Posted by: Dale Franks
on Thursday, August 14, 2008
The Russians are sitting in the catbird seat and they know it. And they're acting like the Russians usually do when they think they're holding all the cards. Today the US and France issued a joint statement by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and French President Nikolas Sarkozy.
"The United States of America stands strongly, and the president of France has just said, for the territorial integrity of Georgia," Rice tells reporters. "This is a member-state of the United Nations whose internationally recognized boundaries have to be respected. There will be a process for dealing with what has been a difficult conflict in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia, but it proceeds, of course, from U.N. Security Council resolutions that are already there. And so there shouldn’t be any question about the territorial integrity of Georgia."The Russian response, issued from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, was not long in coming:
One can forget about any talk about Georgia's territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state," Lavrov told reporters.Georgia will exist in whatever form the Kremlin deigns to allow it to exist, either as a defiant—yet powerless—rump state, or a finlandized—and powerless—rump state. Notice the odd similarity of conditions described in the previous sentence. In both cases, the key terms are "powerless" and "rump state".
And we aren't going to do much about it, for a number of reasons.
First, there isn't much, operationally or logistically, that we can do. We can fly some stuff in, but not enough to do more than act as a trip-wire force (about which, more in due course). Other than that, Georgia is isolated. To really put a signifigant force on the ground, we have to go through the Dardenelles and Sea of Marmara into the Black Sea. And, since the Black Sea is essentially a Russian lake, we won't do that. Nothing goes through the Black Sea that the Russians don't want to go through. Simple.
Russia wins this round,because her pupose was never to punish Georgia. That was just, from the Russian point of view, icing on the cake.
The real purpose of the Russian incursion was to send a message to what they call "the near abroad": Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. And also Kazakhstan, Azerbaizhan, etc. (They got the message early, a long time ago, in Belarus.) The message, broadcast clearly, was, "You belong n our sphere of influence. You will do as you're told. You can do it of your own accord, or you can do it with a Russian looking over your shoulder. It's up to you."
Georgia was the perfect place to send that message, due to its geographical isolation in a region where Russia controls nearly all of the approaches to the country. They could make their move there with no realistic chance of opposition.
They gauged the Georgian opposition quite nicely, too. President Saakashvili is either an incompetent fool, or a reckless one.
The Russians moved through Abkhazia and South Ossetia almost instantly after Mr. Saakashvili sent Georgian troops into South Ossetia. To do this required that Russia already have ground and air forces fully supplied with a combat load, sitting in staging areas, ready to go. you don't launch an assault of this type with scratch forces you round up on the spur of the moment.
How these preparations could have escaped the Georgian government's intelligence organs is beyond me. It is practically impossible to hide the months of preparation that it must have taken to move those forces into place, or to hide the staging areas once they were emplaced, ready for the ops order.
If Mr. Saakashvili missed the months of preparation and staging this operation must have taken, then his government is too incompetent to be trusted with their nation's security. If he did notice them, and sent Georgian troops into South Ossetia anyway, he is too foolishly reckless to be trusted with same.
What it comes down to is that either he seriously miscalulated the Russian ability to respond to his movement into South Ossetia, or he recklessly did it anyway, expecting the threat of NATO response to save his bacon.
Neither alternative makes him look like a rocket scientist.
The question is what do we do now? In answering it, it is important to remember something that Andrew Stuttaford wrote earlier today:
What we have to recognize is that Russia is a (sorta) great power trying to do what great powers do. This will involve plenty of jostling, shoving, pushing, and all the rest of it. It won't always be pretty, particularly given the KGB-stained nature of Russia's current leadership. On occasion, the U.S. will have to shove back, and shove back very firmly. That said, to try using what's going on in Georgia (as some seem inclined to do) as the inspiration of some sort of revived Cold War is not the way to go. It's critical to remember that what rivalry there is between the U.S. and Russia is not ideological to any meaningful degree. Moscow is neither Riyadh nor Tehran. Yes, yes, at some level, Russia is, and will remain, a strategic competitor. That's fine. In a multi-polar world, that's life.In other words, we live, once again, in a pre-WWI diplomatic era. That means we will have to find areas of cooperation with the Russians where we can, and engage in the occasional Great Power body-checking where we must.
One of those body checks, for example, might be sending some USAF assets to an airfield in Georgia. The message would be pretty clearly understood by the Russians: "OK. This one went your way. Be satisfied with the mark in the "W" column. But let's not get too greedy. Attack USAF assets, and the game moves on to another level."
And the Russians don't want to move to that level any more than we do. Why should they? They've truncated Georgia, given the Army a good show to observers in "the near abroad", and they get to keep Abkhazia and South Ossetia. They're done. Indeed, one suspect the Russians will, after suitable convincing, pull out of Gori, and back to South Ossetia. But no farther.
So, as we look to the future, we really need to think about what our options are. For example, as Stuttaford also points out:
Encouraging the Ukrainians to adopt a more aggressive stance would be quite remarkably counterproductive (both for Ukraine and the US), especially so far as Sebastopol is concerned. Sebastopol is, as you know, located in Crimea, a part of Ukraine that is only within that nation's borders as a result of an administrative decision by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 (a decision that the Soviet dictator would have regarded of little practical consequence). The last thing that Ukraine needs is to give the Kremlin any additional incentive to meddle in its internal affairs — it does far too much of that as it is — in Crimea or, for that matter, anywhere else.The trick is to find those middle passages that Great Powers are supposed to be so skilled at finding, checking their opponents designs effectively, while, at the same time, doing it in a matter that is neither excessively provocative, nor destabilizing.
The various European Great Powers managed to pull this off quite effectively for a hundred years after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, barring the occasional Franco-Prussian or Crimean War.
Unfortunately, that is less comforting than it appears at first glance, considering that their efforts all came crashing down upon their ears in August, 1914.