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thedrifter
08-11-08, 09:48 AM
Showdown in Georgia
By George H. Wittman
Published 8/11/2008 12:08:25 AM

There are many explanations for the Russian invasion of South Ossetia, but the truth is quite simple. Russia seeks to destabilize Georgia in a long-range plan to return that nation to control by Moscow.

The historically pro-Russian South Ossetians had made a point in 1991 of declaring their independence from Georgia and with Russian aid fought a brief civil war with Georgia that ended with the Ossetians running their own internal affairs. It was a relatively happy compromise until 2004 when the new president, the pro-American, English-speaking Mikheil Saakashvili, insisted on the full return of the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Sporadic fighting has existed between the Georgian army and Russian-backed militia forces since then, but there was no major thrust by the Georgians. The Russians bided their time until the regional politics and the U.S. strategic pendulum had swung away from a possible full scale American military commitment.

For a while insiders in Moscow's think tank world spoke openly about the Kremlin's willingness to drop their objection to Georgia's joining NATO if they would accede to South Ossetia and Abkhazia rejoining Russia. It was a theory challenged by the history of Vladimir Putin's negotiating stance that never has given an inch in the battle against the extension of NATO influence.

The details of the exchange of blows that originated the recent bloodshed depends on who is spinning the tale. The incontrovertible fact is that when called on by the South Ossetia militia, the Russians were ready with hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles. Here was an offensive force in place, ready for H-hour.

The artillery exchange was devastating, but targeting on both sides was focused on populated areas rather than discriminated military objectives. As a result civilian casualties have been extraordinarily high in relation to military losses. Russian air superiority has also accounted for heavy destruction in the Georgian city of Gori.

Basically it's been Chechnya all over again, and that is exactly the type of indiscriminate warfare at which the Russian Army is so adept. From the Russian military standpoint their job is not so much a matter of defeating an opposing army as it is inflicting maximum destruction on all who oppose them, civilian and military. This combination of psychological and physical warfare is an essential element in the Russian Army's basic doctrine in dealing with recalcitrant areas of the former Soviet Union.

The ultimate question is whether the Russians will be satisfied with the return of South Ossetia and all of Abkhazia in northwest Georgia to Russian sovereignty. One thing is clear: the Putin/Medvedev government not only wants the message delivered that they will not accept any further consideration of Georgia's joining NATO, Russian forces are ready and able to take all of Georgia if necessary.

Both the politics and military advantage is on Moscow's side. America's European allies are not about to support a military effort to intervene on Georgia's side against Russia -- nor does the U.S. currently have the capability. From a strictly political standpoint Moscow has the Kosovo/Serbia sovereignty issue as precedent and is making that point with China's support.

Washington has wanted to be the "white knight" in the Georgia/Russia contest of wills. Georgia represented an independent democratic outgrowth of the breakup of the USSR. It was also an enticing foothold in the southern Caucasus. As Russia has grown as a petro-power, Moscow has counterattacked diplomatically and politically with effect.

While the Pentagon assigned scores of training cadre to build up Georgia's armed forces to serve in Iraq, Washington also was providing assistance to Georgia's military overall. From Moscow's standpoint this was proof positive of American complicity in Georgia's defiant insistence that South Ossetia was rightfully theirs.

Putin had decided long before he ceded the presidency of Russia to Medvedev that it was essential for Russia to take a military stand on the increasing NATO encroachment on Russia's borders. The Georgia/South Ossetia/Abkhazia issue provided that line in the sand.

This conflict in the southern Caucasus has been a conflagration waiting to happen. Make no mistake. Moscow will have its army take it all the way to Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, if necessary.


George H. Wittman, a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.

Ellie

thedrifter
08-11-08, 11:42 AM
Cold War II?

By Stephen Brown
FrontPageMagazine.com | 8/11/2008
With its invasion of Georgia, Russia has announced to the world that its superpower status is back. The Kremlin is once more flexing its military muscles -- the same way it did between 1945 and 1991, and the results are turning out to be just as bloody. There are already hundreds of dead and thousands of wounded and refugees.

The tiny region of South Ossetia, located in the Caucuses mountains of southern Russia, is at the center of these tensions. It is a complicated conflict within conflicts. Georgia, which broke away from the Soviet Union after its collapse in 1991, tried to reclaim ownership of South Ossetia, which had separated from its territory about the same time. In another brutal war that ended in 1993, rebellious South Ossetia, which has about 70,000 people (about a fifth are ethnic Georgians) and is about one and a half times the size of the tiny principality of Luxembourg, had successfully defended itself against Georgia’s first attempt to reincorporate it.



And this time things appear no different. After experiencing initial success in capturing South Ossetia’s capital, leaving sections burning and in ruins, Georgia is now in headlong retreat, facing a ruthless Russian invasion and asking for a ceasefire. But Russia appears deaf to the ceasefire appeal. On Sunday, its tanks were reportedly following the retreating Georgians into their country and closing in on Gori, the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. Russian planes were also bombing targets in Georgia, while units from Russia’s Black Seas Fleet took position off of Abkhazia.


The conflict has the potential to spread like a wildfire. Abkhazia, another area that seceded from, and fought against, Georgia in the early 1990s, has now offered to help South Ossetia by opening a second front. It has already started operations against Georgian forces.


So why is this happening? Tensions had been festering between South Ossetia and Georgia for some time. Skirmishes had been going on but had escalated recently. This escalation, in turn, caused America to send 1,000 troops to Georgia in July to conduct joint exercises with Georgian forces.


One of the triggers for the conflict exploding now, however, occurred outside the Caucuses when western countries recognized Kosovo, formerly part of Serbia. This diplomatic manoeuvre upset the Kremlin, which has refused to recognize the new entity. It has also not forgotten that a weak Russia had to watch helplessly in 1999 as an American-led NATO bombed its historical Balkan ally into submission.


Now in retaliation, Russia sees the opportunity to inflict the same fate on America’s Caucasian ally. It reasons that if Serbia is divisible, then so is Georgia. Like the Albanians in Kosovo, the Abkhazians and South Ossetians should have the right to secede if they do not want to remain part of Georgia. And they don’t. As proof, many people in these two rebellious areas, as many as 90 per cent according to one report, have taken Russian citizenship.


Georgia’s desire for NATO membership was also a factor in this weekend’s Russian response. Putin has spoken very strongly against Georgian entry into the western alliance, seeing it as a threatening attempt to encircle Russia as well as an western intrusion into its traditional sphere of influence. This is also how the Kremlin regards the American military bases in Central Asia and NATO’s eastern expansion to its borders.


By attacking Georgia, Russia may have crushed its neighbor’s NATO hopes. The ruthless Russian invasion showed Europe’s more reluctant members they may eventually wind up in a bloody Caucasian war if they accept Georgia into their organization.


In reality, Russia wants the United States out of the Caucuses completely and probably regards its Georgia invasion as the first step toward this goal. America has built a pipeline from oil and gas-rich Kazakhstan through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey that breaks Russia’s stranglehold on supplying energy to Europe, lessening Europe’s dependence on Moscow. And it plans to build another.


It is difficult to judge western-oriented Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili’s reasons for entering into this fierce, terrible and possibly suicidal military adventure. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had previously visited Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, and spoke against Russia’s support of the breakaway areas, which Saakashvili perhaps interpreted as a green light to start the war, using the Olympics as a cover.


But according to one source, Georgia last year had only a 22,000 strong army, parts of it American trained, and 200 hundred tanks. The Abkhazian forces alone have about half those numbers, backed by Russia’s tens of thousands. Saakashvili badly miscalculated if he thought he could quickly recover the disputed lost territory and restore Georgia’s territorial integrity.


Most likely Saakashvili, who studied in the United States, is counting on American intervention, since he has already asked for American help. But it is questionable whether an America already deeply engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan is willing to confront Russia militarily. A senior state department official indirectly indicated this, telling the New York Times: “There is no possibility of drawing NATO or the international community into this.”


But there is another reason besides current political ones that prompted the Kremlin’s military action. By invading Georgia, Russia is also following its age-old historical pattern. When Moscow is weak, as it was after 1917 and in 1991, the states on its periphery break away. But when the center is strong, as it is again becoming now, it sets out to reincorporate those very same peripheral states. “Georgia is only the start,” said Saakashvili in an interview with a German newspaper six weeks ago. “Tomorrow the Baltic states, then Poland.”


While America has been fighting the war against Islamic terror, Russia has bided its time, solidifying its power at home and grabbing as much energy resources as possible. Once again, Russia has chosen to show its totalitarian and expansionist strength for all the world to see. America, meanwhile, with hands full in the terror war, appears only able to urge restraint -- while one of its key allies potentially faces its own ruin and loss of freedom.

Ellie