Streetwise Professor

August 4, 2009

He’s Flexing Again

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:09 pm

Tensions are escalating further in S. Ossetia:

Russian troops in the breakaway province of  South Ossetia have been put on increased combat readiness amid rising tensions on the de facto border with Georgia, officials said Tuesday.

Andrei Nesterenko, the spokesman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, said the move was a response to Georgian “provocations” and meant to prevent more violence.

“Prevent more violence.”  Yeah, that’s the ticket.  Helpful translation hint: whenever Nesterenko, or anybody else from the Russian government says anything, think the exact opposite.

The hysterical statements emanating from the Russians and South Ossetia’s “government” are risible:

The separatist leader,  Eduard Kokoity, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that “there is a danger that August 2008 will be repeated.”

“Today, Georgia’s military is more combat-ready and has a stronger potential” than during the run-up to last year’s conflict, Kokoity said.

More combat ready and stronger?  Really?  And the basis for that statement is?  Are you saying, Mr. (“Hoity”) Kokoity, that Russia really didn’t do tremendous damage to Georgian forces (especially armor and artillery) last year?  Are you ‘dissing the Russian military?  Are you saying that, contrary to reports, the Georgians actually didn’t abandon large amounts of their heavy equipment?  From where have they been resupplied?

And there’s these howlers:

Meanwhile, a senior Russian diplomat voiced concern about what he said were U.S. plans to provide  military assistance to Georgia.

“Washington is playing the key role in rearming the Georgian military machine,” Grigory Karasin, a deputy foreign minister, said in comments reported Tuesday by the Interfax agency. “It would be in the interests of Georgian democracy … to refuse to arm this country at all.”

“Georgian military machine.”  Who writes this stuff?  I mean really.

And the heartfelt concern for democracy, and Georgian democracy in particular.  How touching.  Maybe a little more solicitude for real democracy in Russia would be welcome.

My other response is: “If only.”  In the aftermath of last August’s war, I suggested that the US should supply Georgia with anti-tank weapons (e.g., AT-4 and Javelin) and anti-aircraft weapons (e.g., Stingers).  Still a good idea.  But as the article notes, the US is “cool” to the idea.  Maybe the Israelis will do a turnabout-is-fair-play thing and repay the Russians for providing Kornet ATGMs to the Syrians–and hence to Hezbollah–costing many Israeli lives in 2006.

The ratcheting up of the quantity and volume of hysterical Russian statements, the numerous allegations of provocations–none of which, oh-so-conveniently, can be verified, due to Russian refusal to allow peacekeepers in South Ossetia or Abkhazia–makes it increasingly likely that Russia will move against Georgia sooner rather than later.

The Russians will endeavor mightily to lay the blame at Saakashvili’s feet, and will no doubt receive vocal support in this endeavor from enablers in Europe and the US.  But given that Putin and his Sancho Panza Medvedev have made it abundantly clear that they intend to bring down the Saakashvili government; have routinely and blatantly violated the cease fire agreement; and have actively opposed measures that would actually constrain Georgian provocations (and Russian ones as well), it is equally clear that if war comes it is a war that Russia wants, and has brought about.

And just what has Russia gained from its truculent behavior not just in Georgia and the wider Caucasus, but throughout the former Soviet space and Eastern Europe?  How has the all gall, no sugar approach worked out?  Has it advanced Russian interests?

If you read this account by Vladimir Ryzhkof, the answer is pretty clearly “No”:

Russia’s foreign policy failures are snowballing at such a rate that they threaten a second geopolitical collapse on a par with the disintegration of the Soviet Union 20 years ago.

What makes this tragedy so comic is that our leaders are essentially running backward into the future and calling it progress. At the same time, they shake their fists and foam at the mouth as they rant about Russia’s greatness, claim that it is “getting up from its knees” and endlessly repeat myths about its “new successes” and “historical initiatives.” By running backward, Russia inevitably stumbles and falls, while its clumsy foreign policy initiatives become the laughing stock of the world.

. . . .

Russia’s leaders have managed to alienate even its strongest allies. The alliance with Belarus is crumbling before our eyes as Kremlin leaders attempt to punish Minsk for years of foot-dragging over the sale of Belarus’ largest enterprises to Russia’s inefficient and nontransparent monopolies, for delaying plans to introduce a unified currency and establish other political and economic institutions intended to strengthen ties between the two states. Russia reacted with “milk and meat wars,” and Minsk responded in kind by refusing to attend a Collective Security Treaty Organization summit even while it was supposed to hold the rotating chairmanship of the organization — an embarrassing, if not humiliating, snub to President Dmitry Medvedev. What’s more, Belarus has joined the Eastern Partnership offered by the European Union and has actively diversified its foreign policy.

Armenia, which is hemmed in on all sides by closed borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey, suffered greatly during the days of the Russia-Georgia war last August. This quickly drove Yerevan to intensify its dialogue with Turkey over prospects for opening their common border that has been closed for decades, and, like Belarus, to join the EU’s Eastern Partnership.

Russia has also burned bridges with Turkmenistan.

It goes on, discussing in turn Ukraine, the EU, NATO, Azerbaijan and Central Asian countries, but you get the idea: Russia has turned just about everybody on its borders against it:

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s attempt to restore Russia’s influence over the former Soviet republics has failed miserably. Moscow’s standing in the region is weaker now than it was even eight years ago, when Putin took over the presidency from Boris Yeltsin. This is a direct result of Putin’s failed policies during his two terms as president — the inability to modernize the economy, the systemic destruction of the country’s democracy, the sharp rise in corruption and the increase in the monopoly control of key industries under his state capitalism model. If you add to all of this a countless string of inept foreign policy disasters, it is easy to understand why Russia’s neighbors have turned their backs on Moscow and are looking to Western military, economic and political institutions for support and cooperation.

Yes, the article is a little strident, but its main points are spot on.  I especially appreciate the point that not only does Russia alienate its neighbors (to put it kindly) through its belligerence, it also fails abjectly to offer them an attractive alternative model.  Its domestic model of corrupt corporatism fails to attract, and its obnoxious behavior abroad positively repels.  Not exactly a winning combination.

Great work, there Vladimir and Sancho, I mean Dmitri!

And speaking of the repulsive, check out Putin’s most recent beefcake.  (H/T R.)  The construction of the cult of personality continues apace.  At least Mao had the decency to limit his vulgar displays to a swim in the Yangtze now and then, and even then did a dignified crawl, in contrast to Putin’s bug-eyed butterfly.  (Very bad form, by the way.  And he looks like a six year old playing “I’m the Creature from the Black Lagoon.”)  But Putin also has to ride the horse (without a shirt, of course, of course), make the fire, climb the tree, play the Wise White Father talking to the Quaint Dark Skinned Native Boy, break bread with the Quaint Dark Skinned Geezer.

But the interesting thing is, Russians by and large DON’T find this repulsive.  To the contrary, they eat this stuff up, which speaks volumes.  And which is another reason why they have no friends they haven’t bought (and yes, I’m looking at you, Gerhard Schroeder).  Russians are from Mars, and everybody else isn’t.

And Mars appears to be rising in the Caucasus.

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  1. You might want to check my recent post on the matter, New Russia-Georgia War?

    You can also vote in a poll there:

    Will there be a new Russia-Georgia War?

    * Russia will invade Georgia this August or soon after
    * Georgia will try to retake S. Ossetia / Abkhazia this August or soon after
    * Russia will invade Georgia within the next 3 years
    * Georgia will try to retake S. Ossetia / Abkhazia within the next 3 years
    * Saakashvili will soon get toppled, perhaps with a nudge from Russia
    * Nothing will happen except more provocations and accusations
    * The Russian regime will soon collapse & there will be peace

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — August 5, 2009 @ 2:39 am

  2. As of now, the next to last one is IMO the likeliest (though I won’t sware on it).

    Comment by Cutie Pie — August 5, 2009 @ 3:00 am

  3. Professor

    Offbeat and in line with your aside on Putin, I understand that Lukashenko isn’t bad at ice hockey.

    Regarding Armenia-Turkey, it makes perfect sense for both of them to get along better as they’re neighbors. Of late, the Turks have indicated that Nagorno-Karabakh is a stumbling block in developing closer Armenian-Turkish ties. To a good degree, the Russian role in that that relationship appears lacking.

    If anything, Saakashvili’s attack of last year has further convinced a number of Azerbaijani and Moldovan policymakers that an unnecessary confrontation with Russia isn’t a good route for gaining influence in areas like Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria. A Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty article suggests that the Azerbaijani president leans in this direction.

    I can’t say you’re completely wrong in characterizing some Russian manner in its “near abroad.” At the same time, it’s not such a one way street of mishaps. The involved former Soviet areas benefit from better and IMO closer relations. This view sees an eventual calming down. What happens until then can be rocky.

    Vladimir Ryzhkov is a post-Cold War era Russian version of the Cold War period American Gus Hall perspective of things.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — August 5, 2009 @ 3:24 am

  4. The internal opposition is growing, EU and NATO memberships are not coming, Americans send Biden to say a lot of nice words but no facts .
    This year will be a little bit more difficult to sell the tale that Russia is the bad guy who started the war .
    Saakhashivili is in deep trouble .

    Comment by Balqis — August 5, 2009 @ 4:10 am

  5. Cutie Pie. And the lion shall lie down with the lamb. That will happen before the Turks and the Armenians get all cozy. Your theory that it makes sense for neighbors to be friends flies in the face of thousands of years of recorded human history. A small sampling: Russians and Poles, Germans and French, Romans and Carthaginians, Serbs and Croats, and on and on and on. Neighbors are just as likely–and arguably more likely–to be enemies, than friends.

    Re the Turks and Armenians in particular (ditto goes for Armenians and Azeris) the hatred there is very deep. There is the small matter of over a million lives lost in 1915-1916; call it genocide if you will. The Armenians are more likely to look to Iran than Turkey.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 5, 2009 @ 10:02 am

  6. “In the aftermath of last August’s war, I suggested that the US should supply Georgia with anti-tank weapons (e.g., AT-4 and Javelin) and anti-aircraft weapons (e.g., Stingers). Still a good idea. But as the article notes, the US is “cool” to the idea.”

    Yeah, just what the Kavkaz needs more of: shoulder fired missiles perfect for shooting down airliners, coming to a bearded Dagestani jihadi near you! But LR would love this since it would create another hackery argument against the Sochi Olympics. Someone call Hugh Hewitt too.

    I guess the Georgians should apologize to Max Boot and all the other crazy neocons who wanted to ply them with Stingers and Javelins for cutting and running last August, and leaving the road to Tblisi wide open. Indeed, judging by how many Georgians live and work in Russia and their relative success in biznis compared to other non-Russian CIS ethnics in the capital, many dream of opening a nice shashlik and overpriced Georgian wine restaurant in Moscow and driving a big black BMW down Tverskaya more than fighting to the death to save Saakashvili’s political hide.

    “The Russians will endeavor mightily to lay the blame at Saakashvili’s feet, and will no doubt receive vocal support in this endeavor from enablers in Europe and the US.”|

    Professor, is this a sly reference to Der Spiegel (well we all know what notorious Kremlin appeasers the Germans are, simply because they’d rather keep the gas taps full and lend the Ukrainians the money to pay their back bills than refight WWII against Russia)? Or were you talking about Congressman Dana Rohrbacher? Are you going to ask that rock ribbed Reaganite from Orange County, California when he became a Putin loving Communist too? Or just ignore him like The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal did? I mean, it wasn’t like he saw the U.S. House Committee intel reports coming from Georgia in the months leading up to the war or anything like that.

    “Maybe the Israelis will do a turnabout-is-fair-play thing and repay the Russians for providing Kornet ATGMs to the Syrians–and hence to Hezbollah–costing many Israeli lives in 2006.” Professor, with all due respect, the Koronets were probably sold through Ukraine or Belarus. The Israelis just established visa free travel between themselves and Russia, which makes Jackson-Vanik an even bigger joke than it was already. The Israelis are selling UAVs to the Russian army while they stopped shipping arms to Saako about three months before Georgia war kicked off, so Saako had to turn to the Ukrainians and Bulgarian arms dealers instead. Plus, Russia keeps contradicting itself regarding the shipment of S-300 SAMs to Iran, first saying they’re gonna do it, then calling it off while accusing the Iranians of failing to pay their bills on time.

    My own gut feeling is that the Russians already sold all the plans for the S-300 to the Israeli Ministry of Defense, along with the Bushehr reactor too, so IF Saint Barack and the Saudis allow the Israelis to blow them all away Russia can turn around and sell new reactors and SAMs to the suckers in Teheran.

    Comment by Steve J. Nelson — August 5, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

  7. “Steve”: 30 seconds Googling “Kornet”:

    The news of a the sale by Russia to Syria of 1,000 third-generationEKornet’ anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) has caused great concernin Israel (Jane’s Defence Weekly 17 June).The sale, part of a much larger arms procurement package, indicatesthat the strained relations between Syria and Russia has improved.The cause of the earlier tension is the $10 billion debt, whichremains unpaid from the days when the Soviet Union was Syria’s mainarms supplier.The AT-14 ‘Kornet’, a product of the veteran KBP design bureau inTula, was first displayed in public in October 1994. Designed mainlyfor the export market, the outstanding feature of the ‘Kornet’ isits 5,500m range. Also, the use of laser beam riding technology forguidance enables simpler operation by operators with only limitedtraining.As a stand-off ATGM, the ‘Kornet’ does not pose a new challenge toIsrael Defence Force main battle tanks (MBT).The modular add-onarmour system of the Merkava MBT is designed to defeat such threats.The dynamics of advanced penetrators was well known to IsraeliMilitary Industries, which introduced such warheads to the BGM-71TOW long-range anti-tank missile and its derivatives, as early asthe late 1980s.However, the ‘Kornet’ poses a more serious threat in a staticbattlefield, such as in Southern Lebanon or the Golan demilitarisedzone where its accuracy allows lethal attacks against fortifiedpositions or medium-protected vehicles. The fact that the missilecan be equipped with either an armour-piercing tandem shaped chargewarhead or a general purpose, thermobaric incendiary charge isevidence the ‘Kornet’ was designed to be used in such a role.

    The first verified episode of Kornet ATGM in combat use occurred during the 2006 Lebanon War, where the missiles, reportedly supplied by Syria, were successfully used by Hezbollah fighters to destroy and damage Israeli Merkava tanks[11]. One of the first detailed accounts of IDF’s successful capture of Kornet ATGMs on Hezbollah positions in the village of Ghandouriyeh appeared in the Daily Telegraph article, which also reported that the boxes were marked with “Customer: Ministry of Defense of Syria. Supplier: KBP, Tula, Russia.”[12] Several months after the cease-fire, reports have provided sufficient photographic evidence that Kornet ATGMs were indeed both in possession of, and used by, Hezbollah in this area.[13][14]
    Israel claims that Russian weapons were smuggled to Hezbollah by Syria, and Israel has sent a team of officials to Moscow to show Russia the evidence of what they say can only be Syrian weapons transfers.[15] Despite initial public denials by the Russian officials that any proof of actual use of Kornet by Hezbollah has been presented[16][17], the Russian government in fact has moved to tighten control over the use of Russian-made weapons by the importing states, suggesting that the visit of the Israeli delegation did bear fruit, although it might have nothing to do with Kornet.[18]

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 5, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

  8. rytb, The Steve J has been all over this big wide world. You just seem entirely too annoyed about his anti-La Russophobe blog.

    “Let us know what Rep. Rohrabacher is saying this year. I’m guessing he’ll be singing a different tune”. Ah, a celebration of browbeating — but who are you suggesting? The McCainiacs who led their party into a historic defeat or American siloviks? Let’s hear it for democracy!

    Comment by Steve J. Nelson — August 5, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

  9. Re-freedom of speech in the West. GEORGIA/S.OSSETIAN WAR: FROM A POLISH JOURNALIST

    Say what we like, or shut up.

    Then again I guess he’s under a “Kremlin rock”.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — August 5, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

  10. rytb – Yeesh, that’s derangement. Steve J. is an American sick and tired of America being dragged into other people’s wars for nothing egged on by propaganda from folks like LR. The rest of the fear and loathing rytb has for her fellow countrymen…I have no words.

    Back to the Professor, since he’s quoting Wikipedia, here’s the entry for the 2008 war:

    “In 2007, Georgia spent 6% of GDP on its military and had the highest average growth rate of military spending in the world.[65][66] In 2008, Georgia’s defense budget was $1bn, a third of all government spending.[67] Restoring South Ossetia and Abkhazia (a region with a similar movement) to Georgian control has been seen as a top-priority goal of Saakashvili since he came to power.[68][69] Opposition members have criticised Saakashvili of having authoritarian tendencies.”

    Comment by Steve J. Nelson — August 5, 2009 @ 3:05 pm

  11. Uhm, opposition members have accused Putin of having authoritarian tendencies too. Or haven’t you noticed. So that’s a draw at the very least. But it’s not really a draw, b/c the authoritarian Saako has permitted mass protests in Tblisi, whereas the authoritarian Swimmer sends in OMON to crack heads whenever handfuls of people assemble peaceably.

    And re Georgian defense spending, pct of gdp in this instance is hardly the relevant comparison. Absolute military spending compared to potential threats is more germane. Given the neighborhood–most notably the Big Surly Neighbor to the North–it makes perfect sense. And no surprise that Georgia has long had ambitions to restore S.O. and A to its control. It just happens to have int’l law on its side.

    No angels in this fight, but real world judgments require a balancing of considerations. And to me, that balancing does not come down on the side of once and future imperial power that manipulated ethnic conflict in order to advance its great power wet dreams. Whatever Georgia’s culpability in the ongoing conflict–and they indeed share in it–Russia has played an unconstructive role to say the least. It has fed and manipulated the situation for its own sordid ends.

    Don’t dare cry tears for the Ossetians, as Russia is essentially condemning them to rule by another thuggish, kleptocratic clique. And as recent articles show, the relatively fortunate Abkhazians are also finding that the Russian hug is not exactly an unmixed blessing. Russia will use them and abuse them as is their wont everywhere in what they consider to be their domain.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 5, 2009 @ 3:41 pm

  12. Professor

    Like many folks of American background with European ties, I’m aware of such hatreds. I’m also aware of the what can be called a love-hate relationship.

    Many Croats and Serbs have inter-married. I’ve been to my share of gatherings where “Croats” and “Serbs” (more often than not, people claiming either identity, while having roots to both) get along rather well.

    Likewise, there’s a grouping among Poles who aren’t hostile towards Russia. As you might know, some neocons and others have tryed to downplay the historic differences between Poles and Ukrainians. On the surface, I don’t have a problem with that. I do have a problem when it’s based on promoting a misguided antipathy towards Russia and Russians.

    If France and the UK, France and Germany can pretty much neutralize their historic differences, than it stands to reason that others can do the same.

    You do touch on a point concerning how Armenian-Iranian ties haven’t been so bad. This contradicts to the Crusades (Islam versus Christianity) imagery that some highlight. Many Armenians and Iranians see a common historic foes in Turkey, which has historically had Azeerbaijan as an ally. On the other hand, there’re a good number of people of Azerbaijani bacxkground in Iran. There’s also a small but good sized Armenian community in Iran as well – who as a group don’t appear to have been mistreated. I understand that Armenia has a good number of Iranian students.

    As some Turks frustratingly note, due to recent history, a sizeable number of Azerbaijanis feel closer to Russia than Turkey. When looking at Armenia and Azerbaijan, the latter is of greater material value.

    I present these points to show how some of these countries pursue relations that aren’t so easy to define and can contradict some of the steroetypes out there.

    On a related note, I think that Russia and Germany are able (to a good degree) bury the hatchet with each other because the two have had moments of good ties, in addition to both being relatively well self historicated. The last point relates to taking the brunt of blame from others (whether fairly or otherwise).

    Comment by Cutie Pie — August 6, 2009 @ 1:43 am


    Some signs of reality here, but still wondering what that “non-lethal” hardware is and when the Congress critters are going to wake up and ask why the American taxpayer has to keep dumping money down into the black hole that is Georgia and neocon bypass Russia at all costs projects in general.

    As for international law being on Georgia’s side…hmm, not really. When you attack UN approved peacekeepers, hell no. And by your reasoning, Serbia was also equally justified in trying to retake Kosovo, which even after the bombing campaign was officially still recognized as a part of Serbia, and then the U.S. violated the same intl law by recognizing the secession of Kosovo in the teeth of much international opposition (Russia, China, and many other countries).

    So what it all comes down to is that the U.S. can get more countries to go along with its will than Russia. Ok no one disputes that. Twenty years from now, the shoes could be on the other foot with respect to China, when they build pipelines to the Pacific with old man Chavez egging them on, put hundreds of troops/security contractors on the ground to train the Venezuelan military ala us with our pipeline politics games in Georgia. I hope the Professor then will keep mouthing this “no spheres of influence” nonsense to his fellow angry Americans. Or perhaps he will join the protests outside the Chinese embassy and the talk radio rage. Good for him, in that case. But why Russians should be expected to be any less patriotic, I have no idea.

    Comment by Steve J. Nelson — August 6, 2009 @ 2:46 am

  14. Good one Steve.


    For sure, the Armenian-Turkish differences appear greater than the others.

    I still see flexibility on the basis of the realization that the two are neighbors whether they like it or not. Don’t hold out some foolish policies from the West which could serve to bring Armenia and Turkey closer to each other.

    I saw a piece in Turkish media noting how Russian attitudes towards Turkey and vice-versa have changed for the better. (I understand that Turkey has been among the prime locations for vacationing Russians). Granted, (again) that seeing likewise with Turkey and Armenia isn’t as easy given the past between the two.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — August 6, 2009 @ 4:15 am

  15. Now that we’re all being civil…”I had a discussion with someone ‘here’ about the fact that I was certain Steve J = Yuri” nope, but the Yuri I think you’re referring to publishes his email address on his site so fire away.

    rytb is obviously not the cyberstalker Steve J.’s now defunct site was created to fight back against, since this collective’s MO is to completely retreat and hide when the subject of their identity and who actually pays for their trash comes up (for example, I just say the word “Jamestown” and LR runs away like Monty Python’s Brave Sir Robyn — nuff said). They also never apologize for their language or whom they libel. The Prof doesn’t want that topic discussed here, and that’s fine, I agree that technically it isn’t on topic. And there I had to go all Howard Dean on him and say that we may not always have the strongest military 🙂

    I sincerely hope the Chinese get old before they get set to marchin’ into Russia or set up their own 21st century Thomas PM Barnett “Gap” colonial empire from Mozambique to Moldova (in the latter country they seem to be outbidding the Soros types, who for some reason or another always seem to have some intel community ties, even back when Soros was setting up the first Soviet to USA Internet connection from San Francisco in the mid-80s). And for the record, I have nothing against Georgians even if I referred to one stereotype about them. What I said about Georgians was the equivalent of making an off-color joke about a Patel hotel in the midst of a debate about Indian politics. Heh. Peace out from Newyorica. Steve J.

    Comment by Steve J. Nelson — August 6, 2009 @ 6:55 am

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