Moacir P. de Sá Pereira on August 13th, 2008

[UPDATE: I’ve cleaned up this post for style and have added some links, now that I am in front of my own computer in Brussels.]

I first heard of the incidents in the Caucasus (South Ossetian provocation leading to Georgian shelling leading to Russian response, which has included crossing into Georgia proper) while hidden in a dvaras north of Vilnius. The context of learning was the noise of a drunken Lithuanian nationalist proudly saying he had no sympathy whatsoever for any Russian pilots who had been shot from the sky. Russians are scum, he explained. At the time, I thought he had a much earlier incident in mind.

It was only upon return to Vilnius that I started reading up on the news, and, still, persistently the focus remained the same in both the Lithuanian and Western press: Russia is to be villified at all costs. In the Lithuanian media this did not even have the benefit of a history of the South Ossetian struggle—either the writers assumed the readers all knew of the tale, or they figured that anything excusing Russia would be not right.

Then I read about the denunciations of Russia from the Baltic presidents and Lech Kaczyński, culminating in their forming a “Presidential Shield,” by descending to Georgia to show support for the catastrophic over reach of Mikheil Saakashvili. (Commentary here) It is certainly no surprise to me to see the likes of Valdas Adamkus supporting a Washington-OKed fledgling democracy. Bush has relied on Adamkus and his fellow Eastern Europeans to provide numbers in favor of his blunt object foreign policy against the more nuanced approaches of France and Germany (who were the ones who put Georgia’s NATO bid in the slow lane).

But political cover is one thing. What I was not expecting was for the appeals to become more popular (and here I count e-petitions, facebook groups, and conversations at Balti Drambliai). But as the “we must support Georgia” drums started up, I failed to see a way around it without being either a Bush/Cheney apologist or, for the moment, as racist as that guy up in Aukštaitija.


  • Russians can’t be trusted.
  • This is a dress rehearsal for invading Lithuania.

My response is: slow down and think through the course of events that lead to this. Read a sober banker (as centrist as they get) on the subject. Read an interview with a professor familiar with the region. There are a lot of ins and outs and what have yous to the crisis, and, though, yes, “this aggression will not stand, man,” it is crucially important to figure out which aggression that is. In the event of the cease-fire, it is easy to say “everyone behaved badly,” and what is most important is that no more lives are lost, and there is a bit of value to leaving it as that. But the “everyone is to blame” argument might strike some as appeasing the “imperialist” claims of Russia.

But why, then, a few days back, was the popular appeal for the oppressed Georgians and not the oppressed Ossetians, who have been considered barbarians by the Georgians? Why is Lithuania siding with a man talking about reconstructing the borders established by David the Builder, even if this means crushing small ethnic minorities? Why are Lithuanians not, instead, supporting the rights of (de facto) self-determination for the Ossetians?

Are there reasons that do not devolve into the above bullet points?

NATO, of course, is contractually bound to get Lithuania’s back, should Russia invade. So what, then, again is the point for all this “support”?

And where, then, is this outpouring of support for standing up against aggressions that will not stand, when the Jewish Community Building in Vilnius gets run up and down and defaced?

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2 Responses to “Why support Georgia?”

  1. Moacir, you forget that Barack Obama, Senator Joseph Biden, and other Democrats support Georgia and have condemned Russian aggression. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also indicated her support, as has the government of the UK, the NATO Secretary General and others.

    The reason Lithuania is supporting Georgia is because the Putin-Medvedev government is a very real threat to Lithuania. Whatever the faults of Georgia’s president, Georgia is not and, furthermore, is rightfully seen as a bellwether for Russia’s relations with the successor states of the USSR.

    As for the Ossetians, Russia is plainly using them as a tool and pretext to reassert itself in a neighboring country. Lithuania and other states in similar positions are justifiably concerned that Russia could deploy similar arguments in justifying an “intervention” in pretty much any former Soviet Republic and, so, are justified in taking steps to protect themselves, including, at minimum, expressing moral support for Georgia as it faced what seemed to be an imminent occupation and removal of its government.

    You also neglect to mention (and, perhaps, consider) that Ossetian forces were shelling Georgian villages repeatedly in the run-up to Georgia’s decision to try and gain control. I wonder what you would have suggested Georgia do in this case other than what it actually did. In fact, I think it was Russia that committed the greater strategic blunder in Georgia in the way that it handled itself. For more on this, see my latest

  2. Well said Dariau.

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