Aug 9, 2012

Nikos Deja Vu - What Started The South Ossetia War?

What Started
The South Ossetia War?

I have heard talking heads opine that the fighting in Sout Ossetia and Georgia is a Russian move to send a message to NATO and the United States to keep out of the former Soviet republics. I went looking around the internet to try to find out what incident provoked the original attack, by Goergia, on South Ossetian territory.

I found references to fighting between Georgia and it’s breakaway province dating back as far as 1918. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, South Ossetia declared itself independent of newly independent Georgia. Clearly there is no love lost between the two. There has been a peacekeeping force, consisting of South Ossetian, Georgian and Russian troops in the territory since some time in the 1990s.

There are many ethnic Russians living in South Osetia as there are in the other disputed area of Georgia, Abkhazia. Many of these people hold Russian passports, although they may have been born and lived their lives within Georgian territory. There have been numerous incidents involving both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, shootings, mortar attacks, flyovers of one or anther’s territory by military airplanes. Ususally they are followed by a he said/she said argument about who is to blame. In July there was a large flap over a Georgian claim of a Russian MIG in Georgian airspace near Abkhazia.

So what was the incident that prompted Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to order a full scale invasion of South Ossetia on August 8th? Nada, zip, bupkiss. As far as I have been able to determine this military operation was intended to be a surprise attack.

So who started this mess?
Mikheil Saakashvili did.


Georgia is owned and operated by the United States with their President having come to power via the CIA’s help with a coup. Georgia attacked the capital of South Ossetia after months of planning with the help of the US government. It was planned to draw Russia into a trap. It worked as advertised. To top it off, there is no mention in the media of the giant armada heading towards Iran with several other countries in a naval exercise. I’m guessing it will be a blockade of Iran then naval bombardment.

The war in South Ossetia

This is a tale of US expansion not Russian aggression
War in the Caucasus is as much the product of an American imperial drive as local conflicts.
It's likely to be a taste of things to come

The outcome of six grim days of bloodshed in the Caucasus has triggered an outpouring of the most nauseating hypocrisy from western politicians and their captive media. As talking heads thundered against Russian imperialism and brutal disproportionality, US vice-president Dick Cheney, faithfully echoed by Gordon Brown and David Miliband, declared that "Russian aggression must not go unanswered". George Bush denounced Russia for having "invaded a sovereign neighbouring state" and threatening "a democratic government". Such an action, he insisted, "is unacceptable in the 21st century".

Could these by any chance be the leaders of the same governments that in 2003 invaded and occupied - along with Georgia, as luck would have it - the sovereign state of Iraq on a false pretext at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives? Or even the two governments that blocked a ceasefire in the summer of 2006 as Israel pulverised Lebanon's infrastructure and killed more than a thousand civilians in retaliation for the capture or killing of five soldiers?

You'd be hard put to recall after all the fury over Russian aggression that it was actually Georgia that began the war last Thursday with an all-out attack on South Ossetia to "restore constitutional order" - in other words, rule over an area it has never controlled since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nor, amid the outrage at Russian bombardments, have there been much more than the briefest references to the atrocities committed by Georgian forces against citizens it claims as its own in South Ossetia's capital Tskhinvali. Several hundred civilians were killed there by Georgian troops last week, along with Russian soldiers operating under a 1990s peace agreement: "I saw a Georgian soldier throw a grenade into a basement full of women and children," one Tskhinvali resident, Saramat Tskhovredov, told reporters on Tuesday.

Might it be because Georgia is what Jim Murphy, Britain's minister for Europe, called a "small beautiful democracy". Well it's certainly small and beautiful, but both the current president, Mikheil Saakashvili, and his predecessor came to power in western-backed coups, the most recent prettified as a "Rose revolution". Saakashvili was then initially rubber-stamped into office with 96% of the vote before establishing what the International Crisis Group recently described as an "increasingly authoritarian" government, violently cracking down on opposition dissent and independent media last November. "Democratic" simply seems to mean "pro-western" in these cases.

The long-running dispute over South Ossetia - as well as Abkhazia, the other contested region of Georgia - is the inevitable consequence of the breakup of the Soviet Union. As in the case of Yugoslavia, minorities who were happy enough to live on either side of an internal boundary that made little difference to their lives feel quite differently when they find themselves on the wrong side of an international state border.

Such problems would be hard enough to settle through negotiation in any circumstances. But add in the tireless US promotion of Georgia as a pro-western, anti-Russian forward base in the region, its efforts to bring Georgia into Nato, the routing of a key Caspian oil pipeline through its territory aimed at weakening Russia's control of energy supplies, and the US-sponsored recognition of the independence of Kosovo - whose status Russia had explicitly linked to that of South Ossetia and Abkhazia - and conflict was only a matter of time.

The CIA has in fact been closely involved in Georgia since the Soviet collapse. But under the Bush administration, Georgia has become a fully fledged US satellite. Georgia's forces are armed and trained by the US and Israel. It has the third-largest military contingent in Iraq - hence the US need to airlift 800 of them back to fight the Russians at the weekend. Saakashvili's links with the neoconservatives in Washington are particularly close: the lobbying firm headed by US Republican candidate John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, has been paid nearly $900,000 by the Georgian government since 2004.

But underlying the conflict of the past week has also been the Bush administration's wider, explicit determination to enforce US global hegemony and prevent any regional challenge, particularly from a resurgent Russia. That aim was first spelled out when Cheney was defence secretary under Bush's father, but its full impact has only been felt as Russia has begun to recover from the disintegration of the 1990s.

Over the past decade, Nato's relentless eastward expansion has brought the western military alliance hard up against Russia's borders and deep into former Soviet territory. American military bases have spread across eastern Europe and central Asia, as the US has helped install one anti-Russian client government after another through a series of colour-coded revolutions. Now the Bush administration is preparing to site a missile defence system in eastern Europe transparently targeted at Russia.

By any sensible reckoning, this is not a story of Russian aggression, but of US imperial expansion and ever tighter encirclement of Russia by a potentially hostile power. That a stronger Russia has now used the South Ossetian imbroglio to put a check on that expansion should hardly come as a surprise. What is harder to work out is why Saakashvili launched last week's attack and whether he was given any encouragement by his friends in Washington.

If so, it has spectacularly backfired, at savage human cost. And despite Bush's attempts to talk tough yesterday, the war has also exposed the limits of US power in the region. As long as Georgia proper's independence is respected - best protected by opting for neutrality - that should be no bad thing. Unipolar domination of the world has squeezed the space for genuine self-determination and the return of some counterweight has to be welcome. But the process of adjustment also brings huge dangers. If Georgia had been a member of Nato, this week's conflict would have risked a far sharper escalation. That would be even more obvious in the case of Ukraine - which yesterday gave a warning of the potential for future confrontation when its pro-western president threatened to restrict the movement of Russian ships in and out of their Crimean base in Sevastopol. As great power conflict returns, South Ossetia is likely to be only a taste of things to come.

US rules out military role in Georgia but warns Russia off
Rice's bid to rally support for ally leaves Moscow suspicious
Bush further angers Kremlin by agreeing Polish missile pact

Washington last night ruled out using military force in Georgia after putting the Pentagon in charge of the delivery of aid to the invaded Black Sea state and US non-combat troops on the ground. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, said he saw no prospect of the US engaging militarily in the Caucasus conflict, but warned that Russia's invasion of Georgia could set back its relations with the west for years.

He added that Washington wanted to avoid a return to cold war-style confrontation with Moscow.

But the east-west climate, already chilly because of the Georgia conflict, plunged further last night when Washington and Warsaw put aside a year of dispute and agreed to station 10 interceptor rockets at missile silos in Poland as part of the US missile defence shield in the Baltic region.

As part of the deal, the Americans will reportedly supply Poland with Patriot missiles, build a permanent US military base in the country, and provide mutual security guarantees.

The deal will enrage Moscow, which is vehemently opposed to the US facilities in Poland and a radar station in the neighbouring Czech Republic.

While the Americans say the shield is aimed at Iran, the Russians insist it is directed at them. Moscow has pledged to retaliate and has warned of a new arms race.

The missile shield agreement came in the midst of the worst crisis in Moscow's relations with the west since the end of the cold war.

A week into the crisis in the Caucasus, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, is expected in the Georgian capital Tbilisi today to rally "the free world's support for a free Georgia", after criticism that the Bush administration had been slow to respond to the Russian attack on the region's key US ally.

Despite a French-brokered ceasefire agreement three days ago that required Russian and Georgian forces to retire to pre-conflict positions, Moscow's forces remained deep in what was Georgian-controlled territory yesterday, well outside the two contested provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the Russians were stationed as "peacekeepers".

The Russians remained in control of the town of Gori, straddling the main road north of Tbilisi, of Senaki to the west, and were in the Black Sea port of Poti, all home to major Georgian military facilities.

Moscow said it did not know when it would pull out. "We are planning it. It depends on many factors. I can't give you the date. We have stopped building up troops," Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, Russia's deputy chief of staff, told reporters in Moscow.

Gates said last night there were signs that Russia was withdrawing to the two pro-Russian breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The US landed a second large military transport plane with relief aid in Tbilisi after George Bush warned the Russians not to obstruct the aid effort.

Bush's tough statement encouraged speculation that the US military could come into dangerously close contact with the Russians, raising the risk of clashes. Such fears were heightened by President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, who claimed that the Pentagon was taking control of Georgian ports and airports.

The US dismissed such claims. "We are not there to defend the ports, we are there to provide humanitarian aid," a White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said.

The signs were that the Kremlin would effect a retreat, satisfied that it had achieved its war aims and the better to control and dominate the diplomatic mediation effort that is gathering steam.

In Tbilisi today, Rice will attempt to bolster the embattled Georgians in the diplomatic tussle launched by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France on Tuesday which resulted in a six-point ceasefire and peace plan.

Rice met Sarkozy in France yesterday to attempt to toughen the mediation process being conducted by the French on behalf of the EU. "The United States of America stands strongly, as the president of France just said, for the territorial integrity of Georgia," Rice said pointedly, alongside Sarkozy.

Presenting the ceasefire terms in Moscow on Tuesday night, Sarkozy had signally refused to support Georgia's territorial integrity. "Georgia is an independent and sovereign state and I think this formula, the principle of sovereignty, is broader than the formula of territorial integrity," he said.

Moscow warns it could strike Poland over US missile shield
US condemns 'bullying' of Georgia
Russian general threatens neighbour

The risk of a new era of east-west confrontation triggered by Russia's invasion of Georgia heightened today when Moscow reserved the right to launch a nuclear attack on Poland because it agreed to host US rockets as part of the Pentagon's missile shield.

As Washington accused Russia of "bullying and intimidation" in Georgia and demanded an immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from the small Black Sea neighbour, Russia's deputy chief of staff turned on Warsaw and said it was vulnerable to a Russian rocket attack because of Thursday's pact with the US on the missile defence project.

"By deploying, Poland is exposing itself to a strike - 100%," warned Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn. He added that Russia's security doctrine allowed it to use nuclear weapons against an active ally of a nuclear power such as America.

The warning worsened the already dismal mood in relations between Moscow and the west caused by the shock of post-Soviet Russia's first invasion of a foreign country.

There were scant signs of military activity on the ground in Georgia, but nor were there any signs of the Russian withdrawal pledged on Tuesday under ceasefire terms mediated by the European Union.

Instead, the focus was on a flurry of diplomatic activity that exposed acute differences on how Washington and Berlin see the crisis in the Caucasus.

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, went to Tbilisi to bolster Georgia against the Russians as President George Bush denounced Russian "bullying and intimidation" as "unacceptable".

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, met Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev on the Black Sea close to Georgia's borders and sent quite a different message, offering a mild rebuke of Moscow.

"Some of Russia's actions were not proportionate," she said.

Unlike the Americans and some European states who are saying the Russians should face "consequences" for their invasion, Merkel said negotiations with Moscow on a whole range of issues would continue as before and spread the blame for the conflict. "It is rare that all the blame is on one side. In fact, both sides are probably to blame. That is very important to understand," she said.

In Tbilisi, Rice was much more forthright, saying that the invasion had "profound implications for Russia ... This calls into question what role Russia really plans to play in international politics.

"You can't be a responsible member of institutions which are democratic and underscore democratic values and on the other hand act in this way against one of your neighbours."

The Russians have been refusing to pull back their forces in Georgia until President Mikheil Saakashvili signed the six-point ceasefire plan arranged by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France earlier this week, although the Russians had refused to sign it themselves.

Saakashvili signed today, while accusing the Russians of being "evil" and "21st century barbarians". Rice said Medvedev had also signed it.

"Russia has every time been testing the reaction of the west. It's going to replicate what happened in Georgia elsewhere," said Saakashvili. "We are looking evil directly in the eye. Today this evil is very strong, and very dangerous for everybody, not just for us."

Rice's show of solidarity with Georgia's beleaguered president was theatrically undermined when Russia dispatched a column of armoured personnel carriers towards the Georgian capital.

As the talks were taking place, 10 armoured personnel carriers laden with Russian troops set off from Gori, penetrating to within 20 miles of Tbilisi.

"Georgia has been attacked. Russian forces need to leave Georgia at once," said Rice. The withdrawal "must take place, and take place now ... This is no longer 1968," she added in reference to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia 40 years ago next week.

The ceasefire terms favour the Russians who routed the Georgians. But the secretary of state argued the plan would not affect negotiations over the central territorial dispute between Georgia and the two breakaway pro-Russian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The deal allows Russian troops to remain in the two provinces and to mount patrols and "take additional security measures" on Georgian territory beyond the two enclaves.

Senior Russians continued to insist today that Russian troops had not stepped outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia despite the fact they have been deep inside Georgian territory in several places all week.

"Our ground forces never crossed the border of the conflict zone," said Sergei Ivanov, the deputy prime minister.

Moscow also indicated it would resist possible European attempts to deploy international peacekeepers in the contested territories.

"We are not against international peacekeepers," the Russian president said. "But the problem is that the Abkhazians and the Ossetians do not trust anyone except Russian peacekeepers." He also attacked the agreement between Washington and Warsaw on the missile shield and said claims that the shield was aimed at Iran were "fairy tales"

"This clearly demonstrates the deployment of new anti-missile forces in Europe has as its aim the Russian Federation," said Medvedev. "The moment has been well chosen."

The timing of Thursday's agreement on missile defence means that tensions are soaring on Russia's southern and western borders.

Polish armed forces today paraded in Warsaw to mark a rare defeat of the Russians 888 years ago and President Lech Kaczynski hailed the accord on the Pentagon project as a boost for Poland's security.

In return for hosting 10 interceptor rockets said to be intended to destroy any eventual ballistic missile attacks from Iran, Poland is to receive a battery of US Patriot missiles for its air defences and has won a mutual security pact with Washington.


Nikos Deja Vu

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