By Brian Feeney
There’s an uncanny symmetry in the history of Russia’s treatment of Georgia and Britain’s treatment of Ireland over the centuries.
Georgians have their own language, even their own alphabet, their own distinctive Orthodox Christian church symbolised by their own style of crucifix, St Nino’s cross.
The country has natural boundaries - the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains.
The only way into Georgia from Russia used to be over high mountain passes. Now, unfortunately for the Georgians, there’s the Roki Tunnel into South Ossetia from North Ossetia, the route Russian troops took last week.
In 1783 - exactly the same time as the ascendancy parliament in Dublin was making a play for autonomy from Britain - the Georgians were coming under pressure from one of their big neighbours - the Persians to their east.
The Georgians appealed to Catherine the Great of Russia, whose fleet dominated the Black Sea after defeating the Turks.
Mistake - once in, Russia never left.
Inevitably, the embrace of the Russian bear became suffocating.
In 1801, the year Britain sucked Ireland into the so-called United Kingdom with the Act of Union, Russia annexed Georgia to the Tsarist empire, a fate Georgians never accepted.
In 1917 Georgians saw their chance when Russia collapsed into civil war. They struck for independence, their leaders inspired by Irish example. Roger Casement in particular caught their imagination.
However, the uprising was resisted by the Ossetians, playing the role of the Ulster Unionists. The Ossetians didn’t think much of their chances if they were being ruled by Georgians. Thousands of people were killed in the fighting as the Ossetians struggled unsuccessfully to stay part of Russia.
In 1921 as the new USSR emerged from the turmoil of the Bolshevik revolution, the Red Army took Georgia back again as a Soviet republic, much to the delight of the Ossetians who, much to the annoyance of the Georgians, were constituted as a semi-autonomous province within Georgia - a bit like Norn Irn.
Again, as soon as the Georgians got a chance in 1991 they broke away from Russia and just to show nothing had changed, as soon as they could the Ossetians rejected Georgian rule with Russian help and declared independence in 1992.
Thus since 1801 Ossetians have looked to Russia to protect them against Georgian nationalism and Russian governments have always used Ossetians as a stalking horse to cramp Georgian independence.
Unlike the British in Ireland, the Russians have never relinquished their selfish, strategic and economic interest in Georgia. But like Ireland, the Georgians have no other nearby power to help them fend off the Russians.
The present fate of Georgia is compounded by the disastrous foreign policy adventures of the present detestable American administration.
When the US envoy to the UN protested at Russia’s
‘disproportionate response’ the Russian envoy, Vitaly Churkin, was able to reject the protest as
unacceptable “especially from the lips of a representative of a country whose actions we are aware of in Iraq, Afghanistan and Serbia”.
Everyone knows the phrase ‘disproportionate response’ was one America refused to use when its proxy in the Middle East,
Israel, was indiscriminately bombing residential districts in Beirut exactly two years ago. Everyone except the US (and its British poodle Blair) demanded a ceasefire. How is it different in Georgia the Russians ask?
Answer - it isn’t Israel killing civilians.
Here we see the fruits of the stupidities of George W Bush, the world’s most unpopular politician.
His government’s use of torture, kidnapping, indiscriminate bombing of civilians and disregard of the United Nations has squandered any moral authority the US claimed.
Now he is unable to protect his proxy in the Caucasus region and the Russians are taking great pleasure in rubbing his nose in it after having to sit helpless while Bush rampaged around the Middle East, as Putin said, “like a mad man with an open razor”.
Georgia is probably the only place in the world Bush was welcome. Georgians greeted him in 2005 as a saviour from the Russians.
The main road into Tbilisi is now called after him.
With his usual savagery Putin is teaching Bush, the Georgians and any other would-be American proxies on his borders a bloody lesson.
Stay out of my back yard.