CHINATOWN, New York (August 10, 2008)
If one sees South Ossetia as a bear cub of Mother Bear Russia, one may want to turn one's eyes away from the fate of the small creature (say a racoon, i.e., Republic of Georgia) that threatened such a much larger beast. Out on the icy surface of geopolitical reality, the "frozen conflict" is heatedly engaged.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has set in motion actions that may prove very dangerous for us all. The question is the degree to which the Russians are willing to withstand international pressure while taking territory. Russia as the "Gazprom Inc." petrostate covets control of the pipeline from Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea energy fields.
The military weight advantage of Russia over Georgia is overwhelming: 650,00 versus 30,000 personnel; 200 versus 13,000 tanks and APC's; combat aircraft 1200 versus handful; 7500 artillery pieces versus roughly a hundred. (Source: Jane's Assessments) At this posting, Russian naval operations are encircling the Black Sea side while tank-lead Russian occupation forces are pouring south into the area around Gori, Georgia and down through Abkhazia.
The warnings were clear. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin especially, warned repeatedly of "serious consequences" if South Ossetia was "provocative." Putin was explicitly clear that "Russia will not and can not accept a NATO presence in Georgia." Kosovo's separation from Serbia in February was one more factor leading to this unfortunate turn of international events. The Russians substantially upped the volume of the growl since April. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has specifically and repeatedly threatened that Georgian efforts to join NATO “will lead to renewed bloodshed.”
Strategic considerations in the Caucasus Mountains have lead Russia to military action for over 200 years. The 1989-1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union led to serious fighting then followed by 19 years of "unsettled conflict" as it has been characterized. It is notable that linguistically, the Ossetians are of Persian rather than Caucasus lineage. Culturally, their history is connected to the north. Local tensions include competition for scarce water and fuel between the 80%-majority Ossetians (many of whom now possess Russian passports) and the Georgians.
13th Century - Ossetians pushed south into the Caucusus by the Mongols
1783 - Georgia accepts protectorate status under Catherine the Great
1801 - Russia annexes Georgia
Dec. 1879 - Josef Stalin born in Gori, Georgia
1914-1918 - World War One
1918-1920's - Russian Revolution and aftermath; flu pandemic
1930's - Bloody purges under Georgian Communist Party chief Beria
1941-1945 - World War Two
1948-1985 - The Cold War between the Warsaw Pact and NATO/U.S.A.
1989-1991 - Collapse of the Soviet Union
1990-1991 - South Ossetians fight for separation from Georgia
1991 - Georgia declares independence from Russia. Shevardnadze became president
1992-1994 - Abkhazia fights for separation from Georgia and Russian re-unification
2003 - Shevardnadze overthrown
2004 - The Rose Revolution elects Mikheil Saakashvili as Georgian President
Summer 2004 - Georgian troops re-enter South Ossetia to restore "territorial integrity" and order against banditry
Winter 2006 - Russia imposes food embargoes, cuts transportation and energy
Summer 2006 - Georgia sends troops back into Abkhazia
2006 - South Ossetian referendum votes for full independence
February 2008 - Kosovo independence recognized. Russian Duma votes to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia
April 2008 - Georgia's Saakashvili demands reversal and supplies mobilization
May-July 2008 - Violence, bellicosity, military over-flights and insults escalate on all sides
August 2008 - Georgians surround and attack Ossetian city of Tskhinvali; Russians invade; state of war is decreed and mobilization expanded; 2000 troops flown back to Georgia from Iraq by Americans
Russia has made itself clear. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin: "War has started." Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: “We will do anything not to allow Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO.” The West is calling for ceasefires. ///