Chechen fighters of the Russian army at the site of a rout of the Georgian forces
The Russian “peace enforcement” operation on the territory of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Georgia has met its goals. The country’s political leaders and military commanders announced that they are withdrawing troops from the conflict zone. It is still too soon to speak about an end to the conflict between Georgia and the unrecognised republics, but, the results of Russia’s military operation can already be summed up. Likewise, one can sum up the results of some world processes and consider possible future developments.
So, the tensions that have been building up between Russia and the West, especially with the USA, since the late 1990s erupted to the surface, the masks of beatific political correctness and cooperation in the global war on terror are off. We witness the start of a new spiral in history , once again, the history of confrontation between two superpowers, each trying to shape the world to its liking. Like every avalanche, this one began with a speck of sand, Georgia’s attempt to establish “constitutional order” in South Ossetia. That operation merits a closer look. The omnibus term “establishing constitutional order” can mean almost diametrically opposite things at different historical junctures. Nonetheless, though, there are some basic characteristics that must be present in any operation that claims that name.
To what extent did Georgia’s operation to restore constitutional order in South Ossetia meet these characteristics? The first characteristic is selective fire on illegal armed units and minimisation of civilian casualties. Obviously, this operation does not qualify, Georgian artillery shelled Tskhinvali and surrounding villages, and many instances of murder and violence against civilians are known. The second and no less important characteristic is the humanitarian component, namely, a commitment to early restoration of law and order and life support for civilians in the zone of operations. That component takes the shape of deployment of a network of medical aid centres, field hospitals, and stocks of food, water, and other necessities in the area to ease the suffering of innocent civilians in the context of a military operation. Georgia did none of these things.
On balance, Georgia’s actions before and during the invasion of South Ossetia suggest that the aim of the Georgian leadership was to exterminate South Ossetia’s non-Georgian population or cause it to flee to Russia. Under the Russian Criminal Code, such actions are described as genocide. In addition, Georgia directly violated international norms by opening fire on Russian peacekeeping units, and what is more, Georgian peacekeepers took part in firing. Based on these combined characteristics, the Russian response to the shelling and subsequent invasion by Georgian troops which began in the early hours of 8 August 2008 was absolutely legitimate; the troops of the 58th Army of the North Caucasus Military District moved in to help the peacekeepers. As early as the night of 8 August, there were reports of air strikes on Georgian troops. Many military experts believe that without these raids the South Ossetian militia would not have beaten off the first assault on Tskhinvali. After midday, Russian ground troops began to be deployed in the city area and the first military groups approached Tskhinvali and engaged in fighting. A “distribution of roles” took shape, the fighting in the towns and villages was done by the local militia and volunteers, whilst Russian troops only engaged with the more-or-less organised Georgian army groups that were more than a match for the militia. Russia also undertook to suppress Georgian artillery and the Russian Air Force launched strikes on Georgia’s logistical infrastructure.
Monument to Iosif Stalin in his birthplace of Gori in Georgia. There is no difference between Stalin’s treatment of minority nationalities and the methods of Saakashvili… I take that back, I agree with Mayor Luzhkov of Moscow, he said that Saakashvili is to be compared with Hitler, as he intended to kill off an entire people.
Russian special ops units were set the task to counter Georgian commando raids. According to available information, Russian special ops units prevented Georgian saboteurs from blowing up the Roki Tunnel, the main link between Russia and South Ossetia. The destruction of the tunnel would have greatly complicated operations, as the capacity of the other roads is not sufficient for military movements. Fighting in the Tskhinvali area lasted for three days and nights, by the end of which time, Georgian artillery was either destroyed or had left its positions from which it could shell the city, and Georgian ground troops pulled out of the city. Throughout the operation the Russian Army was bound by a number of political restrictions that prevented it from using heavy weaponry against populated areas, which seriously limited its capacity to neutralise artillery batteries.
Throughout the operation, until 12 August inclusive, the Russian Air Force bombed Georgian military infrastructure to prevent its Armed Forces from continuing the war. The Navy was also involved in the operation; a group of Black Sea Fleet ships patrolled the coasts of Abkhazia and Georgia. By 11 August, the Georgian Army ceased to exist as an organised force; pictures of the flight of Georgian troops from South Ossetia, Gori, and other regions were shown throughout the world. The troops escaped to the south, mainly to the Tbilisi area, abandoning their vehicles and equipment. Meanwhile, the Russian Armed Forces, jointly with Abkhaz and South Ossetian units, took the fighting into Georgia proper, seizing abandoned equipment and destroying what remained of the military infrastructure. On 12 August, President Medvedev announced that the operation was complete.
The five-day war revealed both the Russian Army’s strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, the speedy deployment, the methodical and planned way in which it suppressed Georgian artillery and infrastructure, the success of its anti-sabotage actions, and the quick disintegration of the Georgian Army are to the credit of the Russian command and staff structures at all levels. On the other hand, some shortcomings were revealed, the Georgian air defence systems were not fully neutralised, army units lacked modern weapons and vehicles, and its communications were obviously obsolescent. The Russian military command admitted some of the shortcomings, Colonel General Nogovitsyn, who covered the Russian actions for the press throughout the operation, admitted that the loss of a Tu-22MR bomber exposed shortcomings in the Air Force personnel training.
In parallel with the military operation, an information and diplomatic war was unfolding, as the Russian representatives at the UN and NATO, Vitaly Churkin and Dmitri Rogozin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Prime Minister and President appeared on all channels defending Russia’s position and substantiating its actions. Combined with the practically unanimous position of the Russian press, it enabled Russia to avoid the unqualified defeat in the information war that has invariably happened over the past 20 years; even some in Western Europe took the Russian side. In fact only the USA, Britain, and some Eastern European countries unreservedly backed Georgia, and that support did not go beyond words of sympathy and demands that Russia immediately pull out its troops.
Russian forces in Gori in Georgia, destroying military equipment and buildings at a military base. The Georgian forces fled without firing a shot well before the Russian forces arrived in the area.
Thus the West demonstrated to the whole world that it was not united on such a fundamental issue as the “defence of a young democracy”. Moreover, a new geopolitical reality came into being, a bloc, if only a temporary one, of Russia and Western Europe (Germany, France, Italy, and, maybe, Spain) against the USA and the East European countries. Even Russia’s traditional geopolitical adversary, Turkey, expressed support for Russia. The Turkish Premier, who flew to Moscow for talks, backed Russia’s efforts at pacification of the region. Later reports said that Turkey refused to allow American naval ships into the Black Sea. But despite these successes, Russia can hardly claim to have won the information war; the opposing flood of information is too powerful. Most likely, the outcome of the information war can be described as a tie.
It is hard to predict how the situation will develop. The positions of the main players in the world arena, in this case, unquestionably Russia and the USA, look irreconcilable. Russia is clearly seeking recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and the criminal investigation initiated by Russian law enforcement bodies into charges of “genocide” implies the responsibility of those who initiated the operation from the Georgian side, including its leaders. Neighbouring countries have also been drawn into the conflict, one such country is the Ukraine, where there are clear signs of a deepening political crisis.
Whilst I recognise that any forecast in this volatile situation is sure to be inaccurate and most probably wrong, one can still try to predict the overall directions in which the situation may develop. Obviously, the past two weeks have changed the world dramatically, the tensions between Russia and the USA that for a long time were hidden behind the veil of political correctness have come to the fore. Neither Russia nor the USA intends to yield ground, which suggests a new spiral of the Cold War and global confrontation between the two powers from the post-Soviet space to Latin America. The fact that the US missile defence system is directed against Russia became obvious after Poland hastily agreed to deploy US interceptor missiles in exchange for the delivery of modern air defence systems to protect it against a hypothetical Russian strike. In turn, Russian officials reaffirmed their warning that in the event of a conflict, the deployment sites of the missile defence systems would be priority targets.
As for the region itself, one may expect to see another change of power in Georgia in the foreseeable future. Mikhail Saakashvili, who lost the war and whose personal behaviour is far from impeccable, is unpopular in his country and in the West. One should not however entertain illusions that pro-Russian forces will win, their present position in Georgian society is too weak to hope for anything serious. One may also see a dismantling of the CIS in its present form, as Russia’s allies will probably strengthen cooperation within the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which may soon have new members.
20 August 2008
The biggest loser in this war was the sickly successor-state known as “the Ukraine”. It is time for straight talk on this area and its people. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the Galician Uniate diaspora is disproportionately represented in the countries of the Anglosphere, distortions in this have been disseminated amongst the political classes in these countries.
Prior to 1991, there never was an organised and formal “Ukrainian” state per se. The Skoropadsky entity fell apart after the withdrawal of Central Powers troops in 1918, and the Nazi construct under Gauleiter Erich Koch was a colonial entity, not a state. Indeed, the very word “Ukrainian” does not exist in any real sense prior to the 19th century. What is now known as “Ukrainian nationalism” originated in the Hapsburg territory of the Western Ukraine centred on Lvov, an area that is still the stronghold of such sentiment. It was a tool of the Hapsburgs used to weaken the Russian state, and it was embodied in the Uniate Catholic church (a Polish construct of the period of the Commonwealth).
Improvised underground hospital ward in Tskhinvali during the Georgian siege. The hospital was directly targeted on the orders of Saakashvili. Yushchenko sold munitions to Georgia and flew to Tbilisi to support the thug Saakashvili, so, he shares his guilt (as do all Ukrainian nationalists and Condi Rice, as well).
The so-called “Ukrainian nationalists” are the biggest losers in the present war, and it is a sign that the notional “Ukrainian” state is not long for this world. Only 23 percent of the population of this state speaks” “Ukrainian” as their mother-tongue, the rest are Russophones, incorporated in this “state” due to Soviet borders. Do not be fooled by loud noises in the Western (especially English language) press. Yushchenko, the head of the Kiev junta, is making foolish accusations against his political rivals, especially Yuliya Timoshenko, which indicates a political crisis in the very near term. He knows what buttons to push with the Western chattering classes because he is married to an American-born woman, just as Saakashvili knew what buttons to push based on his American education. Both are unaware that realpolitik is going to have the same result… an American disengagement from a potentially dangerous confrontation with a revived, strong, and assertive Russia.
Many Russians have family names ending in “o”, rather than “ov”. It merely means that their families migrated from Little Russia at one time or another. We are all Russians, of the same nationality, of the same background, and of the same faith. There is no “Ukrainian” language, merely a South Russian peasant dialect that is dying out in the modern world. In short, there is no call for a “Western intervention” in the Ukraine, just as there was no call for such an action in the Caucasus.
If you thought the Caucasian imbroglio was an “interesting situation”, I assure you, there is more to come. The Empire is going to be restored, for the benefit of all the Russias. Furthermore, the American neocons are going to find they are as powerless to stop that as they were to stop this situation. They are nothing but King Canutes ordering the tide to stop flowing in. If I recall it rightly, the tides did not listen to King Canute… they flowed in, regardless of his order. Hmm…