Did the U.S. provoke Russia?

Russia’s Putin blames the U.S. for the conflict in Georgia

What happened

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. of provoking Georgia to attack South Ossetia, with the goal of deliberately “creating a competitive advantage for one of the candidates fighting for the post of U.S. president.” The White House called the allegations “patently false.” (BBC News)

What the commentators said

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Let’s see if I can follow Putin’s argument, said Ignatius Reilly in the blog Right Pundits. “Bush/Cheney” want John McCain to beat Barack Obama, they think “the American people will go for an experienced Republican when there’s a foreign crisis,” and so they urge Georgia to pick a fight with Russia? Please. “Not only is there no proof of any of this, but starting a fight with Russia so that McCain gets a few extra votes seems stupid beyond belief.”

Actually, Putin “may be onto something,” said Truthdig’s Ear to the Ground blog. There are “neoconservative fingerprints all over” this conflict, and McCain does have “a man crush on Georgia’s president.” Plus, Putin, with his “years of KGB savvy,” is no slouch when it comes to political machinations.

It might look suspicious to Russia, said James Gerstenzang in the Los Angeles Times’ Countdown to Crawford blog, that one of Vice President Dick Cheney’s top national security aides was “in Georgia shortly before the war began.” But Cheney’s office explains that Joseph Wood was just doing prep work for Cheney’s upcoming visit to Georgia, not “giving his blessing to the Georgian’s military operation.”

If anything, this flap shows that Putin is “not all that concerned about his popularity in the West,” said Joshua Keating in Foreign Policy’s Passport blog. But as to his allegations, it’s fair to say that “the normally well-spoken” Putin has descended “to Ahmadinejad-level paranoid bombast” here.

And talk about the pot calling the kettle black, said Konstantin Sonin in Russia’s The St. Petersburg Times. It’s Putin who’s manipulating the Georgia conflict for political gains. “Borrowing a page from the Soviet era,” he is using foreign policy “to divert Russians’ attention away from the most serious economic problems facing the country,” such as high inflation, rising loan defaults, and “technological backwardness.”

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