By Richard Brenner, Published by the League for the Fifth International (Predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, RCIT), 10.8.2008
The slogans that we have raised in this conflict are the following:
• Georgia - hands off South Ossetia
• US military advisers out of Georgia
• Russian troops out of South Ossetia
• Self-determination for South Ossetia and Abkhazia
• Down with US and Russian imperialist designs for the oil-rich Caucasus.
The people of Georgia and South Ossetia have been dragged into a bloody power play between the USA and Russia for control of the oil-rich Caucasus region. With the eyes of the world on the grand spectacle of the Olympic Opening Ceremony in Beijing, George Bush's neoliberal Georgian puppet, Mikheil Saakashvili, launched a murderous surprise assault on South Ossetia, the majority non-ethnic Georgian region that has been demanding separation from Georgia since 1992 and which was until Friday morning under the control of pro-independence forces, protected by a 500 strong Russian 'peacekeeping' force.
Video recordings showed Georgian jets and artillery pounding the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali - its war materiel provided by exceptionally generous US backing over the last two years to the neoliberal, pro-NATO, repressive Saakashvili government. The bombardment and occupation of the city, killed hundreds of civilians and casualties included a number of Russian 'peacekeepers.' Thousands of Ossetian refugees were driven from the city and from surrounding villages.
Russia, however, called Saakashvili's bluff and mobilised special forces and regular troops, quickly recapturing the South Ossetian capital. They also bombed air bases outside the Georgian capital, Tbilisi and military targets in the town of Gori where, it seems, troops were massing to enter Ossetia. The Georgian parliament declared war and called up reservists. Saakashvili appealed for foreign aid but nevertheless called for a ceasefire.
Whilst the fighting continued, the UN Security Council failed to reach agreement on a common statement. The hypocritical voices of the USA and its British ally have been raised in calls for Russia to respect for "Georgia's territorial integrity", by which they really mean Saakashvili's right to slaughter and repress the separatist forces in South Ossetia. As the Russian media has persistently pointed out, the USA and Britain's inconsistent approach to the right of nations to independence is as striking as it is self-serving. They recognise Kosovo, but refuse recognition to South Ossetia. They demand that Russia respect Georgia's borders but themselves violate those of Iraq and Afghanistan with impunity.
The Russian stance is no less hypocritical. Its delegate to the UN last night piously backed the national rights of the South Ossetians, and those of the Abkhazians, Georgia's other large national minority in its Western region. But who can take as good coin the Russians' commitment to the right of nations to self-determination when they continue to bloodily suppress the Chechen nation, which has been fighting for separation from Russia for years? With a full scale Russian military occupation the independence of South Ossetia will be nominal at best. Behind this war, on both the Russian and the Georgian sides, lie the manoeuvrings of the imperialist powers and their oil multinationals. At stake are the oil reserves of the circum-Caspian Sea region and the locations for new pipelines to pump it westward, outside Russian territorial control. Part of these manoeuvres was the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia in 2003 that put Saakashvili, a pro-Western neoliberal, in power. The US-based NGO, the Liberty Institute, helped organise it. The USA has been tempting' Saakashvili's increasingly domestically unpopular regime with NATO membership - an offer other NATO members recently vetoed. One condition for accepting an application is that there be no ongoing territorial disputes with its neighbours. This probably accounts for Saakashvili's ill-fated attempt to seize South Ossetia. Socialists around the world should take a clear stance on the Russia-Georgia conflict. Our starting point is two basic principles of Leninism: opposition to imperialist powers as they seek the division and redivision of the world so that they can plunder its resources and compete with one another for regional hegemony, and support for the right of nations to self-determination, up to and including the right to form separate states if they so wish.
Clearly this meant total opposition to the imperialist puppet Saakashvili's failed attempt to "recover" South Ossetia and meant support for the region's armed resistance to it. However the rights of the Georgian minority there must be preserved and all attempts at ethnic cleansing resisted wherever they come from.
Only weeks ago, US forces engaged in a huge training exercise with Georgian troops. Whether the attack on Tskhinvali was planned in the Pentagon, or whether Saakashvili was so emboldened by the USA's backing that he decided to engage in a provocation to force NATO's hand and push the US into a showdown with Russia, is as yet not clear. But internationalists in Georgia should be struggling for the withdrawal of all Georgian troops from South Ossetia, for the expulsion of all US military advisers and troops from Georgia, and for the overthrow of Saakashvili's criminal regime.
But socialists cannot support the Russian military intervention either, motivated as it is solely by the Kremlin's grand designs for domination of the Caucasus, its rich oil reserves and its strategic position in relation to the great Caspian oil pipeline. Russia is a capitalist country, an imperialist power which itself oppresses national minorities such as the Chechens. Whilst fully supporting the right of South Ossetians to their independence, socialists and internationalists in Russia must oppose Medvedev and Putin's military plans. They have encouraged Ossetians to take out Russian citizenship, thereby providing themselves with the excuse that occupation of the tiny country is protection of "their own" citizens. The Russian klepto-capitalists and their bonapartist regime have seized the opportunity presented by the crisis to assert regional control. The Russian representative at the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday made not only correct calls for the South Ossetians' rights to be respected, but also the sinister assertion that, in attacking Tskhinvali, Georgia had called into question "its viability as a state". Any attempt by Russian forces to bring about regime change in Georgia would be a clear violation of the national independence of the country. Like the Balkans in the years before the First World War, the Caucasus today is emerging as a battleground for inter-imperialist rivalry and proxy wars. As the economic storm clouds continue to gather, signs of sharpening tensions between the USA and Russia reveal the contours of darker times to come. Now, more than ever, the working class around the world needs to be guided by the key principles of internationalism: support for the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, and resolute opposition to imperialism.