With the eyes of the world on the Beijing Olympics, Russia and Georgia clashed over the South Ossetia region. You’ve read it all — Russia claiming 1,600 dead, tanks, armored vehicles and troops entered South Ossetia with the Russian Navy at the helm, and the Russian Air Force bombing, to “protect and defend” South Ossetia from Georgia.
The history of the region is pretty well laid out. Georgia, as many other countries have been, was first “absorbed” by the Russians in the 19th Century, and then, in 1922, became part of Soviet Russia. The Soviet “absorption” ended in 1991, and, with some unrest, some conflict, and the typical economic problems that occurred with break off countries, Georgia became it’s own nation. It has not been a smooth road – civil unrest, and conflicts arising as both South Ossetia and Abkhazia resolved to be independent and secede from Georgia.
The conflict between South Ossetia and Georgia has been going on since 1992. Multiple cease-fires and violent conflicts have continued, on and off since then, with the latest cease-fire ending, and Georgia entering the South Ossetia region.
On August 7, 2008, Georgian forces and separatists in South Ossetia agree to observe a ceasefire and hold Russian-mediated talks to end their long-simmering conflict. Hours later, Georgian forces launch a surprise attack, sending a large force against the breakaway province and reaching the capital Tskhinvali. (See the timeline, from BBC)
Russia, being the regions “mediator” in this conflict, promptly pours it’s troops and armored division into South Ossetia and engages Georgian forces in Tskhinvali. Putin was quoted saying [sic: the Russian Government] “condemns the aggressive actions by Georgian troops in South Ossetia” and that Russia would be compelled to retaliate. And retaliate they did — with troops, armor, naval ships and air force.
To be totally honest, my first thoughts when this conflict first came to light on the 8th, was 1), “Perfect timing, while the worlds attention is on the Olympics”, and 2), “Oh for-gods-sake I hope the US doesn’t think it needs to get involved and that Russia backs off.” Wishful thinking on my part? But rather alarmed, too, for fear that this will escalate and get out of hand. But I think I’m more frightened because of the future implications of Russia’s current action. In the most simplistic terms, if Russia can do this with South Ossetia and Georgia, what is to keep them from one day doing the same thing to Estonia? Latvia? Belarus? Moldova? Lithuania? or any of the other post-Soviet countries? Who is to say, that if Russia does not like how Estonia or Ukraine treats its Russians, that Russia won’t do the same thing, and again, absorb independent countries into a new Soviet regime?
If, by any chance, you think me over worried, just look at this:
(Monday, August 18, 2008)FOX News: Russia has placed short range SS-21 missiles in South Ossetia, that could pose a threat to most major Georgian cities,” including the capital, Tbilisi, a U.S.Defense official confirmed to FOX News on Monday. (Link)
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that Russia is playing a “very dangerous game” with the U.S. and its allies and warned that NATO would not allow Moscow to win in Georgia, destabilize Europe or draw a new Iron Curtain through it.
On her way to an emergency NATO foreign ministers meeting on the crisis, Rice said the alliance would punish Russia for its invasion of the Georgia and deny its ambitions by rebuilding and fully backing Georgia and other Eastern European democracies.
“We have to deny Russian strategic objectives, which are clearly to undermine Georgia’s democracy, to use its military capability to damage and in some cases destroy Georgian infrastructure and to try and weaken the Georgian state,” she said.
“We are determined to deny them their strategic objective,” Rice told reporters aboard her plane, adding that any attempt to recreate the Cold War by drawing a “new line” through Europe and intimidating former Soviet republics and ex-satellite states into submission would fail.
“We are not going to allow Russia to draw a new line at those states that are not yet integrated into the trans-Atlantic structures,” she said, referring to Georgia and Ukraine, which have not yet joined NATO or the European Union but would like to. (Link)
Times Online: President Medvedev of Russia yesterday promised a “shattering blow” against any foreign power that moved against Russian citizens. (Link)
The questions abound –
- Why is Russia purporting to care about this region?
- WTF Is Russia doing by placing missiles in South Ossetia?
- Is it the Kosovo Factor? (Kosovo declared independence in February, 2008, and is now recognized as an independent nation by many countries in the west.)
- Is it the pipeline?
- Is it just power, for the sake of it?
- Is it in retaliation for Poland wanting the shield?
- Is it because Georgia is not a willing ally and therefore, must pay the price for Pro-Western ambition?
- Why does South Ossetia want sovereignty? Do they not understand that, by doing so, they undermine themselves, the region, and any type of livable accord with it’s neighboring county, and that by declaring itself part of Georgia, it eliminates Putins’ puppet-mastery and self (country?) aggrandizing need for control?
- Did South Ossetia provoke Georgia, to draw in Russia?
- Why is Georgia armed and readily using force on South Ossetia?
- Did Georgia provoke Russia, thinking that they would have some sort of international military support?
- Why did they back out of the mediation?
- Further, why is Georgia wearing U.S. Military uniforms? Is the U.S. training Georgia for conflict, and if so, to what end, and purpose?
I have too many questions, and not enough answers. So, I’m not sure I can really provide any opinion here. Maybe I’m just over war’ed out, as are many Americans – almost to a point of complete apathy.
I look at this conflict with detached and abject eyes: Russia, the aggressor of Georgia; Georgia the aggressor of South Ossetia; South Ossetia young, corrupt (as all young want-to-be’s are), and wanting to be a nation , (which in my opinion is incredibly idealistic), but without the knowledge or understanding of the international implications of it’s actions.
- I can somewhat understand that Russia, playing it’s Soviet-era games as it always has, will back the South Ossetia citizenry, because it is in Russia’s best interest to do so. But to what end? What are the real reasons?
- I can fully understand Georgia’s point of view — if the areas, including both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, become compliant and join with Georgia, NATO and the EU are attainable.
- I can fully understand South Ossetia’s point of view — they wish to be a sovereign nation in their own right. What people, under the circumstances, would not want that?
What I would like to see happen is for Russia to back out of the region, Georgia to back out of the conflict, and South Ossetia to get it’s collective head out of it’s ass, and hold on to the one good thing they will have if they do so — Georgia as a whole nation, with NATO allies, the backing of the EU and an end to senseless conflict in such a precarious region of the world.
However, with Medvedev being used as the puppet of Putin, (and therefore Medvedev has no real say), and the history of Russia, I can see this conflict ongoing and potentially unstoppable. Putin has been quoted, stating that he claims to want a “fair and democratic world order that would ensure security and prosperity not only for a select few, but for all.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really thought of Putin as a “fair and democratic” type of person. Even with the pullout of forces that has supposedly begun, unless all parties can come to a bargaining table, with actual chips to move around, I foresee this ending badly, with many lives lost, and a world at even more odds with itself.
There is nothing clear or simple about the five-day war. We have very little information about what actually happened there. Massive propaganda war by Russia, which they thankfully lost, muddled things further (as a side comment, does Kremlin still think that anyone trusts its publications, be they openly Kremlin mouthpieces like regnum.ru or Pravda – or seemingly oh-so-liberal-and-cool sites such as eXile.ru. There is a reason why Russia is 144th out of 169 countries in 2007 Press Freedom Index – and it ain’t their love for free media).
One thing seems to be certain – after months of open provocations (which included bombing Georgian villages by “Ossetian separatists” (read: Russian planning, financing and weapons)) Georgia finally flipped and moved military to South Ossetia. Stories about bombing civilians and genocide don’t seem to have any truth to them – or does anyone really believe that Georgians made a video how they launched rockets to kill civilians, and then promptly released that video to Russian media for propaganda purposes? Not to mention, while at first Russian officials reported 2000 victims and reduced the number to 1600 soon, Tskhinvali central hospital naively reported only 44 deaths. Also, Russian and Ossetian forces were caught presenting their KIA soldiers as civilian casualties, going so far as to dress their killed to civilian clothes and “planting” them to residential buildings. If there was bombing of civilians, I fear it was in the same style like shelling of Mainila.
It is easy to see in hindsight, but Georgian president Saakashvili did not realize two things when he ordered troops to move into separatist South Ossetia – firstly, that Russia had been waiting for that and were instantly ready to move in their “peacekeeping” forces – and secondly, that Georgia’s western allies were not ready to be involved to a military conflict.
There are many reasons why Russia wanted to have that conflict. Not in any particular order:
- Saakashvili and his Western orientation
Russia still has its imperial ambitions, not realizing that time of empires ended on 19th century. Any country that Russia has ever owned, should either be a part of Russia or under Russian “sphere of influence”. Will of the people living in that area be damned, now you will be governed from Moscow.
But Georgians chose Saakasvili and his Western views – freely, there was no massive CIA-financed campaign or whatever other bullshit Russian publications have spewed out. And Georgia was doing massive steps forward, both economically and away from Russia. And this was something that was displeasing Kremlin to no end – an example that a country in Caucasus can exist just fine without Russian support or influence. How can that be?!
Russia has broken its teeth on Caucasus for close to 300 years, sometimes being able to occupy the countries using age-old divide-and-conquer tactics, only to be pushed out soon again.
Thankfully it seems Russia failed to install new president and a puppet government (a la Chechnya) to Georgia. However, to some extent they’ve destroyed the economy of Georgia, by destroying ports, bridges and railroads.
- Oil and gas: Russian economy depends on it
While the income and life standards in bigger cities has become considerably higher, most of Russia lives actually worse then a decade ago. That is because there is no real economy; Russia’s economy is solely based on exporting crude oil and gas. Corruption is running rampant – it is actually worse then before Putin came to power.
Ant the benefits of attacking Georgia would be two-fold in this perspective – firstly, oil prices have been dropping, something very clearly not in interest of Russia – and secondly, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Creating destabilization and fear in the area would rise the crude oil price and force Europe to buy oil from Russia.
In that, Russia had some initial success – prices of oil stopped getting lower and even rose a bit. But after BT confirmed that pipeline was still functional, oil price continued to ease.
Also, economists and analysts know Russia needs to sell the oil. If Europe doesn’t buy Russian oil, then Russia needs to find a new buyer immediately, be it China, India or Japan. Russia simply needs those oil dollars or it would collapse economically.
- Internal affairs
Find an enemy and blame everything on them – Hitler blamed Jews, Stalin kulaks and so forth. Another old way to consolidate people behind the leaders.
Russia has been cycling enemies every six months – USA, Estonia, UK, Latvia, Georgia, Poland, USA, Estonia, UK … I guess the cycling is needed because otherwise Russian commoners might look at the map and realize – “hey, Latvia is tiny… how can they occupy and enslave us like Our Father Putin said… hmm, something doesn’t make sense here”.
Like it has always been known, there is nothing better to boost the moral and support to leaders then a short and victorious war. And it worked – Russians have no access to free media or that information is discredited (“Known CIA propaganda sites BBC, CNN and Economist”, “Cold War era warhorses Conquest and Edward Lucas”, …). So they believe that Georgia is aggressor and Mother Russia is saving the day by taking “peacekeepers” against evil joint Georgia-CIA forces.
Popularity of Medvedev has risen in Russia – Putin’s hasn’t, as it was already at 110%. And no one pays attention to food prices – which have risen more then 20% in six months and will continue to rise.
Conclusions: where shall we go from here?
Georgia will probably have to say goodbye to South Ossetia. It won’t be incorporated into Russian Federation – instead it will get UN/EU peacekeepers, and sort of dangle as a part of Georgia for decades. Best solution – and one that would save the face of Russia quite a bit – would be to create a country of Ossetia. Georgia will give up South Ossetia, Russia will give up North Ossetia – and everybody will be happy.
Sadly, that won’t happen. Russia will never give up any part of its lands, no matter how low their explanations for occupying those areas get. Also, that would stabilize Caucasus a lot – not in the interest of Russia at all – and create a dangerous precedent. Huge chunks of Russian Federation would love to get away from it – and that is something Kremlin cannot allow.
Funnily, in online websites, comments by Russians often bring up the South Ossetian 2006. independence referendum – in which 99% of voters supported independence. However, they “forget” that ethnic Georgians in Ossetia were not given the right to vote. And furthermore, they always get strangely quiet when asked when similar referendum will be held in Chechnya.
Of course, Chechnyan independence referendum would probably show 99.99% wish to remain a part of Russia, no matter that Chechnens have struggled against Russian rule for centuries. After all, Chechnya had similar support to Medvedev in presidential elections. At least they got their math right, not like few Siberian areas that had more then 100% support for pro-Putin parties in parliament elections…
Russians will be forced to pull our their troops from Georgia – and eventually from South Ossetia as well, when UN takes their peacekeepers there. Economy of Georgia will recover pretty fast, thanks to foreign aid, South Ossetia will live on charity for a decade. Georgia and Ukraine are on a fasttrack to full NATO membership, other Caucasus coutries will start to think about NATO as well.
Hopefully this whole incident has opened the eyes of Western countries – on what kind of country Russia has become. Especially Germany, who has lately dropped pants and bent over whenever Russia has looked their way.
Oil prices will continue to drop and stabilize soon – thanks to end of Olympic games and strengthening dollar. The trend will continue in the winter, as US has apparently always enjoyed a brief burst of economical growth after the presidential elections, when everybody are hopeful that things will change.
Oh, an interesting tidbit – the constitution of Russian Federation requires the permission of Russian Congress (Duma) to use armed forces outside of Russian borders. This permission has not been given. Does this mean Georgia is considered to be within Russian borders? Or small details like the constitution and such simply just don’t bother Putin.
If we’re lucky, next Olympic games won’t be held in Russia and Russia will be kicked out of G8. Russia will go into more and more international isolation – until they are forced to become a normal, democratic country, who isn’t a feared and hated bully in the region. Instead they are trusted and honored economic and cultural partner.
Yes, yes, I know it won’t happen, but one can dream of a better future, cannot I?