Home > News and politics > Gorbachev’s Version: A Reminder to the West?

Gorbachev’s Version: A Reminder to the West?

24-Aug-08 10:55 pm EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Mikhail Gorbachev
(Source: Wikipedia)

He’s been out of power for years, but Gorbachev’s perspective has always been an important consideration for me – because he has one thing a lot of other politicians lack; sincerity.  That goes for politicians of every stripe and in every country too – it’s a rare gift in any political system it seems.  So imagine my surprise when Gorbachev, winner of the Nobel Peace Price and co-architect of ‘Glasnost’ up and contradicted my own opinion on recent events in Georgia.

Here I’d gone off thinking that Russia was just after a re-expansion of its "Evil Empire" following Putin’s re-totalitarianization of Russian politics.  Well that, and to covet a near-monopoly on an oil pipeline to the west.  And while each of these motives need not be forgotten completely, there are many other issues at heart in the dispute which deserve equal consideration.  A letter the former leader of the USSR writes to the New York Times (linked above) highlights a few of these with his usual eloquence and welcome commentary on the west’s own political hubris.  Ever the peace-maker, Gorbachev hits at the heart of causes of this conflict, laying it squarely in the lap of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Since the start of the conflict, I’d thought Saakashvili, himself, a little suspect of instigating it, but had come down favouring the Georgian side more because the conflict appeared to have been sparked by Russian-backed South Ossetian militants.  But Gorbachev seems to suggest that the Georgians may have over-reacted in rocket-bombing positions in South Ossetia initially – a possibility I’d considered.  Even so, that doesn’t mean the Russian side needed to escalate things further by responding with invasion.  Nor is it immediately evident that Russia needs to install a permanent military presence (as it is clearly doing).  If Saakashvili was being reckless, as Gorbachev suggests, he’s a good deal more likely to exercise caution now having seen Russia’s response.  This is assuming that he wants to act in the best interests of his people.

In the end, Gorbachev didn’t persuade me entirely that Russia was blameless (not that this was his aim) – nor even that it should escape sanction-free.  But he did persuade me that there’s more here than the western media has been reporting.  And that Georgia shouldn’t be treated as the innocent victim of the situation.  This isn’t another Iraq-Kuwait type of dispute with a unilateral, unprovoked invasion.  Regardless, both sides will need to make efforts to ensure peace in the region – and that means going a lot further than either has to promote prolonged peace.  Even if Georgia over-reacted recklessly, imposing a permanent military occupation force in response is scarcely better than the imposition of the Treaty of Versaille on post-World War I Germany, which, as we all know, was a key instrument in the creation of World War II.  Georgia won independence from the Soviet Union legitimately and that means accepting that it might choose a destiny outside the parameters of what the Kremlin may prefer from time to time.  Having a pro-western government or even being a member of NATO needn’t mean being anti-Russian.

Indeed, it still appears to me largely Russia that has been disposing itself toward a cooler relationship with NATO of late (particularly since Putin ascended the Presidency).  Rather needlessly, I might add.  (Some might even use the word "reckless".)  Gorbachev should know this better than anyone – he sought and achieved detente with the west consistently during his term in office.  Surely he realizes that the forces behind NATO expansion are a little more complex than simple expansionism at Russia’s expense.  And does Russia seriously expect NATO to turn away nations interested in membership automatically because it doesn’t approve when it’s not even a member itself?

In the end, Gorbachev’s thoughts should influence the response from Washington to be both careful and to consider both the whole story and likely long-term consequences to NATO-Russian relations.  And the media should reflect Georgia’s role more objectively.  Russia may be a totalitarian state once again, but that doesn’t automatically make it the "bad guy" when a diplomatic incident occurs.

Categories: News and politics
  1. 06-Aug-13 05:05 am EDT at 05:05 am EDT

    Hello! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to
    new updates.


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