Recent news developments worth reading.



August, 2008

More than 1,000 Russian servicemen are taking part in the Rubezh-2008 command-staff exercise held by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Armenia, Col German Zhitenev, spokesman of the Ground Troops information service, told RIA-Novosti of Monday [18 August]. "This exercise is special in that it is being held in the Caucasus rather than in the Central Asian region. Its participants will train in giving military and military-technical assistance to Armenia in case of aggression against this country. The exercise's concept is hypothetical, however it takes into consideration the military-political and military-strategic situation that is taking shape in the region," the agency was told. Units of Armenia's Ground Troops as wells as servicemen from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan as part of task force are taking part in the exercise. "The drill in Armenia is the third stage of the Rubezh-2008 joint CSTO exercise, which started on 18 August. The first stage was held in Armenia is early July, the second at the CSTO HQ in Moscow in late July. The exercise will end at a test range in Armenia on 22 August," Zhitenev added.


Israel’s role in the Russia-Georgia war

From the moment Georgia launched a surprise attack on the tiny breakaway region of South Ossetia, prompting a fierce Russian counterattack, Israel has been trying to distance itself from the conflict. This is understandable: with Georgian forces on the retreat, large numbers of civilians killed and injured, and Russia’s fury unabated, Israel’s deep involvement is severely embarrassing. The collapse of the Georgian offensive represents not only a disaster for that country and its U.S.-backed leaders, but another blow to the myth of Israel’s military prestige and prowess. Worse, Israel fears that Russia could retaliate by stepping up its military assistance to Israel’s adversaries. “Israel is following with great concern the developments in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and hopes the violence will end,” its foreign ministry said, adding with uncharacteristic dovishness, “Israel recognizes the territorial integrity of Georgia and calls for a peaceful solution.” Tbilisi’s top diplomat in Tel Aviv complained about the lackluster Israeli response to his country’s predicament and perhaps overestimating Israeli influence, called for Israeli “diplomatic pressure on Moscow.” Just like Israel, the diplomat said, Georgia is fighting a war on “terrorism.” Israeli officials politely told the Georgians that “the address for that type of pressure was Washington”.

While Israel was keen to downplay its role, Georgia perhaps hoped that flattery might draw Israel further in. Georgian minister Temur Yakobashvili -- whom the Israeli daily Haaretz stressed was xxxish -- told Israeli army radio that “Israel should be proud of its military which trained Georgian soldiers.” Yakobashvili claimed rather implausibly, according to Haaretz, that “a small group of Georgian soldiers were able to wipe out an entire Russian military division, thanks to the Israeli training” Since 2000, Israel has sold hundreds of millions of dollars in arms and combat training to Georgia. Weapons included guns, ammunition, shells, tactical missile systems, antiaircraft systems, automatic turrets for armored vehicles, electronic equipment and remotely piloted aircraft. These sales were authorized by the Israeli defense ministry. The Israeli connection,” Ynet, 10 August 2008). Training also involved officers from Israel’s Shin Bet secret service -- which has for decades carried out extrajudicial executions and torture of Palestinians in the occupied territories -- the Israeli police, and the country’s major arms companies Elbit and Rafael.

The Tel Aviv-Tbilisi military axis appears to have been cemented at the highest levels, and according to YNet, “The fact that Georgia’s defense minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a former Israeli who is fluent in Hebrew contributed to this cooperation.” Others involved in the brisk arms trade included former Israeli minister and Tel Aviv mayor Roni Milo as well as several senior Israeli military officers. The key liaison was Reserve Brigadier General Gal Hirsch who commanded Israeli forces on the border with Lebanon during the July 2006 Second Lebanon War. (Yossi Melman, “Georgia Violence -- A frozen alliance,” Haaretz, 10 August 2008). He resigned from the army after the Winograd commission severely criticized Israel’s conduct of its war against Lebanon and an internal Israeli army investigation blamed Hirsch for the seizure of two soldiers by Hezbollah. According to one of the Israeli combat trainers, an officer in an “elite” Israel army unit, Hirsch and colleagues would sometimes personally supervise the training of Georgian forces which included “house-to-house fighting.” The training was carried out through several “private” companies with close links to the Israeli military.

As the violence raged in Georgia, the trainer was desperately trying to contact his former Georgian students on the battlefront via mobile phone: the Israelis wanted to know whether the Georgians had “internalized Israeli military technique and if the special reconnaissance forces have chalked up any successes” (Jonathan Lis and Moti Katz, “IDF vets who trained Georgia troops say war with Russia is no surprise,” Haaretz, 11 August 2008). Yet on the ground, the Israeli-trained Georgian forces, perhaps unsurprisingly overwhelmed by the Russians, have done little to redeem the image of Israel’s military following its defeat by Hezbollah in July-August 2006. The question remains as to why Israel was involved in the first place. There are several reasons. The first is simply economic opportunism: for years, especially since the 11 September 2001 attacks, arms exports and “security expertise” have been one of Israel’s growth industries. But the close Israeli involvement in a region Russia considers to be of vital interest suggests that Israel might have been acting as part of the broader U.S. scheme to encircle Russia and contain its reemerging power.

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has been steadily encroaching on Russia’s borders and expanding NATO in a manner the Kremlin considers highly provocative. Shortly after coming into office, the Bush Administration tore up the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and, like the Clinton administration, adopted former Soviet satellite states as its own, using them to base an anti-missile system Russia views as a threat. In addition to their “global war on terror,” hawks in Washington have recently been talking up a new Cold War with Russia. Georgia was an eager volunteer in this effort and has learned quickly the correct rhetoric: one Georgian minister claimed that “every bomb that falls on our heads is an attack on democracy, on the European Union and on America.” Georgia has been trying to join NATO, and sent 2,000 soldiers to help the U.S. occupy Iraq. It may have hoped that once war started this loyalty would be rewarded with the kind of round-the-clock airlift of weapons that Israel receives from the U.S. during its wars. Instead so far the U.S. only helped airlift the Georgian troops from Iraq back to the beleaguered home front.

By helping Georgia, Israel may have been doing its part to duplicate its own experience in assisting the eastward expansion of the “Euro-Atlantic” empire. While supporting Georgia was certainly risky for Israel, given the possible Russian reaction, it has a compelling reason to intervene in a region that is heavily contested by global powers. Israel must constantly reinvent itself as an “asset” to American power if it is to maintain the U.S. support that ensures its survival as a settler-colonial enclave in the Middle East. It is a familiar role; in the 1970s and 1980s, at the behest of Washington, Israel helped South Africa’s apartheid regime fight Soviet-supported insurgencies in South African-occupied Namibia and Angola, and it trained right-wing U.S.-allied death squads fighting left-wing governments and movements in Central America. After 2001, Israel marketed itself as an expert on combating so-called ”Islamic terrorism”.

Georgia’s government, to the detriment of its people, may have tried to play the role of a loyal servant of U.S. ambitions in that region -- and lost the gamble. Playing with empires is dangerous for a small country. As for Israel itself, with the Bush Doctrine having failed to give birth to the “new Middle East” that the U.S. needs to maintain its power in the region against growing resistance, an ever more desperate and rogue Israel must look for opportunities to prove its worth elsewhere. That is a dangerous and scary thing.


Syria to expand military ties with Russia

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday he would use this week's visit to Russia to expand military ties with Moscow whose arms sales to the Middle Eastern state have angered the West. Israel and the United States have long urged Russia not to sell weapons to Syria -- a key Moscow ally during the Cold War now at the centre of Kremlin ambitions of reviving Russia's Soviet-era role in the Middle East. Assad told Kommersant newspaper that Russia's conflict with Georgia, in which Moscow says Georgia used Israeli-supplied equipment, underlined the need for Russia and Syria to tighten their defence cooperation. "Of course military and technical cooperation is the main issue. Weapons purchases are very important," he said. "I think we should speed it up. Moreover, the West and Israel continue to put pressure on Russia." Assad is expected to met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday.

A diplomatic source in Moscow told Interfax news agency that Russia and Syria were preparing a number of deals involving anti-aircraft and anti-tank missile systems. "Damascus is Moscow's long-standing partner in military cooperation and we are expecting to reach an agreement in principle on new weapons deals," said the source. Syria is also interested in Russia's Pantsyr-S1 Air Defence Missile systems, BUK-M1 surface-to-air medium-range missile system, military aircraft and other hardware, the source said. Russia's military said this week Israel supplied military vehicles and explosives to Georgia and helped train its army. Israel says it does not supply arms to other countries as a government but private firms conduct equipment sales and training with the defence ministry's approval. Assad, whose army is largely equipped with Russian-designed military hardware, said Israel's role would only encourage countries like Syria -- a U.S. foe and ally of Iran -- to step up cooperation with Russia. "I think that in Russia and in the world everyone is now aware of Israel's role and its military consultants in the Georgian crisis," Assad told Kommersant. "And if before in Russia there were people who thought these forces can be friendly then now I think no one thinks that way." The West and NATO have sharply criticised Russia over its military action in Georgia this month.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Russia was turning into an outlaw in the conflict and accused Moscow of targeting civilians in Georgia. The conflict between Georgia and Russia erupted when Georgia tried to reimpose control over the breakaway, pro-Russian South Ossetia region earlier this month. Russia responded with a counter-attack that overwhelmed Georgian forces. Russia then moved troops beyond South Ossetia and a second separatist region, Abkhazia, and deep into Georgian territory.


Russia sends aircraft carrier to Syria

The Russian aircraft carrier “Admiral Kuznetsov” is ready to head from Murmansk towards the Mediterranean and the Syrian port of Tartus. The mission comes after Syrian President Bashar Assad opens up for a Russian base in the area. The “Admiral Kuznetsov”, part of the Northern Fleet and Russia’s only aircraft carrier, will head a Navy mission to the area. The mission will also include the missile cruiser “Moskva” and several submarines, reports. President Assad in meetings in Moscow this week expressed support to Russia’s intervention in South Ossetia and Georgia. He also expressed interest in the establishment of Russian missile air defence facilities on his land. The “Admiral Kuznetsov” also last year headed a navy mission to the Mediterranean. Then, on the way from the Kola Peninsula and south, it stopped in the North Sea where it conducted a navy training exercise in the immediate vicinity of Norwegian offshore installations.


Russian official reveals Israeli military assistance to Georgia

General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of staff of the Russian Military revealed Tuesday the extent of the military assistance Moscow claimed Jerusalem had given Georgia. "Israel armed the Georgian army," he told reported at a press conference held in the Russian capital. According to Nogovitsyn, Israel provided Georgia with "eight types of military vehicles, explosives, landmines and special explosives for the clearing minefields." Since 2007, he continued, Israeli experts have been training Georgian commando troops; and Israel had planned to supply Georgia with heavy firearms, electronic weapons and tanks, but that plan was eventually scrapped. Nogovitsyn stressed that despite reports to the contrary, Russia began pulling its troops form Georgia on Monday, claiming further that the withdrawal will be accelerated on Wednesday. Georgia, he added, was in breach of the ceasefire agreement, since is had not pulled its troops to the positions they held prior to the conflict.


Russia considers nuclear missiles for Syria, Baltic

Russia is planning to install Iskander surface missiles in Syria and its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, in a response to United States missile interceptors in Poland and U.S.-Israeli military aid to Georgia, an Israeli news agency reported on Monday. Moscow seems to be eying Poland, the Middle East, and possibly Ukraine, as the main arenas for its reprisals, as Russia is reported to plan arming warships, submarines and long-range bombers in the Baltic and Middle East with nuclear warheads, DEBKAfile reported. The plan includes the establishment of big Russian military, naval and air bases in Syria and the release of advanced weapons systems withheld until now to Iran, with the S-300 air-missile defense system, and the nuclear-capable Iskander to Syria.

Shortly before the Georgian conflict flared, Moscow promised Washington not to let Iran and Syria have these sophisticated pieces of hardware. The Iskander's cruise attributes make its launch and trajectory extremely hard to detect and intercept. If this missile reaches Syria, Israel will have to revamp its anti-missile defense array and Air Force assault plans for the third time in two years, as it constitutes a threat which transcends all its defensive red lines. Moscow's military planners know this and are therefore considering new sea and air bases in Syria as sites for the Iskander missiles, DEBKAfile reported. Russia would thus keep the missiles under its hand and make sure they were not transferred to Iran, it added. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will be invited to Moscow soon to finalize these plans in detail, according to the report. Military spokesmen in Moscow also said at the weekend that Russian military planners started redesigning the nation’s strategic plans as a fitting response to the U.S. decision to install 10 missile interceptors in Poland and over the recent clashes in Georgia, DEBKAfile reported.


Russia Shows its Canines

The Russians did not only fight in Georgia but they drew a sharp red line for their national security. Simply they said that violation of the vital space of Russia means war. The United States understood the massage from the moment Russia started its military operations there and the Pentagon spokesperson declared that the American military personnel in Georgia have nothing to do with this war. However, this was not the only message Russia has sent. The more important message was that the presence of American military personnel in a country does not mean that this country would be immune if threatened Russian interests. At first, Bush asked the Russians to pull their troops while the Georgian army was advancing in South Ossetia. Then he called for a ceasefire after the Russian army engaged in a battle that its results could be predicted. The Russians gave him a deaf ear and they entered Tskhinvali by force and air-raided a military base near Tibilisi. At last, the Americans said that Georgia was partly responsible about the crisis.

The pro-Western Georgian government and President Mikheil Saakashvili took the uncalculated decision to attack the pro-Russia South Ossetia and the Russian peacekeeping force there. The Russians proclaimed that Washington instigated him to do. Then they accused Ukraine of doing that. If it was, Washington then the Americans sacrificed Georgia to test the Russian seriousness about defending its interests before deploying the anti-missile missiles in Czech and Poland and before giving the green line for Ukraine and Georgia to apply for NATO membership. If it was Ukraine then it wanted to revenge for its disturbed relationship with Russia about gas supply, application to NATO, navy bases on the Black Sea and the Russian support for the big opposition that lost the last election with slight marginal results. Anyhow, it seems that uncalculated decisions are not exclusive to the Middle East.

Now the Americans and the Ukrainians know. The consequences were clear. Poland asked the European Council to hold an emergency meeting. In other words, Poland asks its partner a serious question, what if Russia decided to return to East Europe. Putin announced that it would be difficult for Georgia to keep sovereignty over South Ossetia. Bush called for the integrity of Georgia. The Naval siege of Georgian coast means a lot. If Russia will stay in Abkhazia or if it will occupy the Georgian coast, it will not need the Ukrainian ports anymore. The pro-Russia Abkhazia started military operations against Georgia. It was clear that Russia well armed the two enclaves, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. When Georgia accused Russia of using the air force against its bases, the Abkhazian separatists declared that their planes did that. To my knowledge, this is the first time a separatist group could have an air force.

Azerbaijan announced that it would stop its oil export through the Georgian port. Then the central Asian oil will be threatened if not controlled by Russians. Referring to the Iranian continuous threats that it would close the Gulf, and then the energy supply to Europe will be threatened. This means that the American fought seven years for nothing. From here a third world war would start if the US and Russia did not agree about the rules of the new game in central Asia quickly. When Kosovo declared independence, Russia threatened the West that it would announce Abkhazia and South Ossetia two independent states. President Saakashvili should not have given the Russian this opportunity. The rule is that small countries should not threat the interests of superpowers. If he tried to find common interests with Russia and postponed NATO application until the US and Russia strike their global deal which is a must geopolitically if they were to confront China, he would have saved his country much trouble and even he might have find ways to negotiate with separatists. He made himself a card in the American hands before the deal and Russia responded by making his country a card in its hands.

The American wanted also to test president Medevedv. It is clear that his policy is much the same like his Godfather Putin. Some observers say that Putin is still the de facto leader of the country. This means that the Americans have to live with Putin´s policy for a long time to come. After the eight years of Medevedv´s presidency, he and his Godfather may simply exchange posts again. The Russians learnt much from their lesson in Afghanistan and most probably, they will not repeat the mistake and go into a long war. They will arm the separatists and the Georgian peace would be a history if Tibilisi insisted on fighting. Another thing Putin declared that most of the two thousands citizens that were killed were Russians. He said frankly that this cleansing crime would not go without punishment. He simply says to the West as you tried our Serbian allies I will do the same to your Georgian allies. The Georgians accuse Russians of doing that and they said that the victims were Georgians. Of course, the American could not comment about cleansing war in Georgia. They cannot ask the international criminal court to do anything because Putin and Medevedv are not Bashir if they chose to believe the Georgian. However if they stroke a deal with Russia, they will give their back to the Georgian president and he would become a war criminal.

The Russian-Georgian war may be the most serious war in the Pax-Americana future. It may mark the return of Russia as a global force. It will draw another red line for the US. Now the world has two powers if not three with China who could start a war without previous coordination with regional or international powers. This reduces the American influence in some regions. The West depends upon Afghan´s neighboring countries, Russia one of them, in the logistics in its war there. Most of these countries are in the Russian vital space. Most probably, the West will give Georgia the lip service and leaves it for Russia to decide its future to ensure the safety of its operations.

One last thing a Russian top official said that Israelis trained the Georgian army. The Israeli Foreign Ministry asked the Military Institutions to stop arms sales to Georgia after few hours. Previously Israel did not care about any country but the US. Does Tzipi Levini feel the change? Both US and Russia have changed during Bush and Putin era. What is happening in Georgia is a hot chapter of their dialogue about their future alliance. The exchange of words between the American and Russian presidents did not reflect their real position on the ground. President Bush said that he stood for Georgia´s integrity, but his Foreign Secretary Rice met with Georgian President Saakashvili to force him to sign a ceasefire that its fifth article stated the independence and sovereignty but not integrity of his country. The Washington Post said frankly that Russia is more important for the US than Georgia is. To assess gains and losses of the different parts of the crisis, one should not compare Russia to Georgia. Comparing Georgia to South Ossetia and Abkhazia regionally and comparing Russia to the US globally gives a better in depth analysis.

On the regional level, Georgia was the first loser. It started a war to control its breakaway South Ossetia that ended with risking losing both South Ossetia and Abkhazia and parts of its territories became under Russian occupation. Some Georgian cities have been destroyed. It is difficult for investors to risk putting their money in Georgian projects again. The Georgian army was easily defeated and the road to Tibilisi was open for the Russian army. It became very doubtful that Georgia membership in NATO or EU might be achieved any time soon or even after many years. Most probably, the temporary ceasefire accord will be replaced by a second one after long negotiations that will put Georgia in the Russian influence sphere and will restrict armament of the Georgian army. Whether a temporary second cold war became the world order or US-EU-Russia partnership could be reached, Georgia will not have any role except for its port Porti on the Black Sea that might by used by the alliances. Saakashvili is the biggest loser and his political future is in its last days or months. If he is lucky, he will escape serving long terms in Russian prisons. The US did not give its ally except one million dollars worth of humanitarian aid beside words of support.

On the global level, Russia achieved some of its targets. It put an end for the American humiliation that has been continuous since 1989. It proved itself as a guarantor of the Caucasus as Medevedv said. It showed the American its military might and the will to use this might in a limited low cost military operation. It put a red line for NATO not to further approach Russia. If Abkhazia got its independence or became a Russian Republic then Russia will secure its navy accessibility to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. The ex-Soviet Union Asian independent states will think twice before signing any military or security accord with the US and the West and most probably, Russia will be the third party in these partnerships. Russia became the controller of European energy supply after it achieved control or threat of oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia ensuring a rift between the US and Europe in their Russian policies. It told the world, that it did not fear another Cold War. Its Foreign Minister said bluntly to the Americans that the US has to choose between partnership with Russia or its support for Georgia. Shortly after Rice and Saakashvili press conference, the BBC asked an American political science professor to comment. He said that the US needs Russia more than Russia needs the US. The American Defence Minister Gates attacked Russia verbally but when he was asked about trust between Bush and Putin, he said that national security is built on risks and interests not on trust. Bush visited the CIA headquarters to brief him about the situation and he was told that the American policy about Russia is being revised.

Why does the US revise its Russian policy? Regardless of the US-Poland preliminary accord of the antimissile shield that provoked the Russian Deputy of Chief to announce that Poland will be a target for Russian missiles, the Americans discovered that their policy of humiliating Russia went so far that they have lost a dear. Medevedv said more bluntly that Georgia or any state harms Russians the military operations will be repeated. The crisis exposed the Western alliance that there are rifts in the national security views. While Bush was talking about isolating Russia, the German Defence Minister stressed on having open channels with Russia. Few days ago, Sarkozy admitted that Russia has the right to protect Russian speaking communities while he was in Moscow. The German Chancellor Merkel said that Russia slightly overreacted in the press conference while she was in Moscow. It is noticeable that if one has not heard the event he would have find that some Western Media just omit few adjectives and adverbs that mean a lot. The Western Media omitted the word slightly when it commented about Merkel´s statement. When Bush warned Russia that now is not 1968 when the ex-Soviet Union conquered Czechoslovakia, he had to remember that now is not 1945, when Europe needed Marshal project. It is not only the energy that may dictate European independent policies about Russia but also security. The KJB servicemen are now serving in the Russian intelligence. They have contacts with communist terrorist groups as Badermienhoff in Germany, Bask Revolutionists in Spain, the Red Brigades in Italy, the Republican Army in Ireland, the Communists in Greece, the Kurds in Turkey, the Red Army in Japan and many others. With the Euro equals one and half dollar Europe does not want to risk its energy supply, economy, and its security.

Will be there another Cold War? Geopolitically, the American strategists will discover that they need Russia and the American media analysis told that. If there will be another Cold War it will be temporary and most probably the next American Administration will have another pack of policies. The US cannot risk Russia siding with China. This scenario means the end of Pax-Americana for good. The Neo-Cons´ militarization of foreign policy proved to be harmful. If the US and Russia did not agree soon, there might be a high level of violence in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the crisis, the US called for China to cooperate in Darfur. This means that the idea of giving a space for other superpowers is present in the strategic thinking in Washington. As both Russia and Georgia accuse each other of ethnic cleansing but the US chose to believe Georgia, the international court prosecutor Okambo, cannot issue an arrest warranty against Medevedv and Putin. He declared a very strange statement that he accused Bashir as a person not as a president. If Okambo was serious, then Bashir took his decisions about Darfur in the scope of being a president. Anyhow double standard policies was one of the causes that made Russia act as tit for tat, Kosovo for Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Saakashvili for its Serbian war criminals. Regardless of who committed crimes, the Russians tell the Americans that you established a rule stating that victorious dictates laws and now the Russian Bear is the victorious over an army that its weapons are American and its officers are trained by American and Israeli trainers.

Will the Caucasus war have reflections and implications on the Middle East? Iran may have a larger space for its nuclear file and Syria may show some strength in its negotiations with Israel. Yet, one should know that both the US and Russia will look after their interests. They both have the ability and the will to use force but not against each other. Interests dictate national security policies and dictate alliances with superpowers. As Europe guards its steps between the US and Russia, the Arabs should do the same. The US may accelerate the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and may change its policies about Iran to destroy its nuclear facilities to deprive Russia from having an ally who is already hostile to the West and the US in particular. One last word until Russia responds to the US in Latin America and in the Middle East there is no Cold War. The most important is the fact that making a country a card encourages others to play games for their interests. This is the story of the man who put his hand in the Bear´s mouth to satisfy others who used him as a Guinea Pig in the political laboratory.


The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power

The Russian invasion of Georgia has not changed the balance of power in Eurasia. It simply announced that the balance of power had already shifted. The United States has been absorbed in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as potential conflict with Iran and a destabilizing situation in Pakistan. It has no strategic ground forces in reserve and is in no position to intervene on the Russian periphery. This, as we have argued, has opened a window of opportunity for the Russians to reassert their influence in the former Soviet sphere. Moscow did not have to concern itself with the potential response of the United States or Europe; hence, the invasion did not shift the balance of power. The balance of power had already shifted, and it was up to the Russians when to make this public. They did that Aug. 8.

Let’s begin simply by reviewing the last few days. On the night of Thursday, Aug. 7, forces of the Republic of Georgia drove across the border of South Ossetia, a secessionist region of Georgia that has functioned as an independent entity since the fall of the Soviet Union. The forces drove on to the capital, Tskhinvali, which is close to the border. Georgian forces got bogged down while trying to take the city. In spite of heavy fighting, they never fully secured the city, nor the rest of South Ossetia. On the morning of Aug. 8, Russian forces entered South Ossetia, using armored and motorized infantry forces along with air power. South Ossetia was informally aligned with Russia, and Russia acted to prevent the region’s absorption by Georgia. Given the speed with which the Russians responded — within hours of the Georgian attack — the Russians were expecting the Georgian attack and were themselves at their jumping-off points. The counterattack was carefully planned and competently executed, and over the next 48 hours, the Russians succeeded in defeating the main Georgian force and forcing a retreat. By Sunday, Aug. 10, the Russians had consolidated their position in South Ossetia.

On Monday, the Russians extended their offensive into Georgia proper, attacking on two axes. One was south from South Ossetia to the Georgian city of Gori. The other drive was from Abkhazia, another secessionist region of Georgia aligned with the Russians. This drive was designed to cut the road between the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and its ports. By this point, the Russians had bombed the military airfields at Marneuli and Vaziani and appeared to have disabled radars at the international airport in Tbilisi. These moves brought Russian forces to within 40 miles of the Georgian capital, while making outside reinforcement and resupply of Georgian forces extremely difficult should anyone wish to undertake it.

The Mystery Behind the Georgian Invasion

In this simple chronicle, there is something quite mysterious: Why did the Georgians choose to invade South Ossetia on Thursday night? There had been a great deal of shelling by the South Ossetians of Georgian villages for the previous three nights, but while possibly more intense than usual, artillery exchanges were routine. The Georgians might not have fought well, but they committed fairly substantial forces that must have taken at the very least several days to deploy and supply. Georgia’s move was deliberate. The United States is Georgia’s closest ally. It maintained about 130 military advisers in Georgia, along with civilian advisers, contractors involved in all aspects of the Georgian government and people doing business in Georgia. It is inconceivable that the Americans were unaware of Georgia’s mobilization and intentions. It is also inconceivable that the Americans were unaware that the Russians had deployed substantial forces on the South Ossetian frontier. U.S. technical intelligence, from satellite imagery and signals intelligence to unmanned aerial vehicles, could not miss the fact that thousands of Russian troops were moving to forward positions. The Russians clearly knew the Georgians were ready to move. How could the United States not be aware of the Russians? Indeed, given the posture of Russian troops, how could intelligence analysts have missed the possibility that the Russians had laid a trap, hoping for a Georgian invasion to justify its own counterattack?

It is very difficult to imagine that the Georgians launched their attack against U.S. wishes. The Georgians rely on the United States, and they were in no position to defy it. This leaves two possibilities. The first is a massive breakdown in intelligence, in which the United States either was unaware of the existence of Russian forces, or knew of the Russian forces but — along with the Georgians — miscalculated Russia’s intentions. The second is that the United States, along with other countries, has viewed Russia through the prism of the 1990s, when the Russian military was in shambles and the Russian government was paralyzed. The United States has not seen Russia make a decisive military move beyond its borders since the Afghan war of the 1970s-1980s. The Russians had systematically avoided such moves for years. The United States had assumed that the Russians would not risk the consequences of an invasion.

If this was the case, then it points to the central reality of this situation: The Russians had changed dramatically, along with the balance of power in the region. They welcomed the opportunity to drive home the new reality, which was that they could invade Georgia and the United States and Europe could not respond. As for risk, they did not view the invasion as risky. Militarily, there was no counter. Economically, Russia is an energy exporter doing quite well — indeed, the Europeans need Russian energy even more than the Russians need to sell it to them. Politically, as we shall see, the Americans needed the Russians more than the Russians needed the Americans. Moscow’s calculus was that this was the moment to strike. The Russians had been building up to it for months, as we have discussed, and they struck.

The Western Encirclement of Russia

To understand Russian thinking, we need to look at two events. The first is the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. From the U.S. and European point of view, the Orange Revolution represented a triumph of democracy and Western influence. From the Russian point of view, as Moscow made clear, the Orange Revolution was a CIA-funded intrusion into the internal affairs of Ukraine, designed to draw Ukraine into NATO and add to the encirclement of Russia. U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton had promised the Russians that NATO would not expand into the former Soviet Union empire. That promise had already been broken in 1998 by NATO’s expansion to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — and again in the 2004 expansion, which absorbed not only the rest of the former Soviet satellites in what is now Central Europe, but also the three Baltic states, which had been components of the Soviet Union.

The Russians had tolerated all that, but the discussion of including Ukraine in NATO represented a fundamental threat to Russia’s national security. It would have rendered Russia indefensible and threatened to destabilize the Russian Federation itself. When the United States went so far as to suggest that Georgia be included as well, bringing NATO deeper into the Caucasus, the Russian conclusion — publicly stated — was that the United States in particular intended to encircle and break Russia. The second and lesser event was the decision by Europe and the United States to back Kosovo’s separation from Serbia. The Russians were friendly with Serbia, but the deeper issue for Russia was this: The principle of Europe since World War II was that, to prevent conflict, national borders would not be changed. If that principle were violated in Kosovo, other border shifts — including demands by various regions for independence from Russia — might follow. The Russians publicly and privately asked that Kosovo not be given formal independence, but instead continue its informal autonomy, which was the same thing in practical terms. Russia’s requests were ignored.

From the Ukrainian experience, the Russians became convinced that the United States was engaged in a plan of strategic encirclement and strangulation of Russia. From the Kosovo experience, they concluded that the United States and Europe were not prepared to consider Russian wishes even in fairly minor affairs. That was the breaking point. If Russian desires could not be accommodated even in a minor matter like this, then clearly Russia and the West were in conflict. For the Russians, as we said, the question was how to respond. Having declined to respond in Kosovo, the Russians decided to respond where they had all the cards: in South Ossetia. Moscow had two motives, the lesser of which was as a tit-for-tat over Kosovo. If Kosovo could be declared independent under Western sponsorship, then South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two breakaway regions of Georgia, could be declared independent under Russian sponsorship. Any objections from the United States and Europe would simply confirm their hypocrisy. This was important for internal Russian political reasons, but the second motive was far more important.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin once said that the fall of the Soviet Union was a geopolitical disaster. This didn’t mean that he wanted to retain the Soviet state; rather, it meant that the disintegration of the Soviet Union had created a situation in which Russian national security was threatened by Western interests. As an example, consider that during the Cold War, St. Petersburg was about 1,200 miles away from a NATO country. Today it is about 60 miles away from Estonia, a NATO member. The disintegration of the Soviet Union had left Russia surrounded by a group of countries hostile to Russian interests in various degrees and heavily influenced by the United States, Europe and, in some cases, China.

Resurrecting the Russian Sphere

Putin did not want to re-establish the Soviet Union, but he did want to re-establish the Russian sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union region. To accomplish that, he had to do two things. First, he had to re-establish the credibility of the Russian army as a fighting force, at least in the context of its region. Second, he had to establish that Western guarantees, including NATO membership, meant nothing in the face of Russian power. He did not want to confront NATO directly, but he did want to confront and defeat a power that was closely aligned with the United States, had U.S. support, aid and advisers and was widely seen as being under American protection. Georgia was the perfect choice. By invading Georgia as Russia did, Putin re-established the credibility of the Russian army. But far more importantly, by doing this Putin revealed an open secret: While the United States is tied down in the Middle East, American guarantees have no value. This lesson is not for American consumption. It is something that, from the Russian point of view, the Ukrainians, the Balts and the Central Asians need to digest. Indeed, it is a lesson Putin wants to transmit to Poland and the Czech Republic as well. The United States wants to place ballistic missile defense installations in those countries, and the Russians want them to understand that allowing this to happen increases their risk, not their security.

The Russians knew the United States would denounce their attack. This actually plays into Russian hands. The more vocal senior leaders are, the greater the contrast with their inaction, and the Russians wanted to drive home the idea that American guarantees are empty talk. The Russians also know something else that is of vital importance: For the United States, the Middle East is far more important than the Caucasus, and Iran is particularly important. The United States wants the Russians to participate in sanctions against Iran. Even more importantly, they do not want the Russians to sell weapons to Iran, particularly the highly effective S-300 air defense system. Georgia is a marginal issue to the United States; Iran is a central issue. The Russians are in a position to pose serious problems for the United States not only in Iran, but also with weapons sales to other countries, like Syria. Therefore, the United States has a problem — it either must reorient its strategy away from the Middle East and toward the Caucasus, or it has to seriously limit its response to Georgia to avoid a Russian counter in Iran. Even if the United States had an appetite for another war in Georgia at this time, it would have to calculate the Russian response in Iran — and possibly in Afghanistan.

In other words, the Russians have backed the Americans into a corner. The Europeans, who for the most part lack expeditionary militaries and are dependent upon Russian energy exports, have even fewer options. If nothing else happens, the Russians will have demonstrated that they have resumed their role as a regional power. Russia is not a global power by any means, but a significant regional power with lots of nuclear weapons and an economy that isn’t all too shabby at the moment. It has also compelled every state on the Russian periphery to re-evaluate its position relative to Moscow. As for Georgia, the Russians appear ready to demand the resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili. Militarily, that is their option. That is all they wanted to demonstrate, and they have demonstrated it. The war in Georgia, therefore, is Russia’s public return to great power status. This is not something that just happened — it has been unfolding ever since Putin took power, and with growing intensity in the past five years. Part of it has to do with the increase of Russian power, but a great deal of it has to do with the fact that the Middle Eastern wars have left the United States off-balance and short on resources. The Russian goal is to use that window to assert a new reality throughout the region while the Americans are tied down elsewhere and dependent on the Russians. The war was far from a surprise; it has been building for months. But the geopolitical foundations of the war have been building since 1992. Russia has been an empire for centuries. The last 15 years or so were not the new reality, but simply an aberration that would be rectified. And now it is being rectified.


Tbilisi Admits Misjudging Russia

Georgia did not believe Russia would respond to its offensive in South Ossetia and was completely unprepared for the counter-attack, the deputy defence minister has admitted. Batu Kutelia told the Financial Times that Georgia had made the decision to seize the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali despite the fact that its forces did not have enough anti-tank and air defences to protect themselves against the possibility of serious resistance. “Unfortunately, we attached a low priority to this,” he said, sitting at a desk with the flags of Georgia and Nato (to which Georgia does not belong) crossed behind him. “We did not prepare for this kind of eventuality.” The Georgian military felt there was only a low probability of a massive Russian counter-attack, despite the bloody way in which Russia destroyed Chechnya, on the other side of the Caucasus mountains, in two wars during the 1990s and the fact that separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia had Russian backing. Georgian forces were unprepared when the Russian counter-strike came, Mr Kutelia said. “I didn’t think it likely that a member of the UN Security Council and the OSCE would react like this,” Mr Kutelia said. His amazement that Russia would use force against a smaller neighbour was echoed by David Darchiashvili, head of the parliamentary European integration committee. “No one expected Russia would mobilise and invade,” he said. Georgia’s 20,000-man army, built up at a cost of $2bn with the help of US trainers and cast-off Warsaw Pact equipment, was organised to deal with “brushfire” wars with separatist enclaves on its borders and to contribute to missions such as Iraq as a way of shoring up Georgia’s ties with the west, not to do battle with Russia. Mr Kutelia still puts blame for the war squarely on the Russians and their South Ossetian allies, saying that in early August Ossetian fighters began to shell Georgian positions and villages.

He said Russia had begun to move heavy armour through the Roki tunnel from North Ossetia before President Mikheil Saakashvili unleashed his military against the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali on August 7, but offered no evidence to back this up. Mr Kutelia said that the Georgians moved despite not having enough anti-tank and air defences, not expecting the Russians to react with overwhelming force.“At some point there was no choice,” he said. Mr Kutelia said damage to Georgia’s military infrastructure was “significant”, and it would take an enormous amount of foreign help to rebuild Georgia’s defensive capabilities, something the Russians have promised to flatten again if they feel it poses a threat. Russian troops have entered many of Georgia’s military bases, often under the eyes of a cowed Georgian army. They have confiscated US Humvee vehicles, blown up coastguard vessels and ransacked some of Georgia’s most modern military bases, destroying radar and other air defences, as well as reportedly capturing Georgian tanks, small arms and ammunition. So far Russia has made no move to return its booty. The cost of Georgia’s lack of preparation could be seen earlier this week, when seven soldiers killed in earlier fighting were buried in a cemetery on a dusty hillside outside the capital. About 20 troops in fatigues, and one in black track pants, watched from the shade of a pine tree as a bulldozer pushed sandy soil into the long trench holding the bodies.


Georgia Facing Reality of Defeat

When Russian troops eventually pull out of Georgian towns such as Gori and Zugdidi, ordinary Georgians will heave a sigh of relief. But that will also be the moment that they take on board the fact that the two territories at the heart of the conflict with Moscow, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, although formally still regarded internationally as Georgian territory, are now essentially lost to them. The people who will suffer most in the long term from this conflict are more than 20,000 ethnic Georgians from a mosaic of villages in South Ossetia who have now mostly fled. Relatively few Georgians left during or after the small-scale 1990-92 conflict over South Ossetia and despite intermittent skirmishes and incidents, neighbourly contacts continued. Reporters who have passed through many of the villages in the last few days say they are now in ruins. The Russian authorities and their South Ossetian allies are now saying that they will not allow the Georgians back any time soon. A Russian foreign ministry statement on August 18 said, "It is clear that some time – and not a short period of time – must pass in order to heal the wounds and to restore confidence. Only after this, the conditions will be created for discussing practical aspects related to the problems of refugees." Hundreds of South Ossetians also lost their homes in the Georgian military assault of 7-8 August and, it appears, in the ensuing Russian counter-attack - but they have the small consolation of knowing they can start rebuilding them.

Russian leverage

The prospect is also now much bleaker for the 240,000 or so ethnic Georgians who were registered as displaced from the 1992-3 conflict in Abkhazia. Their hopes of return were predicated on a successful peace agreement which now looks more elusive than ever. Around 50,000 Georgians live in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali district under an Abkhaz administration. So far they have managed to stay in their homes, but their future is also more precarious. It is not just a matter of Georgian control. It will also be harder now to maintain an international presence in the two disputed regions. The final point in the six-point ceasefire plan reads: "Pending an international mechanism [in South Ossetia], Russian peacekeeping forces will implement additional security measures." That effectively puts an end to the former Joint Peacekeeping Forces, which had a Georgian contingent. It also gives Moscow even more leverage than before over the shape of any security arrangements for the region. Moscow is already insisting it can have the only real security presence there. "We are of course not against international peacekeepers... but the problem is that the Abkhaz and the Ossetians do not trust anyone except Russian peacekeepers," Russian president Dmitry Medvedev told German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Unattainable dream

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the only international organization with a mandate in South Ossetia, wants to dispatch an additional 100 monitors to South Ossetia. But Russia has dragged its feet, saying it wanted to agree the terms of their deployment in more detail and the OSCE has so far agreed to send just 20 more monitors. The OSCE had just nine military monitors on the ground in South Ossetia when fighting started there on 7-8 August. The European Union, with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner taking the lead, also says it want to provide peacekeepers, but Mr Kouchner's Swedish counterpart, Carl Bildt, admitted this might not work. "There are no signs of the Russians letting in anyone else," he said. In Abkhazia, the United Nations has a small contingent of around 130 unarmed monitors, who were bystanders in the recent crisis. When the Abkhaz, with Russian support, wanted to capture the mountainous Upper Kodori Gorge district from the Georgians, they merely gave the UN monitors there a 24-hour warning to leave. The EU has approved small aid programmes for both Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the last few years, but they have looked relatively modest when compared to the vast amount of Russian money coming into both regions. Abkhazia is bigger and more diverse than South Ossetia with a lively media and many non-governmental organizations. Many Abkhaz intellectuals dreamed of having some kind of independence free of both Georgia and Russia and with links across the Black Sea to the EU but that now looks unattainable.

'Double standards'

Internationally mediated peace talks over both disputes had stalled and there is little chance of them resuming properly any time soon. Faced with a tightening Russian grip, Western leaders can only fall back on expressing support for Georgia's right to these territories. US President George W Bush made this commitment on 16 August, saying: "Georgia's borders should command the same respect as every other nation's. There's no room for debate on this matter." This becomes a moral argument, with the Russians answering that after supporting Kosovo's unilateral secession from Serbia, the West is guilty of "double standards" in the Caucasus. Caught in the middle of these international wrangles are the current and former populations of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia – Abkhaz, Ossetians and other nationalities such as Armenians on the one hand, and the displaced Georgians on the other. They often get along fine when they have a chance to engage in low-level meetings arranged by foreign organisations or across market stalls. Now, unfortunately, they are being wrenched apart further than ever by conflict.


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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.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several anonymous visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what.Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Articles in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

Thank you as always for reading.