it is interesting. But I think it gets old when groups try to claim land rights based on ancient history. But I am an American who doesn't have ancient history. If tomorrow Mexico decided to come and take back California because we have so many Mexican citizens here, I think there would be serious issues.

Raised By Republicans said...

"I think my analogy with Scotland I made elsewhere is worth thinking about. Scottish is a nationality, but the Scots don't generally consider the English to be foreigners, not in the way they think of the French or Italians."

Call a Scot an Englishman and see what happens.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Mild annoyance. Call a Scot a Frenchman and he will just stare at you. There aren't many Scots who will agree that they shouldn't be allowed to live and work in London... even after independence. The same people will accept those restrictions vis-a-vis Paris or New York.