Monday, August 11, 2008


It's a little difficult to piece together what's going on in Georgia with all the conflicting reports and general fog of war, but it seems that the Russians have indeed advanced beyond South Ossetia, and are now threatening Georgian towns. The Georgian army seems to have pulled out of Gori in the face of advancing Russian tanks to reinforce the capital, Tblisi.

To put it mildly, the Georgians are at an extreme disadvantage. The Russians can boast total air superiority, despite the loss of at least 4 combat aircraft (the Georgians claim to have shot down 18), and Georgian ground forces are heavily outnumbered and out-gunned. If the Russians decide to occupy the capital, they most likely can, if not without some degree of bloodshed.

In any case, this marks a dangerous escalation of the conflict. Russia has moved beyond any pretext of protecting Ossetian autonomy (already a very flimsy case), and now appears to have regime change in mind, as they are, to this point, rejecting all calls for ceasefires, landing troops in Abkhazia and attacking targets in and around the Georgian capital.

Russia's actions here are illegitimate and illegal under international law. In violating Georgian sovereignty without any international mandate from the UN security council and acting entirely unilaterally, they have made just as grave an error as the US did in invading Iraq. This sets a very poor precedent, not only for UN legitimacy, but also for the sovereignty of all the former SSRs, especially those that dare defy Russia.

And meanwhile, the Georgians are wondering why no one has come to their aid:

One soldier, his face a mask of exhaustion, cradled a Kalashnikov.

“We killed as many of them as we could,” he said. “But where are our

It was the question of the day. As Russian forces massed Sunday on two
fronts, Georgians were heading south with whatever they could carry. When they
met Western journalists, they all said the same thing: Where is the United
States? When is NATO

Unfortunately for President Saakashvili and his country, no one is coming. NATO and the US will not go to war with Russia over Georgia. If anyone assured Saakashvili that the opposite was true, that NATO would strongly back Georgia's efforts to retake S. Ossetia, then they must take their share of the blame for this conflict. Otherwise, it was a very stupid move of Saakashvili to provoke Russia in this way.

Which is not to excuse Russia's actions; they are blatantly geo-political and self-interested. As I previously noted, Russia has worked for years to destabilize Georgia, and their claims of only invading to protect "Russian citizens" are eerily reminiscient of Nazi propaganda over the Czech Sudetenland. Russian citizens or not (and Ossetians are not Russian anyway), they have no right to invade and occupy the sovereign nation of Georgia without any international mandate, something they didn't even attempt to get.

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