South Ossetia Kosovo Counterfactual Poll!

We haven’t used the poll function for a while.

So okay: the Russians say that they’re only recognizing South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence because the wicked, lawless West set a precedent with Kosovo. And at first glance, this seems plausible! After all, the Georgia crisis came just six months after Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence. South Ossetia and Abkhazia had previously made declarations of independence, but nobody — not even the Russians — had recognized them.

Kosovo, said Moscow, made the difference. And not just Moscow. Many commentators, including some who were sympathetic to the Kosovars, quickly agreed.

But… Continue reading

Georgia: next?

So the Russians are saying they’ll withdraw from Georgia Real Soon Now. Meanwhile Moscow has signed treaties of mutual defense with the, you know, totally independent and sovereign nations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. If Georgia makes a move — or something that Moscow thinks is a move, or wants to think is a move — Russia will intervene again, with as much force as it thinks appropriate.

Meanwhile Georgia, of course, has renewed its national commitment to recovering the lost territories. This includes building up its military, continued pursuit of NATO membership, and sucking up massive amounts of foreign aid from anyone who will give it, most notably the US.

Apropos of which, here’s a recent article in EurasiaNet that lays out some options: continued occupation a la Turkish Cyprus (most likely), formal partition, and internationalization (currently very unlikely, but who knows). Continue reading

Kosovo 46, South Ossetia 2?

I wanted to write a post comparing Kosovo and South Ossetia, but Dan Drezner has already written it. It’s a week old now, but still good:

It’s been more than a week since Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. The number of other countries that have followed Russia’s lead is…. well, maybe one (Nicaragua), as near as I can tell. Belarus keeps promising that they’ll get around to it, and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has defended Russia’s recognition decision; since that initial promise, however, Belarus appears to have decided to sit on their hands. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez has expressed similar support of Russia’s recognition decision – but I haven’t seen any actual recognition from Caracas either… Vedomosti reports that, “It appears that the Russian government has reconciled itself to the fact that no other country has recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said yesterday the reluctance of other states to recognize the independence of the breakaway Georgian territories was not critical.”

As they say, read the whole thing — there are lots of interesting links and some thoughtful discussion of whether recognition was really such a good idea for Russia.

You want to bring along a grain of salt, because Drezner — like a lot of American conservatives — is a mild Russophobe. I note that he thinks the war was a serious economic setback for Russia, a position that Harvard B-School professor Noel Maurer sharply disagrees with. (Key quote: “Markets do not punish successful aggressors.”) Read ’em both and decide for yourself.
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Russia has BFFs too

Not many, but some.

One is Armenia. The Armenians are annoyed at the Georgians for their generally shoddy treatment of the Armenian minority in Georgia. More to the point, Armenians generally look down their magnificent noses at Georgians, considering them self-indulgent, emotional, shrill, slovenly, unreliable, and just generally second-rate. Georgians don’t love Armenians either — they consider them sly, stuck-up and grasping. There are no exactly equivalent Western European stereotypes, but if you think “dour Scots versus hand-waving Italians” you’ll get the general idea.
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A Short Victorious War

Kevin Drum does a pretty good job summing it up:

Russia… got what it wanted: control of the two disputed provinces, a military humiliation for Georgia, and a successfully executed shot across the bow that proves they can still play in the big leagues. It wasn’t cost free — Europe has been pretty consistent in its condemnation of the invasion, and all the former Soviet satellites are now even more united in their loathing of Russia than before — but it was close. From Russia’s point of view, it was a nice, surgical operation that pretty much accomplished everything it was supposed to.

I’d nitpick that not “all the former Soviet satellites” loathe Russia; Armenia is pro-Russian (and the Armenians have been absolutely delighted with this war and its outcome), while Belarus and most of the Central Asian republics have lined up behind Moscow. But yeah, the Poles and the Baltic States are having kittens.

That said, let me comment briefly on some other consequences here. Continue reading

Chess my ass

Various sources are reporting that the Russians have rolled out of South Ossetia and into Georgia proper, and are mounting a major attack on the town of Gori. Gori is about 15-20 km south of the South Ossetian border, and about 70-80 km from Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. Russian forces are also massing along Georgia’s border with Abkhazia, preparing to open a second front there.

The Russians are also sending signals about regime change; Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia “no longer sees [Saakashvili] as a partner”. They’re also ostentatiously ignoring Georgia’s request for a cease-fire.
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Georgia: played?

Well, the South Ossetia conflict is going pretty badly for Georgia. The Russians appear to have cleared Tsikhinvali, and they’ve moved over six! hundred! armored vehicles into theater. Russian bombers have struck at a number of military targets inside Georgia, and the Russian Navy is maneuvering off the Georgian coast.

It’s increasingly clear that the Russians were very ready for this conflict. In fact it’s looking like the Georgians did exactly what Moscow wanted.

Was Georgia played? We’ll probably never know, but a couple of thoughts come to mind. Continue reading

South Ossetia: alea jacta est

That’s Latin for “throw the dice high”, and that’s what it looks like Georgian leader Saakashvili has done.

I’m no longer the Fistful’s Man In the Caucasus — I left in March, after the violence in Armenia. Doug Merrill is now the go-to guy: he’s in Tbilisi, very close to the action. But he’s asleep right now, and it looks like some of our readers are still awake, so FWIW here’s an impression from a distance. Half-informed, amateur war analysis follows.

Who started it? — Looks like Georgia. The sniping earlier came from both sides, but the Georgians have clearly launched a major ground offensive, and that doesn’t just happen by accident.

Why? Why? — What follows is a mishmash of guesses. Take it with a big grain of salt.

South Ossetia has always been vulnerable to a blitzkrieg attack. It’s small, it’s not very populous (~70,000 people), and it’s surrounded by Georgia on three sides. It’s very rugged and mountainous, yes, but it’s not suited to defense in depth. There’s only one town of any size (Tsikhinvali, the capital) and only one decent road connecting the province with Russia.

That last point bears emphasizing. There’s just one road, and it goes through a tunnel. There are a couple of crappy roads over the high passes, but they’re in dreadful condition; they can’t support heavy equipment, and are closed by snow from September to May. Strategically, South Ossetia dangles by that single thread.

So, there was always this temptation: a fast determined offensive could capture Tsikhinvali, blow up or block the tunnel, close the road, and then sit tight. If it worked, the Russians would then be in a very tricky spot: yes, they outnumber the Georgians 20 to 1, but they’d have to either drop in by air or attack over some very high, nasty mountains. This seems to be what the Georgians are trying to do: attack fast and hard, grab Tsikhinvali, and close the road.

So, is it working? — It’s too early to tell, but it’s not looking good. Continue reading