Georgia conflict signals the rise of Imperialist rivalry

Published by the League for the Fifth International (Predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, RCIT), 21.10.2008


With the eyes of the world dazzled by the opening ceremony of the Olympic games in Beijing, the pro-US government of Georgia launched an unprovoked invasion of South Ossetia, a region that has been fighting for its independence for over 18 years. Georgian forces deployed heavy artillery provided by the West to shatter and destroy the Ossetian capital city of Tskhinvali, killing thousands of civilians. This was a cynical and calculated move by a government that wanted to stir up conflict in the region.


The Georgian government's plan was blindingly obvious: to force Russia into war and give an excuse to bring the imperialist powers of the US, Britain and the EU into a conflict with Russia.


The media downplays the role that the US, Israel and other countries had in preparing Georgia for its attack on the South Ossetians - even though US and Israeli troops undertook military manoeuvres with the Georgian army only weeks before they launched their attack. The conflict was presented as an attack on "poor little Georgia" by big aggressor Russia - but it is now clear that it was revealed as a manoeuvre by the US and its allies to isolate and politically attack Russia, using the supposed threat of Russia to dragoon central European and central Asian states into a new and expanded US-led military alliance against Moscow and for US domination of the oil-rich central Asian region.


The sight of the cravenly opportunist British foreign secretary David Miliband flying to Kiev to express his "solidarity" with the Ukraine against Russian aggression best exemplified the role of British imperialism in actually promoting confrontation in the region. He gave a speech explaining how the West would defend Kiev from Russia and then published a piece in the Guardian a day later justifying his sabre rattling.


Posturing as much on behalf of his own ambition as for the Pentagon and Whitehall's imperial designs, he was quite willing to stir the pot of national hatred and fear in Ukraine, a country in which two in three people oppose NATO membership and which is itself sharply divided between a Russian-speaking East and the Ukrainian-speaking, EU and US-oriented West.


Miliband's father, the late Marxist writer Ralph Miliband, once famously described Harold Wilson's support for the US in Vietnam as the "most shameful chapter in the history of the Labour Party". Today he must be turning in his grave.


Russia was not unaware in the weeks leading up to the murderous attack on Tskhinvali that the Georgian military had been on training manoeuvres with US military advisers, nor that over the last years the Turkish and Israeli military have been training and equipping the Georgian army and upgrading its air force, as well as preparing it for a potential entry into NATO. This is why Russia launched its own military training exercise along the border with Georgia at around the same time, and also why the Russians were able to send large numbers of tanks and military vehicles into the South Ossetia region within 24 hours of the conflict starting.


Did the US know of the planned invasion before hand? No one knows for sure, but it seems very likely indeed. Dr. George Friedman, head of, said: "It is inconceivable that the Americans were unaware of Georgia's mobilisation and intentions... It is also inconceivable that the Americans were unaware that the Russians had deployed substantial forces on the South Ossetian frontier. US technical intelligence, from satellite imagery and signals intelligence to unmanned aerial vehicles, could not miss the fact that thousands of Russian troops were moving to forward positions." The closeness of US cooperation was demonstrated by the airlifting of 2000 Georgian soldiers to the conflict zone from Iraq by US military aircraft.

The media campaign around the war also revealed a very slick marketing system. Georgian premier Saakashvili, who is educated at Harvard and runs a European-based PR company called Aspect Consulting, immediately appeared on TV stations to give interviews with journalists. Behind him were the Georgian and EU flags, a calculated message. Saakashvili came to power as a western backed candidate in the so-called "Rose Revolution" in 2005, but has become increasingly dictatorial, using the police to break up opposition rallies and attacking journalists critical of his government.


After defeating the Georgian army, the Russian military set up a buffer zone around South Ossetia, stretching into Georgia itself by several miles. They claimed that this was to protect the South Ossetians from Georgian military strikes. But no socialist should allow their justified hatred of NATO and US aggression and Saakashvili's tricks to blind us to the fact that Russia is also an imperialist power.


Capitalism has long since been restored in Russia and under Putin and now Medvedev the imperialist designs of Russia have become increasingly clear. It is determined to maintain its great power status in the region, to resist rival powers like the US from asserting control and to thwart the demands of its own subject nationalities for self-determination.


Russia is recovering after years of economic problems caused by the re-introduction of capitalism to the economy in 1991. After the Russian revolution of 1917 the economy was not capitalist but was planned by the government, even though after 1924 Stalin and his bureaucratic successors did this in a dictatorial and brutal way. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was subjected to International Monetary Fund (IMF) shock therapy, which made some people (like Roman Abramovich) very wealthy. But it caused real poverty and chaos across the country and left Russia quite weak.


Now Russia is beginning to recover - especially with the sharp rise on oil prices - and wants to take its place as a more powerful imperialist force again. It is starting to do this by standing up to the US and Britain over diplomatic issues, for instance with the expulsion of British embassy staff in 2007 over the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko. In particular, the provocative decision of the US to site missile defence systems in Eastern Europe - which are designed to disable Russian missiles so as to allow the US to make a nuclear strike without retaliation - roused Russian fury.


Of course Russia is hypocritically using the South Ossetian and Abkhazian claims of independence for its own political ends. It has been involved in a two long and brutal wars against Chechnya, which declared independence in 1990. Over 100,000 Chechens have been killed in the conflict that has devastated the country. The difference between Chechnya and South Ossetia is that one is currently in Russian territory and trying to break away and the other one is in Georgian territory.


Now NATO has dispatched over 10 warships to the Black Sea, a provocative move designed to impress upon the Russians that the Western powers are not totally impotent when it comes to flexing their military muscles. This flotilla includes frigates and other vessels from Germany, Turkey, Poland and the US.


NATO is involved in aggressive expansion across Eastern Europe and beyond as part of a US strategy to contain and surround Russia. Countries like Romania and Bulgaria, who have recently joined NATO, are crucial bridges between the eastern countries where the gas and oil is, and the West, which consumes these resources.


Interestingly this conflict has exposed real divisions amongst the other imperialist powers in the US and Europe. The principal powers that lead the EU, namely Germany and France, were also much more cautious about condemning Russia, Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, went so far as to say that Russia and Georgia were "equally to blame" for the crisis. Nicholas Sarkozy, the right-wing president of France and currently the president of the EU, flew to Moscow to discuss the crisis with the President. The US clearly leaned on France to come into line and now the French government is at the forefront of the proposal for EU economic sanctions against Russia.


The US has exploited this conflict to the fullest, launching a huge propaganda war against Russia, and trying to draw Poland and the Czech Republic more into their orbit with the new missile defence shield. Within days of the Russian invasion of Georgia, Poland leapt at the chance to sign up to the missile defence initiative with Condoleezza Rice flying over to seal the deal with them.


It is the nature of modern capitalism that tensions will grow between the big imperialist powers. At the moment the US is the dominant world power, and has been since the fall of the USSR. America's attack on Iraq was part of its longer-term strategy "for a new American century" which required it to secure the oil and energy resources in the Middle East. This is why France and Germany opposed the war in Iraq, because they saw it as something that would strengthen the US at their expense. The US is also keeping a close eye on China for emergence as a new super power.


The working class around the world must oppose the new drive to conflict between the great imperialist powers. In Russia workers should refuse to support Russian military intervention and demand the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia. In the West, workers must oppose any expansion of NATO and call for it to be disbanded, along with all imperialist military alliances. We must recognise the right of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to separate from Georgia if they so wish, whilst also supporting the rights of the Chechens to separate from Russia.


Here in the UK we must oppose a single penny or a single person being given to the British Army, that instrument of oppression and theft. And we must constantly point out, as economic crisis deepens around the world, that this system is inherently warlike, based as it is on exploitation and cutthroat competition between states. If the 21st century is to avoid the fate of the 20th, the working class needs to organise internationally, to overthrow this system of war.