It is amazing to read the news about Georgia's new little war. Article after article has the same pattern: they mention many instances of Georgian aggression and duplicity. But in the end they seem inable to take the final step: to see Georgia instead of Russia as the main aggressor.
It is clear that Georgia started the war with the attack on the capital of South-Ossetia. Georgia tries to avoid the blame by saying that they were shelled from Ossetian territory. One source points out that the Ossetians might have liked to provoke a major Georgian attack. But for violations of an armistice you have procedures that Georgia didn't follow. Also the occurrence of the attack on the opening day of the Olympic Games suggests that Georgia had planned this long before. Besides that: this source (Jamestown Foundation) is closely related to the CIA and the articles don't even pretend to be neutral. A more balanced account of the the run-up to the war gives this article.
We see also the same Western attempts to mediate that somehow don't seem to be totally sincere. Specially as at the same time the conflict is painted as a classical east-west fight with Russia as the bad guy.
The big question is the US role. There are many US military trainers in Georgia and I suspect that they not only knew about the imminent attacks but actually were and are involved behind the screens - just like in the Krajna. The same strategy (burning of houses of the minority and driving them out while claiming "this is our land") is used in both places. Some sources mention black soldiers and uniforms that might be from US military contractors like Blackwater.
It looks that Russia - unlike Serbia - doesn't let it happen. That may be a disappointment for the Georgian government. But I have the feeling that they have calculated this. First of all this seems an opportunity for the US to test Russia's military capabilities. For Georgia with its inferiority complex a few symbolic victories (like the shooting of some planes) will be enough for Saakashvili to claim some kind of victory. And we will be bombed with propaganda about those pitiful Georgians - propaganda aimed to isolate Russia and bring Georgia closer to NATO membership.
Some neo-cons try to paint the present conflict as the next phase in a long history of Russian aggression. But somehow they always forget to tell that the Chechen rebellions were supported from Georgian territory. That is also a reason that a Georgian NATO membership is taboo for Russia.
Russia has now invaded Georgia proper. Their aims are not totally clear. But without doubt they want to teach Saakashvili that his military adventurism is no longer acceptable and should stop.
A few months ago Georgia amassed troops in order to attack Abchazia. Russia thwarted this by increasing its number of troops and by shooting down a unmanned plane. In my opinion this was a moderate and justified answer to the challenge. Yet despite this Russia became the target of fierce American criticism. It looks like Russia has concluded from that episode that it doesn't matter how they behave: this will be criticized anyway when Washington feels hindered in its expansionism.
During discussions in the UN Russia proposed a 3 line resolution that asked all parties to renounce violence. But Georgia opposes giving up this "right" and instead wants to a resolution that only stresses Georgia's territorial integrity. The US, the UK and France supported Georgia and defeated the Russian resolution.
A final question is why the US would support such an attack and at this moment. There are at least two options:
- the heating up of the Cold War might help McCain in the presidential elections. McCain's top foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann worked at the same time for McCain and for Georgia.
- this may be a maneuver to keep Russia busy while the US prepares a boycott (or more) of Iran. Many US warships are at the moment sailing to Iran.
For news about Georgia see here and here.
Postscipt 1: The Messenger - a Georgian newspaper - reports reports about senior US military commander Bantz J. Craddock visited Georgia on 21 august, holding a joint briefing with President Saakashvili.
Postscript 2: Asian Times discusses what the US administration knew of the Georgian attack.
Postscript 3: The Georgian version of the story keeps changing. Here and here is the latest version.
Postscript 4: Here is a map showing which areas of South-Ossetia were controlled by Georgia before the war.
Postscript 5: According to the Russian blogosphere the death count of 2000 for the Georgian offensive seems a reasonable estimate. And yes, they did interview the doctor that HRW spoke to.
Other englishlanguage Russian blogs of interest are Russian Navy Blog, Exercises in translation.
Postscript 6: Putin has accused the US that it orchestrated the Georgian attack. As evidence he mentioned that US military advisers had been in the border zone with South Ossetia.
Postscript 7: This story is by Georgian artillery men. They are very proud of the effiency of their bombing of the Russians in South Ossetia and they claim that Russia burnt the woods in Georgia in order to find artillery weapons that were hidden there.
Postscript 8: For a general overview over the military side see here. This article discusses the performance of the Russian air force. And this one that of the Russian and Georgian navy.
Postscript 9: The title of this article speaks for itself: How I became a soldier in the Georgia-Russia cyberwar.
Postscript 10: My dinners with Misha shows another side of Saakashvili.
Postscript 11: "This article gives a good overview of Georgia's relationship with Israel. Here another article with more links and discussion from an Israeli newspaper.
Postscript 12: The site Osetinfo gives the Ossetian view, including a casualty list. At the moment of writing it contained 365 names.
Postscript 13: This site describes a travel from Tskhinvali to the Roki tunnel.
Postscript 14: As Centralized Rule Wanes, Ethnic Tension Rises Anew in Soviet Georgia is a NY Times article from 1991 about how Gamsakhurdia drove out many Ossetians.
Postscript 15: According to this article Joseph R. Wood, Cheney's deputy assistant for national security affairs, was in Georgia shortly before the war began. Cheney claims Wood was just preparing a visit by Cheney ...
Postscript 16: Johnson's Russia List
Postscript 17: On 28 october the BBC published an article claiming that it had evidence that Georgia had committed war crimes by massively attacking a civilian building. With the article is a movie from Georgia and Ossetia.
Posscript 18: The South Ossetian leader blamed the OSCE for not warning them for the Georgian attack. In an interview with OSCE observer Ryan Grist he agreed that the OSCE had failed in this respect. According to him the observers on the ground sent a warning, but it was ignored in the higher levels of the organisation. Here is an audio track with an interview with Grist (item 741) on 9 august when he was still optimistic. Grist later resigned from the OSCE for unknown reasons. In this light South Ossetia's criticism of the OSCE mission seems justified.
Postscript 19: On 10 november Business Week had an article summing up the evidence so far.
Postscript 20: The article "Georgia: a danger to itself and Transcaucasian stability" by George Hewitt provides a nice overview of the Georgian and Western folly that led to the war.
Postscript 21: MPRI, the US defense contractor that trained the Croat army for Operation storm, was active in Georgia too.
Postscript 22: Circassion World is an interesting blog.
Postscript 23: Here an Amnesty International report published on 7 august 2009