Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Georgia On My Mind

For those who care mostly about the MLB standings, the Wii gaming system, SportsCenter, poetry, kittens, and puffy white clouds, you might want to stop reading now. For those who truly understand why we are fighting the roots of terrorism overseas, who understand that much more is at stake in the upcoming election than some generic 'Change', and who care about the world around them, this article is for you. Russia has invaded Georgia. Anyone with an understanding of history and basic human freedoms will get why that is important, but for the great unwashed I will try to paint a simple picture of what is happening behind the headlines that you have seen in the papers and on the TV and internet news. First, who are the combatants? The true big bully in this event is Russia, the behemoth nation stretching from Europe to Asia. They are by far the largest country in the world, controlling 1/8 of the world's land area. At 142 million people, they have the 9th-largest population on earth. They are an 'energy superpower', holding the world's greatest reserves of mineral and overall energy resources. Within their territory can be found the world's largest forest reserves, and 1/4 of the world's unfrozen fresh water. Oh, and they are also a military nuclear superpower. Russia, or the Russian Federation as it is also known, is a giant country made up of 83 federal 'subjects'. Think sort of like the USA incorporating 50 states and other territories. Part of the recent Russian past, of course, is that they were once the USSR, the Soviet Union, comprised of 'Mother Russia' and a number of surrounding provinces, one of which was Georgia. These provinces broke away from Soviet control in the late 1980's and early 90's for many reasons that would take too long to explain in this article. Suffice it to say that Georgia gained its independence, or should I say regained it, in 1991, and since has become a blossoming, albeit small, Democratic Republic with a President at the head of a nation that has U.N. membership and is seeking entry into both NATO in the short term and the European Union in the long term. After the Russian Revolution in the early 20th century the country, which is made up of 4.4 million people who are more than 80% ethnic Georgians, gained independence for a few years, but was over-run and gobbled up by the Soviet Union in 1922. Sound familiar? Georgians remember it all too well, those seven decades under repressive Soviet Communist rule, and they not surprisingly want no part of a repeat performance. In recent years Russia, under former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has been again flexing its muscles and declaring after a decade and a half on the back-burner of world influence that they again want to emerge as an active world power. This has made the small countries on its borders, especially the former Soviet Republics like Georgia, nervous that Russia will attempt at some point to again take over control of their territories. What happened in this particular current conflict is that on August 8th, Georgian military forces surrounded areas within its borders known as South Ossetia and Abkhazia. These areas are largely Russian by ethnicity, and had been acting for some time as independent regions. Georgia claimed that attacks had recently been occurring from within these regions against surrounding towns and villages, so they moved to protect those areas and get South Ossetia and Abkhazia under control. When Georgia made this military move, Russia responded by entering the areas to battle the Georgian troops, claiming that they were 'protecting' ethnic Russians. Bottom line is that you have small areas in northern Georgia, bordering on southern Russia, that are in dispute as to national control. The areas have been considered Georgian by territory, Russian by ethnicity, but by themselves want to be independent. The likelihood is that the sizes of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions will not allow them to be independent. Either Georgia or Russia will incorporate these areas. The fighting now is over which will take control. The problem is that a diplomatic solution was not attempted. Rather, Russia moved militarily once it saw Georgia take action to solidify its current loose hold on those areas. This would be something geographically akin to residents of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan declaring their independence, the US moving to gain control militarily, and Canada coming in on the side of the Upper Peninsulans. The fear is that Russia might use this border dispute to completely overthrow the Georgian democratic government and take control of the entire country. And this could be a precursor to their moving to forcibly reincorporate other surrounding independent Republics into the Russian Federation. Why that should worry you is two-fold: one, democracy matters. Georgians are currently a free people with elected, accountable leaders similar to the US; and two, Georgia is an ally of the United States, which means that we are both morally and politically tied to them. The United States cannot stand by and allow Georgia to be overrun, and still consider itself any kind of military power. And I think we all know what a military showdown between the United States and Russia can lead to: think World War III. You think that is overblown? Then you simply don't understand how previous major wars between superpowers have begun, and need to educate yourself a little more on history. Right now you can be assured that besides the public denouncements coming from people such as President George Bush and The Vatican, you have tons of back-room negotiations going on to resolve this dispute before it becomes a true international crisis. Pay attention to what is happening, follow the articles and stories, because it is more important to you and your family than the latest video game or sporting contest or vacation trip. If you don't currently have Georgia on your mind, you should.

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