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Posted on Aug 11, 2008 in War College

Georgia-South Ossetia-Russia Conflict: Update, August 10

By Jerry D. Morelock

Observations:

—Although Georgia has announced that a “state of war” exists with Russia, this is not a formal declaration of war against its giant neighbor. Russia has overwhelming military power readily available in the region that it could throw against the much smaller country and the contest would be far from an equal one. Georgia will be unable to prevent Russia from incorporating South Ossetia (and possibly Abkhazia as well) into Russia, if that is what Moscow intends to do. Georgia must pin its hopes on resolving the conflict on the international community – although any settlement will most likely be one dictated by Moscow, which holds all the trump cards in this situation.

—Russia, which calls the former Soviet Union republics on its periphery the “near abroad,” perceives them to be still in Russia’s sphere of influence, and has deeply resented what Moscow sees as NATO’s increasing incursion. Georgia’s warm relations with the US and NATO have been troubling and irritating to Moscow for years. The South Ossetian conflict, therefore, seems like a golden opportunity for Russia to roll back NATO incursion by cowing Georgia and to reestablish Moscow’s dominant influence in its “near abroad” in the Caucasus. Russia’s claims that Georgia’s recent attempt to reestablish control of its breakaway region got the “green light” from NATO may seem far-fetched to unbiased outside observers, yet the Kremlin’s paranoia is far from limited to only the Stalinist era.

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—Russian president Dmitri Medvedev’s vow to punish those who have killed Russian citizens and peacekeepers seems especially disingenuous. Russia has given out Russian passports to South Ossetians (technically Georgian citizens) like it was passing out lollypops over the past few years, in essence, setting the stage for sending Russian troops into the Georgian breakaway region under the guise of “protecting Russian citizens” (the action might be likened to Mexico sending troops into Arizona to “protect Mexican citizens” although in this case the “Mexican citizens” would be illegal aliens). Moreover, our experience with Russian peacekeepers in Bosnia has shown that the Russians are far from neutral, and have usually taken sides with and actively armed and supported those factions whom Moscow supports (Serbs in the case of Bosnia, South Ossetian separatists in the current conflict). Given Russian “peacekeeper” behavior, it seems likely that Georgian resentment of the probable support the Russian peacekeeping force has most likely given South Ossetian separatists is the chief cause of any Russian peacekeeper casualties.

—The Ukrainian threat to expel the Russian Black Sea Fleet from its base in Sebastopol in the Crimea (or even the barring of those Russian ships that deployed to the Georgian coast) seems like an empty one. From first hand observation, I observed how important the Russian Black Sea Fleet is to the otherwise strapped economy of Sebastopol. It seems highly unlikely that Ukraine would expel the Russian fleet, lest it prove disastrous to Sebastopol’s economy.

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—Learn more in our forum for the conflict between Georgia and Russia.

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