Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

U.S. actions undermine the case against Russia

If you're looking for consistency in U.S. foreign policy, you won't find it in the current crisis involving Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

President Bush and others in his administration have repeatedly blasted Russia for invading a sovereign nation. Yet that is exactly what the United States did in 2003 when it sent 130,000 troops into Iraq.

And how is U.S. support for Kosovo's independence from Serbia any different from Russia's support for South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence from Georgia?

The answer: There isn't much difference at all. That's what's making it hard for the White House to build an airtight case that Russia is a ham-handed aggressor that's totally at fault in the Georgia fiasco.

"Suppose we tried for regime change in Cuba, and Russia tried to counter that — we would say it's an outrage to do something in our sphere of influence," says Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University. "And yet we've tried to organize the former Soviet republics not so much as independent states, but to integrate them into a U.S.-led Western alliance. The Russians are understandably very uncomfortable."

With an elected president who went to law school in New York, Georgia is touted by the White House as a model of democracy in a region long under the thumb of Kremlin autocrats. The United States has pushed for NATO membership for Georgia, only to be rebuffed by European nations that don't want to further antagonize Russia when it's already angry about U.S. plans to base missiles near its borders.

Russia is also annoyed by U.S. support for the "territorial integrity" of Georgia, which includes two provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, that have declared independence and lean more toward Moscow. The current crisis started Aug. 8 when Georgia tried to reclaim South Ossetia, killing hundreds of ethnic Russian civilians. That prompted the Kremlin to send in troops to prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe," as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called it.

The Russian military action — which quickly spread beyond the two provinces, engulfing large Georgian cities — has arguably been a disproportionate response whose real intent is to overthrow a pro-U.S. Georgian government. But just as arguably, it's a less blatant violation of sovereignty to invade a troublesome neighbor than it is to invade a country 7,000 miles away that poses no immediate threat.

"International law prohibits the nondefensive use of force, and that's what transpired in Iraq," Falk says. "Russia is violating — just as we violated — the U.N. charter by sending its forces across the border."

There are also parallels between the situation in Georgia today and that in Kosovo in 1999 when NATO attacked Yugoslav troops that had been systematically killing Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.

That war contributed to the breakup of Yugoslavia and Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in February. Russia opposed both the war and Kosovar independence on the grounds they would encourage other separatist movements throughout the world.

But Russia is flip-flopping, too.

The Kremlin justifies its move into Georgia as protecting ethnic Russians and their right to self-determination, just as the United States justified the Kosovo war as protecting ethnic Albanians.

Yet you don't hear Russia saying much about Chechnya, another breakaway region that has long sought independence. After years of fighting that killed thousands of civilians and nearly obliterated the capital city of Grozny, Putin in 2007 installed a new Chechen president.

Now Chechnya is relatively peaceful — and firmly under Russian control.

Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at [email protected]

U.S. actions undermine the case against Russia 08/16/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 23, 2008 11:53am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Bay small businesses give Tampa B+ for regulatory climate


    In a recent survey about small business sentiments toward state and local government policies that affect them, Tampa Bay ranked at No. 25 out of 80 — a B+ overall.

    Tampa Bay ranked No. 25 out of 80 in a recent survey about how small business owners feel about state and local government policies that affect them. | [Times file photo]
  2. Dirk Koetter to Bucs: Take your complaints to someone who can help


    TAMPA — It was just another day of aching bellies at One Save Face.

    Dirk Koetter: “All of our issues are self-inflicted right now.”
  3. Seminole Heights murders: fear and warnings, but no answers


    TAMPA — Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan elicited loud gasps from the crowd of about 400 who showed up at Edison Elementary School on Monday night to learn more about the string of unsolved killings that have left the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood gripped by fear.

    Kimberly Overman, left, comforts Angelique Dupree, center, as she spoke about the death of her nephew Benjamin Mitchell, 22, last week in Seminole Heights. The Tampa Police Department held a town hall meeting Monday night where concerned residents hoped to learn more about the investigation into the three shooting deaths over 11 days in southeast Seminole Heights. But police could give the crowd at Edison Elementary School few answers. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  4. Juvenile justice reform seen as help for teen car theft problem


    ST. PETERSBURG — One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations has decided to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year.

    One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations, Faith & Action for Strength Together (FAST), voted Monday night to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year. FAST believes civil citations could help Pinellas County?€™s teen car theft epidemic by keeping children out of the juvenile justice system for minor offenses. [ZACHARY T. SAMPSON  |  Times]
  5. U.S. general lays out Niger attack details; questions remain (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Special Forces unit ambushed by Islamic militants in Niger didn't call for help until an hour into their first contact with the enemy, the top U.S. general said Monday, as he tried to clear up some of the murky details of the assault that killed four American troops and has triggered a nasty …

    Gen. Joseph Dunford said much is still unclear about the ambush.