Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, August 08, 2008

A litttle bit about South Ossetia

Ossetia is one of the many regions of the Caucasus, like Chechnya or Ingushetia, that most people in the world don't know anything about. The Caucasus, as this map demonstrates, is a linguistic and ethnic crazy quilt. Drawing borders here is rather like trying to divvy up lasagna with chopsticks.

South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia in 1992, just after Georgia declared independence from the USSR. This was not recognized by anyone. So there is a peacekeeping arrangement there (not UN) with Georgians, Russians, and South Ossetians. They are Orthodox (Christian), but align more with Russians than Georgians.

Apparently, Georgia decided to regain control of the province last night after mobilizing reservists and sending them in. Russia has been increasingly exercising de facto control over the region. As mentioned, Russian troops are on the ground as "peacekeepers." Russia responded with massive violence today.

According to the London Times, "The area is of strategic importance, largely because of the BTC oil pipeline, which runs through central Georgia just south of the breakaway region. The pipeline... pumps around one per cent of global crude supplies from the Caspian to the Turkish port of Ceyhan for export to Western Europe but is already closed because of an attack in Turkey last week by the Kurdish separatist organisation PKK."

Some suggest that Russia is trying to distract attention from Abkhazia, another Georgian breakaway region where it has been pressured to make a peace deal and get out. The reasons behind Georgia's decision to prompt a military confrontation are not clear. It may be that Georgia hoped for a fait accompli. I certainly hope they did not expect US planes to come and help them.

It should make sense why NATO, Obama, Bush, and others are calling for *both* sides to back down. McCain's call for only Russia to "reverse course" shows that he does not understand that both sides are responsible for a breach of the peace. He wants to run the Cold War again. I think Russia is very much overreacting, but its soldiers are in harm's way. Grenada, anyone?


Raised By Republicans said...


From what I've heard it is far from clear that this round of fighting was provoked by the Georgians.

The Georgians claim that they offered a ceasefire to the Ossetian rebel groups and were fired upon in response to the offer. So they fired back at the rebels.

Since the Russians have unilaterally granted Russian citizenship to many of the Ossetians, Putin's government claimed that the Georgians were firing on Russians (not just Ossetian rebels). This became the pretext for a full scale Russian invasion to "protect Russian citizens."

Consider this. The Georgian military can't hope to stand up to Russia. Why would they start a shooting war with Russian troops? I think it is far more likely that the provocation came from the Ossetian Rebels - they stand to benefit most from a shooting war between Russia and Georgia. And I doubt very much that Russia has any real control over the rebels.

LTG, while there are some similarities with Grenada, I think this is far more like Sarajevo 1914 than Grenada. I don't think it will lead to WWIII (despite McCain's best efforts to screw it up). But the overlapping identities being exploited by Pan-Slavic nationalists to justify Russian expansion are very similar to what was going on in 1914 (albeit on a smaller scale).

By the way, Russian forces are now bombing cities in Georgia OUTSIDE OF THE OSSETIAN REGION.

The Law Talking Guy said...

There are various comments in the press that the Georgians thought they could pull a fast one and that the Russians wouldn't react the way they did. It was a gamble; it did not pay off.

I think it was a poor gamble. It is absolutely true that Russia has been bullying Georgia for some time, but taking them on in this fashion was a very poor move for Georgia. It allowed Russia to do what it hitherto could not - openly use military force against Georgia.

I don't see why the all caps for 'outside the ossetian region.' Ossetia is quite small, and there's not much surprise that in taking on Georgian forces, the Russians are likely to extend the air campaign to the support network outside.

I think you may misunderstand the facts on the ground. There isn't a group of South Ossetian rebels fighting against the Georgians in S. Ossetia on an ongoing basis, supported by Russia. That happened in 1992, but the situation has since been replaced by an international regime of sorts.

The Ossetian "government" is basically funded and equiped by russia - everyone knows this. They aren't really an independent force with independent goals. Russia has tried to get the 40,000 Ossetians (that's all there are - a few small villages) to break away. It has awarded them Russian citizenship and funded their self-rule. It's somewhat like the USA getting Panama to break away from Colombia.

However, the status quo prior to Thursday was a peacekeeping regime in South Ossetia - not Georgian rule! That situation could have been left in place indefinitely. It was to Georgia's strategic benefit to do so, frankly. The Georgian government decided, in response to Russia's moves to increase its control over South Ossetia, to mobilize its reserves and send its soldiers across the line into South Ossetia. For a day, they had control over most of the region.

It's important to realize that Georgia took a risk here, a risk that it could change the situation on the ground to its advantage. It seriously miscalculated. Russia has responded abominably, taking advantage of Georgia's serious misstep to openly pursue military action. However, the world community cannot reasonably demand that the Russian government to simply retreat from S. Ossetia and abandon the peacekeeping regime if it chooses not to. The goal of the international community must be to re-establish the status quo from, er, Wednesday - not to demand recognition of Georgian control over S. Ossetia.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I just want to emphasize two things: 1) McCain is making the wrong move to suggest the Russians recognize Georgia's military control over S. Ossetia; rather, McCain should be calling for a restoration of the status quo, as is everyone else; 2) The Caucasus region is a godawful mess, and it is an historical accident, not a matter of right and wrong, that Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan are independent countries, while Ossetia, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Circassia, Dagestan, and Abkhazia are not independent. Georgia's demand to control Ossetia and Abkhazia seems more legitimate than Russia's only because the Stalin -a Georgian,btw -drew the borders that way (without any input from anyone else) deliberately to make ethnically unstable republics that would require outside (Soviet) military support to survive. The best solution for the Caucasus would be to turn the whole region over to a set of UN mandates and allow new national boundaries to be drawn. Border fetishism fixating on these weird Soviet borders is not a good idea.

Raised By Republicans said...

The reason for the all caps is that it puts the lie to the Putin line that the Russians are on some sort of saintly rescue mission. They're invading a neighboring country. We can debate wether the invasion is justified or not but that's what it is.

As for the "facts on the ground" the BBC says that this began when a cease fire between Georgian troops and Ossetian troops fell apart when Ossetian troops provoked the Georgians.

I think what happened was much different than LTG's theory of Georgian Aleinschuld would suggest. The Georgians were NOT provoking the Russians and hoping to get away with it. Rather, according to the BBC, it was the Ossetian rebel groups that provoked a fight that they would largely be bystanders in. They got Georgia to overreact to them, then Russia overreacted to Georgia.

Just like Sarajevo in 1914. Some piss-ant little group of ethnic fundamentalists trying to move a border a few miles one way or the other got two nation states to go to war against each other.

USWest said...

Sorry, LTG when I logged on this morning, I didn't see this post. I didn't mean to steal your thunder.