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Fighting Between Russia and Georgia:

Large-scale fighting has broken out between Russia and Georgia. According to news reports, Georgia launched an offensive to suppress secessionist forces in the breakaway region of South Ossetia; the secessionists have long been backed by Russian troops. Russia has responded by launching a counteroffensive and bombing targets throughout Georgia.

At this point, I don't have enough information about the situation to comment in any great detail. For example, it's hard to assess the validity of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's claim that Russian airstrikes have been "specifically targeting [the] civilian population." (though sadly, it would not be a complete surprise if they were, given Russian practices in nearby Chechnya). Moreover, the backstory to this conflict is long and complex, and I doubt I have the knowledge to make more than tentative judgments about it.

That said, I think it's unlikely that Russia's role here is entirely benign, given the longstanding history of Russian imperialism in the region, Russia's recent aggressive policy towards its neighbors under Vladimir Putin, and Georgia's role as a recently democratized state and ally of the US that Russian leaders fear as a potential catalyst for pro-democracy movements within Russia itself. At the same time, it was probably unwise of Saakashvili to launch a large-scale offensive in South Ossetia that he should have realized could lead to war with a much more powerful state - a war that Georgia probably can't win if Russia is willing to commit enough of its forces to overwhelm the Georgians. Both of these points are, of course, tentative and could be invalidated by later revelations.

The conflict also has important implications for the US. Georgia has 2000 troops serving in the US-led coalition in Iraq, which are now likely to be called home. At this point, the Georgian force is the third-largest Coalition contingent in Iraq (after the US and Britain). The fighting could disrupt strategically important oil pipelines passing through the region. The US faces a difficult dilemma in so far as we may have to choose between backing a staunch ally and Bush's effort to improve relations with Russia (whose cooperation he needs on issues like the effort to impose sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program).

UPDATE: Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, an expert on Russian politics and foreign policy, has an excellent op ed on the conflict.

Anon21:
Being almost completely ignorant of the issues involved, I'm wondering about what the Russian endgame is for this conflict. Do they stop once the Georgians are expelled from South Ossetia, or do they continue on, and send troops (rather than just planes) into Georgia itself? Is the latter something they'd have any interest in? And if so, who could stop them?
8.9.2008 1:41am
Thomas_Holsinger:
I recommend Strategy Page for things like this. Here's their story from yesterday.
8.9.2008 2:26am
spectator:
Russia's recent aggressive policy towards its neighbors under Vladimir Putin, and Georgia's role as a recently democratized state and ally of the US that Russian leaders fear as a potential catalyst for pro-democracy movements within Russia itself.

Why use a term as generic as 'democracy' here, which can be so easily claimed for all sorts of procedures and arrangements, including the current ones in Russia? If one wants to speak without ambiguity and minimize sources of confusion, different interpretations of democratic forms ought to be distinguished.

After George Soros has invested so much money into various coups and revolutions, including the one that putsched Saakashvili to power, why not do him the favor and call the specific constitutional system aimed for in this global struggle the "Open Society", after his institute?
8.9.2008 3:50am
Laura S.:
Its interesting to think where we'd be if Georgia was in NATO. The situation would be beyond irony.
8.9.2008 4:12am
Ilya Somin:
Why use a term as generic as 'democracy' here, which can be so easily claimed for all sorts of procedures and arrangements, including the current ones in Russia? If one wants to speak without ambiguity and minimize sources of confusion, different interpretations of democratic forms ought to be distinguished.

Despite some real flaws, the current Georgian government was chosen in free elections, with freedom of speech and an independent media. The same can't be said of the current government of Russia, which banned many of its opponents from participating in elections and has taken over most of the media.
8.9.2008 4:20am
J. Nicholas Smith:
Tsar Vladimir the Checkist is leading the Russian Empire on another wave of expansionism. How much anti-aircraft and anti-tank equipment can we Lend-Lease to Georgia, and how quickly?
8.9.2008 4:24am
Nessuno:

Its interesting to think where we'd be if Georgia was in NATO. The situation would be beyond irony


If Georgia had been in NATO, and support for Georgia among NATO members was strong, Russia would not have invaded.

Weakness is always dangerous, and Georgia without NATO, is weak.
8.9.2008 4:31am
spectator:
Despite some real flaws, the current Georgian government was chosen in free elections, with freedom of speech and an independent media. The same can't be said of the current government of Russia, which banned many of its opponents from participating in elections and has taken over most of the media.

Exactly, which means that either you deliberately try to obfuscate that you are concerned with the censorship of 'free expression' (and the other moral issues connected with the question of the "Open Society"), not with the system of choosing the government, or that two quite disconnected ideas have been so confused in your mind that you have forgotten what the word democracy means, historically and philosophically.

That is the reason why I suggested a term that would allow both the supporters and the critics of the libertarian "Open Society" to have a fair debate about the real issues. I have no personal stake in the matter, but I know many who support democracy, even in its nationalistic form, without subscribing to all the tenets of the "Open Society". It's not very charitable to try and hijack their word.
8.9.2008 5:44am
pgepps (www):
(spectator reminds me of a briefing-book debater)

I, too, am wondering what Russia's objectives, beyond being the tiger that roars loudest, are, here.
8.9.2008 8:47am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Russia has used thermobaric bombs (as effective as small nuclear weapons) against Chechnya. Russian deputy armed forces chief of staff Alexander Rukshin is quoted as saying, "all that is alive merely evaporates." Russia has also perpetrated other atrocities against Chechnya, yet most of the world remains silent. How much has the UN condemned their behavior? Compare and contrast to the treatment Israel gets from the American and European left when they use even minimal military force against those who seek to destroy them utterly. I guess any country with oil just gets a pass.
8.9.2008 8:57am
A. N. Moose:
A. Zarkov,

It's not oil but what is called "the will to power" that Europe (inheritors and continuing implementors of fascism) and the Middle East and Africa (mostly oppressive regimes headed by war lords and dictators), as UN members, "respect." It just so happens that valuable mineral resources give cause for political violence, from which emerge deranged rulers that make names for themselves. Consider for the sake of contrast the larger oil reserves of the Americas (most notably the US and Canada and also Brazil's massive, untapped offshore holding).

I guess my point was that the problem flows deeper than oil, and that's why what you're observing is so dangerous.
8.9.2008 9:22am
Jim at FSU (mail):

How much anti-aircraft and anti-tank equipment can we Lend-Lease to Georgia, and how quickly?


I suspect they have ample supplies of their own stuff.

You have to remember that the sovi Russians never mastered stealth technology, even partially- so their planes are going to be very easy to shoot down with missile technology from 40 years ago. Most of the recent American and Israeli failures in the area of anti-air missiles relate to shooting down much faster, smaller and stealthier objects like scud warheads and reentry vehicles.

Additionally, Russians don't have the same ability to coordinate forces that the US does. A russian soldier on the ground can't use his binoculars to call in an airstrike that arrives within 10 minutes. As far as I know, their abilities in the areas of GPS, thermal imaging and night vision for troops is pretty substandard as well. The Russians haven't spent any money on their military in nearly 20 years beyond upkeep and even that has been a struggle.

To win this, all the Georgians need to do is shut down that tunnel between Russia and South Ossetia and the Russians already there will shrivel and die.

The only advantages the russians have here are:
-the guys they are sending in are allegedly from chechnya so they are combat hardened veterans I expect
-russia is much larger than georgia. Doesn't matter if they lose battle after battle because they have essentially unlimited reinforcements

Advantages of the georgians:
-the border with russia is a natural barrier of mountains. Destroy the man-made tunnel and snow will take care of the natural gaps in the mountains in a few months.
-Russia's military is in really shitty condition. Remember that these were the guys whose entire military got beaten by a bunch of peasants with stolen 1970s era soviet infantry weapons. Georgia is way better equipped, organized and motivated than the chechnyans ever were. Note how they have already shot down nearly a dozen warplanes and blown up several tanks in heads-on fighting.
-If this drags on too long and starts to pull experienced troops away from Chechnya, expect another action-packed Chechnya sequel as the insurgents notice the heat is off and start to get brave again. Russia could end up losing control of their whole southern border as all the crazy ethnic groups decide to reassert their identities as non-russians.
-the US is their ally and we can help them in many ways that Russia can neither directly detect nor counteract. For example, we could give them help with intelligence and equipment. US satellite assistance and sigint directed against the Russians would be nearly undetectable on the ground and would help enormously in putting Georgia's limited assets to good use. Modern night vision and body armor for Georgia would also help stretch their relatively limited manpower further. Remember that the Russians have not put serious effort into modernization since the mid 80s. This is not going to be anything like the US rolling into Baghdad.
8.9.2008 10:38am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Ran across a book called "Reconnoitering Central Asia". It's about various individuals and small groups looking into Central Asia in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It's printed on the old paper almost like manila paper, with the old print style and line drawings.
The author is lamenting the Brits' ignorance of the area, including the chilling discovery that a 20,000 foot mountain range thought to be protecting the approaches to India did not, in fact, exist.
You can almost smell the old, rough tobacco a reader might have been using.
And there's a lot about Russia moving in. Lose an expedition? Mount another next year. Build ports on the big rivers. Suborn local leaders.
There is no political conundrum here. It's just what Russia does. That's all.
8.9.2008 11:08am
Jim at FSU (mail):

Russia's recent aggressive policy towards its neighbors


I think it would be more appropriate to refer to this aggression as "continuing" than "recent"- Russia has been behaving like this since at least the early 1500s (Ivan the TerribleStrong Disciplinarian) and arguably far further back to the Ivan III in the previous century. In my probably uninformed opinion, Russia seems to view expansion as means of ensuring it doesn't ever get a repeat of the Tatars who I hear were unpleasant. Of course, this doesn't really engender much in the way of goodwill from its neighbors who would much rather not be interfered with.
8.9.2008 11:27am
A. Zarkov (mail):
This Czech physicist compares South Ossetia to Kosovo lamenting the double standard held by Western journalists.
Nevertheless, there exists a stunning degree of hypocrisy and double standards among most Western journalists and even the politicians. So don't expect that these folks will be celebrating the new Ossetian independence or organizing international tribunals for the Georgian aggressors.
8.9.2008 1:15pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Moose:

"It's not oil but what is called "the will to power" that Europe (inheritors and continuing implementors of fascism)..."

Yes the Europeans are implementing a 21st Century fascism. Ireland kills the Lisbon Treaty, and what happens? The Euro-fascists simply decide to defy their own law and proceed to stuff it down the throats of their people. This kind of behavior is the essence of fascism. Then they have laws against "racism and xenophobia" to stifle free speech by criminalizing the hold of a different opinion. True to form the American left loves them as they seem to love dictators.
8.9.2008 1:26pm
njones (mail):
I'm somewhat familiar with the history between Russia and Georgia, but does anyone know of any good neutral sources about the background of the conflict between South Ossetia and Georgia?
8.9.2008 1:39pm
TokyoTom (mail):
Ilya, Russia is very interested in influencing the 1 million barrels/day BTC pipeline that passes through Tbilisi, Georgia on its way to a Turkish Mediterranean. BTC ships crude from the former USSR republic of Azerbaijan, and cross-Caspian links are now being set up with Kazakhstan.
8.9.2008 2:03pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
Russia has used thermobaric bombs (as effective as small nuclear weapons) against Chechnya.

Since the US also used such weapons in Afghanistan and Iraq, I'm not sure what your point is.
8.9.2008 3:04pm
mariner (mail):
I don't claim any special expertise here.

I suspect TokyoTom has it right -- this is about oil (what a surprise), and the ethnic history is just background noise.
8.9.2008 3:31pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Just Dropping By:

Since the US also used such weapons in Afghanistan and Iraq, I'm not sure what your point is.


According to the London Times article referenced by Wikipedia, the US and the UK used thermobaric munitions against military targets in Afghanistan. That's different from using a thermobaric bomb targeting civilians, and creating destruction over a large geographical area instead of a point target like a bunker. Russian troops have also engaged in widespread atrocities against individual civilians in Chechnya.

My point is Russia goes way beyond the US, NATO and Israel in using the military to terrorize civilians, yet draws little criticism. Even if Russia went no further than the US, it would still it would get no where near the same level of criticism.
8.9.2008 5:06pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

US faces a difficult dilemma


Not really. We will make some the usual noises but not do anything. Unles we want a war with Russia.

Not that we couldn't beat the crap out of the Russians in a conventional war. Keeping it conventional would be a tiny problem.
8.9.2008 5:33pm
LM (mail):
Zarkov,

Since you apparently believe neither side's abuses get the critical press scrutiny deserved, which side do you support?
8.9.2008 6:26pm
JohnKT (mail):
njones asks:


I'm somewhat familiar with the history between Russia and Georgia, but does anyone know of any good neutral sources about the background of the conflict between South Ossetia and Georgia?


Not me. From the little I read parts of the Caucasus were forcibly wedded under Stalin. Ossetia is related to Persia, and I think their language is a kind of Farsi. I saw a claim, in the NY Times I think, that Georgian in contrast is Indo-European, but that was confused since Farsi is Indo-European too.

The major point, though, is that Ossetia is different ethnically from Georgia. My guess is Ossetians wouldn't be happy with Russia either, but they would take the distant devil over the closer one.

My interpretation is that the entire Caucasus is a patchwork mess of ancient enmities, sort of like Europe's Balkans. I would really like us to stay out of it.

I got a little info from Simon Montefiore's biography Young Stalin. There is an obscure reference in one of Osip Mandelstam's poems (the one that got him in trouble) to the Ossetian mountain climber, meaning Stalin (mountain is a word play on Kremlin). According to Montefiore, Ossetians were looked down on by Georgians as being uncivilized (some not even Christians, horrors). Those unfriendly to Stalin derided him as really being Ossetian rather than Georgian. Sort of like calling Bush Bubba, only worse. Mandelstam was insulting Stalin.

With the Russian bombing of Gori, I wonder if the Stalin museum there will be hit. Stalin himself was a poet in his youth, well thought of at the time, but only a handful of his poems are available in English. My understanding is that the Stalin Museum in Gori has a more complete collection of his poems.
8.9.2008 7:33pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
LM:

"Since you apparently believe neither side's abuses get the critical press scrutiny deserved, which side do you support?"

I'm not sure how you identify the "sides." For the moment I'm neutral as regards the current Russian versus Georgia conflict. If "sides" refer to the US versus Russia, then I'm on the side of my country the US. It seems to me that Russia does not get enough press scrutiny for its actions in Chechnya, that's all. I don't see the need for troops to throw families down a well. I do support separation of conflicted groups. Look at Cyprus. The migration of the Turkish Muslims north and the Greek Christian groups south, creating essentially two nation states, has calmed the conflict. I don't subscribe to the currently fashionable multi-cultural view of the world. I think certain peoples need to live separately.
8.9.2008 7:35pm
LM (mail):

If "sides" refer to the US versus Russia, then I'm on the side of my country the US.

That goes without saying. I meant Russia/Georgia.
8.9.2008 8:32pm
RAH (mail):
This is an engineered invasion by Russia under the excuse of protecting South Ossetia/Russian citizens. This is a classic causa belli to protect Russian citizens by allowing S. Ossetian's and Abkazia's to get Russian passports.

Russia has been fomenting trouble ever since the BZC pipeline was approved and construction started This pipeline allows oil and gas to flow from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. They bombed the oil terminal and the oil tankers and the shipbuilding facilities in Poti, the seaport on the Black Sea. Russian has bombed the pumping facilities of the BZC pipeline in this attack.

Turkey had an attack by Turkish PPK Kurds on the BZC pipeline in Ezbrium on Aug 6th, 2008. It damaged a valve and over 12,000 bbl has been lost and the pressure has run down from the pump in Baku. This pipeline was activated on 2006 and Russia has been causing increased problems from 2006 in Georgia. The pipeline is supposed to get to full commercial production in 2009. This is a total end run around Russia monopoly on Europe gas and oil pipelines.


Russia has been playing at economic oil warfare for several years. Turkmenistan had a change in leadership and then went from selling to Western oil companies to giving the contracts to Gazprom the Russian company. Medevev just got the Libya oil contracts.


Russia has been going after oil in the Arctic and claiming territory there now that the Artic Ocean is opening near Russia.

Russian also has the original imperialistic ambitions to reclaim the Republics it lost in 1991. Notice that they now claim that Ukraine has helped Georgia by selling weapons. Russia tried to get their puppets installed in Ukraine and Georgia elections and lost both times.

This is an opportunity to get Georgia back under Russian control. Next will be the Ukraine. S. Ossetia may have initiated this conflict by artillery against Georgian villages knowing that Russia had built up the military presence with over 150 tanks on the other side of the Roki Tunnel. Somewhat like little brother taking on his enemy with big brother standing behind him.

S. Ossetia is the excuse it has no value, but Georgia pipeline does, plus it stops a Western ally on Russia’s flank. Russian control over this area allows direct route to Turkey and control of the straights.

Do you think an Obama administration will do anything about Russia taking Georgia, Ukraine and then Turkey? NATO is a paper kitten and has no strength other than America.

Georgia thought this may be they best time with Bush still in power to stir things up. They obviously hope to take S Ossetia fast and get control of the Roki Tunnel in the Georgian side to prevent Russian armor. They were not fast enough.
8.9.2008 8:38pm
RPT (mail):
Is the president aware of these events or is Cheney in charge?
8.9.2008 9:36pm
A. N. Moose:
A. Zarkov,
The Euro-fascists simply decide to defy their own law and proceed to stuff it down the throats of their people.
Well, they did say it was going to happen one way or another. That's why the constitution was turned into a treaty: so referendums to change each sovereign's own charter weren't mandatory. They are keeping at it.
Then they have laws against "racism and xenophobia" to stifle free speech by criminalizing the hold of a different opinion.
Yes, I'm glad you see that. The actress who was fined for speaking against immigration was a nice touch by France. And a successful suit for thousands of pounds for not hiring a headscarf-wearer at a punk salon in Britain? Tres freedom.
8.9.2008 10:04pm
The Divagator (mail) (www):
I'm no fan of the current Russian regime, but I find it strange that no one has seriously asked what the Ossetians want. We reflexively think this is about oil or raw power -- and it may be (I'm not discounting that out of hand). However, I think there may be a very good case here for the separatists.

I've posted a brief essay laying out the case, though obviously, very few of us have an expertise in Ossetian history...if anyone would care to offer up polished bits of wisdom to correct mistakes, I'd be obliged.

Also, kudos to JohnKT...excellent anecdote about Mandelstam. Would you happen to have the name of that poem handy?

And thanks to Ilya for opening the topic.
8.9.2008 10:29pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
A. N. Moose:

"... so referendums to change each sovereign's own charter weren't mandatory. They are keeping at it."


While referendums aren't mandatory, if even one country does elect to have one, and a majority votes "no," then the treaty fails. Ireland voted "no," but the Eurocrats decided to proceed with legislative approvals anyway, in violation of their own laws. Unless I misunderstand something about the Lisbon Treaty approval process, the Eurocrats are behaving like fascists. How else can one interpret this as anything but a power grab?

Americans should pay close attention to what happens in Europe lest our own sovergnity get dissolved in some kind of North American Unification under the guise of free trade. Beware of free trade; it's a Trojan Horse. I assert that Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage does not apply to a country as large as the US.
8.9.2008 10:56pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
JohnKT,

Georgian is not an Indo-European language. Together with Svan, Mingrelian, and Laz, it forms the Kartvelian or "South Caucasian" language family. Kartvelian is not demonstrably related to anything else, including North Caucasian. Relationships have been proposed between Kartvelian and other languages and language families, but none of these is currently generally accepted. The proposed relationship with Indo-European is as part of a larger language family called Nostratic, which would include not only Kartvelian and Indo-European but Uralic (e.g. Hungarian and Finnish), and Altaic (e.g. Turkish and Mongolian), plus various others depending on which version of the Nostratic hypothesis you are dealing with.

Ossetian is not a form of Farsi but a distinct language belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian subgroup of Indo-European. It is therefore related to Farsi but not a form of it. Ossetian speakers are apparently mostly Christians, with a substantial Muslim minority.
8.9.2008 11:00pm
A. N. Moose:
A. Zarkov,

States could be compared at that level, though Ricardo didn't account for uniform tariff policies on one side and free movement between States, which works to homogenize domestic urban areas. Still, in the absence of special treatment, the optimum tariff for a US-sized economy being very low means that the effect on trade between some and no tariff is small. (Which is a reason that special trade status is a bit of a red herring.)

The danger, indeed, is in "free" trade coupled with un-free everything else (Europe's expertise), which create perverse economic incentives. Protectionism and welfare are both on the rise, so a supranational entity is capable of folding those together nicely by redefining "domestic." *shudder*

Anyway, as for Georgia: Russia called the US-ties bluff, and we're in for a cold war on a few fronts if everybody Russia is threatening, directly and indirectly, starts to mobilize. I hope this imperial Russia/China stuff ends with less death than political Communism proper provided.
8.10.2008 12:59am
nyt-reader (mail):
I wonder, did Ilya ever note the "longstanding history of [British and American] imperialism in the region" in his commentary on the Iraq and Iran wars of 1979, 1991, and 2003, as he does on the first day of the Georgian civil war/Russian intervention? After all Iraq was a British mandate, Iran had a British- and American-backed coup d'etat, and America and Britain offered material support to the Iraqi attack on Iran. Or did Ilya ever comment on Turkish imperialism in the region, carried out by destroying the Armenian people and killing many thoudands of Kurds? And did Ilya object to civilian casualties during the NATO bombing of Serb cities and villages in 1995 and 1999? If not, why get so upset now over Russian efforts to stop the bombing of South Ossetia by Georgia? Do Georgians have more of a right to life than Serbs? If so, why? Were Kosovars more oppressed than Ossetian Russians? If so, how does Ilya explain the 1,600+ South Ossetian civilian deaths?
8.10.2008 1:18am
TGGP (mail) (www):
Daniel Larison has been covering the Russia-Georgia hostilities for some time and does not think much of Applebaum's column.
8.10.2008 1:36am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Yeah, but that's because Larison's a paleocon. As the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail; all paleocons have is isolationism, so everything bad that happens looks like an argument for isolationism.

Anybody who thinks that Russia invading Georgia is a rational response to a missile defense system that can't possibly be effective against Russia even if it were aimed at Russia isn't exactly playing with a full deck himself.
8.10.2008 2:22am
David M. Nieporent (www):
If so, how does Ilya explain the 1,600+ South Ossetian civilian deaths?
Russian propaganda.
8.10.2008 2:29am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"Iran had a British- and American-backed coup d'etat,..."

Coup or counter coup? Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi was Iran's monarch starting in 1941. In 1953 Prime Minister Mossadegh ordered the Shah to leave the country (the coup). Acting within his powers as a constitutional monarch the Shah dismissed the PM who refused to leave office. The Shah then left the country and issued two decrees one dismissing the PM, who again refused to leave office. Then with the help of the CIA the Shah overthrew Mossadegh (the counter coup). Iran was then returned to a multi-party constitutional monarchy, in effect restoring the prior government. Much later in 1975 the Shah became an autocrat abolishing the multi-party system. So it's not really correct to say that the US staged a coup replacing a democracy with a dictatorship. The government did not change after the Shah was restored. Historians differ as to how crucial the CIA's role was in these events. But does seem clear that the US over reacted, fearing a Communist take over that was really not going to happen.
8.10.2008 2:31am
psychdoc (mail):
IIRC, wasn't this Hitler's excuse for going into Danzig, 'that he had to defend German (insert 'Russian' for present purposes) citizens.' The Rusians might want to change their PR team as it suggests the wrong 'insight' to disinterested observers, not that anybody is much misled; this has probably becoming diplomatic speak for 'because we friggin can; you got a problem with that!' OTOH, it does suggest certain comic opera possibilities in international relations. For instance Lebanon might want to invade the Netherlands to protect its wandering citizens there. So maybe their 'sense of humor' helps. I'd prefer that there is a tunnel to be destroyed to stop the Rusian tanks.
8.10.2008 3:10am
Psalm91 (mail):
For the McCain partisans here, how does it strike you that his position on this crisis seems to reflect the position of his Georgia lobbyist campaign executive, Randy S-------? Does this matter?
8.10.2008 3:58am
Anonymous #344:
Psalm91, I'm not all that fond of McCain in general, and I am not going to vote for him, but what he said seems about right.

On the other hand, Obama makes it sound like a wildfire. ("outbreak of violence"? Yeah, that's exactly how you describe a Russian invasion and not a paintball game that ended in a bloody nose.)
8.10.2008 9:39am
elim:
the obama statement (the first one, not the follow up that he put out after reading mccain's statement) sounds much like the stuff that the "gun violence" crowd puts out. handgun kills people, etc.-you know the press releases printed in your newspaper. no one is committing the acts. as to the conflict, which is the larger nation? which invaded the other country? which has a history of imperialist aggression? while no nation or people are always in the right, one can usually count on Russia to do the wrong thing.
8.10.2008 11:25am
JohnKT (mail):
The Divagator asks for the name of Mandelstam poem:

It's poem 46 of his posthumously published poems, in Osip Mandel'shtam: Selected Poems translated by David McDuff, ISBN 0 86316 053 0. I don't think it is titled. He read it privately among friends, one of whom must have betrayed him to the secret police. You are warned, it's allusive and difficult. The reference to Stalin's "pudgy fingers" is explained by his wife Nadezhda. Stalin was an omnivorous reader, highly intelligent and self-educated, and therefore typically underestimated by his rivals according to Montefiore. Anyhow, he borrowed everybody's books in the inner circle. Nadezhda in her memoirs relates that Bukharin particularly hated to lend Stalin books because Stalin left his greasy finger streaks on the pages.

I tried to find a translation on the internet but they translate "Ossetian" to Georgian, I guess to avoid footnotes. Anyhow, here is one translation side by side with the Russian text. http://www.cipherjournal.com/html/mandelstam.html. The Russian has Osetina.

Thanks to Bill Poser for correcting me on the language families. I knew the NY Times had something wrong, but I did not have the details.
8.10.2008 11:48am
davod (mail):
"So it's not really correct to say that the US staged a coup replacing a democracy with a dictatorship." I read an interesting summary of the US/Brit supported coup.

Apparently, the US got cold feet at the last minute. The coup only proceeded and succeeded because the the Brit intellingence people would not relay the US call back message.
8.10.2008 12:05pm
davod (mail):
Slate's May 19, 2008 article 'Travels in the Former Soviet Union' By Joshua Kucera may be of interest. The first segment is about South Ossetia.
8.10.2008 12:13pm
Seamus (mail):
IIRC, wasn't this Hitler's excuse for going into Danzig, 'that he had to defend German (insert 'Russian' for present purposes) citizens.'

Godwin's Law; you lose the thread.

I'm not sure about Hitler, but I know it was LBJ's excuse for going into the Dominican Republic, and the Gipper's excuse for going into Grenada. In light of that history, I'd think people in the U.S. might want to think twice before we take the Russians to task for action they're taking in their own front yard.
8.10.2008 1:27pm
Seamus (mail):

Its interesting to think where we'd be if Georgia was in NATO. The situation would be beyond irony



If Georgia had been in NATO, and support for Georgia among NATO members was strong, Russia would not have invaded.

Weakness is always dangerous, and Georgia without NATO, is weak.



People who point to the present war as proof that it was a *good* idea to admit Georgia to NATO scare the crap out of me. That's exactly the kind of thinking that led Russia to promise Serbia its support, and Germany to give Austria-Hungary its "blank check," back in 1914. Can someone remind me how well that worked out?
8.10.2008 1:57pm
Seamus (mail):
Larison makes a good point over at Eunomia: "To understand the Russian response, imagine how Americans would respond if Serbia launched an attack into Kosovo while our KFOR troops were still there, and then imagine how much stronger the U.S. response would be if, in the course of the attack to retake the province, our troops took casualties because of that attack."

I'm guessing that Belgrade would be a smoking crater by now. The fact that Tbilsi isn't one shows that the Russians are, by comparison, being fairly restrained.
8.10.2008 2:06pm
MnZ:

People who point to the present war as proof that it was a *good* idea to admit Georgia to NATO scare the crap out of me. That's exactly the kind of thinking that led Russia to promise Serbia its support, and Germany to give Austria-Hungary its "blank check," back in 1914. Can someone remind me how well that worked out?


My guess is that NATO expansion comes to a halt as European objections to expansions will increase. (Ukraine might be the exception since it brings its own military might.)
8.10.2008 3:36pm
davod (mail):
The Russian sphere of influence. Would you really wish upon any country what Russia has done to itself. Link to the Slate article at my 8.10.2008 11:13am post to see what you get for being at one with Russia.
8.10.2008 4:04pm
TGGP (mail) (www):
Anybody who thinks that Russia invading Georgia is a rational response to a missile defense system that can't possibly be effective against Russia even if it were aimed at Russia isn't exactly playing with a full deck himself.
What missile defense system? The recent conflict began when Georgia sent troops into South Ossetia, where it had previously had a cease-fire agreement and permitted some degree of de facto autonomy. Russia already had peace-keepers (that's what they're officially called, not a judgment on my part) in the region, some of whom died when Georgian troops came in. That's the Russian justification and so far their troops have stayed in South Ossetia. I'm not saying I approve of Russia's intervention, but I find it hard to take seriously Bush's concern over the territorial integrity of Georgia after pushing for Kosovo's independence.
8.10.2008 6:40pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
From Brussels Journal: Where Are the Marchers for Peace?
I wonder is there the slimmest of chance to see millions of exalted young people passionately marching for peace in Georgia… It shouldn't be too much of an effort. All they have to do is brush the dust off from the "not in our name", "no blood for oil", "war is not the answer", etc placards, paste Vladimir Putin’s and Dmitri Medvedev’s faces over Bush’s or Blair’s on the "worst ever", "mass murderer" and "real terrorist" placards and voila! ready to march for peace. Preferably in millions, preferably in Moscow, to ram the message through to Putin and Medvedev.

8.10.2008 7:13pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
TGGP: Larison's article basically blames the U.S. for provoking Russia, by doing things like installing missile defense systems in "their" former countries. (For some reason, paleocons have decided that the Eastern Bloc wasn't such a bad thing after all. The conservative charge against FDR was that he sold out Eastern Europe at Yalta; now the view of many over at AmCon is that these countries really rightfully belonged in Russia's sphere of influence anyway.)
8.10.2008 8:32pm
Hoosier:
"Or did Ilya ever comment on Turkish imperialism in the region, carried out by destroying the Armenian people . . . ? "

And if so, WHY DID WAIT 100 YEARS to do so?!!
8.11.2008 12:10am
Hoosier:
"the obama statement (the first one, not the follow up that he put out after reading mccain's statement) sounds much like the stuff that the "gun violence" crowd puts out. handgun kills people, etc.-"

Guns don't kill people: Russian soldiers with guns kill people.
8.11.2008 12:13am
AKD:
Interesting, if one-sided analysis that was posted on Friday, before 58. Army crossed into S. Ossetia (or at least was acknowledged to have done so):


THE GOALS BEHIND MOSCOW’S PROXY OFFENSIVE IN SOUTH OSSETIA

As anticipated (see EDM, July 11, August 4) Moscow has initiated an offensive military operation by proxy against Georgia in South Ossetia. Although the blow had been expected in upper Abkhazia and may yet materialize there, Russia shifted the direction of attack to the South Ossetian front.

The brazen attacks during the night of August 7 to 8 in South Ossetia left Tbilisi with no choice but to respond. Continuing Georgian restraint would have resulted in irreparable human, territorial, and political losses. Moscow’s military and propaganda operation bears the hallmarks of its blitzkriegs in Transnistria in 1992 and Abkhazia in 1993. Georgia’s defensive response in South Ossetia since August 8 is legally within the country’s rights under international law and militarily commensurate with the attacks.

Russia usually stages military incidents in Georgia in August, while European officials take their vacations. This year, however, the operations are systematic, lengthier, and considerably higher on the ladder of escalation than in previous years. After concentrating supplementary forces in Abkhazia during the spring and expanding its military infrastructure there in early summer, Moscow switched on the escalation process in South Ossetia.

On July 3 an assassination attempt targeted Dmitry Sanakoyev, head of the Tbilisi-backed interim administration of South Ossetia, which controls at least one third of the region’s territory. The blast injured Sanakoyev’s bodyguards. On July 9 Moscow demonstratively acknowledged that four Russian Air Force planes had flown a mission over South Ossetia. That action sought to deter Georgia from flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), thus blinding Tbilisi to Russian and proxy military movements in the area. A series of roadside bomb blasts targeted Georgian police patrols. During the second half of July and the first days of August, Russian-commanded Ossetian troops under the authority of Russian-led South Ossetian authorities fired repeatedly at Georgian-controlled villages, forcing Georgian police to fire back defensively.

Meanwhile, Russia’s state-controlled media orchestrated a war scare, accusing Georgia of intentions to attack. In the North Caucasus and Russia proper, Cossack chieftains on government payroll threatened to send “volunteers” to fight against Georgia. The North Ossetian authorities, apparently aware of Moscow’s plans, showed nervousness at the prospect of becoming embroiled in a major military operation by proxy to their south.

The goals behind Moscow’s operation are threefold, each with its own time frame. The immediate goal is to re-establish the authority of Russian-controlled negotiating and “peacekeeping” formats. By firing on Georgian positions unremittingly and escalating the intensity of the fire with every passing day, Moscow hopes to force Georgia to turn to those Russian-controlled formats to relieve the pressure. Furthermore, Moscow wants to force Tbilisi to acknowledge a leading Russian role as “guarantor” of an eventual political settlement.

Moscow’s next goal, on a timeframe overlapping with the first, is to capture Georgian-controlled villages in South Ossetia. The pattern of attacks since August 6 indicate the intent to reduce the Sanakoyev administration’s territory to insignificance or even remove it from South Ossetia altogether. If successful, this undertaking may well be replicated in upper Abkhazia by Russian and proxy forces attempting to evict authorities loyal to Tbilisi.

The strategic political goal is to dissuade NATO from approving a membership action plan (MAP) for Georgia at the alliance’s December 2008 or April 2009 meetings. More immediately, Moscow seeks to derail the North Atlantic Council’s assessment visit to Georgia, scheduled for September, or at least to influence the visit’s assessment about Georgia’s eligibility for a MAP. Since NATO’s “Russia-Firsters” insist that unresolved conflicts disqualify Georgia from a MAP, Russia seeks to demonstrate that those conflicts are indeed unresolved. NATO’s failure to approve a Georgian MAP at the April 2008 summit emboldened Russia to escalate military operations against Georgia.

Moscow also seeks to bleed Georgia economically through protracted military operations. Russia can not tolerate the successful economic performance of a Western-oriented government on Russia’s border. Aware, furthermore, that Georgia’s government is accountable to public opinion, Moscow seeks to force the government to choose between yielding at the risk of a domestic backlash or, alternatively, fighting back in a costly confrontation

Resemblances with the Russian interventions in the early 1990s in Transnistria and Abkhazia are unmistakable. In that scenario, the Russian media create a hysterical, brink-of-war atmosphere, portraying the small country targeted for attack as a dangerous aggressor. Russian-armed proxy troops, already in place on the target country’s territory, attack localities and seats of authority. Cossacks and North Caucasus “volunteers” are sent in. Russian officials can claim that the attackers act on their own, outside Moscow’s control. Russian military intelligence coordinates the operation, while air and ground forces provide cover and would intervene directly if the target country defends itself. In the final stage of this scenario, Russian “peacekeepers” perpetuate the gains achieved on the ground. Throughout the crisis, most Western governments are confused and react irrelevantly by urging restraint on “both sides,” ultimately tolerating the Russian faits accomplis.

That scenario started unfolding in South Ossetia in late July. By August 6 and 7, heavily armed proxy troops opened fire on Georgian villages, while the secessionist authorities refused to talk with Tbilisi. The attacking forces began destroying the transmission antennae of Georgian mobile telephone systems. Arms and paramilitary groups poured in from Russia to South Ossetia through the Russian-controlled Roki tunnel. Russian officials in Georgia claimed that the attacking forces were out of Russia’s control. Officials in Moscow, meanwhile, justified the attacks directly and indirectly by accusing Georgia of aggression (Interfax, Itar-Tass, Russian Television, August 4-7).

At 7:00 P.M. local time on August 7, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili spoke live on national television, announcing a unilateral ceasefire and asking the other side also to cease hostilities. In highly conciliatory words, Saakashvili called for talks “in any format”; reaffirmed the long-standing offer of full autonomy for South Ossetia; proposed that Russia should guarantee that solution; offered a general amnesty; and pleaded for international intercession to stop the hostilities (Rustavi-2 TV, August 7).

Following Saakashvili’s address, attacks on Georgian villages intensified. The village of Avnevi was almost completely destroyed, Tamarasheni and Prisi shelled, and the police station in Kurta, seat of the Sanakoyev administration, smashed by artillery fire. Civilians began fleeing the villages.

These attacks forced Tbilisi to take defensive action. By 10:30 P.M. local time on August 7 the Georgians returned fire. During the night, Georgian forces including armored columns began advancing toward Tskhinvali, the secessionist authorities’ administrative center. These Georgian actions have halted the repetition of a 1992-1993 type scenario in 2008.

http://jamestown.org
8.11.2008 2:14am
The Divagator (mail) (www):
JohnKT--thanks for the Mandelstam reference. Much appreciated. Cheers.
8.11.2008 2:00pm
really (mail) (www):
Seamus:
it was LBJ's excuse for going into the Dominican Republic, and the Gipper's excuse for going into Grenada.


In the Dominican Republic, our troops were often riding around without ammunition, the sergeant in the first or last truck had a key to it. They didn't stay too long either.
8.11.2008 5:55pm
TGGP (mail) (www):
Again, the missile defense subject relates to areas of eastern europe not including Georgia. Remember to distinguish countries.

Larison's point is that the Cold War is over. The purpose NATO was founded for no longer exists. If anything, it should have been abolished rather than expanded. Russia could be expected to view systems whose range includes their country to be a threat, though that of course does not justify any intervention on their part (which Russia is certainly not engaged in in Poland).

Russia having a regional sphere of influence is not the same thing as the Eastern Bloc. It is only inevitable that the United States will have a great deal of influence over Canada and Mexico, but we may presume that troops will not be sent in to quash any Prague Spring.
8.11.2008 10:31pm