Saturday, August 16, 2008

Russian-Georgian Conflict

Good explanation of the conflict from the Patriot Post

Russian into Georgia

On Tuesday, Russia agreed to a cease-fire after five days of fighting in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and its breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The cease-fire plan was the brainchild of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who pragmatically declared, “We don’t yet have peace.” Indeed, Russian forces continue to advance into Georgia despite the cease-fire agreement, and a third of the country’s territory is now under Russian control.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili agreed to the truce in principal, but expressed concern that it does not include any reference to Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia or Abkhazia, and that the agreement restricts the movement of Georgia’s military within the country’s own borders. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has traveled to Tbilisi where she will attempt to further develop and refine the cease-fire agreement between Georgia and Russia, but without the threat of U.S. military action, the Russian Bear knows that it can defy any agreement with impunity.

Russia’s military adventures in Georgia have been portrayed in the U.S. media as the result of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Napoleonic ambitions, but the truth is more complicated. The ethnic regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in 1992 with Russian support. But Georgia has never relinquished its claims of sovereignty, and President Saakashvili provided the kindling for the current conflict when he sent troops into South Ossetia on 7 August in an attempt to bring the region back under Georgian control. The majority of South Ossetians are Russian citizens holding Russian passports, so Moscow’s forceful response to the Georgian incursion was predictable. What was also predictable (though perhaps it did not occur to President Saakashvili) was that Russia would use Georgia’s act of aggression as a pretext for escalating the conflict beyond South Ossetia’s borders and invading Georgia itself. It is at this point that the differing views on the conflict (Russia as the victim vs. Russia as the bully) begin to converge: Georgia did in fact provoke a Russian military response by invading South Ossetia and killing civilians there (though the confirmed death toll was in the dozens, not thousands as Russia claims), and Russia has in fact taken advantage of the situation to once again put Russian boots on Georgian soil in a sort of Soviet Union redux.

None of this discounts the fact that Russia has imperialist ambitions in Eastern Europe. In the past week, Russia warned the former Soviet bloc countries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland that they would “pay” for criticizing Russia’s actions in Georgia. And there can be little doubt that Prime Minister Putin intends to punish Georgia for its rapprochement with the West and its aspirations for NATO membership. However, by invading South Ossetia, President Saakashvili conceded the moral high ground early and ensured that his chief ally, U.S. President George W. Bush, would find himself in a very difficult position. Far from being “slow to act” or “timid,” President Bush knows that history will record that Georgia pulled the trigger first, however disproportionate Russia’s response.