The first thing to understand about the war between Russia and Georgia is that Georgia has lost. As Doug Muir explains, seizing South Ossetia required the quick severing, and then holding, of a single key route leading from the Caucasus peaks to the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. A look at the terrain tells the tale: Tskhinvali’s north side is to the mountains, and its south faces toward a broad plain in which the Georgians already controlled the major routes. As an operational problem, the solution was self-evident. Seize the north-south route to Tskhinvali, and the conquest of South Ossetia resolves into an exercise in alpine insurgency – unpleasant but winnable.
The Georgians did not get it done. Having failed to seize the Tskhinvali approach, the next best option is to interdict its traffic. Russian air power, which appeared to have a Georgia-wide romp in the past 24 hours, almost certainly renders this impossible. Here, then, is the circumstance that the Georgians face: their warmaking assets will only decline (the hasty recall of Georgia’s Iraq contingent notwithstanding), while Russian power in-theater will only grow. Georgia’s military has benefited from significant American training and equipment since 2002 – but it simply does not have the manpower to face down a Russian Army accustomed to victory through sheer mass.
The real question for Georgia, then, is not whether is will win or lose – it has already lost – but how bad its loss will be. The worst case scenario is a Russian occupation and annexation. Fortunately for the Georgians, that’s also the least likely. Less unlikely is some sort of Russian occupation coupled with a Russian-driven regime change that puts Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on the street – if he’s lucky. This might not be the tragedy for Georgia it seems, given Saakashvili’s rather astonishing incompetent gamble in leading the country into the present war. Most likely is that the Russians fully occupy South Ossetia, along with the other secessionist region of Georgia, Abkhazia; declare them both independent or somehow annexed; and thoroughly punish the Georgians with a countrywide air campaign targeting what meager infrastructure there is. Georgia at war’s end – which may well be mere days away – will be definitively dismembered, and smoldering in body and heart.
So much for the probable outcome. What remains is what, if anything, America should do. The policy reflex, certainly, is to blame the Russians for this catastrophe, and act accordingly. Indeed, the Russians bear much blame – not least for their Kuwaiti-tanker stratagem with South Ossetia’s residents, who were issued Russian passports freely so Moscow might have a pretext to intervene. Yet if the Russians acted with malice, the Georgians under Saakashvili acted with stupidity. The separation of South Ossetia rankles the good Georgian nationalist’s heart – but that’s about it. South Ossetia’s economy barely deserves the name: to paraphrase Muir, it’s populated by peasants who drive sheep uphill in summer, and downhill in winter. It did not enrich Georgia, nor do its people want to be Georgian – and if Georgia wishes to claim it nonetheless, there is still no urgency to the task. A smart Georgian government would have brought Georgia to some meaningful prosperity over the years, and left the impoverished Ossetians demanding for reunion with a thriving nation. Biased though he may be, the Chairman of the Russia’s State Duma Security Committee, Vladimir Vasilyev, said it well:
Georgia could have used the years of Saakashvili’s presidency in different ways – to build up the economy, to develop the infrastructure, to solve social issues both in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and the whole state. Instead, the Georgian leadership with president Saakashvili undertook consistent steps to increase its military budget from $US 30 million to $US 1 billion – Georgia was preparing for a military action.
That Mikheil Saakashvili thought it better to have hundreds of young men die instead – by launching an attack upon a town garrisoned by Russians! – is a damning indictment of his judgment. No nation ought to base a policy, and still less an alliance, upon this unreliable actor.
If there is a rationale for American action, it lies in American self interest in showing that America’s friends may count upon it. Georgia fought alongside the US in Iraq, and there is some debt owed for that. In that vein, America might commit itselve to resupply – though not direct to forces in the field – and it might guarantee Georgian sovereignty, though not Georgian territorial integrity. Short of a threatened extermination of Georgia (which does not seem at issue), there is nothing at stake here to justify a US-Russia war. Those accustomed to invoking appeasement and Munich at moments of foreign crisis may recoil at this – but that historical parallel is barely applicable here. Russian Putinism, for all it rightly repels our moral sensibilities, is not an existential foe of the West like Nazism, Communism, or Islamism. Its advance is not intrinsically America’s loss.
Whether America’s policymaking apparatus will have the wisdom to discern this is another matter. The Secretary of State’s statement gives us some clue as to the outline of American policy, but what matters is the accompanying action. There is a rumor that the President will speak on this from Beijing shortly. Meanwhile, the war in the Caucasus goes on.
America’s stake in the Caucasus war just went up.
In the past 24 hours, the Russians launched offensive operations beyond the secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, marking a dramatic expansion in their war aims — well beyond the putative casus bellum of protecting Russian citizens. (It should be recalled that these “citizens” are Abkhaz and Ossetian locals who were issued Russian passports without, for the most part, ever setting foot in Russia.)
The town of Gori, in Georgia proper, is apparently the first to face a determined Russian assault. Georgian Zugdidi, just south of the second front erupting from Abkhazia, is also apparently occupied, though reportedly ceded by fleeing Georgians. It’s Gori, though, where the real fight is: and a look at the terrain around Stalin’s hometown tells why. This map shows Gori at the southern end of the plain to which the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali is the northern entrance. (Recall that this war began with a Georgian assault on Tskhinvali; they’ve been tossed clear down against the mountains in two days.) Gori sits on a pass leading into a long valley that slopes toward the southeast. About 50 miles at the other end of that valley, against that long blue lake in the lower right-hand corner of the map, is the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
In light of the recent, and somewhat frantic, Georgian offers of truce, there aren’t many reasons to take Gori if the Russians are merely interested in the direct protection of their clients. Though it wouldn’t be entirely out of character for the Russian army to simply bludgeon a city because it’s there, the logic of events lends credence to what America’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, charged today: that the Russians seek the overthrow of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. The synopsis of the exchange, at the UN Security Council’s emergency meeting on Georgia, between Khalilzad and Russia’s UN Ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, makes for chilling reading:
Mr. KHALIZAD (United States) …. went on to say that Mr. Churkin had referred to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s phone conversations with United States State Secretary Condoleezza Rice this morning, a conversation that raised serious questions about Russia’s objectives in the conflict. Mr. Lavrov had said that President Saakashvili, the democratically elected President of Georgia, “must go”, which was completely unacceptable and “crossed the line”. Was Russia’s objective regime change in Georgia, the overthrow of the democratically elected Government of that country?
Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) …. said “regime change” was an American expression that Russia did not use. As was known from history, different leaders came to power either democratically or semi-democratically, becoming an obstacle to their people’s emergence from difficult situations. The Russian Federation was encouraged by Mr. Khalilzad’s public reference to that, which meant he was ready to bring it into the public realm.
Mr. KHALILZAD (United States) asked whether the goal of the Russian Federation was to change the leadership of Georgia.
Mr. ALASANIA (Georgia) said that, as he had heard Mr. Churkin, the question asked and the answer received had confirmed that what Russia was seeking was to change the democratically elected Georgian Government.
Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) suggested that he had given a complete response and perhaps the United States representative had not been listening when he had given his response, perhaps he had not had his earpiece on.
Dealing with Churkin is rarely pleasant, but the facts in Georgia now — and especially the assault on Gori — render this episode something more than one of his usual tantrums.
Here’s where America’s stake goes up. As I noted when this war kicked off in earnest, the Georgian state blundered into this with eyes open, and Saakashvili is not the sort of man to whom we ought to harness our own policy. Were the Russians content to merely fulfill their putative war aims of 48 hours ago, and strictly occupy Abkhaz and Ossetian territory — in other words, were Moscow content to deliver a Kosovo for a Kosovo — this would be painful but acceptable, and not worth a showdown between America and Russia. A Russian overthrow of the Georgian government, coupled with what must be some sort of occupation, is altogether different. It would mark the explicit debut of Russia as a post-Cold War revisionist state in fact, and not just in rhetoric; it would be an explicit repudiation of the post-World War Two order in Europe, as the first inter-state aggression of its sort since 1945; and it would be an explicit warning to those seeking America’s friendship and the aegis of NATO.
Defending the standards of Europe’s long peace, preserving the strategic outcomes of the Cold War, and upholding the credibility of the institutional guarantor of that peace and the winner of that war: these are things worth acting for — and yes, worth fighting for.
None of this is to argue that the United States must now fight Russia for Georgia. On a pragmatic level, there is no American manpower to spare, and the risk of such a confrontation spreading is too great. The Vice President has told Saakashvili that “Russian aggression must not go unanswered,” and one hopes he has not leapt direct to the idea of armed force. (There is, though, much the West may do to help the Georgians help themselves short of that, from imagery sharing to signals intelligence to resupply.) But we must understand and swiftly come to grips with the realities of what this war costs us, and the institutions — NATO in particular — that protect us.
Already we see that several of our allies, and aspirants to that status, are tremendously alarmed at Russia’s war on Georgia. They understand what it signifies, because they remember all too well suffering aggression from the same source. As that memory drove them to seek refuge in alliance with us within NATO, it befits us to justify their confidence as an ally should. We noted yesterday the extraordinary joint communique from the Presidents of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia that condemned Russia’s “imperialist and revisionist policy in the East of Europe.” Poignantly, the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, is now allowing the Georgian government — whose online portals are blocked by Russian action — to use his own official website to disseminate news and photographs on the war. Most remarkably, Ukraine, which hosts the Russian Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol, is threatening to bar Russian access to the port. Ukraine was one of the two states denied a NATO Membership Action Plan at the NATO summit last April, specifically because of fears of Russia’s reaction. The other was Georgia.
America’s stake in the Caucasus war just went up. It may be too late to save Georgia — though we ought, within limits, to help Georgia save itself — but it is not too late to contain the damage to America and its allies that Georgia’s tragedy inflicts. As the Russian tanks roll toward Tbilisi, we should think hard about how far we’re willing to go to do it.
Seriously, the issues involved in this conflict are sometimes hard to discern. We can be reasonably well informed of some of the history of the region as well as being aware of the stakes involved.
But there are obviously nuances that are at play which if revealed, can give us a better understanding of what is happening. What is Putin’s end game? How bad would it be if Saakashvili were removed by the Russians? What does this humiliation for the Georgian army mean to American interests in the region.
Here a couple of people you should be reading to develop a good basic knowledge of the issues as well as a clear explanation of the military strategy and goals.
Richard Fernandez (Wretchard) of the Belmont Club has several crackling good pieces up at his site. He believes the Russians are far from finished
The most important development is that the Georgians have been driven from Tskhinvali, though it is not clear whether they have given up all positions on the surrounding high ground. Tskhinvali is the “cork in the bottle” leading from the Caucasus passes to the long plain that runs west to east across Georgia. Sky News now says the Georgians are falling back on Gori, which is the key to keeping Georgia intact. If Gori falls, Georgia will be cut in half with Tbilisi to the east and the Black Sea ports to the West. On the map at least, the battle for Gori will be the battle for Georgia.
Whether or not the Russians move on Gori depends on Moscow and international power politics. A map (click on the thumbnail for a big image) below the “Read More” is provided for the reader’s convenience. In my opinion, while it may take a while for the Russians to bring up enough force through their tenuous road link back across the Caucasus, they will eventually be able to marshal enough force to take the Georgian positions. The clock is ticking. Reuters reports the Georgians saying they will fight for positions around Gori.
The BBC is now reporting that Georgia is seeking a ceasefire with Russia. No response from Russia has yet been recorded. “Georgia has ordered its forces to cease fire, and offered to start talks with Russia over an end to hostilities in South Ossetia, Georgian officials say. Earlier Georgia said its troops had pulled out of the breakaway region and that Russian forces were in control of its capital, Tskhinvali.”
Another good site for information ( and to view the conflict from Russia’s perspective) is Russia Blog:
1. War in Georgia: Russia’s aggression against an independent country or Georgian genocide against Ossetian people overlooked by U.S. media?2. What would have United States done if a bordering country (let’s say Mexico) slaughtered 1,400 U.S. citizens and 10 U.S. marines overnight, leaving dozens of thousands civilian U.S. citizens without food and water?3. If ethnic cleansings on Russia’s borders shall not be Russia’s business, and shall not result in Russian military response against the aggressor, how can one explain NATO invasion of Serbia, a country that does not share a common border with the U.S.?
Both of those sites are fascinating in that they take the same information and, through a nuanced look at what is happening, offer two basically opposite analyses of what is going on.
But to get both sides of the issue, you can do no better than visit both those sites daily.
by Jerry Gordon
Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Afro American Muslim from Minnesota to serve in Congress, was back in Edina, Minnesota this week. On July 8th he was spoke to a group of Atheists for Human Rights– group that opposes all ‘authoritarian ‘religiions.
He loves to say that “after 9/11 Muslims and atheists were at the bottom of most polls”.
His comment captured in a Minneapolis Star Tribune article about this event was:
He was playing to a crowd of enthusiastic left wing Democratic Farmer Labor party members with anti-war cant calling the Iraq war “occupation” . He also suggested impeaching Vice President Cheney for engineering the Scooter Libby commutation, however he went a little too far when it came to Pres. Bush.
In an over the top remark he accused Bush of being the equivalent of Hitler, who many believe may have lit the torch figuratively and literally that caused the Reichstag Fire of February 27, 1933 , equating it to 9/11.
He may have taken a cue from an audience member who wore a black tee shirt with “Investigate 9/11”.
“It’s almost like the Reichstag fire in Nazi German, kind of reminds me of that. After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it and put the leader of that country (Hitler) in a position where he could basically have the authority to do whatever he wanted. The fact is that I’m not saying [Sept. 11] was a U.S. plan, or anything like that because, you know, that’s how they put you in the nut-box-dismiss you.”
He also accused Bush of using so-called Faith Based Initiatives as a Department of Outreach to “the far right wing of the Christian evangelicals.” “That’s really all it is,” Ellison said in his Edina library remarks.
Alan Fine of the blog, Minnesota Democrats Exposed and GOP candidate who ran against Ellison and lost in the heavily Democratic University of Minnesota Congressional District, had this comment about Ellison that rings true.
“Keith Ellison is among the most extreme among Democrats…His rhetoric can be heard in the halls of states and organizations (like CAIR) that support the terrorists, who would like to rewrite history and would like to destroy our nation.”
Fine’s dad, by the way flew 22 Missions as a USAAF pilot against Herr Hitler’s regime during WWII.
The Atheists for Human Rights, a 350 member group, were ecstatic. Afterwards they got a call from an O’Reilly Factor producer asking for a DVD of Ellison’s remarks and a possible stint on the Fox Cable News program.
The group’s spokesperson, Marie Castle told Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Mike Kaszuba who covered the event, “We’re trying to upgrade the image of atheists. They don’t think we have a moral compass.” I concur with Ms. Castle last observation. This group of atheists has no moral compass by giving a soapbox to Rep. Ellison to prattle his provocative and ‘incendiary’ views.
Apparently, the sponsoring atheist group received objections from fellow atheists about permitting a Muslim to speak. At least those few who objected had a ‘moral compass’.
So what can we expect out of this? A five minute food fight with Ellison on the Fox Cable O’Reilly Factor program giving him an audience of millions and the undying thanks for Ms. Castle and her fellow Minnesotans at Atheists for Human Rights. Little do they know that Ellison lied to them. They have no rights under Muslim Sharia law. They are just Dhimmis.
“She kept on asking for it, and she fell.”That is how the editor of one
Moscow newspaper correctly summed up the recent contract-style murder of top Russian investigative journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in the elevator of her apartment building. The savage slaying of the internationally renowned Politkovskaya, who threw fear into Russia’s and Chechnya’s ruling elites with her relentless, uncompromising investigations into their corruption and human rights abuses, shocked not only her countrymen but the world.
The Russian journalist’s brutal death is symptomatic of present-day “democracy” in
Russia. This Eastern European land has degenerated into such a lawless state the last ten years that whoever “asks for it”, like Politkovskaya, is definitely “going to get it.” Regarding journalists, in the last fifteen years
Russia has become the third-deadliest country in the world for the members of this important profession behind only
Iraq. Forty-two Russian journalists “got it”, like Politkovskaya, during that time with few of their murders ever being solved. The Russian government appears unable, or perhaps even unwilling, to protect its newspaper writers, although a free, vibrant journalism is one of the pillars of a healthy civil society.
But perhaps even more disturbingly, the world has seen the Kremlin export its lawless ways outside its borders to those countries who are “asking for it.” This criminal manner of conducting international diplomacy is now a part of Russian government foreign policy. One saw this not too long ago when the Kremlin tried to influence the outcome of the Ukrainian election. And the latest country to “get it” from
Russia is the small state of
Georgia, located in the
Caucasus Mountains on the
Black Sea. The plucky Georgians, who want to join NATO, recently seized – and released – four Russian officers, whom they accused of spying. In response, the Kremlin has imposed a transportation blockade of the Caucasian nation and stopped issuing visas to Georgians.
Russia itself, the persecution of Georgian nationals proceeds apace. Many Georgians are living in
Russia illegally, but authorities have turned a blind eye to their presence – until now. Hundreds of Georgians have now been deported from Russian territory. Police have even had schools provide them with lists of students with Georgian names, so that they can check on the residence status of the parents. Even the Georgian Orthodox Church in
Moscow was not spared this disgraceful policy when holding a funeral, as attendees were subjected to identity checks. Postal services to
Georgia and work contracts have also been cancelled, while Russian tax officials are harassing Georgian-owned businesses.
As for the destructive long term effects of the ‘non-war” against Georgia, journalist Simon Shuster says the Kremlin is not only discrediting “…the essence and content of contractual rights and the market economy as a whole…” in the eyes of the people, but the people also see in cynical fashion that “…the law means nothing and can be used arbitrarily…”
And the extent of Kremlin lawlessness does not stop with the bullying of one small country. A German journalist, Jens Hartmann, describes
Russia under Putin as a “façade democracy”, behind which stands a ruling elite. And of the top people in the Kremlin, in the ministries and in the state industries, more than forty per cent have military or secret service backgrounds. This elite, including Politburo members, are also not shy in helping themselves to the country’s economic goodies. The Financial Times reports that
Russia is the only G-8 country, in which top Kremlin advisors sit on the board of directors of state concerns. Like in
Third World countries, private businesses in
Russia also find it expedient to have a secret police official sit on their board of directors for protection.
One European newspaper reports other changes in
Russia that have caused democracy to decay. One is the growth of the FSB, the Russian secret service, from 80,000 to 350,000 members, while the number of government officials is now three times larger than in the Soviet era.
Russia, according to Transparency International, also now ranks a poor 126 out of 158 countries on its corruption scale. The courts and the legal system are also very weak, serving the needs of the elite when called upon, while most large media outlets have been brought into line by the state, giving Russians little access to points of view critical of the government and thus forming “an information blockade.” In the same newspaper, sociologist Olga Kryschtanowskaya describes the current Russian political system as neo-authoritarian and says Putin’s “militarization of power” is meant: “To keep everything under control: civil society; elections; the private business sphere; the independent press; the parliament.”
Most observers of Russia say Putin, a former KGB official, dismisses both internal and foreign criticism of the pitiful state of Russian democracy and bases his immunity on the fact his country is one of the biggest energy suppliers in the world, especially of natural gas to Europe. Western countries may be wary of criticizing abuses of democracy in
Russia too loudly for fear of jeopardizing their energy supply. Recently, the Russian state natural gas company, Gasprom, even bought a first division soccer team in
Germany in order to burnish
Russia’s image abroad, although the Kremlin used Gasprom money to control Russian media outlets. As well, many Russians, who are not used to democracy, support the government’s crackdown on those who disagree with the state, calling them anti-Russian.
The murder of Anna Politkovskaya, to a large degree, is owed to the atmosphere of lawlessness in
Russia today. History has also shown if lawlessness is ignored, it only gets worse. As a result, Putin would be wise to remember the fate of that other lawless state he once served so loyally and recall its degradation and collapse.