Category Archives: Russia-Georgia conflict

The (second) Georgian war will not take place?

Will there or won’t there be another Russian attack on Georgia?  Since I raised the issue in my Wall Street Journal op-ed a few days ago, a follow-up.

In a July 7 article on Grani.ru, Andrei Piontkovsky, one of the commentators who have warned most strongly about the possibility of a new war this summer, writes that he now believes the risk is considerably reduced.

Why?  For one thing, Piontkovsky (not a big Obama fan) thinks “Obama has done what he could,” both by bringing up Georgia during his Moscow visit — apparently in rather firm tones — and by sending Vice President Biden to Tbilisi.  (There’s a new function of the Veep role: a human shield!)

However, he believes the actions of another president — the president of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan — may have been even more important.

On June 26, an amazing event happened in Yerevan.  In the midst of the anti-Georgian bacchanal in all of the pro-Kremlin media, the president of Armenia, Russia’s only remaining ally not just in the Caucasus but in the entire post-Soviet space, solemnly and very publicly bestowed on Mikhail Saakasvili the highest Armenian state award – the Order of Honor.

Such things in the Caucasus are never accidental.  Serzh Sargsyan, who is in many ways dependent on Moscow, would have never permitted himself to simply taunt the Kremlin.  He would be risking too much for such a dubious pleasure.  It was a well-thought-out demonstration, a deliberate attempt to stop the madmen in Russia’s political and military leadership who were preparing for a second Georgian war, which would have been devastating to the entire Caucasus and to Russia.

It seems to me that this act probably affected our wannabe geopolitical strategists more than any other argument.  If they are losing even Armenia, what “zone of privileged interests” do they have left?  As if on command, the active phase of psychological preparation for the war – the articles and interviews of the Dugins and the Dorenkos about the inevitability of a Georgian attack on Russia – came to a halt.

More here on the award to Saakashvili and his trip to Armenia, and some reactions from Russia.

(By the way, the title of this post is an obscure pun.)

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Russia/Georgia: Slide to war?

Today’s New York Times has a story on a Georgian defector who is getting a lot of play in the Russian media with claims that Mikhail Saakashvili is mobilizing for a new war with Russia.

Does this lend credibility to speculation, which I reported yesterday, that Russia may be gearing up for a Georgian War II — with the goal of bringing down the hated Georgian government, humiliating the Americans, distracting the public from bad economic news, and justifying an authoritarian crackdown at home?  (Adrian Piontkovsky, one of the commentators I mentioned, also believes that this is a move by the “Putin faction” in the Kremlin to reverse the drift of real power from ex-President and current Prime Minister Putin to his appointed successor, Dmitry Medvedev.)

Perhaps; at least, the defector story certainly fits with a campaign to prepare public opinion for a new armed conflict with Georgia.  And it does coincide with imminent large-scale Russian military exercises in the Northern Caucasus, specifically in the annexed Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the only possible opponent for Russian troops is Georgia.

That said, I stand by my view that a new war is highly unlikely.  It would mean a major, long-term rupture with the West, and I don’t think the Kremlin boys really want to find themselves locked into Cold War II with no one but Hugo Chavez, Raoul Castro, Hamas and (if he’s still around) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for company.  If Russia did succeed in installing a puppet regime in Tbilisi, it would mean de facto occupation, with a very high risk of getting bogged down in a protracted guerilla war.  This, at a time when nearby regions within the Russian Federation (Dagestan, Ingushetia) are already a powder keg, and things in Chechnya are not as stable as they’re reputed to be.  In short, it seems like so colossally stupid a move that even the Putinistas would (I hope) know better.

As I said yesterday, a far more likely scenario is long-term, low-level undeclared warfare aimed at intimidating, destabilizing, and discrediting the Georgian government.  The latest incident with the defector certainly fits with that pattern as well.  Barack Obama’s trip to Russia is coming up on July 5-6 — at the same time, as it happens, as the military exercises in the Northern Caucasus.  A strong message of respect for the sovereignty of Georgia (and Russia’s other neighbors on “post-Soviet space”) would be essential.

(Cross-posted to RealClearPolitics blogs.)

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More Kremlin follies: Russia vs. Georgia, redux?

Today’s New York Times has a harsh editorial castigating Moscow’s latest exercise in stupid self-assertion:

In a depressing sequel to its petty and destructive war against Georgia last summer, Russia has now cast a petty and destructive veto in the United Nations Security Council, compelling the abrupt withdrawal of 130 badly needed international military monitors from Georgia’s secessionist region of Abkhazia.

It was petty because Russia’s larger interest lies in calming, not stirring up, secessionist ambitions in the Caucasus, a violently fractured part of the world that includes other restive regions like Chechnya. And it was destructive because whatever hopes the Russian-backed Abkhazian separatists might still retain for a semblance of international legitimacy vanishes with the withdrawal of the United Nations mission.

….

Moscow’s heavy-handed meddling has isolated Abkhazia, and Russia. Only Russia and Nicaragua recognized the “independence” Abkhazia proclaimed after the Russian incursion last summer. This month Russia voted alone in the Security Council to evict the monitors.

They could have added that Russia suffered an embarrassing setback in its quest for recognition for Abkhazia and South Ossetia when former pal Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus took the first half a $500 million loan that was a tacit bribe for recognition, and then didn’t come through.

The Times is quite right that further destabilization and growth of separatism in the region would be detrimental to Russia more than anyone else; hardly a day goes by without deadly violence, including assassinations of high-level officials and military officers, in places like Ingushetia and Dagestan.   But of course, for the Kremlin leadership, muscle-flexing and ego-tripping counts for a lot more than such practical considerations.

Meanwhile, Russia is planning large-scale military exercises near the Georgian border; not only will these exercises take place in “independent” Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but they are pretty clearly directed at Georgia — at the very least, to send a signal.  Adrian Piontkovsky, writing on Grani.ru (Russian text), speculates that Russia may be preparing for Georgian War II.

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Filed under Dmitry Medvedev, Russia, Russia-Georgia conflict, Vladimir Putin, War