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Assignment: No Trespassing: Georgia

Assignment: No Trespassing: Georgia

Assignment: No Trespassing: Georgia

NOW FOR AN ORIGINAL PAPER ASSIGNMENT:Assignment: No Trespassing: Georgia

No Trespassing: Georgia*

Russia’s military invasion of Georgia, a small country of less than five million on its southern flank, rekindled memories of the Cold War when the United States and the Soviet Union were bitter rivals. In happier times, the United States made a show of promising Georgia it would not stand alone as it embarked on the path of democracy.

But when Russia attacked in August 2008, the United States was embroiled in two dirty wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) of its own. George W. Bush—a lame duck president already badly overextended in the Middle East and Central Asia—was in no position to do anything but join the chorus of feckless diplomatic protests. On its own, tiny Georgia was no match for the Russian Goliath.

Georgia’s desire to join NATO gave Moscow a motive to match its means, a powerful mixture of geopolitics and national pride. From the Kremlin’s vantage point, the West had profited at Russia’s expense, using NATO and the EU to fill the vacuum created by the Soviet collapse. Any further encroachment on Russia’s periphery was a provocation to be met with deadly force. Seen in this light, the attack on Georgia put the West on notice: No (more) trespassing!

Nor was the war just about politics. It was also about control of vital oil and natural gas pipelines to the West, about Russia’s debut as a post-Soviet global power (which it clearly is by any geopolitical reckoning), and about drawing a line in the sand on Russia’s western and southern frontiers. Georgia always has been important to Russia because of its strategic position on the Black Sea, the gateway to the Mediterranean, and its proximity to Iran, Turkey, and the Middle East.

Russia’s use of force against a sovereign state friendly to the West was reminiscent of the Cold War. Some things never change.

State Building

Putin recentralized state power at great cost to Russia’s fragile democratic institutions. We can summarize the effect of his reverse reforms as follows:

· A Tattered Constitution. Putin has greatly enhanced the powers of the executive at the expense of the legislative branch and used the judicial system to intimidate and punish his opponents.

· Feeble Parties and Fewer Elections. The Russian party system is weak and badly fragmented. Putin places formidable obstacles in the path of political parties and party leaders who dare to oppose his policies; he abolished elections for regional governors altogether (he handpicks them now).

· Organized Crime. According to one estimate, organized crime employed some three million people in the mid-1990s; it infiltrated the police and bureaucracy; it also clouded Russia’s relations with the West on many levels.* Organized crime remains a major blight on civil society in Russia to this day.

· Disrespect for the Law and the Police. Crime, corruption, and collusion have contributed to a culture of illegality that’s been called “Russia’s biggest blight.”*