Ossetian and Abkhazian Independence

From the FT:

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two Russian-controlled breakaway regions of Georgia, in a surprise move that provoked strong criticism from the US and the European Union.

So South Ossetia and Abkhazia declare independence from Georgia.  Russia recognises the independence, so says the Russian president.

But does Russia recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia, or the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from everyone, including Russia?

Time will tell.

Simon Jenkins on Russia

Simon Jenkins has written a rather rambling article in The Times in which he warns that the western leaders, in their dealings with Russia, are in danger of stumbling into a world war.  Personally, I don’t find it a persuasive argument, especially as he seems unable to make up his mind on one of the key points:

There is no strategic justification for siting American missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. It is nothing but right-wing provocation. Nato’s welcome to Georgia and Ukraine, for no good reason but at risk of having to come to their aid, has served only to incite Georgia to realise that risk while also infuriating Moscow.

Western strategy is dealing with a resurgent, rich and potent Russia. It has played fast and loose with Moscow’s age-old sensitivity and forgotten the message of George Kennan, the American statesman: that Russia must be understood and contained rather than confronted.

So which is it? 

If Russia “must” be contained then American missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic and Nato membership of Georgia and Ukraine would indicate that Kennan’s message has not been forgotten.  On the other hand, if the missile defence system is intended to intercept Iranian missiles, then they do not represent “right-wing provocation” of Russia. He can’t have it both ways.

And as an aside, is there any justification for Russia’s “age-old sensitivity”?  I understand that they suffered invasions from the Mongols, Napolean, and Hitler but they are far from unique in that respect.

Russia’s Neighbours React

As the dust settles over South Ossetia and parts of Georgia, there appears to be a rather odd school of thought establishing itself on the blogs which take an interest in these things.  The gist of it goes like this:

1.  Georgia has provoked Russia in various ways, one of which is threatening to join Nato, a mutual defence alliance underwritten by the USA.

2.  Russia has given Georgia a damned good thumping for its provocation, part of which is being blamed on Russia’s unease at Georgia wanting to join Nato.

3.  Therefore, Georgia, Poland, and Ukraine will not want to provoke Russia further by seeking Nato protection.

Personally, I think Georgia getting a good thumping from the Russians is unlikely to stop Georgia or Ukraine from looking for greater protection from Russia.

Whether that greater protection arrives or not, it is likely Russia’s neighbours deem it something worth seeking:

Thousands cheered as the presidents of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia stood with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili at a rally in Tbilisi, Georgia, late Tuesday.

Now I think Saakashvili’s rhetoric is nonsense, not to mention his idiotic decision to launch an attack on South Ossetia for which his country is paying a dear price, but there has probably never been a time when Russia’s former subjects in Eastern Europe were so united against their former masters.  It is likely that the EU and US will not fail to make political capital out of this somehow, driving the wedge between the former Communist bloc and Russia that little bit deeper to Russia’s detriment.

And there’s another, similar meme floating about:

1.  Russia fears the US missile shield is really directed at Russia.

2.  Ukraine and Poland should take note of what Russia has done to Georgia, and refrain from cooperating on a missile defence system which is supposedly directed at Russia, less Russia dishes out a similar lesson to Ukraine and Poland.

Personally, I would have thought a missile defence system directed at Russia is high up on the shopping list of Ukraine and Poland right now.

And whaddya know?

Poland has signed a preliminary deal with the US on plans to host part of its new missile defence shield.

Under the agreement, the US will install 10 interceptor missiles at a base on the Baltic coast in return for help strengthening Polish air defences.

Poland is upgrading it’s air defences?!!  Now why in the world would they want to do that?

Naturally, the Russians are upset:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said that a preliminary deal allowing the US to site missiles in Poland is aimed against Russia.

… 

“The deployment of new anti-missile forces has as its aim the Russian Federation,” he said

I very much doubt that the original aim of the US missile shield was the Russian Federation, but I’m betting that this is quickly being updated. 

Moscow has long argued the project will upset the military balance in Europe and has warned it will be forced to redirect its missiles at Poland.

Well, quite.  I think Poland is very much hoping the military balance in Europe is upset, upset to the point where Russia cannot dish out to Poland the same thumping it just gave Georgia.  And now that Russia has been “forced” to redirect its missiles at Poland, that rather concludes the case for having a missile shield, doesn’t it?

At a press conference in Moscow on Friday, Russia’s deputy chief of general staff, Gen Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said the US move “cannot go unpunished”.

Which probably isn’t going to weaken the case for the necessity of upgraded Polish air defences and missile shields aimed at Russia.

Not for the first time, I think Russia is playing its hand badly here.  I think Russia had little choice but to intervene militarily into South Ossetia, the Georgians having triggered the war regardless of whether Russia had provoked Georgia or engineered the whole situation.  And depending on certain things being true, it was probably necessary for Russia to attack targets within Georgia proper.  Had Russia limited itself to this, and done a decent PR job in explaining its actions, they would probably have come out of this quite well, having demonstrated they can pull off a decisive military victory or two.

But Russia seems to be continuing its policy of issuing dark warnings and open threats to its neighbours, no doubt mainly for the benefit of the audience back home, many of whom seem to think it is US policy to surround, invade, and overthrow Russia.  Russia warning its neighbours against cooperating too closely with the west could be dismissed as empty rhetoric before Russia – regardless of the reasons – attacked Georgia.  But afterwards it is likely these threats are going to be taken much more seriously, and those who are being threatened are likely to respond by doing everything they can to counter those threats using every means available including defence pacts, missile shields, and votes in international bodies.

Russia is going to find the world just that little bit more lonely in the years to come. 

The Sakhalin Olympics

With the Olympic Games in full flight in Beijing, one would be forgiven for thinking that the residents of Sakhalin Island are too remote and out of touch to follow all the action.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  So enthralled are the Sakhaliners with the excitement of the games, we decided to hold our own version. 

Event 1.  Meeting Marathon

Contestants gather in a conference room and hold a meeting.  The team which can drag the meeting out for the longest wins.  Anybody who is caught advancing the agenda or making a relevant point is given a 2 minute penalty deduction.  Any team caught making a decision will be immediately disqualified.  Tactics to be encouraged include demanding the previous Meeting Marathon is run again for the benefit of athletes who missed out last time, constantly trying to get athletes who are not present to participate, and inviting athletes who are supposed to be competing in a completely different event.

Prediction:  The Netherlands to win gold with ease, silver and bronze go to Russia. 

Event 2.  Modern Biathlon

Stage 1: Upon arrival at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk international airport, contestants must immediately set about finding a Russian mistress who declares her love for him.  Points are awarded according to the following criteria:

i) 1 point if declaration of love occurs before first rotation.  2 points if before HR induction.  Athletes are deemed to be out of time if declaration of love has not come before first expense report is paid, or before death through old age, whichever is sooner.   

ii) 1 point if the age difference is greater than 20 years, 2 points if the mistress is younger than the athlete’s daughter.  Athletes are disqualified if the age gap is less than 5 years. 

iii) 1 point if a designer handbag bought for the mistress is Louis Vuitton.  Athletes are disqualified if any handbag bought is fake, and her mates point this out.

iv) 1 point if the mistress was discovered in a place other than the Kona Bar, Lounge 8, Cippolinis, or at work.  Athletes who present their department translator, lubricated with promises of promotion and pay rises, as a mistress in this event are immediately disqualified.

v) 2 points if the mistress does not smile for the entire event, unless on production of large wads of cash by the athlete.  3 points if the mistress screams at the athlete in a public place.  Athletes are immediately disqualified if the judges receive evidence, or even a rumour, that the mistress paid for something herself.

Stage 2: Upon returning from first rotation, contestants must set about getting a divorce from their existing wife and moving in with the mistress as quickly as possible.  Disqualification may occur in one or more of the following instances:

i) Judges receive evidence that mistress has been in the company of more than one athlete following or during Stage 1.

ii) Divorce results in loss of house or cash value exceeding $100,000 in favour of ex-wife.

iii) Mistress’s mother moves in along with mistress.

iv) Previously unknown husband of mistress turns up during the event.

Prediction:  Great Britain to win gold by a mile, Australia a distant second with silver, and the USA bronze.  63 British athletes disqualified in Stage 2 alone.

Event 3.  Paper Chase

Various teams compete to see who can process 10 standard forms the fastest.

Prediction: Immigration Department to narrowly break previous world record of 11 weeks and 3 days taking gold, HR department puts in a disappointing performance to win silver after 4 months, bronze medal goes unclaimed as event continues indefinitely.

Event 4.  2-Mile Taxi Steeplechase

Contestants start off at various places in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.  On a given signal, they must race to the Pacific Plaza Hotel, pick up three drunken expats, and rush them to Chast’e nightclub as fast as possible.  Event takes place on a Saturday night.  Drivers are disqualified if they fail to meet all the following criteria:

i) Journey must be completed without driver wearing seatbelt.

ii) Vehicle must have a huge crack across the windscreen.

iii) Driver must smoke at least two cigarettes during event.

iv) Driver must make at least one phone call.

v) Driver must negotiate at least two enormous, water-filled potholes, and one junction where the traffic lights are knocked out.

A 10-second penalty is imposed on any driver whose vehicle has tread on the tyres.  Drivers with vehicles with the steering wheel on the correct side are immediately disqualified.

Prediction:  Russia to take gold thanks to superior local knowledge, Azerbaijan to take silver, Uzbekistan to take bronze having lost valuable time trying to scam passengers out of an extra 100 Roubles.

Event 5.  Bear Baiting

Contestants head into the woods and river banks of Sakhalin Island and pick as many berries and catch as many fish as possible over a 2-day period.  Athletes are encouraged to sneak quietly around whilst doing so, only making noise when running around a corner or over a ridge in a startling manner.  Whoever returns with the most berries and fish is the winner.

Prediction:  Large bear to take the athletes, berries, and fish.

Event 6.   Drinking and Fighting

Contestants drink and fight.  Points are awarded for drinking and fighting skills.  Event to take place in nominated bars around Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, possibly at the same time as Event 4.

Prediction: Ireland to win gold, Russia to win silver, Great Britain to win bronze.

Event 7.  Paper Generation

Contestants attempt to generate as much paper as possible in a three-day period.  Bonus points are awarded for papers being notarised, legalised, translated, stamped, tied with string, duplicated, triplicated, and lost.  Points are deducted for any piece of paper which contains useful information or serves a purpose.

Prediction: Russia to win gold, silver taken by international team of HSE representatives, bronze goes to the Netherlands.

Event 8.  Procedure Untangling

Contestants are presented with a procedure selected at random from an international oil company and are required to:

i) Describe what it is for.

ii) Describe why it is useful.

iii) Describe the mentality of the person who wrote it without using the f-word.

iv) Describe how it is supposed to be implemented.

v) Describe a situation where it was used as intended.

Prediction:  Event cancelled due to inability of any contestant to finish.

Event 9.  Medical Pentathlon

Each contestant is lined up at the entrance to the HR department.  Upon an email notification, athletes sprint to the ISOS clinic and compete in 5 events.  Anyone found to be using prohibited substances is disqualified.

Stage 1:  Urinate exactly 25ml into a cup as fast as possible.  Points are deducted if urine is not taken from middle of stream.

Stage 2:  Give as much blood as possible.  Points are deducted if nurse cannot find a vein or blood contains more alcohol than haemoglobin. 

Stage 3:  Athletes compete to convince a doctor they are free from leprosy, bubonic plague, and other medieval diseases in as short a time as possible.  Points are deducted if exposure of the genitals is necessary.

Stage 4:  Jerk legs in upward direction when knees are whacked with a hammer.  Points are awarded for upward velocity, graceful trajectory of feet, and highest point of arc.

Stage 5:  Athletes expose themselves to an archaic x-ray machine for as long as they dare.  Athletes are stripped of medals if later found to be sterile.

Prediction:  USA to win gold, Great Britain and Australia disqualified.

Event 10.  Baggage Handling

Contestants start in the baggage retrieval area at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk international airport, and upon the arrival of a decrepit old truck piled high with suitcases which are hurled onto the carousel, athletes compete to locate their bag, drag it from the carousel, locate the tag and show it to the grumpy old troll blocking the door, and send it through the x-ray machine in the fastest time possible.  The clock stops when bag and athlete spill through the door into the airport concourse.  Extra points will be awarded to athletes who help keep the carousel clear of bags so that more may be hurled on.  A lost baggage tag results in instant disqualification.

Prediction:  Total chaos.