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Posted on Aug 8, 2008 in War College

Insights into the Georgia – South Ossetia – Russia Conflict

By Jerry D. Morelock

Background

South Ossetia in Georgia. University of Texas.Before the Republic of Georgia won its independence when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, South Ossetia was semi-autonomous Oblast (an administrative division roughly equivalent to a province) within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. The region consists principally of rugged mountains, with little arable land for even subsistence agriculture. South Ossetia’s population consists of a majority of ethnic Ossetians and a minority of ethnic Georgians. Most of the population (both Ossetian and Georgian) are Christians, but there is a sizable Muslim minority (which Islamic activists, including agents from Chechnya, have been trying to radicalize with varying degrees of success). The region is economically underdeveloped (GDP works out to be about $250 per person per year), and a large share of South Ossetia’s legitimate income is generated by customs fees from commercial traffic through the Roki Tunnel that links Russia and Georgia. With few opportunities for legitimate employment, many South Ossetians make a living through illegal smuggling activities – attempts to eradicate smuggling (which robs Georgia of a significant source of income each year) have led Georgian authorities to undertake previous military actions.

During the Georgian civil war that followed independence, South Ossetian separatists established their own “independent” government, which led to armed conflict with Georgia (which claims the region as an integral part of Georgia). Attempts at political accommodation have had mixed results (South Ossetia is often treated as a de facto independent entity by Georgia), but the claimed independence of South Ossetia has not been officially recognized by any UN member state (the UN, EU, etc. continue to consider South Ossetia as part of Georgia). Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvilil, has made the reassertion of Georgian government authority in the country’s “breakaway” regions a political priority. Although successful in Ajaria (2004), his efforts have proven less so in Russian-backed Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

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Observations

—“Do as I say, not as I do.” Russia has inserted itself (politically and apparently militarily) into the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict, essentially barging into another country’s internal problem. This raises the question, “What would be the Russian reaction if an outside country tried to insert itself into Russia’s ongoing conflict with its own breakaway separatist movement in Chechnya?” Consider the Georgia-South Ossetia problem as “Russia-Chechnya without the Jihad.”

—“NATO, Nyet!” Exacerbating the situation in Georgia – from Russia’s point of view – is Georgia’s desire to become a NATO partner. In fact, US military trainers have been cooperating with the Georgian military for years (Georgian officers attend the US Army Command & General Staff College, for example) and the US has had military trainer teams in Georgia recently (there are no reports that any US military personnel are involved in the recent fighting, however). In fact, Russia tipped its hand in this regard when Yuri Popov stated on August 8, “Georgia’s military operation showed it could not be trusted and NATO should reconsider its plans to grant membership to Tbilisi.”

—“Hot Air” Don’t look for the UN or any other international group to step in and physically separate the warring factions any time soon. UN peacekeepers aren’t deployed to anyplace where fighting is actually occurring – and they must be invited in by both factions. Even if a Security Council resolution were passed to “do something,” Russia would exercise its veto, if such a resolution were not completely in line with Russian national interests. So far, the US has limited itself to issuing ineffective official press statements, such as “All sides should bring an immediate end to the violence and engage in direct talks to resolve this matter peacefully.”

—“My Country, Right or Wrong” Neither the Republic of Georgia nor the South Ossetian separatists are likely to quickly back down on the issue of South Ossetian independence. Saakashvili has invested too much political capital in his program of reasserting Georgian governmental control over the country’s breakaway regions to completely abandon his efforts. South Ossetian separatists are committed to gaining full independence for their “country,” despite the fact that South Ossetia’s bleak economic outlook hardly makes it a viable candidate for an independent nation – it would merely join the ranks of the world’s “basket case” countries, and could not survive without massive aid from Russia (and become, essentially, a Russian colony).

Jerry Morelock continues to provide ACG.com readers with updated information as the situation develops. Click here to read his August 10 report.

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15 Comments

  1. Thanks for the article!

    Regards,
    Alex
    CC

  2. IMHO Russia is right to resist NATO, which should more or less be disbanded or at least have its aggressiveness toned down since it was originally created to counter the USSR, which doesn’t exist anymore. Also, Putin may be somewhat tough and autocratic in our American eyes, but not every nation (read: Russia) needs or is suited for democracy. Also, democracy is not necessarily the single best form of government. We should always bear these thoughts in mind when dealing with other nations, esp. today’s Russia.

  3. Thanks for your comments Mr Wilson, you are right on the money. NATO should be disbanded as a cold war relic. Why are they expanding their circle of confusion? Why are they trying to encircle Russia? And how does their mandate extend to Afghanistan? They were created to counter the Warsaw Pact troops. Currently NATO is creating these problems to justify their own existence. Small countries like Georgia are being used as pawns by the United States and Europe and the poor people are paying with their lives. The level of hypocrisy and immorality in international relations is reaching a new high.

  4. Mr. Sudha,

    Thank you for the compliment. While I am not sure whether or not Russia is completely justified in her incursion into this conflict, especially since I don’t know nearly all of the facts in this case, I do know that I disapprove of NATO and the US’s current attitude towards Medvedev and Putin, which I consider overly and unecessarily aggressive and expansionist.

  5. It’s funny how nobody mentions what the author originally said about Russia inserting itself into another country’s affairs, but you point out that NATO and the US are doing that very thing… with vehemence. Which hypocrisy is worse, yours or theirs?

    Putin has reversed Russia’s gains since the Cold War ended, whether or not it is admitted here. Sure he has found sources of income to fuel the Russian economy… at the expense of Russian citizens (as usual). Robbing people of their wealth under false pretenses is a Soviet tactic, fostered by Putin, who is a Soviet to his very marrow, Cold War or no.

    Just because NATO is wrong doesn’t make Russia right.

  6. I absolutely agree with US Dude on this matter. The US attitude toward Putin is due to his unwillingness to relinquish power and the means he has gone to do so. Assassinations, rigged elections and similar activities should not be seen as “cultural differences,” but the abuse of a weak political structure in Russia. That said, the Russian people deserve better and we should not pretend otherwise.

  7. US Dude and Mr. Jackson,

    Please allow me to say that I am not supporting Putin per se, and do not think that he is “right”—only that he is not entirely wrong and evil, like most people think. Pointing out that NATO is wrong does not necessarily mean backing Putin 100%…I only sympathize with him with regards to aggressive NATO encroachment and the missile shield, etc. I do not support any assassinations or rigged elections, etc. that have gone on in Russia…though I do support a more humble and less hubrisitic U.S. and NATO foreign policy.

    Regards to you both,

    Alex
    CC

  8. Tactically speaking this is a old tactic as old as Sun Tzu. Speaking of old tactical deceptions, blaming the victim by silencing their voices/news was probably used best by America in the Tonkin Gulf Incident which was what President Johnson could come up with at short notice. Another major disinformation specialist was Bonaparte, who speeded home after declaring victory in Egypt after leaving his army stranded and defeated army to fend for itself in the Middle East. Controlling the press is always how the user of disinformation and blamingb the victim works best. Remember, Putin seized control of the media before he started every other subsequent seizure of America’s Cold War victory. It began with blamming the Chechens for blowing up several huge blocks of concrete apartment buildings killing 500 plus innocents.

  9. Mr Wilson I can’t agree with your assertion that democracy is not superior to every other form of government yet tried, regardless of which country it would be applied to. Can you name another form which is superior to it?

    Whether a country is yet ready for a modern democracy is another question entirely. Education of the electorate and establishment of democratic institutions is a prerequiste. Is Iraq or China ready yet? Probably not. Russia certainly may be.

    • Lol Yes “Marty” There IS A Better Form Of Government Re-Search ‘Meritocracy’ & While This May Not Be The “Best” Form Of Government Either It IS A “Better” Form Of Government Then That Of MAJORITY Vote……
      “A HOUSE DIVIDED AGAINST IT’S SELF CANNOT STAND!” [REPUBLiCAN/DEMOCRATIC PARTiES!] Boo-yah!!

  10. My personal view is that NATO should not be disbanded, just because the USSR is disbanded doesn’t mean that russia’s policies are not a threat to stability in th world, the NATO alliance forces by legal paper if one party is attack then they are all attacked. What greater deterent to war or bullying.

    Any of the major countries are still a threat to smaller nations in terms of miltary might and economic pressures, the guarentee indepences of these countries are paramount and with NATO especially in the areas of europe, it is unlikely there will be challenges through miltary force of smaller independant countries.

    NATO did a great job in the old yugoslavia, through the transision phases it had. Looking at those countries today is proof of there sucess.

    If anything how NATO operates is fair better process then how the UN works, and each member gets an equal voice. Just look at the security council the UN how it is not effective , especially when it comes to protect humans basic rights.

    Sometimes a fist has to be used to protect these rights, and the UN can never provide this.

  11. Since cold war ended with the breakdown of the mighty USSR empire is there any need of NATO to bring the former soviet republics under its umbrella by offering inducements to these poor countries. If these countries really need help this can be easily provided by moneytary and other means to prop up their economy than fortifying their military. Georgia, Poland and Czech Republics are good examples. Russia should be given all the help to recover from the aftermath of the breakdown of the USSR. Sadly, what we see is a well concerted move by USA and the NATO in their attempts to humiliate Russia. This can be very dangerous in fuelling ultra-nationalism the way Nazis came to power in Germany. There is also a definite double standard in the USA and its allies in its attitude towards Russia.
    If Kosovo can seccede why not South Ossetia and Abkhazia?? If Milesovic can be tried as a war criminal why not Saakashvili?? Why Chechens are freedom fighters and Talibans are terrorists. When USSR had invaded Afghanistan for the same reason the USA and NATO did (to eliminate terrorism and tyranny of religious fundamentalism) why did USA create the Talibans and armed them to their teeth. Divide and rule policy can sometime backfire and can create its own Frankensteins!! Its time for USA and its allies to learn form their mistakes and do some serious introspection.

  12. People
    of the world. You deceive! World mass media conduct propagation of a
    false information. Russia DID NOT ATTACK Georgia! 07.08.2008 at 22:00
    Georgia has attacked South Ossetia. At 3:30 08.08.2008 tanks of the
    Georgian armies have entered into city Tskhinvali. Artillery
    bombardment all the day long proceeded, fights with use of tanks and
    heavy combat material, both against ossetic armies, and against peace
    inhabitants were conducted. 2000 civil people already were lost. The
    Russian peacemakers have arrived to South Ossetia in the evening
    08.08.2008 for settlement of the conflict and prompting of the world in
    republic and protection of the Russian citizens living on territory of
    South Ossetia. Georgia has attacked South Ossetia on eve of Olympiad,
    it is top of cruelty and cynicism. Proofs and video-materials look on :

    http://www.1tvrus .com/ ,
    http://www.1t v.ru/owa/win/ort6_main.main ,
    http://www.rian.ru/ ,
    http://www.vesti.ru/news ,
    http://news.ntv.ru/ ,
    http://www.ren-tv.com/ ,
    http://www.newsru.com/ .
    We shall tell is not present to WAR!!!

  13. It’s all a question of wise policy. It cannot be wise policy to encircle Russia unless one is prepared to weigh the (probably notional) energy policy gains against the foreign policy nightmare. Russia has a history of resisting bullying. Her people will likely support her government in this.

  14. I wish them all, peace. One of these years, Russia & the US are going to find-out they have more in common than either will admit, right now. Both have right-wing nuts, have been surprise attacked multiple times, & I suspect are really trying to improve their lot in life for their people. In the US, we’ve been really blessed by God for getting so far so fast. I can understand some of the Russian “paranoia” about NATO & the EU in general. If we had a Napoleon & Hitler on our border in the past couple hundred years, we’d be very sensitive too. How far ahead would mankind be if the wars over the last 100+ years wouldn’t have been fought? Any idiot can build a bomb, we all need more people that can build other things, willing to do now for their future generations, I suspect that’s what keeps going wrong in Africa. Pure simple greed, seems to be a human condition we all need to address.

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