Sunday, August 17, 2008

Georgia: How it Happened

There is a truly brilliant bit of journalism in the Sunday Times News Review by their Moscow Correspondent Mark Franchetti. He has been with the Georgian and Russian forces in Georgia, but also gives an insightful analysis of the timeline of events which led to the conflict. I feel for the first time that I now understand how and why it happened. Here are a few of the more interesting points Franchetti makes...
When the history of the conflict comes to be written, it may be that a small incident on the road linking Georgia to Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, will be identified as the starting point of war. The US State Department’s internal timeline of the crisis pinpoints the explosion on August 1 of two roadside bombs, believed to have been planted by South Ossetian separatists sympathetic to Russia, as a decisive moment. Five Georgian policemen were injured, one severely. That night Georgian forces struck back. There was a furious firefight that left six South Ossetian rebels dead....

It now appears that August 1 was a well-prepared “provocation” – one of the Kremlin’s favourite tactics. Pavel Felgengauer, a Moscow authority on military affairs, claimed in Novaya Gazeta that the plan was for the “Ossetians to intentionally provoke the Georgians” so that “any response, harsh or soft, would be used as an occasion for the attack”. At last Russia was going to teach the Georgians a lesson...

Moscow argues that while it pulled back its troops from eastern Europe and allowed American forces into central Asia to fight in Afghanistan, the Americans have been invading its traditional sphere of influence.

“It’s a very emotional issue,” said a western diplomat. “Most Russians, not just the Kremlin, see Georgia as part of their world and take the fact that most Georgians aspire to join Nato as an act of betrayal. Add the paranoia about the West wanting a weak Russia and conspiring to encircle it and you have an explosive situation. On the other hand, Georgians clearly aspire to closer relations with the West because they fear Russia.”...

The stakes were raised this year when Kosovo gained independence, prompting Putin to increase support for Georgia’s breakaway republics. That came as an increasingly bullish Saakashvili prepared an assault to retake parts of Abkhazia. Western diplomatic sources last week revealed that in early May, Washington had put frantic pressure on the Georgian leader to stop him launching military operations.

“They only just managed to stop him,” said a source.

By the summer, attention had switched to South Ossetia. Russians and Georgians accused each other of straying into each other’s territory. Rice told Saakashvili at a private dinner on July 9 not to respond with military force. However, while she thought that her message was loud and clear, Saakashvili went on to thank her warmly for her “unwavering support for Georgia’s territorial integrity” and may have interpreted it as permission to act as he pleased. Within three weeks the clashes of August 1 had raised tension again.

Rice remained on holiday while Daniel Fried, the assistant secretary of state, took the role of keeping Georgia calm. Saakashvili also spoke on the phone to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, which holds the European Union presidency, and to Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief.

Western sources say neither they nor the Americans could restrain him; but the Georgian leader last week angrily said he had repeatedly warned Washington and EU countries that the Russians were preparing a military operation against Georgia but that he had been brushed aside.

On August 7 Fried took a call from Eka Tkeshelashvili, the 31-year-old Georgian foreign minister, who told him Russian tanks were advancing on South Ossetia in what appeared to be preparations for an attack. Fried warned her to avoid war but the message did not sink in, sources say. Ariel Cohen, a Russian expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, said there should have been direct talks with Saakashvili.

“They needed to be at a very high level, not at the level of Mr Fried. The American position should have not just been clear, but imperative.” A few hours after the call to Fried, in the early hours of Friday August 8, Georgia launched its offensive in South Ossetia, killing many civilians; and Russia responded with a huge show of force, bombing Georgia and invading a sovereign country for the first time since it seized Afghanistan in 1979...

A western mediator, who knows Saakashvili well, said that the West should have insisted on more checks and balances being introduced to control the Georgian leader’s hot temper. “He is high maintenance – very emotional – and can get carried away,” said the source. “He likes confrontation. The other problem is that he makes decisions with a kitchen cabinet of only four or five people sitting in his office at 5am, determining the fate of the nation. Decision-making is bound to suffer.

“The Russians have been provoking him big time and he has been held back many times. On this occasion he failed to keep his cool and did exactly what the Russians wanted him to do – overreact.”...

Ralph Peters, a former military intelligence analyst, said last week at a symposium on Georgia at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute: “The image for me will be the president going to a basketball game and flirting with the beach volleyball team.”

He added: “Vladimir Putin is the most effective leader in the world today. Nobody comes close. In contrast, President Bush is looking like Jimmy Carter when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. It’s tragic.”

Bush had thought he had Georgia in his pocket...However, he is regarded as “mercurial” – a polite way of saying that the Americans lost control of their client. “We’d been warned about Saakashvili for some time. Our advisers knew he wasn’t ready for prime time,” said Peters. “But he’s the democratically elected leader of Georgia. The Russians knew they could poke him and poke him until he responded.”

The overwhelming feeling from reading this account - and I do urge you to read the whole piece - is that the West took its collective eye off the ball. Whether the Russians interpreted this as a nod and a wink, or whether they correctly judged that NATO would not lift a finger, is anyone's guess. But the American reaction was late and weak. The international community seemed to delegate its reaction to the French president, who revelled a little too much in the limelight that he had been afforded. President Bush then played catch-up, but by then it was all a little too late.

The test now will be how the French inspired ceasfire will hold and whether the Russians will now withdraw their forces from the areas of Georgia they are currently occupying. Up to now they show little sign of doing so.


Madasafish said...

Fascinating how Georgia takes all the news.. Meanwhile in Aghanistan we are losing. And in Pakistan the President is on the verge of losing his position.
And teh taliban are regrouping..

Being totallly cynical,,, which I find means I am rarely diapppointed.. that suggests to me Georgia ia a welcome diversion from the real problems in the world..
As for the rissians, they are totally law abiding.

But in Russia Law = Force as BP has found..

Anyone who trusts the Russians is nuts. As is anyone who pokes them with a stick.

Just wait till ealy September.. when it all goes downhill.

As for Iran ,,,, it's forgotten...

War on three fronts anyone?

The Pax Americana has fallen apart.. Like the decline and fall of the Roman Empire it will take some time..

neil craig said...

No actual evodence that this 1 small bomb started it all or that Russia had anything to do with it. Despite claims that the US didn't ok it relations were cllearly close & it would be improbable that Georgia would have acted without an ok or that the 1,000 US troops training the Georgians (unmentioned in the article) didn't know what they were training them for.

The US made exactly the same claim about not approving the Krajina Holocaust & are generally considered to have ben lying there too.

No reporting in the British media of the Russoan offer
"Territorial Integrity of Georgia Impossible without Territorial Integrity of Serbia
"Preserving the territorial integrity of Georgia will not be possible without preserving the territorial integrity of Serbia in Kosovo and Metohija province", Russian Ambassador to NATO Dimitry Rogozin said in Brussels.

"It is unacceptable to recognize the unilateral independence of Kosovo province from Serbia and, at the same time, keep repeating the territorial integrity of Georgia must be respected when it comes to South Ossetia and Abkhazia", Rogozin said at the press conference.

"If we all respect the territorial integrity of Serbia in regards to its Kosovo province, then we are also going to honor the territorial integrity of Georgia."

If NATO sincerely & honestly believe in the rules of sovereignty then they will obviously immediately accept this.

It would be cyncial to suggest that the Russians made this offer precisely because they know NATO has absolutely no interest whatsoever in the international law the profess to support & wish to continue with their genocide, child sex slavery, drug running & organlegging. We shall see.

Anonymous said...

One thing is for certain, Our Dear Leader has been absolutely woeful throughout the entire episode. Can anyone remember such an amatuer response to a crisis such as this from a PM?

Anonymous said...

It all depends on who you choose to believe.

Raedwald said...

It's an interesting piece and may even be largely true - who knows.

Portillo's opinion piece in the ST is also worth noting. Like many of us, he asks whether Georgia (and by implication Ukraine) should ever be part of NATO, given that there would be little public enthusiasm for committing our forces to its defence. Unlike, I suspect, Poland or Hungary or the Baltic states.

The price of preserving an effective and credible NATO may well be to abandon both Ukraine and Georgia. Cameron should be suitably equivocal in his public support (Portillo seems to suggest) lest he needs to evolve to adopt this position.

Sabretache said...

Granted it's a thoughtful, well referenced piece; but its central thesis - that Russia was systematically provoking Saakashvili because it wanted him to over-react is no more born out by his evidence than that the US and NATO have been deliberately provoking Moscow with exactly the same intent. I know that Nato and the US are the goodies and would therefore never stoop to such tactics but, when you examine the way the entire episode is being reported in the US; when you note that John Mccain's campaign foreign policy man is a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government; when you listen to Zbigniew Brzezinski's take and prescriptions on the matter, when you note the propaganda gift it has been for the Republican campaign - plus a host of other disturbing post-facto shenanigans - then you realise that there were/are no 'Goodies' in the matter - just a couple of Bishop/Rook type moves on the Grand Chessboard with corresponding piece swaps as we head towards an end-game that is likely to become very unpleasant indeed for the West and its globalist ambitions.

hatfield girl said...

'The international community seemed to delegate its reaction to the French president,...'

As France are current holders of the EU presidency the rest of the European Union would require President Sarkozy to negotiate. One of the reasons they want the Lisbon constitution is to make permanent and European their foreign policy voice and its back up administration.

Which is why Gordon Brown's failure to speak clearly and loudly on the UK position, and the internal stand off between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary consuming all their time and attention instead of addressing the restart of the Cold War, is such an utter condemnation of Labour and its leadership.

Mr Cameron is quite right: the Prime Minister must have his holiday and then we must have a general election. The current situation is not just farcical - it's dangerous.

Anonymous said...

They've been bombed ,shelled,have Russian soldiers only miles from the Capital and things couldn't get any worse could they? Then Dave turns up for a pre conference photoshoot! It never rains but.....etc,etc.

Anonymous said...

The Georgian response to the supposed provocation seems to have involved killing 1,500 innocent people. Someone must be held to account for their deaths.

Anonymous said...

Both sides have been waiting for this for years.

We stayed with a friend's brother-in-law in Tbilisi last summer, and he spent an evening proudly showing off the combat weapons he kept behind the bookshelf in his tiny flat... they were partly for hunting, but mostly "for shooting russians, yes?".

He still had vivid memories of the '93 war, and was very aware that there is unfinished business in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The Georgians are expecting this to get worse before it gets better.

Anonymous said...

An interesting article on 'provoking war', published the day before the alleged provocation:

James Schneider said...

I find America taking its eye off the ball remarkably difficult to believe. There are 150 US military advisors in Georgia, plus many more technical advisors in various departments. It would be astounding if America did not give the go ahead. If it didn't then the State Department has to seriously reconsider Saakashvilli as a partner. If it had no idea then hundreds of people should be sacked. That would be a much larger story than this conflict. A break down of intelligence capabilities on that scale is simply unthinkable.

Other explanations have to be reached.
See what you make of this one:

Anonymous said...

If Saakasvilii was provoked it's because he was provokable. No reasonable politician would have tried to respond with force to what may have been Russian inspired skirmishes. Take to the airwaves, take it even to the useless UN, but don't take on the Russians unless you are prepared to go all the way. The Russians knew MS would lose the plot and the West wouldn't follow him. Nor should the West have done so. Not this time. We had better get used to getting along with the Russians as best we can. The present regime may not be ideal (so unlike ours in the UK then)but it's been worse -they don't want or need to take us on but they won't be humiliated either. This whole missile defence nonsense is just that. It's Cuba 1962 except that it's Poland (and let's not forget that back then it was Turkey too). It might fly but it won't work politically. It's crass beyond belief. Whatever its genuine intentions the Russians won't accept it. Nor should they. I'm sorry about the Americans. Such a loss compared with what they could have been, with what they once were. But it's been many years since they elected a competent, intelligent leader. The Russians have the intelligent leader now, and it shows.

Tapestry said...

Iraq - mistake
Kosovo - mistake.
Georgia into NATO - mistake.
Agreeing that non-existant EU army can replace NATO - mistake.

Bush has weakened the West to the point of extreme danger. We need coherent leadership urgently.

Bush will be gone by November. Obama (surely it will be he) will hopefully be capable of seeing how to neutralise the various threats we face.

America should back out of Kosovo (and her EU puppets), and be a lot more careful about barging into Russian space.

The Middle East is where the real threats lie. Russia should be an ally not an enemy.

Anonymous said...

"It now appears that August 1 was a well-prepared “provocation”

Always best to choose a helpful point to start counting from.

"At last Russia was going to teach the Georgians a lesson..."

You mean things might have happened before August 1?

"the West wanting a weak Russia and conspiring to encircle it"

You suggesting that isn't true?

"The stakes were raised this year when Kosovo gained independence, prompting Putin to increase support for Georgia’s breakaway republics."

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

"invading a sovereign country for the first time since it seized Afghanistan in 1979..."

So, a lot less foreign adventurism than from the NATO war criminals.

"Up to now they show little sign of doing so."

They also show little sign of not doing so.

Anonymous said...

"but don't take on the Russians unless you are prepared to go all the way"

Exactly, and that seems to be what some people want. Apparently for no reason other than to destroy Russia. Letting Georgia join NATO and stuffing missiles up Russia's backside are, in effect, preparations for war on Russia by the West.

tapestry said...

"Bush has weakened the West to the point of extreme danger."

Clinton and Bush. These clowns in Washington seem determined to give Russia a good name.

Dick the Prick said...

We need Berezovsky out of Blighty. And the diplomatic ruccus over Litvenenko should have consisted of the Foreign Secretary stating clearly "next time use a gun ya muppets, you're taking liberties".

Putin's pretty darned good and by being able to straddle the elction cycle he's got us good and proper. Good lad. Western politicians only want cash for their mates - liberty smiberty.

Roger Thornhill said...

Marco Polo Bridge, anyone?

I don't think either side took their eye off the ball. I suspect Russia knew what it was doing all along and the US also knew what was going on.

rosie said...

The latest from the incomparable and real conservative, Paul Craig Roberts
And a few home truths.

Anonymous said...

"Mr Cameron is quite right: the Prime Minister must have his holiday and then we must have a general election. The current situation is not just farcical - it's dangerous."

Cameron is on holiday too. He just popped across the border from Turkey into Georgia for a couple of hours just for the photoshoot.

Ross said...

"The Georgian response to the supposed provocation seems to have involved killing 1,500 innocent people."

No it hasn't, Russia claimed that but it was obvious to anyone with a remotely analytical mind that this was absurd, and Human Rights Watch's investigation into the claim demonstrates that pretty conclusively.

This is the latest in a long line of criminal Russian aggression that includes cyber war against Estonia, the murder of Alexander Litvinenko and attempted murder of Victor Yuschenko.

The only upside to all this is that Putin is still the same incompetent who screwed up the Kursk rescue and the Beslan siege and has managed to push the Ukraine solidly into the pro Western camp.

Dick the Prick said...

Ross, honey, there's absolutely no problem with a country taking out their double agents - that's an accepted rule of law - has been since time began. The minor problem (which has been blown out of all proportion) is their method.

I really don't think you can blame Putin for Beslan - what kind of utter psychos hijack a primary school?? Putin reckons there was outside funding for that - I hope to God he's wrong but that would explain some stuff.

rosie said...

Human Rights watch - funded by Soros!!!!
Very impartial I think not!!
Take a look at the 'Byzantine Art Blog' dated Aug 12th and just look at the fake pictures obviously taken in collusion with western journalists. What a farce.
Comparable to the phony pictures by ITN supposedly showing a Serb concentration camp - but the 'victims' just happened to outside not inside the non existent establishment.

hatfield girl said...

'Cameron is on holiday too.'

Right-o, 12.09pm, most of us are on holiday in August. But when we all get back, lets have a general election, as Mr Cameron so wisely suggests. We can't go on with Brown.

Anonymous said...

And it's no time to have a crowd of kids trying to run the Country either!

Owen Polley said...

Here is a much better article examining the causes of war. Unless of course you want to wallow in conspiracy theories and cartoon perfidious Russians which it seems Iain (in common with much of the media) does.

Anonymous said...

All things considered Browns actions on Georgia - absolutelty nothing - is considerably more useful than all the running round in circles & saying the sky is falling done by others. As a general rule doing nothing, while it may not get you headlines, is more often than not the best response to almost anything by government.

Anonymous said...

Chekow is right. It's really a bit depressing that the British right you too Iain, and it pains me to say it, bit not as much as it pains me to see it, seem so ready uncrtitically to assume that anything the Russians do is treachery and we must cling to the Americans because they are our sane friends. These wouldn't be the same Americans who sidelined Chruchill and signed over half of Europe to Stalin on the grounds that the British were imperialists and they could do business with Stalin. Which former world leader thought that the Second Coming was on its way and he might be the man to help it along? Was it a) Reagan, or b) Gorbachev? Does anyone think that the present lunatic in the White House is even better than Reagan. Because the present rulers in the Kremlin are a lot better than Stalin. They're not nice, but then they can't afford to be.

chicmac said...

So we are to believe that the Foreign Secretary and a senior aide, both of whom must have "Good communication skills." at the top of their CV, on two separate occasions did not make themselves clear.

Meanwhile, the agreement to deploy missiles in Poland, that's coincidental is it?

Once again the true nature of the Special Relationship becomes clear - the suspension of rational function by America's allys.

Anonymous said...

Interesting piece on the Russian strategic perspective from the former FT man in Moscow :

Many Considerations Could Have Sparked Russia’s Bloody Incursions Into Georgia But Security Of Oil And Gas Supplies Were And Are A Key Concern

Ossetia is a side show. It has been run as a criminal enterprise for the benefit of senior Russian army officers and their political patrons ever since the Georgians lost control of both provinces in the early 1990’s. This was thanks to the hostility and fear provoked by the violence and rapacity of the confused post-Soviet Georgian nationalist movement led by Georgia’s crazy first post-independence leader Zviad Ghamsakhurdia....

One of Russia’s broader foreign policy objectives is to maintain, and if possible strengthen, its current near monopoly of oil and gas transit from the Caspian region to the West...Moscow argues that there is no point adding to the CPC pipelines capacity to bring oil to the Black Sea until new pipelines are built to bypass the Bosphorous bottleneck. It is currently promoting a by-pass running from Burgas, where Lukoil now owns a big Bulgarian refinery, through to the Greek port of Alexandropolous in the Northern Agean. Moscow has secured the agreement of the Greek and Bulgarian governments, but insists that control be vested in Russia’s state owned pipeline monopoly Transneft.

Until now political objections to Russia’s plan to control the Bosphorous by-pass have been muted. But Bulgaria and Greece are both EU and Nato members and as the West thrashes around for an adequate, non-military response to Russia’s Georgian adventure a veto over Russian control of the Bosphorous by-pass would send a very sharp signal.

The energy security angle is interesting and fundamental - Caspian gas is a threat to Putin's attempts to monopolise Europe's gas supply, and Georgia is the main route out other than through Russia. Qv the efforts Putin has been making to buddy up with Algeria and Libya, and talk of a possible gas OPEC.

Shame that our politicians struggle to think ahead to 2010, let alone 2015-20 when the UK will be the world's single largest gas importer - energy security is a massive issue that none of the parties are even beginning to think about. Cute thing is that taking measures to reduce our consumption of gas can be sold as a response to voter concerns about energy prices, and the green thing, while also consoling the likes of me that someone, somewhere actually has a clue about the big issues. Moving to a Norwegian system for oil taxation would have similar advantages.