A BULLY'S DESERTS
Financial Times (London)
August 18, 2008 -- 19:34 BST [11:34 a.m. PDT]
Russia is deliberately flaunting its military might on the territory of its tiny neighbor and former colony, Georgia. Under the guise of “peacekeeping,” Russian tanks and troops have penetrated deep into the country and destroyed both civilian and military infrastructure. They have bombed the main railway line, and blocked the roads. Yesterday some were still advancing south, although Moscow insisted they were pulling back.
Russia’s behavior has undermined the argument that it simply intervened for humanitarian purposes. President Dmitry Medvedev yesterday talked chillingly of a “crushing response” to any attack on its citizens. The clear message to Georgia, to other pro-Western former Soviet republics such as Ukraine, and to the NATO alliance, is that Russia can behave as it will in its “near abroad.” It has overwhelming military force, and it is prepared to use it. The next target may well be Ukraine’s Crimea, where the Russian-speaking population could easily be persuaded to seek secession. Moscow wants its Black Sea base to be part of Russia, not rented from Ukraine.
When the foreign ministers of the NATO allies meet in emergency session to consider the situation in Brussels today [Aug. 19], they need to find a robust and united response. It is essential that Moscow gets the message that its use of massive military force against an independent country on its border is not without consequences.
For a start, it would be quite wrong for NATO to back away from its promise that full membership is on offer to both Georgia and Ukraine. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who opposed granting them both formal membership action plans at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April -- at least in part for fear of infuriating Russia -- rightly stated in Tbilisi at the weekend: “We are on a clear path in the direction of NATO membership.” Georgia also deserves massive help for refugees and reconstruction.
Georgia and Ukraine have every right to choose the international organizations to which they wish to belong. So has Russia. But Mr. Medvedev, and his mentor Vladimir Putin, should realize that they must abide by the rules and the values of such organizations, as must the Georgians and Ukrainians.
It is time for the European Union and NATO to reconsider whether they can maintain partnership agreements with a country that is determined to treat them as hostile organizations. If Russia behaves like a bully, it will be treated as such. Both sides would be losers, but it is up to Moscow to choose.
IN GEORGIA, RUSSIA SENDS CLEAR MESSAGE U.S., ISRAELI INFLUENCE WILL NOT BE TOLERATED
By Theodore Karasik
Daily Star (Beirut)
August 18, 2008
DUBAI -- South Ossetian separatists, supported by Moscow, escalated their machine-gun and mortar-fire attacks against neighboring Georgian villages last week. In response, Georgia attacked the separatist capital South Ossetian Tskhinvali with artillery to suppress fire. Tskhinvali suffered severe damage, thus providing the pretext for Moscow's invasion of Georgia. Russians in Abkhazia are also fighting the Georgians.
As Russia responded with overwhelming force, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew from the Beijing Olympics to Vladikavkaz, taking control of the military operations. Putin sidelined his successor, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, thereby leaving no doubt as to who is in charge. Medvedev's role is to handle the international diplomatic front which seems to be not on the table. Under Putin's orders, the 58th Russian Army of the North Caucasus Military District rolled into South Ossetia, reinforced by the 76th Airborne "Pskov" Division. Cossacks from the neighboring Russian territories moved in to combat the Georgians as well.
The Black Sea Fleet is blockading Georgia from the sea, while Russian ballistic missiles and its air force are attacking Georgian military bases and cities including Tbilisi. What Russia is trying to do -- and looking like she may succeed -- is to establish a pro-Russian regime in Georgia that will also bring the strategic Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Erzurum (Turkey) gas pipeline under Moscow's control.
More importantly and with immense strategic implications, Russia is also trying to send Israel a clear message that Tel Aviv's military support for Tbilisi in organizing, training and equipping Georgia's army will no longer be tolerated. Private Israeli security firms and retired military officials are actively involved in Georgian security. Further, Israel's interest in Caspian oil and gas pipelines is growing and Russia seeks to stop this activity at this time. Intense negotiations about current and future pipelines between Israel, Turkey, Georgia, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan are tied to receiving oil at the terminal at Ashkelon and on to the Red Sea port of Eilat. Finally, Russia is sending a clear message that it will not tolerate U.S. influence in Georgia nor Tbilisi's interests -- supported by the pro-U.S. Georgian President Mikhal Saakashvili -- in joining NATO. Overall, the military crisis will push Moscow to punish Israel for its assistance to Georgia, and challenge the U.S. to do more than voice rhetoric.
In the Gulf, there are several broad implications. First is the impact of the war on Gulf investment in the Caucasus and in Russia. The Russian damage to Ras al-Khaimah's [one of the emirates of the United Arab Emirates] investment plan in Georgia is troublesome. The Ras al-Khaimah government has recently invested in the Georgian port of Poti where its real-estate development arm Rakeen is developing a free zone. Rakeen is also developing some mixed-use projects near the capital Tbilisi. The firm has three projects in Georgia -- Tbilisi Heights and Uptown Tbilisi -- with a total value of $1.98 billion, while a third is being planned. But Ras al-Khaimah's other major investment did not remain unhurt. The Georgian harbor Poti, which is majority owned by the Ras al-Khaimah Investment Authority (Rakia), was badly damaged in Russian air raids. In April 2008, Georgia sold a 51 percent stake in the Poti port area to Rakia to develop a free economic zone (FEZ) in a 49-year management concession, and to manage a new port terminal. The creation of FEZ, to be developed by Rakeen, was officially inaugurated by Saakashvili on April 15, 2008. Previously the trend in Russo-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) relations focused on strengthening the "north-south" economic corridor between the two regions; this linkage may now be in jeopardy if more Gulf investment goes up in smoke.
The second implication is the growing military presence in both Gulf waters and the Mediterranean Sea by the West and Russia that cannot be separated from the Russo-Georgian conflict. There is an unprecedented build-up of American, French, British, and Canadian naval and air assets -- the most since the 2003 invasion of Iraq -- that are to be in place shortly for a partial naval blockade of Iran. Three US strike forces are en route to the Gulf namely the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the USS Ronald Reagan, and the USS Iwo Jima. [NOTE: It is surprising that Karasic cites this disinformation, which in addition to being denied by Pentagon sources has been discredited by Stratfor. --H.A.] Already in place are the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea opposite Iranian shores and the USS Peleliu which is cruising in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
There is also a growing Russian Navy deployment begun earlier this year to the eastern Mediterranean comprising the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov with approximately 50 Su-33 warplanes that have the capacity for mid-air refueling along with the guided-missile heavy cruiser Moskva. This means the Russian aircraft could reach the Gulf from the Mediterranean, a distance of some 1360 kilometers, and would be forced to fly not only over Syria but Iraq as well, where the skies are controlled by the U.S. military. The Russian task force is believed to be composed of a dozen warships and several submarines. While the West is seeking to defend Gulf oil sources destined to the West and the Far East, Russia is increasing its desire to control Caspian oil resources and setting herself in a strategic position near the Levant.
A final implication is what may be a complete collapse of any back channel communications via Russia to Iran regarding Tehran's preparation for confrontation with the West and slowing down Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon. In the past year, Russia acted as an intermediary between the U.S., Israel, the GCC -- specifically Saudi Arabia -- and Tehran. With the Russian-Georgian war, the door may now slam shut between these players. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is attempting to halt the Russian sale of the S-300 anti-air defense system to Tehran and also is seeking to purchase large amounts of Russian weapons to "buy-off" Moscow's pursuit of selling conventional weapons to Iran. As a consequence of the Russo-Georgian war, Russia may start to play hardball with going through with arms sales to Iran and dropping support for sanctions against Iran that may invite a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran.
As further evidence of the heightening of tensions, Kuwait is activating its "Emergency War Plan" as the massive U.S. and European flotilla is heading for the region. Part of Kuwait's plan is to put strategic oil assets in reserve in the Far East and outside the forthcoming battle space. And Israel is building up its strike capabilities for an attack on Iran, purchasing 90 F-16I planes that can carry enough fuel to reach Iran. Israel has also bought two new Dolphin submarines from Germany capable of firing nuclear-armed warheads, in addition to the three already in service with its navy. Many strategic and tactical pieces for a confrontation are falling into place.
Overall, analysts have argued that there might be a series of triggers that could force a confrontation between the West and Iran. Some maintained that this trigger may occur in the Gulf or in the Levant -- whether accidental or on purpose. There were potential triggers before -- the April 2007 seizure of British sailors in the Gulf, the September 2007 Israeli attack on a suspected Syrian nuclear facility, and Hezbollah's seizure of West Beirut in May 2008. Now it appears that a more serious trigger may be the Russo-Georgian war -- despite geographical distance -- that may carry dire consequences for all-especially in the Gulf littoral.
--Theodore Karasik is the director for research and development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
Outlook and opinions
'WE ARE ALL GEORGIANS'? NOT SO FAST.
By Michael Dobbs
August 17, 2008
It didn't take long for the "Putin is Hitler" analogies to start following the eruption of the ugly little war between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia. Neoconservative commentator Robert Kagan compared the Russian attack on Georgia with the Nazi grab of the Sudetenland in 1938. President Jimmy Carter's former national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said that the Russian leader was following a course "horrifyingly similar to that taken by Stalin and Hitler in the 1930s."
Others invoked the infamous Brezhnev doctrine, under which Soviet leaders claimed the right to intervene militarily in Eastern Europe in order to prop up their crumbling imperium. "We've seen this movie before, in Prague and Budapest," said John McCain, referring to the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Hungary in 1956. According to the Republican presidential candidate, "today we are all Georgians."
Actually, the events of the past week in Georgia have little in common with either Hitler's dismemberment of Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II or Soviet policies in Eastern Europe. They are better understood against the backdrop of the complicated ethnic politics of the Caucasus, a part of the world where historical grudges run deep and oppressed can become oppressors in the bat of an eye.
Unlike most of the armchair generals now posing as experts on the Caucasus, I have actually visited Tskhinvali, a sleepy provincial town in the shadow of the mountains that rise along Russia's southern border. I was there in March 1991, shortly after the city was occupied by Georgian militia units loyal to Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the first freely elected leader of Georgia in seven decades. One of Gamsakhurdia's first acts as Georgian president was to cancel the political autonomy that the Stalinist constitution had granted the republic's 90,000-strong Ossetian minority.
After negotiating safe passage with Soviet interior ministry troops who had stationed themselves between the Georgians and the Ossetians, I discovered that the town had been ransacked by Gamsakhurdia's militia. The Georgians had trashed the Ossetian national theater, decapitated the statue of an Ossetian poet, and pulled down monuments to Ossetians who had fought with Soviet troops in World War II. The Ossetians were responding in kind, firing on Georgian villages and forcing Georgian residents of Tskhinvali to flee their homes.
It soon became clear to me that the Ossetians viewed Georgians in much the same way that Georgians view Russians: as aggressive bullies bent on taking away their independence. "We are much more worried by Georgian imperialism than Russian imperialism," an Ossetian leader, Gerasim Khugaev, told me then. "It is closer to us, and we feel its pressure all the time."
When it comes to apportioning blame for the latest flare-up in the Caucasus, there's plenty to go around. The Russians were clearly itching for a fight, but the behavior of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has been erratic and provocative. The United States may have stoked the conflict by encouraging Saakashvili to believe that he enjoyed American protection, when the West's ability to impose its will in this part of the world is actually quite limited.
Let us examine the role played by the three main parties.
Georgia. Saakashvili's image in the West, and particularly in the United States, is that of the great "democrat," the leader of the "Rose Revolution" who spearheaded a popular uprising against former American favorite Eduard Shevardnadze in November 2003. It is true that he has won two reasonably free elections, but he has also displayed some autocratic tendencies: He sent riot police to crush an opposition protest in Tbilisi last November and shuttered an opposition television station.
While the United States views Saakashvili as a pro-Western modernizer, a large part of his political appeal in Georgia has stemmed from his promise to reunify Georgia by bringing the secessionist provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia under central control. He has presented himself as the successor to the medieval Georgian king David the Builder and promised that the country will regain its lost territories by the time he leaves office, by one means or another. American commentators tend to overlook the fact that Georgian democracy is inextricably intertwined with Georgian nationalism.
The restoration of Georgia's traditional borders is an understandable goal for a Georgian leader, but it is a much lower priority for the West, particularly if it involves armed conflict with Russia. Based on their previous experience with Georgian rule, Ossetians and Abkhazians have perfectly valid reasons to oppose reunification with Georgia, even if it means throwing in their lot with the Russians.
It is unclear how the simmering tensions between Georgia and South Ossetia came to the boil this month. The Georgians say that they were provoked by the shelling of Georgian villages from Ossetian-controlled territory. While this may well be the case, the Georgian response was disproportionate. On the night of Aug. 7 and into Aug. 8, Saakashvili ordered an artillery barrage against Tskhinvali and sent an armored column to occupy the town. He apparently hoped that Western support would protect Georgia from major Russian retaliation, even though Russian "peacekeepers" were almost certainly killed or wounded in the Georgian assault.
It was a huge miscalculation. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (and let there be no doubt that he is calling the shots in Moscow despite having handed over the presidency to his protégé, Dmitri Medvedev) now had the ideal pretext for settling scores with the uppity Georgians. Rather than simply restoring the status quo ante, Russian troops moved into Georgia proper, cutting the main east-west highway at Gori and attacking various military bases.
Saakashvili's decision to gamble everything on a lightning grab for Tskhinvali brings to mind the comment of the 19th-century French statesman Talleyrand: "It was worse than a crime, it was a mistake."
Russia. Putin and Medvedev have defended their incursion into Georgia as motivated by a desire to stop the "genocide" of Ossetians by Georgians. It is difficult to take their moral outrage very seriously. There is a striking contrast between Russian support for the right of Ossetian self-determination in Georgia and the brutal suppression of Chechens who were trying to exercise that very same right within the boundaries of Russia.
Playing one ethnic group against another in the Caucasus has been standard Russian policy ever since czarist times. It is the ideal wedge issue for the Kremlin, particularly in the case of a state such as Georgia, which is made up of several different nationalities. It would be virtually impossible for South Ossetia to survive as an autonomous entity without Russian support. Putin's government has issued passports to Ossetians and secured the appointment of Russians to key positions in Tskhinvali.
The Russian incursion into Georgia proper has been even more "disproportionate" -- in President Bush's phrase -- than the Georgian assault on Tskhinvali. The Russians have made no secret of their wish to replace Saakashvili with a more compliant leader. Russian military targets included the Black Sea port of Poti -- more than 100 miles from South Ossetia.
The real goal of Kremlin strategy is to reassert Russian influence in a part of the world that has been regarded, by czars and commissars alike, as Russia's backyard. Russian leaders bitterly resented the eastward expansion of NATO to include Poland and the Baltic states -- with Ukraine and Georgia next on the list -- but were unable to do very much about it as long as America was strong and Russia was weak. Now the tables are turning for the first time since the collapse of communism in 1991, and Putin is seizing the moment.
If Putin is smart, he will refrain from occupying Georgia proper, a step that would further alarm the West and unite Georgians against Russia. A better tactic would be to wait for Georgians themselves to turn against Saakashvili. The precedent here is what happened to Gamsakhurdia, who was overthrown in January 1992 by the same militia forces he had sent into South Ossetia a year earlier.
The United States. The Bush administration has been sending mixed messages to its Georgian friends. U.S. officials insist that they did not give the green light to Saakashvili for his attack on South Ossetia. At the same time, however, the United States has championed NATO membership for Georgia, sent military advisers to bolster the Georgian army, and demanded the restoration of Georgian territorial integrity. American support might well have emboldened Saakashvili as he was considering how to respond to the "provocations" from South Ossetia.
Now the United States has ended up in a situation in the Caucasus where the Georgian tail is wagging the NATO dog. We were unable to control Saakashvili or to lend him effective assistance when his country was invaded. One lesson is that we need to be very careful in extending NATO membership, or even the promise of membership, to countries that we have neither the will nor the ability to defend.
In the meantime, American leaders have paid little attention to Russian diplomatic concerns, both inside the former borders of the Soviet Union and farther abroad. The Bush administration unilaterally abrogated the 1972 anti-missile defense treaty and ignored Putin when he objected to Kosovo independence on the grounds that it would set a dangerous precedent. It is difficult to explain why Kosovo should have the right to unilaterally declare its independence from Serbia, while the same right should be denied to places such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The bottom line is that the United States is overextended militarily, diplomatically and economically. Even hawks such as Vice President Cheney, who have been vociferously denouncing Putin's actions in Georgia, have no stomach for a military conflict with Moscow. The United States is bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and needs Russian support in the coming trial of strength with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
Instead of speaking softly and wielding a big stick, as Teddy Roosevelt recommended, the American policeman has been loudly lecturing the rest of the world while waving an increasingly unimpressive baton. The events of the past few days serve as a reminder that our ideological ambitions have greatly exceeded our military reach, particularly in areas such as the Caucasus, which is of only peripheral importance to the United States but of vital interest to Russia.
--Michael Dobbs covered the collapse of the Soviet Union for the Washington Post. His latest book is One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War.