This new Georgian-Russian war puzzles me. I mean, I’m not really puzzled by the fact that it started, or why it started (there’s a short Q&A by the Beeb, if you need basic info), but rather by how it started. From what I understand it was Georgia which started serious military operations, presumably aimed at subjugating South Ossetia. What I don’t understands is, what exactly was Georgian leadership (especially President Mikheil Saakashvili) thinking.
Mikheil Saakashvili caught on BBC camera running for cover (source)
I can imagine that it is not easy for Georgia and its leadership to live in Russia’s shadow and in what Moscow clearly identifies as its sphere of influence. Spheres of influence are an ugly 19th-century concept which has contributed vastly to the outbreak of both World Wars, was institutionalised during the Cold War as a “bi-polar world” and was thought to have died away in the nineties with the emergence of the New World Order (courtesy George Bush, sr.). The hard reality, however, is that it has not died away and that as Russia is getting back on its feet, the pendulum is swinging backwards from where it came and that the dynamic balance of powers is shifting yet again.
However laden with local colour and animosities, the Georgian-Russian war is not just about territory, historical rights and wrongs and bringing the former Soviet republic back under the flap of Mother Russia. This has to do with Georgia’s aim to enter NATO and gain leverage against Russia.
Namely: Georgia almost got an invitation to NATO months ago, but didn’t. Hoever, it would seem that the very prospect of being encircled by NATO is making Moscow very nervous. Until now, however, Russia played ball, although Vlad Putin and his protegee Dmitri Medvedev have increasingly been making noises about how things cannot be allowed to go on like that. Hoever, to date all Russina activity has been limited to diplomatic and/or economic areas. The US (with a little help from the EU) has driven a hard bargain against the Russians, enabling NATO to establish itself along stretches of Russian border (the Baltic, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, most notably Afghanistan). But Caucus was apparently seen as too risky even for some NATO members as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put Georgian NATO membership on ice. Add to that the fact that NATO as a whole and the US especially lost most of its detterant-power in the Iraq fiasco, Russia saw a window of opportunity to stem the tide of Western influence running along its borders all the way to China.
But reality on the ground is such, that Russia seems to be aiming for a complete victory. Military and probably otherwise as well. According to latest reports is it isolating Georgian capital Tbilisi, probably trying to have President Saakashvili replaced (softcore version) or arrest him (hardcore version) – not unlike what the United States did in Iraq. Moreover, since the US launched an unlawful aggression against a sovereign state in 2003 it has little moral ground to point the finger at Russia, which today is doing the exact same thing.
Moral of the story (if one can use that particular word at all): international laws apply to some countries more than they apply to the others. But that’s nothing new, is it? And that is why one wonders what Mikheil Saakashvili was thinking when he launched an attack against South Ossetia days ago. Oh, and scenes of him running for cover don’t look to good either…
EDIT@1230 CET: According to the BBC, Russian president Dmitri Medvedev ordered “an end to Georgia operation”. Is this is, or is it merely a tactical ploy?