The Duck of Minerva

Georgia stll on my mind – updated

14 August 2008

Despite some noises to the contrary, the Russians remain in control of Gori and Poti. Tony Halpin reports in the Times that Russian and Georgian forces almost exchanged fire in Gori, but that on-the-ground negotiations continue:

Russian and Georgian troops came close to a fire-fight today as a tense stand-off developed over the continued occupation of the strategic city of Gori.

As the first US humanitarian aid arrived in Georgia, Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, met President Sarkozy of France in his summer residence on the Riviera to launch her diplomatic mission. She is due to fly into Tbilisi tomorrow, spearheading a high-profile US campaign designed to underline US support for Georgia.

On the ground, Russian tanks and troops remained at checkpoints blocking the road into Gori and showed no sign of handing it back to the Georgian authorities despite an earlier pledge to do so. Georgian police had been reported as taking back responsibility for patrolling Gori, but this has proved to be premature.

Alexander Lomaia, secretary of Georgia’s National Security Commission, said that the Russian troops were refusing to leave today, despite a previous agreement to do so, and said that they would not withdraw from Gori until at least tomorrow.

“We have to agree on the gradual deployment of troops and police in Gori. But there are mutual suspicions,” Mr Lomaia said before entering Gori with a Russian commander to continue negotiations.

Finally, Tom Lasseter and Jonathan S. Landay (reporter for the excellent McClatchy Newspapers) confirm what has become pretty obvious: “Russian troops, in seeming violation of a cease-fire agreement set only on Tuesday, embarked Wednesday on what Georgian officials called a deliberate and systematic attempt to demolish what remains of the Georgian military.”

… More from the Guardian on Russia’s mopping-up of Georgia’s military infrastructure.

… And, has been widely reported, Medvedev says that Georgia can “forget about” its territorial integrity. Of course, this amounts to a ratification of the situation on the ground before the latest war, but with less territory for Georgia and new headaches about what the Russians will do to “guarantee” autonomy for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As noted in the article I linked to, the Russians are also expressing concern about the US military’s role in relief operations.

… Maura Reynolds, of the LA Times, talks to a number of experts who echo not only what we’ve written recently about the US-Russian context of the war, but also what we’ve been warning about for quite some time now (!!).

… A very interesting OP-ED by Anatol Lieven in the Financial Times. Go read.

Charli’s excellent post on atrocity allegations reminds me of the importance of everyone–including myself–to show restraint before writing as if any particular allegations are actually accurate.

… FWIW, the Jamestown Foundation’s Pavel Felgenhauer insists the Russians “pre-planned” the whole thing. Remember that the Jamestown Foundation should be taken with large quantities of rough-ground salt.

Moscow declared that it was forced to go to battle by the initial Georgian attack in South Ossetia (RIA-Novosti, August 8). But there is sufficient evidence that this massive invasion was preplanned beforehand for August (see EDM, June 12). The swiftness with which large Russian contingents were moved into Georgia, the rapid deployment of a Black Sea naval task force, the fact that large contingents of troops were sent to Abkhazia where there was no Georgian attack all seem to indicate a rigidly prepared battle plan. This war was not an improvised reaction to a sudden Georgian military offensive in South Ossetia, since masses of troops cannot be held for long in 24-hour battle readiness. The invasion was inevitable, no matter what the Georgians did.

It seems the main drive of the Russian invasion was Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO, while the separatist problem was only a pretext. Georgia occupies a key geopolitical position, and Moscow is afraid that if George joins NATO, Russia will be flushed out of Transcaucasia. The NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, last April, where Ukraine and Georgia did not get the so-called Membership Action Plan or MAP to join the Alliance but were promised eventual membership, seems to have prompted a decision to go to war (Interfax, April 3).

Before using arms, Moscow issued ominous threats. Russia unilaterally rebuked CIS sanctions against Abkhazia (RIA-Novosti, March 6). The Kremlin-controlled State Duma passed a resolution calling for recognition of Abkhaz and South Ossetian sovereignty (RIA-Novosti, March 21). Vladimir Putin promised Abkhazia and South Ossetia “not declarative, but material support” and announced that Georgian aspirations for “speedy Atlantic integration” endangered security (, April 3). Russia’s top military commander Yuri Baluyevsky threatened “military action to defend our interests near our borders,” if Georgia and Ukraine joined NATO (RIA-Novosti, April 11). In apparently the last warning, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Georgia of failing to pass a law forbidding foreign military bases after Russia moved its bases out last November. Lavrov linked Georgian intransigence with “Western plans to pull it into NATO” (ITAR-TASS, May 5).

Material military preparations were made. On May 31, Railroad troops were moved to repair the tracks south of Sokhumi to prepare the infrastructure for the invasion. On July 30, they completed their work and all was set for major combat in August, since later bad weather would impede an invasion (see EDM, June 12, July 30 [I think he means July 31]). The West seems to have dismissed the Russian warnings and preparations as bluff until it was too late. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza stated in Tbilisi, “Now we know” the true mission of the Railroad troops in Abkhazia (Interfax, August 11). He would have done better to subscribe to EDM.

The main task of the Russian invasion–to cause a total state failure and fully destroy the reformed Georgian army, making NATO membership impossible–has not yet been achieved, despite all the havoc. More attacks and devastation may be planned. Ballistic Tochka-U missiles with a range of 110 km have been deployed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia from which they could reach Tbilisi. Two seem to have already been fired at Western Georgia, according to statements from Abkhaz separatists (Novaya Gazeta, August 14). A missile attack, officially attributed to separatists, could kill hundreds, creating a devastating panic and possible regime collapse.