Georgia's move, a mistake of monumental proportions
Monday, 11 August 2008

It is obvious by now that Georgia is going to suffer a humiliating loss, even with extensive Western backing. Not only is its weary army fighting Russian troops, but they are also being battered by attacks from independence fighters in Abkhazia. The Russian press have openly spoken of annexing Abkhazia. For example, Alexander Bobkov in the Russkii Kurier summarised some of the common Russian press perceptions about the region - dispelling worries that it is a "purely Muslim republic" or that annexing it would stimulate a war with the EU and US, and pointing out the economic benefits of "210 kilometers of sub-tropical Black Sea coastline". Since the region has already declared itself independent of Georgia, and has suffered international isolation and blockade as a result, it may even welcome integration into Russia so that it is part of a recognised world power with an accessible economy. Russia is already devoting aid to the region in anticipation of future tax receipts. Meanwhile, Putin's forces are systematically taking out economic and military targets in Georgia, including the Black Sea port of Poti. Georgia claims Russia is preparing an invasion - probably an exaggeration, but I wouldn't be surprised to see thousands of Russian troops being stationed around the seceding regions. If the US administration and NATO did endorse Saakashvili's actions, it blundered horribly, and Russia may well end up with an expanded territory in a geo-economically prized region.

Even if the US Administration was somehow taken by surprise, which I think is unlikely, there is no doubt that the US government and its supporters are now throwing their weight decisively behind Georgia, and are about to get a bloody nose for their trouble. Russia has sought a peace deal through the UN Security Council, but "council concluded it was at a stalemate after the United States, Britain and some other members backed the Georgians in rejecting a phrase in the three-sentence draft statement that would have required both sides “to renounce the use of force,” council diplomats said." That's fairly clear, isn't it? Georgia and its backers are being absolutely intransigent, refusing to withdraw Georgian troops from South Ossetia, where - not that you would know it from much of the reporting - they are actually carrying out serious atrocities. So when the Observer and papers like it say the "world pleads for peace", they aren't being strictly up-front with us. Georgia is claiming this morning to have withdrawn all troops from South Ossetia. I doubt that is the case - why reject a bilateral ceasefire at the UN, only to engage in a unilateral one the next day? But to the extent that this reflects Georgia's weakness, it surely augurs their imminent defeat.

You have to wonder how far the US is prepared to take this - they aren't going to commit troops and, no matter how much Saakashvili may wish it, NATO is not going to overstretch itself even further. There are also rumours going around sites like DEBKAFile and other sites that Israeli advisors are assisting the Georgian side of the conflict. Yossi Melman of Ha'aretz has apparently supported this claim. It is no secret that there are Israeli military advisors in Georgia, but Israel has a delicate relationship with Russia that it doesn't want to upset. That is presumably why Israel froze defense sales to Georgia on Tuesday. Israel is clearly far more beholden to the US than to Russia, but I suspect the Bush administration would rather Israel stayed out of any explicit involvement. So, unless I drastically underestimate the Georgian military, I can't see any other outcome than a decisive Russian victory here.

It was flabbergasting listening to a Georgian member of parliament being interviewed on BBC. At one moment it looked as if he had a "Jason Bourne thing" done on his head. He was asked why Georgia would pull such a stupid stunt as attack, invade South Ossetia and kill Russian peacekeeper soldiers!

This MP from Georgia did not even deny that Georgia attacked first, invaded South Ossetia or killed Russians. What he could not provide was even a 'half excuse' as to why Georgia was dumb enough to do so.

What was particulary stupefying was this Georgian MP acted surprised that Russia kicked them in the chin, to the point of him shaking and hyperventilating.

One reporter from the BBC pressed the Georgian president, asking "Excuse me, are you saying that Georgia attacked first? Your parliament just today declared formal war on Russia and is it your position that Russia is the aggressor? Your troops crossed into South Ossetia and started this!" This question was followed by: "You did not have the military power to challenge Russia at any time since 1991, what made you think you did now?"

The Georgian's president response was that Georgia is free, a democracy, a European country and that Russia is waging a war against Georgia, the EU and against freedom!
First, Georgia is not in Europe, EuroAsia at best, is not member of the EU, and it committed atrocities against civilians and Russian peacekeepers without being provoked. In fact, everything points to Georgia preparing for their attack for at least several months, considering how much hardware was brought in near the South Ossetian border.

The reports coming out of the area are confusing at best. Yes, Russian jets are attacking Georgian targets. Yes, the reported civilian casualties "on both sides" are reported to be over 2,000. What is quite often not stated or just gently skated over in the reporting, so laden with images of Georgian dead and wounded, is that the estimate of 2,000 civilian deaths comes from the Russian i.e. South Ossetian side and it applies overwhelmingly to the Georgian attacks on South Ossetia on Friday. In fact, this is the basis for Vladimir Putin's claims of a "genocide" against South Osettians by the Georgians (is he deliberately referencing the ICTY judgment about Srebrenica here?). The Georgian side, by contrast, claims 129 deaths of both soldiers and civilians. So, if Russian figures are good enough to reference, why is the source of the figures and their context obscured? Talk about Western propaganda and disinformation. Why is being made to look as if Russian forces are behind most of those alleged deaths? Doesn't this just amount to a whitewash of the actions of the Georgian army in South Ossetia? And why not mention 30,000 refugees too?!

One thing to remember, if you are going to play chess with Russia, don't forget chess is a Russian game.


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