Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Georgia on my mind

OK, it's a cheezy title, but I've been thinking about the conflict between Russia and Georgia a lot lately.

Basically, the Caucasus is a mess created by centuries of migrations, both voluntary and otherwise, and Russification of the people in the area.

When Georgia split from the Soviet Union, it unfortunately also got clumped in with the areas of south Ossetia and Abkhazia. These two areas didn't think being part of Georgia was such a hot idea, so they've been a thorn in the side of Georgian leaders since day one. Russia has been supporting the separatist movements in one way or another since the early 1990's.

Russia hasn't been entirely happy with losing Georgia and especially hated the fact that the Georgian leadership wants to align itself with NATO and the west. Georgia was a prize in the Russia/Soviet crown for a long time. It's a crossroads in the Trans-Caucasus. In the past, it's sat on several trade routes between the Far East and Europe. Now, it's a great place to put an oil pipeline.

The pipeline has been an extremely sharp pain for Russia. Russia makes a lot of money from petroleum and natural gas, especially when it's sold to Europe. It also gives it a lot of clout with the EU and other nations. Russia has played games with supplies of oil and gas to Ukraine when Kiev hasn't toed the line for Russia. There's not much to keep them from doing the same thing to Poland, Germany, and France. When people can get petroleum from the Georgian pipeline, they can to some extent ignore Russian displeasure.

So Georgia is a bother to Russia. Georgia has become an ally of the United States and has asked to enter NATO. We've been sending aid to Georgia for several years, and their military has gotten training from us and other allies.

Russia has warned Georgia several times to stay hands off militarily in South Ossetia. Maybe Russia wanted the situation to be settled peacefully, or maybe they didn't want their proxy/client to be crushed.

Georgia started feeling froggy a few weeks ago and decided to take a poke at the South Ossetian separatists. Russia reacted and reacted but good.

Basically, Russia sent in enough tanks, artillery, missiles, and infantry to totally overwhelm the Georgians. No matter how well supplied and trained they might have been, the Georgians were overrun in a few days. The Russians stopped by choice, not because they were forced to by a Georgian defense.

Not to say that the Georgians didn't put up a good fight. Apparently their anti-tank teams were really effective against the Russian armor, and they knocked down several Russian aircraft.

So today the situation is that Russian troops are occupying about half of Georgia, with a vague promise to withdraw from Russian president Medvedev. The West is demanding that Russia get out of Georgia immediately, but I won't hold my breath.

Here's my take on this whole sad situation:

  1. Noone should be surprised that Russia went after Georgia. Putin and Medvedev have been making lots of noise about re-establishing some semblence of the old Soviet empire for years. Georgia was just the first public example of the new imperial ambition.
  2. While Georgia put up a good fight, some strategic mistakes were made. Georgia is a very mountainous region. Bridges, tunnels, and roads should have been destroyed every chance they got. This would have slowed down the Russians quite a bit, and funneled their forces into areas where Georgian forces could have fought them with some level of equality.
  3. The West should punish Russia severely for this incident. Ideas? How about not selling them food this year? How about not buying oil from them for a while? Maybe not giving the Russian navy port priveleges anywhere in Western Europe, Japan, Korea, North America, or Australia? Telling Aeroflot they can't fly in these areas? And last but not least, get Russia the heck out of the Group of 8 and make it the Group of 7 again?
  4. Georgia should be welcomed with open arms into NATO. NATO troops from countries that benefit from the pipelines should be stationed there, even if they're only trainers and logistics troops. Sure, they're a tripwire, but it might be enough of a deterrent to Medvedev.
  5. The reaction to the war was pretty uneven in the US. Most people barely noticed the headlines or reports on TV. Michael Phelps got more ink than the invasion of a sovereign country by its large neighbor. The political candidates of course commented, and McCain came out as strong and Obama wanted to get everyone together for a group hug and smores.

For the future, I see the Russians slowly withdrawing out of most of Georgia, but staying in South Ossetia. I wouldn't be surprised if some land in Georgia proper was kept in order to keep Russian missiles and artillery in close proximity to critical infrastructure such as ports, pipelines, and airports. Georgia will hopefully re-build her military with effective equipment and train them to fight a much bigger foe and inflict maximum damage. The Georgian Navy and Air Force will need complete re-building, as well as their armored forces. We will hopefully support them and provide as much aid as Georgia can accept.

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