Russia's Invasion of Georgia and the Olympics

Posted on September 4, 2008 by David Laidlaw 


Competing forces in the world took center stage a couple of weeks ago after Russia invaded Georgia during the Olympic Games. On the one hand, the Olympics demonstrated the common bonds between modern countries and cultures. On the other hand, Russia’s invasion of Georgia and subsequent recognition of Georgia’s break-away provinces in the face of international opposition showed how the use of naked force to promote nationalistic aims is still a threat to international order.

China staged the Olympics without major disruptions from internal protesters, religious minorities or Western critics. The Games also produced some outstanding athleticism led by Michael Phelps’s and Usain Bolt’s spectacular performances. For the most part, the message from the rest of the world to China was some muted criticism of their human rights record, but a greater appreciation of the strides that China has made to become a modern nation.

The economic message, especially filtered through NBC’s General Electric, was overt: “Let’s do business.” GE itself ran a commercial showing a young man injuring himself while pursuing a beautiful young woman in rural China. While getting his leg X-rayed, it turns out the woman he earlier sought to impress is his physician. The commercial closes with a voice-over praising GE’s ability to bring new technologies to the remotest parts of the globe. Even though the message is heavy-handed, it is incredible that world has opened sufficiently that these types of commercial transactions occur regularly and are the major focus of global corporations.

This openness and “civilizing” trend contrasts distinctly with Russia’s invasion of Georgia. After contracting for the past two decades after the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia has strengthened under Putin mainly due to surging energy prices. Russia controls vast oil and natural gas reserves and directly supplies much of Europe with energy. Oil prices exceeding $100 per barrel directly subsidize the Russian state since many of its producers are government controlled. Georgia’s democratic reforms pose a threat to Russia and the Russian regime is also sending a message to the West that force is an option if plans proceed to deploy U.S. missile defenses in Poland.

Even though the trend toward a more harmonious global community has been in place and continues to expand, threats to this order are increasing. If enough pressure can be applied to restore Georgia’s sovereignty and insure the flourishing of other republics such as the Ukraine, global peace and trade should continue to expand. However, if the current aggression is not countered, the world will retreat to a previous state where political and economic freedom are more scarce.