Russia-Georgia War: Part 2?

According to Georgian media reports, defensive fortifications have been set up around Tbilisi. The Georgian Defense Ministry neither confirms nor denies this. If worse comes to worst, how long will the capital hold out against Russian assault, and will the West come to Georgia’s aid militarily?

Russia has begun its second round of “war games”, using tens of thousands of troops. These exercises run from June 29, scheduled to end July 6. Although they are not really trustworthy, the Chechen Muslim rebels (Caucasus Emirate: Umara of Caucasian Mujahideen*) have noted that there are a lot more Russian troops in the region than reported. Formal military exercises involve 8,500 soldiers, 200 tanks, 450 armored vehicles and 250 artillery pieces. But, as Russian authorities confirm:

“All the brigades of the North Caucasus Military District, and also the armies of Air Forces and Air Defense, Caspian Flotilla, Novorossiysk naval base, FSB troops, the North Caucasian regional command of Internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia and Airborne troops would be involved in the exercises”.

Even a pro-Russian Chechen fighter is talking up the likelihood of a new war. One Vakha Gelayev, a former fighter from the Vostok (“East”) batallion, a pro-Russian Chechen batallion that participated in the Georgia war last August, says that: 

”A new Russian-Georgian war will happen. The Russians are getting ready for this war. Everyone in the Northern Caucasus is talking about it. Russian generals get drunk and they all keep blabbing that there’ll be a new war this summer.”

During an online conference of “Novaya Gazeta (New Gazette)” Mikhail Kasyanov [leader of the People’s Democratic Union] said that, according to activists of the RPDU, in the past number of weeks military units have been hurriedly transferred to the Caucasus by night: “Armored vehicles that are being transported there are no less than those on the eve of the August conflict in South Ossetia last year,” Kasyanov said.

What’s most significant about these exercises is that they’re taking place within the occupied territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, almost exactly as Russia did last year before the war — a dress rehearsal before the real deal. A confidential assessment by EU diplomats (according to The International Crisis Group) indicates that “Russian reinforcements have included tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, and “Grad” multiple-rocket launchers and that an additional 5,000 troops, added to the 3,700 in each region, have entered South Ossetia and Abkhazia since April, 2009.”

Now, this simply could be Russia putting maximum pressure on Georgia and the West, and it could certainly be played out over and over again, like the sword of Damacles constantly hanging over Georgia’s head. However, Russian tanks are now less than 2 hours away from Tbilisi. Previously the Georgians could buy themselves at least 48 hours to alert the world to their plight; which is essentially what they did last time. At the very least, these exercises allow Putin to keep all of his options open, if he really does want to continue where he left off last year.

In fact, several Russian war aims remain unfulfilled:

• The overthrow of Saakashvili’s pro-Western government, and the installation of a pro-Kremlin regime [the Russians, again, attempted to do this via a poorly conceived and executed military coup a few months ago].

• The control of the oil/gas pipelines running through Georgia.

• The crippling and embargo of Georgia’s economy.

• The destruction of Georgia’s military forces.

A second Russian invasion of Georgia would be a complete disaster for the U.S, and for Europe. It would cause a continued breakdown of U.S/Russian relations, because the U.S. has supported the Georgians in the past. And if the West continues to be weak, and the Russians brazen, it could signify a collapse of post WW II foreign policy, and an end to Europe’s hopes for energy independence from Russia.

It would be by far the most tragic event for the post-Soviet states, who would once again fall within Russia’s sphere of influence. If the U.S. could not come to Georgia’s aid, then these countries would see their security futures tied exclusively to Russia. They would be thinking that it is better to have Russia as a friend than as an enemy. Since Russia is now far more authoritarian than it was during the 90’s (a mafia state bordering on a rogue state), this means far less free societies. It might appear a price worth paying but, to quote David Satter, “Russia can have at its borders only enemies or vassals”.

If nothing bad happens this time, the Georgians are still going to have many sleepless July-September nights, for many years to come.

30 June, 2009


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