Russians Continue drive into Georgia

Rick Moran
Despite pleas for a cease fire from most of the world and Georgia herself, Russian troops have begun what it appears to be a drive to capture the vital rail and highway nexus in the towm of Gori which would effectively split Georgia in two.

According to diplomats quoted in the New York Times, Vladamir Putin's aims may be nothing less than regime
change in Georgia:

Two senior Western officials said that it was unclear whether Russia intended a full invasion of Georgia, but that its aims could go as far as destroying its armed forces or overthrowing Mr. Saakashvili.

"They seem to have gone beyond the logical stopping point," one senior Western diplomat said, speaking anonymously under normal diplomatic protocol.

The escalation of fighting raised tensions between Russia and its former cold war foes to their highest level in decades. President Bush has promoted Georgia as a bastion of democracy, helped strengthen its military and urged that NATO admit the country to membership. Georgia serves as a major conduit for oil flowing from Russia and Central Asia to the West.

But Russia, emboldened by windfall profits from oil exports, is showing a resolve to reassert its dominance in a region it has always considered its "near abroad."

That is really the long and short of it. Putin has been bothered by the pro-western, pro-American stance of Georgian President Saakashvili and the presence of Georgian troops in South Ossetia was becoming intolerable - especially after the Georgians decided to try and kick the peacekeepers out of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. The bloody fighting on Friday is what provoked the Russian response althought at present, the Georgian army is fleeing from South Ossetia and is no longer a threat to the peacekeepers or separatists.

This is all about dominance and power - Putin's drive to re-establish control in the Caucasus. It is likely that once he has settled the Georgian's hash, he will turn his attention to the Ukraine and another small, weak, pro-western country will be there for the taking.

There is nothing substantitive we can do about Putin's adventuring. We can't send troops or planes - that would precipitate war with Russia. It's too late to send supplies to Georgia's small, underequipped army although we did bring the 2,000 troop contingent of Georgian soldier's home from Iraq in American military aircraft. 

We almost certainly have a small number of special forces helping Georgian troops but only in a tangential way - logistics and intelligence no doubt. They are probably not anywhere near the fighting which ias as it should be. 

The one real worrisome recent development has to do with a Russian thrust from the other breakwaway province of Abkhazia which has an undefended border with Georgia. Abkhazia is a backdoor that leads right to the Georgian jugular - the Black Sea ports where the bulk of the oil and gas industry is located and where 85% of their wheat is unloaded. In this area, the Russians have issued an ultimatum:

The ultimatum called for Georgian forces to surrender in the Zugdidi district along the border of Abkhazia. A Georgian official close to the president, Giga Bokaria, said the ultimatum raised alarms that Russian troops would now push into Georgian territory in the west unchallenged by Georgian troops, which have been tied up in fighting further east near the other pro-Russian separatist enclave of South Ossetia.

The pivotal question in the conflict, which has involved heavy fighting since late last week, is now whether Russia - which has poured troops into both Abkhazia and South Ossetia - will push beyond these regions and further into Georgia.

No doubt the Russians could carve Georgia into slices if they wished. And at the moment, there is no one to stop them.
Despite pleas for a cease fire from most of the world and Georgia herself, Russian troops have begun what it appears to be a drive to capture the vital rail and highway nexus in the towm of Gori which would effectively split Georgia in two.

According to diplomats quoted in the New York Times, Vladamir Putin's aims may be nothing less than regime
change in Georgia:

Two senior Western officials said that it was unclear whether Russia intended a full invasion of Georgia, but that its aims could go as far as destroying its armed forces or overthrowing Mr. Saakashvili.

"They seem to have gone beyond the logical stopping point," one senior Western diplomat said, speaking anonymously under normal diplomatic protocol.

The escalation of fighting raised tensions between Russia and its former cold war foes to their highest level in decades. President Bush has promoted Georgia as a bastion of democracy, helped strengthen its military and urged that NATO admit the country to membership. Georgia serves as a major conduit for oil flowing from Russia and Central Asia to the West.

But Russia, emboldened by windfall profits from oil exports, is showing a resolve to reassert its dominance in a region it has always considered its "near abroad."

That is really the long and short of it. Putin has been bothered by the pro-western, pro-American stance of Georgian President Saakashvili and the presence of Georgian troops in South Ossetia was becoming intolerable - especially after the Georgians decided to try and kick the peacekeepers out of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. The bloody fighting on Friday is what provoked the Russian response althought at present, the Georgian army is fleeing from South Ossetia and is no longer a threat to the peacekeepers or separatists.

This is all about dominance and power - Putin's drive to re-establish control in the Caucasus. It is likely that once he has settled the Georgian's hash, he will turn his attention to the Ukraine and another small, weak, pro-western country will be there for the taking.

There is nothing substantitive we can do about Putin's adventuring. We can't send troops or planes - that would precipitate war with Russia. It's too late to send supplies to Georgia's small, underequipped army although we did bring the 2,000 troop contingent of Georgian soldier's home from Iraq in American military aircraft. 

We almost certainly have a small number of special forces helping Georgian troops but only in a tangential way - logistics and intelligence no doubt. They are probably not anywhere near the fighting which ias as it should be. 

The one real worrisome recent development has to do with a Russian thrust from the other breakwaway province of Abkhazia which has an undefended border with Georgia. Abkhazia is a backdoor that leads right to the Georgian jugular - the Black Sea ports where the bulk of the oil and gas industry is located and where 85% of their wheat is unloaded. In this area, the Russians have issued an ultimatum:

The ultimatum called for Georgian forces to surrender in the Zugdidi district along the border of Abkhazia. A Georgian official close to the president, Giga Bokaria, said the ultimatum raised alarms that Russian troops would now push into Georgian territory in the west unchallenged by Georgian troops, which have been tied up in fighting further east near the other pro-Russian separatist enclave of South Ossetia.

The pivotal question in the conflict, which has involved heavy fighting since late last week, is now whether Russia - which has poured troops into both Abkhazia and South Ossetia - will push beyond these regions and further into Georgia.

No doubt the Russians could carve Georgia into slices if they wished. And at the moment, there is no one to stop them.