on the silk road

Talking Sense on South Ossetia
August 13, 2008, 5:12 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

From the National Interest

by Dimitri K. Simes


It is remarkable, but probably inevitable, that so many in Washington have reacted with surprise and outrage to Russia’s response to President Mikheil Saakashvili’s attempt to reestablish Georgian control over South Ossetia by force. Some of the angriest statements come from those inside and outside the Bush administration who contributed, I assume unwittingly, to making this crisis happen. And like post-WMD justifications for the invasion of Iraq, the people demanding the toughest action against Russia are focused on Russia’s lack of democracy and heavy-handed conduct, particularly in its own neighborhood, and away from how the confrontation actually unfolded. Likewise, just as in the case of Saddam Hussein, these same people accuse anyone who points out that things are not exactly black and white, and that the U.S. government may have its own share of responsibility for the crisis, of siding with aggressive tyrants—in this case, in the Kremlin.

Yet many both outside and even inside the Bush administration predicted that the U.S. decision to champion Kosovo independence without Serbian consent would lead Moscow to become more assertive in establishing its presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Kremlin made abundantly clear that it would view Kosovo’s independence without Serbian consent and a UN Security Council mandate as a precedent for the two Georgian de facto independent enclaves. Furthermore, while President Saakashvili was making obvious his ambition to reconquer Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Moscow was both publicly and privately warning that Georgia’s use of force to reestablish control of the two regions would meet a tough Russian reaction, including, if needed, air strikes against Georgia proper.

So it would be interesting to know what President Saakashvili was thinking when, on Thursday night, after days of relatively low-level shelling around the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali (which both South Ossetians and Georgians blamed on each other), and literally hours after he announced on state-controlled TV the cessation of hostilities, he ordered a full-scale assault on Tskhinvali. And mind you, the assault could only succeed if the Georgian units went right through the battalion of Russian troops serving as international peacekeepers according to agreements signed by Tbilisi itself in the 1990s. Under the circumstances, the Russian forces had three choices: to surrender, to run away, or to fight. And fight they did—particularly because many of the Russian soldiers were in fact South Ossetians with families and friends in Tskhinvali under Georgian air, tank, and artillery attacks. Saakashvili was reckless to count on proceeding with a blitzkrieg in South Ossetia without a Russian counterattack.

Now the Bush administration and outside commentators are appalled by Russia’s disproportionate response. But proportionality is in the eye of the beholder. In July 2006, after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others—smaller losses than those inflicted on the Russian troops in Tskhinvali—the Israelis launched a massive bombardment of Lebanon, including Beirut, killing more than a thousand Lebanese, many of them civilians. When some in the UN Security Council sought to condemn Israel’s “disproportionate response,” the United States acted as Israel’s staunchest defender and prevented any resolution critical of Israel.

Notwithstanding this background, the United States has no good choices in dealing with the crisis. There is no realistic way to remove Russian forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia short of a major war with Russia, which no responsible American political leader would advocate at this point. But whatever Saakashvili’s responsibility is for the confrontation, America cannot allow an ally to be soundly defeated or especially overthrown by an insurgent Russia. Accordingly, the first priority for the United States should be to make abundantly clear to Moscow that any attempt at forceful regime change in Georgia will have severe consequences for the U.S.-Russian relationship and that the United States would help Georgia to resist on the ground.

Though the U.S. will not send troops—and Moscow knows it—we can provide significant military assistance to Tbilisi and greatly complicate a Russian military advance. Bringing Georgian troops back to their country from Iraq is one step on this path. While the Georgian army is no match for the much larger Russian forces, it is potent after years of double-digit budget increases and American equipment and training. Also, unlike in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where most of the population is friendly to the Russians, any Russian attempts to occupy Georgia would likely encounter massive popular resistance.

Moscow disavows any plan to conquer Georgia, and the Bush administration should hold them to their word, both through diplomacy to the extent possible, and a display of resolve if necessary. When this has been accomplished, however, we should look for ways to work with Russia in the name of essential American interests. We should also disregard the hysterical diatribes of Saakashvili’s American champions, who protest too much—perhaps because their irresponsible encouragement of the Georgian president was a contributing factor on the road to the war.

Dimitri K. Simes is the president of The Nixon Center and publisher of The National Interest.


The United States Shares the Blame for the Russia-Georgia Crisis
August 13, 2008, 4:50 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

American blunders fostered the situation, and now the United States will pay a high global price

By Paul J. Saunders
Posted August 12, 2008

  • Disillusionment with the United States in much of the rest of the former Soviet Union, where Washington will be seen as failing to protect Georgia after Tbilisi provided 2,000 troops in Iraq. This could encourage some governments to pursue closer ties with Russia.
  • Significant weakening of the United Nations Security Council due to lingering deep divisions over the conflict, with Washington unable to use the body to manage Iran, North Korea, or other important global challenges
  • Strengthening of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the country’s security services at the expense of new President Dmitry Medvedev and the relative liberals among his key supporters.
  • Serious damage to the U.S.-Russian relationship, threatening cooperation on arms control, securing Russian nuclear materials, Iran, North Korea, terrorism, energy, and a host of other issues. Moscow’s nonreaction to White House statements that the conflict could damage bilateral relations reflects the degree to which Russian officials see little benefit to working with Washington and have moved beyond their previous focus on U.S.-Russian tie
  • A suggestion to some countries, such as Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and Cuba, that with Russian support they can resist American pressure. Hamas and Hezbollah could be similarly emboldened. Most problematic, if America’s ties to China sour, Beijing’s tactical cooperation with Moscow could grow.
  • South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and even Georgia itself may seem like small and distant lands to most Americans, but the war there—and the mistakes that led to it—may affect them directly in unexpected and powerful ways. Hopefully U.S. officials, as well as former officials and pundits in both parties who supported them in enabling Saakashvili’s dangerous behavior, will learn a valuable lesson about unintended consequences. The United States remains the world’s only superpower, but it cannot afford too many more blunders on this scale.

Paul J. Saunders is executive director of The Nixon Center and associate publisher of The National Interest. He was a State Department political appointee from 2003 to 2005.

BP Shuts Two Caspian Pipelines in Georgia
August 13, 2008, 1:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Asbarez Reports that British energy giant BP said Tuesday it has closed two more Caspian oil and gas pipelines in Georgia because of the ongoing conflict with Russia.

“We have closed two other pipelines in Georgia–Baku-Supsa and the South
Caucasus pipeline, which is a gas pipeline,” a BP spokesman told AFP.
The key Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which BP also operates, was shut last week after a blast occurred in a pump at a section in eastern Turkey

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Gul Calls For Caucasus Union, Says ‘Essential’ for Peace in Region

Asbarez Reports ANKARA that Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul Tuesday echoed calls by his Prime Minister for the creation of a Caucasian Union, which he said would be essential for preventing the outbreak of future conflicts in the region.

Gul’s remarks come as Georgia is embroiled in an intense conflict with Russia that began after Georgian forces launched a surprise offensive in the breakaway territory of South Ossetia last Friday. The Georgian attack has resulted in the deaths of at least 1,600 people, most of whom were Russian citizens. It also attack triggered a Russian response that culminated in Russian forces seizing several key towns and a military bases deep in western Georgia on Monday.

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Georgia Says Leaving CIS

Asbarez Reports that Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili announced that his embattled nation will leave the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) which was created after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

“We are leaving the CIS for good…..and encourage others to do so,” he reportedly told supporters in the capital of Tbilisi in an email sent to Newsmax by Georgian authorities.

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Saakashvili Agrees to Ceasefire after Medvedev Halts Russian Military Operations

Asbarez Reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili said on Wednesday they had agreed to a modified version of a peace plan with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia announced Tuesday that he had ordered a halt to Russia’s military operation in Georgia, although he did not say that troops were pulling out, and Russian forces were still authorized to fire on enemies in South Ossetia.

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Armenia Says ‘Unaffected’ By Georgia Crisis

Asbarez Reports: Contradicting statements by Armenian diplomats and cargo firms, Transport and Communications Minister Gurgen Sargsian insisted on Tuesday that the Russian-Georgian military conflict has not disrupted Armenia’s main supply lines running across Georgia.

The assurances came amid growing signs of fuel shortages in the country. Some gasoline stations in Yerevan restricted sales of petrol, while others were shut altogether. Fuel was reportedly in even shorter supply outside the capital.

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