Foreign Policy Blogs

Balkanization (of the Caucasus)

Today's reports from Brussels and Tbilisi offer disturbing signs that Russia is unlikely to return to the status quo ante in the Caucasus. Instead of withdrawing its military forces to where they were on August 6th, Russia has strengthened its control over South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and a strategic area of Georgia proper extending well beyond the town of Gori. Reports in the NYT make clear that, behind Russian lines, ethnic Georgians are being terrorized by a mix of Ossetians and criminals of various nationalities. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, at NATO Headquarters, Condi Rice and other NATO foreign ministers are outlining a mix of diplomatic and political steps against Russia that are unlikely to affect the Balkanization of the Caucasus.

Russia is back, not to safeguard the rights of ethnic Ossetians, Abkhazians, or any of the myriad local ethnic groups; not to oppose Turkish domination as in centuries past; but to assert its own influence and control over Georgia and other states of the former USSR. You can argue — correctly — that Georgia did not always treat its minorities well. Now, however, we will see “small scale” ethnic cleansing, abetted by Russian occupiers. Barack Obama, less prone to hyperbole than McCain on this issue, today said that there were reports of Russian “atrocities” in Georgia.

In the Balkan wars of the last decade, there were plenty of excesses on all sides, but a central reality — Belgrade's violence against civilians — turned the world against Serbia. Now Russia, by forcing its way further into Georgia, and sanctioning violence against ethnic Georgians, repeats a discredited pattern of behavior. It is a slippery slope.

 

Author

Mark Dillen

Mark Dillen heads Dillen Associates LLC, an international public affairs consultancy based in San Francisco and Croatia. A former Senior Foreign Service Officer with the US State Department, Mark managed political, media and cultural relations for US embassies in Rome, Berlin, Moscow, Sofia and Belgrade, then moved to the private sector. He has degrees from Columbia and Michigan and was a Diplomat-in-Residence at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins. Mark has also worked for USAID as a media and political advisor and twice served as election observer and organizer for OSCE in Eastern Europe.

Areas of Focus:
US Government; Europe; Diplomacy

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