The Devil went down to Georgia

I’m not going to pretend to have any insider knowledge of the Georgian/Russian conflict over South Ossetia, which is why I’ve stayed mum about the topic. Balloon Juice has a good rundown of events today, and the Newshoggers have been tracking the story for almost a week now. Between reading them, Wikipedia, and a random Power Line post that was informative though maybe delusional in that “Let’s kick former commie ass!” rightwing kind of way, I’m left with a few questions…


First, who started this mess? I know that after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, different states like Georgia and Ukraine formed in its wake — but some regions either wanted their own states or to still be a part of Russia. South Ossetia was one of these regions. Georgia had gone to war with it before in the nineties, but the situation was relatively calm until now. 

Political lines have been drawn in how to view this conflict. Those on the right view Russia as the aggressor; those on the left have pointed their fingers at Georgia and President Bush, since his administration apparently let Georgia think it would have backup from the US army to march troops into South Ossetia. But who started this? While I’ve read reports about Georgian troops marching in Georgia and committing atrocies — and Russia being obligated to respond because of its role in CIS, as well as Russian troops serving as peacekeepers in South Ossetia in the past — what of the South Ossetia paramilitaries who have reportedly attacked ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia? Did Georgian troops attack first and prompt this conflict? Who started this? I haven’t been able to figure that out.

Secondly, where do we draw the line on the right to statehood? I’ve heard people speculate that the Georgian government has no right to place its military in South Ossetia because the Ossetians wish to be sovereign from Georgia — despite the fact that, for right now, the land of South Ossetia is still within Georgia’s internationally recognized borders. This parcel of land also has a mere 70,000 people residing in it — only 55,000 of which are ethnically Ossetian. So when 55,000 people decide they want statehood and form their own paramilitaries, the international community needs to kiss their ass? Where do we draw the line? Hell, the capital of Rhode Island, Providence, is considered a small city but it has 250,000 people –could it become a nation? The University of Texas at Austin has almost 50,000 students alone, staff and faculty “population” numbers could push it over 60,000 — could UT-Austin become its own nation? It just seems ridiculous to me that such a small number of people get together and say “We want our own country!” and it becomes a hotspot; an international incident that we don’t yet know the ramifications of.

14 Responses to “The Devil went down to Georgia”

  1. BJ Bjornson says:

    For your first question, who actually fired the first shot is horribly muddled and pretty much a, “who’re you gonna believe?” mess. What can be said is that there was considerable skirmishing on the border between the Georgians and Ossetians. The Georgians claim that after they had agreed to a cease-fire, the Ossetians attacked a Georgian village, which is when they decided to launch a massive attack against the Ossetian capital, prompting the Russians to respond and begin the beatdown of Georgia. Since whole armies don’t just mobilize and fight on the fly, both the Georgian assault and the Russian response appear to have been planned ahead of time. Make up your own mind as to what that means.

    As to the second question. What’s the population of Vatican City? San Marino? Liechtenstein? Monte Carlo? Some countries are pretty damned small. Greenland only has abut 50,000 people but has a huge land mass, is basically self-governing, and should it request it, probably would be granted independence. Generally since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 or so, the rule has been that a country’s boundaries are sacrosanct and they have full sovereignty over the area and no area can break free without mutual consent, though successful rebellions are usually recognized eventually. Kosovo muddied the waters, and there are probably hundreds of areas and peoples from the Basques in Spain and France to the Kurds to the Mindanao in the Philippines that will now be looking for similar treatment. Basically it’s an open can of worms with no good answer.

  2. tas says:

    For your first question, who actually fired the first shot is horribly muddled and pretty much a, “who’re you gonna believe?” mess.

    That’s pretty much the jist I got from looking into this mess, too. Nobody knows which chicken came before what egg. Regardless, though, we know there’s three parties directly involved here — Georgians, Russians, and Ossetian paramilitaries.

    As to the second question. What’s the population of Vatican City? San Marino? Liechtenstein? Monte Carlo? Some countries are pretty damned small.

    I think the history of these countries and regions must come into play, too. San Marino and Monaco, for example, have been sovereign for centuries, for example. And when the USSR broke apart, different ethnicities formerly pat of the empire who were large enough to have their own states got one: the Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Georgians, etc. The Ossetians (who apparently couldn’t even coalesce tightly enough to be in one region, since North Ossetia is part of Russia) weren’t part of that club. Should they have been? I can’t find any history of them having ever formed an independent state; contrast that with Georgians who’ve had a state for about a millennium, the Ukraine has a history dating back to the 9th century, Uzbekistan is a remnant of the Mongol house of Jochi, etc. Ossetia has no history that compares to this.

    Looking at statehood qualifications, we’re stuck with either microstates that have been around for centuries, of ethnic groups large enough that people don’t want to fuck with them. Or, in other words, you have grandfathered states and states that have earned it. Contrasting that with the Ossetians, I don’t see an argument… If we allow such miniscule ethnic minorities to claim statehood, we mine as well go back to the Middle Ages and fiefdoms. To me, the Ossetian example for statehood borders on the absurd.

  3. Fred F. says:

    Read today that Bush told Putin to stand down and, guess what, they did.

    Terrifying thought this weekend:

    What would Obama have done?

    Gave me sleepless nights, I tell ya…

  4. and the devil is gonna take it over

  5. gcotharn says:

    As B.J. Bjornson points out: the Russian assault across an internationally recognized border was planned ahead of time. I add emphasis: Russia’s assault was planned FAR ahead of time. Months and months ahead of time. Logistics dictate nothing less.

    Therefore, the question of who is at fault: Ossetia or Georgia, is a joke. The latest provocations coming out of Ossetia are extremely likely to have been Russian provocations designed to provoke some kind of response from Georgia – any kind of response: the slightest raising of any finger – which Russia could then use as an excuse to roll tanks across the Caucusus.

    U.S. and World Media have provided Russia with public relations cover, so as not to “provoke” NATO or the U.S. into military action, doncha know. That’s the media’s job: evade the truth if it might provoke military action. Evade truth. Promote peace. Taught at all the J-Schools.

    Ralph Peters:

    the Kremlin spent months planning and preparing this operation. Any soldier above the grade of private can tell you that there’s absolutely no way Moscow could’ve launched this huge ground, air and sea offensive in an instantaneous “response” to alleged Georgian actions.

    As I pointed out Saturday, even to get one armored brigade over the Caucasus Mountains required extensive preparations. Since then, Russia has sent in the equivalent of almost two divisions – not only in South Ossetia, the scene of the original fighting, but also in separatist Abkhazia on the Black Sea coast.

    The Russians also managed to arrange the instant appearance of a squadron of warships to blockade Georgia. And they launched hundreds of air strikes against preplanned targets.

    Every one of these things required careful preparations. In the words of one US officer, “Just to line up the airlift sorties would’ve taken weeks.”

    Working through their mercenaries in South Ossetia, Russia staged brutal provocations against Georgia from late July onward. Last Thursday, Georgia’s president finally had to act to defend his own people.

    But when the mouse stirred, the cat pounced.

    The Russians know that we know this was a setup. But Moscow’s Big Lie propagandists still blame Georgia – even as Russian aircraft bomb Georgian homes and Russian troops seize the vital city of Gori in the country’s heart. And Russian troops also grabbed the Georgian city of Zugdidi to the west – invading from Abkhazia on a second axis.

  6. tas says:

    As B.J. Bjornson points out: the Russian assault across an internationally recognized border was planned ahead of time. I add emphasis: Russia’s assault was planned FAR ahead of time. Months and months ahead of time. Logistics dictate nothing less.

    I agree that an operation like this must have been planned ahead of time because, logistically speaking, broad military operations don’t materialize out of thin air. But that doesn’t serve as an answer for any questions. One thing I haven’t seen the media focus on that much is the role Russia played, via their position in CIS, as “peacekeepers” in South Ossetia — in effect, the Russian military has been there for quite a while. Beyond that, different nations have scenarios for how to react to situations… The US has detailed plans for the nuclear annihilation of Russian cities. You know, just in case. I have no doubt that the Russian military also tries to plan things ahead of time.

    So, thinking of that and getting into the “truth”…

    U.S. and World Media have provided Russia with public relations cover, so as not to “provoke” NATO or the U.S. into military action, doncha know. That’s the media’s job: evade the truth if it might provoke military action. Evade truth. Promote peace. Taught at all the J-Schools.

    I haven’t seen any evidence whatsoever of your claims. If anything, US and UK outlets have been critical of Russia — no surprise there, since the US and UK were partners in the Cold War. They might not have been as critical of Russia as some would have liked them to have been — this is evident judging from McCain’s “Let’s send in the troops and kick Russki ass!” reaction and those who support him because of snap reactions like this. But what is the truth here? What did Russia see in the South Ossetia situation? Is it simply a power play; a first step to restore the glory of the former Russian empire? Was it to tell Georgia, the Caucasus, and the rest of its satellite states not to fuck with Russia when it comes to oil and the energy market? Does Russia want to force Georgians to put into place a government more friendly to Moscow? Did they instigate the situation by arming South Ossetian paramilitaries?

    All of those situations are viably possible… Or did Russia fear that South Ossetia getting its independence would cause a surge of nationalism in the border Russia province of North Ossetia, forming a unifed Ossetian nation? And what would the reaction from Russian provinces like Chechnya be if the Ossetians got there or state? Indeed, how many more microethnic communities harboring nationalist ideals, like Ossetia or Chechnya, are festering in Russia — and do their pre-planned military scenarios take these potential crises into account? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I think I should before forming an opinion.

    I don’t want to jump the gun here, I’m concerned with what’s actually going on. I don’t think anybody knows that yet.

    As for Fred F in a previous comment…

    Read today that Bush told Putin to stand down and, guess what, they did.
    Terrifying thought this weekend:
    What would Obama have done?
    Gave me sleepless nights, I tell ya…

    I dunno, why don’t you tell me what Obama would have done?

    On second thought, don’t bother. I can already predict your answers.

  7. Ellada says:

    Georgia was provoked and responded which we shouldn’t have done. Nobody said we could win over Russia. But this territory is not Russian. It’s ours. After what they have done to Chechnya in the same circumstances they have no moral right whatsover to dictate us how we should behave with regard to our own territory. After they practically eliminated Chechen people they have no moral right to talk about genocide of Ossetian people. Over 2/3 of ethnic Ossetians living in Georgia live and work in Georgia proper. As regular Georgian citizens. With no discrimantion against them. Whoever chose to be Russian citizen and flee to Russia is free to do so. We offered them autonomy, Georgian citizenship, jobs. They refused. It’s their choice. Over 15 years Russia kept on distributing Russian passports among remaining local population giving away Russian citizenship (anyone who lived in Russia perfectly knows how “easy” it is to get one). I just don’t understand why Russian citizens continue living on Georgian territory violating its laws and borders. Actually, I do – for Russia to be able to cry out that they protect their citizens to justify military intervention of a sovereign state. For years Russia kept on arming separatists and providing them with military training. Does Russia have a moral right after that to condemn Georgia on building its Army? When president Saakashvili came to power we basically did not have one. Every country has an army, Russia does, why Georgia could not build its own? Well, we did and its up to us to decide with whose support. When Churkin says that Georgia increased its military expenses 30 times he fails to mention that before that we spent almost zero. Framing the story this way, Russia wants to picture Georgia as an agressor military state getting ready to break war on Russian citizens (who, according to Russian law, cannot live in South Ossetia as Russian citizens because South Ossetia is not part of Russia). For years international community turned a blind eye on these violations and Russia’s support of the separatists’ military preparations. However, it was not Ossetians fighting Georgian army. Russian troops were ready on the Georgian border to enter the country when the provocations would bring an outcome. Unfortunately the worst happened. People died. We cannot bring them back. We cannot comfort their relatives. Today the nation is united as never. Because we don’t want to obey Russia’s rule. We want to live as we want and this is our right to choose with whom to partner. Where to pump oil and gas and transit it. We are being punished for that. And since when the world is helpless watching how a big imperialistic neighbor destroys an independent country and cynically calls it a peacekeeping operation?

  8. Gal says:

    I’m not going to give my comments, I’m Russian and my comments are just obvious.
    If you really want to know how everything started, please, read the materials here:
    http://www.russiatoday.com/en
    You will learn a lot of interesting facts and find lots of interesting issues like “CNN blamed for using misleading war video”.

  9. gcotharn says:

    tas,

    Russia could not have made an on-the-shelf planned operation happen in just a few days. It takes weeks, at best, to move those types assets and personnel into position to respond to a “provocation”. Russia had ships ready to create a naval blockade! Russia attacked on a second front in Abkhazia in northwest Georgia!! What more proof do you need of months of operational planning and positioning?

    Second, if Russia were concerned about ethnic South Ossetians, there were ways to address the problem short of rolling tanks across the Caucasus. That’s a freely elected government in a Georgian nation which needs many things. They could be bargained with, to the benefit of all sides.

    In light of this, it makes no sense that media would focus much attention at all on 55,000 ethnic Ossetians at the expense of 4.6M Georgians who were being invaded by a national army. Every article which wrung hands about ethnic Ossetians thus turned a blind eye to greater numbers of Georgians who were being murdered by Russian weaponry. Every such article thus provided public relations cover for Putin’s murderous attacks and bombings.

    Third, it’s widely reported that Russia attempted to bomb the oil and gas pipelines which run through South Georgia. If those reports are accurate, they constitutes proof of bad intent. If those pipelines are bombed, the “Stans” will be forced to send all their oil and gas through Russia, and Russia will continue to exact a steep price for their doing so. Further, the “Stans” will not be able to conduct independent foreign policy, as they will be at the economic mercy of Russia.

    To the Russian government, world politics is all about gaining power. It makes no sense to believe they can be shamed into anything via moral argument. If Russia has stopped their attack in Georgia, it is out of self-interest. It is not out of the goodness of their hearts.

  10. tas says:

    Additional comment to Fred F first: You do know that Russia hasn’t quite left Georgia yet, right? Tanks rolling through the town of Gori, etc.. So it looks like Bush doesn’t have the diplomatic powers you have applied to him. Additionally, it’s been European countries — primarily France — that have done most of the negotiating with Russia and Georgia… Which is to say that the Euro countries also don’t have that much in the way of teeth. I think the weakness of taking action among the international community — the lack of ability to police rogue states — is one reason why Russia thinks they’re able to cross a sovereign border with their army. Of course, on the enforcement front, the United States collateral in this situations aren’t helped by the needless war in Iraq — because not only does it preoccupy our military strength to react, but our moral authority to tell Russia that its actions are wrong is also removed.

    gcotharn: I still stand by my previous comments. I can’t make a fully educated opinion of the situation until more is known.

    What more proof do you need of months of operational planning and positioning?

    I never denied that the logistics of this operation would take months to put into place before there’s action, but what I asked was what kind of contingency preplannings does Russia have? Just like the US military has preplanned military operations against other countries, just in case. I expect Russia to also have the same types of plans. So was this military operation by Russia a contingency plan or something more devious? There is circumstantial evidence to support both sides of this argument, but what’s missing right now, in my view, are facts. Before an educated opinion of situations like this can be formed, a reasonable view of the polar opposites must be established. You have the right to believe that we do have a reasonable view of the Russian point of view, but I’m not yet convinced. So when you ask “What more proof do you need?”, I need concrete answers to some of the questions this post and my comments.

    Third, it’s widely reported that Russia attempted to bomb the oil and gas pipelines which run through South Georgia. If those reports are accurate, they constitutes proof of bad intent. If those pipelines are bombed, the “Stans” will be forced to send all their oil and gas through Russia, and Russia will continue to exact a steep price for their doing so. Further, the “Stans” will not be able to conduct independent foreign policy, as they will be at the economic mercy of Russia.

    I agree with your assessment of the diplomatic damage done if Russia bombed the pipelines, but must reply with a question: Why did they miss? If Russia took months to plan this operation and intended to take out the pipelines, why are the pipelines intact?

    What part of the story are we missing here? That’s what I wonder about.

    In light of this, it makes no sense that media would focus much attention at all on 55,000 ethnic Ossetians at the expense of 4.6M Georgians who were being invaded by a national army.

    All sides of a story need to be covered — if only to find that some sides are just plain silly in the end. But without exploring the issue, we wouldn’t know.

  11. Fred F. says:

    Sen. Obama on Friday initially responded to Russia’s attacks by calling for an end to the fighting without blaming either side. A day later he hardened his approach and blamed Russia for invading Georgia.

    On Monday, he issued a statement from Hawaii calling for an end to the violence and again blaming Russia. “No matter how this conflict started, Russia has escalated it well beyond the dispute over South Ossetia and invaded another country. There is no possible justification for these attacks.”

    Gotta love Obama: He says nothing at first, then reads from the script his advisors feed him.

  12. gcotharn says:

    tas,

    I appreciate your thoughtful response.

    You’ve a solid point in asking “Why are the pipelines still intact?” I’m interested in that answer myself. False reports come out all the time during war. Georgia had motive to lie about the pipelines being bombed. Conversely: could Russia have motive for bombing all around the pipelines as a kind of announcement: We can hit these pipelines anytime we wish? It would be interesting to know the truth.

    You’ve another solid point that all aspects of the conflict need be covered in media. It’s my anecdotal observation that there has been far too much media hand-wringing and beard-stroking over the comparatively minor matter of Ossetia vs. Georgia – as compared to the more significant matter of an existing free Georgian nation being invaded. Why? Why has the media focused on the more minor story at the expense of the more major Russia vs. Georgia story? I suspect some media motivation is to not “irresponsibly” report facts which might make NATO or U.S. Military action more likely. There are other reasons. But I suspect that reason is a part of it.

    Re your reply to Fred F: I disagree that U.S.-in-Iraq and Russia-in-Georgia are morally comparable situations. Even though you disagree with U.S. actions in Iraq, I think this is a comparison you should avoid. I don’t think it is legitimately defendable, and I think it makes you look … less rational and sensible than you deserve.

  13. gcotharn says:

    Further thoughts on why media over-focused on Ossetia, at the expense of Georgia:
    it resulted from Russian strategy and tactics.
    Russia deploys Western Media as a weapon against pro-Georgia world opinion

  14. gcotharn says:

    tas,
    You wanted more facts about the genesis of the conflict. To this point, Michael Totten provides the best reporting about the genesis of the conflict.

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