South Ossetia stands as reminder of Western helplessness

As we huff and puff at Russia over Crimea and the rest of Ukraine, NPR urges us to remember this:

Russian troops enter a former Soviet republic claiming they must protect ethnic Russians who have strong ties to the motherland. The U.S. and other Western nations threaten sanctions, but do little. Russia effectively gets its way.

We’re talking, of course, about Russia’s 2008 decision to send troops into South Ossetia, a breakaway Georgian region with a large Russian population.

More than five years later, a similar crisis exists today. This time, Russian forces are in control of Ukraine’s Crimea region. Again, Moscow says the reason is to protect ethnic Russians. The West has expressed strong opposition, but now, as in Georgia, the options appear limited….

And how did all of that come out? I confess that, as interested as I was in that five years ago, I had to check Wikipedia to find out. South Ossetia is still occupied by the Russians.

Here’s hoping we can find a way to be somewhat more effective this time…

19 thoughts on “South Ossetia stands as reminder of Western helplessness

  1. Mab

    “Moscow says the reason is to protect ethnic Russians.”

    And perhaps we/the West should take Russia at its word/intention and MOOB [Mind our own business].

  2. bud

    It’s been five years since the Russians invaded South Ossetia. Exactly how has that hurt the US? Our economy has recovered from the Bush recession with unemployment under 7%. Oil prices are stable. The stock market is soaring.

    Lets all take a deep breath and recognize the events in Ukraine are not our concern. If the people of Crimea want to be part of Russia what is the problem with letting them do just that. From the reports I’m seeing there is no resistance. The Russian army hasn’t fired a shot. The people are cheering the soldiers as liberators, not conquerors. So what exactly is the problem? Damned if I can see one.

    Ironic isn’t it. Lindsey Graham and John McCain had no problems with an invasion (Iraq 2003) that DID result in a huge amount of resistance and enormous bloodshed yet fret endlessly about one that so far hasn’t claimed any casualties.

  3. Brad Warthen

    So, to the devil with the Ukrainians, huh? The back of our hand to their yearnings to be free of Putin, eh?

    Let us bow down to one of the ugliest legacies of the old world — the ethnic identity imperative. Ukrainians don’t deserve to be free of that. They’ve no business aspiring to be more like the liberal democracies of the West. After all, they’re only foreigners.

    Let’s attend to our own narrow concerns, and concentrate on keeping those foreign-talking Mexicans out, right? There’s nothing special about America. It’s just like any other country, not a beacon of hope.

    Am I getting my mind right, boss? Am I getting more in tune to the post-Vietnam left and the Rand Paul right? Will I soon stop caring about the world? Will I be happier then?

    1. Bart

      Snarkasm – good new word for your comments Brad. As a general rule, I do not agree with bud on almost any subject but within certain parameters, in this instance, I do agree with him, we should remain out of the fray and let the regional conflict remain regional. In reality, this has nothing to do with Crimeans seeking freedom, it has more to do with financial interests of Russia and in particular, the world oil markets.

      I still remember the Hungarian Revolution when the good people of Hungary truly believed that the Americans were going to come to their rescue when the USSR invaded their country. Instead of acting, a war weary America decided to do nothing but protest and for decades the Hungarian people were under the suppressive thumb of Soviet Russia. At the time, the Soviets understood the fact that America was not going to take up arms against them over Hungary and nothing has changed since the 1950’s. At this point, Obama should not make threats that won’t be carried out and a threat of financial reprisals will come back to haunt Obama and in turn, America.

      Putin is no dummy nor is he the cowboy he tries to project as an image. One does not rise to become head of the KGB without a high degree of intelligence and cunning. He knows the US will not commit to an armed conflict over this and is willing to take the risk of any financial loss for the short term. The market for oil and LNG in other countries is rather large and in order to secure control of his own corner of the world, he will do what he believes to be in the best interests of Russia and to demonstrate his own power and strength in the region. A viable seaport has always been an issue with Russia and Crimea is about the only prime access to the Black Sea Russia has and you can bet, Putin is not about to relinquish control of it to any country other than Russia especially if it endangers Russia’s access to vital shipping lanes. And if the Crimeans start a war, Putin will engage with everything he has, too much at stake other than global politics.

    2. Doug Ross

      So quick to commit our troops to fighting other battles… it has worked so well in the past. We can’t fix every problem in the world – especially when we have enough problems of our own to deal with first.

      Why don’t we go liberate North Korea while we’re at it? And there are plenty of oppressed people in China we could go rescue… and then we can head back to Iraq and Iran to fix them.

      When you’re ready to commit your family members to be on the front lines, let us know.

    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      If my irony steps over the line, I apologize.

      But make no mistake. Of all the impulses that historically run through the American public conversation, I find few more objectionable than isolationism…

  4. Phillip

    All this despair about Western “helplessness” is premature. (see earlier post which was held up for moderation I guess because of one too many links). Putin is losing Ukraine (aside from Crimea), Brad, not winning it. He’s isolated, more than ever before perhaps. I’m not sure what’s going to happen in Crimea per se, which has bounced around throughout history, but I seriously doubt Putin will invade eastern Ukraine, though he’ll bluster a bit about it. I agree with Bart, it’s all about control of Sevastopol and a lot of economic considerations. I think the remainder of Ukraine (especially speaking of the views of its inhabitants) is closer at this moment to “the liberal democracies of the West” than they were before Putin upped the ante with his somewhat panicky moves. Putin is doing our work for us and the Western democracies just have to stay cool, take measured steps as needed (including economic pressure, possibly sanctions, etc) and not get suckered into trying to out-Putin Putin.

  5. Karen Pearson

    From what I’m seeing on TV, most of Crimea is happy to see the Russian troops. However, it might be wise of them to remember that most of their fuel/power comes from Ukraine, not Russia.

    1. der deutscher Flußgabelunger

      Along with fuel and power Ukraine also provides Crimea water. The Crimea is basically a desert. It doesn’t receive enough annual precipitation to support the region’s population and agriculture industry. Water has to be pumped in from Ukraine proper.


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