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  • Russia-Georgia: Doth the lady protest too much?

    Leading Russian officials are loudly protesting the forthcoming NATO staff exercise in Georgia. The exercises do not involve any armed troops and are essentially a crisis management drill. Yet, as the Bard said, “the lady doth protest too much.”

    Since March 25, the Russian Federation has significantly increased its military presence in the occupied Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow built up its forces, Georgia officials say, particularly in the areas adjacent to the troop separation lines in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region.

    In parallel with this buildup, there has been increased maneuvers of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet close to the waters around Abkhazia. Russian aircraft fly regular patrols in Georgian airspace over Abkhazia. These actions were conducted in the wake of the April 9 opposition rallies in Georgia, adding tension to already complicated political situation in Tbilisi.

    On April 10, the Georgian Ministry of Defense accused Russia of reinforcing its military presence in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Contemporaneously, Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze announced that he is “highly concerned” about a build-up of Russian troops and heavy infantry on the two regions administrative borders with Georgian-controlled territory. Other Georgian officials say that if the opposition fails to remove President Mikheil Saakashvili, a Russian military operation to remove him may be forthcoming in May or June.

    Russian troops are reported to be gathering in the Akhalgori region of Georgia– a mere 25 miles from Tbilisi. In an April 8 statement to reporters, Deputy Interior Minister Eka Zghuladze said that 150 Russian armored vehicles had been moved to Akhalgori in South Ossetia, and 35 such vehicles to the district of Gali in southern Abkhazia. Russian SU-25 planes have been patrolling both regions since April 7. According to a Georgian official, Russian troops are also on high alert, including at all checkpoints. And the whole 58th army in the North Caucasus military district, which invaded Georgia last year, is on alert.

    President Saakashvili stated in an interview on April 11 that Russia has 5,000 troops stationed in each of the breakaway regions. Saakashvili also went on to say that that despite the large-scale military build-up of the Russian forces both in the breakaway regions and on Georgia’s borders, he did not think that Russia would “renew any large-scale military adventure.” Instead, he believes these movements are aimed at “possible internal unrests [in Georgia]”, i.e. aimed to destabilize his administration.

    The NATO unarmed staff exercise in Georgia is the bare minimum the West can do to send a signal to Russia not to undertake another military adventure in Georgia. The question is, whether Moscow will listen – even as the Obama Administration is offering it an unclenched hand and a “reset” button.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    4 Responses to Russia-Georgia: Doth the lady protest too much?

    1. Craig, Montana says:

      Saakashvili launched his first and last military offensive, universally judged foolhardy beyond belief, immediately after his troops were exercised by US trainers. So Russia's concern would be logical even if it hadn't already suffered from past encroachments. When assessing Moscow's view of Washington, there's a quote from Avon's swan much apter to the historical context:

      "That face of his I do remember well;

      Yet, when I saw it last, it was besmear'd

      As black as Vulcan in the smoke of war."

      Your analyst will no doubt have more to say when Putin responds tit for tat with knight moves very close to our homeland. (He's warned once already, quite clearly.)

      At that stage of a much edgier game, winsome chat will be moot and the watching world will have a firm opinion as to who picked the stupid fight.

    2. Glenn, Ankara says:

      Abkhazia! Region of Georgia… For whom?

      Please see historical maps: http://gallery.abkhazworld.com/#4.41

      The maps included here give an idea of the frontiers of Abkhazia at various times in history. The Abkhazians call their capital /Aqw’a/, but it is more usually known in other languages as Sukhum (Sukhum-Kalé or Sukhum-Kaleh in the period of Turkish influence along the Black Sea’s eastern coast; /soxumi/ in Georgian). The ending -i in the form /Sukhumi/ represents the Georgian Nominative case-suffix, and it became attached to /Sukhum/ from the late 1930s when (Georgian) Stalin and his Mingrelian lieutenant in Transcaucasia, Lavrent’i Beria, began to implement a series of anti-Abkhazian policies. Abkhazians today, for obvious reasons, resent the attachment of this element from the language of a people they see as oppressors.

      For some 60 years Abkhazia was forced to accept the unwelcome status of being a mere autonomous republic with Soviet Georgia (thanks to the ruling of the Georgian dictator Stalin – ‘Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili’). For daring to defend our interests in the face of Georgian nationalist aggression, we were subjected to 14 months of savagery. In alliance with our allies from the Abkhazian diaspora or Abkhazians’ cousins in the North Caucasus, we succeeded in ejecting the invader and winning the war. All that Georgia under its various leaders/governments has been willing to offer us by way of a settlement is a return to the ‘status quo ante’— the sudden offer by Misha Saakashvili of asymmetric federation produced on the eve of the recent NATO summit in Bucharest was clearly aimed more at impressing the Western alliance than at appealing to Sukhum.

      How many examples are there in history where a people after being invaded, losing 4% of their population, and yet finally winning the war have meekly resigned themselves to accepting the selfsame subordinate status they had before the tragedy of a war inflicted upon them? This is something that the Georgian side and their international backers (who have no interest in the fate of minorities but think solely of the ‘big picture’ of preserving territorial integrity, of finding allies in an unstable part of the world, and of securing the flow of oil) would do well to remember. The Georgians lost Abkhazia in 1993. They should be told by their EU, NATO and US ‘friends’ to accept this fact, find a ‘modus vivendi’ with their neighbours (big and small alike), and then contribute to the creation of stability and prosperity for the Caucasus region as whole. We can all then get on with our lives in the peace that we all deserve.

    3. 08001, London says:

      Craig – I am sick, sick, sick of hearing people who clearly had barely heard of Georgia, let alone South Ossetia, before last summer putting in their two cents about a conflict with a history they simply know nothing about.

      While I am sure you feel very superior to those people who believe Russia launched a spontaneous, irrational attack on Georgia, by believing Georgia launched a spontaneous, irrational attack on a breakaway region of Georgia, but unfortunately you are just as ill-informed.

      I disagreed with most of Bush's foreign policy, but I am amazed at a certain unique American egocentricity and self-loathing that when Russia provokes, plans and then executes a brutal, cynical and deceptive incursion into an independent sovereign country, the knee-jerk response is to say 'it must be all our governments fault'.

      Putin mentioned South Ossetia and Abhazia specifically when warning of consequences when Kosovo declared independence in early 2008. This was followed by attacks on Georgian villagers, policemen and peacekeepers in the controlled areas of South Ossetia. The Russians also built up troops on the border and inside Georgia and regularly violated Georgian airspace. The Russians wanted a war and they got it. Meanwhile Europe and the UN ignored Georgian protests about their territory being effectively annexed. If you had followed the events in Georgia prior to the conflict you would have seen this. In fact do yourself a favour and go and read any article written on Georgia prior to August.

      'But Georgia started it' has become the rallying soundbite of either the ignorant or those who wish to gloss over typical Kremlin brutality and cynicism in the Caucasus.

      As someone with friends and family in Georgia I welcome anything that can be done by the international community to prevent the Russian government completing what they consider unfinished business, including a multinational NATO exercise.

    4. kwamoshi, manchester says:

      At this point, the Russians would not make it public how many aircraft they plan to deploy in Gudauta – an airbase that under the agreements reached at the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit must long has been closed by now and handed over to the Georgian side. This did not happen because the Russians never in fact honored Georgias sovereignty over Abkhazia and Tskhinvali and what happened last August was, in Clausewitzs terms, a continuation of [the same] policy by other means.

      one small example of russian duplicity. the russian government also agreed with abkhazia and s.ossetia that they could become part of the russian federation in july 2008. this was published in the russian press.

      on the days before the georgian assault georgian villages were bombarded by s.ossetian rebels, using artillery supplied by the russian peacekeepers, artillery larger than the russian enforced peacedeal allowed.

      the georgians also spent days trying to arrange peace talks with kokioty the s.ossetian leader.

      it is a matter of public record from transcrips of russian tv interviews that kokoity refused these advances to discuss peace.

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