August 19, 2008
Russia still sightseeing in Georgia
Russia swears its military is leaving Georgia but there are signs that they are settling in for a nice long stay:
Along one major road, four Russian armored personnel carriers rattled a few miles closer to the capital, then plowed through parked police cars blocking the way as Georgian police officers stood by in helpless dismay.Russia's president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, said his nation's forces would begin a withdrawal on Monday to comply with a six-point peace accord signed by both sides over the weekend. Mr. Medvedev did not specify the pace or scope of the withdrawal, saying only that troops would withdraw to South Ossetia and a so-called security zone on its periphery.In Moscow on Monday, Russia's state news agency, the Russian Information Agency, reported that one of its correspondents saw small convoys of 5 to 10 tanks moving north through the Roki tunnel toward Russia through the day.But in Washington, Defense Department and military officials said there was no evidence of Russian forces' complying with pledges to pull back."We have not seen any significant Russian movement out of Georgia today," said one senior Pentagon official.
Nor will we I imagine. Reports yesterday had the Georgian foreign minister in Gori giving an impromptu press conference when a group of Russian soldiers pulled up outside next to an old statue of Stalin (who was born in Georgia), got out and began to snap pictures of each other.
The Russians are going anywhere they please in Georgia and show no signs of leaving. If this keeps up for another 24 hours, legitimate questions will be raised about whether the Russians intend to leave at all.
If so, that will represent an escalation. Depending on how far Putin wants to take this game, the Russian leader may be miscalculating if he thinks he can go on indefinitely not abiding by the conditions of the cease fire. Eventually, even the timid Europeans will join us in some kind of sanctions - a prospect Putin does not relish.
Putin will go to the brink of overthrowing Saakashvili and then pull back, making his point that Georgia is in his back yard and he will not stand opposition to his dominance.