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Georgia: retaliatory violence confirmed, US sends military forces as part of relief effort (and as a signal of US commitment) – updated

August 13, 2008

I ended my last post with the words:

While I think it is far too soon for those of us reading media accounts to pass judgment, many of these accusations are extremely troubling. The Europeans and the US need to continue to make clear that both Russia and Georgia must immediately comply with the letter and spirit of the truce.

President Bush, in fact, made a very strong statement earlier today:

President Bush said Wednesday he is skeptical that Moscow is honoring a cease-fire in neighboring Georgia, demanding that Russia end all military activities in the former Soviet republic and withdraw all its forces.

“The United States stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia and insists that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected,” Bush said sternly during brief remarks in the White House Rose Garden.

“To demonstrate our solidarity with the Georgian people,” the president announced that he was sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Paris to assist the West’s diplomatic efforts on the crisis, and then to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

He also announced that a massive U.S. humanitarian effort was already in progress, and would involve U.S. aircraft as well as naval forces. A U.S. C-17 military cargo plane loaded with supplies is already on the way, and Bush said that Russia must ensure that “all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, roads and airports,” remain open to let deliveries and civilians through.

“To begin to repair the damage to its relations with the United States, Europe and other nations and to begin restoring its place in the world, Russia must keep its word and act to end this crisis,” Bush said.

The decision to send military forces into Georgia as the main element of the reconstruction efforts definitely sends a strong signal that the US is willing to assume some risks in order to end the violence. My initial impression is that this is a smart move, despite the lingering dangers involved [except it turns out to be less than “token” so far… largely in-and-out flights and a hospital ship].

And it is becoming all too clear that the Russians and their irregular allies have been engaging in some last-chance retaliation for the Georgian offensive.

The BBC confirms that Ossetian irregulars are looting and pillaging in Gori, as Russian troops look on. While Al Jazeera reports that the Russians have, indeed. sunk several Georgian vessels in Poti.

“We have seen more and more Russian troops coming into the area all day – a continuous build up of forces including columns of tanks and truck all along the roads here.

“They came into this area and destroyed six Georgian vessels.

“From what we understand, they came with the specific task of destroying all the military facilities of the Georgians,” she said.

But this final push to humiliate and cripple the Georgians even further may be ending, at least according to Georgian officials who report that the Russians are now pulling back from Zugdidi and will leave Gori soon. The Russians, for their part, describe their actions as “enforcing” the cease fire.

Russia said its forces had dismantled and destroyed military hardware and ammunition at an undefended Georgian military base near Gori on Wednesday.

A Russian military statement said the action was taken in the interest of demilitarising the conflict zone.

… On a different note: John Roberts, writing for the BBC, paints an interesting picture of the effect of the conflict on future investment in Georgia.

… Saakashvili, shockingly enough, says that Georgia will leave the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

… EU member-states agree to play a role in monitoring the peace agreement.

… The Russians are claiming violations of the ceasefire agreement by the Georgians. They say they’ve shot down two drones in the last day or so and that Georgian forces have not actually withdrawn from the area around South Ossetia.

… Rob Farley has a nice piece with preliminary thoughts about comparative military effectiveness in the conflict.

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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.