South Ossetia is a tiny country of just some 100,000 people. Most people would struggle to find it on a map. Yet the consequences of the brief war fought in August by Russia and Georgia, after Georgia had launched a treacherous blitzkrieg attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, massacring some 2,000 innocent civilians and Russian peacekeepers, operating under an international mandate, have led not only to the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
By inflicting a humiliating, and well-deserved, punishment on the US-puppet regime of Georgian President Saakashvili, Russia has set in train a radical realignment of global politics, whose ramifications are being, and will be, felt in every part of the world.
Shocked by the humiliating defeat suffered by its Georgian lapdog, which it had groomed, petted, instigated and incited to act as its chief proxy in the Caucasus against Russia and any regime in the area that might harbour a modicum of anti-imperialist and independent spirit, US imperialism not only launched into a war of words with Russia, it also sent Vice President Dick Cheney on a visit to Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan to prop up the pro-western regimes (although he was rebuffed in Azerbaijan as the canny government in Baku is capable of telling which way the wind is blowing and is now invigorating relations with both Russia and Iran); it pushed through long-mooted plans to station provocative ‘Missile Defence’ (MD) systems in Poland and the Czech Republic; and it instigated an attack on the Russian economy, which saw the value of shares on the Moscow stock exchange collapse, with trading being suspended for two days.
However, none of this has succeeded in diverting the Russian leadership from its new, more assertive stand. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin retorted:
“What did you expect us to do? Respond with a catapult? … We punched the aggressor in the face. Did you expect us to wipe the bloody snot off our faces and bow our heads?”
On the stationing of MD systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, Putin was equally forthright:
“Our targeting of these countries will happen as soon as these missiles are brought … What should we do? Sit pretty while they deploy missiles?”
And he also hinted that exerting economic pressure was a game that two can play: “In the global context, it is better to support one another. Risks are reciprocal. We are taking risks when we invest dozens of billions of dollars in the US economy.” (‘Putin warns West against starting arms race’, Reuters, 11 September 2008)
Ludicrous British ‘threats’
US imperialist bellicosity found predictable backing from its puppet regimes in Poland and the Baltic states, as well as from British imperialism.
Labour and Tory politicians competed with each other to rush to Tibilisi to commiserate with Saakashvili, and to make absurd and provocative threats against Russia.
Tory leader David Cameron solemnly warned the Russians that they might be … barred from shopping at Selfridges! Russian shoppers, he intoned, could not expect to go marching into Oxford Street, whilst Russian tanks rolled into Georgia. With his risible evocation of the prospect of ‘fighting them in the cosmetics department and at the delicatessen counter’, the Old Etonian toff tried to sound like Winston Churchill, but only succeeded in sounding like Monty Python.
David Miliband, Labour’s even more risible Foreign Secretary, has also managed effortlessly to cut a ridiculous figure. Making haste to the Ukrainian capital Kiev at the end of August, he delivered what the Guardian described as “the strongest criticism of the Kremlin from a leading European government official in years, delivered in a country that is Russia’s neighbour and which Russians view as the cradle of their civilisation”. (‘EU threatens sanctions against Russia’, 28 August 2008)
Somehow managing to ‘forget’ that he serves a government that has trampled on the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sudan and so on, this revolting little pipsqueak declared:
“Russia must not learn the wrong lessons from the Georgia crisis: there can be no going back on fundamental principles of territorial integrity, democratic governance and international law.”
As though the Iraq war, with his erstwhile master Tony Blair’s dismissal of the United Nations, once it threatened to not dance to the tune of Anglo-American imperialism, had never happened, he continued, we presume without a sense of irony:
“By invading a sovereign country, Russia has acted in defiance of UN Security Council Resolutions.”
And, hypocritical statements to the contrary on other occasions notwithstanding, the hapless Miliband let the cat out of the bag with regard to the recent problems in the Russian economy being a result of imperialist political machinations, declaring:
“At the time of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968, no-one asked what impact its actions had on the Russian stock market. There was no Russian stock market. Now, Russia can ill afford not to ask that question … In one week Russia’s foreign exchange reserves fell by 16 billion dollars. In just one day the value of Gazprom fell by the same amount.” (Foreign Secretary speech in Ukraine, 27 August 2008, Foreign and Commonwealth Office website)
Miliband’s words were clearly so inspiring that, within a matter of days, the Ukrainian government had collapsed owing to bitter infighting between the two main pro-imperialist parties, creating the distinct possibility of a less anti-Russian government being formed soon in Kiev.
Giving a clear indication of the stakes in this dispute, US Republican candidate for Vice President, Sarah Palin, has openly stated that the US would be obligated to go to war with Russia if it was involved in a conflict with a Nato member, a status she strongly advocates for Georgia.
Factually, in terms of the Nato charter, the much derided Ms Palin is correct. And, as Russia remains the only country militarily capable of destroying the US, let alone western Europe, this is precisely why Russia’s strong stand has, in practical political terms, left the prospects of Nato membership for Georgia and Ukraine dead in the water.
Moreover, the belligerent rhetoric from the likes of Palin and Miliband serves as but the flimsiest disguise not simply for imperialist frustration and impotence but also for the steadily growing inter-imperialist contradictions and rivalry.
Truly, the Russian action in decisively crushing Georgian aggression has landed imperialism in the mire. There are relatively few concrete steps it can take. Moreover, whilst some, such as cancelling a meeting of the G8 in New York, are simply irrelevant, others, such as further delaying Russian membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) might actually be beneficial to the country.
Above all, as we shall illustrate, in many instances, imperialism needs Russia a lot more than Russia needs imperialism.
Europe and US divided
Hence, Miliband went to the EU summit declaring that he was going to build the “broadest possible alliance against Russian aggression”. When he got there, he found no takers apart from the predictable stooges in Warsaw and the Baltic states.
The German, French and Italian imperialists let Britain know in no uncertain terms that the line between rhetoric and action was not to be crossed, lest it should interfere with their commercial ties with Russia, and particularly with their energy supplies, on which their economies are critically dependent.
In passing, one cannot but note that the fact that it falls to such avowedly right-wing political leaders as Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi to put a limit on Labour warmongering is a further damning indictment, if such were needed, of the total rotten bankruptcy, not to say craven stupidity, of the Troto-revisionist fraternity who, their anti-war protestations notwithstanding, are desperate to keep the British proletariat tied to the war chariot of social democracy, as though the working class were children to be frightened with fairy stories about the ‘wicked Tories’.
With the EU confining itself to verbal criticism of Moscow, the Russian government felt able to magnanimously praise it for its “responsible stand”, but an unprecedented rebuke came from Nato secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who declared the EU stance “not acceptable”. (‘Nato calls EU-Russia pact “not acceptable”’, Financial Times, 15 September 2008)
On a visit to Georgia, Scheffer declared that there could not be “business as usual with Russia as long as Moscow keeps its troops in Georgia”. (This would, in Nato’s view, include South Ossetia and Abkhazia, despite the fact that these are now independent states, where Russian troops are stationed at the request of their governments to protect them from the threat of renewed imperialist-backed Georgian aggression.)
Nato’s loss is the world’s gain
However, two days later, Nato’s bluster received a potentially devastating response. Russia announced that it would be halting all military cooperation with Nato until further notice. The key significance of this is that it opens the way for Nato to be refused the use of Russian air space to support its operations in Afghanistan.
Russia’s ambassador to Kabul Zamir Kabulov told the BBC, “if the Nato countries continue with their hostile policies with regard to Russia, definitely this issue will happen”. (Quoted in ‘Mood between Russia and West gets worse’, International Herald Tribune, 18 September 2008)
Nato’s options in Afghanistan are narrowing. On 24 September, the Financial Times reported that Pakistan had blocked an important supply route to bring military equipment and fuel into the country in protest at the escalating US military actions inside Pakistan. (‘Gates defends operations inside Pakistan’)
With the patriotic Afghan resistance growing in scope and strength every day, and with Kabul itself increasingly under threat, the imperialist occupiers of Afghanistan are truly staring into a potential abyss.
Another early victor from imperialism’s staggeringly stupid mistake of picking a fight with Russia over South Ossetia is Iran.
On 23 September, Russia announced that it would not take part in a meeting, for which the US and Britain had been pressing, of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany to discuss increasing sanctions against Iran over that country’s peaceful and legal nuclear programme.
“We do not see any sort of ‘fire’ that requires us to toss everything aside and meet to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme in the middle of a packed week at the United Nations General Assembly,” declared Russian foreign ministry spokesman, Andrei Nesterenko. “On the contrary”, he continued, “there are more urgent questions – for example the situation in Afghanistan and along the Afghan-Pakistan border – but our western partners for some reason aren’t rushing to discuss these.” (Cited in ‘Russia, China thwart Iran sanctions’, Associated Press, 24 September 2008)
A similar Russian response may now be expected in the six-party talks process over the north Korean nuclear issue, where the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has barred international inspectors from its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon and threatened to restart its nuclear programme after George W Bush brazenly reneged on his agreement to remove the DPRK from the US list of so-called ‘terrorist states’ after it had handed over a full declaration of its past nuclear programmes.
Russian foreign ministry spokesman Nesterenko put the issue starkly: “We would very much like Washington, in the end, to make up its mind what kind of relations they want with Moscow. If they want to punish Russia, that is one thing. If they agree that we have common interests that need to be jointly advanced, then that’s another.” (Cited in ‘Russia backs off from cooperating with US on Iran’, International Herald Tribune, 24 September 2008)
Russia has also restarted active military cooperation with anti-imperialist states. Joint naval exercises have been held with Syria and joint air exercises with Venezuela. At present, a squadron from the Russian navy is sailing towards the Caribbean for joint naval exercises with Venezuela, scheduled for November.
Nato’s loss is indeed resulting in a great gain for the masses of the world!
US global hegemony visibly tottering
Rocked by what appears to be the worst financial and banking crisis in a century, tied down by and facing defeat at the hands of the heroic Iraqi and Afghan resistance movements, challenged by the peaceful rise of China, increasingly driven out of Latin America by a deepening revolutionary process across the continent, squabbling with its European imperialist partners/rivals in crime, and challenged by a newly assertive Russia, which has put aside two decades of humiliation to finally say ‘enough’, US imperialism is, as Comrade Mao Zedong once put it, “trying to catch ten fleas with ten fingers”.
In his 1964 statement supporting the struggle of the people of Congo, Comrade Mao observed: “US imperialism has over-reached itself. Wherever it commits aggression, it puts a new noose around its neck. It is besieged ring upon ring by the people of the whole world.”
It is precisely this scenario that is emerging again on the global stage. At such a critical historical juncture, it becomes even more urgent to settle accounts with social democracy and its Trotskyite and revisionist lieutenants, so that the British proletariat can take its place on the right side of history, side by side with the proletariat and oppressed nations and peoples of the whole world.
Let progressive people in Britain step up their activities at this vital time and play their part in finally burying the rotten, parasitic system of imperialism that has for more than a century been holding humanity back.