Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is Russia the real bully here? - Dedicated to Anna Nikolaeva

Things in Georgia are not looking good. This morning, BBC News reported Russian convoys are further encroaching into Georgian territory. Civilians were film packing into cars and buses with what little possessions they could take with them. There have been reports of looting and abduction of women in some parts. But most strikingly, fear is written on all their faces.

The question is why now?

Russia is reacting in the way it is now because it has been sidelined by the "West" for too long. Politically, Russia has been treated as a second class nation, not because it is poor, but precisely because it is a country rich in oil and gas but not beholden to the US or EU's demands.

In terms of resources, all the balls are in Russia's court. So to create an imaginary advantage, the "West" created the political court and added a whole new basket of balls in their court.

I'm not a fan of autocratic regimes, and most certainly not war. But I find that at the root of armed conflicted is really a very human factor - the sense of self-worth. On Tuesday, Jonathan Eyal wrote for The Straits Times:

"The world rejoiced, and Mr Gorbachev earned his Nobel Prize. But few paid much attention to the feelings of the ordinary Russians. Nobody defeated them in battle, yet their country was suddenly cut into pieces, apparently for no good reason. More importantly, the Russians were no longer either feared or admired; they just became a joke, the recipients of international charity."

It is easy to demonise Russia for being the bully with its superior military strength. But Jonathan Eyal makes a very good point. We often view Russia as a nemesis without realising that they are a nation which was once an empire. The shaming of Germany in post WWI led to the the rise of Hitler and WWII. I dare Russia's fared better in that sense. Russia's leaders that followed the end of the Cold War, Gorbachev and Yeltsin were pro-West and Putin hasn't gone off to declare war on the world.

We have been brought up to think in far too polemic terms and it's ok if Good (despite its bad streaks) has to do evil to remain more powerful than Evil. Whatever happened to the other principle of putting yourself in other people's shoes?

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