On. My. Mind.

Obviously, I'm intensely concerned about the fighting in Georgia. It's war and I categorically don't like it, but it's my next-door-neighbour involved in major combat operations that have obvious imperial motives. That's uncomfortable. An op-ed piece in today's Aftenposten (a Norwegian paper) talked about how we can better understand now the rush the Baltic states had in entering the EU and NATO. If there is one thing this war is making clear, it is that Russia is a country that is not to be trusted as an international player. If we were paying attention in Chechnya, we already knew that, but this war if anything makes it clearer.

I haven't really been paying attention to Easter Europe/Western Asia for a good long while, so I have to admit this caught me unaware. Fortunately I happened to wind up at a dinner day before yesterday where one of the guests had just stepped off the plane from Tbilisi and the other had recently travelled in Abkhazia recently. Now I'm in the process of reading up on what's happening, and here are some of the things I'm reading:

Wikipedia already has a thorough article on what they are calling the 2008 South Ossetia War. Press "refresh" frequently. Depressing aside: Wikipedia has an icon specifically for articles on ongoing warfare.

A Fistful of Euros has some really interesting coverage, with one of their contributors actually in Tbilisi. The comments on their posts seem to be drawing a lot of really unpleasant English-speaking Russian nationalists, but the debates are still good.

This post in particular cleared up the tactical situation a lot:
South Ossetia has always been vulnerable to a blitzkrieg attack. It’s small, it’s not very populous (~70,000 people), and it’s surrounded by Georgia on three sides. It’s very rugged and mountainous, yes, but it’s not suited to defense in depth. There’s only one town of any size (Tsikhinvali, the capital) and only one decent road connecting the province with Russia.

That last point bears emphasizing. There’s just one road, and it goes through a tunnel. There are a couple of crappy roads over the high passes, but they’re in dreadful condition; they can’t support heavy equipment, and are closed by snow from September to May. Strategically, South Ossetia dangles by that single thread.

So, there was always this temptation: a fast determined offensive could capture Tsikhinvali, blow up or block the tunnel, close the road, and then sit tight. If it worked, the Russians would then be in a very tricky spot: yes, they outnumber the Georgians 20 to 1, but they’d have to either drop in by air or attack over some very high, nasty mountains. This seems to be what the Georgians are trying to do: attack fast and hard, grab Tsikhinvali, and close the road.

And this one is very unpleasant:
Russia has no reason to do that unless it’s gunning for regime change. Attacking Gori is right at the bleeding edge of plausible self-defense; Gori is near the border, and has been the forward base for Georgian operations in South Ossetia. But going beyond Gori, landing forces on the Georgian coast, or attacking in force out of Abkhazia, would be something else again.

There are undoubtedly plenty of people in Moscow who’d like to try. Russia’s leaders view Saakashvili as obnoxious and dangerous: for American readers, it’s sort of like how conservative Republicans feel about Fidel Castro. You know how, for fifty years now, a certain minority of Americans have entertained fantasies about landing in Havana and slamming that sonofabitch up against the wall? Like that. Except the Russians have the power to actually do it.
And here's another piece in The Guardian called "The War that Russia Wants".
In recent years, the Kremlin had escalated its interference in Georgia's territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia - bombing Georgian territory twice last year, illegally extending Russian citizenship to residents there, and appointing Russian security officers to their self-declared governments. South Ossetia's government in particular is practically under Moscow's direct control, with little if any ability to act independently.

But this flare-up is a direct consequence of Russia's deliberate and recent efforts to engage its small neighbor in military conflict. In April, Russia's President Vladimir Putin signed a decree effectively beginning to treat Abkhazia and South Ossetia as parts of the Russian Federation. This land grab was a particularly galling move because Russia is in charge of both the peacekeeping operations in the conflict zones, and the negotiations over their political resolution. The mediator had now clearly become a direct party to the conflict.
Also see this Fistful of Euros piece on the "retro" feel of the war. I understand what they mean. This war feels more understandable than most wars these days, in some sense.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Blogger Mikkel said...

I see a clumsy Georgian gamble for US/NATO support against secessionists, nothing more sinister. It doesn't feel like a Russian imperialist move, not yet anyway. Saakashvili is an asshole for risking the lives of his people in a ridiculous military gambit against the only great power in the region. But let's see how it plays out.

August 11, 2008 8:51 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

If it's true that 90% of the S. Ossetians have accepted Russian citizenship, maybe they're not to keen on being Georgians. Why not give them independence?

Also: About 800 Georgian troops and 11 tons of cargo have been moved from Iraq to Georgia by eight US Aviation flights. What business does the US have aiding the Georgians in their clumsy invasion?

The US and Poland seem to be backing Georgia in this.

August 11, 2008 9:11 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

It seems Medvedev has ordered an end to military operations. It wasn't a land grab.

August 12, 2008 11:28 am  
Blogger mrtn said...

Mikkel: agreed that the South Ossetians should be given independence, and that Georgia's moves lately have been plain stupid and clumsy.

I'm just saying that Russia's reaction was old-school and not in a good way. They went into a war which they had most likely been trying to provoke for weeks with no stated aim and total disregard for the international community. Do you really think this isn't an imperial move? I have to say I'm not convinced. I don't think they were trying to do a straightforward land-grab for the rest of Georgia. Maybe South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but that would probably be it. I think that intimidation was what they were after. Russia has shown it is willing to use overwhelming military force. Maybe that was all they were after, and if so, that feels very 19th century.

Stopping the invasion now means that they have accomplished something - either just scaring the shit out of the Georgians, which I'm guessing they did, seeing as how they could have taken Tblisi pretty fast. Or possibly there was some sort of covert cease-fire talk with Georgia behind the scenes. Or maybe the US and EU had big sticks and carrots under the tables. If nothing else, the Russians got to show their periphery who's boss. We'll see. I doubt we've heard the last of this.

August 12, 2008 11:48 am  
Blogger mrtn said...

I should have said: intimidation was, if nothing else, a very big part of the Russian war aims.

August 12, 2008 11:49 am  
Blogger Mikkel said...

I'm more and more convinced that I'm with the Russians here. Georgia seems more and more the rogue state, supplied with arms by the US, France and Israel, and supported by the halfwits in Poland.

We get these news stories headlined "Russia breaks off relations with NATO!", and when you read further down you'll see that it was in fact NATO which broke off relations with Russia.

Cold war tactics? Perhaps. But while Russia is not the USSR anymore, the USA is still the USA, hard at work circumventing the treaties by building a missile defense system in - yes - Poland.

Let's give the Russians a break here, that's what I say.

August 22, 2008 1:44 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

Well, look, I agree with you that Sakashvilii acted stupidly and that we should condemn the Georgian military actions. I also agree with you that the US and Israel were involved in the action behind the scenes. I also believe like you do that there may very well have been some sort of unfounded belief that Sakashvili could get US support for his actions which motivated him.

But I don't think that this means that we should be "with" the Russians. This is a classic case of "a plague on both your houses". Georgia was involved in the same sort of stupid adventurism that Russia was. The only difference is that Russia is huge and an international superpower player and when they start throwing their weight around 19th century style, I start getting nervous. I guess what I'm saying is that both acted recklessly and irresponsibly, but that we expected better from Russia. And also that Russia scares the crap out of us.

So no, I don't give Russia a break, but I don't give Georgia one, either. And the US and Israel too. And Poand. And France. EVERYBODY's wrong.

August 22, 2008 4:14 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

OK, I'll meet you halfway and say I was right all along.

August 22, 2008 11:39 pm  
Anonymous Kate said...

EVERYBODY's wrong ?

Putin wants to “Reunify” Georgia

Yes, they are eager to divide Georgia and recognize Historical Georgian territories were majority were Georgians and many ethinc minorities as well did not want independence. They solve the majority problem of Georgians by ethnically cleansing them out from both places and giving regions independence on Georgian territory. While they committ genocide in very small Chechnya when they tried to fight for independence, and the whole start of war is very qustionable.

While Abkhazia and S. Ossetia are both Georgian land historically and with majority being Georgin (before Russian ethnic cleansing) Chehcnya, Ingushetia and other places have really nothing to do with Russia until it was colonized yet where is theri independence? Russia will fall like Soviet Union did soon, a country like Russia can not surive much longer.

December 28, 2009 5:09 pm  
Anonymous Kate said...

Kadyrov’s Call to ‘Put an End’ to Georgia and Ukraine Played Up by Moscow Media
Paul Goble

Vienna, December 24 – The Moscow media on Christmas eve are playing up an interview Ramzan Kadyrov gave to Reuters three days ago in which the Chechen president called for Moscow “to liquidate” the threats to Russia that he says Georgia and Ukraine continue pose by “attacking” those countries on all fronts.
On Monday, Reuters carried a report on the one-hour-long interview its journalist Michael Stott conducted with Kadyrov ( www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE5BK2QS20091221 )

SHÄDY ÄCRES avslører

December 28, 2009 5:17 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home