Tag: South Ossetia (Page 1 of 2)

South Ossetia

If you’re that rare sort of person who doesn’t avidly follows political machinations in South Caucasus breakaway republics, then you’re missing some surprising developments in South Ossetia. RFE provides some good background:

Tensions are rising in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia following a clumsy attempt by de facto President Eduard Kokoity to thwart Moscow’s attempt to install its preferred candidate to succeed him and simultaneously prolong his term in office by having the republic’s Supreme Court annul the outcome of the November 27 presidential election runoff.

But the apparent winner of that runoff vote, opposition candidate Alla Dzhioyeva, refuses to accept the Supreme Court ruling. She has set about forming a government, and met earlier on November 30 with Kokoity to try to persuade him to acknowledge her as president and cede power. When he refused, she released an appeal to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to intervene to restore “constitutional order and stability.”

In the first round of voting on November 13, the three candidates backed by Kokoity each polled less than 10 percent of the vote. South Ossetian Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov, who is backed by Moscow, and former Education Minister Dzhioyeva finished neck and neck with between 24-25 percent of the vote.

Incomplete results made public the morning after the runoff from 74 of the total 85 polling stations gave Dzhioyeva 56.74 percent of the vote compared with 40 percent for Bibilov. Bibilov responded by publicly alleging that Dzhioyeva’s supporters engaged in intimidating and bribing voters to cast their ballots for her.

Acting on those allegations, the Unity party that backed Bibilov’s candidacy appealed to the Supreme Court to annul the outcome of the vote, which it duly did.

The Supreme Court also ruled that because the final election results were invalid, they should not be made public, and that in light of the purported “violations” by her supporters Dzhioyeva is not eligible to participate in the repeat ballot. It did not specify which article of the election law that latter ruling was based on. Meeting in emergency session later on November 29, the South Ossetian parliament, in which only four pro-Kokoity parties are represented, scheduled that vote for March 25, 2012.

The crisis has only deepened:

Alla Dzhioyeva, the disqualified South Ossetian presidential candidate, says she does not see any reason to hold talks with a Kremlin representative who arrived in the breakaway Georgian province on December 2.

Dzhioyeva said she saw no point in meeting Sergei Vinokurov, a representative of Russia’s presidential administration, accusing Russian officials of siding with her political opponents….

Parliament later set a new date for presidential elections and barred Dzhioyeva from taking part.

Dzhioyeva said her supporters would “disrupt” that March poll if she is not allowed to participate.

On December 2, Dzhioyeva said her supporters would not cast ballots in Russian parliamentary elections on December 4 in protest.

These events lend some support to Cooley’s and Mitchell’s recommendations for how western powers should deal with Abkhazia and South Ossetia (PDF). Rather than simply ignoring them, the west should engage “without recognition” in order to reduce their dependence on Russia. Not that I’m convinced that Moscow would allow relations to develop that far. But it is better than nothing.   

Erosi Kitsmarishvili points the finger at Tbilisi

The New York Times reports:

A parliamentary hearing on the origins of the war between Georgia and Russia in August ended in a furor on Tuesday after a former Georgian diplomat testified that Georgian authorities were responsible for starting the conflict.

Erosi Kitsmarishvili, Tbilisi’s former ambassador to Moscow, testified for three hours before he was shouted down by members of Parliament.

A former confidant of President Mikheil Saakashvili, Mr. Kitsmarishvili said Georgian officials told him in April that they planned to start a war in Abkhazia, one of two breakaway regions at issue in the war, and had received a green light from the United States government to do so. He said the Georgian government later decided to start the war in South Ossetia, the other region, and continue into Abkhazia.

He would not name the officials who he said had told him about planned actions in Abkhazia, saying that identifying them would endanger their lives.

American officials have consistently said that they had warned Mr. Saakashvili against taking action in the two enclaves, where Russian peacekeepers were stationed.

Mr. Kitsmarishvili’s testimony in front of a parliamentary commission, shown live on Georgian television, met with forceful and immediate denials. One commission member, Givi Targamadze, threw a pen and then lunged toward Mr. Kitsmarishvili, but was restrained by his colleagues.

The chairman of the commission, Paata Davitaia, said he would initiate a criminal case against Mr. Kitsmarishvili for “professional negligence.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria, who appeared on short notice to comment on Mr. Kitsmarishvili’s testimony, called the allegations “irresponsible and shameless fabrication,” and said they were “either the result of a lack of information or the personal resentment of a man who has lost his job and wants to get involved in politics.” Mr. Kitsmarishvili was fired in September by the president.

Mr. Kitsmarishvili walked out amid the furor on Tuesday. “They don’t want to listen to the truth,” he told reporters.

Of course, none of this should surprise dispassionate observers. I wonder what the various stenographers and their enablers will say.


Russia mounts a counteroffiensive in the propaganda war

Via email:

You’ve seen the Georgian claims that they were just responding to a Russian attack when they invaded Tskhinvali.

The Russians are now citing amateur video taken on the first day of fighting to claim that there were no Russian forces in the city and that the Georgians were initially unopposed in the city and firing at random, civilian targets (including apartment buildings).

The video seems to have been taken by Georgian troops. You can hear them whooping (basically, yeehaw!) as they drive through the city and fire on various structures (which the Vesti.ru reporter visits and shows to be apartment buildings). The amateur clips seems fairly short and the most provocative bit is repeatedly looped during the report. The eyewitnesses discuss the attacks (tanks fired on us here, and made these holes in our walls, etc.) and talk at length about hiding with and comforting their

They also say that Georgian troops rattled their doors and demanded that they open them (though they left when the residents wouldn’t open up) and drove through the streets shouting things like: “This is our land! It will be ours!” and “Ossetia is ours! It is already our land!”



I don’t know how much effort they are putting in getting this narrative out to the English-language world media–I haven’t seen it anywhere I would expect it might appear.


United Ossetia?

Rob Farley points to a Times article reporting that Russia will soon annex South Ossetia. The source for the report? The South Ossetian president. So, as Rob notes, caveat emptor.

Indeed, I can’t find anything about this on an (admittedly quick) look through the English-language Russian press. I do see a word of a military cooperation agreement and mutual recognition between South Ossetia and Abkhazia. More griping about lack of adequate support (background) from Russia from the SCO. A report on South Ossetia’s decision to form a new government….

So, yeah, I tend to agree. Given the paucity of other states recognizing the two enclaves so far, and the lack of any clear gains for Moscow from annexing either of them–they can just continue to do it de facto–I wouldn’t hold my breath. But I also wouldn’t bet against it happening at some point.


The US to the left, China to the right….

Russia encircled by enemies plotting against it?

CNN’s summary of its interview with Putin, passed along without comment:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of orchestrating the conflict in Georgia to benefit one of its presidential election candidates.

In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Matthew Chance in the Black Sea city of Sochi Thursday, Putin said the U.S. had encouraged Georgia to attack the autonomous region of South Ossetia.

Putin told CNN his defense officials had told him it was done to benefit a presidential candidate — Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama are competing to succeed George W. Bush — although he presented no evidence to back it up.

“U.S. citizens were indeed in the area in conflict,” Putin said. “They were acting in implementing those orders doing as they were ordered, and the only one who can give such orders is their leader.”

Medvedev, meanwhile, thanks the SCO for its support. But Kommersant’s analysis is less charitable:

The RF President Dmitry Medvedev has expressed gratitude to his colleagues in Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) for understanding and objective evaluation of peacekeeping efforts of Russia. Medvedev made the respective statement during the SCO summit in Dushanbe.

The common standing of SCO nations, Medvedev said, is a strong signal to those attempting to justify Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia.

Meanwhile, the experts didn’t miss that the response of the SCO nations to Russia was too cautious all understanding notwithstanding. Except Russia, none of them confronted the West and recognized independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Nowadays, the standing of China appears the most advantageous. In the new political environment, that state will endeavor to strengthen in Central Asia, aggressively promoting projects in ex-republics of the Soviet Union.


Totten and Georgia

A lot of people are buzzing about Michael Totten’s report on Georgia, in which he claims to have discovered the real truth about the outbreak of the war: Tblisi launched a preemptive attack in the face of a sudden escalation by the South Ossetians that presaged a Russian attack.

The report contains very interesting claims. But Totten’s narrative comprises, in essence, a transcription of a presentation given to him by a public-relations adviser for the Georgian government (Patrick Worms) and should be treated as such.

Totten brought along a regional expert named Thomas Goltz to see if anything seemed totally out of whack with Worms’ narrative.

But Goltz’s contribution mainly focused on background details, as he himself had no way of confirming or refuting Worms’ account.

Some describe Goltz as anti-Russian, and aspects of his own discussion certainly bear out that description. But it doesn’t really matter; Goltz’s expertise has no relevance to the credibility of Worms’ most important claims about “who started it.” Goltz’s presence doesn’t change a basic fact: Totten report amounts to a stenographic service for Georgian propaganda.

At the same time, however, none of this should obscure the increasing evidence of ethnic cleansing by South Ossetians and Abkhazians–aided and abetted by the Russians–and the diminishing evidence of widespread atrocities committed by the Georgians.

In other words, we need to distinguish between two different kinds of questions: jus ad bellum ones–such as “who started it” and “were they justified in doing so”–and jus in bello ones–concerning the morality of the way that the various parties conducted the war.

I think I’ve made this point a number of times over the last few weeks, but it bears repeating: just because some of us are very critical of Tblisi, of US policy towards Georgia, and of what we believe is hyperbolic sabre-rattling by opinion leaders in the United States, does not mean we believe the Russians are “good actors” or that we don’t think the United States and NATO need to make major adjustments in their policies towards Russia. In my view, the most important thing is for observers to avoid falling into a simplistic narrative that treats Tblisi as a lily-white victim and Russia as the Fourth Reich.

A final thought: It is entirely possible that Tblisi believed they were launching either a preemptive or preventive attack. This would make sense of a lot of things about the assault on Tskhinvali.


Russia recognizes Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence

That was quick. So much for the resolution simply serving as “leverage” for Putin and Medvedev in negotiations with the US and NATO.

As predicted, Moscow’s rationale borrows directly from the west’s argument in favor of Kosovo independence.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in a televised broadcast Tuesday he had signed decrees to recognize the independence of Georgia’s breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“This is not an easy choice but this is the only way to save human lives,” he said.

Medvedev said he believed Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia earlier this month gave the breakaway republics a right to independence.

“(Georgian President Mikhail) Saakashvili chose genocide to achieve his political objectives,” Medvedev said. “Thus he dashed all hopes for peaceful coexistence of Ossetians, Abkhazians and Georgians in one state. The South Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples have repeatedly voted for their republics’ independence in referendums. We understand that, after what happened in Tskhinvali (South Ossetia’s capital) and what was being planned for Abkhazia, they have a right to be in charge of their own destiny.”

Medvedev also accused Georgia of thwarting negotiations on the breakaway republics’ status, ignoring agreements and carrying out provocations.

This comes after a day of “tense standoffs” in Georgia and Moscow’s decision to halt the WTO-membership process.

One odd thing: this also comes not long after the Russians downgraded the number of civilian causalities among the South Ossetians by around ninety percent. Although “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” are matters of intent, not magnitude, that does take away some of the force behind their accusations against Georgia.

More Analysis to come.


Putin’s revenge

Because one good Kosovo deserves another (or two)?

Russia’s parliament has backed a motion urging the president to recognise the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Both houses voted unanimously in favour of the non-binding motion, which analysts say could help President Dmitry Medvedev in talks with the West.

The UK, Germany and Italy were among the nations expressing concern that the vote would further raise tensions.

The (rather unsurprising) move comes as the US and NATO “[step] up pressure” on Moscow to pull out of the territory it still holds in “Georgia proper.”

US destroyer carrying relief supplies arrived at a Black Sea port in Georgia, a sign of US support that provided a conspicuous display of NATO military might. The USS McFaul dropped anchor off Batumi, 50 kilometres south of the Russian-occupied port of Poti, the first of three ships carrying aid to help Georgia deal with about 100,000 displaced people.

A Russian general accused NATO countries at the weekend of using humanitarian aid as “cover” for a build-up of naval forces in the Black Sea, heightening tension. Russia withdrew tanks, artillery and hundreds of troops from their most advanced positions in Georgia on Friday, saying it had fulfilled all obligations.

But Russian troops still control access to Poti, south of the Moscow-backed rebel region of Abkhazia, and have set up other checkpoints around South Ossetia, where the conflict began. The peace plan negotiated by France has been interpreted differently by Russia and the West, with Russia saying it has the right to leave peacekeepers deep inside Georgia.

Indeed, a number of news services are reporting a “tense standoff” between Georgian and South Ossetian forces over the village of Mosabruni:

Georgian and South Ossetian forces were in a tense stand-off on Monday over control of a disputed village on the edge of the breakaway region, according to Georgian and separatist officials.

Georgian and Russian troops fought a brief war in the region earlier this month and are now observing a fragile ceasefire.

Georgian officials said the village of Mosabruni was not part of separatist-controlled territory and alleged the separatists were planning a provocation against Georgian special forces who had been deployed there.

The separatist administration said the village was within South Ossetia and the Georgian forces were there unlawfully. It accused Tbilisi of massing armed men in preparation for an attack.

“According to our information, South Ossetian militias want to take this village. Our forces got the order not to shoot, but if Ossetians start shooting they will have to return fire,” Kakha Lomaia, Secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, told Reuters.

Lomaia said the atmosphere in the majority Georgian-populated village was “very tense”. He declined to say exactly when Georgian forces had returned there.

For good measure, the vice president’s coming to town.

… This has been your friendly reminder that it isn’t safe to go back to ignoring the Caucasuses, and that it certainly “isn’t over” when the fat Cheney sings.


Maybe we’ve got it all wrong… (updated)

No matter what their take on culpability for the Russo-Georgian War, almost all commentators in the west agree that Russia emerged the undisputed victor: Georgia lies prostrate at its feet, a divided NATO issues empty and inconsequential threats against it, and no one has any doubt that the Russian Bear is back. A number of observers note that Russia lost the “propaganda war,” but present that fact as more of a consolation prize than anything else.

But what if we’ve all got it wrong? After a brief conversation today, I can see a rather different interpretation. If events play out in their current trajectory, Mikheil Saakashvili might turn out to be the real winner.

The dominant narrative by pro-Georgian pundits has been that Russia provoked Georgia into attacking South Ossetia to provide a pretext for the kind of overwhelming Russian intervention we saw in the conflict. This, in theory, excuses the Georgians for their key act of escalation on August 7th.

But I’ve heard some chatter lately in support of a different theory: that the Georgians attacked South Ossetia to provoke the Russians into overreacting. The interesting thing about this theory, I think, is that it highlights the possible gains the conflict has brought to Saakashvili.

Let’s start with Saakashvili’s campaign promise to retake Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Saakashvili, as I’ve noted before, sunk an enormous amount of political capital into this pledge. But there’s really no way that Saakashvili could have made good on the promise. Abkhazia and South Ossetia weren’t going to voluntarily reintegrate into Georgia, and any attack on them would, as recent events conclusively demonstrate, lead to a massively unequal fight between Russia and Georgia.

For Saakashvili, then, the August War allowed him to demonstrate his nationalist credentials. He was, after all, willing to take on the Russians to seize back Georgian territory. But it also effectively removes the reintegration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the Georgian political table. No one in Georgia can reasonably expect Saakashvili to take back the two territories now.

At the same time, the Saakashvili convinced the west that is Georgia, in effect, the victim of Russian aggression. From the very start, Saakashvili framed the conflict in terms of a small, democratic regime under siege from the evil, authoritarian Russians. From John McCain to the editorial page of The New York Times, to the Bush Administration itself, most of the major voices in the United States–on both the left and the right–ate it up.

The Georgians, as the Times noted, might not be blameless, but that didn’t excuse the Russian’s aggressive defense of South Ossetia and their retaliation for attacks on their “peacekeepers” there. Many Europeans also eventually moved towards the same understanding of the conflict: even Germany’s Chancellor Merkel voiced support for Georgia, sidestepping the question of who started the conflict.

Saakashvili kept the drumbeat going on supposed Russian atrocities, war crimes, and increasing aggression. The bulk of the western press reported every accusation; although reporters often diligently put the accusations in quotations and noted that their sources were Georgian officials, the claims easily overwhelmed such nuance. Of course, it does look like both sides showed little restraint, and there is evidence of ethnic cleansing–with or without the aid of Russian troops–by South Ossetians and Abkhazians. But it wouldn’t be the first time nationalist leaders were willing to provoke such actions in order to gain international support.

What else has Saakashvili gained? A promise of massive assistance from the West and possibly better prospects for Georgian NATO membership.

What have the Russians lost? I’ve mocked the notion that NATO has significant leverage over Russia, but the fact is that Moscow now faces a much more hostile Europe and the United States, the chance that the Europeans will actually consider taking steps to reduce their dependence on Russian energy, a previously stalled US-Poland deal on ballistic missile defenses, and major complications in their relations with Ukraine.

Thus, while it is true that the US and NATO can do little to coerce Russia into doing whatever the west wants it to, none of these outcomes are particularly positive from Moscow’s perspective.

Seem far-fetched? Maybe. But, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve heard chatter from reliable sources to the effect that Saakashvili wanted, in the months before August, a military confrontation with Russia. And Saakashvili quickly put on a performance that reaped enormous dividends in Washington, London, and elsewhere.

Saakashvili might also have expected that things would’ve turned out much better for him: that the west would have provided more active support, that the Russians might have stopped their attacks sooner, and so on. If so, he clearly miscalculated.

Despite all of this, my central point still stands: we can make a strong case that, barring any major surprises, Saakashvili has emerged the real winner of the conflict. The Russians certainly achieved an overwhelming military victory, but we should recall Clausewitz’s adage that “war is politics by other means.” On those terms, discussion of a Russian “victory” may prove premature.

Clarification: I’m not saying that I endorse this view, nor that Saakashvili will even be in power a year from now. I’m also certainly not saying that the complete defeat of the Georgian military at the hands of the Russians was Saakashvili’s ideal outcome. My main goals are (1) to highlight that the gains and losses of the conflict are more complicated than the emerging “consensus” interpretation in the United States suggests and (2) to point out that, given Saakashvili’s apparent willingness to accept risks, it is not completely implausible that he viewed a “disproportionate” Russian reaction as something short of the worst possible outcome of the attack on South Ossetia.

One more thought: I can’t help wondering if one of the ironies of the Russians having effectively kicked out American oil companies is that the United States, unlike Germany, has no large domestic commercial lobby in favor of good relations with Russia. Contrast with a far more authoritarian country: the People’s Republic of China.


At last!

A major newspaper (other than the Christian Science Monitor) in the United States has published a sensible and relatively evenhanded OP-ED on Russia-Georgia. Michael Dobbs:

t 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 “that is 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.”

And to think I had thought that the only people allowed to express their views in our influential media outlets were either (1) Neoconservatives or (2) Clinton-administration officials–all of whom have a very strong stake in a particular understanding of the conflict.


I leave my office and come home to a signed ceasefire….

Earlier today, I wrote:

Before I leave the office, I just wanted to note that the dynamics between Georgia, Russia, and the United States are very bad right now. A small Russian force has apparently deployed fifteen miles outside of Tblisi, Rice is calling the Russians all sorts of names, and Moscow’s pissed about the US-Poland deal.

… oh, and on the analytic front: Rob Farley and Dan Drezner both have interesting things to say about NATO and the crisis. Needless to say, I agree with them on some points and disagree with them on others.

But anyway, let’s all keep our fingers crossed for an acceptable resolution soon.

And now…..

… Saakashvili, under pressure from Rice, signed the ceasefire agreement limiting Russian forces to the breakaway republics and their immediate vicinity–in Georgia proper. Rice is demanding that the Russians leave Georgia; they say they’ll comply with the ceasefire.

Damien McElroy of the Telegraph sums up the drama:

merica’s chief diplomat arrived in the Georgian capital Tblisi for talks with a deeply suspicious President Mikheil Saakashvili, who sought to strengthen guarantees of a complete Russian pullback. In the end, the pro-Western Georgian leader had little option but to accept the accord on a day that Russia threatened to target Poland with its full arsenal.

Before the arrival of international monitors, Russia troops retain the scope to take defensive forward positions in Georgian territory. Even as Miss Rice and President Saakashvili emerged from almost five hours of talks, Russian armoured personnel carriers had moved from the city of Gori to within 25 miles of the capital.

The French-drafted document left ambiguity over the sequencing of a Russian return to its battle lines before fighting broke out on August 8. America demanded that Russian pullback into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where it has formal peacekeeping role, as soon as the Kremlin signs the document.

“Our most urgent task today is the immediate and orderly withdrawal of Russian armed forces and the return of those forces to Russia,” said Miss Rice. “With this signature by Georgia, this must take place – and take place now.”

As the Tbilisi talks began, President George W Bush called on Russia to back down and condemned Moscow’s expansionism. “Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century,” he said. “Moscow must honour its commitment to withdraw its invading forces from all Georgian territory,” The Russian leadership remained defiant, declaring it would back a drive for independence by the two enclaves in the aftermath of the conflict.

“Russia, as guarantor of security in the Caucasus and the region, will make a decision that unambiguously supports the will of these two Caucasus peoples,” said President Dimitri Medvedev after a meeting with German Chancellor Ankela Merkel in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. “Unfortunately after what has happened it is unlikely Ossetians and Abkhaz can live in one state with Georgians.

A clearly emotional President Saakashivili, who accused Russia of barbarism in its assault on Georgian troops, said the ceasefire terms would only bind Tbilisi to the terms of an armistice. He said Georgia would never recognise the division of its territory.

“Never, ever will Georgia reconcile itself with the occupation of even one square kilometre of its territory,” he said.

Which leaves me wondering:

What will it take for the Georgians to figure out that South Ossetia and Abkhazia…

Are gone.


They weren’t before the war. If it weren’t a mathematical impossibility, I would say that the events of the last week reduced the chances of Georgia regaining the two territories from zero to an even smaller value of zero.


Looting and ethnic cleansing in comparative perspective

This morning the New York Times provides an interesting report on the Russian army and the lawlessness breaking out in the territory they control:

The identities of the attackers vary, but a pattern of violence by ethnic Ossetians against ethnic Georgians is emerging and has been confirmed by some Russian authorities. “Now Ossetians are running around and killing poor Georgians in their enclaves,” said Maj. Gen. Vyacheslav Nikolaevich Borisov, the commander in charge of the city of Gori, occupied by the Russians.

A lieutenant from an armored transport division that was previously in Chechnya said: “We have to be honest. The Ossetians are marauding.”

The hostilities between Russia and Georgia started last week when the Georgian military marched into the disputed territory of South Ossetia, and the Russians responded by sending troops into the pro-Russia, separatist enclave and then into Georgia proper.

Dozens of houses were on fire on Tuesday in the northern suburbs of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Reporters saw armed men moving on the streets, carting away electronics and other household items. It was not clear who the men were. They did not appear to be part of the Russian forces, but the Russians were not stopping them.

We’re not a police force, we’re a military force,” said a Russian lieutenant colonel in response to a reporter’s question. “It’s not our job to do police work.”

Still, there was some evidence that the Russian military might be making efforts in some places to stop the rampaging. A column of 12 men with their hands on their heads, several wearing uniforms, were marched into the Russian military base in Gori on Thursday afternoon. The identities of the men were unclear.

Kommersant, for its part, reports that the South Ossetians are now shooting “maurauders.”

As an emailer reminds me, it might be wise to compare the Russian lieutenant colonel’s comments (underlined above) to those of US officials after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. First, Donald Rumsfeld:

Declaring that freedom is “untidy,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday the looting in Iraq was a result of “pent-up feelings” of oppression and that it would subside as Iraqis adjusted to life without Saddam Hussein.

He also asserted the looting was not as bad as some television and newspaper reports have indicated and said there was no major crisis in Baghdad, the capital city, which lacks a central governing authority. The looting, he suggested, was “part of the price” for what the United States and Britain have called the liberation of Iraq.

“Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things,” Rumsfeld said. “They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here.”

But much spookier are the quotations from a BBC report from back in May 2003:

Ali Thowani, 27, a pharmacist and former student of the institute, also tried reasoning with the Americans in English.

“I spoke to the Americans and they refused to protect the institution. ‘We’re not police and that’s not our job,’ they said.”


In a statement to BBC News Online, Centcom, the United States Central Command in Doha, Qatar, refused to accept responsibility for the event.

“The fact that the looting is happening in Nasiriya is a sad event. However, coalition forces are not a police force. Coalition forces have no orders to protect universities. They have orders to protect places of interest such as hospitals, museums and banks.

“Iraqis need to protect their own cities; coalition forces will help the Iraqi people police themselves. For example, in Al Kut – where people are cooperating with coalition forces – they have stood up a city police force. The coalition has even provided arms for the local police force. Iraqis will run Iraq and they will govern themselves.”

Now, none of this excuses the Russian if they’ve been actively supporting ethnic cleansing; nor does it mean that they don’t have a moral responsibility to stop acts of terror and violence perpetrated in areas they claim to be patrolling to “enforce” the peace treaty. In fact, what the US did or didn’t do in Iraq is pretty much irrelevant to whatever ethnic, legal, and moral obligations apply to Russian forces.

Still, anyone in the United States demanding an instant return to peacetime levels of security for individuals and their property should keep the US experience in Iraq in mind.


The “lessons” of Kosovo?

Via email: according to Simon Saradzhyan of the Moscow Times, the Russia-Georgia War revealed the obsolescence of major aspects of the Russian military machine;

The technical sophistication of the Russian forces turned out to be inferior in comparison with the Georgian military. While Georgia’s armed forces operated Soviet-era T-72 tanks and Su-25 attack planes, both were upgraded with equipment such as night-vision systems to make them technologically superior to similar models operated by the Russian Ground Forces, said Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

“The Russian forces had to operate in an environment of technical inferiority,” Makiyenko said.

Another area where the Russian military appeared to have lagged behind the Georgian armed forces was in electronic warfare, said Anatoly Tsyganok, a retired army commando and independent military expert.

The Georgian forces were also well-trained, with many of them drilled by U.S. and Israeli advisers.

These factors helped the Georgian military easily take the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, located in a basin, after more than 10 hours of intensive air strikes and artillery fire on Aug. 7. The shelling of the city was probably carried out with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for targeting — a capability that Russia’s armed forces have yet to acquire.

This dovetails with other scattered reports of Russian officers warning against undue criticism of the Georgian military (but keep in mind that they don’t want to diminish their victory).

So why did the Russians prevail? Tsyganok agrees with many a puzzled blogger that the Georgians dropped the ball in not doing something to seal off the Roksky Tunnel, hut also lists a number of other reaons:

The Georgian attack failed because President Mikheil Saakashvili and the rest of Georgia’s leadership miscalculated the speed of Russia’s intervention, defense analysts said. Tbilisi also underestimated the South Ossetian paramilitary’s determination to resist the conquest and overestimated the Georgian forces’ resolve to fight in the face of fierce resistance. The Georgian military also failed to take advantage of the fact that Russian reinforcements had to arrive via the Roksky Tunnel and mountain passes, which are easier to block than roads on flat terrain.

Another reason the Georgians lost was because the Russian military used knowledge gleaned from past conflicts, including the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and its own reconquest of Chechnya. “Russia has learned the lessons taught by NATO in Yugoslavia, immediately initiating a bombing campaign against Georgia’s air bases and other military facilities,” Tsyganok said

So now I’m paging Rob Farley for his expert opinion (I mostly do “soft” security rather than the “guns and bombs” stuff).


Speaking of signals, mixed and otherwise – updated (yet again)

… Big news just came down the pike.

Courtesy of a friend, I learn that Poland has agreed to host US ballistic-missile defenses.

As geopolitical lines harden, the question becomes if Russia’s actions will drive a wedge between NATO members that embrace a harder or a softer line towards Russia. Or will balance-of-threat dynamics lead to renewed NATO cohesion? I suspect the answer is far from preordained: a great deal depends on how US and European diplomacy plays out.

Oh, and forget the G8/G7. This is the kind of thing the Russians might actually see as a significant negative consequence of the Georgia conflict.

Oops. I forgot to mention the Patriots the US is giving Poland. I guess the US decided to “pay” what Poland wanted. Still, the Russians might be more upset about the Patriots than the BMD ….

Via a different friend, two excerpts from news reports. The first from Reuters:

President George W. Bush’s pledge to send aid to Georgia means that theU.S. military will take control of the ex-Soviet state’s ports andairports, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Wednesday.

But the Pentagon denied it planned any such action to proceed with deliveries of humanitarian aid.

“You have heard the statement by the U.S. president that the United States is starting a military-humanitarian operation in Georgia,” Saakashvili said in a television address.

“It means that Georgian ports and airports will be taken under the control of the U.S. defence ministry in order to conduct humanitarian and other missions. This is a very important statement for easing

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said: “We are not looking to, not do we need to, take control of any air or seaports to conduct this mission.

In his White House remarks, Bush said he had ordered the U.S. military to deliver humanitarian aid. A C-17 aircraft with supplies was on its way to Georgia and in the days to come Washington would use military aircraft and naval forces to make deliveries.

And, from the Washington Post:

Lavrov, in remarks broadcast on Russian radio, sounded unconcerned about White House threats that Russia could suffer a chill in relations with the West because of its incursion into Georgia.

“I don’t know how they are going to isolate us,” Lavrov said during an interview on radio station Echo Moskvy. “I have heard threats that we are not going to be admitted to the [World Trade Organization], but we see clearly that nobody is going to admit us there anyway,” he said. His remarks were translated by the Interfax news service. “Excuse my language, but they’re just stringing us along.”

I have a paper to finish, so analysis from me will be sparse for a bit. Maybe some of our readers can provide their own in comments?

… Itar-Tass reports that the South Ossetian and Abkhazian “foreign ministers” will soon be traveling to Moscow to discuss recognition of their independence (or, perhaps, their status as “republics” within Russia?).


Georgia stll on my mind – updated

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 (www.mid.ru, 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.


Russia-Georgia conflict: what the current evidence suggests

Now that a number of media outlets and independent groups have gained access to key locations in Georgia and South Ossetia, some aspects of the last few days, as well as the current situation, are starting to come into focus.

Steven Lee Myers’ report in the International Herald Tribute, for example, suggests strongly that: (1) Russian accusations of Georgian atrocities were greatly exaggerated; (2) the Russians–or at least their South Ossetian allies–have engaged in ethnic cleansing of Georgian towns in South Ossetia; and (3) that Moscow is justifying their current military operations–although the term “displays of dominance” seems more appropriate–based on ambiguous language in the Sarkozy-brokered agreement.

According to Kommersant, Russian General Staff Deputy Chief Anatoly Nogovitsyn is claiming that the Russian military “saved Abkhazia from [a] Georgian invasion.”

I’ve been rather charitable towards the Russians, but the last twenty-four hours have, in my view, changed the landscape considerably. The Georgian attack on South Ossetia was not only a blunder, but an underhanded one at that.

The Russian refusal to abide by the spirit, if not the letter, of the ceasefire agreement, however smells very bad. The realist in me appreciates why the Russians would use the Georgian offensive as a pretext to settle, once and for all, the unstable security situation faced by their client-enclaves. But, as of yesterday, all indications pointed to a political settlement favoring Russia and its allies–rendering their current acts of violence and vandalism gross and superfluous.

In his latest remarks, Bush has also made clear that his decision use the US military to provide emergency assistance in Georgia is (as I initially thought) an effort to make it more difficult for the Russians to violate the ceasefire agreement. The Russians, predictably, aren’t pleased, either with the incoming US personnel or US threats to, in effect, freeze them out of many of the key institutions of the current global order.

Finally, the Abkhazians aren’t the only ones saying “Dmitry Medvedev’s decrees have no power…” That seems to be Putin’s general sentiment as well.

At this point, I can’t offer a great deal of analysis of any significance. Unfortunately, the crisis isn’t over. Indeed, it could get much worse very quickly. Let’s hope for the best.

I do want to note that there’s a certain irony here, insofar as a majority of international-relations observers have focused on China as the most significant threat to US influence. Only a small minority have been warning about the dangers posed by deteriorating US-Russian relations, as well as the potential collision course between US and Russian policy goals in the latter’s near abroad, particularly with respect to the dynamics of patron-client relations[*] And most of them see the future as a great conflict between democracy and authoritarianism, which, I submit, is not the wisest way to approach the shifting landscape of power politics (nor of this conflict).

*I don’t mean to sound obnoxious, but over the last year or so I’ve not only been blogging about this, but I’ve also been writing things like:

In particular, [the debate over American Empire] calls our attention to the way in which contemporary geopolitical concerns involve patterns of domination and control that penetrate into the domestic politics of states. These patterns call into question the utility of the states-under-anarchy framework for understanding power-political dynamics. They suggest the crucial importance of patron-client relations, struggles over the legitimacy of external influence, the interplay of international inequality with domestic—as well as transnational—movements and coalitions, and other dynamics often found in imperial cases.

Aspects of what we might term the micropolitics of international hierarchy play out in the context of, for example, American basing and access agreements, alliance politics, and use of proxies to combat Islamicist movements. The rise of Chinese influence, Russian re-assertiveness, and other trends which we traditionally interrogate through the states-under-anarchy framework also intersect in important ways with dynamics of international hierarchy. Indeed, many of our debates about American grand strategy—with their focus on broad questions of “unilateralism versus multilateralism,” “restraint versus preemption,” “hard versus soft balancing,” and so forth—remain fatally detached from a proper appreciation of the decisive importance of the micropolitics of asymmetric influence.

I know that’s opaque academic speak, but it basically means “stop arguing about really abstract high-level questions and start focusing on things like the degree of influence stronger powers have over weaker allies, how the domestic politics of those weaker allies impact that influence, and the intersection of those kinds of dynamics with great-power competition, energy, and the war on terror.” There’s a reason we’d been talking about Georgia on the Duck for a while.


Memo to Ross Douthat

Douthat comments on Max Boot’s call for the US to, if necessary, turn Georgia into the next Afghanistan (circa 1984).

Now these arguments have a certain surface plausibility, but I would find them much more convincing if Boot were not simultaneously arguing that Russia’s ambitions (and capabilities) run as follows: “Today, Georgia; tomorrow, Ukraine; the day after, Estonia?” It’s hard for me to believe that Putin’s Russia is both an aggressive, expansive power poised to rebuild the Soviet Empire at tank-point and that the Russians would be more or less helpless to retaliate against us in their own neighborhood if we decided to start a proxy war with them in the Caucuses.

Jack Snyder described this very phenomenon in Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and Imperial Ambition

The “myth of the paper tiger,” as Snyder explains in his National Interest article “Imperial Temptations,” holds that enemies are:

capable of becoming fiercely threatening if appeased, but easily crumpled by a resolute attack. These images are often not only wrong, but self-contradictory. For example, Japanese militarists saw the United States as so strong and insatiably aggressive that Japan would have to conquer a huge, self-sufficient empire to get the resources to defend itself; yet at the same time, the Japanese regime saw the United States as so vulnerable and irresolute that a sharp rap against Pearl Harbor would discourage it from fighting back.

Snyder goes on to discuss the “Bush Administration’s argument for preventive war against Iraq” as an example of this line of reasoning, but it clearly remains a mainstay in foreign-policy arguments of all types.


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

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.


Georgia epiologue: premature – updated

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.


The US and Georgia

Two good articles on the US role in Georgia. The first, by Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker of the New York Times: “After Mixed U.S. Messages, a War Erupted in Georgia.”

One month ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a high-profile visit that was planned to accomplish two very different goals.

During a private dinner on July 9, Ms. Rice’s aides say, she warned President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia not to get into a military conflict with Russia that Georgia could not win. “She told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had to put a non-use of force pledge on the table,” according to a senior administration official who accompanied Ms. Rice to the Georgian capital.

But publicly, Ms. Rice struck a different tone, one of defiant support for Georgia in the face of Russian pressure. “I’m going to visit a friend and I don’t expect much comment about the United States going to visit a friend,” she told reporters just before arriving in Tbilisi, even as Russian jets were conducting intimidating maneuvers over South Ossetia.

In the five days since the simmering conflict between Russia and Georgia erupted into war, Bush administration officials have been adamant in asserting that they warned the government in Tbilisi not to let Moscow provoke it into a fight — and that they were surprised when their advice went unheeded. Right up until the hours before Georgia launched its attack late last week in South Ossetia, Washington’s top envoy for the region, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, and other administration officials were warning the Georgians not to allow the conflict to escalate.

But as Ms. Rice’s two-pronged visit to Tbilisi demonstrates, the accumulation of years of mixed messages may have made the American warnings fall on deaf ears.

The United States took a series of steps that emboldened Georgia: sending advisers to build up the Georgian military, including an exercise last month with more than 1,000 American troops; pressing hard to bring Georgia into the NATO orbit; championing Georgia’s fledgling democracy along Russia’s southern border; and loudly proclaiming its support for Georgia’s territorial integrity in the battle with Russia over Georgia’s separatist enclaves.

But interviews with officials at the State Department, Pentagon and the White House show that the Bush administration was never going to back Georgia militarily in a fight with Russia.

In recent years, the United States has also taken a series of steps that have alienated Russia — including recognizing an independent Kosovo and going ahead with efforts to construct a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. By last Thursday, when the years of simmering conflict exploded into war, Russia had a point to prove to the world, even some administration officials acknowledge, while Georgia may have been under the mistaken impression that in a one-on-one fight with Russia, Georgia would have more concrete American support.

The story dovetails with both Rob’s and my suspicions about how to understand the different evidence floating around in recent coverage. To the extent that Tblisi focused on signals that we would back them, and ignored explicit signals that we wouldn’t, this would seem to justify some NATO members’ reluctance to embrace Georgia. On the other hand, I expect Tblisi has figured out the extent and nature of western backing by now.

The second story, by Matthew Mosk and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, appears in The Washington Post: “While Aide Advised McCain, His Firm Lobbied for Georgia.” Give it a read and make up your own mind.

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