BUSH’S WAR IN GEORGIA

August 15, 2008 – 6:54 am


Georgia engages in a war with Russia hoping for military back-up from the US and NATO that never came. Commentary by Mike Whitney.

“I saw bodies lying on the streets, around ruined buildings and in cars. It’s impossible to count them now. There’s hardly a single building left undamaged.”
- Lyudmila Ostayeva, resident of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia

Washington’s bloody fingerprints are all over the invasion of South Ossetia. Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili would never dream of launching a massive military attack unless he got explicit orders from his bosses at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. After all, Saakashvili owes his entire political career to American power-brokers and US intelligence agencies. If he disobeyed them, he’d be gone in a fortnight.

Besides an operation like this takes months of planning and logistical support; especially if it’s perfectly timed to coincide with the beginning of the Olympic Games (another petty neocon touch). That means Pentagon planners must have been working hand in hand with Georgian generals for months in advance. Nothing was left to chance.

Another tell-tale sign of US complicity is the way President Bush has avoided ordering Georgian troops to withdraw from a province that has been under the protection of international peacekeepers. Remember how quickly Bush ordered Sharon to withdraw from his rampage in Jenin? Apparently it’s different when the aggression serves US interests.

Saakashvili has been working closely with the Bush administration ever since he replaced Eduard Shevardnadze as president in 2003. That’s when US-backed NGOs and western intelligence agencies toppled the Shevardnadze regime in the so-called color-coded “Rose Revolution”. Since then, Saakashvili has done everything that’s been asked of him; he’s built up the military and internal security apparatus, he’s allowed US advisers to train and arm Georgian troops, he’s applied for membership in NATO, and he’s been a general nuisance to his Russian neighbors.

Now, he has sent his army into battle ostensibly on Washington’s orders. At least, that is how the Kremlin sees it. Vladimir Vasilyev, the Chairman of Russia’s State Duma Security Committee, summed up the feelings of many Russians like this: “The further the situation unfolds, the more the world will understand that Georgia would never be able to do all this without America. In essence, the Americans have prepared the force, which destroys everything in South Ossetia, attacks civilians and hospitals.”

True. That’s why Bush is flying Georgian troops back home from Iraq to join the fighting rather than pursuing peaceful alternatives. Bush still believes that political solutions will naturally arise through the use of force. Unfortunately, his record is rather spotty.

But that still doesn’t answer the larger question: Why would Saakashvili embark on such a pointless military adventure when he had no chance of winning? After all, Russia has 20 times the firepower and has been conducting military maneuvers anticipating this very scenario for months. Does Uncle Sam really want another war that bad or is the fighting in South Ossetia is just head-fake for a larger war that is brewing in the Straits of Hormuz?

Mikhail Saakashvili is a western educated lawyer and a favorite of the neocons. He rose to power on a platform of anti-corruption and economic reform which emphasized free market solutions and privatization. Instead of raising the standard of living for the Georgian people, Saakashvili has been running up massive deficits to expand the over-bloated military. Saakashvili has made huge purchases of Israeli and US-made (offensive) weapon systems and has devoted more than “4.2 per cent of GDP (more than a quarter of all Georgian public income) to military hardware.”

The United States and Israel are both neck-deep in the “Great Game”; the ongoing war for vital petroleum and natural gas supplies in Central Asia and the Caspian Basin.

The Chairman of Russia’s State Duma Security Committee, Vladimir Vasilyev, summed it up like this:

“Georgia could have used the years of Saakashvili’s presidency in different ways - to build up the economy, to develop the infrastructure, to solve social issues both in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and the whole state. Instead, the Georgian leadership with president Saakashvili undertook consistent steps to increase its military budget from US$30 million to $1 billion - Georgia was preparing for a military action.” Naturally, Russia is worried about these developments and has brought the matter up repeatedly at the United Nations but to no avail.

Israeli arms manufacturers have also been supplying Saakashvili with state-of-the-art weaponry. According to Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz:

“In addition to the spy drones, Israel has also been supplying Georgia with infantry weapons and electronics for artillery systems, and has helped upgrade Soviet-designed Su-25 ground attack jets assembled in Georgia, according to Koba Liklikadze, an independent military expert in Tbilisi. Former Israeli generals also serve as advisers to the Georgian military.” (”Following Russian pressure, Israel freezes defense sales to Georgia” Associated Press)

The Israeli news source DebkaFile elaborates on the geopolitical implications of Israeli involvement in the Georgia’s politics:

“The conflict has been sparked by the race for control over the pipelines carrying oil and gas out of the Caspian region… The Russians may just bear with the pro-US Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili’s ambition to bring his country into NATO. But they draw a heavy line against his plans and those of Western oil companies, including Israeli firms, to route the oil routes from Azerbaijan and the gas lines from Turkmenistan, which transit Georgia, through Turkey instead of hooking them up to Russian pipelines.

“Jerusalem owns a strong interest in Caspian oil and gas pipelines which reach the Turkish terminal port of Ceyhan, rather than the Russian network. Intense negotiations are afoot between Israel, Turkey, Georgia, Turkmenistan and Azarbaijan for pipelines to reach Turkey and hence to Israel’s oil terminal at Ashkelon and on to its Red Sea port of Eilat. From there, supertankers can carry the gas and oil to the Far East through the Indian Ocean.” (Paul Joseph Watson, “US Attacks Russia Through Client State Georgia”)

The United States and Israel are both neck-deep in the “Great Game”; the ongoing war for vital petroleum and natural gas supplies in Central Asia and the Caspian Basin. So far, Vladimir Putin appears to have the upper-hand because of his alliances with his regional allies - under the Commonwealth of Independent States - and because most of the natural gas from Eurasia is pumped through Russian pipelines. An article in “Today’s Zaman” gives a good snapshot of Russia’s position vis a vis natural resources in the region:

“As far as natural resources are concerned Russia’s hand is very strong: It holds 6.6 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves and 26 per cent of the world’s gas reserves. In addition, it currently accounts for 12 per cent of world oil and 21 per cent of recent world gas production. In May 2007, Russia was the world’s largest oil and gas producer.

“As for national champions, Putin has strengthened and prepared Gazprom (the state-controlled gas company), Transneft (oil pipeline monopoly) and Rosneft (the state-owned oil giant). That is why in 2006 Gazprom retained full ownership in the giant Shtokman gas field and took a controlling stake in the Sakhalin-2 natural gas project. In June 2007, it took back BP’s Kovytka gas field and now is behind Total’s Kharyaga oil and gas field.” (”Vladimir Putin’s Energystan and the Caspian” Today’s Zaman)

Vladimir Putin has played his cards very wisely, which makes it look like the fighting in South Ossetia may be Washington’s way of trying to win through military force what they could not achieve via the free market.

Putin - the black belt Judo-master - has proved to be as adept at geopolitics as he is at “deal-making”. He has collaborated with the Austrian government on a huge natural gas depot in Austria which will facilitate the transport of gas to southern Europe. He has joined forces with German industry to build an underwater pipeline through the Baltic to Germany (which could provide 80 per cent of Germany’s gas requirements). He has selected France’s Total to assist Gazprom in the development of the massive Shtokman gas field. And he is setting up pipeline corridors to provide gas to Turkey and the Balkans.

Putin has very deliberately spread Russia’s influence evenly throughout Europe with the intention of severing the Transatlantic Alliance and, eventually, loosening America’s vice-like grip on the continent.

Putin’s overtures to Germany’s Merkel and France’s Sarkozy are calculated to weaken the resolve of Bush’s neocon allies in the EU and put them in Russia’s corner. Putin is also attracting considerable foreign investment to Russian markets and has adopted “a ‘new model of cooperation’ in the energy sector that would ‘allow foreign partners to share in the economic benefits of the project, share the management, and take on a share of the industrial, commercial and financial risks’”. (M K Bhadrakumar “Russia plays the Shtokman card”, Asia Times) All of these are intended to strengthen ties between Europe and Russia and make it harder for the Bush administration to isolate Moscow.

Putin has played his cards very wisely, which makes it look like the fighting in South Ossetia may be Washington’s way of trying to win through military force what they could not achieve via the free market.

On Saturday, President Bush issued this statement from Beijing: “We have urged an immediate halt to the violence and a stand-down by all troops. We call for an end to the Russian bombings and a return by the parties to the status quo of August 6th.”

That was it. Bush then quickly returned to the Olympic festivities. He was last spotted at a photo op with the US girls volleyball team jumping up and down on the beach-sand in his wingtips. The pretense that Bush is leading the country has seemingly been abandoned altogether. Cheney is in charge now.

Meanwhile, Putin boarded a plane to Moscow as soon as he heard about the Georgian invasion and after angrily waving his finger in Bush’s face. It’s doubtful that the friendship between the two leaders will survive the present storm. America’s gambit in the Caucasus has aroused the sleeping bear and put Russia on the warpath. There’s no telling when the hostilities might end. The conflagration could sweep across the entire region. As on August 11, news agencies are reporting that Russian warplanes are pounding Georgia’s military bases, airfields, and the Black sea port of Poti.

According to Bill Van Auken on the World Socialist Web Site:

“Much of the city (Tskhinvali) was reportedly in flames Friday. The regional parliament building had burned down, the university was on fire, and the town’s main hospital had been rendered inoperative by the bombardment.”

Russian peacekeepers “were killed by their own [Georgian] partners in the peacekeeping forces. There is a Russian battalion, an Ossetian battalion, and a Georgian battalion… and all of a sudden the Georgians, Georgian peacekeepers, begin shooting their Russian colleagues. This is of course a war crime.

Vesti radio reported that Georgian forces burned down a church in Tanara in South Ossetia where people were hiding, to the ground, with all the people inside. The Deputy Director of an information agency as an eye witness reported that fragments of cluster bombs were found in Tskinvali. There have also been reports by a South Ossetian reservist that civilians who were hiding in basements were shot dead by Georgian soldiers.

Wikipedia reports that, “Russian soldiers captured group of American mercenaries on territory of South Ossetia. Group was captured near of Zare village.”

An estimated 1,500 people have died in the onslaught and 30,000 more fled across the Russian border. Large swaths of the city have been reduced to rubble including the one hospital that was pounded by Georgian bombers. Georgia has cut off the water supply to the city. The Red Cross now anticipates a “humanitarian catastrophe” as a result of the fighting.

“I saw bodies lying on the streets, around ruined buildings, in cars,” Lyudmila Ostayeva, 50, told the Associated Press after fleeing the city with her family to a village near the Russian border. “It’s impossible to count them now. There is hardly a single building left undamaged.”

At least 15 Russia peacekeepers were killed in the initial fighting and 70 more were sent to hospital. Georgia’s army stormed the South Ossetia capital, Tskhinvali, killing more than 1,000 fleeing civilians. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told news agencies in an interview how the hostilities began:

Russian peacekeepers “were killed by their own [Georgian] partners in the peacekeeping forces. There is a Russian battalion, an Ossetian battalion, and a Georgian battalion… and all of a sudden the Georgians, Georgian peacekeepers, begin shooting their Russian colleagues. This is of course a war crime. I do not rule out that the Hague and Strasbourg courts and institutions in other cities will be involved in investigating these crimes, and this inhuman drama that has been played out.”

According to South Ossetia’s president, Eduard Kokoyti, Georgian troops had been taking part in NATO exercises in the region since the beginning of August. Kokoyti claims that there is a connection between the NATO’s activities and the current violence.

Clearly, no one was expecting Russia to react as quickly or as forcefully as they did. In a matter of hours Russian tanks and armored vehicles were streaming over the border while warplanes bombed targets throughout the south. The Bush-Saakashvili strategy unraveled in a matter of hours. The Georgia president is already calling for a cease-fire. He’s had enough.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has promised to spend $400 million to rebuild parts of South Ossetia. Large shipments of food and medical supplies are already on the way.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Sunday:

“The actions of Georgia have led to deaths - among them are Russian peacekeepers. The situation reached the point that Georgian peacekeepers have been shooting at Russian peacekeepers. Now women, children and old people are dying in South Ossetia - most of them are citizens of the Russian Federation. As the President of the Russian Federation, I am obligated to protect lives and the dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are. Those responsible for the deaths of our citizens will be punished.”

Indeed, but how will Medvedev bring the responsible people to justice; with tanks and fighter pilots or is there another way?

PUTIN’S OPTIONS: Flyswatter or Blunderbuss?

Sometimes war provides clarity. That’s certainly true in this case. After this weekend’s fighting, everyone in the Russian political establishment knows that Washington is willing to sacrifice thousands of innocent civilians and plunge the entire region into chaos to achieve its geopolitical objectives. Bush could call the whole thing off right now; Putin and Medvedev know that. But that’s not the game-plan. So, the two Russian leaders have to make some tough decisions that will end up costing lives. What choice do they have?

Putin needs to carefully weigh his options. Then, on Monday, he should announce that Russia will sell all $50 billion of its Fannie Mae mortgage-backed bonds, all of it US dollar-backed assets, and will accept only rubles and euros in the future sale of Russian oil and natural gas. Then watch as the Dow Jones goes into a death-spiral. Why use a blunderbuss when a flyswatter will do just fine.

Note: Mike Whitney is a well respected freelance writer living in Washington state, interested in politics and economics from a libertarian perspective. He can be reached at [email protected]

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A Path To Peace In The Caucasus

By Mikhail Gorbachev

The past week’s events in South Ossetia are bound to shock and pain anyone. Already, thousands of people have died, tens of thousands have been turned into refugees, and towns and villages lie in ruins. Nothing can justify this loss of life and destruction. It is a warning to all.

The roots of this tragedy lie in the decision of Georgia’s separatist leaders in 1991 to abolish South Ossetian autonomy. This turned out to be a time bomb for Georgia’s territorial integrity. Each time successive Georgian leaders tried to impose their will by force - both in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia, where the issues of autonomy are similar - it only made the situation worse. New wounds aggravated old injuries.

Nevertheless, it was still possible to find a political solution. For some time, relative calm was maintained in South Ossetia. The peacekeeping force composed of Russians, Georgians and Ossetians fulfilled its mission, and ordinary Ossetians and Georgians, who live close to each other, found at least some common ground.

Through all these years, Russia has continued to recognize Georgia’s territorial integrity. Clearly, the only way to solve the South Ossetian problem on that basis is through peaceful means. Indeed, in a civilized world, there is no other way.

The Georgian leadership flouted this key principle.

What happened on the night of August 7 is beyond comprehension. The Georgian military attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali with multiple rocket launchers designed to devastate large areas. Russia had to respond. To accuse it of aggression against “small, defenseless Georgia” is not just hypocritical but shows a lack of humanity.

Mounting a military assault against innocents was a reckless decision whose tragic consequences, for thousands of people of different nationalities, are now clear. The Georgian leadership could do this only with the perceived support and encouragement of a much more powerful force. Georgian armed forces were trained by hundreds of US instructors, and its sophisticated military equipment was bought in a number of countries. This, coupled with the promise of NATO membership, emboldened Georgian leaders into thinking that they could get away with a “blitzkrieg” in South Ossetia.

In other words, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was expecting unconditional support from the West, and the West had given him reason to think he would have it. Now that the Georgian military assault has been routed, both the Georgian government and its supporters should rethink their position.

Mounting a military assault against innocents was a reckless decision whose tragic consequences, for thousands of people of different nationalities, are now clear. The Georgian leadership could do this only with the perceived support and encouragement of a much more powerful force. Georgian armed forces were trained by hundreds of US instructors, and its sophisticated military equipment was bought in a number of countries.

Hostilities must cease as soon as possible, and urgent steps must be taken to help the victims - the humanitarian catastrophe, regretfully, received very little coverage in Western media this weekend - and to rebuild the devastated towns and villages. It is equally important to start thinking about ways to solve the underlying problem, which is among the most painful and challenging issues in the Caucasus - a region that should be approached with the greatest care.

When the problems of South Ossetia and Abkhazia first flared up, I proposed that they be settled through a federation that would grant broad autonomy to the two republics. This idea was dismissed, particularly by the Georgians. Attitudes gradually shifted, but after last week, it will be much more difficult to strike a deal even on such a basis.

Old grievances are a heavy burden. Healing is a long process that requires patience and dialogue, with non-use of force an indispensable precondition. It took decades to bring to an end similar conflicts in Europe and elsewhere, and other long-standing issues are still smoldering. In addition to patience, this situation requires wisdom.

Small nations of the Caucasus do have a history of living together. It has been demonstrated that a lasting peace is possible, that tolerance and cooperation can create conditions for normal life and development. Nothing is more important than that.

The region’s political leaders need to realize this. Instead of flexing military muscle, they should devote their efforts to building the groundwork for durable peace.

Over the past few days, some Western nations have taken positions, particularly in the UN Security Council, that have been far from balanced. As a result, the Security Council was not able to act effectively from the very start of this conflict. By declaring the Caucasus, a region that is thousands of miles from the American continent, a sphere of its “national interest,” the United States made a serious blunder. Of course, peace in the Caucasus is in everyone’s interest. But it is simply common sense to recognize that Russia is rooted there by common geography and centuries of history. Russia is not seeking territorial expansion, but it has legitimate interests in this region.

The international community’s long-term aim could be to create a sub-regional system of security and cooperation that would make any provocation, and the very possibility of crises such as this one, impossible. Building this type of system would be challenging and could only be accomplished with the cooperation of the region’s countries themselves. Nations outside the region could perhaps help, too - but only if they take a fair and objective stance. A lesson from recent events is that geopolitical games are dangerous anywhere, not just in the Caucasus.

Note: Mikhail Gorbachev was the last president of the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 and is president of the Gorbachev Foundation, a Moscow think tank. A version of this article, in Russian, was published in the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper.

Articles by Mike Whitney:

Apocalypse Down Under
The Last Hurrah For The US Banking System
Hunkering Down In Afghanistan
The Game Is Over. There Won’t Be A Rebound

  1. 7 Responses to “BUSH’S WAR IN GEORGIA”

  2. I don’t blame Russia for the counter-attack. The US is behind all the nonsense. Too bad Bush can’t or won’t be brought up with being charged in various war crimes.

    By datdemdar on Aug 16, 2008

  3. The feeble American response to Russia’s assertion of power in the Caucasus of Central Asia was appropriate, since our claims of influence in that part of the world are laughable. The US had taken advantage of temporary confusion in Russia, during the ten-year-long post-Soviet-collapse interval, and set up a client government in Georgia, complete with military advisors, sales of weapons, and even the promise of club membership in the western alliance known as NATO. These blandishments were all in the service of the Baku-to-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which was designed specifically to drain the oil region around the Caspian Basin with an outlet on the Mediterranean, avoiding unfriendly nations all along the way.
    At the time this gambit was first set up, in the early 1990s, there was some notion (or wish, really) among the so-called western powers that the Caspian would provide an end-run around OPEC and the Arabs, as well as the Persians, and deliver all the oil that the US and Europe would ever need — a foolish wish and a dumb gambit, as things have turned out.
    For one thing, the latterly explorations of this very old oil region — first opened to drilling in the 19th century — proved somewhat disappointing. US officials had been touting it as like unto “another Saudi Arabia” but the oil actually produced from the new drilling areas of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and the other Stans turned out to be preponderantly heavy-and-sour crudes, in smaller quantities than previously dreamed-of, and harder to transport across the extremely challenging terrain to even get to the pipeline head in Baku.
    Meanwhile, Russia got its house in order under the non-senile, non-alcoholic Vladimir Putin, and woke up along about 2007 to find itself the leading oil and natural gas producer in the world. Among the various consequences of this was Russia’s reemergence as a new kind of world power — an energy resource power, with the energy destiny of Europe pretty much in its hands. Also, meanwhile, the USA had set up other client states in the ring of former Soviet republics along Russia’s southern underbelly, complete with US military bases, while fighting active engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, if this wasn’t the dumbest, vainest move in modern geopolitical history!
    It’s one thing that US foreign policy wonks imagined that Russia would remain in a coma forever, but the idea that we could encircle Russia strategically with defensible bases in landlocked mountainous countries halfway around the world…? You have to ask what were they smoking over at the Pentagon and the CIA and the NSC?
    So, this asinine policy has now come to grief. Not only does Russia stand to gain control over the Baku-to-Ceyhan pipeline, but we now have every indication that they will bring the states on its southern flank back into an active sphere of influence, and there is really not a damn thing that the US can pretend to do about it.
    We could have spent the past ten years getting our own house in order — waking up to the obsolescence of our suburban life-style, scaling back on the Happy Motoring, reconnecting our cities with world-class passenger rail, creating wealth by producing things of value (instead of resorting to financial racketeering), protecting our borders, and taking the necessary measures to defend and update our own industries. Instead, we pissed our time and resources away. Nations do make tragic errors of the collective will. The cluelessness of George Bush is nothing less than a perfect metaphor for the failure of a whole generation. The Boomers will be identified as the generation that wrecked America.
    So, as the vacation season winds down, this country greets a new reality. We miscalculated in Western and Central Asia. Russia still “owns” that part of the world. Are we going to extend our current land wars there into the even more distant and landlocked Stan-nations? At some point, as we face financial and military exhaustion, we have to ask ourselves if we can even successfully evacuate our personnel from the far-flung bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
    This must be an equally sobering moment for Europe, and an additional reason for the recent plunge in the relative value of the Euro, for Europe is now at the mercy of Russia in terms of staying warm in the winter, running their kitchen stoves, and keeping the lights on. Russia also exerts substantial financial leverage over the US in all the dollars and securitized US debt paper it holds. In effect, Russia can shake the US banking system at will now by threatening to dump its dollar holdings.
    The American banking system may not need a shove from Russia to fall on its face. It’s effectively dead now, just lurching around zombie-like from one loan “window” to the next pretending to “borrow” capital — while handing over shreds of its moldy clothing as “collateral” to the Federal Reserve. The entire US, beyond the banks, is becoming a land of the walking dead. Business is dying, home-ownership has become a death dance, whole regions are turning into wastelands of “for sale” signs, empty parking lots, vacant buildings, and dashed hopes. And all this beats a path directly to a failure of collective national imagination. We really don’t know what’s going on.
    The fantasy that we can sustain our influence nine thousand miles away, when we can’t even get our act together in Ohio is just a dark joke. One might state categorically that it would be a salubrious thing for America to knock off all its vaunted “dreaming” and just wake the fock up.

    By Myche on Aug 18, 2008

  4. Long time viewer / 1st time poster. Really enjoy reading the blog, keep up the good work. Will most definitely start posting more oftenin the future.

    By Oralia Cartland on Oct 23, 2010

  5. I just read this and I was thinking what else people will do in the future. It could be in the future milestone like discovering America.

    By rząd on Jun 22, 2011

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