Georgia: The First Shot in a New Cold War

The more things change, the more they stay the same. In a replay of classic Soviet interventions from the cold war, using the flimsiest of contrived pretexts, Russia came to the rescue of a supposedly beleaguered minority in South Ossetia, a sparsely populated mountainous region and unimportant to Russian national security. Unimportant, but for the fact that Georgia, in which this afflicted minority resides, is a West-leaning democratic nation and US ally with aspirations of joining NATO. It is also a strategic conduit for oil from the surrounding region to the Black Sea and Europe.

In this larger context, we can surmise what Russia actually intends by its actions. This crisis was carefully choreographed by Moscow with Ossetia militia members firing on Georgian forces with weapons provided by Russian "peacekeepers," until they provoked a reaction, providing the excuse for an invasion.

Far from the localized "peace keeping" intervention to stop what the Russian foreign ministry called "genocide" in Ossetia, Russian bombers hit oil installations in Georgia, the main transit pipeline, its largest port and the international airport. A Russian tank division and artillery poured across Georgia's northern border and Russian ships blockaded it harbors while landing ground forces in Abkhazia, another separatist enclave on the Black sea. It now looks like Russia will prosecute a three-pronged attack on Georgia, and will likely continue until it can replace the government of Mikhail Saakashailli, turn around his reforms, and install a leader more pliable to Russian persuasion. Russia will not respond to Georgia's request for a cease-fire until its military objectives have been reached.

It is obvious Putin pulls the strings in Moscow and President Medvedev is his creature. Putin's vision of a resurgent Russia is ambitious and includes renewed support for Cuba, military aid for Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and arms for Iran. He is a scion of the old KGB, with no qualms about assassinating unflattering journalists or political opponents, or removing an uncooperative head of state in Russia's sphere of influence. A communist at heart and a dictator by nature, Putin plans to rebuild the empire lost when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Russia is now a world oil power and growing economically. Putin understands energy is the weak underbelly of Europe. Controlling a large part of the oil flow gives him enormous leverage. European Union hand wringing was a given, its futile protests brushed aside. The Russians bet on the US being distracted by the upcoming election, its President made a lame duck by a Democrat-controlled Congress. Indeed, President Bush would be hard pressed to aid Georgia however much he wished. Not much of a gamble for Putin.

Apologists for Russia will soon surface. Already left-leaning pundits are blaming Georgia for provoking its own invasion and using the crisis for political ends.

"McCain took an inflexible approach to addressing this issue by focusing heavily on one side, without a pragmatic assessment of the situation," ..."It's both sides' fault - both have been somewhat provocative with each other," 
 - Mark Brzezinski,   a former Clinton White House National Security Council member and adviser to the Obama Campaign.

In the typically muddled, ill-informed realpolitik we expect from the left, we hear "It's both sides' fault," a justification to do nothing. It is troubling how foreign policy elites can make such nonsensical statements, ignoring all the evidence, just to appear reasoned and measured. That credulous moral equivalence encourages the Putins of the world. Presidential hopeful Barrack Obama condemned the violence in general terms, assigning no blame and predictably calling for UN intervention. When decisive action is called for, dialing the UN does not cut it, not when the stakes are this high.

The New York Times quoted   a Georgian officer leaving Ossetia:

A Georgian major who only gave his name as Georgy said, "Over the past few years, I lived in a democratic country, and I was happy. Now America and the European Union spit on us." He was driving an armored truck out of South Ossetia.

It is easy to understand the Major's frustration and anger. Georgia is a small country and its armed forces are fighting insurmountable odds. For him, it is his family that will suffer and his men that will die. He will likely fight to the bitter end to defend the young nation he loves. The Georgian armed forces are not yet defeated, not by a long shot, and they will continue to give good account of themselves. Georgia has successfully resisted Russia's political intimidation in its elections and interference with its internal affairs. Though it is resisting the Russian army now, without help, the results are predictable; the full weight of Russian military power will crush them.

As so many times in the past, from the fall of Hungary and Czechoslovakia to Cambodia, Afghanistan and Kuwait, we know that the price of inaction in the face of aggression is tragedy and suffering for countless innocents, a price far above the sacrifice required to meet aggression head on.

The reaction of the US, NATO and the EU will determine the future of not only Georgia, but also every former Soviet republic that has the temerity to form alliances outside of Russia's control; the Ukraine, the Baltic Republics and other uncooperative nations will experience similar manipulation and intimidation. Most already are. If we let this invasion go unchallenged and end in disaster for Georgia, all our high-minded talk about democracy and freedom will mean nothing. Major Georgy is fighting for the principles we claim to stand for, for the freedom that will allow his people to prosper. Our inaction will be seen as a betrayal, our promises false and our ideals hypocrisy. Vladimir Putin has fired the first shot of a new cold war, the first battle is Georgia and we can be certain there will be many more.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. In a replay of classic Soviet interventions from the cold war, using the flimsiest of contrived pretexts, Russia came to the rescue of a supposedly beleaguered minority in South Ossetia, a sparsely populated mountainous region and unimportant to Russian national security. Unimportant, but for the fact that Georgia, in which this afflicted minority resides, is a West-leaning democratic nation and US ally with aspirations of joining NATO. It is also a strategic conduit for oil from the surrounding region to the Black Sea and Europe.

In this larger context, we can surmise what Russia actually intends by its actions. This crisis was carefully choreographed by Moscow with Ossetia militia members firing on Georgian forces with weapons provided by Russian "peacekeepers," until they provoked a reaction, providing the excuse for an invasion.

Far from the localized "peace keeping" intervention to stop what the Russian foreign ministry called "genocide" in Ossetia, Russian bombers hit oil installations in Georgia, the main transit pipeline, its largest port and the international airport. A Russian tank division and artillery poured across Georgia's northern border and Russian ships blockaded it harbors while landing ground forces in Abkhazia, another separatist enclave on the Black sea. It now looks like Russia will prosecute a three-pronged attack on Georgia, and will likely continue until it can replace the government of Mikhail Saakashailli, turn around his reforms, and install a leader more pliable to Russian persuasion. Russia will not respond to Georgia's request for a cease-fire until its military objectives have been reached.

It is obvious Putin pulls the strings in Moscow and President Medvedev is his creature. Putin's vision of a resurgent Russia is ambitious and includes renewed support for Cuba, military aid for Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and arms for Iran. He is a scion of the old KGB, with no qualms about assassinating unflattering journalists or political opponents, or removing an uncooperative head of state in Russia's sphere of influence. A communist at heart and a dictator by nature, Putin plans to rebuild the empire lost when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Russia is now a world oil power and growing economically. Putin understands energy is the weak underbelly of Europe. Controlling a large part of the oil flow gives him enormous leverage. European Union hand wringing was a given, its futile protests brushed aside. The Russians bet on the US being distracted by the upcoming election, its President made a lame duck by a Democrat-controlled Congress. Indeed, President Bush would be hard pressed to aid Georgia however much he wished. Not much of a gamble for Putin.

Apologists for Russia will soon surface. Already left-leaning pundits are blaming Georgia for provoking its own invasion and using the crisis for political ends.

"McCain took an inflexible approach to addressing this issue by focusing heavily on one side, without a pragmatic assessment of the situation," ..."It's both sides' fault - both have been somewhat provocative with each other," 
 - Mark Brzezinski,   a former Clinton White House National Security Council member and adviser to the Obama Campaign.

In the typically muddled, ill-informed realpolitik we expect from the left, we hear "It's both sides' fault," a justification to do nothing. It is troubling how foreign policy elites can make such nonsensical statements, ignoring all the evidence, just to appear reasoned and measured. That credulous moral equivalence encourages the Putins of the world. Presidential hopeful Barrack Obama condemned the violence in general terms, assigning no blame and predictably calling for UN intervention. When decisive action is called for, dialing the UN does not cut it, not when the stakes are this high.

The New York Times quoted   a Georgian officer leaving Ossetia:

A Georgian major who only gave his name as Georgy said, "Over the past few years, I lived in a democratic country, and I was happy. Now America and the European Union spit on us." He was driving an armored truck out of South Ossetia.

It is easy to understand the Major's frustration and anger. Georgia is a small country and its armed forces are fighting insurmountable odds. For him, it is his family that will suffer and his men that will die. He will likely fight to the bitter end to defend the young nation he loves. The Georgian armed forces are not yet defeated, not by a long shot, and they will continue to give good account of themselves. Georgia has successfully resisted Russia's political intimidation in its elections and interference with its internal affairs. Though it is resisting the Russian army now, without help, the results are predictable; the full weight of Russian military power will crush them.

As so many times in the past, from the fall of Hungary and Czechoslovakia to Cambodia, Afghanistan and Kuwait, we know that the price of inaction in the face of aggression is tragedy and suffering for countless innocents, a price far above the sacrifice required to meet aggression head on.

The reaction of the US, NATO and the EU will determine the future of not only Georgia, but also every former Soviet republic that has the temerity to form alliances outside of Russia's control; the Ukraine, the Baltic Republics and other uncooperative nations will experience similar manipulation and intimidation. Most already are. If we let this invasion go unchallenged and end in disaster for Georgia, all our high-minded talk about democracy and freedom will mean nothing. Major Georgy is fighting for the principles we claim to stand for, for the freedom that will allow his people to prosper. Our inaction will be seen as a betrayal, our promises false and our ideals hypocrisy. Vladimir Putin has fired the first shot of a new cold war, the first battle is Georgia and we can be certain there will be many more.