South Ossetia asks Russia for air defenses in conflict zone - 2007

Breakaway South Ossetia asks Russia for air defenses in conflict zone


South Ossetia will formally request that Russia deploy air defense systems in the zone of conflict with Georgia in the wake of an airspace violation dispute this week, the breakaway region's leader said Thursday. "South Ossetia will approach Russia with a request to equip [Russian] peacekeepers in the conflict zone with modern air defense systems to target airspace violators," Eduard Kokoity told RIA Novosti by telephone. On Tuesday, Georgia accused Russia of firing a missile on a village 65 kilometers (about 40 miles) northwest of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and near the border with its breakaway region Monday. The 640-kilogram (1,400-pound) missile did not explode, but has fueled tensions between the former Soviet allies. Russia, which Tbilisi has accused of backing separatists, has denied involvement in the incident, demanding a thorough probe and saying it was "a new provocation" staged by Tbilisi to destabilize the region. South Ossetia echoed the accusations, saying the aircraft came from Georgia's side. "To deter more provocations from Georgia, we will ask the Russian leadership to reinforce the peacekeeping units in the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict zone ... so they can bring down violators. It will then be clear whose aircraft entered the conflict zone," Kokoity said. The commander of joint peacekeeping forces said Thursday Tbilisi had denied information of an intruding aircraft the day before accusing Russia of doing so. "On August 6, when the incident occurred, I contacted the command of the Georgian part of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces and informed them of the intrusion and the launch [of a missile]. A report followed one hour later that the [Georgian] Armed Forces denied any intrusion whatsoever," Kulakhmetov said. He also said peacekeepers could not identify the unexploded missile, as Georgia had rushed to destroy it. Dismissing Russian and South Ossetian charges Wednesday, Georgia said, citing experts, that it was a Russian-designed anti-radar guided missile not in use in Georgia's Armed Forces. Tbilisi has demanded that the European Union step in and that the UN Security Council hold an emergency session on the matter. The United States condemned what it called a rocket attack on Georgia and urged Moscow and Tbilisi to ensure a peaceful resolution in the breakaway region in a State Department statement late Wednesday. Europe also called on restraint from the parties involved.


South Ossetia: Georgian troops plant landmines and launch grenades at peacekeepers and civilians, destroy property

A peacekeeping post of the South Ossetian side to the Joint Peacekeeping Forces (JPF) in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone was attacked by fire. The fire was held from a Georgian post near Dvani Village from automatic grenade launcher AGS-17. Under the grenade fire also happened to be working harvesting combines from Mugut Village of South Ossetia’s Znaur Region. Another incident occurred on the outskirts of an Ossetian village Ubiat of the Znaur Region of South Ossetia. Several cows were killed in antipersonnel landmines’ explosions planted by the Georgian side. The cows were property of the Ossetian village residents. “These provoking action became possible because of the lenience of the peacekeepers’ Command. For over three months, illegal Georgian posts have been set up and acting in the Command’s jurisdiction,” reads statement issued by South Ossetian side to JCC. “Georgian detachments without insignia organized in the region long-term gun posts and support structures, to which Command has given no reaction.” “As a result of such ‘appeasement policy,’ Georgian detachments, who are enjoying full impunity, organize provocations, already against peacekeepers themselves.” “The number of such provoking acts of aggression increases each week; however, nothing is done to prevent them. This, undoubtedly, undermines trust of the local population to the JPF Command,” the South Ossetian side to JCC says in the statement.


In related news:

Abkhazia in geopolitical game in the Caucasus

Fifteen years ago, on August 14, 1992, one of the worst ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus - between Georgia and Abkhazia - developed into a full-scale war, which lasted for 14 months. Its main results were: 8,000 dead on both sides; $11.3 billion worth of economic damage; a changed ethno-demographic situation in Abkhazia: the Georgians have become an ethnic minority (in different estimates, between 150,000-200,000 Georgians were displaced; Georgia puts the figure at 300,000); Abkhazia's ethno-demographic losses in 1992-1993 were comparable to the Muhajirism of the 1860-1870s. It would be no exaggeration to say that today the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia is playing the biggest role in a major geopolitical game in the Caucasus. The Abkhazian issue is the main bone of contention between Russia and Georgia. Pro-Abkhazian sentiments of some part of the Russian military and political establishment are conducive to Georgia's pro-Western course, which is also influencing Russia's chief political ally in the Greater Caucasus - Armenia. De jure, Abkhazia is part of Georgia. De facto, Georgian sovereignty does not extend to the territory from the Psou River to the Inguri River. The Abkhazian leaders do not control only a small part of the republic in the upper reaches of the Kodori River. Until July 2006, Georgia did not control it, either. But now Tbilisi is trying to turn this hard-to-access area into a bridgehead.

Georgia's military defeat in 1993 was not limited to geopolitical losses (Georgia lost 12.5% of its territory and 200 km of the Black Sea coast). As distinct from South Ossetia, it led to the massive Georgian exodus from Abkhazia. In different estimates, about 200,000 Georgians left Abkhazia. The Abkhazian leaders were ready to discuss the refugees -- the most urgent problem for Georgia. They merely wanted to sort out those Georgians who fought against Abkhazia in 1992-1993. Abkhazia has repeatedly voiced apprehensions that the return of the Georgian refugees and a change in the ethno-demographic balance in their favor might result in a new ethnic purge, this time by Georgia. The Abkhazian leaders were particularly concerned over the return of the Georgian (Mengrel) refugees to the predominantly Georgian Galsky region - as of 1989, Georgians accounted for 93% of its population. They have repeatedly rejected the idea of the "broadest possible autonomy" under Georgian jurisdiction. Until 1992, Abkhazia had all attributes of autonomy de jure, and the Abkhazians consider return to the autonomous status no more than idle talk.

In its approach to both the South Ossetian and Abkhazian problems, the team of the incumbent Georgian president is trying to change the format of these inter-ethnic conflicts and turn them into a Russian-Georgian issue. The ultimate goal of this transformation is to internationalize the problem and deprive Russia of its status of an exclusive guarantor of ethno-political stability in Abkhazia. Mikheil Saakashvili named the United States, Ukraine and Turkey as potential co-sponsors of the peace process. We believe that under the circumstances, the most rational decision is to delay all issues pertaining to the republic's status until the settlement of major humanitarian problems (education, medical treatment, conduct of business, free movement and contacts between Georgians and Abkhazians). Only after progress is achieved in their resolution, it will be possible to discuss Abkhazia's status. This plan may seem cynical but this is the only chance to avoid re-division of property and spheres of influence and escalation of inter-ethnic tensions in Abkhazia. Russia and the United States could guarantee the immunity of property and power in Abkhazia. Obviously, the Abkhazian elite, which have been propelled to their current position by the military victory in 1993, will be ready to discuss the republic's status with Georgia only after receiving guarantees of keeping the acquired resources and administrative rents. In this way Russia will ensure peace and stability in its southern frontiers.


Russia vs Georgia: A war of perceptions

An intimate past and bitter present make it hard for Russians and Georgians to live as neighbours but impossible to separate completely, says Donald Rayfield. From openDemocracy. The second alleged incursion of a Russian aircraft into Georgian territory during August 2007 has further heightened tension between the two states. An already difficult relationship is mired in accusation, denial, rumour and suspicion over the sorties (the Georgian deputy defense minister Batu Kutelia claims there have been nine in the last three months). The fact that such incidents, minor in themselves, can provoke such heated reactions confirms that something has gone badly wrong in a once almost familial bond. What is it, and can it be repaired? It is hard to disentangle reality from myth regarding the airspace violations amid the deluge of propaganda on either side. But most international experts now agree that on 6 August 2007, Russian aircraft did venture three times into Georgian airspace from the direction of Vladikavkaz - and that on the third sortie an aircraft deliberately fired a missile, which fortunately failed to explode when it landed near the village of Tsitelubani.

This was followed on the night of 21 August by the entry of a Russian military jet which seems to have discharged a missile which fell on a cornfield (and also did not ignite) in the vicinity of Georgia's border with the disputed territory of South Ossetia. Both incidents have been given the full diplomatic treatment - official statements, condemnations, appeals to scientific evidence, calls for solidarity from allies and the international community (including the United Nations). The west's anxiety about becoming embroiled in further confrontation with Russia mean that Georgia's attempts to bring its grievance over Russian behavior to the attention of the Security Council will probably be as ineffective as the missile itself. There is a recent precedent: the Russia-originated cyber-attack on Estonia in April-May 2007 which targeted the government's computer system - in apparent revenge for Estonia's moving of a city-centre statue commemorating the country's "liberation" by the Red Army in 1944 - has not met with any effective protest or sanctions.

But if Georgia will find it difficult to persuade the world to take the incidents seriously enough, the violation of its territory is part of a pattern that reveals much about the mindset currently animating Russian policy. A key aspect of this is the deep xenophobia that pervades Russian politics and public opinion directed at Americans, western Europeans, and Chinese but, above all, at the people of nations which have secured their independence since the fall of the Soviet Union. In this sense the Georgians are only one target of a wider "blame culture" in Moscow (as the Estonia example confirms). But it is also the case that the bitterness directed against them (and reciprocated in full) reflects the illusions of a Russia that thinks it "knows" and understands Georgia - and has not yet understood that, in fact, it no longer does.
Russia's telescope

The first Russian illusion is indicated by a recent feature on the Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy, where listeners were asked to estimate the population of Georgia. The mean response was 30 million (the true figure in 2007 is approximately 4.6 million). Moreover, the signifier "Georgian" (like Azeri, Armenian, Avar, Circassian or Abkhaz) has now been replaced by the overall term "person of Caucasian ethnicity," thus losing a series of imaginary distinctions drawn in imperial and Soviet Russia: between civilised, Christian Caucasians (Georgians, Armenians and in part Ossetians) and wild, pagan and Muslim Caucasians (all the rest); and between settled Caucasians who meekly accepted the imperial yoke (Georgians, Armenians, Azeris, Ossetians) and noble savages (Chechens, Avars, Circassians) who resisted it. A second Russian illusion is that Georgia is ungrateful, having enjoyed a privileged position under Soviet rule (mainly thanks to its being the homeland of Joseph Stalin). True, in Georgia's lush climate the sun shone and fruit grew on trees even in the 1930s; and in the 1930s-1940s only 1 percent of the Soviet prison-camp system was Georgian, though Georgians made up 2.5 percent of the Soviet population - a disproportion corrected in 1951 under Stalin himself, when a new persecution doubled the number of Georgians in the gulag.

But a closer look at the statistics reveals that the "great terror" affected Georgia at least as badly as Leningrad or Moscow. The ruthless prosecutor Nikolai Yezhov's targets for repression in August 1937 set the proportion for "Category 1" (to be shot after arrest and interrogation) at 50 percent of those arrested in Georgia (compared to 16 percent for Moscow). But these limits were everywhere exceeded by a factor of nine, meaning that the secret-police chief Lavrenti Beria (himself a Mingrelian, from a region in western Georgia) had some 50,000 Georgians shot in 1937-38, the same proportion as in Russia's two main cities. During the "great patriotic war" of 1941-45, the Georgian male population had perhaps the highest casualty rate of any Soviet republic: some 300,000 young men died (mostly in the Kerch landings of 1943), about a third of those of military age in the country. The third Russian illusion about Georgia is one of patronage, that Moscow can effectively direct Tbilisi's choice of political leader. The extraordinary antagonism displayed by Vladimir Putin's officials and army officers towards Georgia can be perhaps explained by their initial support for the "rose revolution" of 2003-04 that brought Mikheil Saakashvili to power: so great was their hatred for Eduard Shevardnadze (Saakashvili's predecessor as Georgia's president and the former Soviet foreign minister, whom they blamed for the Soviet system's demise) that anyone who overthrew him was bound to find some sympathy in Moscow.

Moreover, Saakashvili followed his political triumph by ejecting Adzharia's warlord Aslan Abashidze from his fiefdom in southwest Georgia; as a business associate of Moscow's mayor, Abashidze was particularly obnoxious to Putin. The Russians no doubt thought that Saakashvili would prove another deluded, manipulable nationalistic intellectual (like the unlamented first president of independent Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia) who would reduce his country to helpless destitution and dependence on Russia's tutelage. Instead, and to Moscow's chagrin, Saakashvili has proved astute at home and popular abroad with relationship. The single overriding Georgian illusion is that Russia is the great Christian kingdom of the north which will come to the rescue of a small Christian nation threatened by Turkic and Persian, Islamic, rule. This view of the northern protector is one that has persisted since the crusades: that a fellow-Christian kingdom will come to the aid of a beleaguered Christian nation threatened by barbarians.

Georgian history teaches otherwise. The crusaders did the very opposite, and ravaged the eastern Christians more thoroughly than they did the Muslims; in the 18th century, several western rulers (Louis XIV, Louis XV, Pope Clement XI) told Prince Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani (uncle of the Georgian king, Vakhtang VI) that their trading links with Persia superseded their concern for a Christian nation threatened by that Islamic state; the British withdrew all their support staff the moment that the Red Army threatened Tbilisi in 1921. In 2008, nobody should doubt that if Russia were to invade Georgia the west would confine its support to a few unenforceable resolutions in the United Nations - and would go on buying Russian oil and gas. This is where illusion meets reality - with a crunch. For a combination of choice and circumstance is redirecting Georgia's economy towards the west. Georgian railways are about to be managed by a British firm for the next 89 years; Turkey has become Georgia's chief trading partner, and Georgia's exports to Russia have declined by more than half in 2007, thanks to Russia's ban on Georgian wine and mineral water. Even the land border- crossing to Russia has become an obstacle-course, as Georgia prepares to open a third crossing to Turkey (and very soon a direct rail link, which Armenians too will be able to use).

The underlying logic is that Soviet-era industry died in Georgia in 1990 and cannot be resurrected. The agricultural sector is still operating largely as subsistence farming, producing less than a third of what it did in the mid-1980s, when Georgia supplied Russia with citrus fruit, wine, lamb, tea and cheese. Western markets, flooded with cheap produce, are not going to import Georgian agricultural products, except for the recently revived wine industry which is producing wines of high enough quality to find a niche market (Tbilisi will soon again be producing brandy to rival French cognac.) Yet the break with Russia has its costs. The approximately 500,000 Georgian workers in Russia are subject to increasing pressure from authorities to prevent them trading, being educated, or remitting money home. Even Russian citizens of Georgian origin - such as the writer Boris Akunin (born Grigori Chkhartishvili) and the sculptor Zurab Tsereteli - have been targeted by Russia's notorious tax authorities.

The problem of the lost lands, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is even more painful for Georgia. The dispute over the "frozen territories," which wrested themselves from Tbilisi's control in the small wars of 1992-93, is further from a solution than ever before. In South Ossetia, the idea of unity with North Ossetia (part of Russia) has been encouraged by the Russian foreign minister and by the authorities in the north; while Tbilisi uses a mixture of charm and bluster in the effort to replace the breakaway Eduard Kokoity government with the pro-Tbilisi puppet, Dmitry Sanakoyev. In Abkhazia, hotels, villas and building land have been bought by Russian businessmen and officials who have a vested interest in seeing that Abkhazia will become a puppet - if not yet an actual integral part - of the Russian Federation. The award of the 2014 winter Olympics to Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi has allowed Abkhazian territory to be proposed for use in accommodating the athletes and even hosting events. No Georgian politician can seriously foster any hope of recovering Abkhazia by diplomatic or military means - although any Georgian politician who admitted this publicly would cease to be a politician, or even to be alive, the very next day.
An intimate acrimony

In this difficult environment, all Mikheil Saakashvili can do - while cultivating his gift for memorable, provocative remarks - is to try to make Georgia a safer, freer and more prosperous country to live in, and thus encourage western investment and sympathy while. Here he has had partial success: everyday bribery has been vastly reduced (you can drive across the the country and never be stopped by an acquisitive traffic policeman, though the number of expensive restaurants with very large black Mercedes outside and very fat politicians and officials inside suggests that at higher levels corruption has only become a little more discreet). Tbilisi's opera house and theatres now open for performances; readers can afford to buy books again and therefore publishing houses are printing them; and best of all, the Georgian cinema, once the pride of the USSR, is coming back to life. The president's wife, Sandra Roelofs (Dutch by origin, and a fluent speaker of Georgian), has opened a classical-music radio station. The education system has been purged, to the annoyance of parents and university teachers who both preferred the payment of bribes as the most convenient selection process for students. In his own way, Putin has helped the Georgian economy by frightening several Russia-based Georgian oligarchs into taking their wealth and their need for efficient infrastructure home to Georgia, where their impact almost matches that of the 1,000 American military and intelligence agents and the dozens of international NGOs in providing employment.

There is a long way to go. The pro-western government of Saakashvili speaks the benign international language of peace and transparency, but investigations into the mysterious death in February 2005 of prime minister Zurab Zhvania, the brains behind the rose revolution, have been obstructed. Saakashvili's refusal to pursue these, indeed his persecution of any journalists that continue to probe the affair, cast doubt on his commitment to democracy and the rule of law. Other moves, such as the decision to expel the Georgian union of writers from their building in order to privatize the property, show an ill-considered contempt for Georgia's intelligentsia. The frequent crises and the intemperate tone of the current Russia-Georgia relationship are, then, part of long-term shifts on both sides. The relationship is both full of bitterness and extremely close, reminiscent of that between an acrimoniously and recently divorced couple. Even today, no serious Georgian politician will ever undertake a significant decision without taking into consideration what the Russian reaction would be. Russian-Georgian ties, however near rupture and however twisted, remain impossible to disentangle or to disavow.


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Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

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