Once again, the Caucasus is ablaze. At the very moment that Bush and Putin were sampling little cakes in Beijing and standing side by side at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, that supposed symbol of peace and reconciliation between peoples, the Georgian president Saakashvili, the protégé of the White House, and the Russian bourgeoisie were sending their troops to carry out terrible massacres against the population in Georgia/South Ossetia. This war has seen a new round of ‘ethnic cleansing' on both sides and it is difficult to estimate the number of victims, but it seems to be in the thousands and a large part of them are civilians.
A new demonstration of the barbarism of capitalist war
Each camp accuses the other of being the warmonger or claims that it was forced to act because its back was against the wall. The local population, whether of Russian, Ossetian, Abkhazian or Georgian origin, whose towns and villages have been bombed, burned, pillaged and destroyed has become the hostage of all the bourgeois nationalist factions; all of them face the same massacres and atrocities. The workers cannot choose between their exploiters. They need to carry on fighting for their own class interests and reject all nationalist and warmongering slogans, whether it's "defend our Russian brothers in the Caucasus" or "defend the people who have confidence in Russian aid" or "God save the territorial integrity of Georgia"...all these slogans only serve the interests of one capitalist gang or the other, who are all looking for cannon-fodder.
A new demonstration of the barbarism of capitalist war
Responding to a series of provocations by the Russian bourgeoisie and its separatist factions in Ossetia, the Georgian president Saakashvili thought he could act with impunity by mounting a brutal invasion of the tiny province of South Ossetia on the night of 7-8th August, sending in Georgian troops supported by aircraft and destroying the town of Tskhinvali, the 'capital' of the pro-Russian separatist province.
While Russia sent in the militias it controls in the other focus of separatism in Georgia, Abkhazia, taking over the Kodori gorge, Russian forces replied directly and ferociously by intensively bombing several Georgian towns (including the port of Poti and its naval base on the Black Sea which was reduced to ruins, and above all Gori, the majority of whose inhabitants had to flee following massive air-raids). Russian tanks quickly occupied a third of Georgian territory, even threatening the capital as Russian armoured vehicles advanced to within a few dozen kilometres of Tbilisi. Several days after a cease-fire was signed there has been no sign of Russian troops pulling back. There were scenes of horror and murder on both sides. Practically the whole population of Tskhinvali and its surrounding area (30,000 refugees) were forced to flee the combat zone. Throughout the country, the number of terrified refugees, deprived of everything, rose to 115,000 (the majority of them from Gori) according to the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees.
This conflict has been brewing for a long time. South Ossetia and Abkhazia, regions infested by smugglers and traffickers of all kinds, are self-proclaimed pro-Russian republics in which Russia has exerted permanent control. For nearly 20 years, since Georgia's declaration of independence, they have been the theatre of all sorts of pressure, conflicts and killings. The use of Russian minorities in Georgia to justify an aggressive imperialist policy is reminiscent of the policies of Germany, not only in the period of Nazism (the episode of the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia) but throughout the 20th century. As a specialist in Le Monde put it on 10th August, "South Ossetia is neither a country nor a regime. It is a mixed company formed by Russian generals and Ossetian bandits to make money out of the conflict with Georgia".
Resorting to extreme nationalism and military adventurism has always been a favourite way for the bourgeoisie to regulate internal problems. Although the Georgian president was triumphantly elected by 95% of the population in the wake of the "Rose Revolution" in the autumn of 2003 against the old "Soviet" leader Shevardnadze, he had problems getting re-elected at the beginning of 2008 despite the active support of the USA, having been discredited by his record of fraud and his autocratic way of ruling. This unconditional partisan of Washington took over a state which from its creation in 1991 had been a bridgehead for the USA's New World Order under Bush Senior. This probably led him to overestimate the support he could count on from the western powers in this latest adventure, especially the USA. For its part, Putin's Russia laid a trap into which Saakashvili fell head first, providing Moscow with an opportunity to flex its muscles and restore its authority in the Caucasus (which has been a real thorn in Russian's side for a long time); but this was essentially in response to the encirclement of Russia by NATO forces, which has been a reality since 1991. This encirclement reached an unacceptable level for Russia with the recent requests of Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO. And above all, Russia cannot tolerate the anti-missile shield due to be installed in Poland and the Czech Republic. Not without reason, Moscow sees these installations as being aimed not at Iran but at itself. Russia has taken advantage of the fact that the White House, whose military forces are bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, has its hands tied at the moment, and has launched this counter-offensive in the Caucasus, not that long after re-establishing - at considerable cost - its authority in the atrocious, murderous wars in Chechnya.
But the responsibility for this war doesn't only lie with the most direct protagonists. All the imperialist powers who are today shedding hypocritical tears about the fate of Georgia have blood on their hands, whether it's the USA in its two wars in the Gulf, or France with the role it played in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, or Germany which triggered the terrible war in the Balkans in 1992.
The masks are falling! It's clear that the end of the Cold War and of the old blocs has not brought any sign of an ‘era of peace and stability' in the world, whether we are looking at Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans or the Caucasus. The dismantling of the old Stalinist empire has only resulted in unleashing new imperialist appetites and a growing military chaos. Georgia has been a major strategic prize which has led many forces to court it over the last few years. Formerly a mere transit corridor for Russian oil from the Volga and the Urals in the Stalinist period, the Black Sea after 1989 became the royal road for exploiting the wealth of the Caspian sea. In the middle of this zone, Georgia has become a major crossroads for Caspian Sea oil and gas from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan; since 2005, it has been traversed by 1,800 km of the BTC oil pipeline built under the direct patronage of the Americans and linking the Azeri port of Baku to the Turkish terminal at Ceyhan, passing through Tbilisi. This pipeline has by-passed Russia in transporting oil from the Caspian. For Moscow, there is the imminent threat of seeing Central Asia, which concentrates 5% of world reserves of oil and gas, emerge as an alternative to Russia in supplying Europe with gas. All the more so because the European Union is dreaming of building a 330 km gas pipeline, baptised Nabucco, parallel to the BTC oil pipeline and directly linking the gas fields of Iran and Azerbaijan to Europe via Turkey. Meanwhile Russia, whose new president Medvedev is a former boss of Gazprom, is planning to respond by setting up a gigantic rival project which will reach Europe via the Black Sea, at an estimated cost of 20 billion dollars.
Towards a new cold war?
The two former bloc leaders, Russia and the USA, are once again facing each other off, but in a context of inter-imperialist relations very different from the period of the Cold War when the discipline of the blocs could be relied on. At the time, we were always being told that the conflict between these two blocs was above all the expression of an ideological struggle: the struggle of the forces of freedom and democracy against totalitarianism, identified with communism. Today, we can see how much those who promised ‘a new era of peace and stability' were trying to fool us, and it is clearer than ever that the confrontation between these powers is no more than a bestial struggle for sordid imperialist interests.
Today, relations between nations are dominated by ‘every man for himself'. The ‘cease-fire' in Georgia has simply codified the victory of the Kremlin's masters and Russia's military superiority. It means a humiliating semi-capitulation by Georgia, whose territorial integrity is no longer certain, to the conditions dictated by Moscow. The parody of a ‘peace-keeping force' in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, exclusively made up of Russian troops, amounts to an official recognition of the permanent implantation of Russian occupying forces in Georgian territory. Russia has taken advantage of its military advantage to re-install itself in Georgia to the great chagrin of the ‘international community'.
This is a new and shattering reversal for Georgia's patron, the American bourgeoisie. Although Georgia has paid a heavy tribute for its allegiance to the US (a 2,000 strong contingent sent to Iraq and Afghanistan), Uncle Sam has in return given it no more than moral support and verbal condemnations of Russia, without lifting a finger to defend it. The most significant aspect of this weakening is that the White House has no plan to offer as an alternative to this ‘ceasefire' and has had no choice but to swallow the European ‘peace plan': worse still, this is a plan whose conditions have been dictated by Russia itself. Even more humiliating is that Condoleezza Rice had to go to Georgia to get the Georgian president to sign it. This speaks volumes about America's impotence and the decline of the world's leading power. This new proof of its decline can only further discredit it in the eyes of the world and is a real worry to states that are counting on its support like Poland and Ukraine.
While the USA displays its powerlessness, Europe is showing how far ‘every man for himself' has gone. Faced with the paralysis of the Americans, ‘European diplomacy' went into action. But it is significant that it was the French president Sarkozy who was the mouthpiece for this as the acting president of the European Union, although most of the time he speaks only for himself, devoid of any coherence and a champion of short-term navigation on the international scene. Once again, Sarkozy has rushed in to have his say in the conflict in order to get some reflected glory. But the famous ‘French peace plan' (he wasn't able to keep up the illusion that this was a big national or European diplomatic success) is just a ridiculous simulacrum which hardly hides the fact that its conditions have simply been imposed by Russia.
Europe can draw little profit from this situation because its positions and interests are so diametrically opposed. How could there be an ounce of unity in its ranks, with Poland and the Baltic states, viscerally anti-Russian, being fervent defenders of Georgia, while Germany, opposed to US efforts to control the region, is one of the most resolute opponents of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO? Although Angela Merkel has made a spectacular volte-face in assuring the Georgian president of its support, it's because she was forced to do this because of the growing unpopularity of Russia, acting in Georgia as though it was conquered territory. The point remains that Europe looks like a free-for-all with France trying to be the Lone Ranger, at the same time trying to square the circle by offering its good services to Putin, and with Britain quickly rallying to the defence of Georgia in order to oppose its main rival Germany.
As for the benefits drawn by Russia itself, they remain very limited. Certainly it is strengthening its imperialist position in the short term, not only in the Caucasus but on the world scene. The Russian fleet is master of the region's seas and threatens all other shipping. But although it is tightening up its immediate position in the Caucasus, this military victory won't be enough to dissuade the USA from setting up its anti-missile shield on European soil: on the contrary, it is pushing the White House to accelerate the project, as can be seen by the accord recently signed with Poland to install the shield on Polish soil. In revenge the joint chief of the Russian military command has threatened Poland, saying it would be the first target of a nuclear attack.
Russian imperialism is less interested in the independence or annexation of South Ossetia or Abkhazia than in finding itself in a position of strength for the negotiations about the future of Georgia. But at root, its war-like aggressiveness and the huge military means it has set in motion in Georgia are reviving the old fears of its imperialist rivals and it is diplomatically more isolated than ever.
No power can hope to be able to control the situation and the shifting and changing alliances we are now seeing are the expression of a dangerous destabilisation of imperialist relations.
There can be no peace in capitalism
What's not in doubt is the fact all the powers, large and small, are trying to play a role in the diplomatic game in a region of the world which concentrates major geo-strategic interests. All the powers are responsible for this situation. With the oil and gas of the Caspian and the existence of a number of Turkish-speaking countries in Central Asia, the vital interests of Turkey and Iran are also involved in this region, but in fact the whole world is implicated. It's all the easier to use people as cannon fodder in the Caucasus because this region is a multi-ethnic mosaic: for example, the Ossetians have an Iranian origin... It's easy for this or that power to stoke up the fires of nationalism when things are so fragmented. Russia's past as an oppressive power also weighs heavily in the balance. All this prefigures more serious and more widespread imperialist tensions in the future: we have seen the disquiet of the Baltic states and especially Ukraine, which with its nuclear arsenal is a military power of a very different stature than Georgia.
This war increases the risk of destabilising the region but has inevitable consequences on the global balance of imperialist forces. The ‘peace plan' is just sand in the eyes and contains all the ingredients of a new military escalation in the future, threatening to set light to a whole series of powder-kegs from the Caucasus to the Middle East.
We are seeing a growing number of inflammable situations in a number of areas of the planet: Caucasus, Kurdistan, Pakistan, Middle East, etc. Not only have the imperialist powers once again shown their inability to solve the problems behind these situations - their actions only serve to make the conflicts even more explosive. This demonstrates once again that capitalism has nothing to offer except military barbarism and massacres which make hostages of a growing part of the world's population. The sinister dance now going on in Georgia is only one part of the monstrous witches' Sabbath that capitalism is inflicting on the world.
It's not by demanding more democracy, more respect for human rights, or even getting the imperialist bandits to stick to their international agreements, that this situation can be brought to an end. The only way to end war is to end capitalism. And this can only come about through the struggle of the working class. The only allies of the workers are other workers, across all frontiers and nationalist fronts. The only way for the workers of the world to show their solidarity towards their class brothers and sisters, whether they are Russian, Georgian, Ossetian or Abkhazian, or towards the victims of all the wars which infest the planet, is to unite their forces and develop their struggles towards the overthrow of this system. Against the murderous nationalism of the bourgeoisie, their only rallying cry can be the Communist Manifesto's "Workers have no county! Workers of the world, unite!"