This is one of a series of periodical roundups regarding the South Ossetian War between Russia and Georgia. If you have anything you’d like me to include, get in touch either in the comments to this article, or by email to cabalamat (at) googlemail (dot) com.
The USA makes vague threats against Russia:
The US has strongly criticised Russian military action against Georgia, in the bitter conflict over South Ossetia.
In a telephone call to Georgia’s leader Mikhail Saakashvili, the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, said Russian aggression “must not go unanswered”. President Bush said he had expressed his grave concern to Moscow at the military’s “disproportionate” response.
The BBC’s Justin Webb in Washington says Dick Cheney’s telephone call appears to have been an effort to send a message not just of solidarity but also of readiness for action.
Mr Cheney said the continuation of violence against Georgia would have serious consequences for Russia’s relations with the US, as well as the international community. But White House officials refused to speculate on what America might do if the Russian military action continued.
President Bush on Monday sharply criticized Moscow’s harsh military crackdown in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, saying the violence is unacceptable and Russia’s response is disproportionate. The United States is waging an all-out campaign to get Russia to halt its retaliation against Georgia for trying to take control of the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
On Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney told Georgia’s pro-American president that “Russian aggression must not go unanswered, and that its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States”, Cheney’s office reported.
Russia has destroyed Poti harbour, where an oil pipeline terminates:
The harbor of Poti in Georgia is near the major oil terminal of Supsa in the Black Sea. Georgia is reporting the harbor has been destroyed. This major secondary route for oil on Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is now closed
Russia has long wanted to take down its Southern neighbor, much like the U.S. has been itching to do something about Cuba. Now that Georgia has given Russia an excuse, they plan to leave the country’s military and economy in ruins before a cease-fire is reached.
This also could backfire, however, as it did for Israel in its 2006 war against Lebannon. They too went in initially after being provoked, but their handling of the next step, which included the bombing of infrastructure targets like bridges and television antennas, incited the international community to push for an Israeli withdrawal.
Russia is contemplating regime change in Georgia:
Russia and the US clashed at the UN security council – meeting for the fourth time in four days to discuss the crisis – over charges that Moscow wanted “regime change” in Georgia.
Zalid Khalilzad, the US ambassador to the UN, asked his Russian counterpart Vitali Churkin: “Is the goal of the Russian Federation to change the leadership of Georgia?” Churkin replied: “There are leaders who become an obstacle. Sometimes those leaders need to contemplate how useful they have become to their people.”
Russia creates a second front against Georgia in Abkhazia:
The conflict in the Caucasus yesterday spread to Georgia’s second breakaway province of Abkhazia where separatist rebels and the Russian air force launched an all-out attack on Georgian forces.
Abkhazia’s pro-Moscow separatist leader, Sergei Bagapsh, said his troops had launched a major “military operation” to oust Georgian troops from the mountainous Kodori Gorge, a strategic foothold in the breakaway Black Sea territory. He said “around 1,000 special Abkhaz troops” were involved. They were attacking Georgian positions using “warplanes, multiple rocket launchers and artillery”.
Ukraine takes the Georgian side:
Ukraine also warned that it might not allow Russian ships deployed off Abkhazia to return to their base in the Crimea.
Douglas Muir thinks Russia has two options: occupy Georgia or just humiliate it:
If Russia really is entering Georgia in force, it’s about to become a different sort of game altogether. Russia has no reason to do that unless it’s gunning for regime change. Attacking Gori is right at the bleeding edge of plausible self-defense; Gori is near the border, and has been the forward base for Georgian operations in South Ossetia. But going beyond Gori, landing forces on the Georgian coast, or attacking in force out of Abkhazia, would be something else again.
There are undoubtedly plenty of people in Moscow who’d like to try. Russia’s leaders view Saakashvili as obnoxious and dangerous: for American readers, it’s sort of like how conservative Republicans feel about Fidel Castro. You know how, for fifty years now, a certain minority of Americans have entertained fantasies about landing in Havana and slamming that sonofabitch up against the wall? Like that. Except the Russians have the power to actually do it.
Will they? It’s hard to believe. Their actions so far could be a prelude to invasion. But they’re also consistent with a more reasonable set of goals: driving the Georgians well back, damaging their ability to make war, and inflicting maximum humiliation on Saakashvili’s government.
OK, that’s the roundup. Now for some analysis.
Essentially, I agree with Douglas Muir, in that Russia can either humiliate Georgia or attempt to control it completely, perhaps installing a puppet regime. I think the first option is far more likely, because although Putin is a bully, he’s a cautious bully (a bit like a famous historical Georgian). If Putin chose the second option, the West might take measures that would harm Russia and the Putin/Medvedev oligarchy, such as:
- trade sanctions
- sanctions against the oligarchs (in the same way that members of Mugabe’s entourage have been banned fromn travelling to Europe)
- the Europeans getting more serious about defence and opposing Russia
- further Western support to former Soviet republics opposed to Russia. This might take the form of military or economic aid, and offers of membership of NATO and the EU
Of course, the West might do these things anyway, but the harder Russia pushes, the more likely a damaging Western response is. And deep down, Putin knows he’d lose a full-scale confrontation: the West has 20 times as much money as Russia, 5 times as many people, and more (and better) weapons.