Russia, Georgia, and independence in the age of imperialism

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Russia, Georgia, and independence in the age of imperialism


George W. Bush celebrating in Georgia with then President Misha Saakashvili
George W. Bush celebrating in Georgia with then President Misha Saakashvili

The U.S. government and media have portrayed the latest conflict between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia as a resumption of Russia’s Soviet-era “domination” over the smaller, beleaguered country of Georgia.

Map of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia

But in fact, on Aug. 8, the Georgian government initiated a sudden bombing and artillery attack on South Ossetia’s capital city Tskhinvali. The Georgian military hoped to reclaim the small region of 1,505 square miles, which has tried to exercise its proclaimed independence since 1990. Georgian forces bombed and fired missiles against South Ossetia’s civilian population, but were quickly driven out by Russian troops.

Georgia’s swift defeat has come as a shock to Washington, which had poured vast resources into the country’s military. As of Aug. 14, U.S. troops have been sent into Georgia with the alleged humanitarian mission of providing food and other supplies to the country’s population.

President George Bush, and presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain have denounced Russia in press statements and releases. The three express sorrow and outrage for Georgia, in a scenario they paint as big, imperial Russia against small, democratic and independent Georgia.

George W. Bush, speaking at an Aug. 13 press conference, said: “The United States stands with the democratically-elected government of Georgia. We insist that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected.”

This straight-faced statement comes from the head of state that has presided over the criminal invasion of Iraq and the ongoing U.S. occupation that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced more than four million others.

John McCain, not to be outdone by a sitting president, said in an Aug. 11 press release: “In the face of Russian aggression, the very existence of independent Georgia—and the survival of its democratically-elected government—are at stake.” McCain was a bomber pilot in the U.S. imperialist war that sought to deny the Vietnamese nation its independence and reunification.

Barack Obama also issued a statement on Aug. 11, writing, “[T]he U.N. must stand up for the sovereignty of its members, and peace in the world.” Obama has pledged to continue the U.S. blockade of Cuba in spite of decades of U.N. General Assembly votes that overwhelmingly demand an end to the illegal blockade imposed by the United States.

These capitalist politicians feign concern for the Georgian people and are outraged at Russia’s actions. However, their real fear is that the Russian military victory represents a setback for U.S. geostrategic designs for the region.

Overthrow of USSR paves the way for imperialist penetration

The recent actions by Georgia’s government were not those of an independent nation but those of a close U.S. ally. President Mikheil Saakashvili was elected in 2004 following the U.S.-engineered “Rose Revolution.” Since then, Saakashvili has moved quickly to fashion the country’s domestic and foreign policy in line with Washington in the hopes of joining the imperialist NATO military alliance.

On Aug. 7, the day before Georgian troops attacked South Ossetia, Immediate Response 2008—a joint U.S.-Georgian military exercise involving more than 1,000 U.S. Army, Marine and National Guard troops—was concluded. The Pentagon also flew Georgia’s 2,000 troops fighting in Iraq, the third largest contingent of the occupation forces, back to their home country to bolster Washington’s proxy forces.

Georgia, a former full republic of the Soviet Union, declared itself a separate country in April 1991, in the midst of the Soviet Union’s unraveling as a socialist state. The USSR formally ended in late Dec. 1991.

As part of a long-term strategy, U.S. imperialism has steadily established control over the newly “independent” country of Georgia. In addition to currently training the Georgian army, from 1991 to 2001 the U.S. provided over $1 billion in aid and was the largest contributor of foreign direct investments. (Power and Interest News Report, Nov. 5, 2002)

Over the last 17 years, Russia has seen country after country at its border become captive nations of U.S. imperialism. Through direct and indirect means, Washington fostered pro-capitalist forces in the Baltic, Caspian and other regions of the former Soviet Union. Starting in 1990, these bourgeois forces appealed to reactionary narrow nationalism to establish countries “independent” of Russia—which emerged as the strongest capitalist country from the dissolution of the USSR.

The present conflict is the latest U.S. move to increase its military presence in an area that Russia views as critical to its territorial integrity.

South Ossetia’s recent history

During the Soviet era, South Ossetia was formally known as the South Ossetia Autonomous Oblast inside the Georgian Soviet Republic.

In the months before Georgia declared its independence, the government began to exert Georgian nationalism over the territory, to the exclusion of other nationalities. In late 1990, it dissolved South Ossetia’s autonomous status, and made Georgian the official language.

Rebellions began to break out in South Ossetia. It is estimated that more than 1,000 South Ossetians were killed by the Georgian military and heavy refugee casualties were created between both nationalities.

South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia. In the most recent referendum, on Nov. 12, 2006, 98 percent of the voters reaffirmed their independence.

A similar situation exists in Abkhazia, located in northwestern Georgia. Since 1992, Russian troops have been in South Ossetia and Abkhazia as a peacekeeping force, and as a measure against what it sees as a U.S. and Georgian encroachment.

Revolutionary and anti-imperialist voices have spoken out against the U.S.-Georgia offensive and the U.S. and European presence in the region.

Gloria La Riva, the presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, spoke with Russia Today Television about the PSL campaign and the importance of a socialist voice that challenges the two-party electoral system in the United States. La Riva addressed the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the war between Georgia and Russia, and the role of U.S. imperialism.

“The U.S. is not satisfied to see any other country especially Russia be an economic or political power in the world,” La Riva said. “Russia has a right to defend itself and a right to be concerned about encroachment by the United States in the former Soviet republics. To be a member of NATO is to be a part of the U.S. imperialist alliance and a threat to world peace.”

From within Georgia, anti-colonial forces see a pliant Georgian regime doing the bidding of U.S. imperialism. The Tbilisi-based Peace Committee of Georgia issued a declaration that opposed the Georgian government’s actions. The unofficial English translation reads in part:

“The bombings killed Ossetian civilians, our brothers and sisters, children, women and elderly people. … There also died hundreds of civilians of Georgian nationality, both in the conflict zone as well as on the entire territory of Georgia. … The Georgian Peace Committee … is going to struggle so that the organizers of this monstrous genocide have a severe and legitimate punishment.” (MRZine, Aug. 12)

Cuban leader Fidel Castro clarified the relationship between the Georgian and U.S. governments: “[Bush] committed to support President Saakashvili for Georgia’s admission to NATO; that is like plunging a sharpened dagger deep into Russia’s heart. … Saakashvili, on his own, would never have jumped to the adventure of sending the Georgian army into South Ossetia. … A nuclear war is not something to fool around with; and providing cannon fodder to the market cannot be rewarded.” (Prensa Latina, Aug. 12)

The 1992 Defense Policy Guidance paper, authored by Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis Libby, explicitly explained that the dominant consideration for U.S. strategy in the region was to prevent the reemergence of a new rival. The outlined policy explicitly includes “pre-emptive war” and the use of nuclear weapons.

This policy objective should be recounted to those who may be taken in by the feigned concern of U.S. imperialism, its representatives and media for the Ossetian, Abkhazian, Georgian and Russian peoples. What is needed during this crisis is an anti-imperialist perspective that demands “U.S. imperialism out of the Caucasus” and “No NATO intervention!”

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