The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Georgia epiologue: premature – updated

August 13, 2008

Many reports indicate that Russian forces are headed toward Tblisi:

A Russian military convoy thrust deep into Georgia on Wednesday and Georgian officials said Russian troops bombed and looted the crossroads city of Gori, violating a freshly brokered truce intended to end the conflict. In the west, Georgia’s weakened military acknowledged its soldiers had pulled out entirely from Abkhazia, leaving both breakaway regions at the heart of the fighting in the hands of Russian-backed separatists.

… By now, I’m sure that many of our readers are totally confused.

In a widely reported interview with CBS news, Saakashvili claimed that the Russians–and pro-Russian irregulars–are engaged in significant military operations within Georgia, ethnic cleansing in the Kordi gorge, and generally engaging in what he called a “full-scale invasion” of Georgia. US officials say that some of the reports of ethnic cleansing are “credible.” The AFP appears to confirm some of these reports as well, although it doesn’t specify its sourcing.

Georgia’s deputy interior minister, however, said “I’d like to calm everybody down. The Russian military is not advancing towards the capital.” And that’s what independent reports indicate: there is no invasion of Tblisi coming; the Russians claim they moved into Gori in an attempt to implement the truce:

A Russian general says the Russians went into the city to try to implement the truce with local Georgian officials but couldn’t find any.

An AP reporter saw several dozen Russian military trucks and armored vehicles speeding out of Gori and heading south, in the direction of Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi….

Soldiers waved at journalists. One shouted to a photographer taking shots of the convoy: “Come with us, beauty, we’re going to Tbilisi.” But the convoy later turned off the highway onto a small road leading to a village. One Georgian official says the convoy appeared headed toward a Georgia military base.

As we watch events unfold, here are a few things to keep in mind.

• Neither Russian nor Georgian officials are reliable sources of information. While there’s been plenty of proper skepticism about Russian accounts, the western media has been generally skirting how unreliable Georgian information has been over the last week or so.

• As of yesterday it seemed very likely that Abkhazians–with either direct or indirect Russian military support–were using the conflict to push the Georgians completely out of the Kordi gorge (and the Georgian army admits they were forced to pull completely out). I certainly find it possible to believe that they have expanded their operations to create a larger territorial perimeter of control.

• The Georgians reportedly agreed to very “humiliating” terms in the Sarkozy-brokered agreement:

Mr Sarkozy met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow, after which Mr Medvedev proposed a six-part peace deal that called for Georgia to return its troops to the positions they occupied before fighting broke out over South Ossetia. It called for Georgia’s leader to sign a “legally binding document” vowing not to use force and to agree to talks about the future status of South Ossetia and a second secessionist region, Abkhazia, in north-western Georgia.

This meant Georgia would give up claims to the two Russian-backed separatist regions that were still in Georgia’s internationally recognised border, analysts said.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the Russian “peacekeeping contingent” had accomplished its goal, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency. “The aggressor has been punished, and its armed forces have been disorganised.”

One Georgian analyst called the Russian conditions humiliating because they did not mention Georgia’s territorial integrity. “We have no other choice because no other country came to our aid,” Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies president Alexander Rondeli said.

This is pure speculation, but I wonder if the Russians intend some of these moves to pressure Georgia to unambiguously implement the terms of the agreement.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.