Thursday, August 14, 2008

Background: The Russia-Georgia Conflict

Why are they Fighting?
The Possible Consequences

On August 8th 2008 the Russian army moved into the area of South Ossetia in the Caucasus region. South Ossetia is a part of Georgia that wants to break away. The current round of fighting had been going on for at least a week between the S. Ossetians and Georgian forces before the Russian Army moved into South Ossetia in force. This is not a new conflict in a region of the world where conflict is common. However, this time it could be different and could trigger a full-scale regional war.

A look into the background of the region and the conflict would be the logical place to start.

Readers can see from the map above that there is no shortage of ethnic groups in the region. This is one of the reasons why the area is no stranger to conflict.

The South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions separated from the central Georgian government during a conflict in the early 1990's. There is no love lost between Moscow and Tbilisi because Georgia wants closer ties to the West (NATO membership being a part of that) and Russia gives political/military and economic support to the breakaway regions.

The Russians are claiming that they moved military forces in South Ossetia to protect their citizens from attack by Georgian forces. This is a smokescreen of BS, pure and simple. The Russians are trying to reclaim their great power status. They don't like a former region of the USSR not only going independent but also preferring NATO membership instead of closer ties with Moscow. The second reason is one of energy routes to the western world. Here is a map of pipeline routes in the region:

The map above highlight the importance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline. This is a line that does not move through Russian territory. The Russians don't like the situation because they have no control over this pipeline; the Russians have already bombed this pipeline. If the original reason for Russian forces to be sent into South Ossetia was for the "Humanitarian reasons" they claimed, then why are they hitting a pipeline inside Georgia proper?

What are the true Russian motivations behind this action?

First, they want to remind all the now-independent countries who used to be part of the old USSR not to wander too far away or consider displeasing Moscow. NATO membership for these countries in not in the Russian interest, nor is something that is likely to be tolerated.

Second , Moscow has always had an inferiority complex. Beating up on a small independent country is a way to show the world that Moscow wants respect. This move by Russia had to be planned long ago. The best proof of this is the speed that the army units moved into the area. Ralph Peters provides background, plus a 'big picture' look at what these events in Raping Georgia, Russia Invades an American Ally

The military comparison between Georgia and Russia is truly a bully vs. underdog story. But it isn't totally bleak for the Georgians. They have been training to Western standards for a couple years now. [Georgia Security & Stability Operations (Georgia SSOP)]

In fact, since the middle of July there has been a multi-national exercise being conducted in Georgia that has included US forces: Immediate Response 08

[See also: Operation Immediate Response begins in Country of Georgia]

The Georgian military is fighting on home soil. They are fighting for their nation. They know the land and hopefully can use that knowledge to their benefit. The Russian military today is not the Red Army of World War 2, in fact it is not even the Red army of the Cold War. Today's Russian forces are badly-treated conscripts, not volunteers. This means they probably don't even want to be in the military, much less getting ordered into a invasion. Plus, there are some serious corruption issues in the Russian military.

Even though Russia is a oil-producer/exporter and has enjoyed good economic times from the rise in energy prices, surprisingly, not a whole lot of this money has been spent on the Russian military. A look at the TV footage of the conflict, one sees a lot of older Russian vehicles. But many in the Russian invasion force are badly-educated/trained and poorly-treated conscripts who have a hard time using more modern equipment.

This could devolve into a really bad situation in any number of ways. If any U.S. forces in-country for the above training exercise or the new forces arriving to provide humanitarian assistance get caught in the line of fire by the Russians, it could get ugly. The Ukrainians (another former Soviet republic that has no love for Russia) are talking about not allowing the Russian navy ships taking part in the Georgian conflict return to their harbors in Ukrainian territory.

Bottom line: if the USA and the West truly believe in democracy and the rule of law, they need to step up with one voice and tell Russia this won't be tolerated, period. If we don't, Russia will continue to regain control of their former regions using every tool at their disposal. This could result in a frosty relationship between Russia and the West.

One Cold War was enough, the world doesn't need Part 2.

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