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Headshot of me wearing red lipstick Kara Babcock

On attacking from Kamchatka

Roll your dice, ladies and gentlemen. After sixty years of continuous gameplay, I'm sure you're eager for it to be over, but there's still a few cards left to be won.

I'm sure that it came as a big surprise to everyone when Russia announced its intentions to absorb South Ossetia after unilaterally declaring it independent. Now Russia has effectively seized control of the territory. Russia's actions are irrational and somewhat disturbing, but what else is new? Unfortunately, I'm having trouble forming an opinion.

For those of us too young to have lived through the Cold War or the aftermath of the subsequent decades, it can be hard to understand the significance of Russia's actions. It doesn't help that--at least here in Ontario--our one compulsory high school history course ends after World War II. Let's break the facts down and see if we can make some sense of what's happening.

First, some background. South Ossetia is a region in Georgia that is loyal to Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia became an independent country, but South Ossetia wanted to join Russia--and they were willing to fight for it. Naturally, Georgia does not want to lose a large region of territory. In the early '90s, violence ensued. Eventually Georgia and South Ossetia reached a tenuous cease-fire. However, other governments have refused to recognize South Ossetia as an independent country.

The current confict is indubitably fuelled by these long-standing tensions. As I understand it, the ignition occurred when Georgia sent soldiers into the South Ossetian region to quell dissidents. Fighting broke out, and Russia saw this as an opportunity to send its own forces into the area under the banner of peacekeepers. This escalated the situation into a global one--Russia invading any country is a matter for concern, especially considering its tenuous relationship with the United States. After all, the Bush administration is full of old war horses who still worry that Russia will set up us the bomb. Furthermore, Georgia is a prospective member of NATO.

Russia, of course, apologized and quickly moved to clarify the situation: it did not care what the rest of the international community thinks. Eventually France brokered a ceasefire that stipulated Russia must withdraw its troops to within South Ossetia--Russia has yet to do so. Initially they insisted they were withdrawing (when they weren't), and now they've just decided to declare South Ossetia and Abkhazia independent.

So I mean ... who's side are we on? Either way, this sets precedents. South Ossetia is getting what it wants--the very nature of democracy implies that the people should be able to choose their government, and the South Ossetians want Russia. It seems like a pretty clear-cut solution: Georgia and the rest of the international community should accept the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia must face sanctions, of course--whatever the result, the means were unacceptable.

On the other hand, are we just going to let Russia go in and carve up another country like that? Canada came close to losing Quebec--can you imagine if Quebec separatists had won the referendum and wanted to join the U.S.?

Plus, we know that the U.S. and the rest of the world can't just let this go. Georgia is but the latest pawn in this Ice-Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. Of course, before making an enemy, it is best to ensure that you don't need them as a friend.

I'm viewing the issue as one of democracy versus the special interests of other countries. How do you view it?