Biases Emerge At Pundits' Discussion

The clash between two pundits on who should be blamed for the current Russian-Georgian violence during a talk last night mirrored the war that wracked Georgia earlier this year.

Called “Conflict in the Caucasus: The Georgian Conflict and the Resurgence of Russia,” the speakers’ discussion was sponsored by Harvard International Relations on Campus and took place in the Adams upper common room to an audience of 25 students.

In this discussion, Leonid I. Polyakov, a fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard, and Monica D. Toft, an associate professor of public policy at the Kennedy School, talked about Russia’s involvement in the independence movements of the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, recognized by virtually all nations except Russia as Georgian territory.

Their divergent opinions on whom to blame for the violence quickly surfaced.

Having grown up in the fiercely nationalistic Ukraine and served in its parliament, Polyakov said he places 90 percent of the blame on Russia and 10 percent on Georgia.

“Russia was chauvinistic... as a Ukrainian, I have zero sympathy for the Russians,” Polyakov said.

To these comments, Toft responded that “Georgia and the West, not just Russia, have dirty hands.”

“Georgia started stripping Abkhazians’ rights and their autonomy, so Abkhazia dialed 911 to Russia for help from the chauvinistic Georgians,” she said.

Toft said that Georgia’s interest in joining NATO unnerved Russia, comparing this situation to Mexico and Canada allying with Russia.

“We wouldn’t like it very much if Russia entered our sphere of influence,” Toft said.

Recalling her article “Russia’s Recipe for Empire,” however, Toft said she agreed with Polyakov that Russia wanted to prevent Georgian unity in order to preserve its own influence over the region,

But Toft made sure to emphasize that Georgia also seriously erred.

“The Russian Bear has nuclear weapons, and in the international field ‘Might makes right,’” she said.

Despite their differences, the two said they agreed that both Russia and Georgia are in trouble.

Polyakov said that the current situation consists of just “frozen conflicts and unrecognized republics” while Toft called Russia “not a rising power but a declining one,” and cited its decreasing population and failing economy as evidence.

“I don’t think anyone is going to win,” Toft said.