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Posted on Aug 12, 2008 in War College

Georgia-South Ossetia-Russia Conflict-Update August 12, 2008

By Jerry D. Morelock


–The View from Moscow. It is no state secret that Russian leadership continues to resent what it terms as “NATO’s aggressive actions” in Russia’s “near abroad” (independent countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union but which Russia considers to be in its sphere of influence – not unlike, in Russia’s eyes, how the U. S. historically has applied the Monroe Doctrine to the Western Hemisphere), and Moscow has been especially irritated by Georgia’s pro-NATO, pro-U. S. policy. In this regard, humiliating Georgia (or even precipitating a regime change if Georgian president Saakashvili can be forced out) can reestablish Russian influence in the Caucasus and not incidentally send a similar “be careful of cooperating with NATO” message to other near abroad nations (such as Ukraine and the Baltic nations). As far as Russia is concerned, it feels that what its forces are doing in South Ossetia should be viewed as little different than the U. S. and EU nations’ ill-advised and precipitous actions to facilitate Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, while the U. S.’ preemptive invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to Moscow, makes American protests about Russia’s military action against Georgia seem hypocritical and the application of a double standard.


–The View from Washington. To accusations that NATO is a Cold War relic that should have been disbanded when the Soviet Union (NATO’s raison d’etre ) collapsed in December 1991, U. S. leadership answers that NATO’s mission has “evolved” from its half-century focus on standing up to the Soviet threat to become one of the most effective means of applying the principle of collective security to counter threats in today’s world (sort of a “UN with guns” – an international organization that possesses the military means to actually do something about a crisis instead of “jawboning” about it ad infinitum). Additionally, NATO, through its member nations, serves as a forum for keeping those countries “engaged” in international issues whose scope extends beyond individual country concerns. In the current crisis, however, despite the fact that Russian resentment of NATO’s increasing involvement in Russia’s near abroad nations is an obviously underlying factor in Russia’s military action, it is inconceivable that American leaders would even consider looking to NATO for a military solution (although NATO councils remain an international forum within which U. S. leaders will undoubtedly seek to garner political support for assembling a “united front” for diplomatic actions against the Russian military intervention).

Georgian Defence Minister Davit Kezerashvili (2nd R) walks escorted by his security while walking in the streets of Gori. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today said Russia's military operations in Georgia "really do, now, need to stop" and called on all parties to "cease fire." MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images.–The View from the “Near Abroad.” In the years following the 1991 Soviet collapse, “near abroad” countries, like Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltics, joined newly independent nations in central Europe (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Rumania, etc.) in actively reaching out to NATO for cooperation, support, and membership. As I was told when I led a U. S. Army delegation to the Rumanian Staff College in Bucharest in 1996, “we see this era as a window of opportunity for us to build a relationship with the West as a hedge against future Russian imperialism” (Rumanian words, not mine). And while the thought of the newly-democratic Russia reestablishing a Soviet-like, Cold War-style hegemony over its former possessions and satellite countries seemed far-fetched to Westerners in the 1990s, perhaps the perception of those in Tbilisi, Warsaw, Kiev, Prague and Bucharest may have been sharpened by taking the “long view” of history. Outside of the current situation in Georgia (where it seems most likely that Russia will determine the conflict’s ultimate outcome), the leadership in Kiev must be the most nervous while watching the ongoing Georgia-South Ossetia-Russia conflict. Ukraine has a large ethnic Russian population (between 20 and 30-percent, mostly in the east and south) and until 1954 the Crimea was part of Russia (where the Russian Black Sea Fleet remains based at Sebastopol). Ethnic Russian Ukrainians (I am quite well-attuned to their perceptions as I am married to one) were not enthusiastic about the Orange Revolution that put Viktor Yushchenko in power, as historic antagonism between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians makes the ethnic Russians highly suspicious about any rise in Ukrainian nationalism. Russia’s justification of intervening in the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict that it is protecting “Russians” could just as easily be applied to the situation in Ukraine (although there is no violence in the case of Ukraine). Additionally, Ukraine’s eventual membership in NATO is no sure thing – only a minority of the country’s population supports it, which may give Russia encouragement that its actions against Georgia might convince Kiev’s leadership to stop bucking public opinion and drop its desire to become a NATO member. Yet, Russia’s heavy handed military action against its Georgian “near abroad” neighbor could conceivably backfire – after all, the Russian invasion seems to be justifying the fears I heard expressed in Bucharest 12 years ago. Instead of being cowed to back off from NATO, other near abroad countries might instead be even more encouraged to reach out to NATO if only for self protection.


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