Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Smoke Over Georgia

Russia has ostensibly ordered a halt to further military operations in Georgia, though it is not clear what they are demanding and what the long term repercussions of this action will be.

CNN is reporting that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered a halt to the Russian advance into Georgia and has supposedly agreed to remove its military from Georgia. It is unclear why they have made this decision, but in addition, they are apparently no longer demanding the resignation of the Georgian government. The CNN article also states:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said: "I wanted to make very clear that the United States stands for the territorial integrity of Georgia, for the sovereignty of Georgia; that we support its democratically elected government and people, and are reviewing options for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Georgia. But the most important thing right now is that these military operations need to stop."

U.S. officials also told CNN it was considering flying aid from bases in Germany to Georgia. There was also consideration being given to sending U.S. Navy ships into the Black Sea to conduct humanitarian relief missions.

It sounds as if something went wrong in the Russian calculations, but it will likely be weeks before the smoke clears on this one. I doubt that any of the above were of direct consequence, but again, who knows what is going on beneath the surface. U.S. plans above would have put U.S. warships in direct proximity to Russian ships now conducting a blockage of Georgia, thus upping the ante.

Fox is reporting that, depite the cease fire, there are still some attacks ongoing.

Dr Helen Szamuely at EU Referendum is a Russian speaker whose area of expertise extends to the former Soviet bloc nations. She has several posts at EU Referendum and the BrugesGroup blog on this situation. Her most post on the topic is given to trying to work through why the cease fire now and how this situation will play out in the coming weeks:

The news is that Russia has ceased its military action. Or has announced that she has done so, though there are still reports of fighting. It is not quite clear what that means, since before doing so, its forces penetrated far into Georgian territory. What will they demand in return for taking them out and, indeed, will they take them out?

The whole subject of South Ossetian independence has disappeared into a memory hole. Yesterday I took part in a discussion on the BBC Russian Service, together with Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation and a Russian political analyst and former member of the Duma (whose name I managed not to catch, which is really annoying but had something to do with me having to adjust my earphones).

The latter very calmly informed us all that there was no question of going back to status quo ante because only Russian troops (I don’t think he bothered with the words peacekeepers or peacemakers) could guarantee the two break-away republics’ security and they were staying. Under no circumstances would international peacekeepers be allowed in.

Nor did he argue when I made the point that this was not about South Ossetian independence. Of course, not. Only those who are wilfully blind can say so.

Indeed, the gentleman in question remained very calm and full of certainty throughout the discussion, losing his temper only when I started enumerating the various ways in which the West can respond without any military intervention. “And who are you going to buy gas from,” he asked me angrily. “Lots of people,” replied I airily. “Who are you going to sell it to if we don’t buy it? There are no pipelines to China.” This did not make him very happy.

While we are on the subject of what the West can do to prevent attacks on other countries (the idea that Russia will do no such thing now that it has taught Georgia a lesson can be believed only by people who also think that stars are God’s daisy chains), here is a posting on a blog that has recently come my way, which makes me look like a real ninny.

What we could not find out was Russia’s endgame. What is it they want? We still don’t know, though according to the BBC Russian Service website [it’s in Russian but I think there is a way of having the article translated] some experts are saying that Russia has achieved her aims. Others are more cautious and suggesting we should wait and see.

On the whole, waiting and seeing sounds like an excellent idea. Not least we should hear what it is Mr Putin or his teddy bear, Mr Medvedev are going to demand. Simply asserting that they have punished the aggressor and reasserted the security of the civilian population (something that Mr Putin cares about desperately) as well as of the peacemakers is not the end. There will be more demands.

Meanwhile President Saakashvili has announced to around 50,000 people in Tbilisi that Georgia is leaving the Commonwealth of Independent States, Russia’s post-Soviet attempt to control the break-away republics.

While the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline appears not to have been damaged (apart from the fire caused by an explosion in Turkey a few days before the hostilities in Georgia began) BP has prudently closed it down for the duration. When they will reopen it might well depend on the separate battle that is being waged for the control of the joint Anglo-Russian consortium TNK-BP.

We can but speculate why Russia has decided to end hostilities for the time being, while there is still fighting in Abkhazia. It may be that they do feel that they have taught Georgia a lesson and, in any case, they are in a good position to resume the teaching of that lesson if the Georgians refuse to kiss the rod.

It may be that the Georgian forces fought back with greater vigour than the Russians had expected and there was a sudden worry (which we have speculated on before) of another quagmire like Chechnya. It may be that the angry conversation between President Bush and former President, now Prime Minister, Putin included certain very specific threats possibly to do with ships in the Mediterranean.

As opposed to that last point Russia may well have reassured herself that the West will do nothing if she proceeds to reconquer the old Soviet colonies as Putin has always threatened to do and there is no need to do anything else for the moment. . . .

Read the entire post.

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