Streetwise Professor

August 10, 2008

The Devil Went Down to Georgia

Filed under: Energy,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:16 pm

Well, that didn’t take long. In my first post on the Russo-Georgian War I opined that the next move would be in Abkhazia to force the Georgians from the Kodori Gorge. That move has apparently begun:

Earlier, Georgia said Russia had brought an additional 10,000 troops across Georgia’s frontiers – 6,000 by land into South Ossetia and 4,000 by sea into Abkhazia.

The head of the pro-Russian separatist authorities in Abkhazia also said he had sent 1,000 troops to the Tbilisi-controlled Kodori gorge and announced the “full mobilisation” of reservists.

“We are ready to act independently,” Sergei Bagapsh said. “We are ready to enforce order and go further if there is resistance from the Georgian side.”

A Georgian interior ministry official later told the BBC that Russia had launched what he called “all-out military aggression” against Georgia, including attacking areas outside the conflict zone in South Ossetia.

He said Russian planes were now bombing the western town of Zugdidi and Georgian-controlled territory inside Abkhazia. The claims could not be independently verified.

The UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Edmond Mulet, said on Saturday that he feared the Abkhaz separatists were preparing to launch an offensive.

“At this point we are particularly concerned that the conflict appears to be spreading beyond South Ossetia into Abkhazia,” he said.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet is also apparently massing off the Georgian coast, and threatening an amphibious assault and potentially a blockade of Georgian ports:

Russia appeared to be opening a second front in Abkhazia, to the west of South Ossetia, and to be aiming to drive Georgian troops from the Kodori Gorge, a small mountainous area in Abkhazia that Georgia reclaimed by force in 2006. Georgian officials said 12 Russian jets were bombing the area, shortly after a Western official said United Nations peacekeepers had withdrawn from the area at the request of Abkhazia’s de facto government.

Russia also notified Western governments that it was moving ships of its Black Sea fleet to Ochamchire, a port on the Abkhaz coast. Georgian officials said they expected Russian troops to land there.

Regarding the blockade, Die Welt writes:

Warships from Russia’s Black Sea fleet by Sunday morning had clamped down a naval blockade on Georgia’s coastline, turning back “several civilian ships,” said Aleksander Lomaia, Georgia’s National Security Council Chief, in a statement.

Among freighters halted with warning shots was a Moldovan-flagged vessel carrying wheat to the port Poti, threatening Georgia’s food supplies, Lomaia claimed.

Georgian intelligence gave the elements of the Russian squadron as three amphibious assault vessels, two anti-submarine warfare vessels, a reconnaissance ship, two minesweepers, two missile boats, and a missile cruiser.

This situation is rapidly spiraling towards disaster, with historic foes Turkey and Russia facing off:

In the Black Sea area, Russia is accusing Turkey of aiding Georgia. “Russian Izvestya newspapers has claimed that Turkey was among the countries that supported Georgia in the recent strife in South Ossetia, by supplying the country with weapons, CNNTurk reported on Sunday. The Russian newspaper cited a Russian Defense Ministry report published three months prior that claims over the past four years Turkey has supplied Georgia with $45 million in weapons and ammunition, as well as training Georgian army officers. Interfax Agency also reported that Turkish naval ship has entered in to Georgian territorial waters off the coast near the city of Batumi.” Moscow is feeling its oats and not shy about warning Turkey off.

And Ukraine is threatening to become involved as well, by barring the return of the Russian Black Sea Fleet to Sevastopol:

Ukraine warned Russia on Sunday it could bar Russian navy ships from returning to their base in the Crimea because of their deployment to Georgia’s coast.

The statement could affect Russian-Ukrainian relations, already strained by energy disputes and Ukraine’s plans to join NATO.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said the Russian naval deployment to Georgia’s Black Sea coast has the potential to draw Ukraine into the Russian-Georgian conflict over the separatist province of South Ossetia. Georgia launched an offensive Friday to regain control over the inland province, and Russia responded by sending in tanks and troops and bombing Georgian territory.

In the meantime, Russia has deployed a naval squadron off the coast of another of Georgia’s separatist regions, Abkhazia. The ships are part of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, based in the port in Sevastopol, which Russia leases from Ukraine under a 1997 agreement.

“In order to prevent the circumstances in which Ukraine could be drawn into a military conflict … Ukraine reserves the right to bar ships which may take part in these actions from returning to the Ukrainian territory until the conflict is solved,” said the Ukrainian statement, posted on the ministry’s Web site.

The statement reflected strong support for Georgia. Both Ukraine and Georgia have sought to free themselves of Russia’s influence, and to integrate into the West and join NATO.

Russia’s deputy chief of General Staff, Col.-Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said the statement had been unexpected and was being analyzed by the Russian government.

“It makes a third party involved, and it’s quite unexpected,” Nogovitsyn said at a news conference.

He said the ships had not taken any action against Georgia.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said the ships had been sent toward Abkhazia as a deterrent, to prevent hostilities from erupting there.

“The deployment is quite natural. We don’t want a repeat of what happened in South Ossetia,” he said at a news conference.

The 1997 agreement lets Russia’s Black Sea Fleet remain in Sevastopol through 2017, but Ukrainian officials have said they want it out after that.

The issue adds to emotions over Crimea, which was part of the Russian Federation but ceded to Ukraine during the Soviet era and became part of the independent Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Ukraine and Russia are already at loggerheads over arranging Russian departure from Sevastopol. The Ukrainians say that the agreement requires the Russians to leave by 2017. The Russians say that’s when the talks over arranging the departure should begin in earnest, with the actual departure date to be somewhere in the hazy future beyond 2017. To say the least, this episode will only exacerbate that conflict, which is already at a high emotional pitch with Russian nationalists vowing never to give up Sevastopol.

[And, as an aside, if Col.-Gen. Nogovitsyn, the Russian General Staff, and the Russian government were really surprised that Ukraine would react with alarm at a Russian move into Georgia, one may seriously doubt their comprehension of the effects of their actions. Any nation that escaped the USSR–the Baltics, Ukraine, Moldova–watches what is happening in Georgia and immediately thinks–“well, I’m next.” Ukraine may well be acting under Eisenhower’s old dictum–if a problem seems intractable, enlarge it. The near abroad nations realize that their only salvation is American and European intervention, and that given the current circumstances, this will be forthcoming only if the situation threatens to metastasize.]

And in the meantime, Europe seems too engaged in its August vacation to do anything remotely serious. Sort of reminds me of the French leaving thousands of elderly people to die during the 2003 heat wave rather than disrupt their vacations.

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