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Featured / December 13, 2008
By Mark Ames

(This article was published in the final issue of Radar magazine, which was bought out and shuttered just as the issue went to print in late September.)

Tskhinvali, South Ossetia — On the sunny afternoon of August 14, a Russian army colonel named Igor Konashenko is standing triumphantly at a street corner at the northern edge of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, his forearm bandaged from a minor battle injury. The spot marks the furthest point of the Georgian army’s advance before it was summarily crushed by the Russians a few days earlier. “Twelve Georgian battalions invaded Tskhinvali, backed by columns of tanks, armored personal carriers, jets, and helicopters,” he says, happily waving at the wreckage, craters, and bombed-out buildings around us. “You see how well they fought, with all their great American training — they abandoned their tanks in the heat of the battle and fled.”

Konashenko pulls a green compass out of his shirt pocket and opens it. It’s a U.S. military model. “This is a little trophy — a gift from one of my soldiers,” he says. “Everything that the Georgians left behind, I mean everything, was American. All the guns, grenades, uniforms, boots, food rations — they just left it all. Our boys stuffed themselves on the food,” he adds slyly. “It was tasty.” The booty, according to Konashenko, also included 65 intact tanks outfitted with the latest NATO and American (as well as Israeli) technology.

Technically, we are standing within the borders of Georgia, which over the last five years has gone from being an ally to the United States to a neocon proxy regime. But there are no Georgians to be seen in this breakaway region — not unless you count the bloated corpses still lying in the dirt roads. Most of the 70,000 or so people who live in South Ossetia never liked the idea of being part of Georgia. During the violent land scramble that occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the South Ossetians found themselves cut off from their ethnic kin in North Ossetia, which remained part of Russia. The Russians, who’ve had a small peacekeeping force here since 1992, managed to keep the brewing conflicts on ice for the last 15 years. But in the meantime, the positions of everyone involved hardened. The Georgians weren’t happy about the idea of losing a big chunk of territory. The Ossetians, an ethnic Persian tribe, were more adamant than ever about joining Russia, their traditional ally and protector.

The tense but relatively stable situation blew up late in the evening of August 7, when on the order of president Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s army swept into South Ossetia, leveling much of Tskhinvali and surrounding villages and sending some 30,000 refugees fleeing north into Russia. Within hours, Russia’s de facto czar Vladimir Putin counterattacked — some say he’d set a trap — and by the end of that long weekend the Georgians were in panicked retreat. The Russian army then pushed straight through South Ossetia and deep into Georgia proper, halting less than an hour’s drive from Saakashvili’s luxurious palace. All around me is evidence of a rout. A Georgian T-72 tank turret is wedged into the side of a local university building, projecting from the concrete like a cookie pressed into ice cream. Fifty yards away you can see the remains of the vehicle that the orphaned turret originally was part of: just a few charred parts around a hole in the street, and a section of tread lying flat on the sidewalk. Russian tanks now patrol the city unopposed, each one as loud as an Einstrzende Neubauten concert, clouding the air with leaded exhaust as they rumble past us.

But listening to Colonel Konashenko, it becomes clear to me that I’m looking at more than just the smoldering remains of battle in an obscure regional war: This spot is ground zero for an epic historical shift. The dead tanks are American-upgraded, as are the spent 40mm grenade shells that one spetznaz soldier shows me. The bloated bodies on the ground are American-trained Georgian soldiers who have been stripped of their American-issue uniforms. And yet, there is no American cavalry on the way. For years now, everyone from Pat Buchanan to hybrid-powered hippies have been warning that America would suddenly find itself on a historical downslope from having been too reckless, too profligate, and too arrogant as an unopposed superpower. Even decent patriotic folk were starting to worry that America was suffering from a classic case of Celebrity Personality Disorder, becoming a nation of Tom Cruise party-dicks dancing in our socks over every corner and every culture in the world, lip-synching about freedom as we plunged headfirst into as much risky business as we could mismanage. And now, bleeding money from endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re a sick giant hooked on ever-pricier doses of oil paid for with a currency few people want anymore. In the history books of the future, I would wager that this very spot in Tskhinvali will be remembered as both the geographic highwater mark of the American empire, and the place where it all started to fall apart.


I first visited Georgia in 2002 to cover the arrival of American military advisers. At the time, the American empire was riding high. A decade after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia seemed to be devolving into an anarchic and corrupt failed state, while the U.S. just kept getting stronger. Within months of President George W. Bush’s swearing-in, Time ran a column boasting that America didn’t need to accommodate Russia anymore because it had become “the dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome.” That same year we invaded Afghanistan without breaking a sweat. The New York Times magazine proclaimed: “The American Empire: Get Used to It.” A new word, hyperpower, was being used to describe our history-warping supremacy.

The military advisers were dispatched to Georgia ostensibly to train that country’s forces to fight local Al Qaeda cells, which everyone knew didn’t exist. In reality, we were training them for key imperial outsourcing duties. Georgia would do for the American Empire what Mumbai call centers did for Delta Airlines: deliver greater returns at a fraction of the cost. They became a flagship franchise of America Inc. It made sense for the Georgians, too: Their erratic and occasionally violent neighbor Russia wouldn’t fuck with them, because fucking with them would be fucking with us — and nobody would dare to do that.

The imperial masterminds who fixated on Georgia as an outsourcing project must have figured we’d score a two-fer by simultaneously winning strategic control of the untapped oil in the region and also managing to stick a giant bug up the raw southern rim of our decrepit old rival Russia.

To enact this plan, America deftly organized and orchestrated the so-called Rose Revolution, which I witnessed in Tblisi in 2003. Saakkashvili’s predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze, was judged unreliable, so in a multilayered soft putsch that used every lever of influence at our disposal, the U.S. replaced him with Saakashvili, a Columbia-educated hothead who speaks perfect neocon. In the Western media, the Rose Revolution was portrayed as 1776 redux (starring Saakashvili as George Washington with a permanent five o’clock shadow). A more perfect vassal for George W. Bush’s foreign policy could not have been found than “Misha,” as he is fondly known. He stacked his cabinet with young right-wing fanatics, and made sure he had a coterie of mountain-biking American advisers with him at all times. This crew included John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann, whom Misha paid more than $1 million in lobbying fees.

This project in Georgia was just a high-profile example of a broader Bush strategy. All around Russia’s southern border, America laid claim to former Soviet domains. After 9/11, Putin infuriated many of his army commanders and security chiefs by agreeing to let the U.S. set up bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan for the Afghan invasion. Once the Taliban was removed from power, America decided that it felt like staying. After all, who was going stop us? Given the sorry state of their affairs, the Russians certainly weren’t. So by 2002, Putin was stuck with American pie dripping down his cadaverous bloodless face. But after years in which Russia rebuilt itself on the back of soaring commodity prices (today it’s the world’s largest producer of oil), our advantages in global power politics have started to tilt Putin’s way. Slowly and quietly he got American forces thrown out of Uzbekistan and all but sidelined in Kyrgyzstan. And then, here in Georgia, he seized the opportunity to really hammer home his point.

During my visit to Georgia in 2003, if someone had told me that in five years American military advisers would be hightailing it from their main base in Vasiani to avoid getting slaughtered by advancing Russian forces, I would have slapped him with a rubber chicken for insulting my intelligence. Yet there they were: gasping for air in the lobby of the Tblisi Sheraton, insisting off the record that the conflict was all the Georgians’ fault, not theirs.

Why Misha decided to attack is still a mystery. He claims he was forced to level Tskhinvali to preempt a Russian invasion, but that doesn’t make military sense, and has since been debunked by both Georgians and OSCE monitors on the ground; others believe that he struck because, with Bush on his way out, he thought this would be his last chance to regain control of South Ossetia. Another theory popular among journalists and pundits is that the notoriously “hotheaded” (some would say “mentally unstable”) Saakashvili was suckered into his doomed invasion by a clever Russian ruse, part of Putin’s plan to punish the West for recognizing Kosovo and other crimes of imperial insensitivity. Personally, I’d vote for number two. (Putin has offered an alternative hypothesis: that Misha intentionally sparked a war in order to boost John McCain’s prospects in the U.S. election.)

Prior to the offensive of August 7, Georgians cut off Russian television and Internet sites in South Ossetia, then rained Grad rockets and artillery on the capital and surrounding villages. The early-hours blitz was, as one Ossetian told me the day before, “shock and awe.” At least half the population fled into Russia. People I spoke to in the refugee camps, mostly women, were still in a daze — they told of fleeing their burning villages under fire, of Georgians raping and murdering, of grenades thrown into civilian bomb shelters, of tanks running over children. (It was impossible to corroborate these individual stories, as is generally the case in trying to sift fact from inflamed rumor in refugee camps.)

Reliable casualty counts for the broader conflict are still all but impossible to get, but as of late August the Russians admit having lost 64 soldiers, and the Georgians a combined 215 soldiers and civilians. In both cases, the real number is probably much higher. On the civilian front, Ossetian sources claim that 1,500 were killed in the Georgian assault — Putin called it a “genocide” — but many Westerners dismiss that figure.

Privately, however, American advisers and defeated Georgian commanders admit to “total defeat.” Indeed, Arkady Ostrovsky of the Economist, a British reporter who has long been close to Saakashvili, told me that on the day of the cease-fire, the Georgian leader spoke of shooting himself, and was only dissuaded when word came of a supportive statement by Condi Rice. “It was sad to watch,” Ostrovsky told me. “I should have been more critical of Saakashvili back when it might have counted. A lot of us should have.”

That’s exactly the kind of full-spectrum smackdown the Russians were aiming for. And Konashenko wants us all to see it, so he offers to take me and some other reporters to the city of Gori in occupied Georgia. Russia seized control of the city at the end of hostilities, essentially cutting its foe in two and leaving it exposed to Vladimir Putin’s whims. “We’ll show you Gori — the city is spotless,” Konashenko says cheerfully. “We could have destroyed it, but we didn’t. Of course, there’s a little bit of damage here and there”

The next morning, I head toward Georgia in the back of a Russian army truck, winding through the countryside of South Ossetia. Many villages have been burned and completely leveled. In the minority ethnic- Georgian communities, the sour odor of death hangs in the air, as those who survived the Ossetians’ reprisal attacks had little time to bury their dead friends and relatives.


When we arrive in Gori, the locals seem unnerved by our presence. They shy away as aggressive reporters point cameras and pursue them along the cobblestone streets for a quote. At first, some say that they are grateful that the Russian forces are there to protect them from marauding Ossetian and Chechen irregulars, who had swept through parts of Georgia murdering civilians and looting homes before the Russians arrived. After a half hour, the Georgians we talk with get used to our presence. A few summon the nerve to quietly pull me aside and whisper things like, “Are the Russians ever going to leave?” and “We don’t have any information here. Is this going to be Russian territory forever?”

In Gori’s vast central square there is shattered glass on the sidewalks, but as Konashenko promised, the city is largely intact. It is also starkly empty, as if a virus or neutron bomb had wiped out the civilian population. Most of the city’s inhabitants have long since fled to Tblisi, along with the soldiers.

As we hop out of the army trucks, one of the Russian commanders points to a limp banner flying at half-mast over the polished-granite administration building on the far side of the square, “You see?” he says. “The Georgian flag is still flying. This is Georgian territory — we’re not annexing it like the media says.” This kind of boast, conquering a country and then making a big noble show of respecting its sovereignty, was something that had once been reserved for America’s forces. How quickly history has turned here.

The other Western journalists fan out for some atrocity hunting, digging for signs that the Russians might have dropped a cluster bomb or massacred civilians. The foreign-desk editors back home have been demanding proof of Russian evil, after largely ignoring Georgia’s war crimes in South Ossetia. It’s a sordid business, but the reporters are just following orders.

After an hour in the 90-degree heat, I head over to the city’s central square, where I stumble across a stunning spectacle: dozens of Russian soldiers doing a funky-chicken victory dance in the Georgian end zone. They’re clowning around euphorically, shooting souvenir photos of each other in front of the administration building and the statue of Stalin (Gori’s most famous native son) while their commanders lean back and laugh. I approach Lieutenant Colonel Andrei Bobrun, assistant commander of the Russian land forces’ North Caucasus Military District — the roughest neighborhood in Western Eurasia — and ask him how he feels now, as a victorious military leader in a proxy war with America.

“I have never been so proud of Russia — magnificent Russia!” Bobrun crows, an AK strapped over his shoulder. “For twenty years we just talked and talked, blabbed and blabbed, complained and complained. But we did nothing, while America ran wild and took everything it could. Twenty years of empty talk. Now Russia is back. And you see how great Russia is. Look around you — we’re not trying to annex this land. What the fuck do I need Georgia for? Russia could keep this, but what for? Hell, we could conquer the whole world if we wanted to. That’s a fact. It was Russia that saved Europe from Genghis Khan. Russia could have taken India and the Middle East. We could take anything — we took Alaska, we took California. There is nothing that Russia could not take, and now the world is being reminded again.”

“Why did you give California back?” I asked. It has always baffled me why a country would abandon prime coastal real estate for the frozen swamps of Siberia — I always assumed it was because the Russians were ashamed when they found themselves holding onto a chunk of this planet as perfect as California: like B-list nerds who successfully crash a Vanity Fair Oscar party, but within minutes of their little triumph, skulk out of the tent out of sheer embarrassment, knowing they never belonged there in the first place.

“We gave it all back because we don’t need it,” Borisov boasted, puffing out his chest. “Russia has enough land, what the hell do we need more for. But if others want to start something, this is what will happen. Russia is back, and I am so proud.”

As the day wore on, the Kremlin press pool organizers finally rounded us up, and we headed back again along the same victory trail. It was on this second visit to ruins of Tskhinvali, as dusk approached and the violence seemed to already acquire a kind of abstract tone, that I started to realize that I was looking at something much bigger than the current debate about Russian aggression or who was more guilty of what — pulling the camera much farther back on this scene, I understood that I was looking at the first ruins of America’s imperial decline. It’s not an easy thing to spot. It took years after the real collapse for Russians to finally accept that awful reality, and to adjust accordingly, first by retrenching, not overplaying an empty hand, slowly building up without making any loud noises while America ran wild around the world bankrupting itself and bleeding dry.


And now it’s over for us. That’s clear on the ground. But it will be years before America’s political elite even begins to grasp this fact. In the meantime, Russia is drunk on its victory and the possibilities that it might imply, sending its recently-independent neighbors into a kind of frenzied animal panic. Experience has taught them that it’s moments like these when Russia’s near abroad becomes, once again, a blood-soaked doormat in the violent epochal shifts — history never stopped here, it just froze up for a decade or so. And now it’s thawing, bringing with it the familiar stench of bloated bodies, burned rubble, and the sour sweat of Russian infantry.

We have entered a dangerous moment in history — America in decline is reacting hysterically, woofing and screeching and throwing a tantrum, desperate to prove that it still has teeth. Which it does — but not in the old dominant way that America wants or believes itself to be. History shows that it’s at this moment, tipping into decline and humiliation, when the worst decisions are made, so idiotically destructive that they’ll make the Iraq campaign look like a mere training exercise fender-bender by comparison.

Russia, meanwhile, is as high as a Hollywood speedballer from its victory. Putting the two together in the same room — speedballing Russia and violently bad-tripping America — is a recipe for serious disaster. If we’re lucky, we’ll survive the humiliating decline and settle into the new reality without causing too much damage to ourselves or the rest of the world. But when that awful moment arrives where the cognitive dissonance snaps hard, it will be an epic struggle to come to our senses in time to prevent the William Kristols, Max Boots and Robert Kagans from leading us into a nuclear holocaust which, they will assure us, we can win against Russia, thanks to our technological superiority. If only we have the will, they’ll tell us, we can win once and for all.

This version was first posted online at Alternet. Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.

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  • 1. Whitedevil  |  December 13th, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    And what, the glorious Russian federation began it’s unstoppable ascendancy? Russia is a doomed country, it’s demographic collapse and numerous other systemic problems will destroy it as a political/economic entity in a few decades. America will still be a superpower when the few ethnic Russians remaining are living in squalor and bowing down five times a day to Allah. Enjoy your victory over.. which broken-down little former client state did you smash? Oh right, Georgia.

    Take that, AmeriKKKa, some dude’s got your compass, now whatcha’ gonna do?

  • 2. ladangian  |  December 13th, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    lol @ russian gloating

    they beat the nerdy white kid with the new jordans at pick up and now they think theyre ready for the nba. get real

  • 3. cal  |  December 13th, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Power is a function both of will and capability. The whole American “hyperpower” propaganda was always a form of pyschological warfare, directed at the rest of the world (and Americans themselves). Look at the damage a few men with knives inflicted on the U.S. on 9/11 – a symbolic castration of the American financial empire in New York and a direct hit on the nerve center of U.S. military power. Now, imagine if Al Qaeda had 1/10th or 1/100th of the military potential of Russia…the U.S. would cease to exist. That’s a reality, so in dealing with Russia the U.S, really has to ask what is Russia’s will, not thier capability. South Ossetia was a demonstration of that will.

  • 4. cal  |  December 13th, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Let me also anticipate the obvious response from armchair American military pundits who get all hot and bothered reading stats on an F-22. In South Ossetia, I was shocked to see T-64s rolling into Georgia. To some, that is a sign of Russian weakness. The reality is different. The message that convential capability married with the actions of Russian sent was clear: If NATO or the U.S. attempted to intervene in Georgia via superior air or naval power, Russia would neutralize those threats with nuclear weapons. I guarantee every hack in the Pentagon and NATO understood that perfectly well. Generals like to pretend that nuclear weapons exist on some alternative plane (how else to justify spending billions on aircraft carriers etc), but that is a convenient fiction. Having the best fighter jet, or the most aircraft carriers, in a nuclear world is like having the bigger knife when you and your opponent are each holding high powered rifles and standing 50 meters apart. The Anglo-American elite posture and strut about, but they live pretty damn well. They are rational people. As long as Russia maintains its nuclear potential, Russia can take what it wants in its near abroad. The elite are not about to trade London for Tbilis, nor New York for Kiev. The calculation the “thinkers” at RAND must perform in their game theory scenarios is what would Russia do in any given circumstance as a rational actor. They should keep in mind the year 1812: The British burned the American capital, Washington D.C. to the ground. The Russians burned their own spiritual/cultural capital Moscow to the ground.

  • 5. Aenn  |  December 13th, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    Mark, way back in those times California was a desert. South California, the Mexican part, still is mostly desert. It is only the US part which is blooming country, thanks to irrigation. Without irrigation most of North California will become desert in a few years.

    So the Russians decided there was little point meddling in-between the natives on one side, the French, British and Spanish with way larger garrisons and armies on the other side, and went home from California. Contrary to all the [artificially inflated] Western paranoia, Russia’s usually a defender militarily, not an attacker or conqueror.

    About gear: technology is a bit of a dangerous reliance when it comes to destruction. There’s the issue of complexity – complex computer-controlled tanks or fighter planes have more points and chances of failure than a fairly simple setup like a BMP or, say, a Su-25 (or a T-64 tank). Sure, no fancy technology or the like, but there’s a high risk of it all getting blown to bits or worse, stopping to work because of a shell hit killing off a control system, so why spend extra money? It’s not just money spent on initial buying of vehicles, etc., it’s also money spent on maintenance, setup, training, spares… And all of those expenses in case of high-tech US gear are several times more than for austere Russian kit. And all of that money for a real, traditional economy (not based on syphoning money from across the world or “copyright” extortions) is, well, real money that gets extracted from a country’s revenue, part of a country’s wealth.

    Russian weaponry also doesn’t come with political binding as it usually happens with US weaponry, which is why it’s steadily getting more popular around the world. Simple to maintain, relatively simple in operation, much less expensive, and no blackmail attached.

  • 6. John  |  December 13th, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Whitedevil, Russia’s ”demographic collapse” peaked a few years ago. The number’s of death’s has fallen as the economic situation has improved. Russian brith rates are also up.

    The Population will likely stabilize in the mid 130’s then slowly start to increase. All those doomsday scenarios are just myth’s Russia has recovered from much bigger demographic shocks inWW2 they lost 20+ million.

    The Islamic population Russia is a tiny fraction of the total population most of them are Tatars but they have similar birth rate to the Ethnic Russians the Chechen’s are another story, they have a high birth rate, but there few in number (1 million odd) Plus their population has been decimated.

    In short the bear aint going anywhere.

  • 7. david  |  December 13th, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    they can have the MRE’s and boots

    a real victory for russia will come when they can convince their women to stop selling their bodies to every turk and tourist in istanbul,marmaris,trabzon……you want to know when russia has finally made it?
    its when their whores start coming home.

  • 8. Whitedevil  |  December 14th, 2008 at 1:49 am

    Nice to see you’re confident about Russia’s future, Russians don’t seem to be. In the economic slow down what are the oligarchs doing with their money? Taking it the hell out of Russia and putting it in the US. Russian history is catastophism in action, one vast fuckup after another, in an endless, staggering, drunken chain. America has problems, Russia has disasters, America has a setback, Russia has a collapse. I wouldn’t be worrying too much about that compass, if I were you. And listen to the dumbass your quoting, “Ha ha America! We beat some Georgians and ate some of the food you gave them! Your food is good and now we have eaten it! Ha ha ha!”

    This is your victory? Do you have any idea how small and sad the straws you’re grasping at are?

  • 9. John  |  December 14th, 2008 at 2:04 am

    Putin a de-facto czar?

    It’s true that he is the most powerful politician in Russia right now, but you’re sinking into the lingo of the New Cold War advocates when you use hyperbolic terms like czar.

  • 10. wengler  |  December 14th, 2008 at 2:06 am

    The real truth is that Bush military doctrine has done more damage to US security and power projection than any person could if they were trying. Think about it. Bush backed a guy in Georgia whose whole military strategy was based around getting the US into a conflict with Russia just so he could claim a valley with 70,000 people in it.

    The destruction of our cities for Tshkinvali? I don’t think so.

    For their part the Russians restrained themselves and were able to achieve a great goal- creating a weak and insular ruler in Tbilisi, whose weakened grasp on power will make him focus on internal security while Russia can peck as much as they want around the edges. Their proximity to Gori means that the Russians also have greater leverage over the Baku oil pipeline, and they can use that to get a more favorable agreement from all the players involved in the great Caspian energy game.

    Meanwhile our military has been chewed up in these two occupations. You can’t ask people to do 3-4-5 tours of 12 months apiece and expect them to be battle ready. They could probably still beat the best the Russians have to throw against us in conventional warfare, but that point is moot because we will never have conventional warfare with Russia. The US response to the Georgian defeat is to once again wash their hands of it, just as Bush did with Lebanon two years ago.

    But as the article states even rightwingers have woken up and figured out that Bush has just been a four-letter word for defeat.

  • 11. Geo8rge  |  December 14th, 2008 at 2:18 am

    You should mention Georgian demographic collapse. Keeping the Georgian language alive will be challenging given a declining number of native born speakers, and little incentive in the form of civil service jobs in bankrupt Tsiblisi.

    BTW, you should stop posting pictures of that tank with the red bucket. It seems that bucket is the iconic picture of the war for some reason. That and the pink building. If you actually traveled to Georgia why not some new pictures, like the turret pressed into the side of the building you described.

  • 12. Whitedevil  |  December 14th, 2008 at 2:57 am

    Yeah Georgia will disappear before Russia does, so you beat a dying nobody state on your own border, congrats.

    I seem to recall the US massacring a certain Middle eastern army equipped with Russian tanks, Russian aircraft, Russian artillery and training. So what? A great power stomped a pathetic Soviet client run by a criminal nut. However, that pathetic soviet client had soviet gear and training, so was gulf war 1 “The Day The Soviet Empire Died?” Or does your stupid little chain of non-logic only go in one direction?

  • 13. Hamlwr  |  December 14th, 2008 at 6:05 am

    Gulf War I was the war between Iraq and Iran. But maybe – according to your worldview – wars, where the US is not involved (and fucks up), do not count… which would really bring your superior “logic” up to shine…

  • 14. PaulK  |  December 14th, 2008 at 7:20 am

    The real clash between Russia and the US would mean nuclear war. We’re all lucky that neocons havent tryed to help Georgia out. On the other hand, it left Brecher very disappointed 🙂

    Speaking about all this military gear. It sure helps to have the stuff around. But if you dont have enough guts… The US have never prooved it could stand long and really serious conventional warfair.
    On the other hand Russia fought best units of Wehrmacht (better equipped, BTW) for 4 years and won.

  • 15. cal  |  December 14th, 2008 at 7:28 am

    I agree that Russia’s demographic problem will not be resolved under the current conditions – it will take radical steps to reverse. America’s future is also far from bright. In an economic sense, American hegemony has largely depended upon the status of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. America has become the largest debtor nation in history – annually requiring over $1 trillion in capital flows. The U.S. economy under the guise of “free trade” and “globalization” has been largely de-industrialized and economic “strength” has become a function of consumer spending. To maintain the U.S. standard of living, a constantly increasing level of credit was pumped into the system with diminishing returns: 13% annual credit growth over the last 8 years produced anual economic growth of only about 2%. Now the credit cycle is working backwards (despite massive attempts to reinflate the global credit bubble). Couple that with the real cost of present U.S. government liabilities – in the range of $53 trillion – and the U.S. is essentailly broke. That will become a reality in the near future and the U.S. military will shrink rapidly in size and capability as the funding dries up.

  • 16. Expatriot in BY  |  December 14th, 2008 at 9:44 am

    I’m usually happy just to read, but it always drives me nuts to see people get it wrong about why Russia withdrew from America in the 1800s. Why did they leave California looking like they didn’t belong there? Because they didn’t belong there. Fort Ross was built because of the fur trade. By the time they left at the start of the California Gold Rush, the fur was mostly gone and the trading post was just a bleed in the ledger books of the Russian American Company. Certainly if they had some farmers or gold prospectors, the Russians could have made a profit sticking around, but all they had were hunters. It was easier just to sell the place to Sutter (who could only sit and watch his little would-be utopia get trampled by a bunch of greedy immigrants from back east) and move back to Alaska.

    And it drives me nuts when the Russians claim that they were tricked into selling Alaska, or that they put it on lease, or whatever. They sold it outright, again partly because all they had there were hunters and trappers, and partly because they didn’t have a hope in hell of holding it against the British, who were already traipsing down the Yukon River. The Russians were ready to sell it for USD 5 million, but they got USD 7 million for it – they should be happy. And the Americans got the gold a generation later, and the oil a century after the purchase.

    While I’m ranting, looking into the future, the real danger to Russia isn’t the Muslims. It’s the Chinese. With a quarter of the population of the world all crammed into a cramped and polluted dump, and the women there electing to abort all the girls and keep only the boys, how long do you think it’s going to be before you have a testosterone-driven gang of young men with chips on their shoulders marching into the relatively untouched real estate of Siberia and the Russian Far East?

    So, for the Russian women (professional or otherwise), there’s your big choice, Antalya or Beijing. If I were in their shoes, I’d chose Antalya too. It’s at least healthier there.

  • 17. Merc  |  December 14th, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    the US lost its imperial hegemony with the recognition of Kosovo. When Slovenia made a Unilateral Declaration, the US moved to recognize Slovenia, and nobody lifted a finger to stop them. Nobody. Then the US recognized Kosovo, that made a Unilateral Declaration. But it was 2008, not 1992. And unlike in Slovenia, in Kosovo the Serbs were ethnically clensed. Of course had America been a super-power, everyone would have still grudginly recognized Kosovo, or maybe Russia alone would be in opposition.

    But that didn’t happen, did it? There was a huge anti-US rally pretty much everywhere, even in NATO countries against the Recognition of Kosovo. 53/192 states recognized Kosovo. And yet America’s a Superpower? Can’t even get the majority, shish. In addition, outside of NATO, the only big country that cared was Australia. Awwww. China, India, Brazil, Argentina – all against the recognition. In the recent vote, which was pro-Serbian and anti-Kosovar, a non-binding resolution – so that the US cannot veto, proposed by Serbia, only six states voted NO, the US, four tiny Pacific Ocean States that the US barely managed to bribe, talk about a broke country, and Albania, who are so un-European that even the Moldovans can rig on them.

    This is just a sign of further decline. 65 US and Israeli tanks captured – geez, what do you the Russians will do? Sell them, say Iran, care to take a peak at the latest Israeli technology? Venezuela want the latest US technology? Call 1-800-US allies with morons and idiots and delivery is guaranteed.

    And all this anti-Russia ranting isn’t going to change jack shit. Not to mention that Russia’s prostitute exporting industry is facing a steep decline (poor Brecher) and the Demographers predict that Russia’s population will not fall below 140 million.

    Whiteguy, and/or devil, the reason that Iraqi army got massacred was because the commanders sucked. The Russian tanks are made to be manuevrable, close the distance fast and take out more powerful tanks by sending off a lot more shots. They are not made to drive on the highway, waiting for the US tanks to outrange and ambush them. Iraq would have done better had it used Scuds to attack US soldiers instead of Israel. Iraqi infantry did not know how to take cover from air raids and how to counter-attack from behind the enemy. Iraqi minefields were a joke. The whole conventional army was just a disaster. Also, love your logic: if Russia wins against US trained Georgians, then Russia beat up a poor country. If US wins against Russian equipped Iraqis, then US wins against Russian weaponry. Brilliant.

  • 18. bliggitybloggard  |  December 14th, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    I bet this article made a lot more sense before the price of oil decreased for 86 straight days. WHOOPS, Russia, there goes your global dominance. Russia is a paper tiger propped up by oil prices. Oil prices collapse ->Russia gets hit hard. Good luck stabilizing the ruble.

  • 19. John Smith  |  December 14th, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Korea and Vietnam and Iran were all embarrassing too, but not the end for America, and I’m not sure this will be either. Also, the British managed their post-WWII decline without any particularly bad decisions; the Falklands fight was silly but victorious. So America may keep on ticking as a superpower, or may decline very gently and prosper as a non-superpower.

  • 20. oleg  |  December 14th, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Yankee swine and their blowhard liitle slaves (poles and balts)seem to be a bit nervous in their comments. Too much bluster for them to be credible.
    First, oil. Iraq will collapse well before Russia, with 150k of Amerikkkan diaper-sodiers still stuck in it. Even UK is more dependent on price of oil than us, since BP and Shell are bigger than all Russian oil cos pooled together.
    Second, ruble. It can’t be stabilized against dollar, because US is deflating, meaning that dollars get sucked out of circulation. Fewer dollars means dolar gets more expensive. So the more fucked up USA is the more ruble goes down. Putin should simply let ruble slide and not waste our reserves.
    Third, demography. Russia’s birthrate is higher than Canada’s, according to such “friends” of Russia as CIA. And it definitely heads above all of eastern europe, including Yankee slave nations.
    Russia will be rich and white long after USA becomes Spanish-speaking Aztek-looking wasteland, without Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Alaska (the last one will secede to Russia).
    Good article, Amerikka is as good as dead. I traveled through it, and 90% of it looks 3rd world. The only reminder of not being in Africa was a good road. Beyond that, it’s a fraud, and a collapsing one at that.
    Put a fork in that pig.

  • 21. oleg  |  December 14th, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Birth rate (per 1000):
    Russia – 11.03
    UK – 10.65
    Canada – 10.29
    Estonia -10.28
    Latvia -9.62
    Czechs – 8.89
    So, yeah, yankee assholes, forget about demography as an argument. Take away Hispanics and teen pregnancy, and yours ain’t looking any better.

  • 22. Baked Dr. Luny  |  December 14th, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    Russia’s sphere of influence really doesn’t extend too far. To the West they have the EU with three times the population and much stronger economies. To the East they have China with ten times the population and a much stronger economy. They don’t even have control over all of the former Soviet Republics. The only place they can really play ball is Central Asia and the Middle East and you can only consider them having influence in the Middle East if you consider Iran to be a close Russian ally.

    That’s not to say that America is still as powerful as it once was. We’ve squandered our strength by wasting it needlessly trying to force everyone to fall in line behind us in everything we do. In order for a country to get American patronage it has to bend over backwards and take it in the national ass. This combination of bribery and bullying has cost us not only trillions of dollars, but the good will we had in much of the world at the peak of our power(probably immediately following 9-11-01)-all for a few slightly more favorable trade agreements and support in the wars on drugs and “terror”.

    America is in a weakend position both politically and economically and we’ll have to pursue a more concilliatory foreign policy over the next decade if we want to avoid total collapse. Our military spending must fall to reasonable levels or it will continue to be a worthless drain on our resources. The dominance of NATO would not be seriously challenged in the next few decades even if the United States seriously cut military spending, but maintaining a strong long-term geopolitical position will require America to maintain and improve relations with Europe and the emerging powers of China and India, and possibly Russia(although this will be difficult in the forseeable future). America alone will never again have the power to single-handedly dominate world affairs the way it has over the past 20 years.

  • 23. avd  |  December 14th, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Whitedevil, funny that you compare Russian and American history. As if American history existed. Other countries recognized that US is a real country slightly more than a hundred years ago. Americans are akin to Mongols. Sprung out of some shit hole. Became a formidable force for a lapse of history. And then disappeared in the same shit hole. This is what going to be to America. We are at the beginning of it.

    I’m not sure what point are you trying to make with your “The Day The Soviet Empire Died”. Didn’t you know that Soviet Union died indeed? That’s why America for almost 2 decades felt free to start any war they please. That time have ended. Now America has to think twice whether it wants another war.

    Also please don’t worry about oligarchs’ money. They don’t have any. Just like Americans. The only thing they have is debt. Russian oligarchs now ask Putin for money to refinance their debts to US banks. And Putin promptly gives them the money. Very soon oligarchs will owe so much to the state that their property will be nationalized back. So everything goes just fine according to Putin’s plan.

  • 24. Moo  |  December 14th, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    @ oleg

    Don’t look at the raw birth rate. Look at the total fertility rate.



    Russia’s raw birth rate is currently inflated because a disproportionately large portion of Russians are currently of child-bearing age. (Using the CIA World Factbook as a source, 71.2% of Russians are currently between the ages of 15 and 64, and only 14.6% are younger than 15. For purposes of comparison, 68.8% of Canadians are between 15 and 64, and 16.3% are younger than 15.)

    As for the United States, non-Hispanic white Americans alone had a total fertility rate of 1.84 in 2005. (

    This is still admittedly lower than the 2.10 rate required to replace the existing population. So the United States is indeed going down the demographic drain, if you discount Hispanics. However, this does not change the fact that Russia is going down the demographic drain even more quickly.


    General note: The American empire was always ultimately screwed. The Bush Jr. administration’s foreign policy (together with the outsourcing of American industry that began in the 1970s) may have hastened the inevitable. But anyone who ever seriously expected the United States (a geographically peripheral country inhabited by only 4.5% of the planet’s population) to be able to dominate the world indefinitely was insane.

    So sure, for now the order of the day is “survive the humiliating decline and settle into the new reality without causing too much damage to ourselves or the rest of the world.”

    The question is – what about after that?

    Form a common front with the Europeans? Learn Hindi?

  • 25. Rob  |  December 14th, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    @ John Smith

    Actually British power collapsed thanks to the Americans, who prevented us from actively defending our interests (e.g. by forcing us to pull out of Egypt during the Suez crisis)by threatening to call in the debts owed from WWII.

    As for American decline… at the end of WWII America controlled 75% of the world’s gold reserves and accounted for more than half of the industrial production. And what are they now? A growing rust belt and a spiralling national debt.

  • 26. dave  |  December 14th, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    @oleg….i have the sneaky suspicion you have a bit of the….. “chorni ZHOPA!” in you. so dont talk about demographics in the USA.mmmkay?

  • 27. Max  |  December 14th, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    What is the fixation on birth rates?

    Birth rates themselves do not mean population growth. You have to factor in mortality as well as net migration. Even in the boom years, Russia still lost around 500,000 -750,000 people per year. That is not a good sign.

    Oleg, how old are you? You sound like you are about 12.

  • 28. C  |  December 14th, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    There are so many small religious/ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, it would be folly for America to get involved. I wonder how much of this is for Russian public consumption… But not a case of stopping the spread of communism.. Czechoslovakia is now the Czech Republic a free market democracy and will be the seat of the EU soon. Thats a much more telling fact about America’s lasting influence than this skirmish.

  • 29. cal  |  December 14th, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Actually Rob, the British Empire didn’t really collapse – it simply morphed. The Brits starting with Cecil Rhodes were smart enough to see the handwriting on the wall. The very much usurped the American elite – founding such establishment icons as the CFR. The British Empire was never about average Brits, it was about the mercantile and banking interests of the British aristocratic families and the upstart banking family dynasties. They are still the people calling the shots in the “Anglo-American” world.

  • 30. Tam  |  December 15th, 2008 at 3:15 am

    Oleg : You’re a moron.

    I never thought I’d say this, but can’t you guys bring back Vlad Kalashnikov for a bit to show this cretin how to do this sort of thing properly?

  • 31. Manny the Mooch  |  December 15th, 2008 at 10:04 am

    Russia may not be all that, but America ain’t the shit either. Made seriously poor by Iraq, Afghanistan, the financial bailouts and perhaps the auto bailouts, it will be a long, long time, if at all, before America gets back to where it was in 2001. The 21st century will belong to India and/or China.

  • 32. abb1  |  December 15th, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Nah. Losing a real war is always bad for the morale, but losing a proxy war can be good. Low expense, high propaganda value: brave little democracy crushed by ruthless villain – a perfect excuse to bump the ‘defense’ budget by another $100 billion or so.

    Also, before the incident 65% of the Polaks were against having American missiles in their country and now 65% are for it and the politicians are happy to comply.

    Cold war is good for business, good for the economy, for the discipline, for rationalizing anything and everything the government does.

    So, here’s the score: Georgia lost, Russia won, and the US won too. Could it be that Putin and Bush planned it together?

  • 33. anonymous  |  December 15th, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    I am an imbecile. But let met try to say something, even if it comes out idiotic, which I’m sure it will. You cannot be “an ethic Persian tribe” that is utterly nonsensical. The term is Iranic tribe of which Persians are just one group. Please do not make a fool of yourself spreading absurd disinformation. What sort of journalism is this when you make such completely idiotic nonsense statements making it glaringly clear you have no idea what you are even talking about?

  • 34. Colin  |  December 16th, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Seriously? You’re going to count the Georgian conflict as the watershed mark of the downfall of the empirical US? I think eighty-six million Vietnamese would like to have a word with you about that.

    Sure, some buyers of US tech got their asses handed to them by the big, bad Ivans of Russia. But to say that it was a failure on the part of the US is to say that the Israeli strike of the Syrian nuclear processing sites was a victory for a US proxy and a blow to Russia because they managed to show up the air defense systems the Russians had just sold Syria.

    All this piece is, is a sad bit of pro-Russian propaganda attempting to capitalize on the “New Cold War” that every armchair general and their brother has been foaming at the mouth about for the past few years.

    The United States’ decline as an empirical power started with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Russia had nothing to do with it other than screwing up the Soviet system of government so badly that it was bound to crumble. Once the scary bear at the door to Europe was castrated and made to beg for forgiveness for it’s past indiscretions, the rest of the world figured they didn’t need our military might to keep Russia at bay anymore. The past few conflicts have been nothing more than shoddy attempts to keep a failing military-industrial complex from dying out completely. What’s more, modern Russia is doing the exact same thing. In an attempt to make itself relevant in a world where commerce and consumer societies dictate the flow of power, Russia hasn’t been able to keep up. The ONLY thing they’ve got going for them right now is oil, and just like in the 70’s when they made a fortune off of selling oil during the embargo, they’re living high on the hog with no mind to the future when oil will no longer be the cash cow it is. Even now, with crude prices spiraling downward, Russia is starting to feel the economic crunch. The only thing that ANYONE in the government there knows how to do to put forward a tough visage in times of crisis is to flex their military muscle. While our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or nothing more than bids to keep the military-industrial complex afloat, the increase in Russian weapons sales and all of the spurious shows of might that we’ve seen from Ivan is nothing but the same.

    Pavel Milyukov saw how alike our countries were in the pre-communist days. If you look past the political wrangling, they’re the same animal underneath going through the same things over and over again.

  • 35. Colin  |  December 16th, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Oleg Wrote: “Amerikka is as good as dead. I traveled through it, and 90% of it looks 3rd world. The only reminder of not being in Africa was a good road. Beyond that, it’s a fraud, and a collapsing one at that.
    Put a fork in that pig.”

    Jesus, did they resurrect Brezhnev and give him a screen name on here or what?

  • 36. sknabt  |  December 17th, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    I always wondered if Mark Ames hated Russia more for kicking his rag out or America for simply existing. I guess I got my answer in this incomprehensible pile of [Russian] flag-waving rubbish.

    I could throw a dart at any paragraph to rip to shreds. This sentence found it’s mark:

    “If we’re lucky, we’ll survive the humiliating decline and settle into the new reality without causing too much damage to ourselves or the rest of the world.”

    After this head-stuck-up-one’s-ass bullsh*t there’s some complete idiocy about desperate neo-cons bull-rushing for the nukes.

    Mark, in your rush to bury America under a pile of imaginary “humiliation” you’ve become completely sucked into the Russophile (on steroids) version of the conflict.

    America’s alarm wasn’t at any catastrophic loss power but over Russia’s apparent lust to cling onto the remnants of her former empire that haven’t yet succeeded in fleeing into the safe arms of NATO.

    The ego masturbation of Russian military officers preening over punking puny Georgia’s “American trained” army as if they just took out the entirety of USEUCOM is hilarious.

    Let’s see Putin try to punk NATO. ;^)

  • 37. geo8rge  |  December 18th, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    “Put a fork in that pig.”

    Oleg, I think the Americanism you are looking for is: Stick a fork in it, it’s done. Or perhaps Stick a fork in that pig, it’s done. Or even: Stick a fork in (America|the American empire|Americanism|the American dream|American prosperity|American ______), it’s done.

    BTW, if you really did travel through America you should write a book. Dimitri Orlov, closing the collapse gap, has done surprisingly well.

  • 38. MeatProduct  |  December 19th, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    I fail to see any meaningful signs of American decline or Russia’ ascent. In any case, there’s no way to tell now, until the fog from this financial mess clears. All around, great reporting by Ames, as usual, but the suggested implications are a little stretched, it seems to me.

    Russia’s recent surge was made possible by US’ preoccupation in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan. The US did not have the manpower or the clout to check Russia’s attempts to reestablish some of its former sphere of influence.

    With the US’ withdrawal from Iraq, provided it can somehow wash its hands clean of the mess that country is bound to turn into, it will be more free to limit Russia’s exertions in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. And, as the US will be forced to abandon any active agenda in the Middle East, it will need a new foe. Who better than the Russians?

    The new cold war begins.

  • 39. VDV  |  December 30th, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    First, the article is spot on. Second, there is lots of trash comments about Russia, although I saw some valid points, eg the WW2 reference. Let me clarify a couple of important things:
    1. Russia is indeed weak and facing many problems. Yet everyone has its share of problems these days.
    2. Whatever disadvantages Russia and Russians may have, Russia is not to be messed around with. Russia has always been weak for one reason or another, but throughout its history has always coped to rip its enemies apart when it comes to it. I do not recommend for anyone to try and test its steel. Many of the commenters here would speak German and work in a concentration camp, if not for the Russians – so please be discreet when you talk about them.

    As for the USA, the country exists on printing dollars and building its debt pyramid, the largest pyramid on this planet. When it implodes (inevitably), this will be a disaster much worse than what is happening now, and that will be the logical shameful end of the US, a used to be global bully and parasite.

  • 40. Paul Non-Poet  |  January 17th, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    When Russia first rolled in to SE my landlord (formerly operative in Russia after Yeltsin, I was there during Perestoika and Gorbachev) asked me what I would do in that situation. I said I would roll a medical relief ship with navy colors and 2 dozen journalists up to Poti and offload. Acknowledging but not requesting. Call the bluff. Ask them if they want to shoot first and turn it from a cold war to a hot one with the US.
    I think the author isolates it well as a question of will. There is little question of ability. The Russian Federation made a display of will. And the west made a display of diplomacy.

  • 41. Arfa  |  January 21st, 2009 at 6:31 am

    “Everything that the Georgians left behind, I mean everything, was American.”

    Oh OK. That’ll be an American T72 tank, then?

  • 42. Commie  |  January 24th, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    To Arfa: did you think Georgia kept some T72s from the Soviet days? Where did it purchase the T72? With whose money?

  • 43. ewkeane  |  January 28th, 2009 at 10:28 am

    I was under the impression that the revolutionary stage of soviet communism ended because soviet party leadership saw that the west had adopted most of the tenants of marxist communism as public policy, thus an armed vanguard of the socialist workers was no longer needed. As the world continues to unionize into economic world councils, these nationalistic side shows will occur less and less. The route to world communism via the Fabian Highway is the program that works, slow but sure, like a blue turtle to the red hare. Reactionaries will fade by and by, frustrated by the masses indoctrinated with the revised Trotsky program. Witness americas election of Obama. Patience, comrades!

  • 44. Jack Boot  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    The USA vs. Afghanistan and Iraq, and Russia vs. Chechnya and Georgia – rather pathetic, if Truth be told.
    All these operations are glorified SWAT-team raids, rather than actual wars.
    Neither Patton nor Zhukov would have been impressed…

    Face it: Both America and Russia are in decline; both feature hollowed-out economies, and both remain competitive only in the weapons sector.

    Russia is superior in the low end of the market (small arms, tanks, AFVs, etc) while America dominates the top end (missiles, planes, subs, etc).

    Who will win; or rather, who will collapse first? Place your bets…

  • 45. Roisky  |  March 7th, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    whitedevil the idiot, it is america who’ll be swamped with squalor and really turn into another mexico. Think before you fart with stinking stupidity.

  • 46. Retvisan  |  October 2nd, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Instead of bickering about petty bullshit, both countries should instead pay closer attention to the rising of China. 1/4 of world’s populations, expanding industrial and technological might, they would soon look into a traditional empire building – occupation of nearby lands. The ever-weakening RF is still dangerous but has the best return on invasion – untapped resources from Eastern Siberia and Russia’s Far East. With the Siberian resources, China will be a threat to American interests around the globe. It would be in the best interests of both Russia and USA to become friends. After all, both have the capitalist form of economy, both are democratic countries (at least on paper, and the US is no more democratic than the RF). It should start from the top and the media should carry the change in the ideology into the masses.
    just my 2 cents

  • 47. FranSix  |  October 12th, 2009 at 7:08 am

    You know, considering that the Russians had gotten as far as California, and that Alaska was also a part of Russia at one time, The Hudson’s Bay Company wasn’t as great as all that back then.

  • 48. finn  |  September 10th, 2016 at 11:59 am

    to the Eugene Sadomskiy family egene cosing too meny problem in jewish commune traten kill every person who want talk to him he said his wife inna have tatarian mob connections if we will catch him egene may go down

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